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Aligning Local and Global Missions Engagement

The following is an adapted excerpt from The Sending Church Defined.


A Holistic Mission

Think globally, act locally. Chances are, you’ve heard this trendy phrase at some point. You may not have realized, however, that it’s actually a bit old-school. Apparently, the formulaic jingle was whipped up in 1970 as a grassroots motivator for environmental action.[1] The implications were simple: care for your little piece of earth and, viola!—you’ve changed the world.


Today, however, there’s a whole new twist on the mantra. Thanks to globalization, the local connection to the rest of the world is growing at a maddening rate. With a single touch, you can engage with people and events all over the world while sitting in your pajamas at home.

How does a church now determine where to focus in God’s mission?

The ability to readily and meaningfully engage our world is a tremendous gift, but it leaves us with a lingering question: how does a church now determine where to focus in God’s mission? Does it think globally and act locally by focusing all its resources on its context and hoping the butterfly effect touches the nations? Or does it think locally and act globally by channeling its resources internationally and assuming its mere presence is making a difference in the neighborhood? Certainly, both local and global contexts are massive undertakings worthy of a church’s best efforts. And certainly, Jesus will understand if we choose one over the other, right?


Thankfully, the overwhelming challenges that churches face in sending their members both locally and globally exist by divine design. Impossible tasks? Indeed! And they are, therefore, perfect for cultivating our deep dependence on the only God who can achieve the impossible through his people—“to show that the surpassing power belongs to God and not to us” (2 Cor 4:7). The church is undoubtedly called to participate in God’s mission, and God’s mission “leads us in triumphal procession, and through us spreads the fragrance of the knowledge of him everywhere”—both locally and globally (2 Cor 2:14, emphasis mine).


A Unified Mission

But does that mean there are two unique missions in different directions?


Mission, regardless of where it’s directed, flows from God and his church. Missiologist Ed Stetzer comments that, though the most impactful saints of history differed in their ideas and sometimes struggled with each other, all of them “had this in common: they advanced God’s mission through Christ’s church.”[2] They simply followed Jesus as disciples do, and he led them into his fold and into his field.

The one-two punch of undertaking both local mission and global missions is critical to building a sending church that blesses the world.

Paul showcases this truth in Ephesians 3, pointing out that the plan hidden for ages was that “through the church the manifold wisdom of God might now be made known,” and it was “realized in Christ Jesus our Lord” (vv. 10–11). Why belabor this point? Because this is where local mission and global missions are entangled together, under one Lord, in one body. Sending churches constantly need this reminder; otherwise, they will continue to silo local mission and global missions as though they are distant relatives or, worse, dangerous rivals.


The one-two punch of undertaking both local mission and global missions is critical to building a sending church that blesses the world. So, as pastor Randy Pope asks, “Why do we see ourselves in a defensive posture” when we talk about local vs. global missions?[3] Why do we tend to separate local and global initiatives and allow them to be competitive? Maybe it’s because we don’t realize just how much one can inform and motivate the other. Consider the following ways local mission and global missions can complement one another:

  • It’s hard to recognize that we have a unique culture of our own until we experience a foreign culture. Global missions helps us step out of our cultural fish bowls so that we begin to see spiritual realities in our local context.

  • Nothing can prepare Sent Ones for the day-to-day grind of global missions like local mission. It’s the classroom in which to mess up and seek forgiveness, as well as to experience setbacks and fall on God.[4]

  • The nations are now all around us, so being faithful locally will require global understanding and skills. Churches will have to “think and act like missionaries” in their own context.[5]

  • The local church has the responsibility to test and approve before they appoint and send. Why would our churches want to send anyone globally who has not first proven themselves locally?[6]

  • Today’s global missionaries, whether church planters or executives or developers or students, will face a sea of complex problems. How will they navigate them without having waded into local complexities beforehand?[7]

  • Western global missionaries must confront the reality that the West is no longer the epicenter of Christianity. Western missionaries will tend to view themselves as an authority over the global church if they haven’t already learned to serve and co-labor alongside other workers locally.[8]

  • Local mission in the West is often driven by information rather than obedience, while global missions tends to prioritize evangelistic fervor to the neglect of theological training. Both efforts will need each other to maintain a faithful balance.[9]

  • The US now receives more missionaries than any country in the world.[10] How will local mission leaders learn to welcome and partner with those missionaries apart from the experience and coaching of global mission leaders?

These are just some of the exciting benefits of a sending church aligning its local and global vision and strategy. Let me give you an example to illustrate what it might look like for a local church to use both efforts in their missions strategy. Imagine the continuity that would result if church members took the missionary skills they had learned in their neighborhood—let’s say, among Nepali refugees—and used them on a short-term missions trip to Nepal. And then imagine those same members returning home from Nepal with fresh energy and cultural insight and having a clear avenue for applying it in their work among their Nepali refugee neighbors. It would be a match made in heaven!


When a church isn’t just busy with local and global activity but seeks to strategically align them, look out! What results is a holistic and unified approach to God’s mission. Do that and, viola!—you’re probably changing the world.


NOTES

[1] The New Republic, “The Politics of Climate Change Stink. That's Why 'Think Globally, Act Locally' Is Back” (21 April 2014). Retrieved from http://www.newrepublic.com/article/117459/earth-day-2014-think-globally-act-locally-back.


[2] Ed Stetzer, “The Trouble with Our Jerusalems,” in Discovering the Mission of God: Best Missional Practices for the 21st Century (Downers Grove, IL: IVP, 2012), 598.


[3] Randy Pope, The Intentional Church: Moving from Church Success to Community Transformation (Chicago, IL: Moody Publishers, 2006), 25.


[4] See Harvie M. Conn and Manuel Ortiz, Urban Ministry: The Kingdom, the City and the People of God (Downers Grove, IL: IVP Academic, 2010).


[5] See McCrary, Crider, Stephens, and Calfee, Tradecraft: For the Church on Mission (Louisville, KY: The Upstream Collective, 2017).


[6] See Thomas Hale, On Being a Missionary (Pasadena, CA: William Carey Library, 2012).


[7] See Steve Corbett and Brian Fikkert, When Helping Hurts: How to Alleviate Poverty Without Hurting the Poor . . . and Yourself (Chicago, IL: Moody Publishers, 2014).


[8] See Paul Borthwick, Western Christians in Global Mission: What’s the Role of the North American Church? (Downers Grove, IL: IVP Books, 2012).


[9] See M. David Sills, Reaching and Teaching: A Call to Great Commission Obedience (Chicago, IL: Moody Publishers, 2010).


[10] Melissa Stephan, “The Surprising Countries Most Missionaries are Sent From and Go To” (25 July 2013). Retrieved from https://www.christianitytoday.com/news/2013/july/missionaries-countries-sent-received-csgc-gordon-conwell.html.

 

Bradley is a missiologist, pastor, and trainer. He has been at Upstream since 2014, producing blog and social media content, authoring The Sending Church Defined and Receiving Sent Ones During Reentry: The Challenges of Returning "Home" and How Churches Can Help, and serving as a board member. He is also the lead pastor at Antioch Church. As a former global Sent One, Bradley reflects on missions and formation at Broken Missiology.

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