Wednesday, June 06, 2012

the story of mission, seat by seat

I wonder if the history of modern mission is like travelling in a car.

It started with the pioneers. The missionaries sat in the driving seat with the steering wheel in hand and with foot to the floor. Taylor, Carey, Judson - and the like. They took control, being very directive with their leadership. The cynics will go on about colonialism and imperialism and I am sure that catching that wave often was unavoidably true - but it was not the only truth. There was also the little matter of a great commission which drove them along their way.

Then came an awareness of the place of partnerships. Missionaries realised the need to slip across to the passenger seat. The focus shifted to nurturing national leaders, giving them responsibility and leadership. It was all about strengthening the national church by serving it, not steering it. This captured the passion of my parents' and so many in their generation of missionaries. My father was devoted to building friendships with national leaders and doing what he could to help them take the limelight, shining in their service of Jesus. But always sitting nearby to offer comment and support, when asked.

But I wonder if the shift carries on ... I am at home for three days, in between visits to large M-majority countries in Asia. As I gave myself fully to last week, it dawned on me that being in the passenger seat is not really my goal at all. It is being in the back seat which compels me. No - not so that I can be a back-seat driver (I can read your mind!) - but so that, literally and metaphorically, I can be working from behind. [NB: the sentiment sounds noble, but it is actually a lot harder to do than it sounds]. Last week a skilled and servant-hearted team of national leaders were in the driving seat - with lifelong missionaries, who have won the affection and trust of the locals, in the passenger seat. I was in the back seat where I gave myself to the training as best as I could - and then a moment of sheer joy in that back seat on the final day. The goal is to train trainers of preachers. The opportunity was given for them to train us, as we assumed the persona of novices. Some of them were just so good.

And so, mission accomplished - right? Once they demonstrate the skills, do I just hit the button for the ejector seat and fly outta there and leave them to it? I guess those wallowing in post-colonial guilt would assume this to be the case. I am far less convinced. I think we keep travelling in the car together, celebrating the deepening unity and friendship which comes because we share a love for Jesus - enjoying being members of the global church together and all that this means in a 1 Corinthians 12 kinda way.

nice chatting

Paul