Tuesday, February 12, 2008

Transformations in World Mission

There are sweeping changes blowing through the General Assembly’s World Mission division. These changes, the work that is now being done in world mission, the changes in leadership at the General Assembly in the World Missions office and the shifting theology of mission at the national level have not received a lot of attention across the church. I now regularly remind people that we must understand what we mean when we speak of the General Assembly. Concerning the General Assembly offices in Louisville we must remember that this work is divided into two very separate, autonomous tracks. On one hand is the Office of the General Assembly (OGA). In my experience, it is the OGA which most people have in mind when they speak of the General Assembly. The OGA includes the Office of the Stated Clerk and is responsible for the actual meeting of the General Assembly, for the Book of Order and for all constitutional questions in the church. Anything having to do with the Book of Order, including the newly proposed Form of Government taskforce report, is under the rubric of the OGA.
We must remember that there is another, completely separate track of ministry and mission at the General Assembly that is organized under the leadership of the General Assembly Council (GAC). With its own Executive Director, newly hired Linda Valentine, the GAC is responsible for the ministry programs and mission work of the General Assembly. All the world mission work of the General Assembly falls under the rubric of the General Assembly Council. In my mind, the most exciting and most positive changes in the national church are happening within the GAC. But we generally do not seem to pay much attention to these issues.
One of the most exciting and most important transformations happening in our church is in the area of world mission but it all seems to be quietly unheralded, in the face of our massive conflicts over Book of Order issues. I want with this article to call our attention to important work that was accomplished recently at a church-wide consultation that was held in Dallas in January 2008 titled, Renewed Call to Presbyterian Mission in the World!
(Read about this conference at: http://www.pcusa.org/worldwide/renewed.htm).

This conference brought together leaders from the General Assembly, international mission co-workers, the many mission organizations affiliated with the PC(USA), and seminary professors in the area of mission. This conference gathered some brilliant reflections on the theology of mission which we need for this new era.
For example, Setri Nyomi, General Secretary of the World Alliance of Reformed Churches presented an important paper on “Mission in Unity.” He claimed the centrality of mission for the church today:
(Read this paper at: http://www.pcusa.org/worldwide/pdf/missionandunity.pdf).

“In Reformed thinking, mission is at the heart of our understanding of the church. Where the church is facing dwindling numbers and challenged at many fronts, to revitalize the church we have to reclaim the centrality of mission and move beyond a state in which we are yielding to every issue that threatens to divide us. We have to clarify mission understanding relevant for our era and also to overcome distracting divisions, so that our mission can be effective.”

Even more, at the same conference, Professor Scott Sunquist, Professor of World Mission and Evangelism at Pittsburgh Seminary, named again the essential call of Christian mission:
(Read this paper at: http://www.pcusa.org/worldwide/pdf/community.pdf)

“I put this up front, because I think we have forgotten that Christian mission has always been a matter of participating in the suffering and glory of the Triune God. It is not our safe and carefully planned work, it is dangerous, often imperfectly organized, it can be frightening and it is a work of the unbridled Holy Spirit of the Living God. Christian mission is a matter of spirituality more than structures, of sacrifice more than strategies. Any assumptions that our task here is to restructure life into Presbyterian mission will fail, and it should. Our task is to participate with God, and plead with God that he would breathe new life into this old institution. We should begin be confessing that we have been trapped in small dreams, we have lost our way in swirling winds of culture, and we have been concerned to defend out little kingdoms, while the Kingdom of God is about ready to overwhelm us. It is true. As we restructure and restructure and reorganize our little decreasing kingdom, the Kingdom of God is arising as a magnificent and glorious city of the poor and the oppressed.”

This important conference on world mission may have set a course for the future direction of Presbyterian world mission. The conclusion of the conference, articulated in their “Invitation to Expanding Partnership in God’s Mission” included these affirmations which all together reflect a stunning transformation in our theology of mission:
(Read this paper at: http://www.pcusa.org/worldwide/pdf/invitationtoexpandingpartnership.pdf).

1. We will affirm and encourage World Mission as it continues to move from a regulatory to a more enabling and equipping role.
2. We will celebrate and encourage diverse Presbyterian approaches and structures for mission while maintaining the unity of our participation in God’s mission.
3. We will share responsibility for the education and preparation of all Presbyterians for mission.
4. We commit ourselves to seeking more mission personnel who will serve long-term in cross cultural contexts through the PC(USA), and to supporting them fully.
5. We commit ourselves to enabling and supporting our global partners as they send their mission personnel in cross-cultural service.
6. We recognize and affirm the growing opportunity for cross-cultural mission in our own increasingly pluralistic and multi-cultural society, and we receive the global community from near and far as mission partners and God’s gift to us. We seek increased integration between local and global mission.