Contemporary Issues in Missions— Part Two

Continuation of Part One. I am speaking of issues to deal with in a class I will be teaching in a couple of weeks.

So what are very relevant issues that are contemporary and worth focusing on? This is only an eight-week course, and the final two weeks are for students to share a contemporary issue they choose to research and share. That means that I choose six topics.

#1. The Challenges to “4-F Missionaries.” This is a term that I use for “Foreign, Full-time, Fully funded, Forever” missionaries. The challenges on each of these descriptors have been around for awhile. The challenges make us rethink who is a missionary and who is not. They challenge our traditional view of ‘missionary calling.’ But with the pandemic, the challenges have grown. Because of some recent changes, I am only spending half of my time in the Philippines instead of full-time. Despite that I am teaching in the Philippines full-time, through online teaching. Now suppose I spent all of my time outside of the Philippines, could I be thought of as a full-time missionary to the Philippines if I am ministering online to those in the Philippines?

These concerns have been around from the beginning even if we did not always focus on them. Many people consider Paul to be the greatest missionary of all time (I feel like we are would need a God’s-eye view to make such a judgment). Paul was not fully-funded. Paul was not foreign… most of those he ministered to were Hellenized people of a fairly similar culture to himself. He arguable was not even full-time. He ministered full-time, but he spent considerable time in Antioch between mission trips, and spent several years in Ephesus as well. And frankly, he was a good churchplanter, but the thing that makes him ‘great’ in terms of missions was the influence he exerted on the history of the church through his writings. In other words, his greatest influence in terms of missions on church history was in ministry work that was away from where he was actually resided. It may be an old issue… but it is more relevant than ever.

#2. Honor and Shame Missions. This has been a big issue for some years now. However, it seems to be going mainstream and sneaking into theological development. I have also been wondering whether we need to look at other paradigms of missions and theology as well. For example, Robert Strauss has spoken of Justice cultures, Honor cultures, Reciprocity cultures, and Harmony cultures. Is there a place for all four to provide paradigms for theological and missiological development? Anyway, in the Philippines, there still is a tendency to define “good theology” is what comes from America. Rethinking theology and missions in a new setting needs to be driven home.

#3. Localization of Theology. Bosch and Hiebert and others have spoken of Self-theologizing of the local church. This is still thought of as controversial by many (most?) but it is starting to go mainstream. But that has led to several concerns: What is GOOD local theology? How does one DO local theology? How does one identify FLAWED or heterodox theology?

#4. Missionary Member Care. Okay, I have to explain this one. Missionary Member Care is NOT NEW. But in New Sending Countries such as the Philippines it is still pretty new. I remember a few years ago leading a training in missionary member care where my host warned the audience here in the Philippines that what I would be sharing was “controversial.” I did not consider this as remotely controversial. However, I have heard some missionaries and church leaders speaking of mission work as suffering. There is suffering in missions, but some seemed to think that missions real if there is suffering, and missionaries who struggle are “Weak” and perhaps “not truly called to serve God.” In the US, MMC is old news, but it is still being developed here in Asia.

#5. Shift to Great Urban Centers. For a long time it was cutting edge to talk about UPG (unreached people groups) or UUPGs (unreached and unengaged people groups). There are still those who think of it as cutting edge. However, missions is changing fast, and urban ministry is becoming central in missions. This urban ministry shows itself in dealing with multi-lingual, multi-ethnic, multicultural, multi-racial settings and people where UPG just doesn’t make a lot of sense. And with the huge growth of certain cities (Great Urban Centers, GUCs). If one likes Ralph Winter’s Three Wave model for Protestant Missions, it could be argued that the GUCs define a fourth wave.

#6. Orality Movement. Bible Storying from New Tribes, and other systems, have been with us for some time, acknowledging that there are groups that cannot read. However, in more recent times, the movement has grown and transformed. Orality is also about how we learn, dealing with cultures and sub-cultures that CAN read but DON’T or WON’T, or who learn better through oral processes. It has also moved into things such as Bible translation and theological education. In other words, Orality is not simply a tool, but but from hermeneutics, to pedagogy, to visual and performance arts, it is becoming a major field with the potential for great impact in all parts of the world.

Obviously these are only a few… and perhaps not the best. Hopefully, my students will then choose even better issues for their own presentations.

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