The history of modern Christian mission can be helpfully described by trends in given eras of missionary enterprise. Dr Ralph Winter in his classic article on the Three Eras of Protestant Mission defines modern mission as the period since the resurgence of missionary activity in the 19th and 20th century portrays trends of great difference.
Significant eras and appeals
There was the era of …
- Coastal Missions
- Inland Missions era came next and
- People Group Missions
Each era had its own distinctives and advocates.
The Coastal Missions era was a response to the appeal of William Carey in his famous Enquiry. This motivated many Protestants to ‘go’ to the coastlands of the world from 1800 to 1910.
This was followed by the second era when Hudson Taylor appealed for the interior of China and thence the inland areas of Africa and other parts of the world from 1865 to 1980.
Then came the third era known as the Unreached Peoples Era, led by Cameron Townsend and Donald McGavran. These two great men had a vision for every people group on earth. Great progress was made for several decades of the 20th century.
Battle of the trends
This third and totally biblical focus led the way into the 21st century of missions’ strategy. Now, in the second decade of the current century there are multiple trends that significantly affect the nature and purpose of mission.
Dr Ralph Winter described the ‘battle of trends’ as essentially being between ‘purpose and projects.’
- Purpose has more to do with making disciples of all nations over the longer period while …
- Projects have to do with measurable activity that results in something specific done, such as a building or a well.
These two approaches are not necessarily opponents, but regretfully they have become so more than they should. It is not an ‘either or’ but a ‘both and more’ that is needed.
Some trends have led to a tension between mission agencies and local churches. An increasing number of western churches are managing their own missions’ activity believing this is a better way to go or even that this is the way God is leading.
Linked with this trend is the sending of church teams. The number is increasing significantly. To some, teams are the new strategy replacing the old missionary support method. Again, there is real need for recognition that there is need for both and the need for prayerful dialogue. Teams alone are not God’s new method, however they are potentially the greatest source of recruitment and support as global evangelisation proceeds.
Non-western countries’ missionaries increasing
The trend for missions to be from the non-western world is steadily increasing. It is estimated that two out of every three new missionaries are coming from non-western countries.
- China and India could well be leading the world in this quite exciting trend.
- The USA is still the main source of missionaries, sending out 46,000 – a number which has grown by 6,000 in the last decade.
- Over 44,000 full-time Indian missionaries are working outside their own culture today, organised in more than 500 missions agencies.
Without quoting further detailed numbers I make the point that God is still calling men and women to serve him among the nations.
This is fulfilling the command of Christ recorded in Matthew 28:18-20, ‘Then Jesus came up and told them, “All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. Therefore, as you go, disciple people in all nations, baptising them in the name of the Father, and the Son, and the Holy Spirit, teaching them to obey everything that I’ve commanded you. And remember, I am with you each and every day until the end of the age.”’
God’s plan for all nations is coming to pass. There have been too many side tracks or diversions from the primary task of his plan, however the Holy Spirit is ensuring that the plan of God will not fail.
Some out of every tribe, tongue and nation will be there in the great day of the resurrection at the coming of the Lord!
Dr George Forbes is internationally recognised as a missionary statesman with a heart for the lost of the nations. With a wealth of missionary knowledge and a unique ability to communicate the global picture, he is widely known as the ‘story-teller.’ Link: firstname.lastname@example.org