I’ve said it before, and I’ll say it again: Missions is changing.
We need to keep up too. Too many of our traditional, American evangelical churches have a static understanding of the Great Commission, especially when it comes to missions. We need to send our people to reach the rest of the world. That’s the idea. We do it by sending long term personnel and by sending short term teams full of students or volunteers from our churches.
That all needs to keep happening, but we need to realize that this is not the only way (and soon may not be the primary way) that the gospel makes its way to the nations.
In a recent article, Christianity Today tackles this huge issue. It is a long but very good read about the complexities that surround our new era in international missions. The article traces the rise of immigrant involvement in spreading the gospel globally. If you’ve got the 10 minutes to spare, I would suggest giving it a read.
The article points out the rise of what it calls “transnational ministry” or groups of churches that partner together across international lines. The article follows the Salamanca family, one portion living in Los Angeles and the other in El Salvador as they lead churches in each place. The ministries are connected and the immigrant church in North America is heavily involved in an ongoing missions strategy to take the gospel back home to their own people. What is more, this is not an isolated story. More and more, immigrant churches in the US are developing strong missions efforts to places back home.
For those of us who have grown up in traditional American churches, we need to perk up and see what is going on around us.
Every immigrant coming here is not unreached.
I have written about this before here and here, but for all our talk of reaching the unreached peoples coming to America, we need to realize the majority of immigrants identify as Christians. Many of these are devoted followers of Christ who have a heart for the Great Commission just like we do.
Fact is, we need to realize that traditional American churches should have a response for all immigrants coming here. That is, we need to be thinking through how we will serve those coming here who need help, like refugees. We certainly need to be considering how we will share the gospel with those who are Muslim or Hindu. But we also need to realize that God is bringing us many fellow brothers and sisters in Christ. These immigrants, coming here and establishing their own churches, are our family and should be our partners in missions.
Immigrant churches here do take the gospel back home.
Often, when we talk about diaspora missions or trying to engage immigrant communities with the gospel, a common reason is the potential for immigrants to take the gospel back to their home country. The idea is that we can engage unreached groups with the gospel here in the US, because it is very difficult for foreign missionaries to get into their closed countries and openly share the gospel. Then, these people can take the gospel back home to closed countries in ways that we cannot.
Of course, no small amount of criticism is levied against this idea. Those who are not proponents of diaspora missions will say this sounds good but does not actually happen. That people, once they have left these countries, will not return. Barring the obvious logical flaw that seems to think unreached immigrants are only worth reaching if they will go back home, existing immigrant churches here in the States prove this criticism faulty.
The article does well to highlight the significant concern that immigrant churches harbor for taking the gospel back home. In fact, the primary family in the story does so even after the father was kidnapped and held for ransom because of their ministry in corrupt El Salvador. Truth is, international remittances (money sent back home as aid and support) dwarf other kinds of relief to these countries. Immigrant churches are a part of this, and they are gladly, sacrificially doing what they can to help people back at home. And for evangelicals, doing all they can mandates meeting their most important need provided for only by the gospel. These churches are serious about missions back home. If churches of people who are coming here as Christians understand this need, then it is not a far leap to believe churches established here among unreached groups would not develop similar missions networks over time.
However, immigrant churches are not the silver bullet in missions.
While these new churches must become a priority for our fellowship and partnership in the gospel, we must not believe we can somehow outsource the Great Commission to them. The obvious reason is because we all have a role to play, and no church should abdicate that responsibility. But there are other reasons as well.
The careful reader will notice that each of the immigrant churches mentioned in the group are focused on reaching back to their home. These groups have a laser focus that is beneficial for the spread of the gospel through their own networks; however, laser focus can become myopic. This article, at least, seems to indicate that many of these churches see their ability to serve their own people back at home, and that is good. We need strategies (and churches) that see the need to cross cultural barriers as well. Perhaps one thing we can bring to the table for immigrant churches is a passion for all the nations.
Now, go read the article. There is a good chance it will challenge some of your categories concerning missions and our role in it.