Monday, October 21, 2019

The Filipino UMC Link Between Revival, Unity, and Mission

Today's post is by UM & Global blogmaster Dr. David W. Scott, Director of Mission Theology at the General Board of Global Ministries. The opinions and analysis expressed here are Dr. Scott's own and do not reflect in any way the official position of Global Ministries.

In a previous post, I recounted the story of the Lito Tangonan-led split in the Philippines UMC in the early 2010s. I argued that politically this split has made those in the UMC more committed to the global church and more averse to the possibility of further splits in the UMC in the Philippines.

Yet there has also been a significant theological development that has come out of the aftermath of the Tangonan split. For the Philippines UMC, revival, unity, and mission go together. One can best see the connection between these three theological concepts in the Revive events held in the Philippines.

The first Revive event was held in November 2012. It was a revival gathering of 8,000 United Methodists from across the Philippines. It was organized by lay Methodists, especially retired Philippines Supreme Court Chief Justice Reynato Puno.

The event was intended as a direct response to the Tangonan split. Puno referred to the event as an attempt to heal “our wounded church,” a reference to wounds incurred during the split.

The event also came just two weeks before the Philippines Central Conference met to elect bishops. 16 out of the 26 candidates for episcopal election spoke at the event. I am sure that part of the reason for holding a revival and prayer meeting at which the episcopal candidates spoke was to ensure that the Spirit would guide delegates two weeks later in making good choices of episcopal leaders, thereby avoiding another harmful saga like that set off by Tangonan’s election four years earlier.

The event drew on and sought to reignite Filipino Methodist holiness piety, which have its roots in a holiness theology shared among the Philippines and the US in the early 20th century, one that has proven to be more enduring in the Philippines than in the US. Yet in addition to the focus on holiness, there was also a focus on unity, an important theme for an event organized to respond to the Tangonan split. American speaker Scott Kelso, one of the main presenters, spoke about “praying for healing and unity.”

Unity continued to be a main focus for Revive 2, held in November 2016, just before the next meeting of the Philippines Central Conference. That event was even more popular than the first, drawing 10,000 Filipino United Methodists, including participants from across the Filipino theological spectrum. The theme for Revive 2 was “Go in Faith, Go in Power, Go in Unity,” making even clearer the connection for Filipino United Methodists between revival, unity, and mission.

Reynato Puno was again a major organizer of the event, and he again connected it to unity in the wake of the Tangonan split. In a UMNS interview for the 2016 event, he explained the origins of the event in 2012 by saying, “Some of the churches were breaking away because of some issues not being reasonably resolved. As laymen, we thought that the proper response to the crisis was to have a revival.”

And although the church was past the worst of the split in 2016, the issue had by no means faded from memory. In testimonies by current bishops shown at the revival, Bishop Rudy Juan, then bishop of the Manila Episcopal Area, mentions the AIMP split in his description of the challenges and goals in the work of his episcopal area (see minute 13).

Nor was Puno the only one to make the connection between revival and unity. Several videos were produced for the event, including interviews with retired Filipino bishops. The opening video for the event includes several retired bishops speaking of the connection between revival, unity, mission, and evangelism.

A history of the UMC in the Philippines produced for the event (worth a watch in its own right) concludes with remarks by retired Bishop Soriano linking unity, revival, and mission. In those remarks, he specifically mentions the debate over sexuality as an issue of disagreement, but one that need not preclude unity for the sake of mission.

Moreover, there is evidence that this theological linking of revival, mission, and unity has continued to have currency among Filipino (and Filipino-American) United Methodists since the Revive events. In announcing the formation of the Global Filipino United Methodists Movement earlier this year, Rev. Edgar De Jesus again made the connection between revival, unity, and mission, saying “This [mission] movement is a wakeup call to the people called Methodists to keep the main thing the main thing — the centrality of our faith in Jesus Christ, the humble servant and the risen one, who draws us into profound community with one another in love and unity.”

To grasp the significance for the UMC connection as a whole of this linking of revival, unity, and mission by Filipinos, consider some of the American alternatives.

For American centrists, there is a strong link between unity and mission, but that linkage typically lacks the inclusion of revival. Thus, unity is primarily understood in structural terms – we as United Methodists are united because we are part of one organization. For Filipinos, however, unity has less of structural connotation and more of a spiritual one – we are united because of our connection in Christ and our love for one another. That spiritual dimension to unity is evident in de Jesus’ quote above.

For American traditionalists, there is a strong link between revival and mission, but instead of these two being linked to unity, they are linked to purity. American traditionalists believe that revival will lead to mission, especially in the form of evangelism. But American traditionalists believe that for such revival to occur, the church must be pure, especially pure in its teachings around sexuality, which is to say, of one mind about those teachings. For American traditionalists, purity leads to spiritual power, whereas for Filipinos, unity with one another leads to spiritual power.

American progressives are less likely to use language of revival and mission, though they do have a vision of a future church where cherished spiritual values are in greater abundance (revival) and in which the church has an impact on social issues in the world around it (mission). They are, however, often antagonistic to language of unity, seeing it as a term used to justify continued oppression. It is clear that for progressives, as for traditionalists, purity is the theological virtue that will lead to the church they want, not unity. For progressives, this purity means a church that is pure from anti-LGBTQ discrimination.

There are also different understandings of mission among American centrists, American traditionalists, American progressives, and Filipinos. Centrists are most likely to think in terms of charity, traditionalists in terms of evangelism, and progressives in terms of social justice. Filipinos are more likely to have a wholistic view of mission which encompasses all three, since all three have been important to the UMC in the Philippines, not just through separate constituencies, but through overlapping concern.

Thus, the Philippines again represents a different starting point from which to think about the nature of the global church, one that could potentially lead to different conclusions about the future of that global church, were others willing to listen to Filipino theology and history and see where thinking alongside them might lead.

Friday, October 18, 2019

Recommended Viewing: History of the UMC in the Philippines

The Philippines Central Conference put together this 13 minute video of its history in 2016. That history is recounted (mostly in English, some in Tagalog) by retired bishops of the Philippines Central Conference. Thus, the history is presented from a Filipino perspective, both in terms of narrators and producers.

The video recounts major events within the UMC in the Philippines and does an especially good job of linking the development of the UMC in the Philippines to the political history of the Philippines, including US colonialism, World War II, and the contest between dictatorship and democracy.

It would serve as a good resource for college or seminary classes or church study groups seeking to learn more about the history of this branch of the UMC.

Wednesday, October 16, 2019

Robert Haynes: Why Aren’t Short-Term Mission Teams Using the Bible?

Today’s post is by Rev. Dr. Robert Ellis Haynes, Director of Education & Leadership at World Methodist Evangelism. It is adapted from excerpts from his book Consuming Mission: Towards a Theology of Short-Term Mission and Pilgrimage (Wipf and Stock, 2018). It is part of an on-going UM & Global series on UMVIM and short-term mission.

As a part of my in-depth research in the United Methodist short-term mission (hereafter STM), I interviewed teams to learn more of their motivations for mission service. One question I asked was about the biblical passages and/or verses that informed their mission service. When I posed the question, I expected it to be one of the easiest for team leaders and team members to answer. However, the question brought a level of discomfort for many.

None of the teams in my field research, all of whom were sponsored by United Methodist Churches, reported using an intentional Bible study or mission curriculum before, during, or after their trip. Even some seasoned veterans had trouble providing common passages associated with mission. This trickled down to their team members in terms of the lack of intentional Bible study for their mission teams.

This lack of Scripture in explaining mission is very telling and reflects problems with denominational resources. Consider that the UMVIM Team Leader Handbook does not offer a section on biblical or theological reflection of mission, only a suggestion to download a twenty-five-page devotional guide from their website. In the list of "best practices," the recommendation of "Spiritual Formation" is listed last behind logistical considerations.[1]

A comparable resource offered for volunteers is similarly problematic. A Mission Journey: A Handbook for Volunteers is the resource offered from The United Methodist Church's chief mission agency: the General Board of Global Ministries. This work should be commended for utilizing Scripture more so than the Team Leader Handbook. The material does attempt to articulate a theology of mission aimed at the level of the STM practitioner.

Yet, problems remain. The biblical material seemed to point to the enticement for "Volunteer Mission Experiences and Spiritual Transformation."[2] For example,

"United Methodist Volunteers in Mission (UMVIM) Experiences offer a unique context for spiritual transformation.... [W]e often become so immersed in our busy schedules and the noisy demands of our daily lives that we neglect to care for our souls. The act of going to a different place and leaving our ordinary lives behind may open us to hear God speaking to us."[3]

Such sentiments are firmly couched in the idealization of STM as personal edification. Service billed as mission but aimed at self-fulfilling spiritual growth does not conform to a biblical Wesleyan theology of mission. However, it is interesting that no teams in my research reported using these materials but echoed these sentiments.

A Mission Journey should be affirmed for seeking to articulate a theology for all of mission, including STM, with the United Methodist General Board of Global Ministries' Mission Theology statement. Though this statement does include language that alludes to biblical messages, there is no explicit instruction to use Scripture as a directive for mission. Additionally, the "Best Practices for UMVIM/VIM (Sending and Hosting Teams)" only lists logistical and cultural concerns, not a directive for scriptural engagement.[4] Even in The United Methodist Church's key mission agencies' statements of mission, biblical engagement was not primary.

Since the Bible is not a significant part of mission training for team leaders or their team members, it may be expected that STMers had difficulties discussing their work with biblical motivations. When teaching a biblical theology for mission is not the primary task for mission leaders and their team members, cultural influences will take over the space theology should occupy. As a result, the wide-spread practice of crafting a meaningful experience for the participant, so predominant in American touristic culture, becomes the driving force for service activities done in the name of mission. Such is the danger of allowing cultural influences to shape ecclesial practice when something other than Scripture becomes the driving force in these activities. Yet, a proper understanding of the role of church, mission, the Kingdom of God, and the missio Dei cannot be found outside of Scripture.

Perhaps the ongoing Wesleyan/Methodist movement can embrace the lessons of its origin to catch a glimpse of its participation in the missio Dei and to do so in the mutual accountability of clergy and laity. Key components of the work of the missio Dei in the current context will include a biblical understanding of a radical solidarity between the missionary and those served, an embracing of the world as the parish, and a recognition that all are poor in some way. This is particularly true for the growing movement of United Methodist STM. Its leaders must assess their priorities in formation of the laity to admonish John Wesley’s call to "labour to do good...as of the ability which God giveth."

In my final post in this series, I will suggest a Wesleyan biblical theology of mission that STM leaders can use in shaping their congregations’ engagement in STM.

[1] Team Leader Handbook (Birmingham, AL: United Methodist Volunteers in Mission, 2015), 6-7; Lyons, R. G. Preparing for the Journey: A Devotional Guide for Teams, 2015. Accessed September 15, 2016. http://umvim.org/send_a_team/usa/spiritual_formation.html.
[2] Jones, U. and J. Blankenbake. A Mission Journey: A Handbook for Volunteers (Nashville, TN: Upper Room, 2014), 17.
[3] A Mission Journey, 19.
[4] A Mission Journey, 145-49.

Monday, October 14, 2019

UMC Schism and the Philippines

Today's post is by UM & Global blogmaster Dr. David W. Scott, Director of Mission Theology at the General Board of Global Ministries. The opinions and analysis expressed here are Dr. Scott's own and do not reflect in any way the official position of Global Ministries.

Given how focused US United Methodists are on the possibility of a split in the UMC in the United States, it may come as a surprise to many that the UMC has already experienced splits in other countries in the last 15 years. In 2018, both Nigeria and Burundi reconciled previous schisms within the UMC, and those are just the reconciled schisms.

These splits have been unrelated to the current US debate on sexuality. Nonetheless, they do provide some perspective on just how Amero-centric is our fear that the UMC might split. It already has, and for the most part, nobody outside the country in which a schism happened has noticed. It is a sign of American privilege in the UMC that we expect a US split to be of central importance to the rest of the church. Certainly, an American split would have financial ramifications for the rest of the church, but that just reinforces the point about how Amero-centric the UMC is.

I would like to share the story of one particular recent split – the Ang Iglesia ng Metodista sa Pilipinas (AIMP) schism in the Philippines. This story is important for understanding current Filipino attitudes toward the UMC, which as I have suggested before, may be pivotal in determining the outcome(s) of GC2020. It also hints at how ugly church splits can get, though certainly a split in the US would play out differently than in the Philippines because of different legal and cultural systems.

Much of the information presented here comes from Chapter 4 of Scotty McLaughlin’s 2015 PhD dissertation at the University of Michigan, “The Boundary Indefinite: Schism and the Ethics of Christian Strategy in the Philippines,” corroborated with other sources, including articles by Linda Bloom ([1] and [2]).

In November 2008, Rev. Lito C. Tangonan was elected bishop in the Philippines Central Conference and assigned to the Manila Episcopal Area. Tangonan was serving as a district superintendent prior to his election and was an outspoken proponent of autonomy for the UMC in the Philippines and critic of the global structure of the UMC.

Within a year after Tangonan became bishop, charges of misconduct were brought against him. While denominational records kept the details of the charge confidential, it became known, at least in the Philippines, that he was accused of sexually assaulting a female assistant. Tangonan denied the charges, referring to them as a “smear campaign.”

In December 2009, the Philippines College of Bishops placed Tangonan on paid leave as his case was considered, a decision whose legitimacy was affirmed by the Judicial Council in April 2010. Retired Bishop Daniel Arichea was assigned to replace Tangonan as interim bishop, starting in January 2010.

However, rather than accept his suspension and Arichea’s replacement of him, Tangonan continued to try to exercise the functions of bishop. While barred from the episcopal office building, he called annual conference meetings in areas where he had strong support. This resulted in several competing annual conference meetings, wherein one was held by Tangonan, and one was held by Bishop Arichea. The Judicial Council ruled against Tangonan and for Bishop Arichea five times (once in 2010, three times in 2011, and once in 2012) in determining which annual conference meeting had been the validly constituted one.

In the midst of this dispute, the executive council of the Council of Bishops added their own suspension of Tangonan in July 2011 after he did not attend a meeting with Bishop Goodpaster in Georgia that was aimed at resolving the conflict. Instead, Tangonan released a public letter to Goodpaster, calling his suspension “illegal,” refuting the right of the Philippines College of Bishops or the UMC Council of Bishops to oversee him, and referring to himself as “the legitimate elected bishop.”

Around this time, Pangonan, working with supporters, began to lay the groundwork for leaving the UMC and forming an autonomous denomination with himself as the head. Tangonan officially resigned from the UMC later in 2011. Paperwork to register the new denomination – the Ang Iglesia ng Metodista sa Pilipinas – as a corporate entity was filed on Dec. 7, 2011. Tangonan was then elected as bishop of the new denomination.

Approximately 130 churches and 2000 members left with Tangonan, according to the AIMP’s own reporting, though some of those churches have been returned to the UMC and control of others remains disputed. These numbers represent about 7% of churches and 1.5% of Filipino UMC members at the time. However, the defections were not spread evenly across the Philippines, with the majority in the West Middle Philippines, Middle Philippines, Philippines – Cavite, and Palawan Annual Conferences.

Because Tangonan and his followers did not use formal UMC procedures to leave the UMC and because they sought to take local church properties with them, conflict soon ensued between the UMC and AIMP over control of property, including both church buildings and parsonages. Some of that conflict was legal – there were a couple of lawsuits between Tangonan’s camp and the pro-UMC camp over whose was the legitimate meeting of the West Middle Philippines Annual Conference. Despite the UMC Judicial Council ruling on the subject, Filipino courts decided in Tangonan’s favor in a process that some pro-UMC people believed was influenced by corruption.

But conflict extended beyond the legal to the physical. In some instances, the different camps attempted to lock their opponents out of church buildings. Pastors refused to vacate parsonages. In some cases, there was even physical violence between the two different camps. It was not pretty.

There is not much online about the AIMP from the last six or seven years, so it is unclear to me where that group stands currently. The UMC was successful in reclaiming some properties and probably some members after the initial schism.

But it is clear that, whatever the status of the AIMP, this experience of schism has affected those who have remained in the UMC, both theologically and politically. I will talk about the theological effects in a subsequent piece. Politically, the Tangonan split had two effects:

First, it reduced the long-standing drive for Filipino autonomy from the UMC. In part, it did this by siphoning off those pastors and churches that were most pro-autonomy and anti-UMC. In part, it did this because those remaining in the UMC felt less free in taking pro-autonomy stances, since they did not want to be associated with Tangonan’s party. And in part, it did this by showing some of the value of the larger UMC structures: the Council of Bishops and the Judicial Council consistently sided with the pro-UMC group in the Philippines in ways that served to increase the legitimacy of the actions taken by those in the Philippines UMC opposed to Tangonan.

Second, the experience of the Tangonan split showed United Methodists in the Philippines just how messy a church split could become, not just legally but also interpersonally, as some resorted to violence to try to resolve issues of control of church property. I presume this is not an experience Filipino United Methodists would like to repeat.

These two political lessons from the Tangonan split are important for understanding the Philippines’ current stance within the current global UMC debates about structure and sexuality. It makes sense that the Philippines bishops and other Filipino leaders would advocate for the continued unity of the church, since one of the effects of the Tangonan split was to make the remaining Filipino United Methodists more pro-global UMC.

It also makes sense that Filipinos would want to avoid messy church splits over the issue of sexuality. While most Filipinos are traditionalists on issues of sexuality, there is a sizable progressive minority. The Filipinos’ proposal to grant more regional autonomy within the global UMC preserves some of the international structures important to the Filipinos (the Council of Bishops and Judicial Council), allows them more leeway in addressing their own disagreements about sexuality in a less conflict-driven manner than Americans, and helps ensure that any splitting that does happen will be confined to an American region that is a bit more separated from and therefore less likely to influence the Philippines.

While it is easy to read the statement of the African bishops and that of the Filipino bishops as saying essentially the same thing – they want continued unity of the global UMC – it is important to understand that the two groups are saying what they are saying for different reasons with different points of reference in mind.

Thus, the interests and strategies of Filipino delegates as a whole will be different from those of African delegates as a whole at General Conference 2020. Understanding those interests and strategies will be key for any Americans who want to successfully work with the Filipinos in crafting the future of the church.

Friday, October 11, 2019

Recommended Reading: European Methodist Council Adopts Climate Pledges

The European Methodist Council (EMC), a consortium of the Methodist, Wesleyan, and related United/Uniting churches in Europe, including The United Methodist Church, met last month on Sept. 14-17 in Italy. One of the main outcomes of the meeting was the adoption of a set of "climate pledges" ("Klimaversprechen"). These promises, entitled "Hope in God's Future"/"Hoffnung auf Gottes Zukunft," represent ways in which both the Council and its member denoninations pledge to reduce their impact on the environment. The promises are available both in German and English. German delegates to the EMC have written (in German) this article about the meeting is a whole.

Wednesday, October 9, 2019

Robert Haynes: Short Term Mission, UMVIM, and Pilgrimage Experiences

Today’s post is by Rev. Dr. Robert Ellis Haynes, Director of Education & Leadership at World Methodist Evangelism. It is adapted from excerpts from his book Consuming Mission: Towards a Theology of Short-Term Mission and Pilgrimage (Wipf and Stock, 2018). It is part of an on-going UM & Global series on UMVIM and short-term mission.

The People Called Methodists have a long and rich history of missional evangelism. Today, hundreds of thousands of United Methodists, lay and clergy, participate in service projects at home and abroad each year. However, the minority do so under the purview of official United Methodist agencies. Whereas John Wesley sought to organize and oversee his followers in mission service, it would appear that utilizing denominational connectivity is not a priority for many American United Methodist churches today. In 2012, more than 500,000 American United Methodists reported serving in mission at home or overseas. However, less than 11 percent of them did so through the guidance of agencies affiliated with The United Methodist Church, such as United Methodist Volunteers in Mission (hereafter UMVIM).[1]

The reasons for this are not entirely clear, and they raise several questions. Why are these large numbers of lay people forgoing official United Methodist agencies? Do they do so under the guidance and example of their pastors? Are the laity serving in mission by engaging with the Wesleyan practices of accountability? Is this a new movement of the missio Dei that is designed to equip the laity for mission which should be embraced by church leadership, or is something else going on?

Current mission patterns in United Methodism seem to be indicative of the larger American mission movement. An increase in service by the laity, a move away from the power of centralized organizations to local congregations, and the increasing influence of a "market state" rather than nation state can all be seen in United Methodist mission. Additionally, there is a perceptible move away from a designated international missionary who is supported by local congregations and supervised by leaders within a missional hierarchy.

Instead, international mission work is becoming increasingly centered in the local congregation. One indicator of such a movement to the local congregation is the evidence that more United Methodist congregations are not utilizing the denominational connections available to them. The laity, with various levels of training, preparation, and oversight are deploying themselves to bring their understanding of mission and ministry to nearly every continent, rather than being deployed through denominational channels.

Such a shift away from denominational ties is just one challenge of United Methodist mission. This shift toward focusing on local and individual desires in organizing STM correlates with a shift toward an understanding of mission as a pilgrimage experience undertaken primarily for the benefit of those going, and not connected to the impact on receiving communities or larger denominational priorities.

My research revealed that there was significant evidence that STM participants used their time, money, and service to purchase an experience of pilgrimage. My interpretation of the narratives I collected points to the conclusion that some United Methodist churches, in part or in whole, have developed STM programs with the primary goal of consuming an experience for the implicit, and sometimes explicit, benefit of the participants.

Those congregants who had participated in STM previously wanted to do so again in hopes of recapturing something they had lost since the last experience. First-timers were seeking to experience what they had seen in the veterans. All of them seemed to be ready to consume mission activities for personal growth.

When the personal experience becomes primary, as it has in many STM efforts, the central goal of Christian mission is hidden from view. Mission must be grounded in a biblical theology. Activities that are done in the name of mission but are designed, either implicitly or explicitly, for the primary benefit of the participant do not have a biblical precedent.

Trips designed primarily for the benefit of the participants can be called “learning trips”, “church-work trips”, or “educational tours”, but they should not be called “mission.” The issue is much more than mere semantics.

As a result of this fundamental misunderstanding, STM is not living up to its full potential. Many, though not all, leaders of STM continue to incorrectly and unbiblically frame these service trips, designed primarily for self-edification, experiential tourism, and personal pilgrimage, as “mission.” The tension in doing so is increasingly evident in both local churches who send these teams, the churches who receive them, and the world that watches from the outside looking in.

In subsequent posts, I will examine how this problem is related to the lack of a biblically grounded Wesleyan theology of mission and how that problem might be overcome.

[1] According to reports complied by the General Council for Finance and Administration. Since that time, the reporting format for mission participation has changed and, as such, the data are no longer available in this format.

Monday, October 7, 2019

Defining Mission: Conversation

The following post is based on excerpts from UM & Global blogmaster David W. Scott's book, Crossing Boundaries: Sharing God's Good News Through Mission.

In Crossing Boundaries, I lay out a new definition of mission: Mission is cultivating relationships across boundaries for the sake of fostering conversations in word and deed about the nature of God’s good news.

While a full understanding of that definition and its practical implications for mission work in congregations is best grasped by reading the book, this series of blog posts briefly examines the four components of this definition – good news, relationships, crossing boundaries, and conversation. This post will examine the component of conversation.

Previous posts in this series have described how mission involves cultivating relationships across boundaries. Yet we cultivate those relationships not just for their own sakes, but for the sake of understanding the good news.

Understanding that good news is a process of mutual learning, not a monologue in which we seek to unload our information on others. You can’t have a true conversation if only one person is talking, or if one person is not listening when the other person talks. True conversation only happens when both sides talk and both sides listen.

Thinking of mission in this mutual way is a challenge for many Christians engaged in mission. Whether we think of mission as helping or mission as evangelism, there is a tendency for Western Christians to think of mission as a one-sided process. All too often, the attitude of Western Christians to their mission partners is “We have money, schools, medicine, etc., which we will give to you. We have the right understanding of God, which we will give to you. We do not need to receive anything from you.”

To see mission in this one-sided way is to misunderstand mission for a whole host of reasons. To be in mission, we must be willing to listen and receive, not merely talk and give. Listening and receiving recognizes the worth of others and the assets that others have. It affirms the genuineness of our relationship with them. It even helps us better understand the work God is doing and calls us to do in mission.

Listening to others recognizes the ability they have to discern the ways in which God is at work in their contexts (and perhaps ours, too!). Because mission begins with God, not with us Christians, God is already at work in all contexts before any missionaries show up. Missionaries never bring God to a context; they always go to join in what God is already doing.

Especially when our mission partners are Christians (which they often are, both domestically and abroad), we should expect them to have the same ability to perceive God’s action in the world as we do. Their level of material wealth, health, education, etc. in no way limits their ability to perceive God at work. The ability to perceive God is a spiritual ability, not an economic or social ability. Indeed, sometimes being more vulnerable or marginalized allows people to notice God in ways that those who are distracted with security or privilege overlook. One’s economic or social standing does not indicate one’s standing with God.

Regardless of assets, privilege, or religious affiliation and belief, we should expect everyone to have a unique view of God and God’s actions in the world that will be different than our own. This conclusion follows because everyone’s view of God is shaped by his or her unique life experiences and by his or her particular context.

While others may not be able to see God in some of the same ways we do, they will also be able to see God in ways that we cannot. Thus, there are things we will have missed about God and God’s action that they will have seen from where they are sitting. We can learn from those insights.

Thus far, I have talked about conversation as taking place between two sets of participants—us and our mission partners. This two-sided model needs expanding, though. for two reasons. Mission involves conversations between all mission partners, and between humans, the Bible, and human contexts. We should not presume that all those going out in mission nor all our mission partners have the same things to contribute to a conversation. Each person involved in mission has their own unique contribution to make to the conversation, whether missionary or mission partner.

Moreover, the conversation of mission does not just take place between people. The conversation of mission is also a conversation with God and with human contexts. God is an important part of the conversation because the conversation is about God’s good news. If we want to know more about God’s good news, then we should be willing to listen to God and share our understandings, hopes, fears, and confusions with God.

The conversation is also a conversation about the meaning of God’s good news in particular contexts. Thus, we need to pay attention to how our mission partners’ contexts and our own contexts shape the conversation in ways that go beyond the viewpoints of particular individuals. The previous post in this series discussed the significance of contexts.

Chapter 6 of Crossing Boundaries: Sharing God's Good News Through Mission is dedicated to helping congregations and individuals engage in such conversations about God’s good news with their mission partners. It includes practices to incorporate into good conversations, spiritual temptations to avoid in conversations, how actions can function as a form of conversation, and specific models of organizing mission-related conversations.

It is my prayer that the definition of mission laid out in this series of blog posts and the practical guidance in how to implement this definition that is given in Crossing Boundaries itself will help congregations and individuals engage in mission with renewed confidence and enthusiasm and to experience the rich spiritual blessings that come from doing so.