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.
I recently saw a surprising flyer put out by the Methodist Church in Britain. The flyer was for an advertisement for a new program to assist with evangelism that the Methodist Church in Britain was offering. This itself was not surprising.
What was surprising to me was the program itself: the Methodist Church in Britain was offering for local churches in Britain to receive missionaries from CIEMAL, the Consejo de Iglesias Evangélicas Metodistas de América Latina y el Caribe (Council of Methodist Church in Latin America and the Caribbean), who would assist these British churches with their evangelism programs over the course of three years.
The Methodist Church in Britain pointed out that Methodism is growing in many places in Latin America and the Caribbean and left unspoken the contrast that Methodism is shrinking in most places in Britain. If Methodism is growing in Latin America and the Caribbean, might not Latin Americans and Caribbeans have something to teach the British?
That seems logical enough, but what was surprising was the embrace by the Methodist Church in Britain of a very different sort of relationship with some of its descendant churches than the one it traditionally had. Don't get me wrong - I think the shift is very laudable, but it is still surprising.
Traditionally, the Methodist Church in Britain was the one exporting missionaries elsewhere. Those missionaries went out and told other people how to do their evangelism. British Methodists did not receive missionaries or need anyone else to tell them how to do their own evangelism. They were the ones with the money, the power, and the answers.
That attitude has been changing for some time in Britain. The post-colonial and post-Christendom British church realizes it can no longer expect to project itself as the center of money, power, and knowledge, among Methodists abroad or within its own society, in the same way it used to.
Yet this recent flier represents a further step, and a necessary one. There is a progression - from "we will go out as missionaries with the answers," to "we will go out as missionaries in partnership with others, where both sides have answers," to "we may still go out as missionaries, but we also need to receive missionaries and answers from others."
Some of my surprise, I am sure, comes from being an American. It is difficult enough to get many American Christians to shift from the first mindset to the second on the above continuum. That denominational leadership would promote the shift to the third mindset seems unthinkable. What would be the reaction if The United Methodist Church offered to deploy Congolese evangelists in the United States? How would US churches respond to the suggestion that they needed to place themselves under the tutelage and leadership of Africans?
Yet that is the direction that Western Christians should go. We must recognize that it is not only us who go as missionaries, nor only us who have the answers, nor only others who have problems with which they need help. All Christians are called to mission. All Christians have knowledge to share. And all Christians, including Western Christians, have problems with which they need help. We, too, must be willing to listen to others who have aspects of the gospel to share with us so that we can hear them with fresh ears. We, too, must be willing to receive from others just as much as we seek to share with them. The church in the United States may not be at that point yet, but I pray it gets there.