Developing a global perspective requires that we listen to and learn from one another in the increasingly inter-connected body of Christ, writes David Williams, CMS Development and Training Secretary.
During my ministry in Kenya, I helped to establish a “Centre for Urban Mission.” The Centre was a tin-shack room in the middle of Kibera slum. We offered training to pastors and church leaders from informal settlement churches, most of which were independent ministries. The Centre developed rapidly in exciting ways, offering a range of programs: one showed how the Bible story fits together and points to Jesus, while another helped Christians to respond to HIV/AIDS.
But when the Anglican Church in the United States consecrated Gene Robinson as a practising homosexual bishop, we lost half of our students overnight. They did not want to associate with an Anglican College.
We live in an inter-connected world. The actions of American bishops, in their own Dioceses, directly impact the witness of churches in Africa. The words of African bishops, spoken to their own people, can impact the reputation of churches in Britain or Australia.
We are all connected
As part of the body of Christ, we are united with other churches around the world through Jesus. Our increasing awareness of this inter-connectedness leads to both great challenges and great opportunities that were not possible in the past. We enjoy many opportunities to learn from our brothers and sisters, to be encouraged by their faith and stretched by their discipleship. But we also face the challenge of remembering that what we do in Australia may directly affect the life and witness of Christians in other countries.
Learning to listen
So in an inter-connected world and as part of the body of Christ, it is important that we learn to listen to one another. Mission organisations like CMS play a key role in enabling churches in Australia to listen to the voices of churches around the world. Three key ways that we do this at CMS are:
1. Building strong partnerships between missionaries and Australian churches
CMS missionaries play a vital role in sharing the stories and perspectives of the Christians whom they live and serve alongside. Our workers will tell you that deputation is no holiday – they work their socks off visiting supporting churches and taking part in CMS conferences. They provide churches in Australia with a wonderful opportunity to learn what it means to follow Jesus as Lord and Saviour in another culture.
2. Learning from cross-cultural ministry leaders
We welcome international speakers to our Summer Schools to provide a global perspective on mission in the 21st century. In recent years it has been a privilege to listen to people like John Azumah, Kang-San Tan and Loun-Ling Lee. In 2016, we look forward to hearing from Bishop Greg Anderson from the Diocese of the Northern Territory, along with Aboriginal church leaders.
3. Supporting church leaders from other cultures
We benefit significantly by providing scholarships to students who come and enrich our colleges and churches. Many in Sydney will remember Alfred Olwa, from Uganda, with fondness. In Melbourne it has been a joy to learn from Qaiser Julius and Lwin Thida Myint, from Asia.
Seeing ourselves in perspective
One of the great blessings of listening to the voices of churches from around the world is that it helps us to see ourselves in perspective. We have the opportunity to see ourselves as others see us. We also get to reflect on what really are our strengths and weaknesses. As I listen to Christian leaders from global churches, a number of strengths emerge, including a strong understanding of Biblical theology, and access to theological education. A number of weaknesses are also obvious: compared to many countries our number of evangelical Christians is very small, we are very comfortable not going further than our own neighbourhoods to share the gospel, and we are not great pray-ers.
As members of the global body of Christ, we need to constantly consider how we can be generous in sharing our strengths with other churches around the world. With your support, many CMS workers are engaged in this very work. Praise God!
We also need to commit to making bold changes in order to overcome our weaknesses - both as a church and as individuals. And as we keep listening to the voices of our brothers and sisters from other cultures, may we grow a passion for taking the gospel to the ends of the earth, willing to suffer and faithful in prayer to our awesome God through whom all things are possible.
Pray that the Australian church would listen and learn from the inter-connected global church, and grow faithful disciples who have a passion for sharing the gospel here and overseas.