Local church and global mission

Aug 22, 2017 by

by Andrew Symes, Anglican Mainstream.

In 1997 Mark and Lindy left England to live in Tanzania. For fifteen years they were involved in a number of ministries, mainly working with church-based programmes of basic theological education, church leadership training and community development. Before they left their home country, they travelled round a dozen churches explaining the needs in Tanzania and the work they were going to do. Every one of these English churches committed to support them with finance and prayer, because at that time they all had a strong tradition of supporting mission work overseas.

But as Mark and Lindy came home on regular visits, they noticed that a change was happening in the English church scene. Some of the congregations were declining in number, and had to decrease or even stop their financial support for the Tanzania project. Some vicars, who previously had as evangelicals taken for granted the need to support the work of the Gospel overseas, were being influenced by popular ‘post-evangelical’ writers and speakers, and were forming a different view of the basic need of humanity and the nature of the Gospel which should be preached. More than once, church leaders said to Lindy and Mark: “we like the stories about your work with womens groups and AIDS orphans – but the bible teaching stuff – that’s a bit old fashioned isn’t it?”

The most common comment they heard from English churchgoers was that ‘charity begins at home’. Political talk in the media was centred around failings in the British health service, education and social welfare systems; consensus was growing that priority for churches was to make a difference where they were. A growing feeling of resentment about immigration and foreign aid fed into an idea that support for overseas mission was a luxury, or worse, neglecting local need.

In 2012 they returned to England with their young family. There was a negative reason: funding from their support churches was no longer covering their costs. But there were great positives. Their Bishop in Tanzania said to them : “Lindy and Mark, you have done wonderful work here. We have appreciated your partnership. You have shared your lives with the people and received from them as much as you have given; you have learned and grown, you have passed on the work to those you have helped to train. Now God is calling you back to a place where memory of Him is much more faint than it was when you first came here”.


Today Lindy is a nurse in a hospital in the north midlands of England, and Mark is a parish vicar. They’re determined that the church which they lead becomes increasingly generous in its support of overseas mission, rather than getting cold feet about it as some of their supporting churches had done. What might be some important principles, policies and practical points of action for local churches when considering their support of mission outside their immediate area?

They began with a series of sermons on ‘the wideness of God’s mercy’, which Mark continually stressed did not mean that God lowers his standards so that he accepts our neighbours no matter what they do and think. Instead, “he does not show favouritism but accepts from every nation the one who fears him and does what is right” (Acts 10:34), ie repents and puts faith in Jesus. That passage in Acts, where Peter’s eyes are opened to God’s vision to extend his Kingdom beyond the ‘local’ of Israel, to the global, find parallels in the Old Testament, for example a similar experience for Jonah.

Jesus’ post-resurrection command to his eleven friends to “Go and make disciples of all nations” (Matthew 28:19) was grounded in his identity, now realised, as the ‘Son of Man’ with ‘all authority’ in Daniel’s vision (7:14), and also in Isaiah’s promise (49:6) that God’s miracle would not be limited to saving his special people – they in turn would become “a light to the Gentiles, that my salvation would reach to the ends of the earth”. The goal of mission is the eternal worship of God and the Lamb by a huge multicultural and multi-tribal crowd (Rev 7:9), so we should aim to get used to that now, putting away our innate tendency to be parochial, preferring only to associate with people like ourselves. Meanwhile the global church, made up of different racial groups united in Christ, is a powerful sign of God’s wisdom and his ultimate victory to the spiritual powers of darkness (Ephesians 3:10). In other words the good news of Jesus is not just global in its effects, but cosmic.


Lindy and Mark were very aware that among the ordinary folk of their parish, there was not much experience of life in another culture, especially one where the material comforts of life can’t be taken for granted. However the parishioners and their children were getting more used to rubbing shoulders with people of other cultures, who lived in the same town and shared the workplaces and schools. While ‘Islam’, for example, may have still been an abstraction, Muslims were becoming familiar as fellow human beings, who don’t know Jesus just as secular ‘white’ people don’t.

But having an awareness of the multicultural dimension of local mission, while important, is not the same as grasping God’s vision for global mission. Some of the suffering experienced by churches in the global south, perhaps through poverty, war or persecution, is unlike anything a Christian living in the West can imagine. While some affluent churches in the south of England may have several staff members paid and housed by the congregation, in Tanzania where Lindy and Mark were working, being a full-time pastor meant having a meagre income that was barely enough for food for the family; he would be expected to look after perhaps twenty congregations. Christian farmers dependent on erratic rainfall would know what it means to depend on God in faith, and to give with thanksgiving out of their poverty.

Poorer churches challenge us about grace in the context of suffering (2 Cor 8:1-5; 1 Thes 2:14), and by engagement with them we can learn more about what it means to live by faith. But also the raw data, the statistics about church growth in most of sub Saharan Africa and other places in the global South, challenge us about our priorities and our effectiveness in local mission. We have the streamlined systems and the finances (which they don’t have), but while we struggle to keep our own children in the household of faith let alone bring non-churchgoers to faith, it’s not uncommon to hear of Nigerian or Chinese pastors who have personally been involved in the planting of dozens of new churches.


So Mark and Lindy began by teaching their church council, and then the congregation, some of the history and geography and sociology of God’s Kingdom as it extends throughout the world. They made a point of ensuring that during prayers in church, prominent events mentioned in the news would be linked to focusing on the churches in that area. They asked people to repent of patronizing, racist or indifferent attitudes to Christians of other countries and races, and to be open to learning new things about faith, described in the same bible which we share, from the church of the poor and suffering. They gave money, not just to support ‘their missionaries’, but to partner in strategic work which the local church in Tanzania and other places was carrying out, sometimes with the help of Western mission partners, sometimes, and in fact increasingly, just using local staff.

The experience of seeing English churches getting it wrong: so prioritizing local mission that they turned their back on the global dimension, and prioritizing social action over grounding of disciples in Scripture, allowed Lindy and Mark not to reverse but to balance these priorities. They and their church have found that when you broaden your vision to learn from and give to the global church, then local ministry in your own community improves. When you prioritise (in overseas mission giving) disciple-making among the poor, you become more deeply involved in the mystery of the displaying of God’s wisdom challenging the temporary misrule of the powers and principalities.

A vision of truly global fellowship in Christ can only be sustained by a shared commitment to the same basic truths of the apostolic biblical witness, rather than vague ‘bonds of affection’ based on history and liturgy. The deep trust that comes from shared confession and agreed direction of obedience becomes a basis for genuine equality, mutual learning and humble service among people from different backgrounds and races, each with distinctive gifts to contribute to the global body. As Anglicans, Mark and Lindy and their church align with the Gafcon movement. Their hope and prayer is that Gafcon’s vital role of maintaining strong doctrinal and ethical boundaries is a foundation for something much bigger that is developing – a means of facilitating a genuine sharing of the missionary task across the world.

[Lindy and Mark are a fictional couple; their mission experience and their church are taken from a number of different true stories.]

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