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作为任务中的领导者，美国处于失去的边缘?Is America Losing Its Edge as a Leader in Missions?
Americans hate to lose anything. Whether it be a ball game, money in the stock market, a court case or an election, our competitive spirit, ingrained in each of us from childhood, pushes us to want not only to excel but to dominate. When it comes to the global sphere, we are even more intent. In the economic, intellectual, cultural and military realms, Americans have not only striven to dominate but have not rested content until finding ourselves as the last remaining superpower. We are a domineering-centered nation, believing that our ways are the best—not only for us but also for the rest of the world.
We evangelical Christians are conditioned by this competitive, ethno-centric environment in which we are immersed. It is no wonder, then, that the American church has taken upon itself a spirit of global dominance. In some instances, American churches’ motivations for mission have been less than pure. Indeed, some have been characterized by cultural triumphalism and a sense of technological or intellectual Western superioriority.Much of this mindset is an outworking of our place in history since winning the last Great War. Over the past 50 years, just as American military might and commercial culture have come to dominate the globe, the American church has come to dominate the world of missions. Granted, European missions continue to exist and make their impact. However, by sheer strength of numbers, American missions has taken a superior place in the global missionary enterprise. We have sent more missionaries, spent more money, offered more prayers, developed more programs, utilized more technology, and opened more people groups to the gospel than any previous generation of believers in the history of the Church!
In the secular world, a feeling of smugness comes over those who find themselves at the top of the competition pile. Once gained, the position of favor is something to be held for as long as possible and milked for all the material benefits it can give. All efforts are expended to remain in control. But not so in God’s economy, especially when it comes to doing what is closest to His heart—winning a lost world to Himself. To its credit, the major part of the American church has not been stingy by selfishly holding on to its supreme position in missions. Rather, a self-imposed kenosis has been the general rule.
Most missionaries have been self-emptying and even self-abasing as they have succeeded in establishing mission-sending churches in all parts of the globe. To be sure, some have been slower than others and some have hung on longer than they should have, but generally a spirit of release of control has been true of what I have observed around the world of missions in recent years. Even if this were not the case, current world trends and changing global realities would force us to reposition ourselves in an alternate mission role.
As we quickly approach the end of the century and turn a major chapter in mission history, we face several trends while we lose our singular edge as the world leader in missions.
Just 30 years ago the world-wide evangelical church was predominately “white, rich and West.” Its center of gravity was in the developed North Atlantic countries which we have come to call the “first world.” But as we enter the 21st century, the church looks much different. It is now composed of peoples who are predominately “of color, poor and South.” What’s more, the global church today has no center of gravity at all. Rather than one major center of influence, the church has become polycentric and largely non-western. The majority of its members are found in those under-developed countries which lie south of North America and Europe that have come to be called the “two-thirds world.”
What has caused this major shift in the makeup of the global evangelical church? It has not necessarily been a decrease in church members in the evangelical churches of North America and Europe. These churches have actually grown during this period. Rather, this dramatic shift is attributed to the explosive growth of the church all over the wide span of the two-thirds world.
It is remarkable how the makeup of the Church has changed from being nearly 60 percent western in 1960 to a diminished 30 percent in 1998, caused by unabated church growth across the two-thirds world. Today we are hard pressed to find a country where the Church is not found. It is indeed global.
Not only has the Church finally become fully global after two millenniums, but it has also become globalized. (By globalization ,it is meant that the worldwide Church is becoming increasingly interdependent.)
The cross-cultural sharing of resources, ideas, personnel and spiritual life is causing the Church to become more and more interconnected. In this ever-increasing globalized age, the American church can ill afford to stand alone, or in a position of superiority. The parochialism and isolationism of our past is being shed and giving way to increased international partnerships.
One-time competitors in the work are now collaborators in ministry. These partnerships are being realized in several notable ways: American local churches directly adopting sister churches overseas, American missions working with and even under overseas national churches, and formal partnerships between American mission agencies with two-thirds world and European mission agencies. It’s an inter-active church after all!
Corresponding with the worldwide growth of the church has been an increasing participation of that global Church to engage itself in mission. It, too, is reaching out across cultural and linguistical boundaries, bringing lost peoples to faith in Christ. Two-thirds world missionaries and Christian professionals are flooding the ranks of the global mission force. Recently I attended a China strategy meeting in Bangkok that demonstrated this phenomenon. Among this international group of 15 members, seven different nationalities were represented: Chinese, Japanese, Thai, Filipino, Taiwanese, Korean, and American. Another example indicative of this trend is the missionary force with the mission TEAM in Macao, of which I had oversight until recently. That small but effective team is comprised of eight missionaries who originate from four different countries: America, Taiwan, Thailand, and Malaysia. International missionary teams such as these are becoming more and more the norm.
Around the globe today there are approximately 140,000 Protestant cross-cultural missionaries. One-third of this modern missionary force now comes from the two-thirds world. This changing makeup of the missionary force can mainly be attributed to an increase of two-thirds world missions. However, it should be noted that the number of long-term North American missionaries has decreased as well. Robertson McQuilkin reminds us that in this decade alone there has been a decline of about 20 percent (from 50,000 to 40,000) of long-term or career missionaries. Some of that slack is being made up by an increase in short-term and church-based missionaries.
Technological advances in communications and transportation have shrunk the world in which we live. The once formidable barriers of time and distance are less and less a hindrance to missions. Technology has made our globe a man-managed workplace and recreational playground. A quick flight can jet one to the other side of the world in less than half a day. A keystroke on a computer can access information in any corner of the world in a matter of seconds. Where once we talked about going somewhere distant by crossing an ocean, we now refer to a half day’s trip to Asia or Africa as “crossing the pond.” International borders have become so porous and unprotected, that they can hardly be considered boundaries at all. Cyberspace, with no regard for borders, taxes and tariffs, has destroyed geography as we once knew it. Consequently the Christian mission, riding on the coattails of modern technology, is being done more quickly, in more places, and with more variety of methods than in any other time in history.
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