"DALLAS – It’s not reasonable to expect a three-day meeting in Texas to spit out all the answers to how the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) ought to approach world mission. But the folks gathered here for a consultation on world mission Jan. 16-18 did have some pretty clear ideas about what’s happening in the world that Presbyterians can’t ignore — changes sweeping the land, whether people have figured it out yet or not.Leslie Scanlon, writing in The Presbyterian Outlook (free registration required to read the entire article), points out several areas in which the Church has changed. I'll highlight two of them, and let you go to the full article to read the rest:
The bottom line: this is a time of tremendous change, in the PC(USA) and in the world. As Paul Pierson, a former missionary in Brazil and Portugal and senior professor of the history of mission and Latin American studies at Fuller Theological Seminary has written: “The changes in the worldwide church today are probably greater than those that took place during the sixteenth century Reformation. The transition today is analogous to the shift from the Jewish to the Gentile church in the first century.”
How the PC(USA) responds, how well it adapts to change and how quickly, may go a long way in determining what it has to contribute in a pluralistic world."
Christianity Shifts South: The Church has grown in such a way as to shift the center of global Christianity south of the equator. To put it another way, the First World churches are a minority in the Church Universal. The percentage of missionaries from Europe and the United States have gone from 80% in 1918 to around 6% today. This is not a cause for alarm; rather it is a natural outcome of the spread of the Gospel.
Mission Goes Local: In the PC(USA) the number of mission dollars has steadily risen yet the number of mission dollars flowing through our denominational offices in Louisville has fallen. This has been a major paradigm shift over the past 30 years, and the General Assembly Council has recognized this and shifted their programs to enable local mission.
Many challenges remain. Decentralization runs the risk of letting important needs fall through the cracks. Hunter Farrell, the Director of World Mission for the PC(USA), points out that to "get it out of the bottleneck" of the offices in Louisville is a good thing, but goes on to ask that people consider whether all the needs are in fact being met.
We are in a time of rapid change, and Joan Gray, the Moderator of the 217th General Assembly, puts it into its necessary perspective: "...if we are not doing it in the power of God somehow, we’re not doing mission. That’s my fear for us Presbyterians. Every group has a besetting sin. … Our besetting sin is arrogance, in thinking that we can do mission, and that if enough smart people get together we can figure this out."
We all need to keep that in mind as we deliberate and pray about our reponse to the needs around us.