An Interview with Patrick Fung
This interview discusses how key ideas that shape the future of mission impact the church in and from the Global East: signs that the Global East is redefining itself vis-á-vis other parts of the global church, how world-wide networks are being established to connect the global church, importance of inter-church and inter-agency dialogue, and contributions that will help the church in the Global East as it matures.
Dr. Patrick Fung is the General Director of OMF International. He was one of the plenary speakers at the Cape Town 2010 Third Lausanne Congress on World Evangelization. More recently in October 2016, he spoke at the WEA Mission Commission Global Consultation in Panama on the subject of “Cooperation in a Polycentric World.”
Mission Round Table Vol. 11 no. 3 (Sep-Dec 2016): 33-35
As the church in the Global East matures and interacts with the church in the rest of the world, are there signs that it is redefining itself vis-à-vis other parts of the global church?
In an insightful paper delivered at the OMF Mission Research Consultation this past April, Eddie Arthur made this point: “There is a danger that the increasingly Christian South will define itself against what they see as the secular and overly liberal North and this could lead to a fracture in the church.”
We are already seeing that happen. In February 2016 the leaders of conservative Anglican churches from Africa said they will “stand for the truth” at a critical global summit which revealed deep divisions within the worldwide Anglican Communion over homosexuality. Archbishops of the Church of England from six African countries—Uganda, Kenya, Nigeria, South Sudan, Rwanda, and the Democratic Republic of the Congo—walked out in protest during the week-long talks.
The church from the Global East, similar to that from the Global South, will redefine itself, its faith, and its mission according to the good news of Jesus and will not be ashamed of the gospel. The church in the Global East will be defined theologically and not politically, socially, and/or culturally. How that will look exactly, we do not know yet. However, increasingly, the church in the Global East will not be just looking towards the West for support, resources, ideas, or even mission or church models. More importantly—perhaps sadly—the church in the Global East may not continue to look to the West for leadership unless there is a demonstrable humility and a sincere desire for authentic equal partnership.
Part of the “redefining” process is that the church in the Global East deeply desires to connect with the global church and to find her role in global mission. The church in China, for example, after being disconnected from the rest of the world for nearly fifty years, is ready to reengage. As mission organizations, we have a tremendous privilege and opportunity to be the bridge to connect the church from the Global East to the global church, and vice versa. Thus the mission organization also needs to redefine itself. Our role will not be to lead, but to connect and be the bridge. I believe that the critical step in redefining itself is in theological/missiological areas which the church in the Global East continues to grapple with.
Your comments about the need for the Eastern church to connect with the global church and for mission organizations to act as a bridge through which this can be accomplished highlights the importance of establishing and maintaining world-wide networks through which churches can interact. A section of Eldon Porter’s article found earlier in this issue of MRT champions “the strategic role of networks.” How do you see that worked out in mission agencies today?
When I read Eldon Porter’s article, I was struck by his emphasis on the importance of networking that goes beyond partnering or just partnership. Porter has tracked 500 networks globally. Riding on the back of global technology, networks are allowing individuals in one agency to connect with others in similar ministries from other organizations and from countries around the world. These informal but vibrant ministry connections between individuals who have so much in common are sometimes creating an alternate environment to which one can belong. In OMF, we have recently adopted the term “bandwidth” to refer to our ability to send and receive information. We often talk about the need to increase and widen our bandwidth so that we can better connect with others to pursue a common purpose.
For that to happen, mission organizations need to be, as Porter puts it, “partnership friendly.” This means the agency must always focus on the essentials and remain flexible with secondary issues. Porter is correct that, by and large, most of the traditional Western agencies are defined by systems, policies, and structures. It is essential that we ask ourselves how we derive our identity. Does it come from these things or is it tied more to ethos, doctrines, core values, and shared objectives? As we face the new global world, churches from the Global East, similar to the Global South, have a different way of working. Their structures tend to be simple and less well-defined. Systems tend to be flexible and sometimes appear chaotic. Strategies are often fluid. Apparently conflicting values are regularly accepted and ambiguity abounds.
The need for networks in such a world is powerfully stated by Porter: “Networks are perhaps the most strategic tool available to facilitate global engagement and collaboration. They are becoming recognized as the best platform and the best space or context that enables global engagement.” Earlier in the paper he provided a brilliant example of how this works in an interconnected world when he spoke of churches in Finland and Kenya partnering with an international mission agency to reach out to Somalis. In our OMF context, we partner with churches in Kenya to reach the Chinese diaspora in their country. In another situation, a group of key church leaders from China meet in Korea where we link them with an African leader from an international mission agency.
Networking can happen everywhere in an interconnected world. For this reason, Porter’s comment that “The single most important factor is to see a clear and uncompromising commitment by top leadership to see the transition take place,” is of supreme importance. Top leadership must have the mindset to accept change and to encourage and initiate strategic partnership and networking. One example of how that is played out in our circles is the increase in opportunities for “internship” arrangements whereby churches in the Global East can increase their mission exposure. The networking can be between OMF and other mission agencies so that young people can be placed, through OMF’s contacts, as mission interns in places where OMF does not serve so they can learn to minister in different cultures.
For partnerships to be effective, we will need to expand our dialogue with churches globally. Can you speak to the importance of inter-church and inter-agency dialogue?
As we consider this question, the first point to note is that we should not be concerned with dialogue for the sake of dialogue or talk for the sake of talk. Our dialogue should center on the key issues of evangelism and discipleship. There is a growing concern that many churches and mission agencies are losing their focus on evangelistic mission. Martin Lee of Global Connection wrote that “The evangelical church has lost its desire to help people come to faith in the Lord Jesus Christ, happy with just social action and doing good.” This is alarming if it is true. Similarly, according to the research documented in Steve Z’s article in this issue of MRT, of 856 pastors from China interviewed, though 29% have been exposed to mission, a significant 51% said they have never thought about mission. Our dialogue must address this reality.
Second, the impact of globalization means that there is now no such thing as a purely local context. Every situation in the world is informed by the larger global context. Thus the long-held distinction between home and foreign missions or the notion of mission fields versus home office is becoming increasing blurred or even redundant in a globalized world. Andrew Walls’ frequently quoted phrase is true: “mission today is from everywhere to everywhere.” But what does “from everywhere to everywhere” mean to the mission agencies and what does it mean to the church both in the West and the East? This has yet to be clarified. Examples need to be studied, tested, and learned from.
These two realities support my belief that dialogue is very important. However, we should not think that dialogue only needs to take place between mission agencies. Dialogue between the churches—from both the sending and receiving contexts (though this distinction may be a bit arbitrary)—and the mission agencies will become increasingly important. Agencies need to hear and respond to the views of the church from the Global East.
Let me quote some comments made by a key leader from China on mission involvement by mission agencies.
We should mobilize the Chinese church to be involved in reaching the neglected frontiers among the minorities. OMF can provide training behind the scenes, but the actual line of work needs to be borne by the Chinese believers. There are situations in which expatriate missionaries are a hindrance rather than a help to mission in China. The minority churches in the Northeast region will be closely monitored; the issues with Tibetans, Mongolians, and Muslims are extremely sensitive. It is thus strongly recommended that mission agencies make strategic adjustments and try not to do the actual work but instead mobilize the Chinese churches to do the work.
Two evangelical groups or movements are trying to create a global table for mission agencies and churches from the Global South, the Global East, and the West to come together. One is the Lausanne Movement and the other is the WEA Mission Commission. The WEA consultation in Panama in October 2016 provided a wonderful opportunity for dialogue around the global table. However, simply providing a global table is not adequate. We need, to push the analogy further, to consider how we will share our dinner together and what we will eat. Creating a culture that welcomes different voices is essential.
A recent consultation on global leadership held in Malaysia was attended by three brothers from Latin America who required translation. When there was adequate translation, the Latin American colleagues made some excellent contributions. Without translation, their input would have been negligible at best. The same is true for colleagues from the Global East, though their input into the dialogue would probably be quite different, reflecting a more non-linear approach with a loose agenda.
At the 1900 Edinburgh Mission Conference, V.S. Azariah, an Indian church leader, pointed out:
Through all the ages to come the Indian church will rise up in gratitude to attest the heroism and self-denying labours of the missionary body. You have fed the poor. You have given yourself to us. You have given your bodies to be burned. We also ask for love. Give us FRIENDS!”
There is a still a long way to go to build that friendship—not only among mission agencies, but also with churches. As I have reflected on this, I have come to believe that mission agencies have a strategic role to play in facilitating or providing such roundtables to bring people together, to listen, and to learn together.
What else can be done to help the church in the Global East as it matures?
One of the most important contributions we can make comes through training. This need is seen in the very helpful observation Steve Z made in his paper about training in the context of the Chinese Church. Chinese Christians grew up in an atheistic context. As they came to faith they began to grow in their understanding of monotheism. However, most Chinese Christians lack an understanding of the religious world in which they live where polytheism is prominent. Of course, Chinese are influenced by traditional beliefs that recognize all kinds of gods and spirits. Steve Z’s point, however, is that for the Chinese church to be involved effectively in missions, cross-cultural mission training is essential but is still missing or severely lacking. This is an area where mission agencies need to think carefully about how to equip brothers and sisters for missions and encourage indigenous biblical church movements.
As the article made clear, the Chinese church often thinks of mission only in the sense of overseas cross-cultural missions. However, the Chinese church also needs to understand the whole mission of God according to the grand biblical narratives. If Jesus is not the Lord of all—all societies, cultures, and peoples—he is not Lord at all. In the past 100 years, the church in China, by and large, has held a dichotomized view of Christian discipleship that separates the sacred from the secular. The Chinese church needs help to regain the understanding that the mission of God’s people flows from the whole mission of God. They similarly need to learn that training is needed not only for skills and knowledge, but also to develop a Christ-honoring attitude of learning from the global church, including those from the West, the South, and other parts of the East.
In our global family, some will bring gifts that are quite different. Some will model faithfulness in the face of suffering and persecution and show us a vital element of authentic gospel living. Some will bring years of experience of commending the Lord Jesus Christ in the context of another world faith. Some will demonstrate how to live with shining trust in God despite poverty or injustice. Others will bring deep traditions of believing prayer. The body of Christ needs all of these and many more. When, in true partnership, each of us brings what he or she has, not what we don’t have, we will bless the global church in its mission. This kind of partnership will demonstrate that we respect and rejoice in diversity, rather than hold that there is only one way of doing missions that must be foisted on everyone else.
May the churches from the Global East bring energy, freshness, and vibrancy to the proclamation of the good news of Christ in word, deed, and character. May the church in the Global East have a teachable spirit, reflecting a willingness to receive from other members of God’s global family. May we all come to the global table for the spiritual mission banquet that God has laid for us.