This paper discusses the challenges that mission agencies face in the context of changes arising from the paradigm shift away from the old “from the West to the rest” model to the “from anywhere to everywhere” mission movement. It looks at what caused the paradigm shift and discusses four macro issues that either require partnerships to be effective or enable partnerships to come together.
Eldon Porter has earned a ThM from Dallas Theological Seminary. He has served with SIM for 25 years, the last four as the Deputy International Director for the Americas. He currently serves as a Consultant for Global Engagement with Missio Nexus and COMIBAM.
Partnering with the Majority World in the Global Paradigm
Mission Round Table Vol. 11 no. 3 (Sep-Dec 2016): 4-9
We live in an unprecedented period of mission history. Within the last twenty-five years we have witnessed a paradigm shift away from the old “from the West to the rest” model to what is now described as a mission movement “from anywhere to everywhere.” This change of paradigm poses unique challenges for mission structures that were formed in one context but now find themselves struggling to adapt to the vibrant but totally different reality of global missions today. The complexity of this paradigm shift is highlighted when a traditional western agency seeks to partner with a mission movement originating from what just decades before was a mission field.
As the paradigm shift began to unfold, many traditional agency leaders assumed that their primary challenge would simply be to discover how best to partner with the new mission structures. The assumption for some has been that if they can find a partner to serve as their sending office from the new region, address financial challenges on support levels, agree on a common language, etc. then they would be partnering with the majority world. Unfortunately, it isn’t that simple.
In the context of this new paradigm, the challenge for the traditional agency is not so much in building partnerships but rather in transitioning to relevance in the new reality. It is only then that an agency, with roots in the former paradigm, will be seen as partnership or globally friendly by both the majority world missions movement as well as by those new mission stakeholders that span western and non-western contexts. Most challenges associated with partnering find their roots in an agency’s inability to make the adjustments.
1. Personal background
I grew up in Nigeria where my parents served for over forty years as missionaries with SIM, starting in the mid-1940s. My wife and I also served with SIM for twenty-one years in Bolivia and four years as SIM’s Deputy International Director for the Americas where I was responsible for SIM’s Canadian and US sending offices and the field work in Latin America. My many leadership roles, both on the field and at the International Office, give me first-hand experience with the struggles of a traditional agency trying to adapt to the new paradigm.
In 2009 we left SIM to focus on supporting regional and global mission networks that seek to facilitate effective ministry collaboration by the global church. My field of research has been on the theory, structures, and leadership models of networks. I manage a website called Linking Global Voices where I track over 500 networks globally. The site serves as a resource for those seeking to identify various kinds of networks.
I also serve in an official capacity as a Consultant for Global Engagement with Missio Nexus, COMIBAM, AfMA, CRAF, and to a lesser degree the European Evangelical Missions Association, Central and Eastern European Mission Forum, and Central Asia Missions Network.
My primary assignment with Missio Nexus has been to research the impact of the globalization of missions on traditional mission agencies. I lead workshops on this topic for both mission leadership teams as well as their boards. On a more personal basis, I serve as a sounding board for several agency CEOs as they navigate the transition.
I will begin by explaining what has caused the paradigm shift in missions and then look at four macro issues that are redefining how missions is done and the new formal and informal mission structures. I will then move on to look at the challenge of transitioning an agency into current relevance where partnerships can best flourish. There are some critical issues that all agencies are wrestling with and I will highlight what seem to be some trends taking place in this transition process. I will conclude with recommendations on how an agency may become globally friendly.
2.1. What caused the paradigm shift?
There are two primary factors that caused the paradigm shift in missions. The first is the growth of the majority world church and its mission force. This cannot be underestimated. Authentic, culturally appropriate expressions of believers from around the world responding to the biblical mandate to make disciples of all nations are resulting in a beautiful mosaic of diverse expressions of missions. The traditional western model of an agency with both sending and field structures is no longer the norm.
Globalization is the second factor that caused the shift in paradigm. This is primarily driven by communications technology and the many services associated with it. In contrast to the past, when global communication was difficult at best, today one can hold a video chat with someone in virtually every country of the world. Technology allows the church from around the world to engage in mission both through traditional structures and (oftentimes) in new creative ways.
2.2. The four macro issues
Four macro issues influence the new global paradigm of missions. Note that all of these issues either need partnerships to be effective or enable partnerships to come together. This is in stark contrast to the past when mission agencies tended to function autonomously. These four macro issues call for a more open-handed partnership where equal parties come together and decide to do something that neither could do on their own.
2.2.1. The majority world church and mission movement
The first macro issue is the vibrant and rapidly growing majority world church and its mission movement. It is worth noting that those leading this movement are not wrestling with the transition issues that traditional mission agencies are wrestling with. Their structures tend to be simple, working in partnerships is the norm, and their systems tend to be more flexible. This non-western mission movement is now a reality and making its mark globally. To a great extent, they are leading the way in how missions should happen in the global paradigm.
2.2.2. Direct local church involvement
The second macro issue is the desire and ability of a local body of believers to get directly involved in missions. In the past, a local church could not do missions without working through the agency. Today we see churches of all sizes from around the world involved directly in cross-cultural ministries. From the perspective of the local church, partnering with a mission agency is just one of many options. Increasingly, the leaders of the local church mission movement resist the assumption, implied at times by some agencies, that an agency/church partnership is simply for the church to “pay, pray, and stay away.” Denominational mission agencies are perhaps being most negatively affected by this direct local church involvement phenomenon.
2.2.3. The global diaspora movement
The third macro issue is the global diaspora movement in which unprecedented numbers of people are moving from their culture of origin into other cultural contexts. This is impacting traditional agencies in three primary areas. First, agencies are developing a people-group strategy when in the past they were more geographically focused. Instead of targeting the geographic region where the people group lived, they are developing outreach strategies that are fluid, tracking their target people group as they migrate. Second, traditional agencies almost always have had “sending offices” and “field or receiving offices.” Today we are seeing sending offices also serving as field or ministry supervision offices. And third, ministry in a global diaspora world is requiring that agencies collaborate with others for effective ministry outreach.
2.2.4. The highly interconnected world
The fourth macro issue impacting how missions is done today is the technological resources that have resulted in a highly globalized and interconnected world. The technology driven “flattening of the world” is allowing people to communicate freely with virtually anyone, in almost any location, globally. This ability to connect leads in turn to the creation of ministry partnerships.
Here are two of many examples of how this is impacting missions. The technology-enhanced connection between the diaspora and homeland communities of a particular ethnic group argues for a partnership-dependent ministry strategy to reach both aspects of the people group. An example would be where churches in Finland and in Kenya partner with an international mission agency reaching the Somalis.
A second example highlights how this is affecting traditional mission agencies. For some missionaries, the sense of belonging within their mission agency is being replaced by the value of being connected. 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. Sometimes these networks can have greater influence on the ministry of an individual missionary than their agency leaders would like.
These four macro issues are major influencers in how missions is done today. Rather than being annoyed by these factors, traditional agencies need to accept them and adjust to the new paradigm.
3. New mission structures
It should not be surprising to find new kinds of mission structures in the global paradigm, given the vastly different contexts out of which and in which mission is taking place. The first three listed below are formal structures while the last one is a grouping of informal and less structured methods. Note that some of these represent potential partners that span both the western and the majority world.
3.1. Sending and receiving
Traditional western agencies typically had administrative structures supporting both the sending and receiving of missionaries. The sending office mobilized, recruited, typically granted membership, trained, provided member care, receipted and managed support and ministry fund donations, represented the agency before the sending church, etc. On the field the agency provided some kind of support for orientation of new missionaries, ministry supervision, accountability for use of finances, field member care, etc. An agency was considered to be “international” if it had sending offices in more than one country.
While agencies with these sending and receiving structures still exist, we see them undergoing significant changes. Many of these agencies are utilizing their sending capacity to send out their own missionaries who serve in areas where their agency does not serve, seconding those missionaries to serve with others. We are also seeing these agencies allow their field offices to receive missionaries who are sent directly from sending structures in locations where their agency does not have a sending office.
In the new paradigm, an agency’s capacity to send missionaries to serve anywhere in the world where their cause is relevant and receive missionaries from anywhere in the world into their supervised ministry context is being understood as the new definition of an international agency.
3.2. Just sending
There are also mission structures that only send missionaries. These structures fulfill the responsibilities associated with the sending of missionaries but look for others able to serve in the receiving of their missionaries. While some of these existed in the old paradigm, primarily in Europe, today we see this model expanding across Latin America and into Eastern and Central Europe.
There are two trends taking place with these sending only structures. The first is that rather than serving as the “sending office for their partner,” they now want to send out their own missionaries to serve in the context of an established partnership, with their missionaries maintaining dual membership. And the second trend is that these sending structures are increasingly sending their missionaries to work under national-led ministries and not just to serve with other mission structures.
3.3. Just receiving
The newest mission structures are those that only receive missionaries sent or seconded from others. These structures have no “sending offices.” They are exclusively field led and strive for excellence in their capacity to work closely with the national church in the receiving of missionaries. They talk of “creating pull” to attract partners that share their core values. They partner with different kinds of sending structures (churches or other agencies) in providing the services necessary for effective ministry on the field.
3.4. Informal structures
I observe three different informal but very clearly defined ways that missions is being done, all of which are in some way related to the global diaspora movement. These are all potential ministry partners in the new paradigm.
The first are situations where religious persecution is driving Christians from their homes and into new areas. We see this happening with believers coming out of Central Asia (the “stan” countries) and from Iraq and Syria. In both situations we find pastors from the regions following their church members through WhatsApp and ministry visits, encouraging them to see themselves as missionaries. This is similar to the mission movement of the early church in Acts.
The second example is the situation where for economic reasons large numbers of people (including believers) move for employment, sometimes into closed countries. Examples of this are the Filipinos and Indians employed in oil rich countries. Pastors from the Philippines are sent to shepherd these young people, encouraging them to live for Christ in their work places. Some consider them to be the most significant mission force in those countries.
The third example is those involved in business as mission, the vast majority of whom are not members of any formal mission structure. There are many vibrant networks servicing these individuals.
All of these new mission structures pose unique partnership opportunities for a traditional western agency. An understanding of the nature of each structure and the related mission force better enables an agency to explore new and dynamic partnership models.
4. The strategic role of networks
Networks are perhaps the most strategic tool available to facilitate global engagement and collaboration. They are becoming recognized as the best platform from which to provide leadership and the best space or context that enables global engagement. These are not organizations but rather formal or informal groupings of totally autonomous entities that come together around a common purpose. There is a wide variety of different kinds of networks, what some call associations or alliances.
From a historical perspective, globalization has altered the primary value of networks. In the past an individual or organization was generally motivated to associate with a particular network in order to establish his or her identity. Someone would say, “We are members of the WEA and not the WCC.” But today individuals, ministries, and organizations choose to associate with a network in a variety of ways to be more effective in ministry. Well-run networks seek to accomplish this by facilitating the sharing of information and by providing services that allow individual parties to meet and explore ways they might collaborate. The fact that huge sums of money are spent in an effort to attend network meetings illustrates their perceived value. Unfortunately, many network events are just that—a gathering—and don’t take full advantage of their potential leadership role.
There are two basic categories of networks within the evangelical world. The first are those that are defined by geography. This category of networks can be divided into three groups. The first is the evangelical alliances or the associations of evangelicals related to a specific geographic region. The second group are those networks representing the mission movements originating from the countries and regions that have an established church. The third category are networks of mission efforts focused on unreached or under-reached people in a specific geographic area such as those focused on Central Asia, the Arabian Peninsula, North Africa, and the many country-specific networks.
The second basic category of networks is those that are issue specific. These tend to be more organic by nature. These networks span any issue when it is felt that collaboration would be beneficial. The Linking Global Voices website provides an extensive list of some of the most active issue-specific networks.
There seems to be growing intentionality on the part of traditional agencies as they engage with networks. Some assign key individuals to serve in a leadership role in a particular network for the purpose of expanding the influence of an issue they consider strategic. Others encourage their members to get involved simply to build relationships, learn what others are doing, and to explore potential partnership opportunities.
5. Becoming globally friendly
We will now move from discussing the characteristics of the new paradigm to the challenge traditional agencies face in adapting to and becoming relevant in this new reality.
In the light of the vast diversity of expressions of missions, the intrinsic value of flexibility is essential if one is to become globally friendly. Traditional agencies that were developed in a paradigm in which almost all their missionaries came from fairly similar contexts (education, a common trade language, standard of living, etc.) are faced with a vastly diverse and constantly changing global context. A partnership-friendly agency is almost always one that is focused on the essentials and flexible with secondary issues.
5.1. Three critical issues
As an agency navigates the process of change from one paradigm to another, it will find itself repeatedly coming back to discuss three core issues. The first is the agency’s identity. It is common for the members of an agency to think of their organization in terms of structure and policies. But as agency leaders wrestle with partnership challenges they almost always discover that difficulties in partnering are related mostly to systems and policies. For example, an agency might require a certain support level; a potential partner is from a lower economic level, lives on less, and is even willing to “live by faith.” Policies pertaining to an official language or insurance requirements often become a major stumbling block inhibiting a potential partnership. This invariably leads to the question, “What really is the agency?” Is it a set of policies, structures, and procedures that were relevant for a western context? Or is the identity of the agency tied more to its ethos, doctrinal beliefs, core values, and objectives? As long as the “we’ve always done it this way” trumps the “this is who we are and where we are going,” building partnerships will be difficult at best.
The second core issue is the agency’s value added to potential partners. Any entity seeking to partner needs to highlight their value added for others who share the same cause. An agency’s value added is generally not their structure and policies but rather their experience, relationships, and ability to minister in the new diaspora-rich environment.
The third issue is that of membership. What is membership and to whom and under what conditions is membership granted? Every agency is different, but when membership is tied to structures, policies, and systems, it will be more difficult to truly partner with the majority world and treat their missionaries as equal. Those that stay focused on who they are and where they are going are more flexible in their concept of what is required to become a member. Discussions often center on questions such as: Can membership be tied to a commitment to a set of core values, vision statement, doctrinal statement, and a willingness to submit to agency leadership? Can a field leader grant membership? Can someone be a member of more than one organization at the same time?
6. Trends in becoming globally friendly
Many traditional western agencies are trying to become partnership friendly in the new global paradigm. While each traditional mission agency is unique and approaches the transition differently, we are seeing some clear trends. All of these trends position an agency to be able to partner more freely with both the majority world and other global mission stakeholders, some of which are also coming from the West.
6.1. From sending to receiving
Agencies are transitioning from being defined by their sending capacity to being led by their receiving capacity. They are consciously strengthening their capacity to manage partnerships at the field level. These include partnerships with local churches engaged from around the world, with diaspora missionaries, as well as with various mission structures that send their missionaries to serve.
In the old paradigm an agency’s sending office was central to the administrative structure and spent the vast majority of the administrative budget. Generally speaking, senior leaders were located in these offices. This made sense when most missionaries came from just a few countries. Since it is now impractical to consider establishing sending offices in each country from which the agency could conceivably receive missionaries, the strategic value of the receiving or field office has increased.
As more attention is being given to strengthen the role of the receiving offices, a growing trend is seen in sending offices intentionally downsizing and partnering more closely with the sending church. Some of the services offered by the sending office, such as receipting and financial management, training, and member care, are being outsourced.
Traditional sending offices are becoming “multi-directional.” Due largely to global diaspora, traditional sending offices are finding it necessary to retool to be able also to offer services traditionally associated with the receiving offices. A growing number of these traditional sending offices are being urged to receive and supervise missionaries sent from the majority world church. These majority world missionaries are uniquely gifted to help western churches faced with immigrant communities forming in their neighborhoods.
6.2. From autonomy to partnerships
Driven by the need to partner, agencies are redefining what they mean by the word “we.” In the past, western agencies typically functioned as self-contained entities. Almost all functioned autonomously, working with just their own human, financial, and leadership resources. Today, when we hear the word “we,” it is increasingly associated with joint ventures where the resources of two or more parties come together to accomplish something that neither could do on their own. There is also an increasing awareness that excellence in ministry often results from effective collaboration.
These partnerships are not just that which happens between two mission agency structures, one from the West and the other from the majority world. Partnerships are being developed with a wide spectrum of potential stakeholders. These include local churches, the various forms of the diaspora-related informal structures, as well as the more traditional and sometimes new mission-related structures.
We see this trend towards working in partnerships in how agencies define membership. In the past, a member was an individual who joined “the mission club.” We are now seeing agencies grant membership to local churches and other structures with whom they strategically partner, making room for them at the table. Dual memberships are very common among the majority world mission movement and are growing steadily in the West.
6.3. From uniformity to flexibility
One of the unique aspects of traditional western agencies was the tendency to maintain uniform standards for all members. As the majority world mission movement developed it became evident that they held different expectations on standard of living and other value-oriented issues. Most western agencies that welcome missionaries from the majority world initially try to maintain their uniformity. Before long these same agencies realize that this is not sustainable and find themselves embracing flexibility while holding fast to the core essentials and maintaining a clear focus on their overall objectives.
6.4. From a club to a cause
In the past an agency tended to function as a self-contained unit which, for many, felt like a family. In this family or club, dual membership was almost unheard of and loyalty to the agency over many years was seen as a high value. But the sense of an agency’s identity is changing with the collaboration around a cause redefining membership. While the sense of “family” can still be nurtured, most would say that it is different.
A clearly defined cause or even multiple causes allow(s) for flexibility in the building of the missionary team. A focus on the cause has given freedom to the makeup of the missionary team. No longer does someone involved in BAM need to do his business as part of the agency to be a member of the agency. And no longer is agency membership an option only for individuals. Today we see businesses and local churches that share the same cause, becoming part of the team.
The challenge of effectively partnering with the majority world is fundamentally linked to an agency’s ability to adjust to the new realities of the global paradigm. As an agency becomes more relevant in the new paradigm, they are considered to be globally friendly. Listed below are practical steps that an agency can take to position itself to partner more effectively in the new reality.
- The single most important and essential factor for transitioning a traditional western agency is a clear and uncompromising commitment by top leadership to see the transition take place. Change never comes easily and is almost always the result of focused leadership.
- Because of the nature of organizational change, it is best to empower a task force to wrestle with the challenges of transitioning the agency. The group would process the critical issues of identity, value added, and membership, in addition to other issues unique to the agency.
- It is important to come to terms with the macro issues at play within the new paradigm. For some, the past seems almost a utopia in contrast to the challenges of the new reality.
- An agency must clarify and then intentionally promote their cause or causes for which they exist and their value added to potential partners. Agencies no longer grow just through mobilization but now also by partnering around a common cause.
- The sign of an agency having successfully adapted to the new reality is that they are seen as partnership friendly. Some refer to this as “creating pull” or attracting partners. It requires a clear understanding of one’s identity, value added, and a proactive strategy to partner with others to achieve what one could not do alone.
- The new mission structures, both formal and informal, must be understood and seen as valid expressions with which strategic partnerships can be developed.
- Agencies must understand the strategic significance of agency/church partnerships. Local churches from around the world want to and can be directly involved in missions. Exciting partnerships can result when the cause of the agency and the church align. Agencies will be granting membership to local churches in addition to individuals. Local churches typically make a longer term commitment than do individuals; they bring to the partnership a breadth and depth of commitment and resources that are unparalleled. But this only happens when the church has a seat at the table.
- Thought should be given to how an agency’s structural assets should be adapted to fit the new reality. Both sending and receiving offices are becoming multi-directional.
- An agency must develop a strategy for their engagement with networks. There are two parts to this strategy, one relational and the other strategic. Every agency needs to be building and maintaining relationships globally so as to position itself to nurture partnerships. Networks provide the environment in which an agency can strategically develop and even promote their cause on a broader scale than just within their agency.
- The challenge of leading in a partnership-dependent environment has motivated some secular businesses to create the senior leadership role of Chief Collaboration Officer (CCO). Mission agencies will appoint CCOs and include in their leadership training program a significant component on leadership in a partnership environment. Building and managing multi-stakeholder partnerships is one of the most important leadership skills in today’s highly interconnected and globalized reality.
Over the last decades we have witnessed unprecedented change in the global factors that impact how missions is done. For the new stakeholders of missions, this is exciting. But for the leaders of traditional western agencies, these same changes are often perceived as a threat. Jack Welch, the former CEO of General Electric, is quoted as saying: “If the rate of change on the outside exceeds the rate of change on the inside, the end is near.” Unfortunately, many agencies are not keeping up with the changes that have and continue to take place in global missions. Those that manage to transition well will discover the richness of partnering in ministry with the global church.
 For two reasons I’ve decided to use the term “majority world” instead of “global south” to describe the non-western part of missions. First of all there are countries like Korea that are geographically located in the North but which are definitely part of the non-western mission movement. And secondly, the term majority world also emphasizes the size of the new movement in contrast to that of the West.
 These are various networks of the mission movements. Missio Nexus—North America www.missionexus.org; COMIBAM, the Ibero-American mission network www.comibam.org/; the African Mission Association (AfMA); CRAF—Francophone Africa; EEMA—Europe; Eastern and Central European Mission Forum (EEMF); and Central Asia Network originating from the “stan countries.”
 Examples of these are DMG, www.dmgint.de; FEDEMEC Costa Rica, http://fedemec.net/; PAAM Panama, https://misionespaam.wordpress.com/; SAMM Paraguay, http://misionsamm.blogspot.com/; and ProVision Chile, http://provision.cl/.
 Linking Global Voices lists issue-specific networks: http://www.linkingglobalvoices.com/issue-specific-networks.
 Ben McMan, “The Business Case for Collaboration,” 10 December 2013; https://benmcmann.wordpress.com/2013/12/10/the-business-case-for-collaboration/.