Al Tizon: Globalization and the Global Church—Part 2

Don’t miss part one of our interview with Al Tizon, author of Whole and Reconciled: Gospel, Church, and Mission in a Fractured World (Baker Academic, October 2018). As executive minister of Serve Globally, the international ministries arm of the Evangelical Covenant Church, and affiliate associate professor of missional and global leadership at North Park Theological Seminary in Chicago, Tizon spends his days trying to better understand what, exactly, holistic mission looks like and how to carry it out in the local church. In part one of our interview, Tizon explains his motivation for rethinking modern missiology. Here, in part two, he unpacks some of the most critical issues around missions in the church today.

The world feels smaller and more integrated now than it ever has before, and that means a convergence of cultures, economies, politics and religions. How should globalization inform missions?

We need to develop competencies in reconciliation as a response to globalization. There’s intercultural competence, where the need to be open to, learn from and interact with people of other cultures becomes paramount in a globalizing world. Similarly, there is interreligious competence, where we need to know enough about other religions that we can interact on a deeper level with people of other faiths. In a globalizing world, we also need to develop intergenerational competence. The gap between the young and the old has only widened in an accelerated culture; that is, in a world that has sped up by way of technology, travel, etc. If we are incompetent in this area, the young and the old lose each other, as the young literally leave the old behind. And lastly, I speak of internet competence, which is not unrelated to intergenerational competence. More than the latest mode of communication, the internet is a culture in and of itself in which the young are native. If we do not develop internet competence, we become disconnected to the very world we seek to love and reach.

These competencies address differences that we encounter in the age of globalization. But we must remember that the coming together of different cultures and religions is ultimately economically driven. At the root, globalization is a process that seeks to benefit all of humankind by making material wealth accessible to all. Such a desire, however, can easily take on ideological dimensions to the point where greed becomes the rule of the day. Theologian Daniel Groody aptly calls this “moneytheism.” In that light, the church’s mission must be about challenging this idol, which ultimately offers false promises of peace and fulfillment through mammon. It must be about bearing witness to a better world made possible, not by the power of money, but by the power of God in Jesus Christ.

The relationship between money, leadership and power dynamics between missionaries and the global church is complex. As more international leaders and missionaries emerge, how can Western leaders and missionaries best work with them to carry out the gospel?

It is time for the non-Western church to lead in mission. I really believe that. So the best way for the Western church to work with non-Western leaders is to submit to their leadership, to relinquish control and to think critically about the role that money should play in the relationship. There is no question that whoever holds the purse strings has much power. With that in mind, I have increasing doubts as to how much we should let money factor into the host culture-missionary relationship; for the Western missionary movement can no longer be in charge. My thoughts are not fully developed here, but as one who is in the middle of messy relationships between our church mission organization and global partners, I can say that money surely complicates things. We need to rethink the role that money plays if the goal is to see the non-Western church take the lead.

There’s been a population shift of the Christian church from the Global North to the Global South—that is, Africa, Latin America and parts of Asia. What are the implications for the future of the church taking this shift into account? What will missions look like if the majority of Christians now reside in the places where the Western church historically has “imported” its missions?

The idyllic picture I have in my mind is the global church—in all its diverse, international, intercultural, intertribal glory—working together in partnership, across cultures and around the world, with non-Western churches taking the lead. I envision in this scenario mission efforts not depending so much on finances, technology and what Scott Bessenecker calls “the Christian-industrial complex.” Though such a phrase warrants deeper unpacking, it speaks fundamentally of the machinery that the missionary enterprise has increasingly depended on over the last century. In some ways, I see mission under non-Western church leadership going back to simpler, slower, more authentic ways, measuring effectiveness by way of stories and testimonies more than by statistics, and evaluating success primarily in terms of personal and social transformations over numbers of converts and churches. That said, mission will be multi-directional, making it more difficult to draw single-arrowed, straight-lined graphs. I call it the holy mess of mission, as missionaries are sent from everywhere to everywhere. Will the Western church (the Global North) still have a role to play? Of course, but only as a part of the global church mosaic in mission, not as the leader, the center or the driver.

In what ways has a colonial mentality endured in missions today? How do we reconcile the gospel call to do missions without falling into the trap of colonialism again?

As long as ethnocentrism, racism and national exceptionalism exist today, the spirit of colonialism lives on. I wish I could say that the church in general and the missionary community in particular are immune to such things, but they/we are not. Characteristics of the colonial mentality include paternalism (treating host peoples as if they were less enlightened children), condescension (looking down on them as if they were less civilized), unequal power dynamics (assuming roles of teachers and trainers), and criticalness toward the host culture (thinking that North American culture is certainly better than theirs). It includes disdain for cultural ways of life that are different from our own and disrespect toward a people’s religious convictions and practices that are different from our own. It includes setting up Western enclaves amidst a people (yes, missionary compounds still exist!). I could go on, but I think you get the picture. A large reason I felt compelled to write Whole and Reconciled was to sharpen our awareness of these things and begin in the Spirit to reject them theologically and practically. I wanted us to forge a different way of being missionary in a postcolonial world.

Of course, exorcising the colonial spirit within and around us is easier said than done. For example, we could come in with a new “postcolonial missiology,” convinced that it’s right, and impose it in a colonial way. How ironic would that be?!

Even places that appear monocultural have minority groups, or, as you call them, “invisible people.” How can church leaders who believe they’re ministering in monocultural communities become more aware of the invisible people among them? How can they develop a global perspective if, on the surface, their church and community don’t appear particularly global?

Just by opening yourself up to the fact that invisible people exist in your community you begin to see them. So we can become more aware by our willingness to see what we’ve not seen before. I remember when I was considering buying a Subaru Outback a few years ago, how amazing it was that suddenly I was seeing all these Outbacks teaming the streets! It’s not like they weren’t they before; but my eyes were opened, and I began to see them all over the place. A trite analogy to the more important task of reorienting our antennas to able to see the marginalized and the different in what we may have previously thought of as a monocultural community. The once invisible people—Latino/a migrant workers in the fields, the lone African-American family living on First Street, the Amish baker, the growing immigrant community from Myanmar on the west side of town, etc.—begin to appear in light of the multicultural gospel. Church leaders at that point need to make a prayerful decision: Should we reach out to these invisible people, and thus risk changing the monocultural comfort of the church or not? For missional churches or aspiring missional churches, that is no-brainer.

Other intentional efforts that can cultivate a diverse, global perspective in the church include supporting missionaries and global ministries, giving them opportunities to share their hearts and stories; organizing short-term awareness (missions) trips; developing a partnership with a church of a different ethnicity; directly teaching and preaching on diversity and mission; challenging sexism, racism, classism and other injustices in our teaching and preaching; and so on. The opportunities for learning diverse and global mission are only limited to a church leader’s willingness and creativity.

Despite overall global church growth, the world today is still so broken that peace and reconciliation can sometimes feel hopelessly elusive. Rather than sitting passively by, what’s it going to take from the church to be a reconciling force in the world? What are we missing if we can’t seem to turn the tide even as the church grows globally?

From a human point of view, indeed peace on earth is hopelessly elusive, as you say. We live in a fragmented and increasingly fragmenting world. In light of the coming kingdom, however, the church cannot give into that hopelessness. The church is a reconciling force in the world when she fulfills her call as evangelist (vertical), peacemaker (horizontal) and steward (circular) by the power of the Holy Spirit. These three dimensions constitute the ministry of biblical reconciliation; but let me say a little more about the peacemaking dimension of the church’s mission. I argue in the book that peacemaking needs to become central to our mission in a fragmented and fragmenting world. It can no longer be relegated to pacifist churches. It can no longer be understood as the domain of liberal or left-leaning Christians. Peace is not optional; the whole church needs to understand and live out the gospel of peace; that is, if we want to bear witness to the good news of Christ and his kingdom in today’s world.

You write that “peacemaking is disciple-making is mission.” Can we have mission—can we make disciples—without mending cultural, tribal and national brokenness?

We may be making disciples, but not kingdom disciples, if we are not addressing the brokenness in our world! Like I write in the book, “Peacemaking is not the whole of disciple-making, but without it, we are not making disciples of Christ.” Jesus Christ is the Prince of Peace, and we are called to be peacemakers as a testimony to him in a divided, violent world. We are, further, called to make more disciples who are also peacemakers. The world needs to see and experience true peace, which only Christ can give. Let’s testify to that in our mission work around the world. Peacemaking is disciple-making is mission.

At the heart of biblical peacemaking are forgiveness and repentance. In the U.S. today, it feels like we’re so far from that state of mind. What can church leaders do to lead people to a place where forgiveness and repentance—instead of bitterness, fear, pride and spite—become second nature?

Unfortunately, you are right that a spirit of forgiveness and repentance is so far from mainstream reality right now, not only in the United States, but everywhere. People today are fearful, mean-spirited, hateful and violent toward whoever is “the other” at any given time. Fear-mongering and bully politics rule the day. Doubly unfortunate is the fact that there doesn’t seem to be an exception among Christians, whether violence from the Right or hate from the Left. In my book, I discuss six principles of peacemaking as mission that need to be operative if peace has a chance, and I begin the list with the need to cultivate a heart of peace. That’s where it begins for followers of Jesus. We need to examine our own hearts to root out bitterness, festering anger and hatred; this stuff starts wars, not peace. To the extent that we ourselves are at peace, we can counter hatred and war as peacemakers in the world.

Inseparably related to cultivating a heart of peace is a life of prayer. Peacemaking is not nice, fluffy, touchy-feely. It is hard, grueling, impossible work without the peace of Christ working in our hearts and in the world. With transformed hearts and powered by prayer, the church wages peace on earth.

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Jessica Hanewinckel
Jessica Hanewinckel

Jessica Hanewinckel is an Outreach magazine contributing writer.