“We are forced to do something that the Western churches have never had to do since the days of their own birth – to discover the form and substance of a missionary church in terms that are valid in a world that has rejected the power and influence of the Western nations. Missions will no longer work along the stream of expanding Western power. They have to learn to go against the stream.” Lesslie Newbigin, The Open Secret
It’s hard to believe that it was twenty years ago when I was sitting in Prof. Mike Goheen’s living room studying the works of Rene Padilla, David Bosch, and Lesslie Newbigin. We were studying in Sioux Center, Ia., where mowing your lawn on a Sunday might land you in jail. And Prof. Goheen (who would go on to complete a dissertation on Newbigin) would say, “If Newbigin were here, he’d tell us that this town needs a missionary encounter!”
Returning from India to the West, Newbigin saw with new eyes the profound secularization of so-called “Christian” culture. If you’ve ever been to the Third World and returned to the United States, you may know the feeling. Suddenly, it becomes a bit unbearable to hear “God Bless the USA!” playing on the radio as you shop for a pair of $100 jeans, which replace the pair you bought just a week prior that were ruined when you spilled your Double Tall Sugar-Free Vanilla Soy Latte on them. You get the picture. Newbigin did too. And he believed that missionaries needed to be sent to the West, a culture blinded by power and prosperity.
All this contemporary talk of a “Christian nation” would likely aggravate Newbigin, who believed profoundly that Christians more interested in preserving power looked like the Temple High-Priest than the Suffering Servant. Newbigin once wrote, “The real triumphs of the gospel have not been won when the church is strong in a worldly sense; they have been won when the church is faithful in the midst of weakness, contempt, and rejection.” While we’re busy figuring out how to save ‘pagan’ civilizations elsewhere, Newbigin believed that the people who needed the Gospel most were…
…you and me. With our Big Mac’s, Big Churches, and Big Military. Ouch. I’m convicted.
This “big idea” has had a profound impact on me over the years – Don’t send missionaries – invite them. Invite them from places where they have nothing else to depend on but Jesus, and ask them how to live and love and serve. Invite them to teach you…the one who is supposed to have all of the knowledge and power that the world knows (in an iPhone!). Invite them to tell you about Jesus, and how he shows up among them. Just invite them.
I’m curious…how does “big idea” sit with you?