There’s value in different mission groups and churches working together
ONE of the effects of globalisation is that for the financially able, there is greater access and ease of travel to various locations. This increased ease of travel opens up more opportunities for the Gospel to be made known in many new and creative ways.
On my recent trips to the countries where the Methodist Missions Society (MMS) works, I sometimes had the privilege of meeting Christians coming from various backgrounds and countries seeking to further the cause of Christ in these locations.
It is heartening to encounter different models of ministry. There is a growing trend of “tentmakers” from various countries, including Singapore. These Christians have managed to secure secular employment (or create their own employment) in their host country and, for many, their primary motivation is to share and live out the meaning of the good news of Christ in that country.
Previously, it was more common to meet such folk only in countries that did not encourage foreign religious groups within their borders. However, in recent times, I have met “tentmakers” in nearly every country I travel to, including countries very open to the presence of foreign missionaries. This trend provides exciting possibilities to see the Kingdom of God established in forums, previously less accessible to traditional mission methods.
In my travels I also meet or hear of various Christian groups working in one particular location, not to mention in the same city, district or province. Often these groups reach out to different sectors of society within the same location. At other times, we meet separate Christian groups but all originating from one denomination of one country working within the same location. Such efforts are another encouraging sign of the potential for the spreading of the Gospel in these places.
However, these groups often work independently of each other and are also unaware of each other’s presence, even though they may be part of the same denomination or fellowship in their country of origin. Sadly, they may find no reason to connect and link up with each other. As one of the persons I spoke to said to me, “I am okay. I have enough work to do. It is too troublesome to meet with others.”
In some ways, such a view stifles an opportunity to allow the Gospel to have a greater impact in the areas we minister.
♦ It is useful to have different models of ministry.
♦ We need a wider vision of ministry and mission.
♦ Find ways to work together to build a stronger church of the future.
♦ Pave the way for greater co-operation across various denominations.
Such self-sufficient certitude and confidence may breed competition and isolation rather than fellowship, co-operation and integration on the field.
Much as our individual ministries are significant and important, there is also a need to look at the forest and not just the trees. We need a wider vision of ministry and mission both within our own contexts as well as in the lands that we seek to work in.
Christianity is still very much a minority faith in the Asian continent. Our actions and attitudes today present a model of relationships for the nationals in the countries we work in. Finding avenues to co-operate and work together can be one of the helpful ways to build a stronger foundation for the growth and development of a vibrant, relevant national church of the future.
In the work of the Methodist Missions Society such meaningful co-operation has not been easy to come by. One of the aims of the MMS is to initiate Methodist churches in places where currently none exists.
In 1995, with the understanding that no established Methodist work existed in Cambodia, the MMS initiated work there. However, in time, it discovered that the Korean Methodists, United Methodists (from the US) and the Swiss/ French Methodists were also working in the country. In later years, the MMS developed a relationship with the World Federation of Chinese Methodists Churches, which was also functioning in Cambodia.
It was also realised that some of the work engaged in by the different Methodist groups in Cambodia were located within the same area, and not too far from each other either. How could one respond to such a situation?
To the credit of the leaders of the various Methodist groups in Cambodia, there has been an attempt to explore ways of working together through a joint committee known as the Cambodian Christian Methodist Association (CCMA). In many ways, it is still early days for the CCMA. However, one of the joint projects under the CCMA that is bearing some fruit is the Cambodia Methodist Bible School (CMBS). The school today has lecturers from the various Methodist groups and trains all prospective Cambodian Methodist church workers. One natural development of this is greater co-operation and friendship across previously very separate churches.
In another step in the right direction, the CMBS recently agreed in principle to open its doors to non-Methodist students. It is hoped that this may pave the way for greater Christian fellowship and co-operation across various denominations.
Working together across different churches is always a challenging prospect, as each group has a different ethos, a different identity and different interests. This gives room for various conflicts and competing agendas that need to be worked through. In addition, often the “go it alone” model appears more efficient. It often appears to be a faster way to accomplish goals. There are no brakes that will slow down the decision-making process and there may also be more immediate direct management of that process. There may be a greater sense of ownership and achievement when things work well, a deeper personal sense of individual success and fulfilment.
Indeed, the “go it alone” model may achieve some quick successes. However, in the long run, it may not be as healthy and sometimes not as sustainable either.
Let us take a leaf from the political arena where we have witnessed the superpower “go it alone” model in Afghanistan and Iraq achieve quick results. However, as recent events show, the sustainability and long-term good of the “go it alone” model are also being questioned.
Moreover, the scriptures challenge us, as believers, to work in fellowship as a body of Christ. Isolationist attitudes are not a faithful reflection of the image of the body of Christ.
Finding avenues of co-operation eventually gives room for a more unified denomination that is better able to coordinate Christian activities and responses. Our hope is that this will provide a more faithful vehicle for seeing the values of the Kingdom of God expressed in society. May the Lord grant us wisdom in our various levels of ministry to see how we can work together to see his Kingdom further established in our various areas of influence.
The Rev Ajit Hazra is the Field Director of the Methodist Missions Society of The Methodist Church in Singapore.
*Readers (individuals or congregations) involved in ministries currently working in foreign countries who are interested in to link up with others with similar values and goals can contact firstname.lastname@example.org