The Changing Face of World Missions - The Global Context



Have you wondered, “What motivates Christians to leave behind family, friends, and culture; head to unfamiliar places; and dedicate their lives to serving peoples of an entirely different language and culture?” Furthermore, “what motivations enable missionaries to persevere while learning languages, working though culture stress, learning to minister in a foreign culture, and raising a family in a new environment?” Michael Pocock’s book The Changing Face of World Mission talks through the answers to these questions as well as gives an update of current world mission efforts and progress. This book is not just another textbook; it is an informed encouragement for Christians who are serious about seeing the Gospel carried to all nations.


From the beginning of the time, God promised to give the entire world the blessing of a relationship with Him. Genesis 12:1-3 tells us about the promise which God gave to Abram.

“The LORD had said to Abram, “Leave your country, your people and your father’s household and go to the land I will show you. I will make you into a great nation and I will bless you; I will make your name great, and you will be a blessing. I will bless those who bless you, and whoever curses you I will curse; and all peoples on earth will be blessed through you.”

From the beginning of the Bible, we see the Lord’s heart to reach “all peoples of the earth” with the message of His Glory. As Abram packed up his household and took that first step of faith, God was carrying out his promise that He would use the nation of Israel to bless the world. This act was only the background for a process called globalization, which the Lord is using to bring His Good News to every nation.

Globalization, as the term is used today, refers to the exchange and progression of goods, ideas, and services more freely among and between nations. In recent centuries, and specifically the past half-century, the effects of globalization have been dramatically increased due to world-migration, air travel, the internet, and free-market economic systems. Since the separation of people into nations at the Tower of Babel, this interchange between people-groups has been serving to connect and benefit diverse nations. Through trade, religion, and conquest, ideas have been spread throughout the world all throughout history. Specifically, the beliefs of Christianity have been spread throughout the world because of slaves, crusaders, explorers and others, who, whether willingly or unwillingly took the Gospel with them as they went to other nations.

Globalization has been powerfully beneficial for missions work. For instance, America, which was once the center for Christianity, was also the birthplace for the Internet. In the past decade alone, the internet has been made available in countries and among people-groups where the Gospel hasn’t been boldly proclaimed. In these situations, local people can access Christian resources from a computer at a cheap internet café and thus receive the message of Jesus’ salvation.

Yet while the Lord has uses for Globalization, the devil does as well. That same wonderful tool, the Internet, also supplies pornographic images and other temptations which these cultures didn’t struggle with before the Internet made them available. Thus, while globalization reduces barriers of distance and funding to the benefit of the spread of the Gospel, it also proves harmful in the increased speed of the spread of things contrary to the mission of Christ.

So what should be our response? While globalization tools such as the Internet may serve Christianity in some ways, that doesn’t diminish the need for personal, face-to-face interaction. Christians must be careful not to allow globalization to make us lazy, but to aid in our personal efforts. While the Lord can certainly use an article on a website to lead someone to Christ, He is more likely to use a personal contact. Christians should use the power of globalization to further the cause of Christ.

Changing Demographics

We serve a God who knows our every weakness and the full extent of the need. Christ will come again one day to complete His purpose and until that day, we who are called to His purpose must rely on Him for strength and wisdom to serve those who have been affected by some of the trends of this era. Three significant demographic trends have been shaping this new millennium: (1) migration, (2) the HIV/AIDS pandemic, and (3) the plight of children at risk. Pocock discusses these three: their causes, effects, and our necessary response as people who profess obedience to the One who loves all nations.

Over 175 million migrants live in countries other than those of their birth. Most of this migration is due in large part to economic difficulties, 91 percent of the 175 million immigrants are economic migrants. With this economic migration has come religious diversity, which has led to religious pluralism. In response to religious pluralism, Christians are most commonly executing outreach or ambivalence. When using the outreach approach, Christians see these international migrants as “unreached people groups” in need of the Gospel of Jesus. However, the other response, ambivalence, has caused a tendency toward universalism, giving the notion that in a secular society, everyone has the right to be, which also gives them the right to be right. Extending grace to those who have been displaced is an expression of Christ’s love. While we are supposed to demonstrate God’s love while engaging with those of another faith, we are also supposed to be a witness of the Savior.

HIV/AIDS is the greatest humanitarian crisis of the twenty-first century. In response to the global HIV/AIDS crisis many humanitarian groups such as World Vision, MAP International and the TEAR Fund have risen to the challenge, which is exactly what Christ calls us to do. The local church, however, has proven to be the most effective in the mission against HIV/AIDS in Africa, proving that the local church is key in God’s mission. Love for Christ is demonstrated publicly by acts of kindness and love toward the weak and the marginalized, who cannot care for themselves, and toward one another as disciples (Matt 24:44-45; John 13:34-35; James 1:27). In keeping with this, the Church needs a sustained commitment to holistic responses that emphasize evangelism as an integral part of the physical care given through ministries of local congregation. Giving significant attention to the spiritual and physical needs of victims and their families, nonprofit organizations have partnered with local congregations and began providing support and resources to fight the HIV/AIDS pandemic. Perhaps the most significant contribution is the ability for individuals to integrate their faith and practice as they seek solutions to the complexities they face.

Children are the largest population block and also the most vulnerable and dependent. They face disabling or bonded child labor, war and other forms of violence, sexual abuse and exploitation, disease, drug abuse, disability, neglect or loss of family or primary caregiver, extreme poverty and oppressive institutions. Children are easy to manipulate and do not demand anything in return. They are expendable. Along this line of thinking, it is estimated that 10 million children are in the sex industry with an additional million entering each year. Education is key to making these numbers drop. Only 14 percent of the $270 billion of the annual expenditure of organized global Christianity goes specifically toward education. Ironically, 85 percent of those who make a decision for Christ are between the ages of 4 and 14. (Brewster 2003) Those that have been helping the children in need are organizations such as Frontiers, Pioneers and Antioch Mission of Brazil. Jesus calls his disciples to take seriously the children; he even identifies himself with them. He says, “Let the little children come to me, and do not hinder them, for the kingdom of heaven belongs to such as these” (Matthew 19:14). This is our motivation to engage in missions to children at risk.


At one point Social scientists predicted that by the 21st century, religion would be nearly destroyed and replaced by reliance on self confidence and rational ability. At the same time, the Western mission community predicted that the collapse of non-Christian religions was in the very near future as Christianity spread throughout the world. Neither prediction was proven factual. However, over the past 30 years, the popularity of religion has been on the rise around the world. This includes not only the major world religions of Christianity, Islam, Hinduism, and Buddhism but also new religious movements.

With this sudden diverse eruption of religion there are two questions that must be addressed. The first is, “what is driving this seemingly unprecedented growth,” and the other, “what should our strategy as Christians be to effectively bring the Gospel to these different groups.” Perhaps the most prevalent reason for this growth in religion is that spirituality is intrinsic to our human nature. We are created in the image of God and therefore are born with a “God-shaped hole” in our lives that we continually seek to fill.

The answer to the second question raised by the growth of a religious mindset throughout the world is much more complicated. Each of the major world religions and cultures are unique in their beliefs and traditions and therefore require a personalized missions approach.

It is vital that the methods we use to evangelize these peoples groups are tailored and specified to fit their demographics. This does not mean we are to compromise the gospel as this would give way to syncretism which is the replacement of core truths with socially acceptable teachings. This means studying and learning about the people group and having a strategy to most effectively communicate the gospel to them. Above all we must be sensitive to the Holy Spirit’s movement so we don’t fall into the trap of self-sufficiency.

A follow-up question is what does this look like? For instance, many Muslims view “being a Christian” as “being American.” We must realize this and prescribe to “turning the other cheek” and “repaying good for evil,” ultimately showing that we are disciples of the one whom willingly gave His life for ours on the cross.

In the Indian culture, however, the most immediate calling should be for the lowest of their caste system, the Dalits. Reaching these spiritual and social outcasts, we can impact both classes of people in the Indian culture. We also see that Hinduism is viewed as a culture more than a creed in India. As a faith, it is vague, many sided, all things to all men. With this comes the adversity to pledging allegiance to a distinct group, like an American church. In keeping with that thought process we must be mindful of intermixing our western traditions and culture with the gospel.

Contrasting yet again, Christian missionaries among groups of new religious movements must focus on ways to communicate the Gospel in narrative ways as opposed to piece by piece so that it is seen as holistic. Christians must address practical life experiences. This is best done through personal stories of faith and testimonies that glorify God through our own weaknesses. We need to communicate that Christianity is as unique as the God who created this world and the Christ who died for our sins.

The Changing Basis of Knowledge

In order to address today’s culture, we must be aware of the changes taking place. One major change is the shifting of the basis of knowledge from modernity to postmodernity. Modernity seeks absolute truth through objective and rational observation. It puts the material over the spiritual, which do not belong to the realm of science. The idea of modernity gave rise to a sense that by rational logic and data all problems could be studied and resolved. However, modernism failed to deliver answers about the meaning of life or resolve issues such as human depravity or even global warming which is the result of its own technical advances. These limitations have brought about the age of postmodernism, which relies on subjective reasoning and intuition rather than rational ideology. Postmodernists rarely believe in objective truth but instead believe the individual defines truth for himself.

The approach to missions must be changed in order to reach this new postmodern generation; so the question is, how? Postmodernists have a longing for a sense of God beyond the material, for significance, and for community. Ministry to these postmodernists must be tailored to address these desires. First, we must be willing to sit down, listen and converse with them about spiritual matters by focusing on the stories and real-life events with which this postmodern generation can relate.

Secondly, we must effectively communicate that God cares about people. While identity and significance are being downplayed in today’s culture, the scriptures say that humans are made in the image of God. People who chose to do evil are just as important to God as those who serve and love Him. Lastly, the church must be a community linked by spiritual bonds in Christ. Postmodernists have become disinterested in institutional Christianity because of Churches that failed to act out the love seen in the early church of the New Testament.

When reaching out to postmodernists, we must remain Christ-centered. While contextualizing the gospel for postmodernists, it must be made clear to postmodernists that the truth of the gospel applies to all areas of life and is not subjective. Postmodernists are in need of a true spiritual revitalization, which only Jesus Christ can provide.