Prayer for mission: a reverse in direction?
“Pray also for me, that whenever I speak, words may be given me so that I will fearlessly make known the mystery of the gospel, for which I am an ambassador in chains.” Ephesians 6:19-20
Many of us are familiar with a “mission partner slot” in a prayer meeting or section of a worship service which takes place in many local churches. During these times we pray for men and women from our own, Western country, now working to share the gospel in another land. Sometimes these are people commissioned and sent out from our own congregations, or perhaps those who have visited us and whom we support in partnership with other churches.
This sharing of information and prayer for gospel workers overseas serves a number of important functions. Those doing the mission work have often made some sacrifices – they do not have the usual support structures that we take for granted in our home country. They need our encouragement, and they act as a challenge and inspiration for us. Then, as the verse at the top reminds us, Paul himself asked for prayer, that the “mystery of the gospel” would be revealed through his preaching and other ministry. So for us too, the work of the kingdom needs the prayers of God’s people.
And also, the local church needs to be constantly reminded of God’s great plan for the nations, and we are all being called to play a part in this plan, not just to focus on our local area and community. The “mission prayer slot”, with its stories and images and prayer, helps us to feel part of the global church.
But like all aspects of the Christian life, while the message and need for proclamation doesn’t change, methods and perspectives should adapt to new circumstances. Those countries in the global south, historically “receivers” of messengers of the gospel from the North and West, in many cases now have their own thriving churches with experienced indigenous leadership. They may request assistance in the form of individuals on short term placement with particular expertise (for example, theological training), and financial resources, but not necessarily in evangelism and church planting.
World mission: new emphasis and new direction
The Gafcon Global website reminds us daily in its prayer news of exciting initiatives in local mission, sometimes in places of great deprivation and conflict. Can our churches adapt, to learn about and pray for these “fearless ambassadors”, even if we don’t know them personally and they will probably never visit our church, with as much fervour as we pray for “our own”? Can we even think about shifting our allocation of resources, bearing in mind that for the same amount that it costs to support a British family on the “mission field” in Africa or Asia, we could be supporting maybe ten such gospel workers in their home country – men and women who already know the language and culture, are doing the work, and needing encouragement and resourcing? Could we help to develop the mission networks of Gafcon, to better facilitate this genuine partnership between north and south?
Many young people from Western churches, on their first experience of ministry in the global south church, are struck by material needs in people’s lives and perhaps different problems in the churches to the ones we face, but also an awareness of the spiritual, a vibrancy of praise, a sense of urgency in reaching people with the message of Christ, growing the church and serving the community. Looking back to the “home” situation, it’s clear that some of these things are lacking in Britain and Europe. “We came to the ends of the earth”, said one experienced mission worker of his first trip to the Philippines as a young man, “but we realised that the main problem is back in Jerusalem”.
For Western Christians, the call to “go into all the world and make disciples” is still relevant , and the comparatively few who hear and act on this should continue to be encouraged in what God has put on their heart. But now the situation has changed. We in the West can no longer see ourselves as the senior partners in world mission. As the spiritual situation in the West deteriorates, a plea is going out to the materially under-resourced but spiritually rich global south church: “come over to Macedonia and help us”. The call to “pray for me” today is not just being made by the missionary, working in Africa, to his home church in Scotland or Germany, but by the older churches to the newer ones. It is us now in the West, who feel like “ambassadors in chains”, trying to get a hearing for the gospel message in an unbelieving society which wants to restrict what we say and do to inside the walls of church. We need the prayers and spiritual resources from our brothers and sisters in the global church to be “fearless” when we are tempted to compromise.
The Anglican Communion has existed for many decades, and with the emergence and development of the Gafcon and Global South movements, renewal is happening. This is not just the call to return to the biblical foundations of our church, vital as that is. We are also seeing a movement which reflects the shift of spiritual life and leadership from north to south, as a new era of mission is born, from “enlightened” far away lands to “darkest” Europe. What a great privilege to be part of this movement!