The World Is Flat – What It Means for Mission

imagesThomas Friedman, in his best-selling book The World is Flat, provides an incredibly compelling overview of how advances in modern technology, communication and marketing have flattened our world. He explains that the world is rapidly shrinking and shows how geographical, language and cultural barriers have become increasingly blurred by the day. Never before have we had the resources, technology and accessibility that is now available to  us to effectively and instantaneously communicate and connect with people all over the world.

Just yesterday I had lunch with a friend who related a story to me that is now quite common. He was at a Christmas gathering with his “god-daughter” and asked her if she could function in the world without her “smart phone” in her hands? She looked at him incredulously and said, “No, I do not know how I would function without my cell phone/device!” I asked my friend, a few years older than me, if he could imagine functioning in his world without his automobile? He immediately saw my point. Of course you can live without an automobile but you could not function in the world that we have constructed without some means of transportation, which likely means an automobile. This may not be true in some urban neighborhoods but it is very true in the suburbs where I live. The same is true for younger adults growing up in this new “flat” world.  This huge change is a small part of what we call globalization.

Make no mistake about it–globalization has “flattened our world.” Friedman uses the example of an Asian computer company Lenovo. Lenovo has a strategic alliance with the U.S.-owned IBM and is responsible for the manufacturing of all IBM personal computers. This Chinese-owned company’s headquarters are in New York, but its primary manufacturing operation is in Beijing. Its research centers are in China, the United States and Japan and its sales centers are located in many major cities all over the world. Lenovo has a Chinese chairman, an American CEO, an American CPO, and a Chinese CFO, and it is listed on the Hong Kong stock exchange. Truly the world has become more “flat.”

Here is another example–U.S. tax returns can now be prepared in India. These returns can be delivered to an office in the U.S. in the evening of one day. This material is then sent to India via scanners and electronic forms and processed in Bangalore during regular business hours. (India is 11 or 12 times zones ahead of the time the work was submitted here in the U.S., thus 7 p.m. in Chicago would be 6:30 a.m. the next day in India). The U.S. client can then pick up their finished tax material, and even have it ready to mail to the IRS, the very next morning in the U.S. This is another example of what Friedman means when he calls the world “flat.”

There are many things to be said about this “flat world” but one of the most important things for Christians is to understand how this world is radically different for young people who have grown up in it. It takes me months to master a new system and before I do a new system is already being used. Young adults have little or no problem with these kinds of changes. They are more adaptable and techno-savvy than I will ever be. They have learned about the world in an entirely different way than I did. Some of my peers think they are not as smart as we are but they are mistaken. They are smart, but in a very different way. This change is neither good nor bad, morally speaking. It just is what it is. The world is very, very different.

Here is the central point for Christian mission. Younger adults are ideally suited to harness this technology and relate to this rapid change. They have the innate ability to use this for mission in ways that most of my generation could never have imagined. This has profound implications for both learning and evangelism. The millennials (born since 1982) can process change, dream incredible dreams and reach their peers far more easily than we could ever have imagined in my young adult years in the late 1960s and early 70s. Because of this “flat world” we now live in I believe one of the most important questions that we will face, in the church, is this: “How shall we adapt our lives and effectively live out the power of the gospel in this new world?” I now go to millennials first to start this type of discussion because they have come of age in the “flat world” of the 21st century.

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