My own denomination, the Reformed Church in America, produces a monthly piece on mission for member churches to use in their Sunday bulletins. The March issue of Mission Today: Reformed Church in America Global Mission, had a particularly helpful look at what drives our shared global mission as a historic American denomination.
In a world that is clearly multicultural, where we now experience unprecedented advance in communications and tremendous economic and political upheaval, all Christians and Christian institutions need to recognize the importance of both giving and receiving, of teaching and learning, of sharing and listening. Simply put, we need to be careful about being intentionally mutual in mission. Mission Today says it well: “The RCA believes in mutuality—that any relationship, if it is healthy, must benefit both parties. Each must give and each should receive.”
When a particular church focuses only on giving then it will tend towards paternalism and chauvinism. When a church focuses only on receiving it will tend to become manipulative and narcissistic. We have all seen these patterns if we have lived for long and actually worked in any relational context that involves giving and receiving. Mission is not exempted from this pattern because it is Christian. Quite the opposite really.
The goal of the RCA’s global mission is to promote the health of the whole body of Christ and to fully develop the gifts of all believers. The Global Mission of the RCA thus says that this is done in two ways:
1. By not putting missionaries in roles that can more effectively or efficiently be carried out by a local partner.
2. By fostering exchanges of people, knowledge and understanding between North American churches and their counterparts in Africa, Asia, Europe, Latin America, and the Middle East.
This mutual mission thinking has led the RCA to pursue a volunteer mission program that has exploded with the current rise of volunteerism in America. Hundreds of RCA teams travel to sites in North America and throughout the world. They serve and give their time, energy and gifts to make a difference for the kingdom of Christ. But the RCA does not send these volunteers just because they can make a difference. They are sending them as much for what the journey does for those who go as for the work that they can accomplish. Mutual mission done by teams who share their time and gifts with others in a personal and kingdom-oriented way changes the people who go. They begin to see themselves differently and as a result they see the church differently, which feeds the missional vision that I believe and teach so fervently. In the end this approach will reshape those who go into the image of Christ, the servant who gave himself for others and also allowed others to serve and minister to him.