Doctor of Leadership in Global Perspectives: Crafting Ministry in an Interconnected World

Global Shift

Written by: on October 25, 2018

As I leafed through the pages of Peter Frankopan’s, The Silk Roads: A New History of the World, my mind was elsewhere. This weekend, for the first time since our arrival in France eight and a half years ago, we will be hosting a short-term team from our home church in Spokane, WA. I’ve instructed the team not to call this a “mission trip;” but rather a “ministry exchange,” as I am convinced that they will receive as much or more than they give.

Some of Frankopan’s words catch my attention.

“We think of globalisation as a uniquely modern phenomenon; yet, 2000 years ago, too, it was a fact of life. One that presented opportunities, created problems and prompted technological advance,”[1]

I’m once again thinking of my globe-trotting American colleagues and the days of opportunities, problems, and invention that lie before them. Reviewer Anthony Sattin suggests that Frankopan’s goal was to “recalibrate our view of history, to challenge assumptions about where we come from and what has shaped us.”[2] I think I have a similar goal for this ministry exchange. What would it look like to challenge the assumptions that have shaped them?

Many North American Christians view themselves and their traditions as the global center of Christianity. In Global Humility, author Andy McCullough observes that those who travel for the sake of the Gospel “travel to teach, but not learn. We assume that our way of doing things is the best.”[3] I have a French colleague who once told me that he had been approached by a well-known American pastor who wanted to bring a team from his church to help train Christian leaders in France. My colleague responded positively, genuinely excited about the possibility. He then offered to bring a French team to the US the following year to help train up Christian leaders in the States. He never heard from the American pastor again.

Author and missionary Andy McCullough believes that book of Jonah was written “to challenge the Jewish ides that they were the only seat of revelation, that they had nothing to learn from the nations.”[4] He points out that the sailors seem to be more righteous than Jonah in their fear of God, the King of Nineveh seems to have a better understanding of the merciful character of God than Jonah, and the Ninevites seem to be more prone to repentance than Jonah. AND JONAH WAS THE MISSIONARY!!! In all of these cases, God is teaching his chosen people that they have much to learn from those whom they consider to be beneath them, theologically and religiously speaking.

Modern missionaries, whether long-term or short, must wrestle with as well. In fact, the global center of Christianity has shifted significantly over the past hundred years. Countries like Brazil, India, and South Korea that were once missionary destinations are now some of the largest missionary sending nations in the world. Greater collaboration on multi-cultural teams is the future of global missions. Will we rejoice in the prospect of partnership, or cling to the belief that we, North Americans, are the ones with all the answers?

In her book Christian Mission: How Christianity Became a World Religion, Dana Robert observes that historically, “A strange omission from western scholarly critiques of mission history has been the role of indigenous initiative in mission…. Missionaries were powerless without indigenous partners who could express the gospel in their own cultural framework.”[5] And more recently, Engel and Dyrness assert, “There seems to be an unwarranted assumption that a Western expatriate can somehow perform the task as well or better than those who are much closer geographically, linguistically, and culturally.”[6]

And so when my American friends arrive tomorrow, the first thing I plan to do is to walk them up to L’Amphithéâtre des Trois Gauls in the Croix Rousse neighbourhood of Lyon, just a kilometre from our church. It was there, in 177 A.D. that Christians were martyred for their faith. We’ll talk about the rich Christian history in France, a history that precedes the existence of the United States of America by almost 1600 years. I’ll tell them the story of Blandina, the slave woman who was thrown to the beasts, but they refused to touch her. Consequently, she spent months in prison alongside her Christian brothers and sister. I’ll explain that the fact that Blandina was a slave woman, and yet named and honoured in the historical accounts of the events while her mistress (also one of the martyrs and a Roman citizen) remains anonymous indicates that Blandina was a leader in the early European church. I’ll finish the story with its tragic ending, Blandina being thrown to the beasts a second time, and this time being gored to death.

I hope they can begin to grasp the reality that though there are few practicing Christians in France today, the ones that they will meet have a long and rich history of faith, one from which we have much to learn.

[1] Peter Frankopan, The Silk Roads: A New History of the World (Vintage Books, 2017).Kindle loc 595

[2] Anthony Sattin, “The Silk Roads by Peter Frankopan Review – a Frustrating Trail,” The Guardian, September 29, 2015, sec. Books, https://www.theguardian.com/books/2015/sep/29/silk-roads-peter-frankopan-review.

[3] Andy McCullough, Global Humility: Attitudes for Mission (UK: Malcolm Down Publishing, 2018). Kindle loc 390.

[4] McCullough. Kindle loc 390.

[5] Dana Lee Robert, Christian Mission: How Christianity Became a World Religion, Blackwell Brief Histories of Religion Series (Chichester, U.K. ; Malden, Mass: Wiley-Blackwell, 2009). 94.

[6] James F. Engel and William A. Dyrness, Changing the Mind of Missions: Where Have We Gone Wrong? (Downers Grove, Ill: IVP Books, 2000). 20.


About the Author

Jennifer Williamson

Jenn Williamson is a wife and mother of two adult sons. Before moving to France in 2010, she was the women's pastor at Life Center Foursquare Church in Spokane, WA. As a missionary with Greater Europe Mission, she is involved in church planting and mentoring emerging leaders. Jenn benefitted from French mentors during her transition to the field, and recognizes that cross-cultural ministry success depends on being well integrated into the host culture. Academic research into missionary sustainability and cultural adaptation confirmed her own experience and gave her the vision to create Elan, an organization aimed at helping missionaries transition to the field in France through the participation of French partners.

9 responses to “Global Shift”

  1. Greg says:

    I agree that the goal of any opportunity to gets students out of there own lives and own world should be to teach them to realign their thoughts about God, about service and how they can be a part of it. Btw Jonah is my favorite story told from the perspective of a mission gone wrong. Sailors more righteous, Ninivites forgiven and Jonah just angry. Boy have I seen overseas workers with the attitude that God wasn’t being fair.

    I do hope your time with this team goes well. If they come humbly with an desire to learn from the French (as well as God) then it should be a good week.

  2. M Webb says:

    I agree that short-term mission trips or ministry exchanges are awesome. I have seen the Lord “hook” many future missionaries from these types of cross-cultural foreign ministry adventures.
    You are so right about how God “teaches” us through the people we are called to serve. Going is the biggest hurdle for many missionaries, and if they are called, challenged, and have the cause from the Holy Spirit then “all things” are possible. One of God’s teaching moments for us was being arrested in Botswana for an expired Visa. It was a civil type of arrest, but we had to present ourselves to the local police jail, be processed, pay fines, and sit with the other inmates until they processed our paperwork. As we sat there some of the people went behind bars and incarcerated. After a couple of weeks, the local board that handles Work Permits and Visa’s acted upon our application, that had been submitted over three months prior and granted us the permissions to live and serve in their country.
    Thanks for your post that inspired my missionary reflections.
    Stand firm,
    M. Webb

  3. Shawn Hart says:

    Jenn, I always enjoy the perspectives presented by you and Greg in regard to the transference of the gospel from Americans to other cultures. One of the comments you made in this post was, “Many North American Christians view themselves and their traditions as the global center of Christianity.” That quote was followed by another that read, “…those who travel for the sake of the Gospel ‘travel to teach, but not learn. We assume that our way of doing things is the best.’” I would agree with the first statement, and thank to this program, I hope I know better than to agree with the second. However, in regard to the first, I believe as a culture that has become the staging point for Christianity over the past 200 years, I hope we are not naive in thinking that any influence we have is because of ourselves, but rather because of the opportunity God has placed before us. I believe history has shown nation after nation receiving the Gospel, and then they threw it away. However, the western world embraced it completely, and with a fervor, desired to share that gospel around the world. To our own dismay however, something that was also a problem with the crusades, the methodology is sometime flawed. Not only in this reading, but also in the many failed missionary attempts, hopefully the true Christian effort will realize that there are better ways to integrate ministry into a culture different than our own.

  4. Jennifer,

    I love the description of this visit being a “ministry exchange”. The place of humility recognizes we are not all powerful, not all knowing, not all capable, but rather have need of others on the margins to be complete. This idea of mutuality and reciprocality is what we envision the Body of Christ being all about, and it certainly isn’t just a Western male heterosexual body. We need voices and experiences from other cultures, races, genders, and orientations for the Body of Christ to be complete, to be one.

    Thank you for sharing the story of courageous Blandina. As you shared her story with your ministry exchange group from Spokane, perhaps she was looking down at your group and praying they might embrace this bigger picture. 😉

  5. Jean Ollis says:

    Such an exciting visit for your family! I can’t wait to hear how the ministry exchange goes – by the way I would love to rename every mission trip as ministry exchanges. I so appreciate your approach to looking back at the history of Christianity in Lyon – it will be interesting to hear how the visitors paradigms are shifted after the visit. Enjoy!

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