Trends in mission and four ways to improve mission education in churches

Bruce Dipple has been a missionary in Niger, Australia/East Asia director of SIM, lecturer at SMBC and one of Australia’s experts in mission. Sophie Timothy spoke with Bruce Dipple at the CMS conference in Melbourne, “Summer Under the Son”, about recent trends in mission, and what churches can do to improve their mission engagement.

Trends in Mission over the last 10 years

1. Going to more places
Australians are tending to go all over the world, whereas some decades ago there were some parts of the world that tended to be the focus of Australians, like East Africa, rather than the West or Central.

If you started sticking pins in a map then it’s far more scattered now. Europe would probably have to be one of the biggest increases in the last decade. There are a lot of Australians going there.

Latin America is the other one—maybe not as numerous, but it is growing. And that’s partly because it’s getting easier for Australia to find out about the needs of Latin America. Historically we had this problem that if an organisation wasn’t based here, we didn’t know about the opportunities. So the vast majority of missions working in Latin America tended to be based in the UK or US, but that’s slowly changing.

2.  More ‘tent-making’
More Australians are being recognised for going to other parts of the world with their profession, with gospel intent. They’d probably be going anyway, but now there’s a recognition which didn’t exist 10 years ago. Those that you hear most about are those who teach English overseas, but almost any profession you want, any skill can be used in the mission task. I think now both the churches they belong to and the general mission community recognise their value.

3. The world is now on our doorstep
You’ve got the international student population, but they’re also going back home. And that’s a particular ministry focus that isn’t probably being addressed properly yet, certainly not in Sydney. There’s thousands who are intending to go back, they’ve got no other intention but to return home. Therefore if we’re going to reach them with the gospel, you’ve also got be helping them to prepare for going home and how they’re going to live at home.

The other part of it are those coming here, either as students or as migrants, wanting to stay. And that’s where I think we’re doing a bit better than we used to. But probably what most churches still don’t realise is the incredible number of different peoples that have come here. We have some 200 nationalities in Sydney, for example. I don’t think churches are catching on just yet how diverse the population is.

Mission Education in the local church

1. Understand culture
Churches need to start teaching simply what culture is. We still assume that because we’re a multicultural country we know what culture is. We haven’t necessarily got a clue. And you hear people say, “Oh, that group, they live down that street, and they’re so loud.” But why are they so loud? It’s probably a reflection of their culture. To understand that means you are more likely to put up with it. They’re not being rowdy, they’re just being themselves.

You need to understand the nature of culture itself. In a Bible college like SMBC we spend hours just teaching what is culture, what is the nature of culture. But even in three or four hours, you can get a good grasp on what are the various aspects of culture, how they relate, how they manifest themselves.

2. Be proactive: research and set out to reach particular migrant groups in your community
If someone is going to intentionally try to reach a migrant community in Australia, that means they’re going to research their language, they’re going to research their culture, their foods, find out where they live, what they like. If they’re going to get that involved and intentional with reaching them with the gospel, that’s equal to going somewhere else in the world to reach them as far as preparation is concerned.

3.  Ask mission agencies for tips on how to reach migrants
That I think is a huge possibility, because who’s planting churches all over the world? Missionaries. Who teaches churches to church plant among migrants? Nobody does. So why not use the missionaries when they come back? Don’t just get them to tell their stories at churches, let them teach churches how to church plant.

4. Define your purpose
If church doesn’t have a gospel purpose stated clearly, basically it assumes a purpose: “we exist for ourselves”. Or you do a few token things towards mission, like send a cheque once a year. We need to take time to define our purpose in the world today.

Bruce Dipple has written a book called Becoming Global, designed to equip the local church to be active in global mission.