A New Era of Missions: The Partnership Century

In the mid 20th century, a growing shadow darkened the continent of Europe.  It was the darkness of a totalitarian Third Reich.  Area after area was annexed under Nazi control.  Nation after nation was invaded.  Things looked grim for the world….until that great invasion on the shores of Normandy.  When the allies landed on D Day, there was a surge of hope because of a new fighting force that had joined the European resistance.

In the cause of world evangelization, we are at such a moment.  The West had been shouldering the missionary burden, largely by itself.  It had made countless missionary investments all over the world.  There were moments when things looked grim and many wondered if all this sacrifice was worth it.  Well it was.  Because out of the many tiny gospel mustard seeds that were planted, a great forest of indigenous churches all over the world has risen up.  From these churches now comes a new emergent missionary force. 

Friends—the allies have landed.  They are now engaging in the Great Commission.  Take heart!

Once again, we are entering a new missionary era.             Let me coin a new phrase and call it “The Partnership Century.”  Missions will start to look wonderfully different.   It will not just be about sending out missionaries, but also about receiving them.   It will be reciprocal.  Missions sending will no longer be exclusively from the west.  Missions sending is now polycentric.  As many have said, “missions is now from everywhere to everywhere.”

This week at Cape Town we have heard one testimony after another to this effect.   This morning David Ruiz told of the Christian growth in his country Guatemala.  One third of the population there are now evangelicals.   The missionary seeds of long ago are bearing fruit.

The Spirit is on the move in Latin America, as well as Africa and Asia.

Church historians often give names to eras.  For example, the 19th century has often been called “the great missionary century,” or “the great sending century.”  It was the 100 year period when the West sent many missionary pioneers all over the world.   People like Carey, Taylor, Judson, Livingstone among many others went to the ends of the earth to fulfill the Great Commission.  

The 20th century has been called “the great sharing century.”  During the 20th century churches from the sending world set up compounds of churches, schools and health clinics to build up indigenous church.   The seeds of the 19th century missionary investment germinated.  A groundswell of Jesus’ seedlings took root and grew in strength.

But now, at the beginning of the 21st century, we are at another unique moment in the history of missions.  Welcome to “the partnership century.”  We not only have new allies all over the planet.  But we live in the global age with new tools that will help us more easily work together.  We live in an age when we can modify the motto of Lausanne so that it reads—the whole gospel to the whole world by the new world missionary force.

What are some of the dimensions of the new partnerships that will and must take place in this new era of missions?

First, in my opinion, they must be long term partnerships guild on relationships of trust.  We in the west are accustomed to short term mission trips.  These are wonderful and do some good.

But so often, teams come and go, and there are no long term commitments.  There is a better way.  As we develop long term relationships we will see a stronger, more long lasting fruit come from our work. 

For true partnership is a journey of friendship.  There is trust.  Conflicts are faced and worked out.  There is mutual blessing.  Such long lasting, authentic friendships will not only bring encouragement to the global church, it will propel that work forward.

Second, there is the dimension of cost.   Missions costs.  Evangelism costs.  And truth be told, in the early period, much of that cost has been borne by the West.  But friends, there are different ways to think about cost.   When western Christian leaders think about costs—we often think only about financial and people costs.   Sometimes we even feel like we are bearing all the costs.   But in one of today’s sessions as we listened to church leaders from Eritrea, we learned about the cost they contribute to world evangelization.  For them, it’s not just money.  Their faithful witness costs their lives.   One brother said that most of the church leaders there are in jail.  They are tortured in prisons.  They pay with their lives.   These are the costs we sometimes forget about.   In future partnerships, we need to realize the broad dimension of cost, and be willing to pay whatever it takes to obedient to God’s call.           

Third, partnerships will be strong if we remember the variety of gifts God has given to us.   Think of it—there are teaching gifts, there is discernment, evangelism, prayer, teaching, administering, etc..  What can westerners teach African Christians about prayer?  In my opinion, very little.  What can we teach the Chinese church about suffering?  Not much.  But we do have gifts of teaching, of organizing, of resources, and of helping that can assist Christians in the global south.   And they have gifts that might be able to help us break through our own thick crust of spiritual indifference.   Perhaps, the gifts of the global non-Western church will be the key for bringing awakening to the Western church.

So let’s think practically.  How should we respond to the partnership century?  What does this mean for us?

First of all, let’s be glad.   We are not in this alone.   And when they send missionaries to our shores, let’s welcome and encouraging them.

Second, let’s expose ourselves to the global church.   It will open our eyes to the fact that God is on the move all over the world. 

Third, let’s pray about our role in “the partnership century.”   Ask God where he wants us to invest, and what relationships he wants us to build. 

Fourth, realize that good partnerships will take work.  These will not come easy.  There are many cultural differences and ways of doing things that can easily divide us.  It will take an awful lot of Christ-like love and Holy Spirit power to make these work.  We will have to listen to one another.   We will have to humble ourselves and take the posture of a learner.   We will have to prefer one another when we face conflict.   We will most certainly have to show grace to each other as we fall down along the way.  The evangelical world is highly entrepreneurial and competitive as it is.  Throw into this mix the challenge of cross cultural understanding and cooperation, and you will get a sense of how difficult this can be.  But do we have any other alternative than to give ourselves to this kind of work?

Finally, remember that behind any partnership we may forge, we have a place to go to for strength.  Because we are not in this alone.   We may gratefully look to the partnership that Christ has with his church.  We may gaze at the glorious partnership of the holy Trinity to get a vision of what can be.   With this kind of strength behind us, who knows what “the partnership century” will bring about.

Categories: Global History and Events, Missions and Evangelism | Comments


  • thanks to taking time to give such a fine summary of the week…..and challenge ahead.

    blessings on you !

    denny johnson

  • Matt Hartman says:

    Thanks for this encouragement Don. This comes at a great time for us as we begin our partnership with churches in the CZ to join God’s movement among next generation leaders in that beautiful country. We are fanning the gospel flames and watching God awaken a whole new generation. Exciting stuff!
    Praying for you guys.

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