Change is Hard

North Americans in Missions, Part 4

The New Normal in missions presents exciting opportunities. But three things will make this journey much harder than we might think.

1. Perceived PoWER LOSS

Empowering Global South missionaries and replacing North American leaders with Global South leaders can feel like the North American with much to offer is the one who loses. North Americans are accustomed to controlling the world’s wealth and accustomed to being in power. Therefore, the structural changes that many organizations are undergoing—such as changing from self-support to salaried funding models, or shifting to more multicultural and non-Western boards—can be uncomfortable.

While this shift can challenge our idolatry of power (which is a good thing!), some of the discomfort with these changes stems from a false assumption that God’s economy is limited. When we empower Global South missionaries, it’s a win-win scenario. More “players” and more resources are being mobilized for God’s global mission.

2. more Discomfort than we realize

As an Asian American, I understand first-hand how difficult it is to undergo culture and identity change. North Americans have developed identities as those who are in charge and in power, those who bring the “know-how”, and those with the ideas and strategies to solve problems. This identity will be challenged.

We will find it difficult to move into a posture of submitting to the leadership of a Global South leader, to listen instead of bringing our answers, and to acknowledge that locally-owned strategies might address problems more effectively than our own solutions. In short, it will be difficult to feel like the “minority” in a room that is increasingly full of people from outside of North America.

3. Collaboration creates conflict

Collaborative partnership is difficult for North Americans because, as Doug McConnell at Fuller Seminary states, the Western model has traditionally been Conquest while the model needed today is Encounter.

Conquest emphasizes a very driven mentality, dividing and conquering to get the job done. Encounter acknowledges that you’ll run into many other groups who are doing the same thing as you (local groups, other agencies, etc.) but who are doing those things differently.

The temptation for North Americans is to plant a church everywhere, without regard to whomever else is there, wanting to get “our job” done and plant “our flags”. Collaborating in the New Normal might feel inefficient and could create conflict. Many North Americans are still ill-equipped to collaborate like this and choose to avoid it altogether.

It is a challenging time for the North American church in global mission. But it is also a time of unprecedented opportunity and an occasion for mutual growth. This student generation in North America has the unique advantage of being better equipped than mine to embrace rapid change and innovation, to cross cultures in their local context as well as the global context, and to resource places of need (they value the community more than the individual accumulation of resources). They are a more collaborative generation. They give us hope!

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