What the West Needs to Know about Working with the Global Church

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Mutual learning can happen between churches worldwide, irrespective of geographical locations. Phrases like “from the West to the rest” have been replaced by “from everywhere to everywhere.” The world has changed drastically over the years—thanks to globalization, urbanization, technology, ease of travel, instant communication, migration, and several other factors.

In recent parlance (often emerging from the West), the church in Asia, Africa, and Latin America is generally referred to as the “global church.” But geographically, the West is a part of our globe, and theologically, the Western church is a part of the global church body, of which Christ is the head. This reflects the connectedness of the church worldwide despite cultural, theological, and contextual differences. In today’s world, the global church (whether in the East or West, North, or South) is compelled to take the posture of a learner if she is to be locally and globally relevant.

What should the West know about the global church?

Before I attempt to address this question, I first want to affirm the enormous contributions that God’s people from the West have made to the global church through their people, their resources, and their sacrificial living and giving. Many missionaries of years past have borne “the heat of the day” and have contributed much to the rest of the world. For this, the global church is grateful.

I have observed and been involved with churches and missions in India and South Asia over the last 25 years. For a portion of the last 12 years I have lived across the Indian/Pacific Ocean and the Atlantic Ocean, while continuing to engage with mission and the church in India and South Asia. This, in a small way, has given me a view of how mission is perceived, planned for, marketed, funded, executed, and reported on from both sides of the oceans.

The issues facing the global church are very different from the issues facing the church of the West. Issues emerge from the context, the culture, and the characteristics of a given society. Contextual theologies and ways of reading scripture under-gird the praxis and determine the way the global church does theology. So here are 5 things to keep in mind when partnering together for global impact:

1) The global church is people, not projects.

Global initiatives need to begin out of genuine care and love for people within a context of meaningful relationships. Often people are looked at as projects, numbers, or target groups in various locations. While affirming the need to “projectize,” the ministry, the service sought to be rendered should not be lost in overbearing project administration.

Thriving relationships need to be at the core of partnerships. Anything short of this is dehumanizing and risks the appropriate formation of God’s people on both sides of the partnership.

2) The way the global church thinks and processes is very different from that of the West.

This difference needs to be appreciated and affirmed in our interactions. Sometimes agendas, goals, and methods are prepackaged and exported globally without critical evaluation and a lack of adaption into local contexts. What works in one place does not necessarily work in another place.

The West has learned that the diversity of cultures in its own regions pose a particular problem when applying church models. Consider the diversity in church growth, mission, house church, liturgical worship, and other approaches when applied to the West.  How much more does the diversity of worldviews, thoughts, and cultures in the world require a variety of approaches when partnering globally?

3) The culture of the global church is very different from that of the West.

Even within a country, there are several cultures and subcultures. While Western culture is predominantly an individualist culture, global cultures tend to be collectivist cultures. This has huge implications for the way in which communication, interaction, and partnerships work globally.

Culture plays a very important role and influences lifestyle, social relationships, understanding of self, professional work life, political life, religious life, family life, husband-wife relationships, parent-child relationships (including adult children), community, extended family, employer-employee relationships, conflict management and resolution, business transactions, etc. A deep understanding of and respect for culture is crucial and forms the basis for engagement within the church—both nationally and internationally.

4) The global church is often persecuted and poor, but vibrant and growing.

Poverty comes in many forms and is not restricted to money or materials. Churches which are financially poor can be relationally rich with a strong sense of contentment, commitment, and community—all “commodities” that money cannot buy. Do not equate material poverty with spiritual poverty, and do not equate physical affliction with spiritual malady.

This needs to be kept in mind when assessing the condition of a region and approaching conversations. It may just be that the partner with the wealth of material resources needs to enter the relationship as the student, while the partner that is persecuted and poor is the teacher and guide for the project.

5) The priorities and needs of the global church are different from those perceived by people outside of the context.

Many “projects” are often initiated without assessment of the felt needs of the intended recipients. Therefore many such initiatives lack local ownership, even though local people often participate in these efforts out of courtesy and hospitality. A question may be asked as to why is this not stated up front. The answer could well lie in the communication patterns of the local culture, which, in many cases, are more indirect than those in the West.

How then shall we interact?

  • With mutual respect
  • With genuine partnership
  • With mutual trust
  • With mutual accountability
  • With mutual love

I conclude with the words of a great hymn written by William A Dunkerley in 1908, based on the scriptural truth that all people are equal in God’s sight (Gal 3:26-29), and that promotion/exaltation comes neither from the East nor the West but from God (Psalm 75:6).

In Christ there is no east or west, in Him no south or north,
But one great fellowship of love throughout the whole wide earth.

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Dr. Ravi David currently serves as adjunct professor at SAIACS, in Bangalore, India, and in seminaries in Indonesia. He teaches pastoral theology and counseling, spiritual formation, management, and leadership. He holds a Ph.D. in practical theology from the University of Auckland, New Zealand. Ravi and his wife, Mercy, serve as members of The Mission Society Ministry Resource Team.

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