Emerging World Missions
By Brad Walz
Tapping the Potential of the Other 90 Percent of the Worldwide Assemblies of God
The term emerging world missions represents something much more exciting than it may imply. As a new force that is changing the face of missions, emerging world missions has the potential to tap into incredible spiritual, economical, and human resources for evangeliszing the world.
Emerging world missions is a phrase recently popularized to avoid the often-offensive phrases third-world missions and non-Western missions. People in Latin America might ask, “How do you define Western?” They also live in the West.
The practical definition of emerging world missions is: Encouraging our sister national churches around the world to participate in world missions, not because they have a strong economy, but because Jesus said to.
Let’s take a more in-depth look at emerging world missions.
The Recent Trend and Growth in This Area
The phrase emerging world missions became popular in the mid-1990s. In spite of the recent popularity, David Kensinger, an Assemblies of God lifelong missionary to Costa Rica, formed the concept. In 1975 he wrote a prophetic article that was 20 years ahead of its time. His article addressed the importance of teaching our national disciples to become worldwide missionary-vision Christians.
It may seem strange that such a voice was ahead of its time, but how often have we claimed that God has raised up America to reach the world? Even though God has used America in incredible ways, God has also — through America’s generosity and missions vision — raised up in dozens of nations a strong national church that shares the same Great Commission. Jesus did not give the Great Commission to the United States; He gave it to the Church.
When a church becomes indigenous — self-supporting, self-governing, and self-propagating — it does not depend exclusively on outside forces for survival. At the same time, the final cycle of spiritual maturity is when the receiving church becomes a sending church.
This indigenous principle has been slowly developing in Argentina, where we have pioneered a foreign missions department. We now have approximately 150 Argentine missionaries serving in 35 countries. Latin American countries are sending nearly 600 (up to 2,000 based on unverifiable numbers) workers to more than 60 nations. Africa and Asia are also stepping forward as an indigenous church. Asia had developed an indigenous church prior to Latin America, but their growth has slowed in recent years.
Some missiologists estimate there are now more missionaries from the emerging world than Western nations. This is hard to verify, and it is also hard for all to agree on a common definition of the word missionary. For example, some countries might define an immigrant to the United States or Europe as a missionary. We might define this person as an immigrant because he is self-supporting, not sent by his home country. One thing is certain: There has been an explosion in the call of God among young people in non-Western nations and countries that traditionally have not been missionary sending. The Holy Spirit is calling missionaries — and not just from America or the West.
What Emerging World Missions Is Not
It is important to define what emerging world missions is not. It is not meant to replace our supporting missionaries whom God has called from the United States by supporting inexpensive nationals instead. A popular Asian author published a book a few years ago stating that Western missionaries are expensive. He believed that people needed to stop giving to Western missions and start redirecting their giving to inexpensive non-Western missionaries. This may sound great, but it is not biblical.
In the early 1990s, many in Argentina said, “The West has the money and we have the people.” Missions agencies based on that philosophy have since closed their doors, but our AG missions department in Argentina receives 98 percent of its income from Argentina.
For developing nations to expect the West to support their missionaries is a mistake. This concept reinforces the poverty mentality often found in developing countries. This poverty mentality has held back many developing churches from fully reaching their maturity. Developing churches must trust in God, not the West, for their resources.
The non-Western world has money. If every non-U.S. believer in the worldwide Assemblies of God gave $1 a month, they would give three times more than the United States gives. The money is there, but a poverty mentality has held it back.
Emerging world missions is also not a substitute for sending Westerners to difficult places. Many believe that the Arab/Muslim world hates the West. Thus, missionaries from the West are not effective; non-Westerners would be more effective. We must remember that God is the One who calls. He continues to call and use Westerners.
Non-Westerners are not necessarily more effective because of their skin colors (in some cases) or differing first languages (in some cases). They might be less visible in a crowd, but as we saw with the Korean Christians and the Taliban, foreigners are foreigners.
Many of our Argentine workers never finished high school because the church has often come out of the lower classes. As a result, these workers struggle to learn English, which is necessary to communicate within the international community. Even more important is the missionaries’ need to learn the language of the people they are trying to reach.
Non-Western missionaries go through culture shock just like a missionary from the West. Because one comes from a less complicated nation politically or has a less complicated materialistic lifestyle does not mean he will have an easy road. Every culture and nation has its challenges. Missionaries from emerging nations also face challenges. The call of God remains the call of God. We must commit to send those whom God has called from the West.
What Emerging World Missions Is
What emerging missions does, in a theological sense, is help the church return to a biblical perspective on missions in which missions is not related to a wealthy country. Missions is part of the Great Commission of the Church, not just the Western church.
The Great Commission needs to be part of the church’s identity and a natural element of the churches we plant. At times, our pioneers, with great sincerity, saw the country through the eyes of the West, and often unconsciously thought, They are too poor to do missions. Unfortunately, in some cases, they remained poor because they did not do missions.
Consider the example of Macedonia and Corinth. Paul told the wealthy Corinthian church in 2 Corinthians 8 and 9 of the incredible example of the poor third-world Macedonian church.
What emerging missions does, in a practical sense, is tap into the other 90 percent of the worldwide Assemblies of God. Often when visiting with pastors in the United States, I hear them complain, “Twenty percent of the people do 80 percent of the work.” While we cannot always avoid that dynamic, in missions we have indirectly allowed 10 percent of the people to do 90 percent of the work.
The worldwide AG may now exceed 57 million adherents. Less than 5 million of these adherents are in developed Western nations. That means 91 percent are in non-Western nations.
If only Western nations are involved in world missions, as has often been the paradigm in past years, that means we are not involving 91 percent of our worldwide Fellowship in the Great Commission. What pastor would purposely try to discourage 90 percent of his church from making faith promises? From prayer? Pastors wish to involve as many people as possible. For the same reason, we cannot have a vision of missions so narrow that it only involves Western nations.
Let us look at the incredible potential there is in the other 90 percent.
Years ago I asked children in a Sunday School class, “What do you need to do missions?” After many responses of money, a 6-year-old replied, people. Missions does not begin with money; it begins with people.
The U.S. Assemblies of God has more than 2,000 missionaries. This number may exceed 3,000, if we include our Western friends and neighbors (Canada, Australia, Great Britain, and Europe). What would happen if the church tapped into the non-Western world’s 90 percent people potential? There is potential for more than 20,000 missionaries in a worldwide missionary force.
Intercessory prayer has always been a cornerstone of world missions. Even with all the money and people in the world, without prayer missions is missing a key element for advancing the Kingdom. Imagine having 50 million people, instead of 5 million people, praying for the world harvest. Imagine multiplying committed intercessors by 10. The potential for prayer support for a world harvest is beyond comprehension. We have a saying: Missions is done with the feet of those who go, the knees of those who stay and pray, and the hands of those who give. Another missionary said, “We can go to the mission field with your financial support, but we cannot have success without your prayer support.” We need prayer warriors from every nation, not just Western nations.
We often think the developing world is poor in economic resources. Even though this is undeniable when we compare these nations to the United States, there are many resources in many poor countries. The problem is these resources have often been poorly administered. At times, the poverty mentality that further creates a vicious downward cycle. The same is true in the church. If they do not give because they do not have, they will continue to not have and, therefore, they will not have to give. We need to break this cycle and replace it with a positive one. We have because we give, and we give because we have.
In a practical sense, developing churches desperately need a missions vision to help them break out of the poverty mentality that chains them. But just as important, there are incredible resources in developing countries because of the sheer numbers of believers. One of the poorest countries in the world, because it has more than 1 million believers, could have a yearly missions budget of more than $1 million if every believer gave just 10 cents a month. They could send dozens of missionaries. If every believer would give $1 a month, even a first-world country would envy a poor country’s potential missions budget. A $12 million-a-year-missions budget is nothing to despise.
If the remaining 45 million non-Western Assemblies of God believers in the world would give $1 a month — an amount reachable in most of those cases — their giving would surpass $540 million a year — almost triple our U.S. world missions budget. The problem is not a lack of resources, but a lack of vision.
A church in the United States might sincerely want to support a third-world missionary. But the national sending church can quickly lose a blessing. Even though the national missionary from that country can look to the United States for a surer route to the field, this route is not the best choice for the third-world church. Emerging missions is not the United States sending its dollars to support missionaries who are more economical; it is national churches raising and investing their resources to send their own missionaries.
The early Assemblies of God pioneers did not have an abundance of resources. Our forefathers were from the other side of the tracks. They went out with a call and with faith. A new generation of pioneers from developing nations is responding to God’s call the same way.
What It Means to the U.S. Church
Many potential misunderstandings and wrong reactions can develop when we talk of emerging missions. One might say, “If these countries are strong enough to send missionaries, that means they no longer need missionaries.”
My response is, “No.”
God is in the business of calling. It is hard to explain how a country that is strong enough to send missionaries can still have weak areas that the Holy Spirit continues to supply through calling laborers. Some countries need the right kind of missionary. The Lord is Lord of the harvest. If the Holy Spirit calls a young person in Africa, Asia, or Latin America to another nation, this does not mean the sending nation needs to believe they no longer need missionaries.
Instead of creating a lack of motivation in U.S. churches to send missionaries, the fact countries still need missionaries must further motivate us. Consider the fruit God has raised up because we trained indigenous pastors. What fruit will there be in the future? This needs to motivate us to keep a strong sending vision.
The U.S. church also needs to be motivated to be more generous than ever. If a third-world church with little material wealth can give to missions and send missionaries, how much more responsibility do we have? Our current average giving sounds impressive at $6.58 a month per capita. (Based on U.S. Assemblies of God Sunday morning church attendees.) If a person gave to missions each week what he spent on a hamburger and fries, the result would be about $14 a month, or $168 a year. This is much higher than our current giving. Using the more popular barometer of twentysomethings — Starbucks®. Giving the cost of a latte a week to missions would be about $16 a month, almost $192 a person, or about three times more than we currently give.
Even in the United States people can have a poverty mentality by comparing themselves to others and their lifestyles — and not find satisfaction with the abundance they enjoy and share. The fact developing countries can and are responding to world missions does not need to discourage us. It needs to motivate us to do even more, because we can.
Emerging missions will continue to change the dynamics of how we do missions in the next 10 to 20 years. By that time there will be more missionaries from African, Latin American, and Asian nations than from Western ones.
Someone once remarked to me, “This means that God doesn’t need the United States anymore.”
I replied, “That is hardly the case. It tells me that the Lord of the harvest is saying, the end-time harvest will be too big for any one country to handle.
We need all the workers we can get. I am expecting the mission fields of the world to bring forth workers for the last great sweep of His merciful hand before the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ.
Far from discouraging us to do more, emerging missions needs to motivate us to do more than ever before. We need to respond to the Great Commission for the same reason the emerging church is beginning to respond to the Great Commission: Jesus told us to do it.