August 22, 2008
What new global realities mean for the church
Shifts happen all the time - shifts in economics, politics, theology, church, and culture. But we usually don't comprehend the full nature of the shift until much later. One subtle shift happened in Beijing last week. You may have missed it amid the pageantry of the Olympic opening ceremonies.
Many consider it an historic event for modern China to host the Olympic Games, and the show proved to be amazing. It was an experiential canvas of creativity few have ever seen before on such a scale: techno-utopian shows, creative and innovative artistry, massive numbers of participants synchronizing poetry through dance and song. The opening ceremony masterfully put the world on notice: a shift has occurred. Here's what I saw communicated:
1. China is increasingly more open to the "barbarians"
In one of the most beautiful sequences in the ceremony, the dancers displayed the Great Wall reflecting one of the most notable metaphors of China. It was a reminder to the world that barbarians weren't welcomed. Things have changed. The dancers transformed the walls of China into a bridge of flowers. Sure, the doors may still be closed in many respects--human rights and religious freedoms are still lagging in China--but there seems to be a growing openness in the culture. This is probably the result of many who have prayed and fueled the movement of the Holy Spirit.
2. Skin color and racial stereotypes are becoming irrelevant
Did you see the group of children representing the 51 different cultures of China! China, like so many other places today, is multi-cultural. A group of young people is emerging that some call Third Culture - a wave of people who will lead the missiological movement because of their ability to adapt to different cultures. Being comfortable moving between cultures all of their lives, these people will be more equipped to become all things to all men.
3. China is not just about copying things
The Chinese have a heritage of being some of the most creative and artistic people on the planet. The opening ceremony showed that China wasn't content to copy what other countries have done in the past. They created an innovative experience unlike any before. New ideas are coming from Asia, and not just the West. Although most Christians see the West as the center of Christian activity and mission in the world, some are now predicting that Korea will soon outpace America when it comes to missiological initiative.
So what does this mean for the church? I believe an ecclesiastical and theological shift is happening too. An expanded and new wave of theological scholarship and creative ministry expressions will take shape and continue to fuel God's global movement, and these will increasingly come from outside Western cultures. The emergence of China and other Asian powers on the world stage parallels what's happening in the church.
How should we respond as Americans? One practical thing to do is experience what God is doing globally by reading a macro perspective of the shifts happening in Asia by authors like Fareed Zakaria. I highly recommend The Post-American World. It's an inexpensive trip to take a journey with your mind.
Secondly, I'd encourage you to take a vision trip overseas - not to serve as much as to learn. There are great partnership groups like World Vision, or you can email me at email@example.com and I will put you in touch with great groups I work with in Asia and beyond. There is no better way to experience a great move of God than by being in the middle of one. If you do that, watch out? you may never be the same. I know because it happened to me.
Read about Dave Gibbons' ministry-changing, and life-changing, experience as a pastor in Bangkok, Thailand in the summer issue of Leadership.