Is the Era of Pioneer Missions Over?
In 1910, representatives from mission organizations working across the world met together in Edinburgh, Scotland for a World Missionary Conference that promised to be “a Grand Council for the Advancement of Missionary Science.” The vast majority of delegates were European or North American and those present discussed the missionary task in terms of “the Christian world” and “the non-Christian world.” In 1910, this division of the world made sense because the vast majority of those who identified as Christian lived in Europe in North America.
The 1910 World Missionary Conference, Edinburgh, Scotland
However, if we fast forward 100+ years, it seems both ridiculous and ethnocentric to talk about “the Christian world” and “the non-Christian world.” Europe today is quite secular and North America’s Christian heritage is fading quickly. Two-thirds of those who profess the Christian faith live in Asia, Africa, and Latin America. The world is changed. No longer is the missionary task of the church a question of “the West to the rest.” Rather, as Allen Yeh has put it, twenty-first century mission is from everyone to everywhere. Around the world, there are vibrant churches on every inhabited continent and the number of truly unreached peoples is rapidly diminishing.
Westerner believers can no longer assume that they are “the missionaries” whose job is to bring the Gospel to the rest of the world. They can no longer assume that if they are not working among a particular country or people group, then nothing is happening. Western missionaries today would be short-sighted to go into a country and get to work “reaching the lost” without touching base and coordinating with local churches and believers to find out what they are already doing and how foreign missionaries can fit in to what is already happening. Today is an era of partnership.
So, is the era of pioneer missions over? Is there no place in the world today for foreign missionaries, especially Westerners, to do pioneer cross-cultural evangelism among unreached people groups? Should foreign missionaries primarily focus on supporting roles, partnering with indigenous Christians who are now at the forefront of pioneering among their own people?