Mission used to be something our Western Christian countries did for the non-Western “heathen” lands that we called the Third World. Talking like that now will get your email boxed flamed. Times have changed. Now the global south and east has more Christians than we do. They even send their missionaries to our countries. Our own Western lands have become mission fields in themselves. Missions is now multi-directional and, like a donut, lacks a definite centre.
There has been a lot of talk in the past few decades about what mission to our post-Christian Western world might look like, especially since the 1970’s when Bishop Lesslie Newbigin came home from India to a post-Christian Britain. But the idea that we need to be missionaries in our own western countries has been discussed for a century. Wilbert Shenk tells of the Canon Rev. Walter Hobhouse, who spoke some prophetic words during the Brampton Lectures in 1909.
“ . . . the church of the future is destined more and more to return to a condition of things somewhat like that which prevailed in the Ante-Nicene church: that is to say, instead of pretending to be co-extensive with the World, it will confess itself the Church of a minority, will accept a position involving a more conscious antagonism with the World, and will, in return, regain in some measure its former coherence.”
The Church, argued Hobhouse, in an era no longer defined by the Constantinian era, should recognize more and more that “she is in reality a missionary church, not only in heathen lands and among races which we are pleased to call ‘inferior’ but in every country, and there is much in which she might learn from the methods of the Mission Field”
Now, almost century on, Hobhouse’s words ring true and aptly describe the new emerging missional communities that are starting, growing and multiplying in the post-modern post-Christian West.