Academic journal article International Review of Mission

Partnership in Mission: To Send or to Share?

Academic journal article International Review of Mission

Partnership in Mission: To Send or to Share?

Article excerpt

"Partnership in mission" is a key term for churches and mission agencies who seek to share resources between different regions of the world. The term represents a concerted attempt within the missionary movement to break free from the dominance and dependency that marked relationships between "old" and "new" churches, as they were once called, in the colonial era of the mid-20th century. It also marks a move towards mutual and reciprocal sharing between churches, regardless of historical and economic status, and a shift away from the one-directional sending of resources from churches in Europe to Africa, Asia and Latin America. Informal conversation with people engaged in partnership frequently provides anecdotal evidence that colonial influences still pervade mission relationships, despite many resolute efforts to the contrary. Why is this the case? Why is partnership difficult to implement? Can paternalism be overcome in the organization of mission?

This article attempts to answer these questions by discussing the influence of partnership in mission on the mission programmes and administrative structures of the United Society for the Propagation of the Gospel (USPG). (1) The discussion is based on research which examined the policy of this Anglican mission agency in relation to its mission training based at the College of the Ascension, Selly Oak, Birmingham, between 1965 and 1996. (2) By adopting sharing and sending as motifs for two different concepts of mission, the article argues that the concept of one-directional sending, rooted in the Western missionary movement of the 19th and 20th centuries, and allied to the European colonialism of the same period, continues to contest and constrain the implementation of partnership, as a concept of reciprocal sharing in mission.

The emergence of partnership: sharing in Missio Dei

The language of partnership came to the fore after the meeting of the International Missionary Council (IMC) in Whitby, Canada in 1947. In seeking to overcome the dependency between the "older" churches of Europe and America (the West) and the "younger" churches of Asia, Africa and Latin America (the South), the Council recognized that all churches, whether in the West or the South, were "worthy partners in the task of evangelism". In this task, the distinction between "older" and "younger" was rendered obsolete. Churches were recognized as "Partners in Obedience" to "the command of Christ to preach the Gospel to every creature". (3)

The phrase "partnership in mission" began to replace "partners in obedience" after the IMC meeting of Willingen, Germany in 1952. This was due to the emergence of Missio Dei which defined the subject of mission in terms of God rather than the church:

   The missionary movement of which we are part has its source in
   the Triune God himself. Out of the depths of His love for us, the
   Father has sent forth His own Son to reconcile all things to
   Himself, that we and all men might, through the Spirit, be made
   one in Him with the Father in that perfect love which is the very
   nature of God ...

   ... There is no participation in Christ without participation in
   His mission to the world. That by which the Church receives its
   existence is that by which it is also given its world-mission.
   "As the Father hath sent me, even so I send you". (4)

Missio Dei, the placing of God at the heart of missionary activity, was the result of a reappraisal of the place of the church in missionary theology. It reflected unease concerning a missionary ecclesiology in which the church had become the primary focus of mission, with the result that missionary activity concentrated on expanding and developing churches rather than proclaiming the trinitarian Christian God. Missio Dei theology sought to reconstruct mission as ah activity of the Trinity in the world, with churches participating together in God's mission (Missio Dei) as partners. …

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