Ryan Shaw. Rethinking Global Mobilization: Calling the Church to Her Core Identity. Armstrong, MO: IGNITE Media, 2022. Paperback. 309 pp. $12.99.
Ryan Shaw’s recent book, Rethinking Global Mobilization: Calling the Church to Her Core Identity, is a clarion call at a critical moment whose core message needs to be widely heard and heeded. I am deeply grateful to see this message being highlighted by Shaw’s work. I greatly appreciate his focus on encouraging Western missions organizations and churches to trust national leaders and move into support roles instead of perpetuating a colonial mentality in missions. This message is spot on.
It is well past the time that missions organizations and churches in the West reimagined our role in the global expansion of the kingdom of God. Despite the checkered history of Western missions, our many mistakes, blind spots, and mixed motivations, God has used crooked sticks to draw straight lines surprisingly often. Because of, and at times in spite of, us God has worked through Western-based missions to bring in a massive harvest around the world to the point that now the strength of the church is in the global south and east. The work force, prayer force, and passionate drive for the kingdom of God now are in the parts of the world Western Christians formerly saw as the mission field.
The role of the Western church has changed, but we still have a role to play. Shaw makes a compelling case to Western Christian leaders for expanding our confidence in both the capacity and competence of Majority World Christians not just to lead the work of kingdom efforts in their home regions or supplement the launching of new works in nearby areas but to be frontline leaders in new places far from their home. The great challenge for Western missions’ leaders is to discern how to partner well with foreign nationals, but it is a given that we must if we are going to be part of the next chapter in the story God is writing in his great epic of redeeming and restoring his creation. To use a metaphor borrowed from Paul Borthwick, it is not time for Westerners to pass the baton since that means we would stop running. But, it is time for us to learn how to be part of the support team for a new generation of runners from other countries and cultures.
The strongest parts of Shaw’s book are in his reading of the times and embracing of dynamic movements of disciple making and church planting. He makes the case for his major point well. The Majority World church needs to take the lead in global missions and the Western church needs to move from leadership to equipping and supporting.
That said, there are a number of issues in Shaw’s book I would like to raise for consideration of this massively important topic.
First, Shaw may struggle to get a hearing outside of the charismatic-friendly side of evangelicalism. For believers who are not confident about God regularly speaking to people today in very direct ways, this book may create mental friction over the way the author makes his case with references to personal revelations and other demonstrable moves of God that may stretch some evangelicals and many believers outside of the evangelical world.
Second, Shaw’s overview of the history of missions shows little interest in anything after Constantine and prior to the Reformation. Covering AD 30–1500 in one chapter is giving short shrift to a vast period in which God was hardly sitting on his hands. This is particularly true of the millennium between AD 500–1500.
Third, Shaw’s suggestions for the funding of Majority World missions may be overly optimistic. While there are certainly cases where Majority World Christians can use their vocational skills in other countries and contexts, Shaw seems to minimize global economic factors and forces in his eagerness to see Majority World mobilization take place. While he is spot-on with the destination to which he points us, the trail is hardly blazed and the barriers are wickedly complicated. Much more work needs to be done to address the funding side of global mobilization.
In addition to these concerns, I believe there are a number of issues that need more detailed exploration and development if we are going to heed the call Shaw offers. First, we need to wrestle far more with how to engage in cross-cultural partnerships with workers from patronage cultures without getting caught in unhealthy patronage relationships. Can we function as brokers between funders and workers without becoming unhealthy patrons ourselves? Is there such a thing as honorable patrons in missions partnerships and, if so, what are the features of and boundaries around honorable patronage?
Second, I believe we need to be asking more about the risks and possibly unanticipated consequences of using business-as-mission (BAM) approaches for funding of Majority World Christians catalyzing new gospel movements. Given the long history of missions being compromised by its connections to imperial and economic agendas, is the BAM approach at risk of spreading capitalism as much as Christ? Even if the leaders who are setting up a BAM do not have this outcome in mind, to what degree are the donors to such efforts committed to expanding Western notions of economics and politics and how much contamination of the gospel might be sneaking in unnoticed by Westerners who do not differentiate gospel and culture sufficiently? I am by no means discouraging BAM efforts, but I do think we need to think through the economic and sociological implications of the funding models we embrace.
Despite a few concerns and areas for more development, I am grateful to see this important message of global mobilization given such a strong voice. I pray that Shaw’s message gets a wide hearing among mission leaders in Western agencies and churches and that Western kingdom lovers will move boldly in the direction he describes with such passion.
Missions Resource Network
Bedford, Texas, USA