One of the best messages at the recent Cooperative Baptist Fellowship General Assembly was delivered by Global Missions Coordinator Rob Nash on Thursday night as part of the commissioning of missionary personnel. His primary focus was on the value of cooperative networks or “herds” in carrying out the Great Commission in the 21st century. He said,
It is clear to me that the right approach for global mission in the 21st century is this network or herd approach, joining together in communities of engagement that emerge out of our God-given passions and that aren’t owned by any of us. If we truly believe that networks of churches and individuals are the future of global missions, then we ought to embrace such a way fully, boldly, and courageously . . . It is my conviction that the global mission engagement of the twenty-first century is going to be about the blessing and sending of networks of us, herds of us into the world, driven by our passions to truly make a difference.
With this terminology, I think that Nash has pictured for us what is already a reality. Field personnel, mission organizations, indigenous leaders, churches, and even NGOs (non-governmental organizations) join together to accomplish tasks that none of them could do alone. For this to continue and flourish, however, several things have to happen.
First, organizations like CBF must continue to provide professional and trained full-time missionary personnel to be the catalysts for these networks. Men and women with both theological and missiological skills must be available to nurture, develop, and sustain these initiatives. This is not paternalism but good stewardship. Such individuals serve as hands-on practitioners, mentors, consultants and coaches. Someone is going to have to call out and support these individuals.
Second, we must be prepared to make use of the best technology available to mesh these groups and focus their work. Through the Internet and other digital forms of communication, information can be shared quickly and collaboration across borders is possible, but someone has to know how to do this. Again, this requires called and trained personnel.
Third, all parties involved will have to exercise a great deal of humility and be willing to yield leadership at the appropriate time. As Nash pointed out, a person from the country where the ministry is being done may be the best leader for the effort. Knowing when to let go and allow that person to run with the project takes both wisdom and humility.
Fourth, as Nash pointed out, we must continually be aware of the leadership of the Spirit of God. This will come only as we work and pray together, sharing our strengths and seeking support where we are weak.
Nash provides a challenging vision for the future of global missions. I pray that we will be willing to respond to it.