Tokyo 2010 Leads the WayFor immediate release
“Come over and help us!” pleaded Stefan Gustavsson, leader of the Swedish Evangelical Alliance, to the delegates at Tokyo 2010. Echoing the call of the man in Paul’s Macedonian vision almost two thousand years ago, Gustavsson in his plenary address projected the stark reality of Europe today, where the vast majority of the population is turning to secularism, atheism and agnosticism. What followed was perhaps the most moving response witnessed during the entire consultation by the delegation as a whole. Dr. Yong Cho, leader of the Global Network of Mission Structures (GNMS), came to the podium with tears in his eyes and the entire assembly began to cry out to God for the European peoples.
The significance of the moment from an historical perspective was immediately obvious. We were here to celebrate what had taken place in the last century following Edinburgh 1910. Yet in those same one hundred years, while the Church exploded in Africa, Asia and Latin America, one of the greatest tragedies in the history of Christianity also occurred. As we began to pray we could all perceive the deep sense of gratitude, obligation, as well as loss felt by the non-Western mission leaders who were at this very meeting because of the efforts of the European church a century ago. How is it that a church which weathered so many storms for centuries could be at risk of virtually disappearing in the next fifty years?
“Not on our watch!” was the response of the Tokyo 2010 delegation.
A Changing of the Guard?
Tokyo 2010 was a gathering that by its very nature represented many significant contrasts. As an historical marker, the Global Mission Consultation may very well be regarded as the symbolic end of one era and the beginning of another. While the largest mission agency in the Western world, the International Mission Board, announced they would be cutting back their personnel by 500 this year, the largest foreign mission sending agency in the non-Western world (the Global Mission Society of the Korean Presbyterian Church), announced at Tokyo 2010 that they would be more than doubling their mission force in the next decade.
In many ways, both large and small, Tokyo 2010 was a wake-up call that times are changing—and faster than many may have expected. Though not planned, an interesting feature at Tokyo 2010 which surprised many Western delegates was the great number of African missionaries serving in Japan that volunteered to help with on site logistics. Ironically, as many older missions have been pulling their personnel out of this least-reached nation due to the high cost of living, God has been replacing them with missionaries from the poorest nations on earth!
These African missionaries are a tiny glimpse of a seismic shift that has been taking place in non-Western missionary sending over the last decade—and one which will forever change the global church and missions movement. Dr. Yong Cho commented on this in his Tokyo 2010 report for the GNMS, highlighting an important trend that few are aware of:
For the most part, the non-Western mission movement in the 20th century was primarily restricted to domestic missionary deployment. Even all throughout the eighties and nineties, non-Western cross-cultural missionaries serving outside of their country represented just a fraction of the foreign mission total. But that is changing—rapidly! The day will come when even the majority of personnel serving with international missions of Western origin will be made up predominately of non-Western cross-cultural missionaries.
With this incredible change taking place in our generation, it is altogether fitting that Tokyo 2010 should have the unique privilege of being the first global level meeting following the Edinburgh 1910 pattern which was organized, run and attended by a majority of non-Western mission leadership. Not only that, the majority of the funding came from the non-Western world as well!
Going Further and Deeper
In the same way that Edinburgh 1910 became a decisive meeting in the history of Western missions, when the history of non-Western missions is told, Tokyo 2010 will likely hold a similar place. Edinburgh 1910 had four characteristics that made it unique in Western mission history: 1) They brought together mission leaders as representatives of all the major evangelical sending agencies and nations of the world, 2) They focused on the frontiers of the Great Commission, 3) They sought to fill in the gaps of inter-mission field coordination, 4) They continued to cooperate following the meeting on the national, regional and global level to reach the remaining unengaged non-Christian peoples.
That the non-Western world was able to see the value in these four components and seek to duplicate them shows remarkable sophistication in the movement (the number of non-Western mission leaders with Phds at Tokyo 2010 was not the least bit intimidating!). Overall, there was a strong awareness and appreciation for the Edinburgh tradition. But the non-Western organizers of Tokyo 2010 didn’t stop with Edinburgh—in many ways they picked up where Edinburgh left off. Though thoroughly evangelical and frontier-focused, the Tokyo 2010 gathering took Edinburgh to the next level to address an important issue which has plagued the non-Western church for the last century, and which its leaders felt must be corrected before it is replicated among the world’s remaining unreached peoples.
The watchword of the Edinburgh 1910 generation was “World evangelization in our generation.” It was a good watchword, but it reflected a somewhat shallow expression of the Great Commission mandate. Believing there was more to the Great Commission than had been transmitted from Edinburgh 1910, mission leaders from the non-Western world rethought the watchword at Tokyo 2010 and extended it in both breadth and depth. In doing so they arrived at a solidly biblical theme. Their watchword, “Making disciples of every people in our generation” captured both the urgency of the unfinished task as well the fullness of it.
By stating our mission in such biblical terminology, the mission leaders at Tokyo 2010 recognized that the Great Commission is not just limited to evangelization or church multiplication, but it is fundamentally about transformation at every level—from the individual, to the family, to the society as a whole. Without transformation there is no fulfillment of the Great Commission. The Tokyo Declaration issued at the consultation made this abundantly clear:
"The new believer’s worldview must be adjusted to a biblical worldview; his lifestyle changed to increasingly conform to the image of Christ; and his ethical conduct progressively marked by biblical morals. Ideally, this results in individuals applying the gospel of the kingdom to every sphere and pursuit of life—from government to economics, from education to health, and from science to creation care. As a consequence whole communities, cultures and countries benefit from the transforming power of the gospel."
In this regard, Tokyo 2010 represented a call to extend the reach and influence of the Kingdom among all the peoples of the world. It was a call to re-evaluate where we have come from and where we are going, with a healthy reminder that was has happened to the West, could happen to the entire world. Indeed, many non-Western delegates remarked after listening to Stefan Gustavsson’s talk that the same trends which overtook Europe are beginning to find their way into their countries as well. It was an important reminder that the missions movement must not be so pre-occupied with building the Church where it is not that we neglect the health of the Church where it is. The Apostle Paul’s missionary epistles provide ample evidence that from the earliest days the missionary movement has held both concerns in balance. Tokyo 2010 carried forth that tradition with perhaps greater urgency than ever before. With the rapid spread of globalization, no country or Christian tradition can afford to function like an island unto itself.
For this reason, foremost above all others, we will increasingly need each other—to listen and learn from both the mistakes and successes of every church and mission movement around the world. Tokyo 2010 was a refreshing confirmation that the non-Western church is prepared to do just that, and they want to do it together with us in the West. Following this spirit of humility, the time will soon come when geographic and historic distinctions in the body of Christ will disappear, and we will just be one global Church united under Christ. There will no longer be an “us and them” mentality—North and South, West and the rest, First World and Third World—it will simply be every people taking the gospel to every person that all may hear and know the One who prayed, “Father make them one, just as you and I are one.”