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Monday, October 8, 2012
U.S. One of World’s Fastest-growing Mission Fields
‘Unfinished’ Magazine Identifies America’s ‘Backyard’ as Ripe for Cross-cultural Missions
By Michael Ireland
Special Correspondent, ASSIST News Service
NORCROSS, GA (ANS) -- Cross-cultural ministry no longer requires a passport, according to the latest issue of “Unfinished,” the award-winning quarterly magazine of The Mission Society.
With the United States identified as one of the fastest-growing mission fields in the world, outreach opportunities abound for American Christians and churches willing to embrace new thinking, The Mission Society says in a media release.
“Acts 1:8 calls us to take the gospel to the ends of the earth while not neglecting ‘Jerusalem,’ our mission field at home,” said Dick McClain, president and CEO of The Mission Society.
“Whether you live in Louisville, Kentucky, or Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia, it is incumbent on Christian disciples to identify and then reach out to those who have had the least exposure to the gospel. The least-reached people may very well be your neighbor,” he said.
Dick McClain of
The son and grandson of missionaries, McClain was born in China and grew up in India and Hong Kong. Prior to joining the staff of The Mission Society, he served as the youth minister of Crossroads Bible Church, an interdenominational congregation in the Panama Canal Zone. An ordained United Methodist minister, he served pastorates in West Michigan for 11 years. His international ministry has taken him to numerous countries in the Caribbean, Central and South America, Africa, Asia, and Europe.
McClain became president and CEO of The Mission Society in September 2009, though he is not a newcomer to the organization. The longest-tenured member of the staff, McClain came to The Mission Society as its first director of missionary personnel in 1986. He subsequently served as vice president for mission ministry, vice president for church ministry, vice president for mission operations, and finally as executive vice president and chief operating officer. He has been a part of the growth of The Mission Society from eight staff and 14 missionaries to a ministry that today encompasses more than 200 missionaries who serve in 35 countries, as well as collaborative efforts with numerous churches and Christian organizations around the world. Because of his strong commitment to the local church, He also led The Mission Society’s development of major initiatives to resource local churches both in the United States and abroad for global missional involvement.
McClain holds a B.A. in psychology from Asbury College and an
M.Div. with special emphasis in missions from Asbury Theological Seminary.
McClain married his college sweetheart, Pam, and the couple has three married children: Josh (and Amita), Heather McClain Wilson (and Steve), and Joey (and Ashley). They also have five grandchildren (Ian, Tyler, Matthew, Eden, and William). He loves the outdoors, especially when he’s running, skiing, camping, hiking, or traveling.
The Mission Society (www.themissionsociety.org ) , a full-spectrum missions sending organization, has a special emphasis on reaching the world's least reached.
Cover artwork for the Fall 2012 Edition of
The fall 2012 issue of “Unfinished” magazine, “The Least Reached in Your Backyard,” examines unprecedented opportunities for cross-cultural ministries for American churches and Christians.
To reach the people groups, Americans are urged to “Think: Cities,” “Think: Universities” and “Think: The Next Generation.” Across the boundaries of all these American “backyards” are some of the world’s least-reached.
The Mission Society says in a recent media release that “cities have become fast-growing, cross-cultural mixtures of young adults, ethnic minorities, people of great influence and the poor.”
It states that the United States is home to people from many least-reached nations temporarily. “Nowhere is that more clear than on American university campuses.”
“With hearts and minds shaped by a cacophony of influences, the nation’s next generation might also be among the least reached,” the news release says.
'Your least-reached neighbor'
According to the news release, U.S. Christians live in one of the world’s fastest-growing mission fields. Anywhere you go, there are individuals, population segments, and people groups who are “less reached” than their neighbors.
“Only when disciples leave the safety of their homes for the least-reached in America’s backyard will the Great Commission be fulfilled at home,” said Stan Self, senior director of church ministry for The Mission Society.
The issue of “Unfinished” magazine looks at missionaries ministering to the least reached in U.S. downtown environments, opportunities available on university campuses, and an Atlanta-area church ministering to 1,800 neighborhood youth.
In his article for “Unfinished”, McClain cites the February 2012 issue of Leaven – A Journal of Christian Ministry (published by the Religion Division of Pepperdine University) which carried an article, “The Mission Field Next Door: A Status Report on North American Missions.”
In it, McClain says the authors observe, as many have, that North American Christians today live in the midst of one of the world’s fastest growing mission fields. The article outlines theological, cultural, and church realities that define the missionary challenge and opportunity faced by the church right here in the United States.
He comments that in relation to the cultural realities, the authors note that the environment in which American Christians minister today is radically different than the one our grandparents or even parents faced.
“(F)or us to be faithful to God’s mission now we cannot escape becoming cross-cultural workers. Ministry in America today is cross-cultural,” the authors note. The authors go on to highlight six cultural factors that call for a cross-cultural approach to ministry on the part of the American church.
1. Urbanization – Two generations ago, 75 percent of the population of the United States lived in rural settings. Today, 75 percent live in cities. Churches have not kept pace with this massive change, either culturally or geographically.
2. Pluralism – America has moved from E Pluribus Unum (from many, one) to a nation of many tribes. Whereas in the past Americans tended to downplay our nation’s diversity—for better or for worse—today our differences are celebrated, as well they should be. However, this presents the church with a major challenge. Unless it learns to minister cross-culturally, these differences will present major barriers to sharing our faith.
3. Globalization – In a word, the world is moving to North America.
“A few years ago, I might have needed to document this. Today, that’s unnecessary,” McClain said.
McClain goes on to say: “I daresay that your city or town or neighborhood is living proof of this fact. Tragically, most congregations have hardly begun to address the opportunities, much less the challenges, presented by the increasing diversity of our population.”
4. Segregation of the poor – While the poor have always existed in America, “(w)hat is changing in America is the concentration of the poor into ghettos and the character of their poverty,” the authors write. “The layers of brokenness among America’s poor recently won us the distinction of having the most disadvantaged poor children of the developed nations.” The article goes on to note that congregations that are reaching the poor with the good news are, sadly, the rare exception rather than the rule.
5. Decline of institutions – With the near universal access to information, people today are less dependent upon—and committed to—the institutions that used to guide their thinking, define their community, shape their lives, nurture their faith, or command their allegiance. As a consequence, the church needs to reimagine what it means to be “faithful to its ancient faith” while at the same time being relevant to its contemporary neighbors.
6. Post-Christendom – From the time of Emperor Constantine until very
recently, the church has held a privileged position in the Western world.
One does not have to be a particularly astute observer of the times to know that this is no longer the case. “In a culture now being described by many as neo-pagan,” write the authors, “the church is often disrespected and marginalized.”
McClain points out: “Unless the church simply throws in the towel and slips into ever-increasing irrelevance, it will have to learn to cross an enormous cultural chasm in communicating the gospel to a world that is largely ignorant of its teachings, indifferent to its doctrines, and hostile to its proclamation that ‘Jesus is Lord.’”
“Together these cultural trends present an extraordinary challenge and
an exciting opportunity to the North American church,” McClain says.
He adds: “This issue of Unfinished addresses some of the ways in which we can begin to respond to our least reached neighbors, whether rich or poor, black or white, young or old, members of the Daughters of the American Revolution or recent immigrants. But no effort to reach the least reached in our back yard will have any prospect of fruitfulness unless it reflects what is arguably the single most important characteristic of effective cross-cultural ministry: it must be truly incarnational.”
Before the Apostle John declared, “This is how much God loved the world: He gave his Son, his one and only Son,” (John 3:16a, The Message), he made the amazing statement that “the Word became flesh and blood and moved into the neighborhood” (John 1:14, The Message), McClain says.
He continues: “The American church will have little impact on the least reached among us until it leaves the safety of its sanctuaries (what an interesting word we use to describe our places of worship!) and gets meaningfully engaged with the most unreached segments of the population—unless it ‘moves into the neighborhood’ of American youth culture; moves into the neighborhood of our teeming cities; moves into the neighborhood of the immigrants and refugees who are trying to make new lives for themselves within our borders; moves into the neighborhood of the Saturday night clubbers and the Sunday morning golfers.”
McClain says he’s visited several churches that posted signs at the exits of their parking lots announcing, ‘You are now entering the mission field.’
“It’s true. May God help the American church to discover and embrace the least reached in our own backyard.”
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The Mission Society comes alongside local churches to help them discover their unique ‘missional’ calling. To receive a free consultation on developing a customized outreach strategy and missional mindset, churches should call 678-542-9048.
The Mission Society's award-winning quarterly magazine “Unfinished” informs and inspires readers about worldwide mission trends and issues. To receive a free subscription, visit www.tinyurl.com/UF5312 . Copies of the fall 2012 issue may be ordered in bulk.
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