Staying local, going global

At CSBC, we’re rethinking mission.

One of the tensions I wrestle with–both personally and for the church–is in balancing the missionary call of Jesus to the global (‘go into all the world’) and the local (‘love you neighbour as yourself’).  As someone deeply committed to the neighbourhood–the most immediate context for living and loving–I have to confess that whatever energy I have left to genuinely engage with global concerns is pitifully small.   I may well believe or say publicly all manner of things about our ‘global neighbourhood’, but the reality is I can’t be in two places at once.  Even in my head I struggle to think about more one thing at a time!

My brother Mark has given his life and energy to ministry overseas.  He works with Global Interaction in South East Asia.  In his absence, I am the keeper of his books. I was looking over them the other day, and found his copy of my book God Next Door.   I flicked through it and noticed he had underlined these words:

Just as loving one’s neighbour is simply a noble idea apart from the concrete realities of immediate relationships, so the call to mission is nothing more than a rousing trumpet blast apart from the tangible challenges of a particular place in which to live it.  God’s call is a call to place.  When Jesus bids us, ‘Come, follow me!’ he doesn’t call us into the ether, or even into the whole world for that matter.  He calls us into particular places, places that we can see, walk, smell and inhabit.  God’s call is not a call to be everywhere; it’s a call to be somewhere.

It encourages me to think my brother and I are in ‘the same page’ when to comes to what mission looks like.  That fact that he lives that call in place far away while I live it here is wonderfully encouraging to me.  Still, even as I am reassured, I am not let off the ‘global’ hook.  The nature of the world we inhabit means the global and local do not and cannot exist in isolation.  The are connected and profoundly so.  A local church like mine cannot choose one over the other.  Somehow, despite the tension it may cause, we must keep the two hand in hand.

Andrew Davey in his book Urban Christianity and the Global Order makes a similar point.  He says that falling captive to a simplistic analysis that rejects the global solely for the local is to fly in the face of the way the world is and, in fact, the essence of our Christian faith.

I want to suggest that a church that fails to realize its potential in this new context will find itself more and more reduced to individualistic pietism and dogmatic introspection.  The strengths of the Church must lie in its ability to hold the local and global in its own dynamic tension, as it seeks the practice of human freedom in the presence of God in whatever human arrangements it encounters at local, national, regional and global levels.  The Church needs to understand and realize its potential as it connects and affirms the communities and individuals in the margins of the global city, communities which comprise significant numbers of women, minorities and migrants–those who really do live on the fault lines and in the back alleys of the new global order.  While challenging the reshaping of the geography of power, the Christian faith is lived through presence(s), through communities that include, strengthen and give integrity to those at the margins.  Local pastoral praxis becomes simultaneously global political praxis.

If I understand Davey correctly, how we at CSBC engage locally has implications for the integrity and effectiveness of our global presence. That’s something I need to think more about!

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