The Three-Selves Formula (3)
I was in a meeting on Tuesday where it was once again said (I’ve heard it many times before) that the future of missions to a large extent will be initiated through Africa and Asia. The Western church, which was responsible for bringing the gospel to large parts of Africa and Asia, are no longer and will no longer be the main role-players in the act of reaching the unreached.
If the West is unable to impact the world effectively and, due to various circumstances, Africa and Asia are presently better equipped to do this work, then the question may be asked whether the Western churches still have any role to play. Are they going to disappear from the scene in order for the churches in Africa and Asia to fulfill God’s vision of the gospel being proclaimed up to the ends of the earth? Chris Marantika, a theologian from Indonesia, does not think so. He sees the world as God’s playground in which He wants to have total control. Marantika then proposes an alternative to the Three-Selves paradigm in which he invites churches from all over the world to take hands and to play together, pray together and pay together in order to proclaim God’s salvation through Christ in all places. In that way, according to Marantika, all churches can still be part of the work that needs to be done. The Western churches will obviously not be the ones dictating how the work should be done, but they will still be part of the solution.
Personally I do have some reservations about Marantika’s viewpoint, as it could so easily lead to a situation which is experienced by many missionaries today that all obligations are fulfilled once people have prayed and sent a cheque to have the work done. I don’t think that Marantika has this in mind, but knowing people, it could very easily lead to such an undesirable situation. But I mention this as one of a few alternatives to the Three-Selves formula which seem to have become outdated or at least misinterpreted in our times.
Rowell also proposes an alternative – not a threefold formula, but one principle which he believes may be crucial in future mission projects, and this is sustainability. Quoting John 15:16 where Jesus commands us to bear fruit that will last, he says the question should not be whether we invest in missions but rather where and how we invest to generate lasting results, even after the missionary had left.
And this, I think, may be one of the greatest challenges which Western churches will be facing in missions. This calls for much greater involvement on a personal level, where churches prayerfully seek God’s will, not whether they should be involved, but where and how they could become involved in order to help in a sustainable way. And if this should start to happen, then I foresee that Marantika’s vision of churches worldwide taking hands to play together, pray together and pay together within God’s world, may not be farfetched.