Mission Issues

Thinking and re-thinking missionary issues

Spreading the gospel in a flat world

I’m in Cape Town at the moment attending a mission conference hosted by WENSA (World Evangelisation Network of South Africa). The great thing of attending a conference like this is to find people from a great variety of organisations and churches, all focussed on the same mandate given to us by God to spread the greatest news throughout the world. The fellowship is also great – meeting up with people who have just been names before, having time to share stories and it was also great for me to have people come up to me who had heard of our work amongst people with AIDS in Swaziland, interested to hear what we are doing or looking for ways in which we can network.
The theme of the conference is: “Stepping up our efforts in a world that is flat” and included some really excellent presentations, one being a plenary session held by Diane Vermooten on communicating effectively in the Global Village. As I was listening to her, and knowing in my heart that she’s speaking the truth, I was also wondering about a few things.
She spent time in speaking about the advance in technology over the past few decades. The point she was trying to make (with which I totally agree) is that the world is advancing into areas that could never have been imagined a few years ago but that the church is often still in a mind frame dictated by the world of thirty or forty years ago. I’m all for change and I firmly believe that we will have to adapt to the changing world if we want to reach people with Christ.
But she then said something which I thought deeply about last night. She gave the example of a group of twelve / thirteen year-olds attending Sunday School. The Sunday School “teacher” was trying (unsuccessfully) to keep the kid’s attention by using a flannel board, this, while the kids had access to the best multi-media available through which they did their learning and they were bored in Sunday School. Then she said that if the church wants to reach the youth of today, they will need to spend money to obtain the best electronic equipment so that they can compete with the media the kids are exposed to in the world. And it was at this point that I started questioning what she was saying. Is it the task of the church to compete against the world? I’m all for making use of new technology in the church, but I’m not convinced that we are going to win people for Christ merely by making use of better technology.
Furthermore, vast areas of Southern Africa are living in extreme poverty in houses without electricity, without running water, often with only a few meals per week. I was shocked when one of our caregivers told me some time ago that they went to visit a homestead where, early in the afternoon, the whole family was sleeping – not because they were tired, but because they were so hungry that to sleep was the only way in which they could forget about their own hunger. Can it be justified that certain churches spend millions on improving their multi-media equipment while members of other churches are dying of hunger?
And it is within this context that I’m questioning what she says, because for millions of people in sub-Saharan Africa multi-media is not an issue. If you don’t even have electricity in your home (or in your church for that matter), you don’t have running water and you don’t have food, then the best multi-media equipment just seem to become irrelevant.
We should do whatever we can to spread the gospel, but I have an idea that there are certain boundaries which need to be determined of how far we should go. But I don’t have an answer yet where the boundaries are.

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Thursday, October 23, 2008 - Posted by | Mission, Poverty, Swaziland, Theology

2 Comments »

  1. Interesting point. When I returned from Africa and saw one particular church that had a large-screen flat panel TV for providing the lyrics to the worship leaders, my jaw dropped. This was the era that such a screen was worth somewhere between 10-40 thousand dollars. And it was for the benefit of about 5 people, once a week. The shocking excess floored me, and still does. But not every media expenditure is that ridiculous.

    I think she’s right, just unbalanced. ‘Cause here’s the deal. You don’t need to spend a lot get good stuff (the “best” is a silly goal). And then that brand-new multimedia equipment could be used to tell the story of a family whose only solace for hunger pains is sleep. That would have a life-changing impact on 12yr olds who typically classify Sunday School as boring.

    The equipment isn’t nearly as important as the story. That’s the part of the lesson she forgot.

    Comment by brad | Thursday, October 23, 2008 | Reply

  2. Thanks for the comment, Brad. I think you’ve said what I tried to say – that the electronic stuff isn’t bad but that there are other things (like the stories) that may have a greater impact on the people.

    Comment by Arnau van Wyngaard | Thursday, October 23, 2008 | Reply


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