No one today would question the statement that rapid globalization over the past decade or two has changed life on every continent in nearly every way. Changes in business, politics, economics, health and social interactions have launched humanity into a new reality in the 21st century.
Discontinuous change, however, is a disruptive phenomenon that collides with the predictable, resulting in a change of course toward a new and unfamiliar path. The internet and social media are good examples of disruptive change. While the cell phone itself may have been a logical next invention, adding internet capabilities with immediate and global social capacity redefines users’ relationships to knowledge, information and people. Roxburgh & Remanuk, in their book The Missional Leader, claim that discontinuous change “creates situations that challenge our assumptions…and transform the culture forever, tipping it into something new” (Roxurgh & Romanuk 2006.7).
This phenomenon of globalization coupled with discontinuous change calls for a paradigm shift in leadership – a new kind of mindset that not only adjusts, but proactively gives new leader-ship in light of the unanticipated reality. In other words, the way we’ve done things no longer works, and those who can change the quickest will be the most successful in the new world. It’s not simply a matter of tweaking what we do or “learning new insights and skills but…unlearning what [is considered to be] tried and true” (LeadershipNext, Gibbs 2005:25. Italics added).
“Mission is not the sole responsibility of Western Christian nations as some once assumed. To-day the Global Church has emerged as a dynamic participant in God’s mission….”
This is the challenge we face in the Bible translation movement today, requiring a paradigm shift on many levels.
Not only has the discontinuous impact of globalization impacted politics, economies and societies, it has also impacted the Church. Recognizing that the center of gravity in the global Church has shifted, it is imperative that we examine the effects of that shift on the policies and practices of global mission movements. Mission is not the sole responsibility of Western Christian nations as some once assumed. Today the Global Church has emerged as a dynamic participant in God’s mission, and we in Wycliffe need to adjust our mindset to this new reality; we need to find a new way to think and to act as one seamlessly united Church of the West, the South and the East. This requires a paradigm shift in how we view ourselves and our work.
Discontinuous change is not new. God himself has used it to redirect His people throughout history. A good example of God-imposed discontinuous change is Pentecost. Prior to that eventful day, the disciples did nothing to prepare for it (no practiced sermons, no PowerPoints, no out-lines). Indeed they couldn’t prepare; they didn’t see it coming. They simply waited as they were instructed to do. Suddenly the Holy Spirit came upon them with power, and they spoke what was on their hearts—the wonders of God in the languages of the people.
Through this supernatural event, God introduced a new way of communicating His message. Prior to Pentecost, people had God’s Word (the Old Testament) in Hebrew and in Greek, and community with God was found within the context of the Hebrew culture. But with the unexpected coming of the Holy Spirit, God validated every language and culture, introducing infinite translatability to the gospel. Whereas Babel was a discontinuous change that symbolized God’s judgment on a global rebellion against him, Pentecost was a discontinuous change that symbolized God’s affirmation of cultures and people and language, as He personally invited them to be reconciled back into fellowship with him through the preaching of His Word in their mother tongue. From that event churches were planted throughout the then-known world, presumably in the local languages.
It’s important to note the role the Holy Spirit played on the day of Pentecost and following. God’s mission is dependent upon the Holy Spirit regardless of any cultural, social, economic, political and linguistic barriers that exist. This action of God sending the Spirit is not passive. Rather it demonstrates how the Spirit empowers the people of God to participate with him in an outward movement to the nations, planting churches wherever He goes. It’s God’s mission which will be accomplished by God’s Spirit through God’s people. We don’t take the initiative; we simply respond to God.
Jesus makes this very clear in John 20:21-24. In this passage He speaks to a group of frightened disciples. He shows them His hands and feet as proof of His resurrection, and then says to them, “As the Father has sent me, I am sending you” and He breathes the Holy Spirit onto them. God the Father is at the centre of the missio Dei. He sent the Son to redeem the world. Then the risen Son sent the Spirit to complete God’s mission, using people to carry out that mission. The mission is God’s. God calls His Church to participate with him in it as a sign and symbol of the reign of God. The Church responds to this invitation in love and service.
Throughout history, many Christians have set themselves apart as the ones who will complete the mission mandate as expressed in Matthew 28:18-20. They view the “Great Commission” as a challenge to rise up, own the call for action, and complete the work for God. Bishop Zac Niringiye of Uganda calls these people “go-and-fix-it” Christians. When understood in that way the passage “simply reinforces the illusion that it’s about us” (Christianity Today, Crouch 2006: n.p.). It’s very important to understand that the mission is God’s mission, God’s initiative. We need to pull ourselves out of the center of the story and recognize that it is God who is central. He will accomplish His mission. We the global Church are invited to be part of His victorious mission.
So if God’s Spirit is moving to accomplish God’s mission and inviting the global Church to participate with him in the work, we need to re-evaluate our strategies and objectives, especially in light of the growth of the Church in the South and East. Most mission strategy and methodology are still in the hands of the West. Most mission endeavors are still resourced from the West. Foundational to this paradigm is the assumption that the “task”, then, is also the responsibility of the West. But this cannot continue. Westerners cannot ignore, work around or simply endure the global Church as they seek to complete their self-assumed responsibility from God. There needs to be a paradigm shift from Western ownership to polycentric cooperation.
In light of that, we in Wycliffe need to reevaluate our place in the global context. We need a paradigm shift ourselves from functioning as an international mission centered in the West to a global collection of organizations working together in harmony for God’s Kingdom. Our new name, Wycliffe Global Alliance, signifies our desire to bring various and multiple partners together for creative, collaborative thinking, working and problem solving. It is not our desire to prescribe issues and strategies for others, nor are we a primarily Western organization seeking to expand its territory worldwide. On the contrary, we are an alliance of like-minded yet extremely diverse organizations and movements around the world, attempting to think and work under God’s direction. To that end we are seeking to build polycentric leadership in the Alliance, so voices from all participating nations are represented in the vision and the work.
“Another shift in our organizational thinking addresses how we define and evaluate success. We seek to measure ourselves by relationships rather than statistics.”
Of course this new arrangement as an Alliance impacts our purpose for existence, requiring a paradigm shift in organizational thinking. Originally Wycliffe Bible Translators existed for one purpose—to resource SIL International (and a handful of national organizations that were doing Bible translation and literacy in their own countries with extensive help from SIL). We are conscious of the influence global trends have on us. While it is still our aim to see a Bible translated for each language group that needs one, we realize that we do not operate in a vacuum. It is God who invites us to participate with him in achieving this vision, but He wills that the participants come from His global Church. Today the Alliance and its Participating Organizations are providing meaningful leadership in the Bible translation movement worldwide. Whereas previously WBTI’s 45 member organizations were primarily from the West, today, of the 120 organizations participating in the Alliance, 70 percent are from the global South and East, and 30 percent are responsible for leadership in Bible translation programs in their own countries and elsewhere. SIL is one of our strategic partners.
Another shift in our organizational thinking addresses how we define and evaluate success. We seek to measure ourselves by relationships rather than statistics. Vision 2025 was adopted at a time when Western influence in mission leadership and strategy were at their peak. While we are encouraged by the number of people gaining understanding of God through access to His Word in their language, our organizational measure of success will be realized in the collaboration of churches and mission agencies that are working in harmony, serving communities with-out access to the Bible.
All of this provides a theological, missiological and practical foundation for the Alliance structure, and it offers a framework for why we have identified the Participation Streams: Church Engagement, Prayer, Fundraising, Recruiting and Sending People, Specialty Services, Technical Training and Language Programs. These seven streams help us identify ways God is calling our organizations to participate together in His mission. They help us think and act responsibly in a new paradigm.
Kirk Franklin serves as the Executive Director of the Wycliffe Global Alliance. Dawn Kruger was the Communication Coordinator for the Alliance’s Asia-Pacific Area.