Between May 11 and 14 some 1500 mission leaders and representatives from nearly every continent (Antarctica excepted) gathered in Tokyo, Japan to commemorate the centennial of the 1910 Edinburgh World Missionary Conference. The meeting was striking for several reasons:
1. Unlike the 1910 meeting, the 2010 meeting was more non-Western than Western.
2. Unlike the 1910 meeting that drew together the world’s, predominantly Western, denominations and agencies and gave rise to the World Council of Churches, the Tokyo meeting spawned no global organization, and yet featured full-blown, largely non-Western consortiums of mission agencies committed to fulfilling the Great Commission.
3. The meeting demonstrated the posthumous power of Ralph Winter whose vision for this meeting was the guiding force behind it.
4. The meeting raised questions (for Cape Town 2010, for example) about the strategic value of global meetings for anything more than their symbolic significance.
5. The assembly magnified the strengths and mirrored the weaknesses of the Western-centric mission impulse of a century ago.
Let’s take a look at each of these five more closely.
1. Non-Western. The address list of invitees to Tokyo 2010 was intentionally weighted away from the West, but more significant were the non-Western leaders and organizers of the Consultation. The meeting was sponsored by the Third World Mission Association and hosted by the Japan Evangelical Missionary Association. English speaking participants often found themselves listening to plenary addresses through translation. Phillip Jenkins is right, the weight of Christendom has shifted South and East.
2. Global Mission Structures. Tokyo 2010 featured an array of global mission structures that have emerged since the 1910 Edinburg Consultation. While many of them had their roots in the West, an equal number have deep indigenous roots in Africa and Asia. Take a look at this list of participant entities:
Global Mission Structures
Ethna to Ethna
Global Network of Mission Structures
Lausanne Committee For World Evangelization
Muslim Unreached Peoples Network
Nomadic Peoples Network
Third World Mission Association
World Evangelical Alliance – Theological Commission
World Evangelical Alliance – Mission Commission
Regional Mission Structures
Asia Mission Association
Association of Christians Ministering among Internationals (ACMI)
COMIBAM International (pending ratification)
Evangelical Association of the Caribbean
Evangelical Missiological Society of US and Canada
CrossGlobal Link of North America
MANI (Movement of African National Initiatives)
National Mission Structures
AMTB – Associação de MissõesTransculturais Brasileiras (Brazil)
Ghana Evangelical Missions Association
India Missions Association
Japan Evangelical Missionary Association
Japan Overseas Missions Association
Korean World Missions Association
Nigeria Evangelical Missions Association
Philippine Missions Association
Singapore Centre for Global Mission
Swedish Evangelical Alliance
The Mission Exchange, USA
3. Ralph Winter’s Legacy. Tokyo 2010 was the brainchild and legacy of Ralph Winter. Dr. Winter died in the saddle in May of last year, but he was still casting vision for his entourage at the US Center for World Mission when he transitioned to heaven. Winter had an acute sense of history and would let nothing stop the commemoration of the anniversary of the 1910 Edinburg World Mission Consultation, not even his own death. Winter’s colleagues at the USCWM did much of the work behind the scenes to make the Consultation a success. Delegates from around the globe tipped their hat in gratitude to Winter during the meeting itself.
4. Are Global Meetings Still Worthwhile? This was the hall talk at Tokyo 2010. These meetings can be exhilarating and encouraging, but at considerable expense and with questionable strategic value. Winter intended the meeting to signal a passing of the Great Commission baton from the white West to the more colorful non-West. In this, the meeting was a great success, and I’m glad I was there. But it was evident to most missionaries who wanted to move the work forward in their corner of the world that this was not the venue to do so. The participant base was too broad and too thin for real progress in any single corner of the world. Strategic inter-agency meetings DO need to take place, but they are probably better suited to regional meetings rather than global gatherings.
5. Strengths and Weaknesses. Anyone with a sense of mission history could not help but be impressed by the enormous army of co-laborers that God has raised up from the ends of the earth. Looking at the multi-ethnic and polygot masses one could not help but reflect on the unfolding mission impulse from Europe to North America to Korea and now to Africa and Asia.
Tokyo 2010 pointed to the strength of Christianity’s global expression in our shared core elements of faith: 1) Mankind’s universal need of salvation, 2) God’s unique remedy in Christ’s saving redemption, 3) Our responsibility to take the Gospel to all peoples. This Great Commission responsibility has three aspects: a) penetration (“go”), b) consolidation (“baptize”), c) transformation (“teaching to obey”).
While some theologs have decried the lack of theological clarity and unity in global consultations such as Tokyo 2010 and Cape Town 2010, I find their unity around these core values and elements of faith to be remarkable and tangible evidence of a shared Holy Spirit that indwells and guides us, regardless of our points of origin and ways of expression.
The Consultation’s weaknesses were also evident. Squabbles between more and less Pentecostal streams within the movement swirled behind the scenes as the meeting date approached. It is also clear that while twenty-first century global missions is less burdened with Western colonial aspirations and entanglements, it also lacks the center stage of global attention and momentum; it was striking that Tokyo 2010 received zero global media attention—even from Christian media bulwarks Christianity Today, Charisma, and World Magazine.
Tokyo 2010 and CPMs
What does all of this mean for the global prospects of the Great Commission and Church Planting Movements? Well, CPMs and the push to engage the globe’s remaining UPGs were well represented at Tokyo 2010. I team-taught Training for Trainers with a Korean-American missionary to China to a packed house of Latinos and Africans. These non-Western brothers and sisters were passionate to learn the best of what the body of Christ from around the world is doing to fulfill the Great Commission.
This is, undoubtedly, the great lesson of Tokyo 2010: the laborers are entering the harvest fields as never before from every language, tribe and tongue – and they are looking for help! CPM practitioners have a growing host of partners with whom they can be and should be training with the best practices available to get the Gospel to every man, woman and child in this generation. Competent CPM practitioners should be about the work of infusing every emerging missions network (start with the lists above) with cutting edge practices like T4T, the Camel Method, Orality training, House Church multiplication, and more. Tokyo 2010 signals a new day for the Great Commission, but only if we can effectively merge the best that the body of Christ has to offer with the new army of Christian harvesters that are, for the first time, entering the fields of the Lord.
Read more about the Tokyo 2010 meeting at www.tokyo2010.org.