McKnight: Why Don't We Care About Global Missions
Explaining the American church's silence around The Cape Town Commitment.

If you are an Urbanite then you know that last October church leaders gathered in Cape Town, South Africa, for the Third Lausanne Congress on Global Evangelization. It was the largest, most diverse gathering of Christian leaders in history. Our own Skye Jethani was there and reported from the event. One of the tangible outcomes of the congress was "The Cape Town Commitment"–a theological and missional document declaring our united focus as the church of Jesus Christ. In this post Scot McKnight asks why more people aren't paying attention to this brilliant and important work. His reflections are worth your time.

Having read the The Cape Town Commitment: A Confession of Faith and a Call to Action carefully, and believing it is the finest statement of the Christian faith with a view to God's mission in this world that one can find today, I am amazed at the silence about the CTC. I've been asked why the silence. So, I offer these four reasons:

First, the silence about the CTC reflects America's insularity and willful choice to ignore anything that is produced by Christians from other parts of the world. We talk universal church, we talk global church, and we participate in missionary work, but the lack of attention to this incredible unifying statement reflects that what comes from elsewhere belongs elsewhere. Perhaps I'm wrong.

Second, the silence about the CTC reflects American evangelicalism's numbness about the vibrancy of gospel leadership in other parts of the world. We've got so much here, we're worried about our problems, and we're absorbed with our culture and consumeristic lifestyle to the degree that we are numb — and so we simply never awoke to the significance of the CTC and the Lausanne event in Cape Town.

Third, American evangelicalism has become tribal, and this silence reflects that what isn't from our group isn't important.

Whether we are conservative, moderate or progressive, whether we find our primary group to this association or that denomination, and some of this is shaped by internet tribal capacities, we are in a tribe and we pay attention to our tribe, and if our tribe doesn't produce it, then it must not be important. Or if our tribe isn't talking about it, it doesn't matter. Folks, this is an evangelical ecumenical statement of global significance. It is trans-tribal and deconstructs tribalism into a mission and gospel unity.

Fourth, the silence reflects American evangelicalism's lethargy about missionary gospel expansion. Yes, I said that exactly as I wanted: many today simply don't think we need to spread the gospel or declare the gospel in other parts of the world. This is the impact of pluralism, and it is leading to a missionary malaise.

What do you think? Am I wrong? Is the CTC being discussed? Or is it being ignored? If so, why?

June 09, 2011

Displaying 1–10 of 28 comments


February 08, 2012  5:06pm

Unfortunately I agree. I think most people who are here are pretty familiar with the CTC which isn't reflective of the general population. Not to self-promote, but the organization I work for focuses on creating global awareness not only with the teams that go into other communities, but also making both parties aware that the work that they do also helps us help new/other communities. People only seem to be aware of what they choose to be aware of. I think that's the result of being in this culture though. Perhaps it's the duty of the rest of us to bring others into awareness?

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John Prouty

June 23, 2011  3:12pm

To ask why we aren't paying attention to the CTC is to engaging in a form of spiritual "naval gazing". What we really need to ask is, "How can we get the american church to start paying attention to it". Some churches just may not be aware of it. How do we get the message out in a way that is relevant to the church?

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June 17, 2011  3:33am

Speaking as an African am heartened by the "Cape Town' statement and tried to follow the event as much as time could allow ALAS! that this discussion is taking place makes me wonder why America needs to endorse everything. Of course tremendous support from various denominations in America like the rest of the world meant that it truly is a global event, we thank God for the unity that was reflected and also reinstated the need to spread the gospel to the ends of the earth. However, that it did not feed locally in America seems of little consequence to myself as a very educated middle class African living in Africa! There are some good churches in America doing excellent work and I personally have interacted with some Southern Baptist missionaries over the years who devote their lives to living the gospel and return to America in their retirement! Jesus our Lord reminds us not to declare what the 'right hand does" and if America did not herald the event locally so let it be I for one am not judging the self indulgence etc..... I am glad that the church did come together and can we leave it at that Maybe the discussion should really be about how the American church alleviates the education and health issues that America's poor continue to face and how Jesus Christ has been made real in people's lives who had denied or not heard of him and how we as human kind can truly walk in the world as overcomers of the world!!

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Howard Baker

June 16, 2011  12:13pm

I question whether the response to or the publicity around the CTC is an accurate indicator of the level of commitment to, support of, or participation in God's redemptive mission of love to the world. My observation and experience is that there are actually more evangelical followers of Christ involved in global mission than ever before and with a better spirit of following the indigenous Church's leadership rather than arrogantly telling them what they need from a western mindset. Personally, I am about to embark on my third global teaching ministry at the invitation of indigenous leaders. Along with thousands of others, I do this at my own expense of time and money. In the invisible landscape of kingdom work, we are only misled by equating publicity, blogosphere activity, or responses to the latest "statement" as metrics to the true growth that God produces.

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Craig Blomberg

June 16, 2011  11:48am

The comment above about publicity is what strikes me the most, though clearly there are elements of truth in many of the observations. No less than five members of the Denver Seminary community–our president, faculty, board, etc. were in Cape Town, and once the global link was hacked and we weren't able to use that as a site, we heard virtually nothing more. The document was never circulated in our midst. Yes, there was one invitation to go to the website and download videos or materials, but we are so saturated with websites that I almost never take the time to initiate such surfing. Alas.

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Gillian Myrt

June 15, 2011  11:44pm

This article plus the many comments give much food for thought – Thank you, Scot! I am a South African missionary teacher (Currently in Finland) who has traveled to, visited, worked and/or ministered in 20 different countries. I enjoy the flavor of cross cultural mission work around the globe. I would like to add that the only financial support I receive for my ministries, comes solely from American friends who are also mission minded. Due to their family or church commitments; they are unable to go forth and win the lost for Jesus, so they willingly support others who can go forth and minister to the spiritually, mentally, emotionally and physically wounded. We can be missionaries right at our place of work or in the communnity we serve. God bless you all and may we continue focusing on spreading the love of Jesus no matter where we find ourselves.

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Rick Whitcomb

June 15, 2011  10:15am

As an American evangelical who has served as a missionary in Africa for 28 yeas, I agree that American evangelicals don't care much about Global Missions. However, I don't agree completely with Scot's assessment of the reasons why. I would like to suggest that the intentional and sustained attacks against American missionaries by "the world Christian movement" has contributed significantly to the state of affairs as addressed in his article. For years, the American church has had it pounded into it that "nationals can do it better"; that American missionaries are ugly Americans who are culturally insensitive and arrogant; and that Americans are no longer wanted, needed, or welcome on the mission field. (Of course, American money is a different matter.) Could it be that the American church doesn't care because we're tired of hearing how bad we are? Even Scot's article contributes to this anti-American atmosphere. Once again, it's the American church that has fallen short. Once again, it's American evangelicals who are the problem. Is this really helpful? Evangelicals in America may have overlooked or under-emphasized the CTC. But it's far, far worse here in Ghana where I live. I've heard absolutely nothing about the CTC or anything related to it here in Ghana. Ghana has a vibrant evangelical population. Ghana is on the same continent as Cape Town, South Africa, and has many connections to SA. But the TLCGE and the CTC have been grossly overlooked here in Ghana. Perhaps it's time we stopped attacking American evangelicals and American missionaries. Instead, we should focus on encouraging all Christians everywhere to awaken to the world and the obligations and challenges we face in Global Missions. Respectfully, Rick Whitcomb Agape Gospel Mission Accra, Ghana

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Viktor Steiner

June 15, 2011  2:06am

Thanks for the link. You ask "why more people aren't paying attention to this brilliant and important work." I'd say: Too little publicity! I tried to follow what was going on in Cape Town at the time and also to read impressions later. Most were just subjective personal remarks like "Wasn't it nice to see so-and-so there!" But very little specific results have been circulated. The Swiss delegation was deliberatley younger generation, but that tends to mean less influential, because they're not well known. I can't speak for the US.

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June 14, 2011  4:46pm

Most churches in the U.S. – both denominational and independent – are losing members and attendance, so we're focused on the missionary work we need to do in our own communities. For two centuries, American churches sent reps around the world. What do we have to show for it? Vibrant churches in Africa, South America, and even Russia . . . and an increasingly unchurched and immoral society right here at home. The author of 1st Timothy said that a person can't lead the church if he isn't already a leader in his own family (1 Tim 4:4-5). How can American churches lead in other parts of the world if our own congregations and neighborhoods are in shambles?

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June 13, 2011  6:37pm

I have two major problem with the CTC: First, its mission resembles every other therapeutic church whose belief centers on the idea that the ministry of Jesus was to cure poverty, make the blind see, and the lame walk. Second, the authors of the CTC never articulate how to serve those in need. They simply declare a heartfelt desire to do, well, something, anything. Documents like the CTCs are nothing more than exercises in moral preening. I pray for the day when one of these confabs actually set some policy stakes in the ground and puts time, money, people, and organization behind it. Blessings, Michael

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