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Reverse Missiology: An Introduction

Passion for Mission Speaker 2017 Israel Olofinjana writes on the concept of “reverse mission”, which is becoming more and more relevant for the church today.

If you live in an urban part of the UK, you have probably noticed the many African, Latin American, Caribbean and Asian churches and Christians in Britain. Perhaps you’ve wondered why all these people are coming and starting churches in the UK?

One popular phrase used to describe this activity is ‘reverse mission’, but what is reverse mission, and why is it a controversial term?

Reverse mission starts with a deep sense of gratitude from those who have benefitted from historical European mission activity, either in Africa, the Caribbean, Latin America or Asia. It is this sense of gratitude, combined with the understanding that Europe also has need of missionaries, that has led to missionaries being sent to the UK from across the majority world (that is, Africa, Caribbean, Asia and Latin America).

Some are sent intentionally from churches or mission agencies across these continents to be missionaries to the UK, but economic migrants or, refugees, or those who’ve come to study here, also count as reverse missionaries as they have engaged in mission.

One example is Pastor Girma Bishaw, who came from Ethiopia to the UK in the 1990s as a refugee, but is now engaged in mission, including organising local community festivals. Pastor Girma deeply appreciates how the UK has supported his family, and therefore loves the UK and wants to help build a multicultural Church and society here.

Some people have a problem with the term reverse mission, because if our understanding of God’s mission is that any Christian anywhere can be involved in mission, does the direction of mission really matter? Others think reverse mission is not really happening, because they say a Nigerian pastor leading a ‘Nigerian church’ in the UK is not engaging in reverse mission.

There are also those who think Britain does not need missionaries, as we are the ones who send missionaries to other people, not the other way round!

It is true that our understanding of God’s mission is that any Christian anywhere can participate in God’s mission – whether it’s in the streets of Lagos, Nigeria, or someone called to be an overseas missionary in India. But reverse mission does not contradict this – it is just one expression of God’s mission, without claiming to be the sum-total.

What reverse missionaries are simply saying is “we who used to receive before now feel we are matured enough to give”. And surely this is a good thing!

What is often missing in conversations on reverse mission are examples, where a Nigerian pastor is leading a multicultural or white majority church (that is a church full of mostly white people). To illustrate, Pastor Andrew Junaid leads Brook Lane Community Church, a white majority church in south east London, Pastor Tani Omideyi leads a multicultural church Temple of Praise in Liverpool, which has many local Liverpudlian members

The idea that Britain does not need missionaries is ridiculous really, because the need is obvious! We only have to look at how many people are not Christians, and the number of churches who’ve declined in the last 40 years, and how our values as a society have changed. Besides, if Britain is a multicultural multi-ethnic society, then it’s important that the Church that’s reaching that society is also multicultural and multi-ethnic!

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Israel Olofinjana

Israel Olofinjana

ev Israel Oluwole Olofinjana is an ordained and accredited Baptist minister and has pastored Crofton Park Baptist Church (2007-2011) and Catford Community Church (2011-2013). He is currently the pastor of Woolwich Central Baptist Church, a multicultural church in south east London. He is Nigerian coming from a Pentecostal background. He holds a BA (Hons) in Religious Studies from the University of Ibadan, Nigeria and MTh from Carolina University of Theology (CUT).
Israel Olofinjana

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