Our Mission in the Third Wave

A few years ago I participated in the annual members' meeting of the American Society of Missiology (ASM) in Minneapolis, Minnesota. The ASM is a professional association made up of members from Independent (Evangelical, Pentecostal, etc.), Conciliar, and Roman Catholic communions of the Christian church. It did not surprise me that so many participants knew of, admired, and spoke highly of Pope Francis.

As an ecumenical association for mission studies in North America, ASM includes more than 600 academicians – missiologists, anthropologist, sociologists, theologians, historians and experts from other related disciplines – as well as mission agency executives, and missionaries, uniquely blending together in scholarship and mission.

In a milieu where Catholic presence has long been minimal, the daily life-giving witness and energetic emphasis on mission which Pope Francis provides for the world seemed to be acknowledged by all.

The annual meeting of ASM membership provides a dynamic and exciting forum for a symposium where a lively yet scholarly exchange of ideas and issues can focus on the church's call to participate in God's mission ("missio Dei") to the world. Over 100 presenters, including plenary speakers Maria Frederick (Harvard University), Tite Tienou (Trinity Evangelical Divinity School), and Robert Schreiter (Catholic Theological Union), spoke on that year's primary theme: “Contextualization (of the Gospel) in the Contemporary World”.
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Most presenters also addressed the secondary theme of the symposium: Third Wave Mission, which highlighted lay involvement, short-term missions, twinning, and sister-church partnerships. This last theme was the one that drew my particular interest, and I offer a few reflections on what is meant by Third Wave Mission.

What is the “Third Wave” of World Evangelization?

If one googles "third wave" one will see a variety of applications, from coffee, to democracy, to feminism, to technologies, and so forth. Even when referring only to mission, the term "third wave" has a variety of interpretations and understandings. While in no way proposing a detailed critique of their content, I offer a few examples.

The "Third Wave of World Evangelization" refers to the situation wherein indigenous "nationals" replace "foreign missioners" in church structures – educational, financial, pastoral, etc. On the other hand, the "Third Wave Movement" denotes the third of three distinct Pentecostal/Charismatic movements in modern Christianity.

The "Third Wave Mission" on which we focused must be understood in the context of a presentation which Fr. Robert Schreiter, CPPS, gave in 2011 at the Maryknoll Centennial Symposium in Chicago. He was not speaking specifically about a third wave "of mission" but rather about the opportunities, outreach, demands, and challenges, as well as the pitfalls of Mission “ad gentes (to the nations)” occasioned by the "third wave of globalization."

The First Wave of Global Evangelization – Exploration and Colonization

Untitled 2A child standing in front of a tent city in Haiti
The first wave of globalization could be characterized as "the age of exploration" when technological developments allowed the expanse of oceans to be navigated safely, whereby European nations, mostly Catholic, gained access to the whole world.

It was also the beginning of the age of massive colonization of peoples. Catholic Religious Communities and Mission Societies piggybacked on opportunities presented, and sent out missionaries, heroically represented by figures such as St. Francis Xavier, S.J., and Junipero Serra, O.F.M., who brought the Gospel to hitherto unknown peoples.

The Second Wave of Global Evangelization – The Age of Mobilization and Migration

Utilization of steam to power ships and trains, as well as the advent of electrical power, drastically altered means of communication and changed life within nations and around the globe. This induced the second wave of globalization, known as "the age of mobilization."

It was also the age of massive migration, of Christian reformation in Europe, of the founding of many Catholic and Protestant mission societies of men and women willing and able to travel far and wide to help spread the Gospel and bring to their ministries specialized social gifts - such as education, hygiene, health, and scientific development. Mission “ad gentes” flourished.

The Third Wave of Global Evangelization –The Age of Communication and a New Mission

We are a few decades into the third wave of globalization which is producing even faster and more drastic changes. We could perhaps label it "the age of instant communication." [It is characterized by world-changing events, among which we find de-colonization and independence, as well as the Second Vatican Council, with a new understanding of "mission" which includes the role of laity in the ministry of the church.]
Untitled 3First profession in Myanmar of new La Salette Missionaries in May, 2017, part of the Third Wave of Evangelization

Technology has once again altered our understanding of time and space; think of the surge into cyberspace, and of travel – on the planet and in outer space. It entails also the resurgence of Islam as a world religion—and ecumenical efforts of Christian confessions and agencies such as the American Society of Missiology.

All these have produced a profound effect on mission – the way mission is understood and carried out. While fewer people commit to long-term mission, short-term mission engagement has increased. Deeper relationships are created as mutual partnerships are forged, sister churches are built, and twinning bridges gaps.

Note: PDF version of Fr. Robert Schreiter's presentation entitled, “The Future of Mission ‘Ad Gentes’ in a Global Context”

(Reprinted with permission of the United States Mission Catholic Mission Association, Mission Update, Summer 2014, pgs. 6-7)

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