As moderns, we have the tendency to globalize when it comes answers. We want to find the one method, the one strategy, or the single solution that will answer every situation, for every location. We want to find the ‘silver bullet’ or discover the ‘mega-strategy’ that will work whether we are in Los Angeles, Munich, Nairobi or Hong Kong.
Behind this tendency to globalize answers is the modern belief in the potency of reason to create solutions for every problem and then the tendency, mainly by those of us in the West, to apply those solutions universally. The modern missionary movement was party to transmitting global answers when it came to methods and strategies. We reasoned that if a person had success with a certain method in one place, he or she could universalize the principles and tactics of that method and apply them elsewhere, anywhere. In this way, we produced worldwide, mega-strategies and universal methodology in an efficient and uniform manner.
It can be debated as to how well this globalizing tendency has served us. I would say, not well at all! One has only to look at the pattern of continuous announcements of yet another grand plan or methodology. That which is touted as the answer, the silver bullet, is in truth only the ‘strategy of the day’.
Globalized answers are no longer appropriate in late modernity for several reasons.
First, globalized methods and strategies usually violate context. While there has been much made of the global village in which we live and globalization, we must acknowledge the stark reality of a highly localized and diverse world. The ‘present age’ is not the same worldwide. Bangalore is not Hong Kong. New Zealand is not Los Angeles. Late moderns remind us often that the world is highly contextual, and thus, it is imperative that we respect and embrace the uniqueness of each context, and realize that methods, strategies, and services must be context-specific.
Just because a particular program or strategy works in Kenya does not mean it is workable or appropriate for Dallas, and vice-versa. To do this would be like using a hammer to put a screw into a piece of wood, when what is needed and what is best is a screwdriver. The old adage is true – To a hammer, everything is a nail. Because I am an American, enculturated into the American worldview, I cannot help but see all of life through an American lens. The solutions for the church I attend in central Texas are truly unique in orientation and execution. It would be the height of arrogance to say that what ‘works’ in central Texas should or must work in South Africa. To universalize Texas methodology and strategy to South Africa or elsewhere is to disregard and violate context.
Second, globalized methods and strategies undo local processes. If I hear a person speak about the success of her strategy in New York City or read her book, and then seek to make what she found to be right for her situation, right for my situation, then I have short-circuited the processes at work to discover and understand what it means to be the church in my location. I have skipped the hard work of evaluating, thinking, dreaming, and praying. Modernity preaches a gospel of efficiency and effectiveness, when there are no shortcuts to the discovery of what God would have us to do in our particular context. Globalized methods and strategies tempt us to cut corners and to forgo processes. And while we may save time in the short run, discovery is missed in the long haul. We must be willing to wait for ideas to mature and for the Spirit to reveal his ways in his timing.
Third, globalized methods and strategies seldom work. We may think they do because of initial interest or limited response, but in reality they do not. They usually have the opposite effect – they do damage and undo the good that has been done. What I have witnessed is a great deal of resource and effort expended in trying to force the proverbial round peg into a square hole.
So, if globalized answers are not appropriate, what should we do in order to serve the present, late modern age? I suggest that we must affirm, promote, and support the processes whereby methods, strategies and solutions arise from within and for the local church. One of the chief reasons we look for globalized answers is because we undervalue the local church – who she is, what she can do, and her role in the kingdom of God. It is with the people of God in a particular locale that ancient and current traditions, cultural hopes and aspirations actually meet the gospel, and unique ways of service and witness are formed.
A distinctive for Baptists that we best not forget is the autonomy of the local church. We believe the church is to be found primarily and visibly in local gatherings of believers. The local church gathered in a village in Nagaland is the church. It is the body of Christ for that particular locale, giving visible, tangible, physical expression to the love of Christ. Autonomy is more than an issue of polity and governance but also a matter of appropriate and viable witness and service.
History teaches us that whenever the church in one locale forces its ways of church and witness on a church in another locale the results are damaging and sad. For persons from the West or the East to promote, finance, or force globalized methods, strategies or solutions on another is simply a form of cultural or ecclesiastical imperialism. We must insist that the church of Recife, Brazil be the local church in and for Recife, and we must believe that the Holy Spirit can and will guide this local church to innovate and implement a particular witness for Recife.
Less you think I have tilted too far in one direction, I do believe in cooperation and cross-cultural witness. And yet, unless an emphasis on local church processes is maintained and fostered, true cooperation, collaboration and assistance are difficult, if not impossible. When an emphasis on the local church is in place and operating, we find a clear basis from which to partner in ways that are valuable and appropriate.
Too often and too quick we look for globalized answers before listening to what the Spirit is saying to his church. Don’t look to Delhi, Atlanta, or Los Angeles for answers- rather, listen to what the Spirit is saying.