Opening the Floor

Republished with permission by Vista, see original article here
Photo by Wonderlane on Unsplash

How can we make sure that these voices are heard? What kinds of platform can we provide for them to speak from?
Given our tentative identification in Theme 1 of some of the voices being marginalised or ignored within European mission today, the next step is obvious: how can we do more to help these voices be heard? This was widely acknowledged to be a “tricky question,” though a range of options were hopefully suggested. In terms of practical barriers preventing some from participating, Raphael Anzenberger noted that “the issue of English as a language is a huge one… unless there are strong mechanisms to ensure translation, no matter what the platform is, their voice won’t be heard.” Other church leaders emphasized the role of regional forums, and the importance of raising indigenous leaders from amongst the different nations and ethnicities.

A first step towards including marginalised voices will need to be positively affirming them, says Tony Peck of the European Baptist Federation, and deliberately ensuring that in any organised events, different voices (e.g. men’s and women’s) “are equally featured in the discussion of issues that concern us.” Other respondents also spoke of steps that need to be taken to create “intentional relationships” and to invite members of emerging mission movements into reciprocal collaborations. Interestingly, several respondents used the metaphor of inviting others to the/God’s table, and this is indeed a rich metaphor with powerful connotations.

The EEA’s Frank Hinkelmann rightly stressed the importance of two-directional openness, requiring “a changed mindset by the ‘old’ European churches as well as a willingness to interact with them by the ‘new’ (migrant) European churches.”

However, there were also two words of warnings, from different perspectives. Kent Anderson of ECM cautioned that discernment remains necessary when selecting or listening to alternative voices: “Not every young or ethnic voice has something important to say.” Those who have, however, should be quoted and promoted whenever possible by more mainstream leaders. The second word of warning comes from Usha Reifsnider of the Centre for Missionaries from the Majority World. Current leaders and influencers should try to be involved in the world of others, and “allow them to create platforms that are beyond your ability to imagine.” The very act of giving power or voice to another can, at times, remain an exercise in control if we remain the ones determining the platform or the terms of the debate.

What can be done to ensure the widest possible range of voices continue to be heard by the global evangelical community that supports mission in Europe?
Again, there was a wide range of suggestions and an acknowledgement that there may be no easy solutions. Perhaps the most popular suggestion was more gatherings where different voices can be heard, and dialogue entered into.

For Daniel Costanza of the Pentecostal European Fellowship, something like a three-yearly consultation involving key movements would be desirable. Similarly, Jeff Carter called for “more opportunities to provide venues and conferences to invite dialogue,” and Harvey Kwiyani identified the importance of having platforms where “we all engage one another as equals, helping one another see God in a new light and learning from one another.” In a similar vein, there were also pleas for mission gatherings to be characterised by even more sharing, openness and togetherness – for example, John Gilberts urged the formation of “new, non-denominational or cross-denominational gatherings” and that agencies and churches share European ‘superstars’ with high profile within their domain.

Tony Peck argued that the best way to ensure that the widest range of voices is heard, is by our having “a Gospel generosity that embraces healthy diversity as a gift and not a problem, and ensuring that all parts of the diverse evangelical family are included.”

From amongst the respondents for this research came several cris de coeur for Western Europeans or those representing traditional and established churches to learn from others: “Be prepared to learn from people who do not look, sound, teach, train and practise the way you always have,” implores Usha Reifsnider, who argues that since “the highest proportion of Christ followers are now from the Majority World and women, then theology and mission should follow suit.” Like Usha, Jeff Carter emphasizes the role of seminaries and mission training colleges across Europe, which he believes should be “teaching inclusive and embracing ministry… it’s a brand-new world, let’s listen to one another!”

A final way to ensure that evangelicals are listening to the widest possible range of voices, is to be a spiritually-aware people. As Richard Bromley of the Intercontinental Church Society notes, we need to be “generous in our listening and see what the Spirit is saying,” a point echoed by Samuel Cueva who calls the Church to recognise that, in Europe, “God is on the move, and He is doing something different.” Listening to God, and listening to marginalised or minority voices, should be twin priorities for the European church.