Mission from the margins

The renewal of churches requires shifts in the understanding of mission, writes the author. Illustration: Nina Ezhik/Shutterstock

“God chose what is foolish in the world to shame the wise; God chose what is weak in the world to shame the strong; God chose what is low and despised in the world, things that are not, to reduce to nothing things that are, so that no one might boast in the presence of God” (1 Corinthians 1:27–29).

Over the past few decades, there has been a profound change in the way that Christian churches understand and speak about mission, something long overdue. Among the churches of a Western cultural framework, mission was often distorted, even deformed, by the ideologies associated with colonial expansion of Euro-North American power and culture. Some of the consequences are horrific. Mission, in the colonial model, was viewed as the work of the church. Faith and resources were to be sent from a powerful and stable centre to what was viewed as humanity’s margins. Mission was often seen as “civilizing” peoples and taming the wilderness.

Today, there is a remarkable consensus among the churches that declares, in contrast to the colonial model, that it is God’s mission that truly matters in creation and history. God’s mission is the Holy Trinity’s unfolding plan for creation-wide salvation and renewal; the movement of God in history and creation, definitively revealed and actualized in Christ’s life, death and resurrection. The ongoing and unfolding life of the Living Word of God, animated and embodied by the Holy Spirit, is experienced in all times and places— moving creation towards the flourishing of life. The church’s task is to join, live and proclaim God’s mission, unveiling the inner realities that animate all that is. This is where truth, justice and love live and breathe. We are moving towards God’s ultimate reconciliation of all that is, in and through the Living Word of God.

Accompanied by the emphasis on God’s mission is the emerging concept of “mission from the margins.” (See the document of the Commission on World Mission and Evangelism of the World Council of Churches, Together towards Life.) Mission from the margins is the recovery of a prominent theme of Scripture and the early church.

This recovery suggests an essential shift in the thinking and practice of the Christian churches. Instead of mission from the centre to the margins, mission is proceeding from the margins; those on the margins are the vital and essential agents of mission. Further, the margins are the vibrant centre of God’s presence and work in the world. We have seen this, in so many ways, in the recent history of the churches around the world.

The shift of the spiritual and demographic centre of the church, from Europe and North America, is only one part of the multi-sided change in the life of the church universal. These two shifts in the understanding of mission provide a prophetic challenge to the established churches of a Western cultural framework.

The challenge calls all who bear the name Christian to listen carefully to what God is saying to us from the margins. The renewal of the churches is certainly related, in a fundamental and primary way, to this discernment of God’s voice.

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Mark MacDonald
Archbishop Mark MacDonald is national Indigenous archbishop of the Anglican Church of Canada.


  1. The Christian church grew in the west to the magnamnityof the rich industrial west, which brought also Protestant belief systems in various forms which further increased into more forms when US was born.In the Catholic world of Europe the Church grew among the poor due to the rich there whom sent priests who had to support themselves to bring belief to the poor who lived among them. Then they built hospitals & care systems using single women who took wows of poverty to reach the poor. That is why the Catholic church grew even in countries ruled by Britain , ” whesun never set ” .Now there are Churches growing all over the world coming & growing with the gospel of prosperity They grow because they see the rich US and think it is God’s own country although it was built by slave labour. God said blessed are the poor because they shared of the little they had not the 10% to give away. Mother Theresa of Calcutta was revered in India & given a national state funeral . The west now values entertainment stars more because some among them speak of nature & its value more than religious or political leaders. The old native community speak of the value of nature & the western thinks of it as resource to be exploited, which often causes pollution.


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