Newbigin's shift — from a traditional to a movements paradigm

 
Lesslie Newbigin

Lesslie Newbigin

I was compelled to ask myself whether it is really true that the Church’s obedience to the Great Commission is intended to be contingent upon the accident of a budgetary surplus.
— Lesslie Newbigin

Lesslie Newbigin was one of the great missionary statesmen of the 20th Century. He spent much of his life in India. He began with a tradition paradigm of ministry that relied on foreign workers, funding and supervision. He soon discovered its limitations.

I have lived and worked as a missionary within the structure typical of modern missions, responsible for the conduct of institutions, for the supervision of Indian workers, for the employment and control of teachers and others in charge of congregations. I have seen this system come to a practical standstill: funds were not available to increase the number of salaried workers. ... Only if some fresh resources came from ‘home’ could the mission become a mission again. As it was, it was plain that any talk of ‘winning India for Christ’ was not serious. I was compelled to ask myself whether it is really true that the Church’s obedience to the Great Commission is intended to be contingent upon the accident of a budgetary surplus.

Rather than fix what was broken, Newbigin became a careful observer of what God was doing on the fringes.

The answer came through various experiences. Firstly, through seeing how ordinary lads from village congregations ... could themselves become active witnesses and evangelists among their comrades. Secondly, through learning to call on the services of all kinds of lay men and women as volunteer pastors and evangelists for the village congregations left without the guidance of a full-time worker. And thirdly, most decisively, through the experience of a small group-movement in a very backward area where the Gospel had only recently been preached for the first time. ...

Here’s what happened next…

the churches began to multiply themselves by a kind of spontaneous growth which was not dependent upon increasing outside resources. In an area almost entirely pagan, the number of Christian congregations rose from thirteen to fifty-five in twelve years. ... In the midst of a movement of this kind, one could speak seriously about winning India for Christ.

Lesslie Newbigin, Trinitarian Doctrine for Today’s Mission (London: Paternoster Press, 1998), 74-77.