Reports from around the world are coming in at a rapid rate detailing the amazing growth of believers and church congregations in the Global South. After living overseas in a third-world country for two decades and witnessing first-hand this incredible growth, I can confirm it’s true! These churches in developing and persecution-filled parts of the world are embracing Christ in radical new ways. What are the ideals to which these new church bodies are holding that may be causing this explosive growth? While there certainly is no magic formula to a God-driven movement, in this-two part article we’d like to suggest the Top 10 ways in which Global South churches are excelling and inspiring the Church of the Western World to greater depth and passion for God’s Kingdom on earth today.
Please note! We wholeheartedly acknowledge that the Western Church also embraces many of the following ideals. However, we would like to suggest that the Global South stakes its very existence in these principles and, despite its relative youth, has many valuable things to teach the Western Church, which is in the midst of its own challenges and trials in the 21st century.
1) Commitment to Church Traditions
The Global South values culture, tradition and longevity. They want something that’s going to last. Therefore, many church movements in the developing world are placing a carefully chosen and intentional emphasis on modeling their congregations after the historical Church. They educate themselves in church traditions for the sole purpose of spiritual depth. This often points to a New Testament-like sense of community among believers. It also results in a more liturgical, tradition-based approach to worship and discipleship. The longevity and association with Christians throughout history produces the connection to the historical Church these Global South believers desire.
2) Commitment to Structure
Many cultures in the developing world are hierarchically-based cultures in which people belong to certain classes and live their lives within a clearly defined construct. Therefore, they resonate deeply with the concept of God being a God of order. God has created the world in such a way that humankind has specific roles to play in His kingdom. These roles are based on their position in life and the gifts and abilities God has given them. Within the church, similarly, they follow the same belief of God’s divinely-appointed order and want to be crystal clear regarding their accountability and position in life and in church. Therefore, as they structure their churches, their systems of church governance, and the leadership within their church bodies, they tend to embrace a church hierarchy that reflects this cultural ideal. They know their place, they follow their leaders, and they give God the ultimate authority.
3) Commitment to Absolute Truth
We must tread lightly and carefully when making this point. However, it seems that cultures in the Global South tend to hold firmly to the idea of absolute truth. For these developing nations, Christians (and those of other faiths as well), have standards that remain consistent throughout time. They believe in God-ordained institutions that cannot be destroyed. They hold firmly to biblical truth and do not allow relativism to invade. Yes, there is sin and corruption even in the Church in these nation. But it is seen as exactly that: sin.
The rationalization, blurred lines of absolute truth, and “shades of gray” are lacking in the developing world. In these nations, believers cling to the fact that God has created us all male and female, marriage between a man and a woman is sacred, and we all have individual roles to play in the growth of the church today. Is there a commitment to absolute truth in the West? Certainly. However, the hope derived from this commitment seems so much greater in cultures around the world where, in places of severe persecution for the Christian faith, the stakes of believing Jesus is the only way are so much higher. We can certainly find inspiration in this commitment to standing for the things in which we believe.
4) Desire to Interpret Scripture in their Context
For centuries, the Bible has been interpreted and applied to the lives of believers by the Western World in their context and culture. This makes perfect sense since nations of the West have traditionally been the first to embrace Christ. However, the Global South is maturing in their own faith. As they do, they want to take their Scripture knowledge to a deeper, culturally-relevant level. Even while maintaining the absolute truth of the Scripture, we are seeing theologians from the Global South bringing fresh, new insights to the study of the Scriptures, seeing the Bible and its truths from their perspective. This is causing growth in the Global South Church, and perhaps the Western Church can also learn from these new understandings emerging from a diverse set of cultures from all around the world.
5) Desire to Cover Shame and Embrace Love in the Midst of Sin
Perhaps one of the most culturally-based and yet inspiring ways the Western World can learn from the Global South Church is in the way they deal with sin. In the Western World, we are extremely proficient in confronting those caught in sin. The West is good at both confronting in love, and, sadly, condemning them to a life outside the Church. Love comes in the form of counseling or recovery care and is often very genuine but perhaps comes at the end of the cycle of sin and repentance.
The Global South Church deals with sin in an entirely different way. Since most of these national churches exist within a “shame and honor” culture, their first response to sin and reconciliation is covering the shame of the person in sin, overwhelming them with love and care despite agreeing with them that their actions were wrong. There are real consequences of sinful actions. However, those consequences are meted out in an atmosphere of love and restoration to community. It is this love in challenging personal times that is drawing more and more people to the God who created love and also created a way to be reconciled to Himself.
Today, we continue in our series examining ways the Global South Church is inspiring churches of the West with their ideals as they grow and mature at a rapid rate.
6) Kingdom Mindset, Holistic View of Spiritual Life
In the Global North Church, we are extremely adept at compartmentalizing the various areas of our lives. We have work life, and we have church life. We have friends, and we have families. We have church, and we have state. Life is quite different in the Global South. They believe all of life is interconnected and is highly spiritual. They see each holistic part of life as a way in which the Church of Jesus Christ can build God’s Kingdom on earth in the present day. Their work becomes their worship. Their churches actively speak out on politics and religion. They lack a sense of Sabbath since they are so invested in using every minute of every day to glorify God. The Church cares for the whole person, and thus, the church is attractive to non-believers in a way that is producing massive growth.
7) Embracing the Active Work of the Holy Spirit
They’ve seen it! The Holy Spirit is alive and well and at work in their culture. Because God is their only source of help in this world, they depend on the Holy Spirit to meet them where they are in life. They pray for their child to be healed? They receive healing. Their buffalo isn’t producing milk? They pray and God sends an abundance. Worship services are filled with the passion of those who’ve come face to face with the Spirit and now want to glorify the name of Jesus. Their cultures embrace the Spirit and evoke a freshness into the scriptures and traditions of old. God has sent his Spirit, and it is drawing people of the Global South to Him.
8) Inter-Generational Fellowship and Church Growth
Another hallmark of relationship-oriented cultures is the value they give to all generations. They have a deep respect for the old, valuing the life experience they’ve gained and honoring them as elders in the community. In the same way, these cultures embrace the passion of the young. They allow the young to be excited, to make mistakes, to learn life on their terms. Those in mid-life take their responsibilities for caring for the old and rearing the young very seriously. They are the breadwinners and the faith leaders. This approach to the generations makes an enormous amount of room in the Church of the developing world for all people of all ages. And those people of all ages are flocking to Jesus because of it.
9) Community-Based Outlook
All of the preceding points stem largely from the relationship-oriented, community-based outlook of the Global South. While there is richness in the individualization of the Western Church, being community-based embraces all parts of the family, all parts of society with supportive care and a sense of built-in accountability. They look after one another’s children, bring meals in time of need, and pray for one another unceasingly. They contribute to the running of the church with anything that they have, whether it be food, skills or cash. These churches embrace new people with a sense of unprecedented love and belonging. The enfolding of people into the church is automatic. Exponential growth seems to be the outcome.
10) Need for God and the Hope of Jesus Seems Greater
Facing the facts, we can easily see that the Global South or the developing world is comprised of some of the poorest nations and most-needy cultures anywhere in the world. The rampant poverty, death and disease is overwhelming. Where can people suffering from these conditions turn for help? Jesus is often their only source of help as He is represented in the Church. In Christ, they can find relief from the discrimination they are facing. In the Living God, they have their dignity restored. They believe their only hope is in Jesus. Therefore, the Church is a place of victory for them. Their passion is increased as a result. That passion for Christ and His provision is contagious. Those who realize God is their strength and their portion, flock to His Church and His people. The Global South Church is truly on the move today.
BONUS: Patience in the midst of trial and tribulation
One of the hallmarks of relationship-based cultures is their uncanny ability to pray and wait in the midst of horrific circumstances. Whether it be poverty, marriage, abuse or schooling, Global South believers are ready to wait on God. Because of a lack of time-orientation, they do not run after quick fixes. They generally leave the miracles of life to God and tend not to take matters into their own hands. This patience is often rewarded in the sweetest of ways, as the Church of the developing world sees God work in His time and in His way. Oh, that we in the West would also grasp this glorious quality, and may the Lord truly teach us to wait.