For the Professionals?
From the early nineteenth century, mission societies were the bearers of mission from Norway to the non-Christian nations. Norwegian mission in terms of missionaries and funds for mission became the world champion when compared to the size of the Norwegian population. In that sense, mission in Norwegian clothing was a prime example of the strategic perspectives expressed at the Edinburgh World Missionary Conference in 1910.
Mission was here a matter for the professionals and therefore the responsibility of missionary societies. Local congregations within the Church of Norway were expected to support with prayer and funds and with recruits for the missionary movement. The state Church, as such, could not be involved in mission. Its task was a continued Christianization.
Up Comes the Local Church
Since then, a new pattern has emerged on the global scene and on the Norwegian scene. The local church has slowly begun to take centre stage as the primary instrument of mission. Where God’s people gather locally for worship and witness, they are the footprints of the global Church, mirroring the “catholic” and “apostolic” character of a church for all and sent to all.
In this way, an understanding has been growing that Christian communities should be characterized by the universal while celebrating their particularity in their own context. All mission is in that sense the coming together of local and global.
But what do we then do with the missionary structures—the go-structures of the mission societies? In the Norwegian setting a joint council for congregation and mission has brought together around the same table the go-structures and the come-structures (local churches) in order for the two to join hands.
Mission societies have linked up with local churches in new, concrete ways (links between local congregations and congregations in the former “mission fields,” exchange visits, sister congregations praying for one another), and local churches have in some/many places come to see themselves as “missional” in their own context.
A few years ago this council actually took the initiative to set in motion an imaginative project on “The Church in Movement” to plant the key concepts of missional practice in dioceses and local congregations. At the same time the missionary band, as we know it all the way from Paul and Barnabas in Antioch up to the voluntary mission societies of the nineteenth and twentieth centuries, remains an integral part of “being” church.
But the shift has implied major challenges for the established go-structures in terms of finding their new roles, forms, and identities. Most are going through a time of crisis to find their feet financially and conceptually.
Local churches are also in the midst of a troubled paradigm shift: since Christendom came to Norway, the basic structure of the church has been, and still is, the parish structure. In some places (e.g., in the countryside and villages), this may still be an appropriate structure. The parish structure, however, grew up alongside the notion of Corpus Christianum, where the church was wedded to the holders of power.
The church became a pastoral institution adopting the shape of society’s structure with parochial churches and a division between clerici (priest) and idiotes (lay people). Even whilst the parish structure remained dominant, there have always been alternate models with greater focus on the small community, such as “prayer houses,” local lay fellowships of believers, and house churches.
Change Emerges through Immigration
Today, the Constantinian model of Corpus Christianum and of parish structures is rapidly heading for change. The state Church may be dismantled in a few years and new church structures will emerge. Already there are a number of examples of experiments with new forms and structures, often initiated by missionaries returning from service abroad.
And we see house churches emerge. Using the images of clan, synagogue, and temple, one might say that the house church is the clan living together in a small hamlet and local communities in the countryside; the synagogue is a community where the smaller groups gather regularly; and the temple is the site of larger scale celebration where the many come together. Such emerging “mixed economy” models grow up in cities and suburban areas in Norway.
Norwegian society was, for centuries, a homogeneous culture and a country with Lutherans constituting the overwhelming majority. Today, the rapidly growing number of immigrants has also made Norway a multicultural and multi-religious society. A substantial number of these immigrants are Christians from Africa (Ethiopia, Tanzania, Nigeria) and Asia (Myanmar, China, Philippines). Probably one-third of churchgoers in Oslo on any given Sunday are immigrants. This is a good illustration of how the global comes to the local.
This reverse trend in mission now offers the old heartlands of Christianity a model for renewal and calls for a structural reform of the churches in Norway to grapple with the challenges of migration. There is a long way to go before the churches in Norway “see” and “discover” the new Christians in their midst and begin to consider them “fellow labourers for Christ” and not just strange and exotic bedfellows.
This process has started and migrant churches and leaders are increasingly realising the challenge to become a source of inspiration and renewal in the Norwegian setting of often stale church life. Here we are not talking about inspiration in terms of rhythmic dancing and hand-clapping. Rather, the local church in Norway needs the vitality, the brokenness, the spirituality, and the understanding of primal religious power from Christians in the global South.
Renewal of churches in the West is possible, and the most important way is likely to “go global.” From the churches in the global South we may hear the gospel in a new tone and witnessed by new voices. We may have the churches in the global South demonstrate the strength of the local congregation as an agent of evangelism.
Adopting a Missionary Stance
The dream is to bring together the missionary focus on the specific mission activities of the church and the missional related to the nature of the church, as being sent by God to the world. This “marriage” is being tested in various forms in Norway, by mission societies, churches, and local congregations.
The dream finds expression in a desire to see congregations in both the North and the South become missional. Impacting the world begins with local congregations giving up Christendom assumptions and adopting a missionary stance both within their own culture and cross-culturally. Missional congregations pray both for renewal within their community and in the marketplace.
In local congregations, missional structures are created that go beyond the hierarchies of the past and provide a balance between worship, community, and mission at all levels of church life—in cells, Bible study groups, fresh expressions like café churches and sub-churches, and a growing interest in retreats and Taize.
The dream is to see every member being motivated and equipped to take his or her role in inspiring, encouraging, and equipping local believers, as God’s people turn inward (centripetal movement) in order to turn outward (centrifugal movement).