Posted by: Titus Presler | June 15, 2021

ASM missiology gatherings will reflect on holding together difference and multiplicity in mission

The American Society of Missiology’s 2021 Annual Meeting will focus on the theme ‘Hybridity in Mission: Mixed and Multiple Identities in the Missio Dei.’  The conference, June 18-19, will be held via Zoom because of the coronavirus pandemic, following the cancellation of the group’s 2020 conference for the same reason.

Here’s the theme description:

Hybridity, for present purposes, is broadly understood as the bringing and holding together of difference and multiplicity.  It can describe mission workers, the people and places where mission is implemented, and the theories, goals and methods of mission.

Christian mission has often been assumed to be an endeavor carried out by people going from one particular place and group, to people in another particular place and group, with certain well-conceived and well-defined means and ends in mind.  In reality, however, mission can be a hybrid in a variety of ways.  Missionaries may have their origins in more than one community and locale, go to places that are marked by profound internal diversity, and combine (with differing degrees of facility) distinct – even competing – mission ideologies, goals and practices.  The person and missions of the apostle Paul provide good examples of such hybridity.

Hybridity results in various expressions of friction and fusion, of differentiation and combination of contrasting elements in the total mission endeavor.  In addition, this condition of hybridity is often characterized by its own unique forms of vulnerability and pain, of joy and beauty.

The 2021 annual meeting of the American Society of Missiology will explore various ways in which hybridity marks and permeates Christian mission, and how it shapes and influences the total mission endeavor.  It shall pay careful attention to new avenues of mission that are opened up through hybridity broadly conceived, how other avenues are closed off, and how multiple and complex identities entail distinct experiences of suffering and satisfaction.

My own resonance with the theme is in relation to my understanding of the centrality of difference in an understanding of mission.  As some readers will know, I define Christian mission as the activity of sending and being sent, by God and by communities, to bear witness in word and deed across significant boundaries of human social experience to the reconciling action of God in Jesus Christ in the power of the Holy Spirit.  Inclusion of the criterion of crossing boundaries means that when Christians are reaching out beyond who and where they are as communities to encounter and form community with people who are different from themselves – that is when they are distinctively on mission, as distinguished from other expressions of ministry.  In short, mission is ministry in the dimension of difference. 

Where the term hybrid may be helpful is in describing the forms of Christian faith and practice that come into being as Christian gospel is appropriated and transformed in its encounter with culture and religious tradition.  That model of appropriation and transformation is what I use in analyzing how, for instance, Shona people in Zimbabwe appropriated the Christian gospel and transformed it in powerful ways along the lines of their particular receptivity to spirit inspiration and how, conversely, they appropriated their practice of ancestral spirit possession and transformed it into an authentically Christian expression through the Holy Spirit.  (See my book Transfigured Night: Mission and Culture in Zimbabwe’s Vigil Movement.) 

Getting back to the conference title, in my mission scholarship I avoid using the Latin term missio Dei in favor of vernacular versions – in English is simply ‘the mission of God.’  Using the Latin term is unnecessarily obscure and alienating for people who never studied Latin.  Using the vernacular opens up the discussion to people who are not professional missiologists and avoids the tendency of scholars to assign an overly technical meaning to a term, simply by virtue of it being in a foreign language.

The importance of the vernacular was highlighted for me at a mission conference of the Diocese of Amritsar (Church of North India) I attended at Dalhousie in the Himalayas when one activist declared to the group that for him mission mean that ‘Hum bahar jaienge!’, meaning, ‘We will go outside!’ that is, outside the confines of existing Christian communities.  Outside, beyond, crossing boundaries – that is definitional for mission.   

I’ve been asked to present in two settings.  On Friday, June 18, I’ll be part of a panel assessing the recently issued 3rd edition of the World Christian Encyclopedia, published by the University of Edinburgh Press.  Colleagues Todd Johnson and Gina Zurlo of Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary are the authors, continuing the groundbreaking and comprehensive religious demography project begun by David Barrett as an Anglican missionary in Kenya in the 1970s.  Including comprehensive religious data on every country in the world, the encyclopedia is the most authoritative compendium of religious and Christian data in existence.

‘Mission, Persecution, Martyrdom and Meaning-Making: Instructional Strategies and Methods of Interpretation’ is the theme of the closely linked Association of Professors of Mission annual meeting on Thursday, June 17. I’ll present in a panel on persecution, my topic concerning Pakistan.  As many know, I was principal of Edwardes College, Peshawar, 2011-14, and had personal experience of the pressure under which Christians live and work in that Muslim-majority nation that is afflicted with religious extremism. It’s good that persecution and how to address it academically is receiving such focus in the missiological community. 


  1. Titus, Great post! Thanks for sharing. Becky Michelfelder Now appearing at St. Matthew’s, Wheeling, WV

    Sent from my iPhone


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