The Meeting of the Waters, a new book by Fritz Kling, identifies seven trends having an impact on today’s Global Church. Neither an institution nor a bureaucracy, the global Church is incredibly adaptive and vibrant. It has long been the world’s most effective relief agent, meeting needs across the globe through justice advocacy, material aid, counseling, biblical proclamation, education, and more. But what forces are shaping the global church, and what will it take in this unique place in time for the church to continue its mission of hope? Equal parts travelogue, character study, and global documentary, this breakthrough book seeks to answer these important questions and is written for anyone eager to make a difference in a changing world.
Q: Many ministry leaders know that the world is changing, but they’re not quite sure how to put into words exactly how it has changed and what effect it has on them. How has the world changed, and what effect does it have on us?
A: Much of the change I’ve seen in the ministry world fits in the broad label of globalization. Globalization has many aspects, but one thing it means for sure is that all countries and regions are being affected by the same massive trends, pretty much at the same time. We see this most clearly with epidemics, economic meltdowns, Slumdog Millionaire and the World Cup, and even something as seemingly trivial as a viral YouTube video. The bottom line is that Chongqing and Calcutta look more like Chicago, youth everywhere are more influenced by MTV and the internet than by their youth groups, and all Christian ministries are either enhanced or impeded by these unseen, unrelenting trends. The hundreds of people I interviewed pointed to 7 trends, in particular, that are influencing the global church, and I call them the 7 Global Currents. My years of experience convinced me that Christian leaders have difficulty making the connections between globalization and the challenges and opportunities facing the Kingdom, and my job provided me a perfect excuse to do just that. That’s how The Meeting of the Waters came about.
Q: Depending on whom you’re talking to, Christianity is either in decline or on the rise. Which is it?
A: You’re right. It’s all a matter of which study you choose to believe. My understanding is that Christianity around the world is still growing, but at what rate? And I think that’s a good question to ask, because in a world changing so fast, there is no reason to assume that tomorrow will look like today. So, it makes trend spotters of all of us...which is where The Meeting of the Waters comes in handy. In the U.S., for instance, most experts observe that the moral and religious underpinnings that helped Christianity to thrive in previous generations are shifting or disappearing, and even if a decline in religiosity is not yet obvious it will surely hit us like a ton of bricks in a decade or a generation. The Meeting of the Waters does not provide a one-size-fits-all answer to questions about the rise or decline of Christianity, but rather a flexible tool for folks in different parts of the world to understand, determine, and adapt to the situation in their own locale. In the U.S., Christianity seems to be declining in percentage. In Morocco and China and India, it is booming.
Q: How can ministry leaders best juggle the context of their particular culture with the trends of the culture at large? What wisdom can you give to those who are caught in the middle of past traditions and future progressions?
A: I always feel that I’m on safe ground when I quote Dr. John Stott, and he admonished globally-minded followers of Christ to be “double listeners”—“to listen carefully, both to the ancient Word and to the modern world in order to relate the one to the other with a combination of fidelity and sensitivity...and to avoid the opposite pitfalls of unfaithfulness and irrelevance.” It is difficult and sometimes controversial, but also exciting and terribly important. Some fine fellow Christians are stuck on tried and true approaches to ministry and are too quick to label different approaches as unbiblical or heretical. I think one of the most important things for people who have future vision and a desire for innovation is to constantly help brothers and sisters in Christ (including congregations) to know that, even though we’re pushing the envelope in some ways, we’re not compromising fidelity or orthodoxy. In other words, help them to see how Christians can be double listeners, without being double-minded.
Q: What are the seven trends that are having an impact on Christianity?
A: Mercy. Mutuality. Migration. Monoculture. Machines. Mediation. Memory.
Q: What is the single biggest shift in ministry that today’s churches are facing?
A: I’m not comfortable choosing just one, because various ones or others loom prominent in different countries or cities at different times. That is, after all, one of the most important lessons of The Meeting of the Waters—that Christians in all countries should become adept at recognizing how their country’s Body, and its witness, is being differently affected by global trends. But, since you asked, I will say that the most important Global Current is Mutuality, because it is the necessary foundation for all global ministry work. Mutuality means that believers from traditionally powerful countries (that means Americans and Europeans, for starters) must include and look to Christians from traditionally weaker countries. People from less-developed countries (think India and China) increasingly have education, technology, ability to travel, trained and plentiful workforces...and confidence. Those brothers and sisters also have spiritual experiences and depth that come from generations of suffering and wanting, and as an American I know I need to learn about that. Not only is Mutuality the right choice for Christians, it is increasingly the only choice in our flattening world. And the great news is that it is also fun, for I have found Mutuality to be one of the most thrilling and expanding journeys in my Christian life.
About the author: Fritz Kling has spent the past decade in the heart of the global Church, traveling through villages and cities in every corner of the world. In preparation to writing The Meeting of the Waters, Kling spent a year conducting one hour interviews with more than 150 Christian leaders from 19 developing countries. As a foundation executive, he has worked alongside both high-level leaders and grass-roots workers and has an insider’s story to tell. Fritz and his family live in Richmond, VA.
The Meeting of the Waters by Fritz Kling
David C Cook/March 2010/ISBN: 978-1-4347-6484-3/233 pages/softcover/$16.99