Shaping the Church of the Future: The Diaspora Effect

Lorna Johnston /Thursday, January 30, 2020


Outreach Canada’s stated purpose for existing as a ministry is to accelerate the fulfilling of the Great Commission (Matthew 28:18-20) through the Body of Christ. We exist to serve and mobilize the church because we believe the mission of God will be accomplished only as the Church makes it their prime objective—God’s mission is central to the existence and the flourishing of the Church.

A recent internal reorganization at Outreach Canada led to the formal recognition of a growing, informal reality—Diaspora ministry has been a growing focus that needs to be both acknowledged and affirmed.

What is Diaspora?

Diaspora is a term that describes people who are scattered—settled far from their historical homelands. This scattering and displacement is a global reality today, whether it occurs voluntarily (e.g. international students, economic migration) or involuntarily (e.g. refugees).

Many of us have mixed feelings about the changes that diaspora movements have brought to the world and to our neighbourhood--there is no question that it represents both challenges and opportunities.

Resist, Tolerate or Embrace?

For those of us who love and follow Jesus Christ, a question we must settle in our own hearts is whether this global migration is something we resist, or at best tolerate, in the face of the powerful forces of global economics and politics, or is it rather something we embrace, recognizing that it is accomplishing God’s mission purpose to redeem his world?

The answer to this polarity becomes a powerful motivator for how we live out our day-to-day reality.

Not an Accident

Luke, documenting Paul’s ministry, records a speech Paul gave to the intellectuals of the day gathered at the Areopagus in Athens. You can read the whole account in Acts 17:16-34, but the core message can be found in verses 24-27:

“The God who made the world and everything in it is the Lord of heaven and earth and does not live in temples built by human hands. And he is not served by human hands, as if he needed anything. Rather, he himself gives everyone life and breath and everything else. From one man he made all the nations, that they should inhabit the whole earth; and he marked out their appointed times in history and the boundaries of their lands. God did this so that they would seek him and perhaps reach out for him and find him, though he is not far from any one of us…”

According to Paul, the boundaries of the peoples of the earth are determined by God in order that they can seek and find him.

It is not a global accident caused by economics and politics—somehow God is mixing the different ethnic groups together in order to accomplish his mission purposes.

Now the question we must ask ourselves is whether we will cooperate with or resist what God is doing. Cooperating with God’s purposes requires us to think more carefully about the complexities of engaging with the Diaspora.

Our Responses to those from Differing Religious Worldviews

Some diaspora arrive in Canada with differing religious worldviews, often having come from countries where the opportunity to explore other perspectives has been severely restricted.

Will we respectfully offer them our real and honest friendship which naturally comes with a different perspective and the opportunity to explore our worldview?

This will take time and an investment in deep and meaningful relationships. We will need to learn to relate to people who think differently than us, and to articulate our worldview in a way that is both clear and respectful.

Our Responses to those who have chosen to follow Jesus

Some of the diaspora who have arrived have discovered and are following Jesus Christ. They are now deeply invested in sharing their faith with their family and friends.

Will we delight in getting to know our new-found Family and pray for and encourage them to be both bold and winsome in their witness?

Will we rejoice when we see fellowships emerging that worship Jesus from a cultural perspective that is unfamiliar and perhaps even strange to us?

Will we wrestle with them when they face issues of belonging to two cultures?

Our Responses to Christ-following Communities

Some diaspora groups have mature and established Christ-following communities.

Will we challenge and encourage them to go beyond their own cultural group to share the hope of their faith with people from a different culture?

Will we help them wrestle with the complexities of crossing cultural barriers—learning together about cross-cultural friendships?

Diaspora groups struggle with passing their worldview and values on to the next generation—just as we do.

Will we care for their children the way we care for ours?

Will we wrestle with these issues and find ways to integrate and support their bi-cultural children into Christian community and fellowship, while encouraging the honoring of ties and allegiances that rightfully belong to their parents and extended community?

Our Responses to those who are Sent

Perhaps surprisingly some Christian communities elsewhere in the world are deliberately sending mission workers to Canada—seeing our country as a mission field the way theirs was in a previous generation.

Will we welcome and walk alongside those whom God is sending to our neighbourhoods from elsewhere, sent because of the gospel to be Kingdom witnesses in our midst?

Will we listen to their perspective and allow them to challenge our assumptions about what it means to be a faithful follower of Jesus Christ?

Will we work shoulder-to-shoulder with those from other cultures, our brothers and sisters who love and worship Jesus Christ? Will we learn from them?

Will we let them challenge us in areas where we have become a little too comfortable with our culture?

Will we let them lead us?

Will we work towards deep, abiding unity in the Body of Christ—unity that overcomes the cultural and linguistic barriers that work to keep us apart?

Unity is a powerful witness to the watching world, that demonstrates that Jesus is head of his Body, the Church—the beautiful, diverse, and complex Church that represents all the languages, cultures and nations of the world.

Already Lots Hapenning!

It is for all these reasons that Outreach Canada has been developing a Diaspora Ministry focus including:

  • Offering the Kairos Course (in 7 languages) to help alert and mobilize local churches to the cross-cultural opportunities all around
  • Collaborative ministries focused on bridging Christian communities together across cultures
  • Initiatives focused on engaging the least-reached in our country

There’s already lots happening!

The call to faithful witness in the complexities of our context will require us to reconsider and relearn what it means to follow Jesus Christ in these days.

If we are willing to wrestle with these challenges and questions, we may well find our lives deeply transformed, our hearts enlarged by our diaspora friends, coworkers, and partners in the Gospel and glory going to Jesus Christ as more find their way into his global Kingdom.


Lorna Johnston is the Diaspora Ministries Leader at Outreach Canada. She leads two national teams--Loving Muslims Together (LMT) and Simply Mobilizing Canada (SMC). She works with teams of diverse and experienced leaders and ministries across Canada to alert and activate the church in Canada to the changing opportunities to engage God's mission right here in Canada.



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