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The Rev. Dr. Hunter Farrell, the former director of Presbyterian World Mission, shares how congregations can decolonize mission efforts


Farrell, who co-wrote the book ‘Freeing Congregational Mission,’ is a guest on ‘Leading Theologically’

January 7, 2023

The Rev. Dr. Hunter Farrell (Photo courtesy of Pittsburgh Theological Seminary)

Together with the Rev. S. Balajiedlang Khyllep, a colleague at Pittsburgh Theological Seminary’s World Mission Initiative, the Rev. Dr. Hunter Farrell has written a book to help congregations decolonize their mission outreach. Farrell, the former director of Presbyterian World Mission, was the recent guest of the Presbyterian Foundation’s the Rev. Dr. Lee Hinson-Hasty on the broadcast “Leading Theologically.” Listen to their half-hour conversation here or here.

In “Freeing Congregational Mission: A Practical Vision for Companionship, Cultural Humility and Co-Development,” published last year by InterVarsity Press, the authors deliver what the book jacket describes as “key takeaways from the latest research, inspiration from innovative congregations and a complete set of step-by-step tools” to help “free congregational mission from harmful cultural forces so churches can better partner with God’s work in the world.”

The authors offer up three core elements congregations can use:

  • A Christ-centered theology of mission rooted in companionship
  • An appetite and competence to engage across differences with cultural humility
  • Thoughts and struggles to accompany local and global neighbors in co-development.

“The book begins with talking about how Christians have always been generous,” Hinson-Hasty told Farrell. “It’s how we use that generosity.”

“Part of this is I can’t point a finger in judgment,” Farrell responded. Doing that means “four fingers are pointing back at myself.”

However, “we can deconstruct the flow of white supremacy. If we don’t name it and address that, we get pulled off course by the cultural current of systemic racism and white supremacy,” Farrell said.

Nearly 2 million American Christians annually participate in a short-term domestic or international mission trip, which typically cost about $1,000 per traveler. Why continue that model, when churches can instead invest mission funds in the work of long-term mission co-workers and global partners?

Many travelers report that short-term mission trips transform them, the book states. The authors point instead to the importance of forming long-term relationships, and Khyllep includes a seven-item toolkit based on WMI research on mission outreach by churches in many Protestant denominations as well as Roman Catholics.

“I see so many assumptions from the colonial era,” Farrell said, referring to traditional mission work, where adherents claim to know “what’s best for the developing world.”

“I see those strings of systemic racism and white supremacy that formed some of my assumptions,” Farrell said. For him, the response is “the need to be in continual repentance” and to “listen to our global and local partners and the neighbors over which we fly to get to our global partners. I think it’s a massively important conversation, and that’s part of the reason we wrote the book.”

The authors frame participation in God’s mission “as a theology of companionship. It’s about mutual accompaniment,” Farrell said. “Partners from the margins, both local and global, can more clearly see what God’s mission is in that place.”

When mission work is done in a more top-down way, “we say folks need to become more Western and think like us and ascend to white theologies,” Farrell said. “In fact, the flow of God’s mission is from the ground up. It’s Jesus on his knees,” serving his disciples by washing their feet and by praying for them.

The authors heard from friends as far apart as the Democratic Republic of Congo and Peru that they much preferred people engaged in mission from the U.S. who “share stories of the mighty acts of God in your life,” according to Farrell. Too often, “we don’t give an accounting of our testimony.”

Farrell offered this blessing to end the broadcast: “May the Lord grant each of us the courage to step beyond the circle, to venture into the uncomfortable conversation, the challenge and the opportunity to share God’s grace in Jesus Christ with the world — and have that grace shared with us. Amen.”

Mike Ferguson, Editor, Presbyterian News Service

Today’s Focus: Rev. Dr. Hunter Farrell

Let us join in prayer for:

PC(USA) Agencies’ Staff
Gad Mpoyo, Associate, Southeast Region, 1001 New Worshiping Communities, Presbyterian Mission Agency
Ronnika Muhammad, Payroll Specialist, Administrative Services Group (A Corp)

Let us pray

Lord God, light of the minds that know you, life of the souls that love you and strength of the hearts that serve you, help us to know you that we may truly love you, and so to love you that we may fully serve you, whose service is perfect freedom, through Christ our Lord. Amen.

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