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Missions Disrupted: From Professional Missionaries to Missional Professionals

19 April 2024 By Ken Burton

An extended review of a 2022 book by Larry W. Sharp

Note: Our print issue contains a shorter version of this review. Faith Today welcomes your thoughts on any of our reviews. We also welcome suggestions of other Canadian Christian books to review: Contact us.

Book by Larry W. Sharp. Hendrickson, 2022. 272 pages. $30 (e-book $33)

Reading this book challenged me to find a way to live in the liminal space of confidently moving forward into my future as a businessperson who transitioned from the professional clergy. My theological training equipped me to promote the traditional view of missions; my current life challenges me to live as a missional professional.

In an era where traditional missionary models are facing unprecedented challenges, Sharp presents a compelling vision for the future of global missions. Sharp, a former missionary executive who lives in Seattle, has a PhD from the University of Calgary and teaches business management at Multnomah University, argues that disruptive forces have rendered the era of professional missions increasingly difficult to sustain, and calls instead for a shift toward missional professionalism.

This paradigm shift emphasizes Christians engaging with the world through their professional vocations, living out their faith in the everyday spheres of business, education, healthcare and beyond. Sharp's call for missional professionalism is both timely and grounded in a well-articulated theological understanding of business as mission that challenges some of the assumptions that may be hindering the Church's missional impact.

One of the most refreshing aspects of this book is its firm foundation in the missio dei, the understanding that mission is ultimately God's work. Sharp emphasizes that Christians, regardless of their professional roles, are called to participate in God's mission of redeeming and reconciling the world.

This perspective combined with disruptive innovation theory frees Christians from the limiting stereotypes that too often constrain missional thinking. It dispels the idea that missions is solely the domain of ordained clergy or those gifted in overt evangelism. Instead, by embracing God's activity in the world, any vocation can and should be a platform for expressing Christ's love and participating in His redemptive purposes.

Sharp supports this theological perspective with credible research, exploring contemporary trends that highlight the difficulty of sustaining traditional missionary approaches in many parts of the world. Political and religious restrictions, rising costs and a growing distrust of Western intervention pose significant challenges to sending missionaries in the conventional sense.

This is not merely a call for pragmatism. Sharp is keenly aware the Church must not abandon its missional calling due to these hardships. His proposed solution is a return to a vision of the Church as inherently missional, with every believer equipped and empowered.

A key strength of this book lies in the inspiring case studies of missional professionals. These are men and women working in fields as diverse as agriculture, manufacturing and technology, authentically living out their faith in crosscultural settings. These stories offer a glimpse into the practicalities of missions in a world where explicitly religious activity may be limited. They illuminate how seemingly ordinary jobs open doors for building relationships, sharing the gospel through acts of kindness and service, and modeling Christ-centred values.

Despite its many strengths, this book could benefit from a more thorough exploration of a couple concerns. Firstly, there is the potential for misunderstanding the concept of missional professionalism. Sharp is careful to stress that this is not about hiding one's faith or engaging in bait-and-switch tactics. However, some readers may need further guidance on how to avoid either minimizing the importance of their faith or adopting a triumphalist attitude that focuses on professional success rather than Kingdom advancement.

Secondly, while Sharp rightly acknowledges the need for humility and respect, more nuanced discussion is needed on how missional professionals can balance power dynamics that are inescapable in the global marketplace. Considerations around privilege, economic exploitation and cultural imperialism are complex yet vital in pursuing holistic and ethical crosscultural witness.

Overall this book is a thought-provoking and much-needed contribution to the ongoing discussions around the future of mission. Sharp offers a compelling vision grounded in solid theology, backed by real-life examples, and acknowledges potential pitfalls.

This book is an essential read for denominational leaders, pastors, missions leaders and any Christian seeking to faithfully engage in God's redemptive work through their daily lives. It equips and inspires ordinary Christians to step into the adventure of missional living – an adventure no longer bound by geographic borders but found in the very heart of where we work, live, and interact with our global community.

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