Being a ‘Glocal’ Preacher

All of us who are involved in regular preaching and pastoring know that preaching does not occur in a vacuum, but is a contextual event.  Authentic preaching must faithfully bridge the gap between the sacred text and the local context.  This is a challenge which all preachers of the gospel face.  However, today the forces of globalization have created a new situation where there is no such thing as a mere local context.  Today, every local context is informed by the larger global context.  In short, whether we like it or not we preach within the larger context of globalization.  Globalization has been summarized as a “complex connectivity”[1] whereby local events and social relationships are influenced and shaped by distant events.  This “complex connectivity” has influenced every sphere of life, including, politics, social relationships, economics, technology, science, culture and religion.  Today, even if you are the pastor of a small church in Kansas, you still cannot think about your ministry apart from the larger global context.  Whether it is our use of cell phones or chat rooms or drinking Starbucks coffee, we are participants in globalization.
This new context requires that all preachers become ‘glocal’ preachers.  The word ‘glocal’ is a combination of the words local and global.  The word glocal was first coined with a distinctively Christian application by Roland Robertson in 1995, but was quickly picked up and used by others.[2] It reflects the need for pastoral practice to be both local and global at the same time.  How can you best become a glocal preacher?  There are several things which every pastor needs to know to effectively live and minister in this new global context.
For over 1,000 years Christian demographic growth was increasingly western among European and European descent peoples of the world.  In fact, by the turn of the 19th century all of the Protestant Christians in all of Asia, Africa and Latin America combined only amounted to 1% of the world’s Protestants.  This long-standing dominance of Western people-groups began to wane in the 20th century, so that today 67% of the world Christian movement lies outside the West.  The new heartlands of Christianity are in Africa, Asia and Latin America, not in North America or Western Europe.  Today there are 367 million Christians in Africa (up from 9 million in 1900), 60 million in India (expected to be ¼ of a billion Christians by 2050) and nearly 100 million Christians in China (growing by 20,000 people per day!).  Since the time of the 16th century Reformation a Western Christian naturally envisioned themselves at the center of the world Christian movement.  Missions was about the “West reaching the Rest.”  We were at the center and the mission field lay at the periphery, outside the West.  However, as Philip Jenkins has pointed out in his popular, bestselling book, The Next Christendom, all of this has now changed.   For example, during the period from 1970 to 1985 the Church in Africa grew on average by 16,500 people every single day.  Today’s growth is closer to 20,000 per day.  In contrast, during the same period from 1970 to 1985, the church in N. America and Western Europe, the traditional heartlands of Christianity, lost 4,300 per day.[3] Western Christians need to recalibrate their thinking to see themselves as a part of a larger, global movement which is extremely vibrant and growing.   As preachers of the gospel we can no longer afford to preach in a way which assumes that the Western church represents normative Christianity and the rest of the world is the “mission field.”  We must find regularly ways to help our congregations re-situate themselves within the new global context.  This means we must nurture this heightened sense of “complex connectvitiy.”  This does not mean that we do not encourage our members to go out into the world. On the contrary, to be truly ‘glocal’ we must continue to network around the world and celebrate our connectivity, but we go out with an increased awareness that there are many Asian and African and Latino Christians who will be there to meet us and who are also burdened to reach their own for Jesus Christ.
Beginning in the mid 1960’s the new Immigration Act dramatically changed who was immigrating into the United States.  Today, our communities are made up of people from all over the world.  The United States is the only country in the world with people from every other country in the world living here.  The fastest growing groups becoming Christians in America are the peoples from the non-western world.  It is not unusual in the urban areas to find struggling mainline churches who meet at 11:00, but who rent their spacious facilities to Korean or Chinese or Latino immigrants who fill the churches in Sunday afternoon or Sunday night.  One of the best ways we can reach the world for Christ is to recognize that the world is now all around us, literally just a few steps from our own doors.  John Wesley famously once declared that “the world is my parish.”  He was reminding his generation that we have a responsibility to preach the gospel to the entire world.  Today, we should re-phrase Wesley’s famous statement, and declare that “the world is in my parish.”
According to the 2001 edition of the World Christian Encyclopedia, there are over 34,000 distinct denominations in the world today.  You may see yourself as part of the Presbyterian Church of America or Southern Baptist or some other identifiable confession.  There is nothing wrong with this identity, as long as we see our place within the larger Christian movement.  In an increasingly secularized world, shaped by the forces of globalization, we must recognize that our “micro-identities” must be seen in the context of our larger “macro-identity” as members of a global Christian movement.  As a ‘local’ Christian we may be a member of a particular movement, but as a ‘global’ Christian, we belong to a world-wide community of those who confess Jesus Christ as Lord.  We have to learn how to live with these creative tensions and allow the Holy Spirit to help us find ways to express our particularity as members of a distinct community of Christians within the larger context of our universality as members of the Body of Christ.

[1]John Tomlinson, Globalization and Culture (Chicago:  University of Chicago Press, 1999), 2.
[2] Roland Robertson, “Globalization, Modernization and postmodernization:  The Ambiguous Position of Religion,” in Religion and Global Order, ed., Roland Robertson and William Garrett, eds., (New York:  Paragon, 1991), 281-291.
[3] Lamin Sanneh, Whose Religion is Christianity?:  The Gospel Beyond the West (Grand Rapids:  Eerdmans, 2003), 15.  Elizabeth Isichei says that the number leaving the church in the West was 7,500 per day.  See, Elizabeth Isichei, A History of Christianity in Africa (Grand Rapids:  Eerdmans, 1995), 1.


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