Module 1, Assignment 2
Theology of Mission
by Paul Hazelden
Student’s name: College number:
Paul Hazelden 910006
Ministry in Contemporary Society
Staff member to whom submitted:
Rev. Dr. Peter K. Stevenson
Theology of Mission
I confirm that this work is the result of my own independent work/investigation and that it has not been submitted towards any other academic award at Spurgeon’s College or at any other institution.
“Identify and defend the significant elements in your theology of Christian mission, and explain the ways in which you seek to express this theology in your practice of ministry.”
Identifying the significant elements in my theology of Christian mission is relatively straightforward. In summary, I believe Christian mission is about:
· Who we are: followers of Jesus and children of God.
· How we live: the methods and techniques we use.
· Where we are going: the Kingdom of God is both a present reality and a future destination.
However, these three points are too complex to function as ‘elements’ and need to be broken down into their key parts; also, it is generally the case that the task of identifying must also include an amount of explaining how I interpret that element.
As I understand it, the task of defending the significant elements in my theology of Christian mission must involve the following aspects.
· Explaining why I believe each significant element to be significant. Where this seems necessary, I do so as part of my description and interpretation.
· The elements of my theology are only present because they fit into a wider framework of doctrine and practice. While the question does not explicitly ask about this framework, I need to briefly identify some other frameworks, the rejection of which plays a significant part in my choice of significant elements.
· Some further explanation is needed as to why I have left out some other elements other people consider to be significant.
Finally, the description of how I seek of express this theology is to be understood in the context of my work at Crisis Centre Ministries.
Christian mission must be about the mission of the Christ. Jesus had a mission, and if we choose to follow Him, then we accept His mission as our own. All the other elements of my theology of mission flow out of this one.
We are not called to exercise the same ministry as Jesus, but His practice of ministry is to be normative for us: “our task is simply to imitate him” even though what He did was “unique, climactic, decisive” [Wright, 2000:140].
Since a commitment to Jesus is also a commitment to His mission, this mission must take a primary, central and inescapable place in our lives.
Primary, because Jesus consistently called people to give Him the primary place in their lives. The earliest creed was probably the simplest: ‘Jesus is Lord’: He is our absolute master. We may choose whether or not we follow Jesus, but if we follow, we cannot choose to opt out of any aspect or area of discipleship. (Despite our missionary recruitment strategies, He did not say “If you feel really enthusiastic, you may want to consider going into all the world…”)
Central, because following Jesus has a determining influence on all other aspects of our lives.
Inescapable, because there is only one category of membership. Traditionally, the Church has been divided into doers and watchers: clergy and laity, priests and people; but there is no (justifiable) basis for this in the New Testament. We each have different roles to play, but we are all called to work towards achieving the same goal.
Incarnation and crucifixion go together. God consistently works through incarnation. When He wants to do something, He becomes present in a human being. And in that human life, His power is made perfect in weakness.
The cross is vital, but it can only be properly understood in the context of the incarnation. Our mission is primarily about God being present for people. He is present for people because He is present in His people. “Incarnational community action” [Green, 2001: 31, 55] is the only form of authentically Christian community action.
The incarnation is central to NT doctrine and practice. John 3:16 is about the incarnation. Jesus’ pivotal discourse after the Last Supper is a meditation on the meaning and importance of incarnation: “Abide in me”. Paul’s letters can be seen as explorations of what it means to be ‘in Christ.’
“It is impossible to stress too strongly that the beginning of mission is not an action of ours but the presence of a new reality, the presence of the Spirit of God in power.” [Newbigin, 1989:119] The ‘new reality’ became present in Jesus through the incarnation, and the giving of the Spirit is also linked to the incarnation: “‘as the Father has sent Me, I also send you.’ And when He had said this, He breathed on them and said to them, ‘Receive the Holy Spirit.”’ (John 20:21-22, NASB)
We tend to focus on the external details of activities and strategies and doctrines. In considering Jesus, the most important things to note are not what He said or what He did, but who He was, and the relationship He had with his Father. His entire ministry flowed from this self-understanding and relationship. Wright’s assessment of Jesus’ self-understanding as a key issue is largely accepted, even by his critics – see, for example, Bock in [Newman, 1999: 110].
Not only Jesus’ ministry but also the whole of the New Testament is primarily about relationships. Doctrines matter because they affect how we live, and how we live matters because it affects our relationships.
Jesus summarises the law of Moses in terms of two relationships: love God, and love your neighbour. The atonement is important because it restores a broken relationship: “you are no longer strangers and aliens, but… of God’s household” (Ephesians 2:19).
Perhaps most significantly, we see in the John 20:21 text quoted above that Jesus “makes his own relationship with the Father the basic paradigm for the disciples’ relationship with Jesus in the pursuit of their mission.” [Kostenberger & O’Brien 2001: 260]
I take it as self-evident that the Kingdom of God, however we are to understand this concept, was central to both Jesus’ preaching and His wider mission.
Jesus’ own ministry was about encountering other people and serving them in appropriate ways. His focus was not primarily on His own spiritual life and health (although these things clearly did matter to Him) but on the concerns and needs of the people around Him – both His disciples and those who did not follow Him.
There is no suggestion in the Gospels that Jesus was trying to impose a pre-defined agenda on the people He met. He returned to some key themes and issues many times in his ministry, and at times He used encounters with individuals as an example or teaching aid (“See this child?”), but He never used the individual.
Jesus saw His own role as that of a servant (Luke 22: 27), and always put the needs of the people He met before his own agenda of teaching and demonstrating the Kingdom.
In modern terms, Jesus exercised a ‘holistic’ ministry: his activity was neither purely focussed on the spiritual (preaching and praying) nor on the physical (feeding and healing). This sounds simple and obvious, but it is not simple in practice, and I have encountered many Evangelical Christian who do not believe that this aspect of His ministry is normative for us.
Jesus and the Apostles worked to reach and transform individuals: there is no suggestion that they planned to transform the society they lived in. But still, Jesus’ mission led Him to engage the political and economic systems of His day: He taught about money, tax and inheritance rights.
While we may choose to disengage from some aspects of society (such as food sacrificed in pagan temples, or the national lottery), we are expected to function as active members of society and not withdraw from it into self-sufficient monasteries or communes. Jesus chose not to join the Essenes.
The term ‘engagement’ should be understood in the context of Warren’s linking of “distinctive and engaged” [1995: 29], a discussion which closely parallels my use of the phrase “unique and united” which has been repeated many times since first preaching a sermon on that theme in 1987.
We are united in a real way with our fellow members of the society in which we live, but in a deeper way with our fellow Christians. While it is not entirely true that “there are no lone Christians in the Bible” (the Ethiopian eunuch seems to be the exception that proves the rule), Christian ministry is always undertaken as a corporate activity. Jesus sent out the disciples in pairs; the Apostles worked in groups; in each new church Elders (plural) were appointed; and so on.
Our unity is not only a vital doctrine, but it testifies to and authenticates the message we preach: “the only effective hermeneutic of the gospel is the life of the congregation which believes it” [Newbigin, 1989:234]
The ministry and gifting of each individual Christian is seen in the context of the Body of Christ, and each member needs the other members to make up what is lacking: “If the whole were hearing, where would the sense of smell be? (1 Corinthians 12: 17b)
I believe that the ministries listed by Paul in Ephesians 4:11 are all vital components of both church life and Christian mission. I do not have space to explain and justify my interpretation of this verse and the surrounding passage, but it seems to me that this passage is talking about “a total mobilisation of the entire membership of the Church for ministry to the world and building up the body” [Johnstone, 1998:163] both locally and elsewhere.
What I would like to do at this point is respond in detail to Bosch , but space does not permit.
I have long held the view that most of our errors in doctrine and practice can be traced to a misunderstanding of the nature of the church. Of course, this brief statement ignores a major ‘chicken and egg’ issue (such as I describe below under ‘Eschatology’), but it does provide a framework for mentioning three alternative approaches I reject in principle.
While the church clearly is an institution, it is more than an institution. The reduction of the church in practice to no more than a human institution is often identified with the Constantinian revolution. For example, we read, “The legacy that Christendom bequeathed to the church was effectively to reduce it to the status of an institution for the care of the faithful” [Shenk, in Saaymon & Kritzinger, 1996:90], but in reality this transformation took place much earlier.
The early Church Fathers were very concerned about matters such as the characteristics of a holy lifestyle, the value of martyrdom, the differences between Christian and non-Christian values and lifestyle, and church practice: the letter of Polycarp [Staniforth, 1968: 144-150] is a good example. It is all about ‘the care of the faithful.’ According to the written records, they showed very little concern for mission and evangelism: in the Didache, only chapter 11 touches on these concerns, and then it is only to warn that a true ‘missioner’ will never stay as a guest “more than a day, or two days if it really necessary” [:233].
I am persuaded by various arguments (see, for example, Verduin ) that the identification of Church with society is mistaken, and also has a number of serious and unfortunate consequences. Two of these consequences are particularly relevant here.
Firstly, if the whole of society belongs to the church, there is no place for Christian mission within the ‘Christian’ society. I acknowledge the inspirational work of many Christians, such as St Francis, who gave themselves to this task, but the battles they had to fight within the church to justify their activities adequately demonstrates my point.
And secondly, if the model is for society as a whole to be Christian, then ‘Christian’ mission must result in the destruction and re-creation of the culture of any non-Christian society. Mission in this context is not about serving people but conquering them. For example, the missionaries arriving with Cortés and Pizarro were clearly involved in “a continuation of the crusades.” [Bosch, 1991: 226]
Many people outside the Church have declared it to be irrelevant, but the real problem is that much of the Church believes itself to be irrelevant to modern life and society as a whole: the private world of personal identity and meaning is not functionally connected with the public world of the state, commerce, health and education [Walker, 1996: 116-121].
It can be argued that Protestant churches accepting “compartmentalized living” [Gibbs & Coffey, 2000: 37] is a natural consequence of the Reformers’ unquestioning acceptance of the Roman Catholic understanding of the Church carried forward into a world in which every congregation owes more to the gathered Church of the Anabaptists than the parish church of Christendom; but we do not have room to pursue that question here.
All Christian truth is inter-related, and mistakes or biases in interpreting any one area will have an impact on our understanding of all other areas. Consequently, I do not want to exclude any Biblical material or concept: everything is relevant, and every doctrine can make an important contribution when considering some aspect of Christian mission.
The following items are only excluded from my list of significant elements because they are less significant to me in establishing a theology of Christian mission than the elements identified above.
It seems to me that much of the discussion of the ‘mission of God’ improperly confuses the works of the Father and the Son. But the Father’s mission is “wrapped up first and foremost in God’s act of sending his Son.” [Williams, in Larkin & Williams, 1998: 240] The Father sends the Son; the Son has a mission, and invites us to join Him in it.
The work of God (in, for example, creation, or the calling of Abraham) may inform our understanding of Christian mission, but does not define or determine it. In seeking to understand Christian mission, it must be of secondary rather than primary importance.
The New Testament clearly teaches that we follow Jesus, who is the way to the Father, in the power of the Holy Spirit. But it is equally obvious that the NT does not contain a doctrine of the trinity, and it took the Church centuries of prayer, debate and conflict before the Athanasian Creed was formulated and widely accepted; and even then, the filioque controversy was never resolved.
While many writers consider belief in the trinity to be foundational or a “fundamental belief” [Newbigin, 1978:31], and while I wholeheartedly believe in the triune God, I cannot believe that a doctrine that Jesus and the Apostles never (to our knowledge) taught can be central to any vital aspect of Christian life or teaching.
Much teaching about spiritual warfare is dangerously misguided. Books on the subject tend to treat it as a specialist activity for the spiritual elite, while in the NT it is used as one metaphor among many for the ‘normal Christian life’ that all followers of Christ are called to.
So I wish to simultaneously affirm that authentic Christian mission is an engagement in spiritual warfare, and also to deny the relevance of much writing on the subject. In this, as in many areas, I am indebted to Forster – see [1997: 7] for example.
I believe and teach what I affirmed above: that our beliefs affect the way we live. But the opposite is also true: we tend to believe the doctrines which support the way we choose to live. In all the evangelical churches I have known well, whatever was taught from the pulpit, the people who tithed tended to believe in tithing.
I have spent a great deal of time talking with people about eschatology, primarily in the context of mission and evangelism. From my personal experience, eschatology is one of those areas where people tend to believe what is convenient to them and the group they belong to. It is very easy to claim that your lack of engagement in society is a consequence of your doctrine. Conversely, if you want to overturn the current social framework, a belief in an imminent millennial kingdom is very useful, as can be seen from the tragedy of Münster in 1534-5 [Williams, 1962: 362-381].
It is easy to establish a logical connection between eschatological theories and the practice of mission (or the lack of it), but “neither the eschatologization nor the historicization of mission satisfies” [Bosch, 1991:508] because there must be an eschatological dimension to our missionary activity, but those who take an eschatological starting point offer no consistent model or guidance.
Both Calvinists and Armenians have been deeply involved in Christian mission: Wesley and Whitfield are the classic examples. And both sides can argue convincingly that their position provides the greatest impetus for missionary activity. So, however important to the individual the doctrine of election may be, it is clearly not an essential part of an understanding of Christian mission.
If we widen the concept of election from the confines of the Calvinist-Armenian debate, it seems to me that what is really being spoken about much of the time is the closely-related concept of incarnation. For example, “God’s way of universal salvation… must be accomplished by the way of election – of choosing, calling and sending one to be the bearer of blessing for all.” [Newbigin, 1978: 78-79]
One of the chief difficulties in planning any social action project is the question of boundaries: some of the problems you come across will be what you were set up to deal with, while others will not be. At times the boundaries will be arbitrary (many projects for young people help those up to 25 years old, for example) and often the boundaries will be blurred and subjective (many charities help people with ‘serious’ financial hardship).
This creates difficulties for any project, but especially for a Christian project where we are seeking to follow Jesus. How do you set boundaries; how do you refuse to help people in Jesus’ name?
It is important to recognise that Jesus Himself set boundaries: “I was sent only to the lost sheep of the house of Israel” (Matthew 15:24), but those boundaries did not stop Him responding to the Syrophoenician woman. So it is valid for us to aim to work within certain boundaries, but we can also be flexible in applying those boundaries. Thus, we are set up to work with homeless people, but when someone phones up in distress we spend time responding to them before trying to point them towards more specialised help.
Jesus worked within a social and cultural context, and while He challenged aspects of that culture, most of the time He accepted it as a given. He told the leper “Show yourself to the Priest” (Matthew 8:4): He did not attempt to take the job of the Priest for Himself. Similarly, we seek to work within our context, alongside all the other organisations and agencies; not seeking to replace or undermine them. Much of what we do, in functional terms, is to act as a referral agency: putting people in contact with more specialist help.
Following Jesus is like marriage: we are committed to Him, even though we do not know what this will mean or where He will lead. One thing is clear: we are committed to following Jesus first, and operating a ministry second. Where there is a conflict, we must follow Jesus; sometimes this means we work as Christians outside the ministry, so the boundary between our work, our personal life and our Christian service gets blurred. Ordinary church leaders have an easier time here, as they only have to distinguish between work and personal life.
There are serious problems in undertaking an holistic ministry in the UK at the present time, and few organisations are attempting it. Most Christian projects are either firmly secular (providing practical help but no spiritual input) or firmly Christian (seeking to win souls but offering little practical help). Very few embrace both aspects and seek to integrate them.
The Salvation Army, founded on this principle, have retained the ‘soup’ and ‘soap’ but the ‘salvation’ part of their heritage is almost exclusively confined to their Christian meetings. Christian volunteers working in our local hostel are not allowed to talk about their faith with the homeless people they serve. The Bristol Methodist Centre operates on very similar lines to the Kaleidoscope Project in London: clients are welcome to attend a service if they wish, but very few ever do so.
There are many reasons for this, and I describe some of them in appendix 2.
I said at the beginning that “a commitment to Jesus is also a commitment to His mission.” This statement has major implications for our doctrine of salvation and our practice of evangelism, as well as what we mean by mission.
Those Christians who bring to our ministry a belief in the primacy of the spiritual over the physical see our task primarily as bringing lost souls to salvation: they encourage our clients to confess that they are sinners and pray ‘the’ prayer asking Jesus into their hearts, or something similar. The assumption is that if they have ‘really’ prayed the prayer, their lives will be transformed, the power of addiction broken, physical and mental illnesses cured, and they will immediately want to start contributing to society through work and taxes.
I am not sure what many people mean when they pray ‘the’ prayer. I know that often God works in miraculous ways in our clients lives, whatever their spiritual condition, and that a heroin addict with the social skills of a cornered rat before accepting Jesus becomes a saved heroin addict with the social skills of a cornered rat after accepting Jesus.
I am also sure that many people pray ‘the’ prayer because there is no reason not to: if it works, and God does step in and help them, then wonderful; if it does not work, nothing has been lost. If the only thing that matters in your life is getting off the street tonight or finding your next fix, and if praying a prayer might get God on your side and provide what you are looking for, then why not pray it?
But if a commitment to Jesus is also a commitment to His mission, then we are not in the business of asking people to pray a prayer. Conversion is not about a ticket to Heaven and getting God on your side, but of taking the costly step of changing sides so that you reject the deceit and pleasures of this world to be a part of God’s redeeming community in challenging and transforming the world.
Communicating this is not easy. Much of the time, we are working with people who have made some form of Christian commitment, helping them understand what it means to be a follower of Jesus: evangelism, discipleship and pastoral care get all mixed up. It makes filling in forms and telling stories of ‘successes’ very difficult, but we can live with that.
The big question we face each day is: how do we make God present for the people we serve? The hopeless can only gain hope from meeting a God who is both powerful and loving. Helping people is only possible if they want to be helped, and real internal change generally comes about through relationships with other people. Incarnation and relationship are central to all we do.
Ministry from a position of confidence and strength, while it fits well with the modern goal-driven and achievement-oriented world, does not fit well with the manger in Bethlehem or the cross. When our clients see us as a ministry constantly struggling to survive, they can identify with us, and our words have relevance to them in their struggles.
One of the key problems our clients have with most ordinary churches is that the people in them are far too successful. From the outside, everyone is happy, successful in their work and secure in their marriages. I have handled enough pastoral crises to know this is not true, but the illusion of respectable success has a powerful hold on most modern churches. When we admit our spiritual struggles and weaknesses, the poor and the weak may recognise in our lives the presence of a God who can reach down to where they are.
Theological certainty can cause the same problems. “I have often been puzzled by missionaries persuading their Asian friends to change their faith from Buddha to Jesus Christ… They themselves are not ready to change one iota of their rigid theological position or denominational security and self-identity.” [Koyama, 1976: 33]
God revealed Himself in Jesus not as a powerful King or avenging Judge, but as a powerless nobody. Both the incarnation and the cross show us a God who comes to us in weakness so that He can touch us weak creatures and change us.
Bosch, DJ, Transforming Mission (Maryknoll, NY: Orbis, 1991)
Forster, RT, Spiritual Warfare in Social Action (London: Ichthus Media Services, 1997)
Gibbs, E & Coffey, I, ChurchNext (Leicester: IVP, 2001)
Green, L, The Impact of the Global (Sheffield: Urban Theology Unit, 2001)
Johnstone, P, The Church is BIGGER than you think (Fearn, Ross-shire: Christian Focus Publications, 1998)
Kostenberger, AJ & O’Brien, PT, Salvation to the Ends of the Earth (Leicester: Apollos, 2001)
Koyama, K, No Handle on the Cross (London: SCM, 1976)
Kraybill, D B, The Upside-Down Kingdom (Scottdale, Pennsylvania: Herald Press, 1978)
Larkin, WJ & Williams, JF (eds.), Mission in the New Testament (Maryknoll, NY: Orbis, 1998)
Newbigin, L, The Gospel in a Pluralist Society (London: SPCK, 1989)
Newbigin, L, The Open Secret (London: SPCK, 1978)
Newman, CC (ed), Jesus & the Restoration of Israel (Carlisle: Paternoster, 1999)
Saaymon, W & Kritzinger, K, (eds.) Mission in Bold Humility (Maryknoll, NY: Orbis, 1996)
Samuel & Singden, Mission as Transformation (Bangalore: Partnership in Mission- Asia, 1983)
Sider, R, Evangelism and Social Action (London: Hodder & Stoughton, 1993)
Staniforth, M, Early Christian Writings (Harmondsworth, Middlesex: Penguin Books, 1968)
Stott, J, Issues Facing Christians Today (London: Marshall Pickering, 1984 and 1990)
Verduin, L, The Anatomy of a Hybrid (Eerdmans, 1976)
Walker, A, Telling the Story (London: SPCK, 1996)
Wallis, J, The Call to Conversion (San Francisco, California: Harper, 1992)
Warren, R, Building Missionary Congregations (London: Church House Publishing, 1995)
Williams, GH, The Radical Reformation (Philadelphia: Westminster Press, 1962)
Wright, NT, The Challenge of Jesus (London: SPCK, 2000)
I grew up attending two churches: the (Evangelical) Baptist gave me a wonderful Biblical inheritance, and the (Liberal) Anglican gave me the experience of caring for people in Jesus’ name. I do not recall the idea of mission ever being used in either church.
At university, I learned from UCCF that Christian Unions were expected to organise a mission each year. This was my first encounter with mission, and it seemed a very odd idea. Also at university, I was exposed to a much wider cross-section of the Christian Church, experienced a variety of forms of spirituality, and learned something about evangelism and missionary work. The idea of mission began to take on a more central role in my understanding of Christian life and doctrine.
A few years after leaving university, I was on the committee that organised (as we understand) the first ecumenical University mission in the United Kingdom: Roger Forster came and spoke, and all the Christian groups on campus worked together to bring the gospel message to our fellow staff and students.
Many of our problems with words come from the associations they have for us: the connotation as opposed to the denotation. Looking at the way the word ‘mission’ is used in Protestant circles, it seem to me that it is very often very close to the UCCF model – a special and occasional event in which Christians come out of their hiding holes and try to persuade other people to join them. The associations are very military, and the concept seems very close to that of a ‘crusade’: a word with a deeply troubling history.
Among my Catholic friends, a ‘mission’ is more likely to be a preaching post in an pagan region; when used as a verb, ‘mission’ is something that a ‘missionary’ does. This time, the association is with someone special, a distant place and an activity far removed from the routine of our everyday lives. I imagine there are several reasons why Warren chose the title ‘Building Missionary Congregations’ for his book: the reference to the WCC use of the term in The Church for Others would be one; but it could also be because, at the popular level, the phrase ‘missionary congregation’ is either a contradiction of terms, or a description of a church that dies because everyone leaves to serve God ‘on the mission field’.
I mention these uses of the word ‘mission’ in order to make it clear that (unless the context explicitly says otherwise) I do not intend the word to have these meanings and associations when I use it in this article.
In essence, within this article, the term ‘mission’ refers to a task or end goal, while the term ‘ministry’ refers to what we do in pursuing that goal. In my childhood, each episode of the television program ‘Mission Impossible’ began with the words. “Your mission, should you choose to accept it…” All the team members were engaged in that one mission, but each of them had a unique role to play: in Christian terms, they each had a distinct ministry.
It is very hard to work effectively on two levels. It is comparatively easy to feed everyone who comes to you, try to find accommodation for the homeless and funding for drug rehab places. It is comparatively easy to share our faith, and help people respond to God in the power of the Spirit. But when one person is responding to the gospel (life being changed, wonderful answers to prayer, recognition of past sins and mistakes, and so on); and another person is simply using you to get what they can, and abusing and blaming you when anything fails to go the way they want – it is very hard to be fair and work just as hard for both people. When you build a relationship of trust with one, and the other keeps on deceiving you and failing to keep agreements, it is impossible to treat them the same.
We aim to counter this by being as fair and objective as possible. When we offer different things to different people, we try to make sure this is only done on justifiable grounds; so if our actions are criticised, we can provide an adequate answer.
This problem would still exist if we were operating on a purely secular basis: some clients are much more cooperative than others; some want to change much more than others. But the spiritual dynamic is so powerful once a person starts to open their life to God that these difficulties are greatly multiplied.
As an organisation, we must aim to be, and be seen to be, fair. But while fairness is an important principle (like honesty, transparency, and so on), it should not become our goal.
The danger here can be seen more clearly in the area of ‘Equal Opportunities’. While unfair discrimination is unethical and frequently illegal, it cannot be the goal of any organisation to operate in a non-discriminatory way. The goal must be to achieve something worthwhile. But with the increasing amount of legislation and codes of practice being applied to the voluntary sector, many voluntary groups are spending more and more of their time complying with and demonstrating compliance with equal opportunities policies, and correspondingly less of their time doing the job they were set up to do.
We have to recognise that fairness is an important principle, but for our goal, we are to ‘seek first the Kingdom of God’. The test of our work is not whether we have acted fairly all the time (or fully applied an approved equal opportunities policy) but whether we have faithfully sought first the Kingdom.
We call ourselves a ‘Christian organisation’ but this cannot simply mean that we employ Christians or have Christian values and principles underpinning our work: it must mean that we are first and foremost seeking the Kingdom of God; which means, as I outlined above, that we are seeking to follow the person of Jesus, through incarnation and crucifixion, valuing relationships above achievements, and so on.
The secular agencies are very wary of working with faith groups who are active in promoting their faith. They mistrust our motives, and with good reason. Of the few groups seeking to operate at both the practical and the spiritual level, some are clearly not seeking to undertake an holistic ministry: the practical help is being provided in order to make contact with, or win the trust of, people so that the gospel can be shared and the lost souls won for Christ.
It is hardly surprising that secular organisations find it difficult to distinguish between the groups seeking to operate holistically and those for whom social action is simply an evangelistic tool.
Like the principle of fairness in our dealing with clients, we must also apply the principle of transparency, so that we will be ‘above suspicion’ in the eyes of both the Church and the world. Christian groups are often very poor at this, as we trust one another and expect to be trusted. It is a hard but necessary discipline to say “Yes, I trust you, but I still require you to demonstrate that you have acted fairly and honestly.”
In seeking to introduce a culture of accountability, I repeatedly get the criticism that the person concerned feels I do not trust them. It feels that I am working contrary to Evangelical Christian culture in this respect, despite the fact that openness, transparency and honesty are clearly Kingdom values and therefore essential to any organisation engaged in Christian mission.
Secular agencies cannot been seen to fund religious activity, so unless there is a clear distinction in the organisational structure between the Christian and secular aspects of the work, or other clear dividing line at which the funding can stop, it is very difficult for Christian groups functioning in the spiritual realm to access funding for activities, even when there is an obligation on the state or local government to support them.
There has been some developments in this area in the last few years, largely through campaigning work by Oasis and a few other groups, but the progress largely lies in the realm of rhetoric and policy statements about the importance of working alongside the ‘faith communities’; as yet there are few tangible changes to be seen.
There are two main positions taken by Christians in this area: some say we are entitled to receive financial support from the secular agencies, as we are doing some (in fact, much) of their work for them; others say that once we are paid by them, we will end up working to their agenda and it is better to retain our financial independence. Christian organisations tend to take the former view, but it seem to me there is much evidence supporting the suspicions of those in the latter camp.
I am (not for the first time) currently in discussion with my trustees about this question, but for some time our position has been that we will accept funding for specific pieces of work when we can get it, but the core costs need to be met from the Christian community, and we should plan to make ourselves financially independent of statutory funding.
All social action projects with statutory funding, and most with funding from a charity or trust of any size, will have performance targets to meet. The achievement of these targets is necessary for the financial stability, and often the entire continuation of the project.
But what can be measured is never what really matters. And what can be measured generally gets in the way of what really matters.
I will give just one example. Our success is not determined by the number of people we get into drug rehabs. Of course, we aim to do this – but only when it is in the best interests of the person concerned. And then only when we can find them a place in a rehab that has an approach and culture that the addict can cope with and respond to.
The consequence of this is that we send fewer people to rehabs than we could, but the ones we send tend to do very well. We have an excellent reputation, which does help when we are trying to find a place for someone to go. It would be much harder to maintain that reputation if our workers were under pressure to deliver enough clients to the rehabs.
Sadly, a vast amount of time and money is wasted because addicts are sent to rehabs whether they really want to change or not, and most of them take their first fix within twelve hours of leaving the rehab after successfully completing the programme.
So the drug project meet their performance targets in sending enough people to rehabs, and the rehabs meet their performance targets in getting enough people to complete the programme, and at the end of all that ‘success’ you are still left with the addict on the streets looking for their next fix.
The irony is that the performance management tool being used to ensure value for money in the individual projects is the very thing causing the costs of the system as a whole to rocket skywards and the success rate – in terms of changed lives – to drop.
Many churches don’t really believe in holistic ministry. It is simplistic, but essentially accurate, to say that evangelicals believe in the primary importance of the spiritual, and liberals believe in the primary importance of the physical.
While I am personally committed to both the principle and the practice of a holistic ministry, this should not be understood to be a criticism of those Christians who behave differently. To suggest that all Christians must be engaged in a holistic ministry such as I have described: this would be to deny the reality of the Body of Christ.
While I believe we should all be committed to holistic ministry in principle, it is not necessary for every Christian or every church to be fully committed to holistic ministry in practice. Some will be called to function primarily in the spiritual realm, others primarily in the physical realm. The gifts listed by Paul include both natural and supernatural activities. The Church as a whole must respond to both the practical and the spiritual needs of the world, but individual Christians (and individual churches) can be called to specialise in particular areas.
But while many will not be called to exercise an holistic ministry, some must do so. Our commitment to holistic ministry is an expression of a prophetic statement to the Church and to the world: this is what authentic Christianity is about. God really does love the world.