This is the second in a series of blogs on the Global Connections conference in May 2016, From Where I’m Sitting, where we sought to explore mission from different perspectives. You can listen to the talks on the Global Connections events page. I had the privilege to seek feedback on what was heard on the last morning and made a wide range of points.
One key point raised was “The Gospel is Central” to all that we do?
One clear message that we heard during the conference was “Christ is sufficient”. The gospel is central to all that we do. It is not an add on to our social programme, but the core of everything.
Throughout history there has been much debate about the meaning and breadth of mission. The modern missionary movement, especially since the end of the eighteenth century, was one of the main players in bringing a limited meaning to mission. However the opposite is true today and perhaps mission now means whatever you want it to mean.
In particular the evangelical church over the past 30 years has rediscovered social action, social justice and creation care – and I hope that we all say a huge Alleluia to that. Integral Mission, the coming together of the false separation between word and action, seems to have won in our terminology.
However I wonder if it is the real situation. In discussing this on his blog about 9 months ago – www.kouya.net – Eddie Arthur says this “In my experience, that isn’t how the term Integral Mission is used in general parlance. I would argue that in general use, the term integral mission is now used to describe various forms of social action, but that the overt proclamation of the Gospel has more or less dropped off the agenda. In practical terms, holistic mission isn’t holistic and integral mission isn’t integrated; a huge chunk of what mission is all about is simply not included.”
Like the presenters, I have some major concerns in this area and there seem to be many issues here.
ISSUE 1 – Have we become too careful in our use of words?
I would contend that some agencies, still committed to proclamation and integral mission – and practising it – have become too shy about saying they do.
ISSUE 2 – Have some of us actually dumped proclamation?
I was recently looking at a job description for a position called “Director of Mission”. I searched in vain for the words evangelism, conversion, proclamation, sharing Christ, coming to Jesus – you name it and I looked for it – even mission was only in the title. Instead it had terms like “working for the financial, social and spiritual transformation of communities.”
ISSUE 3 – The evangelical church is more interested in supporting social action
Evangelicals seem much less inclined than in the past to fund more overtly evangelistic ministries. Giving to overseas mission had also decreased, except in the areas of relief and child sponsorship. People are much more inclined to fund ministry with poor African children, than evangelism among wealthy Japanese businessmen.
ISSUE 4 – Church members struggle in gospel confidence
The EA website says: “Is the Church in the UK as confident in the gospel as it should be? It appears that while mission is clearly at the heart of what many churches are doing, talking about our faith as Christians is proving increasingly difficult.”
As mission agencies, we need to keep the centrality of the gospel in our work. Steve Timmis made a clear call to us and Sarah’s challenge on the first afternoon still rings in my ears – so we need a wake-up call?
So a question “Is the Gospel central to your ministry?