Why Do We Need the World?

Post a Comment » Written on July 12th, 2016     
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In case you hadn’t noticed the ECC is changing. Under the leadership of President Rev. Gary Walter the denomination has shifted from numerous departments to five priority areas of ministry resulting in a major structural re-organization, new leadership selection and important strategic initiatives. As the dust of these changes is settling it is not too soon to ask the question, what have we created and where are we going?

Save the Jonahs

Missiology calls for reflection of all ministry practices but here I focus only on the fifth priority, what we now call Serving Globally.  What does it mean to serve globally? According to the ECC website, “Through global partnerships and our own [ECC] missionary team, we make and deepen disciples, start and strengthen churches, develop leaders, and love mercy and do justice” (www.covchurch.org/ what-we-do/serve-globally). The same paragraph further states that God has a global mission and as Covenanters it is our joyful obedience to participate in that mission “extending the whole gospel to the whole world.” Yes, global engagement is part of Jesus’ command. But if the fifth priority has no other function than to extend the activities of the other four abroad, its existence as a separate (and costly) priority area of the entire denomination must be questioned. It is time for some redefinition.

As written, the fifth priority has something of an identity crisis. If, in addition to engaging in the first four priorities abroad, the fifth priority has its own specific area of focus, what is it?  I believe the biblical answer is that serving globally must remain a priority for the continuing transformation of the church herself. For her own health and survival the church needs to continue to engage with the world.

One of the key characteristics of involvement in God’s mission is that it results in transformation. This transformation will not be the same for all participants. It may not occur  the same moment nor will the long-term effects necessarily be equal. It may not even be mutual in the sense that all “feel” it. But intentional intercultural engagement places practitioners in the very vulnerable position of greater dependence upon God than upon personal abilities, programs or budgets.  It is in that posture that the work of God becomes evident to all involved and that process together is transformative. Resulting and even lasting change can then occur on many levels.

If transformation does not happen and the impact of that involvement does not get back to the sending agency (the church), what is being done may be wonderful work but it is not God’s mission. Anyone can be doing it – and maybe in some cases someone else should. God’s mission initiates and in fact requires change by all and for all towards that wholistic reconciliation that brings all of the good news into focus.

It is God’s will that the church itself be changed. As David Bosch once said, “the first missionary task of the church is not to change the world but to change herself.” The mission field starts in the heart of every person in the pew, not some place far away. But relinquishing power puts mission practitioners in a healthy place of dependence and openness to learning.

God uses all of creation in this mission, even those whom the church may not consider to be partners. Look at the numerous examples of those one author calls “Holy Pagans”: Abimelech, Pharaoh, Nebuchadnezzar, Darius, Cyrus, the Ninevites, Samaritan and Canaanite women, Cornelius, an Ethiopian, Gentiles and a host of others. God used these and others often to convert the missionaries back to God’s mission. God arranged the intercultural engagement with such as these to speak into the lives and missional direction of God’s people. These were all divinely-appointed intercultural encounters that changed the participants, the people of God, the church and her theology and practice. Those kinds of encounters are still being arranged and still happening today.  And the church needs them.

By why go global? Don’t we have more than enough to keep us involved interculturally here at home?  To engage interculturally does not require distant travel or crossing national borders but it can help place US and Canadian Covenanters in a more teachable posture. Often we do not break out of our own cultural perspective completely until we move from outside the safety net of our national security. This is particularly true of those in the dominant culture. White Americans are particularly blind to the assumptions and entitlements we carry with us simply because of our national identity wherever we are on the planet. We need transformation in this area as well as others. Engaging in God’s mission outside of our political boundaries and securities sometimes helps us to see God’s direction and activity even more clearly.

There is a world out there where God is inviting us to join in multiple enriching diverse ministries. Our own power structures at home have blinded many of us from seeing the obvious – that it is God’s work all along. Our blessing comes through responding to the invitation to be living, vulnerable examples of the amazing God that would choose and send the likes of us to places where we are not fully competent or in control. Against all worldly wisdom, this gives evidence to the miracle of a God who uses cracked pots and broken vessels to embody the message of hope in a way others can relate to  it. This is another of the many miracles in the strategy of God’s global mission and we are blessed to be in on it.

Each of the first four priority areas of the ECC continues to contextualize its own area of focus from within the intercultural milieu of the United States and Canadian ECC. In addition most, if not all, of those priority areas are also reaching across international borders in extended training and global partnership. Let us celebrate the tearing down of departmental silos and work together to build up participation in ways that help us more effectively connect where God’s initiatives are already actively inviting us wherever that may led. Everyone can serve globally!

But at the same time let us consider the distinctive role that the fifth priority has within the church. Interculturality is one of God’s desires for us at home and abroad. Remember Jerusalem, Judea, Samaria and the uttermost parts of the earth? It is this interculturality that is one of the blessed growing edges of the Covenant; it is who we are becoming and where we struggle to grow. It is also who we shall be in heaven someday. This is the piece that we as SG and all of its component ministries can bring to the wider body of the ECC. This is why the ECC needs the world, because we as ECC need to be changed. I recall one pastor saying after his church’s experience in Africa, “We need the Congo more than the Congo needs us.” Let’s unpack such statements. At a significant annual meeting years ago it was the words from a visiting delegate from this same sister African church that spoke wisdom and direction into the decisions that ultimately led to a re-configuring of the ECC budget to sustain global mission. Let us celebrate the transformative movement into which God is inviting us through these relationships.

God has a mission and invites the church to participate. Yet at the same time the church is also the first mission field even as she grows in on-going conversion towards Christ-likeness. Are we alive in Christ? How goes our walk? If we have trouble answering those questions perhaps it is time to get input from our global sisters and brothers who can come alongside of us and help us to see ourselves in new ways when our cultural blindness takes away our vision. Why do we need the world? To redefine who we are in God’s mission, what we need and what our priorities should be.


Dr. Paul de Neui
Professor of Missiology
Director of Center for World Christian Studies
North Park Theological Seminary
Chicago, IL

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