As I have been writing and finishing up my research project on church mobilization in the Philippines, I am continually challenged to think about the church’s prophetic role to be a source of light and transformation in our community. A growing concern of mine is the lack of involvement the Evangelical church has in working with the poor through transformational development. This is not a post to criticize the church, it is merely a trend I have seen that raises serious concerns about the missional church. I feel as though this is a personal dilemma I face, as I reflect upon my own theology and experience of the church and social justice.
Finishing up from Fuller, I am currently looking for a job that fits my skills, experience and passions. As I look at job postings, my eye can’t help but be drawn to Non-governmental organizations (NGOs) and the jobs they offer. From research to children at risk, to dealing with trafficking issues to child protection, these NGOs offer a job that is paid to help children in crisis around the world. I get excited by what these organizations are doing to provide relief, empowerment, rights, protection and social progress for our world.
Except there seems to be one thing missing…
If I believe in the power of the church and the transformation that comes only from Christ, then I should believe and support the mission of the church to bring the kingdom of God here on earth, in every capacity. So why do I cringe when I see a job posting at a church? I know my own personal issues as a Pastor’s kid have disenchanted my perception of the church. Sometimes when I think of the church, I think of burnout, exhaustion and dread and I want to run as far as I can from the church. But deep down, I know that I firmly believe that only the church can bring true transformational development in this world.
Humanitarianism appears to be leading the way in socio-economic development to make this world a better place. In his article, “The Church and Transformational Development,” Bryant L. Myers argues for the role of the church in developing nations. “Socio-economic development tends to be seen seen as a secular and material enterprise: The church is not often part of the conversation or the solution” (Myers 2000, 64). So while the questions is, why hasn’t the church been part of the solution, I feel as though I cannot answer this questions without being misunderstood. So instead, I ask, how can the church be a part of this solution?
When I first started writing this post, it was entitled the Church versus the secular NGOs. But as I got to thinking, I realized I can not pit one against the other; I am just advocating for one to fulfill its calling. Secular and faith-based NGOs have their place in development. When I think about Payatas, the dumpsite in the Philippines that collapsed and killed many children and families, I am so thankful for organizations like UNICEF and the government who provided immediate relief and help amidst such tragedy. Secular NGOs are needed. But, in order for true transformation to take place, the church needs to step in, partner with these NGOs and engage critically in these social issues.
In Donald Miller’s book, Global Pentecostalism: The new face of Christian Social Engagement, a new trend sees the Pentecostal church “moving beyond a charity model of social engagement and into a community-organizing and development program” (Miller and Tetsunao 2007, 39). The church needs to rise up to her prophetic calling and serve her community holistically and missionally.
Whereas secular NGOs are “typically an outside institution, imposing an external agenda and… is often controlled by people who do not live in the community” (ibid 41), the potential of the missional church is her potential as a deep-rooted, stable institution that can create long-term change with her community. With this potential envisioned, again we ask, how can the church be a part of transformational development?
One key principle is mobilization. This involves igniting the vision and developing a missional identity in the church; it provides training and tools to equip the congregation (not just key leaders— this is where workers get burned out and exhausted…) to participate in holistic mission in their community. This goes beyond evangelism and seeks to bring the kingdom of God by addressing and restoring the material, socio-economic, and spiritual needs of a community.
The second way for the church to be actively involved is by creating effective partnerships with those who are already addressing some of these issues. This includes secular and faith-based NGOs who have a role in community. The church’s ability to partner and network with others who have the same desire to see true transformation occur in the communities is a powerful thing. These two principles are at the core of my research in the Philippines (more to come later…)
Lastly, I believe that hope amidst injustice lies in the power of Jesus Christ. As the body of Christ, the church is called to stand in the gap of oppression and injustice and participate in the great exchange Christ sets in Isaiah 61:1-4. The church is a catalyst of change that carries out the kingdom work by establishing justice through action and restoration.
“The Spirit of the Sovereign LORD is on me,
because the LORD has anointed me
to preach good news to the poor.
He has sent me to bind up the brokenhearted,
to proclaim freedom for the captives
and release from darkness for the prisoners,
to proclaim the year of the LORD’s favor
and the day of vengeance of our God,
to comfort all who mourn,
and provide for those who grieve in Zion—
to bestow on them a crown of beauty
instead of ashes,
the oil of gladness
instead of mourning,
and a garment of praise
instead of a spirit of despair.
They will be called oaks of righteousness,
a planting of the LORD
for the display of his splendor.
They will rebuild the ancient ruins
and restore the places long devastated;
they will renew the ruined cities
that have been devastated for generations.
Myers, Bryant. 2000. The Church and Transformational Development. Transformation 17:2: 64-67.
Miller, Donald and Yamamori Tetsunao. Global Pentecostalism: The new face of Christian Social Engagement. Berkeley: University of California Press, 2007.