This paper began with four people thinking about their common responsibility to promote the cause of mission in various ways in the life of Te Hahi Weteriana o Aotearoa, the Methodist Church of New Zealand. They were the Principal of Trinity Theological College; The Director of Mission Resourcing; the Superintendent of Mission Northern, and the Secretary of Mission and Ecumenical. They hoped that by doing some theological reflection together on the meaning of mission today, they could offer something to stimulate thinking on mission.
It was decided to start with the term “transforming mission” which is taken from David J Bosch’s comprehensive and outstanding book on the topic of mission: “Transforming Mission: Paradigm Shifts in Theology of Mission” (Orbis 1991). After considerable discussion as to what this term might mean for us as Methodists in Aotearoa today, it was decided to do three things:
· Work on a short sharp definition of “transforming mission”.
· Spell out in a little more detail what the components of the definition might mean.
· Tease out some of the implications of the component parts of the definition.
In the first instance the paper is addressed to the governing bodies of those involved in drawing up the paper: Board of Ministry, Board of Mission Northern and the Mission and Ecumenical Committee. A later version may be addressed to the wide connexion and parishes.
The paper is offered as a resource and discussion document for these governing bodies to use in whatever way they wish
Transforming mission: seeking change so that we might have the world the way God intended it to be
· gospel shaped
- encouraging advocacy and action
- engaging society
- focused on social justice
- local and global
- seeking hopeful futures
Bosch says there is a deliberate ambiguity in the title of his book. It refers not only to mission as an activity that seeks to change the way things are, but also to our need to rethink and change our understandings of mission itself.
‘Transforming mission’ arises out of our understanding of the gospel, the good news of Jesus the Christ. We are used to thinking about the word ‘gospel’ in a religious sense, but in the time of Jesus it had an imperial setting, being used for victory in battle, or the accession of a new emperor in the Roman Empire. This imperial gospel eulogised the emperor and empire. When the writers of the Christian scriptures took on the term they used it to challenge imperial power. They portrayed Jesus as subverting the politics and culture of the establishment, whether political or religious. They gave the word gospel a subversive meaning. The gospel or good news they saw in Jesus was embraced in Jesus’ idea of the basileia or “Reign of God”, which sought fullness of life for individuals, a renewed human community, and a revitalised and sustained creation.
Action is about doing, making sure that something happens. It is the doing side of ‘transforming mission’, acting for change in society and its structures. Advocacy is about taking sides, supporting a person or a cause, frequently by speaking up for them. This is the proclaiming side of ‘transforming’ mission, which invites us to solidarity with others. Holding advocacy and action together challenges us to theological critique of the way things are, and to gospel-speaking in response.
Society is where the speaking and acting of mission takes place. The ‘sending out’ refers to the wider world of which we are a part. To engage with society is to be actively involved both in and with it, seeking change so that we might have a world the way God intended it to be, reflecting the “Reign of God”. So we are in the world, not as observers or bystanders, but as active participants, engaging with the contemporary issues and needs of the time and place in which we are set.
Justice has to do with fairness and rightness. In biblical use it is associated with the First Testament prophets and their challenges to society, together with Jesus’ concern for those on the margins of society and those damaged by destructive social, economic and political forces. John Wesley’s commitment to people on the margins of society and his addressing of social issues in his time also helps us as Methodists to focus on issues of social justice. Liberation theologies which stress the gospel’s relevance for the poor, the disadvantaged and the oppressed, together with Te Hahi Weteriana’s commitments to a just society and a bicultural journey will stimulate our focus on social justice today. Social justice is a core component of the gospel that shapes our mission.
Here we are talking about context which has to do with setting and takes account of history, as well as what is happening to people and the environment at this time. Context has long been a Methodist emphasis in theology and mission. We see it in John Wesley’s response to the conditions of his day, as well as in our own response to life in Aotearoa-NZ and Oceania as the context for doing theology and showing an active concern for people and the world in which we live. We constantly have to relate to the local as well as the wider context. Today global and local forces interact with each other, often in destructive ways.
We will keep coming back to the vision. Theologically, mission is a future oriented activity. It is the movement of the Christian community out into the world for the sake of the world’s future. The vision of the Reign of God (basileia) – however we understand the details of that vision – is about a future that makes real God’s priorities of social justice, freedom, love, peace, and fullness of life for all. It is a future in which we can hope. For hope to remain alive, there need to be signs of its fulfilment: mission is, above, all, activity that points to the possibility of a better future, and in so doing keeps hope alive.