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
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.
The setting for mission is the wider society with its social-political-economic issues and concerns, rather than the internal or institutional life of the church. Mission is an activity, through which the church is called to make a difference in and to the world. It is our sense of being 'called' by God and 'sent' to bring about change.
Putting the word 'transforming' in front of the word 'mission' speaks to us both of the outcomes we seek and the impact on us as we engage in mission. Now the goal is not only to ensure there is positive change, for people and societies as we engage in mission, but also that we are involved in a constant process of rethinking and reshaping our understanding of what mission means and how we engage in it.
It reflects our use of the word in the phrase "the transforming love of God" in the 'Mission Statement of the Methodist Church.' This refers to a love that changes people and systems, as well as our need to constantly rethink the meaning and implications of that word "love".
- When we engage in or resource for mission we need to be clear about the goals we seek, the differences we want to make, the changes we want to see happen. Without a clear vision our mission will flounder. So what is our vision for mission?
- At the same time we must be constantly rethinking what mission means in today's world so we can change how we engage in this task in order to be more effective in realising our vision for mission.
- How can we build in time to continually reflect on the meaning of the "transforming mission" we are called to?
'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.
- The goals for mission and the means for achieving them need to be constantly checked against the subversive vision of the "Reign of God" as lived out in the life of Jesus and contained in the insights into God he has shown us.
- Will our understanding of "transforming mission" contribute to fullness of life for individuals, a renewed human community, and a revitalised and sustained creation?
Encouraging advocacy and action
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.
- We are used to thinking of mission as action, as doing something in the hope it will contribute to better people, better communities and a better world, but it also requires advocacy. How can we hold these two together in creative tension?
- We must think about whom we will advocate for and with, as well as how we will engage in advocacy, and what our particular contribution as church will be. This will influence how we act in mission. So as we seek to engage in 'transforming mission', who will we advocate and act for, and why?
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.
Focused on social justice
- If our 'transforming mission'' is to be effective we need to know what is happening in whatever social setting we find ourselves placed. We must develop an analysis of what is going on and why. What priority do we give to this?
- With our vision for mission we can meaningfully and actively engage with the issues that emerge from our analysis of what is happening. What 'transforming mission' strategies can we develop for meaningful engagement with the issues?
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.
Local and global
- What place does social justice have in our thinking about "transforming mission" today?
- We need to discern what the justice issues are for us today and reflect on how we will engage with them in the light of our social justice traditions.
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.
While the local church will often focus on its own particular setting as the focus for mission and its working for social justice, it must not ignore the global scene, for local social justice issues are frequently the result of global forces. We should never ignore the plight of the suffering, marginalised and oppressed on the world scene. This can have a clear responsibility to advocate and act for them. We are called to be in partnership with churches in other parts of the world struggling to give expression to the gospel vision in their own setting. 'Globalisation' is a movement that impacts on both the local and world scenes, often with devastating consequences for the powerless and marginalised. Being contextual means we will continually revise our "transforming mission" focus and processes, to ensure they are relevant to the setting, whether local global, or both simultaneously.
Seeking hopeful futures
- Mission must always address issues of context. These issues will be both local and global in nature. In addressing them we will need to form both local and overseas partnerships if we are to be effective. How can we encourage that?
- Globalisation is a particular force impacting on the international and local scenes and raises many social justice issues that need our attention as church. Are we paying enough attention to the impact of globalisation around the world and right here in Aotearoa New Zealand?
- Holding the local and the global contexts together in creative tension will be a constant challenge to the church. How can we ensure that happens and neither is neglected in the interests of the other?
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.
- We need to think long and hard about the future we seek for the world and be quite specific about the forms social justice, love, freedom and fullness of life for all will take in that renewed world that is the focus of "transforming mission".
- Given the powerful and pervasive nature of the social, economic and political forces which currently hold sway in our world, we will need to work creatively and hard to keep our hope of an alternative future alive. The challenge is: how can we do that?