Waiting for the penny to drop ...

I've just returned from a 24 hour consultation organised under the auspices of the Commission for World Mission and Evangelism of the World Council of Churches. There was the usual mixture of inspiration and frustration as we shared our experiences, vision and theologies of mission. It was a particular prrivilege to hear from Prof Steve Bevans, perhaps the leading contextual theologian of our generation, and Dr Jooseop Keum from the CWME. I always come away froom these gatherings full of unasked (and therefore unanswered) questions and a renewed energy to do more serious thinking. Together Towards Life (TTL) is a World Statement on Mission and Evangelism, agreed in 2013. It belongs to the 300+ member churches of the WCC and CWME. It is a powerful statement of where mission thinking and theology has got to in the 'academy'. But my first reaction is that Western Churches (not necessarily theologians or individual leaders) have still not caught up with the major paradigm shifts that have gone on in the field of mission studies and contextual theology. The hand-wringing that goes on in Church circles about (the lack of effective) evangelism, the appeal to methods of church growth that, frankly, got us into this mess in the first place, and the ease with which Church leaders from the Global South can shame Westerners with their talk of exponential church growth, reveals a form of Christianity that is ill at ease with the whole notion of mission. To my mind, we are still hankering after Christendom, or at least the modicum of respect and the meagre resources it offered. This arises from a perception of mission as recapturing loss rather than opening ourselves to God's future. Therefore, it is key that Western Churches respond to these documents, firstly, by actually reading them and using them for self-reflection and evaluation. Has the paradigm shift that these documents represent been acknowledged and embraced by British mainstream denominations? This is linked in many ways to the recent vote on Brexit and the responses in British society about immigration and cultural shifts. The Churches are still part of the narrative on post-colonialism and the reluctance among many to accept that the world (and Britain's place in it) has radically shifted. In missiological terms, this means that mission is something that British Christians do to others in other places and which does not effect or change the donor. There is still an attitude that the Church has something to give but little to receive. TTL in particular, blows this paradigm out of the water and suggests that those who have been the objects of our endeavours become our missioners. This will require a fundamental shift in priorities from local to global level among those of us raised in the British Western Christian Tradition (and this includes many Partner Churches that arose out of the Western Missionary tradition in the 18th and 19th centuries). A radical attention to context is also required. Church growth and evangelism strategies in the West increasingly look like a search for the Holy Grail, by which I mean a formula that will work in all places at all times. Western Christianity is still struggling to come to terms with culture and multiculturalism (and it is not alone). Old methods may not work simply because they are culturally-bound, not due to lack of faith or effort. we must stop being ashamed of church decline and begin to see the rise and fall of the Church as part of the larger social picture. When we realise that we are facing some of the same issues as any civil society voluntary organisation - political parties, trade unions, school governors - we will begin to take seriously the context for which a new theological paradigm is needed. The other emphasis of the statement that deserves more attention in Britain is the unequivocal rejection of global capitalism as 'mammon'. Is it fair to say that most of the Church in Britain and the Western World do little other than embrace global capitalism and particularly the worldview it offers. We need to understand better the worlds of macroeconomics in order to challenge to orthodoxy that suggests that the market is neutral and ultimately beneficial. Finally, I come to the question of reception. How does a great document like TTL end up getting to the people who need to read it? We were asked to think about what the purpose of theological education during the consultation and in the light of TTL and other missiological statements. The word that comes out for me is CONNEXION. By this I mean, that the aim of theological education is the formation of the prophetic pastor/leader as one who helps others to connect three strands: 1. The Wisdom of our Tradition - the Scriptures and history of interpretation, the deep wells of insight provided by our heritage; 2. The culture and reality of the context(s) in which we find ourselves - the pain and the joy, and the resources we have been given in our neighbours and communities, a proper reading of the signs of the times; 3. The hope of God's future - beyond the fantasies and unrealities of optimism to the tanglible resurrection hope of transformation and new opportunities. It is in the dialogue and connections between these voices and realities that the Church hears the call to mission anew and maybe, pennies begin to drop ...

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