Transformation as Missional Goal for Our Churches and Schools
Schools and churches are being challenged for not fulfilling their mission of transformation. Our universities are not impacting our societies in the holistic ways that they should be. In “Sex, Lies, Arrogance: What Makes Powerful Men Act Like Pigs,” Time magazine questions the moral value of an educated person. Dominique Strauss-Kahn was a professor, head of the International Monetary Fund, yet in the estimation of Time magazine he acted like a pig.
Many churches are still emphasizing the salvation of the soul to the detriment of the salvation of culture and the whole creation.
Another study shows that students and families are questioning higher education not just because of its cost but its impact. “The college no longer builds character, virtues and skills that are for succeeding as a family, a business or a nation.” However, founders of universities knew that wholesome education should help students discover the truth, cultivate character, and grow in social skills as well as acquire vocational skills and physical fitness.
The reality of the university in America is the same as in the Congo. The president of the school where I teach describes our graduates as having big heads, small hearts, and small hands. The point the president is making is that people have so much knowledge, but limited ethics and cannot do things. Our schools, to become missional, should aim at transformation. The question for us is: Are we doing any better in our church schools?
Our churches are losing our communities as well. In Africa the church is described as being one mile long and one inch deep. The sad experience is that in many societies, while the church is growing numerically, the society is simultaneously decaying. In other words, the church is not making a strong, visible impact on its culture. The church in the Congo can be seen in the same way. With a population of 60 million, 80 percent of this population is Christian. Yet this growth cannot be translated to the socio-political arena; corruption and injustice are rampant.
Today we cannot ignore this fact even in the church in North America. In the United States, 85 percent of the population identify themselves as Christians and one third claims to be “born again.” Yet America is in huge moral decline.
As we consider this bleak picture of our churches and schools, a concern is in order: What factors prevent us—the church—from having the kind of transforming impact on society that we could and should have?
- The people of the church and schools are often hearers but not doers of the Word. However, the Bible stipulates that we should put the Word into practice. Leaders of the Anabaptist movement preached and taught the necessity of holding faith and works together. Faith was expressed through deeds. The tendency today is to privilege confession over action.
- Confessing Jesus as Lord demands obedience. The epistle of James stresses that even demons believe. Therefore, our faith should go hand in hand with our actions. In other words, there is no mission without ethics.
- Our interpretation of the Great Commission has been too narrow. Many churches are still emphasizing the salvation of the soul to the detriment of the salvation of culture and the whole creation. As we shall see, this has been the reason why the church left other domains of life.
- Our churches and schools are not taking steps in ministries of transformation, in our own backyard first and beyond. Generally, mission is understood as a cross-cultural activity which we tend to privilege. However, we demonstrate the love of Christ in our communities when we share the gospel of Christ in a very concrete way: helping them to find long-term solutions to their problems through a holistic ministry that transforms their lives and environments.
We should recapture the biblical vision of holistic transformation, and this should be our missional goal.
Transformation in the Bible
The Mission of God
God has a purpose for his creation. In Acts 20:27 and Ephesians 1:9–10 Paul describes it as the will of God. This mission includes the healing and restoration of all things that have been broken. It includes the physical—the redemption of the creation. It includes the social—the healing of the societal ills of our lands. It includes the redemption of all! The brokenness from the fall was comprehensive, and so is God’s plan to redeem all that was broken.
The Mission of God’s People
Our first and most important question is, What are we here on earth for? We have seen that God has a comprehensive plan for his creation. Therefore the mission is God’s. However, it is important to note that God has called into existence a people to participate with him in the accomplishment of that mission. So to respond to our question, we are those called to partner with God in order to accomplish his goal.
The Missional Church
It all started with one man, Abraham. After a bleak picture from Genesis 2 to 11, Genesis 12 opens a new perspective in God’s agenda. All families on earth will be blessed through Abraham. But the promise was to him and his seed, or his descendants. Who are the descendants of Abraham now? According to Paul, everyone who believes in Jesus as Messiah and Savior is included in the seed of Abraham and inherits the promise made to Abraham. The church is then the people chosen and called since Abraham to be the vehicle of God’s blessings to the nations. Therefore, by its nature the church is missional.
The Kingdom of God
Jesus taught his disciples to pray: “Your kingdom come, your will be done on earth as it is in heaven.” In heaven, God’s will is completely obeyed, but his kingdom on earth advances as his will is being done. In Jesus’ perspective, the kingdom is broad: it reflects God’s original intentions for the earth but also God’s redemptive work in history. The other feature of the kingdom is that it is present and it is future. But when our Lord rules in us we are transformed and become instruments of transformation in our families, churches, and societies.
From these biblical themes we see the centrality of transformation. God has a mission for his creation which aims at making everything new. The medium by which this mission is accomplished is the people God who are called as Abraham’s children to bring blessings to all families of the earth through the process of transformation. God’s story, which started with creation, will be fulfilled in the new creation when God will rule over all. Thus transformation is the sole goal of God’s mission, and our goal should also be to be involved in this ministry of transformation.
Transformation and the Church of History
For the sake of this study we shall concentrate on four historical periods: the early church, the Reformation, the Anabaptist movement, and the Mennonite Brethren Churches in the Congo.
In The Rise of Christianity (1997), social scientist Rodney Stark examined the link between social transformation and the early church. He found this small group of early Christians had introduced a vision of humanity to the Roman world. He noted that seven principles drastically changed the Roman empire: (1) Christians have a God who loves those who love him, (2) the Christians’ God instructs those who love him to love others, (3) Christians are not separated by social rank or ethnicity, (4) the Christian is merciful and requires mercy, (5) Christian men love their wives and themselves, (6) Christians reject abortion and infanticide (common practices in Rome), and (7) Christians love others—even those outside of their faith. Thus Christianity provided a new vision of humanity which changed the Roman world even though Christians were a minority.
God used the church and the Protestant Reformation to transform societies in Switzerland, Germany, and Holland. The doctrines of sola gratia, sola fide, sola scriptura, and soli Deo gloria challenged the thoughts and practices of the Roman church of the day. The church was seen as the embryo of a new world order. Interestingly enough, the ministry of the church was geared toward the needs of the community at large and made a significant impact in Europe, which became the foundation for the development of modern civilization. So, as they worked to reform the church, they worked hard to develop society at large.
The Anabaptist Movement
Our movement impacted societies through revival. This great movement, which started in Switzerland, Germany, and Holland and continued later in Russia and then North and South America, not only converted sinners but included an emphasis on good works that profoundly affected societies, bringing social reform and launching a great missionary movement of which we today are the product.
The Mennonite Brethren Churches in the Congo
The church-planting movement that swept the city of Kinshasa in the late 1980s was launched by a group of young lay professionals who experienced transformation from the first Mennonite Brethren mission outreach. They all were educated in the Mennonite schools where they were well taught how to think, to do, and to behave. As they arrived in the city they all became professionals in various areas, including education, health, and business. As they settled in their various settings they felt the need to establish churches from their own tradition, the Mennonite Brethren churches. They were so keen on the vision that they used their own properties to begin these churches. My own father began such a church movement. As a result, today there are fifty-six local churches in Kinshasa which sprang up because of men and women who were transformed and wanted to serve the Lord in the church as they worked in society.
Looking at our history we can learn more: the church understood what it meant to be the people of God in the world; they wanted to be faithful in fellowship, faithful in worship, faithful in service, and faithful in witness that would transform their whole being as well as their environment.
Holistic ministry as a tool of transformation
Holistic is consistent with the “whole” gospel, for the whole person, for the whole world. In a practical way it looks to God and the application of biblical truth to transform lives, churches, communities, and nations. It reflects God’s care for whole persons—for their spiritual, physical, social, and wisdom needs. This is congruent with the way Lausanne 3 defines mission: the whole people of God taking the whole gospel to the whole world.
This perception has double implications for our churches and schools. Churches should broaden their ministry, including social and political and economic needs of our communities. It means participating in job creation, sickness prevention, and environmental care. Therefore churches need people with various gifts and vocations to meet these holistic needs. The implication for schools is that we should be training students for a holistic ministry which must be translated into having holistic curriculum in our school.
Transformation ministry takes place in the context of sending.
Romans 10:13–15 highlights the importance of sending by the question: “And how can anyone preach unless they are sent?” Sending therefore becomes the biblical vehicle for conveying God’s intentions. In John 20:21 Jesus stresses this truth when he says, “As the father has sent me I am sending you.” We are then people who send and are sent. Therefore, to belong to God’s people is at the very least to be available to be sent. I propose two areas where our testimony has been reluctant:
1. The creation. Creation is crucial in our theology because everything starts with it. Creation is for God’s glory and the chief end of men is to glorify God. Although it suffered great loss from the Fall, it will still be put right again. There is no redemption without creation, and the sole goal of God is to restore creation in its full position. We are therefore called to live at the forefront of caring for creation. This can be done in two ways: through all believers and through those who have a special calling. For the former, we are all called to live in ways of green, avoiding wasteful use of energy, reducing our carbon footprint, recycling rather than trashing, preventing pollution. For the latter, they are called and sent by God with the specific mission of creation care, scientific research in the ecological arena and habitat conservation. And only a broadened curriculum in our schools can help us meet these needs.
2. The marketplace. It is interesting to note that the majority of those who call themselves Christians live on a daily basis in their ordinary everyday world. They work to make a living, raise a family, contribute to society and culture. The world marketplace includes work, trade, professions, law, industry, agriculture, engineering, education, medicine, media, politics and government, leisure, sport, and entertainment.
It is also important to note that God created this marketplace and is interested in this area. The cultural mandate in Genesis shows that he created it, he is inspecting everything that is taking place there, and his final goal for the whole creation is to redeem this area. Our missional call then becomes to pray for it, to serve it, and to seek its welfare. Another missional engagement in the marketplace is in order. We are called to be different, resisting idolatry, and we are called to suffer because of our integrity. We will avoid what happened to Dominique Strauss-Kahn if we play our correct role in our public squares.
Peace and justice
Following the suggestion of Alfred Neufeld, these ideas should guard our thought: It should be our belief that peacemaking is our sacred duty. Peace will never occur unless we abandon violence. Loving our enemies and peace go hand in hand. Peace will never occur if we do not seek for justice. Peace has to do with sharing our possessions. Thus peace studies in our schools and churches become imperative if we are to be faithful to the ways of our Lord and Savior Jesus which our forefathers, the Anabaptist movement, so highly cherished.
Becoming a hub for Transformational mission
From the church in Antioch (Acts 13:1–4) the International Community of Mennonite Brethren can learn the following lessons:
The church was committed to an international vision.
They had people from different backgrounds and ethnicities who brought different perspectives to their ministry. As a recommendation, we should be working hard to raise and integrate teams from our different worlds for the same cause. This calls for a commitment to international teams. Our schools will be better off if their faculties are international, yet how do we deal with issues of diversity in pedagogy and curriculum?
The church was committed to raising leaders.
The church in Antioch was well taught in terms of grasping God’s vision for the world. Paul and Barnabas were singled out to equip this church. We should be committed to training leaders who will equip our churches and schools for the same purpose. This calls for a commitment to equip leaders at all levels, especially at a high level. What do we then do for those leaders of churches and schools who do not have sufficient means for higher education or a sabbatical leave? By the same token, how do we raise up new leaders from generation to generation?
The church was open to the leading of the Holy Spirit.
They knew what God was doing in the world as they were prompted by the Holy Spirit. The church in Antioch was a praying church, and as a result they experienced the guiding of the Holy Spirit in calling out workers and sending them out. However, quite often we have relied on our strategies, expertise, history, and finances instead of tapping into spiritual resources of which only the Spirit of God is the provider.
Throughout this study I have demonstrated that transformation is central to the biblical goal of the mission of God. Since this is true I am inviting the people of God to embrace it as a goal for their missional activity for both our churches and schools, as the fate of the world depends on it.