Samaritan Strategy

Samaritan Strategy: Holistic  Discipleship Training (Issue 21)

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By Rev. Dennis Tongoi (CMS Africa).

It’s natural to look to Africa for mission success stories. The first Christian mission workers went to Africa in the seventeenth century and by 1900 ten million Africans were believers in Christ – that’s 10% of the population. By the year 2000 there were 360 million African Christians – that is 46% of the population! In fact, the number of professing Christians in various sub-Saharan nations exceeds 80% of the population.

Africa, the most evangelised continent.

Africa, the most churched continent.

 

Yet, there is another side of the African story. Africa is almost synonymous with corruption, poverty, bribery, disease, violence and injustice. In Kenya alcohol and drug abuse is growing at epidemic rates. For South Africans robberies and muggings are a daily reality. Nigeria is world-renowned, not because it hosts one of the world’s largest churches, but for its internet scams. And in the current conflicts in South Sudan, tribes have risen up against tribes despite a majority claiming to be Christian.

Africa, the impoverished continent.

Africa, the corrupt continent.

 

What’s wrong with this picture?

Of course this problem isn’t unique to Africa. We could just as easily point to parallel issues in South America, the United States, Asia, Oceania, and Eastern (and Western) Europe, not to mention New Zealand. The gospel has spread significantly in many parts of the world, yet in many cases society remains largely broken.

If the gospel has reached so widely throughout Africa, why are things as they are? Is something wrong with the gospel? Has the Kingdom of God failed?

For years international aid and development agencies have tried to deal with these problems—with limited success. A predominantly animistic worldview holds sway over the minds of many Africans—a worldview that sees humanity as a victim of nature, of other people, or of fate. This mind-set shifts responsibility for Africa’s social ills to the spirit realm, leaving individuals little hope or motivation for working towards a better future.

The church has been on the continent for nearly two thousand years—and has experienced tremendous growth over the last two centuries. This growth holds incredible potential for the healing of Africa. Yet, all too often, the church is disengaged from the crying needs of the community, focusing exclusively on ‘spiritual concerns.’ The gospel has spread in breadth, but not in depth!

 

The solution may be closer than we think.

The church is the solution. It is God’s principally ordained agency for social and cultural transformation. It is perhaps the single most important indigenous, sustainable institution in any community, with members in virtually every sphere of society (the arts, business, governance, education, etc.). This is particularly true of Africa where an estimated four million churches exist.

Yet, for the church to effectively advance God’s intentions, its leadership requires fresh vision and equipping. We, as God’s people, need to recognize that our mission is to see God’s Kingdom spread in both breadth and depth. Since 1999, a group of dedicated Africans have been doing just that—serving church leaders across the continent, providing them with a fresh vision for the church as God’s principal agent of social and cultural transformation.

The training goes beyond envisioning. It equips church leaders with simple tools that enable them to apply what they have learned immediately, thus beginning the transformation process in their own communities with existing resources—no matter how poor they may be. The training emphasises the importance of mind-set transformation and presents the Christian worldview as the catalyst for social and cultural transformation. The key for transformation is not more activity or programmes – Africa is jam-packed with well-meaning, God-focused activities that have failed to bring lasting change. The key to cultural transformation lies in the transformation of a people’s worldview. Dr. Tokunboh Adeyemo puts it bluntly: “Africa has been evangelized but the African mind has not been captured for Christ.” Ideas have consequences – Africa has been taught how to ‘get right with God,’ but Africa’s biggest problem is that the church hasn’t been taught how to think right. The solution for all these issues is between our ears!

Churches that have received the training are making remarkable contributions to the transformation of their communities. They are effectively addressing the HIV/AIDS pandemic; responding to conflict with biblical peace-making principles; and actively engaging in social, political, business, agricultural, and environmental issues. Not surprisingly, they are also more effective in their evangelistic outreaches.

Today, these African trainers have banded together under the name Samaritan Strategy Africa to advance this tested training programme into every corner of the continent. Samaritan Strategy Africa is not a formal organization but a network of trainers and activists affiliated with The Disciple Nations Alliance (DNA).

 

Why the ‘Samaritan Strategy’?

Most of us are familiar with the story of the Good Samaritan in Luke 10. But there’s one detail we often overlook. This unnamed man used his own bandages, his own wine, his own donkey, his own coins. He used what he already had in his hands to help the wounded man.

The Samaritan Strategy is about helping communities recognize what they already have, what God has already gifted them with. Rather than relying on donor aid for everything, Christian groups are challenged to see what they can do with the resources that are already in their hands. Time and again they discover an abundance that they can immediately put to use in their communities.

The hope is that Samaritan Strategy training will produce a multiplicity of fruits wherever it is offered.

In the Church:

God is glorified as local churches increasingly reflect his comprehensive redemptive agenda (Colossians 1:19-20) and respond compassionately to profound human need in their communities and nations Increased obedience to “all I have commanded” (Matthew 28:18) Church growth driven by the witness of love The church increasingly influencing every sphere of society (government, business, education, arts, agriculture, and sciences) with a distinctively biblical worldview

In Communities and Nations:

Greater justice, less corruption Greater respect for human life (particularly women, children, foreigners and the poor) Greater self-governance and social order, less crime Greater prosperity, less poverty Decreases in disease rates Better stewardship of creation Local churches increasingly esteemed in their communities as indispensable assets in community transformation

 

In New Zealand and Beyond.

New Zealand is a nation with a rich Christian heritage. Yet growing numbers of children are being raised in poverty, domestic violence is a significant problem, prisons are crowded, marriages are failing and suicide rates are among the highest in the world. If you were to shine the spotlight in your community what would you find?

We want to see the church in New Zealand empowered to foster change in local communities. That’s why we’re hosting a Samaritan Strategy Vision Conference. If you have a heart to see the Kingdom of God spread in both breadth and depth, this is for you.

Vision Conference: 3 – 7 November 2014 Day seminar: Saturday 8 November 2014 At Manukau City Baptist Church (9 Lambie Dr, Papatoetoe, Manukau)

For details visit nzcms.org.nz/dna

 

This was originally published in Intermission (September-October 2014).

The Great Reversal: The Sacred vs. Secular Split (Issue 21)

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By Debra Buenting. 

When I joined missions in the mid-1970s, the emphasis was on evangelizing to save souls. We knocked on doors, invited people to gatherings, and even passed out tracts in an effort to reach people with the gospel and get them saved. All these years later, I reflect not only on my own faith journey and mission, but on that of the church at large. Have we had the emPHAsis on the wrong syLLABle?

God is about restoration. The world and everything in it has not gone as he originally planned. When sin came into the world, it affected everything, not just our souls. The effects of this brokenness can be felt at every level of life on earth, right down to the cell level! If we want to be true Christ-followers, we have some rethinking to do. It appears Jesus came with a deep desire to restore EVERYTHING, not just our souls.

Ancient Israel was very familiar with this concept of wholeness. They called it shalom, which had a much richer meaning than simply, ‘peace.’ The concept of shalom included prosperity, welfare, victory, security, strength, wellbeing, wholeness, justice and harmony. In other words, shalom is how God meant the world to be. This suggests that salvation is so much more than deliverance from hell.

In the new millennium, God seems to be bringing balance to our over-emphasised zeal for saving souls – he’s drawing us to a more holistic perspective of the world and our role in it. The fuller biblical understanding of life and salvation is connected and complete. With God, there is no separation between secular and sacred or between physical and spiritual. God wants to be in everything.

Our Evangelical History and the Great Reversal.

It’s helpful to understand a brief history of how we got here. Despite various levels of engagement with all aspects of life, the church has a history of being double-minded. Augustine—who had a huge influence on the church in the 4th century and beyond—brought in ideas from his past, aspects of both Neo-Platonism (that separated the physical from the spiritual) and a cult he previously followed called Manichæism. In short, Augustine was plagued by guilt from his wretched past; he came to hate the body and anything of earthly nature. Augustine brought to Christianity a dualistic philosophy: that all physical matter is evil, and only God’s spirit is good.

Augustine had a profound influence on Calvin. But the secular/sacred mentality did not come to a head until the first part of the 20th century in America. Between 1910 and 1930, there were passionate debates and disagreements that were to affect how Christian mission was carried out in the 20th century. This period later came to be called, ’The Great Reversal.’[1]  This ‘Great Reversal’ had a profound effect on how Christians viewed themselves and Scripture. David Moberg described how each side stressed different parts of the Bible and “became either evangelistic or socially involved, not both.” Protestants, said Moberg, “identified with the prosperous, moved their residences and churches away from the inner city … and thus remained blind to many evils of their society.”

For a little context, it’s helpful to understand the environment of the American church at that time. Some Christians had begun to question the reality of God and the authority of the Bible. At the same time, American society was faced with a variety of new problems including massive immigration, urbanization, and industrialization. Great economic disparity and social ills burdened American cities such as New York and Chicago. How to solve these urban problems became the focus of fierce theological debate.

One side engaged in social reform, working to relieve crime, pollution, injustice, and cultural tensions. They fed the homeless, fought for workers’ rights, championed minorities and women, and sought to change the unjust structures of society that relegated people to chronic wretchedness. They cared for the whole person. But their message often neglected important Christian themes of personal responsibility, repentance and a relationship with God. Individual change, they thought, would result from corporate change. They called their work ‘restoring the Kingdom of God.’

Other Christians incorporated the hyper-individualism of Western culture with the theology and mission of the Church. This brand of Christianity became preoccupied with saving souls and focused on individual religious experience as the end-all of Christian work. According to Tom Wright, Christianity “became what the enlightenment wanted it to be—a private system of piety which doesn’t impinge on the public world.”  These Christians began isolating themselves from almost any sense of social responsibility, resulting in what many might call a ‘holy huddle’ sub-culture. They focused on growing a church culture that became preoccupied with reproducing itself rather than being an agent of transformation in greater society. They believed that if individuals experienced personal redemption, society as a whole would eventually change. Those who were concerned solely with personal evangelism, apologetics and the inerrancy of scripture became known as fundamentalists (for defending what they called the fundamentals of Christianity).

The fundamentalists belittled those who worked to solve social problems, viewing them as being driven by works. They derisively called those driven to reform society ‘social gospelers’ and despised them for missing the ‘true’ message of the Bible.  These suburbanite evangelicals took their gospel of salvation to the ends of the earth (influencing a mission theology that went everywhere, including New Zealand). This meant the rest of their Bibles – which dealt with corporate and social concerns – was seemingly left at home. On the other side, the more socially-conscious, ‘liberal’ Christians began to despise fundamentalists for their narrow-mindedness and apathy in the face of the hardships of those around them.

Rethinking our Identity. Rethinking our Mission.

The past 150 years have witnessed an unprecedented missionary movement aimed at preaching the gospel and planting churches among the ‘least reached’ of the world. Largely, this movement was successful at what it set out to do: save souls and plant churches. Today there are more churches and more Christians in the world than at any time in history. But to what end? Poverty and corruption thrive in developing countries that have been evangelized. Moral and spiritual poverty reign in the ‘Christian’ West. In many parts of the world where the church is growing, the growth is a mile wide and an inch deep – it has lost its characteristics of being salt and light in society (Matt 5:13-16).

In an effort to regain a broader sense of the gospel, some Christ-followers are shifting their priorities that pre-date ‘the Great Reversal,’ embracing ideas such as total life transformation, discipling nations and the building God’s kingdom on earth. Dozens of books are being published on these subjects, including the release by Youth With A Mission (YWAM) titled, His Kingdom Come: An Integrated Approach to Discipling the Nations and Fulfilling the Great Commission. The dialogue surrounding this broader worldview, as well as ideas coming from the emerging and postmodern church movements, have much to offer in helping us re-think our identity and mission. This holistically redemptive message not only transforms individual lives, but entire communities, cities, and cultures.

Charity alone is not the answer because it fails to deal with the core systems that allow evil to flourish. It’s one thing to feed people, rebuild their homes, or try to heal the emotional or physical wounds of war, sexual abuse or ethnic prejudice. It is another thing to fight the systems that contributed to these circumstances. However, trying to save souls while not investing in the rest of life is incomplete.

Two questions to keep before us are: What were and are God’s intentions for the earth? How can we help realize those intentions?

Should we not proclaim a message that frees all human beings to be all that God intended them to be—full participants in their destiny as co-creators in God’s universe, nurturing a spirit of truth and love to flow to both individuals and nations.

Hopefully ‘the Great Reversal’ is starting to be reversed. Let’s keep thinking, talking and working.

 

Debra has written longer articles about the Great Reversal and the history of evangelicals and mission: The Future of Evangelicals in Mission and Evangelicals and Social Action

 

Dr. Debra Buenting has spent most of her career traveling the globe, teaching and producing videos for missions. She is interested in helping people build strong and fruitful (shalom) lives by teaching, speaking and through her web and podcast initiative at GetControlOfYourLife.org. Dr. Deb also teaches graduate and undergraduate courses at several universities in the U.S.

This was originally published in Intermission (September-October 2014).

 

[1] This is a term used by evangelical historian, Timothy L. Smith, and explained in a thoughtful tiny book published in 1972 by David O. Moberg titled, The Great Reversal: Evangelism Versus Social Concern: An Evangelical Perspective.