Evangelism may be described as the proclamation of the Gospel message in word and deed, in an honest and loving way, so that those who receive the message may accept it, reject it or ignore it. Thus the action is proclamation, in both word and deed: and the message is the news of God’s saving activity in the person and work of Christ. That through the suffering, death and resurrection of Jesus Christ, all people have an opportunity to have a right relationship with God.
There are numerous other definitions for evangelism – it is not intended to debate the various descriptions, but to promote one particular reflection that embraces the concept of what is commonly called integral mission, or transformation, or holistic mission.
At the International congress on World Evangelism in Lausanne in 1974, evangelism was defined as:
“The whole church taking the whole gospel to the whole world”.
The whole gospel includes the well known part of proclaiming God by word - the church is good at this aspect. The whole gospel also includes proclamation by deed - personal witness - feeding the hungry, caring for the sick and needy, making a stand for justice. The church needs more opportunities and encouragement to engage in this. Thus evangelism, for the purposes of this research, is viewed as bringing together in a seamless way the spiritual and physical, divine action and social action. Evangelism involves witnessing:
Evangelism involves witnessing to what God has done, is doing, and will do. This is the way Jesus began his evangelistic ministry according to the synoptic gospels. “The time is fulfilled, and the kingdom of God is at hand” (Mk. 1:15). Evangelism is announcing that God, Creator and Lord of the universe, has personally intervened in human history and has done so supremely through the person and ministry of Jesus of Nazareth who is the Lord of history, Saviour and Liberator. In this Jesus, incarnate, crucified and risen, the reign of God has been inaugurated. Evangelism thus includes the “gospel events”. It is, essentially, not a call to put something into effect, as if God’s reign would be inaugurated by our response or thwarted by the absence of such a response. It is a response to what God has already put into effect. In light of this, evangelism cannot be defined in terms of its results or effectiveness, as though evangelism has only occurred where there are “converts”. Rather, evangelism should be perceived in terms of its nature, as mediating the good news of God’s love in Christ that transforms life, proclaiming by world and action, that Christ has set us free. (Bosch 1991, p412,413)
Others have used similar terms, including transformational development and integral mission, with resultant explanations and descriptions:
I use the term transformational development to reflect my concern for seeking positive change in the whole of human life materially, socially and spiritually . . . Changed people and just and peaceful relationships are the twin goals of transformation . . . Changed people are those who have discovered their true identity as children of God and who have recovered their true vocation as faithful and productive stewards of gifts from God for the well‑being of all. (Myers 1998, p3 & 14)
" .. the proclamation and demonstration of the gospel. It is not simply that evangelism and social involvement are to be done alongside each other. Rather, in integral mission our proclamation has social consequences as we call people to love and repentance in all areas of life. And our social involvement has evangelistic consequences as we bear witness to the transforming grace of Jesus Christ. If we ignore the world we betray the word of God which sends us out to serve the world. If we ignore the word of God we have nothing to bring to the world. Justice and justification by faith, worship and political action, the spiritual and the material, personal change and structural change belong together. As in the life of Jesus, being, doing and saying are at the heart of our integral task." Extract from the Micah Declaration on Integral Mission developed by those present at the Micah consultation on Integral Mission held in Oxford during September 2001.
The above speaks of integral mission, yet many writers have presented clear and certain perceptions of mission in terms of evangelism and social action – the spiritual and the physical - being separate, and with good argument that the spiritual side – evangelism – to be prioritized, or at least seen as primary (Paulus 1990, Wright 2006, Hauerwas 1980). Such arguments are not necessarily in conflict with the integral mission concept, since if you do treat them as separate then naturally separate elements can be prioritized, and if you are going to prioritize then evangelism will always be at forefront, since it introduces the essential eternal factor, whereas social action without Christian witness or the spiritual component, will always be temporal.
Integral mission effectively explains evangelism to include social action, and for social action to include evangelism: for the spiritual component to embrace the physical and vice versa. Thus the idea with integral mission is that you can’t separate the spiritual from the physical. It is not a case of combining these two aspects of mission as you would do when integrating something, but that they are integral, cannot be separated. Since the two can’t be separated, then neither can be prioritized. To prioritize one aspect is to first set it apart; to set something apart it must be separable. With integral mission the physical and spiritual are inseparable.
Of course actions associated with the physical and spiritual can be separated, but when this happens, it is not integral mission. Many organizations are solely involved in physical actions of reducing poverty and many churches are solely involved in spiritual actions in reaching the poor – but this is not integral mission. A number are doing both, but prioritize one aspect or the other – but this is not integral mission.
There have been a number of analogies presented to embrace the physical and spiritual concept of integral mission or holistic mission such as two blades of a pair of scissors, the wings of a bird, or a Pastor in Nairobi, Kenya, used the analogy of an airplane to explain the concept of holistic ministry:
He said that a plane requires two wings to fly. One wing is not more important than the other. Likewise, preaching the message of salvation should not take precedence over acts of compassion to people in need. (Miller & Yamamori 2007, p60)
A church or an organization that is engaging in just one aspect or the other will always be incomplete – it will ultimately fail the people.
Social action without evangelism. To think that social action is all there is to mission, while failing to lead people to the knowledge, worship and service of God in Christ, is to condemn those whom we may, in one way or another, “lead out of slavery” to repeat the history of Israel... Evangelism without social action. But on the other hand, to think that spiritual evangelism is all there is to mission, is to leave the people vulnerable in other ways that are also mirrored in Israel. “Spiritual evangelism” means that the gospel is presented only as a means of having your own sins forgiven and having assurance of a future with God in heaven – without either the moral challenge of walking with personal integrity in the world of social, economic and political society around us, or the missional challenge of being actively concerned for issues of justice and compassion for others. (Wright 2006, p286)
If in mission today we stress the spiritual aspects of the gospel without the social, we lose all relevance in modern society. But if we stress the social without the spiritual, we lose reality altogether. The ultimate factor in the churches engagement with modernity is the churches engagement with God. (Guinness 1999)
There is no evangelism without solidarity; there is no Christian solidarity that does not involve sharing the knowledge of the kingdom which is God’s promise to the poor on the earth. There is here a double credibility test: proclamation that does not hold forth the promises of the justice of the kingdom to the poor of the earth is a caricature of the gospel; but Christian participation in the struggles for justice which does not point towards the promises of the kingdom also make a caricature of a Christian understanding of justice. (World Council of Churches 1983)
This may hold particular challenges for Christian relief and development organizations that work:
- in environments where spiritual evangelism is viewed with distaste or hostility; or
- where financial supporters – Christian or non-Christian - of the work, may expressively forbid evangelism in its conventional sense.
With regard to the latter, in some circles there continues debate on whether a church or organization can truly be involved in integral mission when working on, for example a European Union-supported relief project, or a USAID-supported development programme, in which cases the donor forbids the recipient to “evangelise” or “proselytize” with public monies. However, if the concept of integral mission is accepted, then whatever the source of money to fund the project, if social action is being conducted through the church with a genuine witness to Christ then evangelism is there – it can’t be separated out and excluded.
This is of course quite different from the “evangelism” understanding of the multilateral and bilateral donor. Their concern is directed at using public monies for spiritual activities or directly promoting a particular faith or philosophy – donor conditions of course that need to be upheld and respected if you are engaged with such funding. But what the church does under these situations in terms of witness activity is no different from other faiths-based organizations or secular organizations. All civil society organizations, whether national or international, whether faith-based or not, witness to something. The corporate and individual witness of some secular relief and development organizations and its staff may be to values that can be creditable to some, or offensive to others – but they witness nevertheless, and are often recipients of tremendous sums of international aid. The corporate and individual witness of the church and its members of values grounded in Christ Jesus may be praiseworthy to some, or indeed confrontational to others, but they witness nevertheless. In all these cases you witness to something – and this witness is present irrespective of the source of funding.
Everyone believes in something, and what we believe in shapes what we do and how we do it. This is no less true for those who are concerned for the poor and wish to help the poor on their development journey. The ideological center is a matter of faith, whether we are Christian, Muslim, Buddhist, agnostic, or atheist. These core values and beliefs are where we get our understanding of who we are and what we are for. These guiding principles shape our understanding of what a better human future is and how we should get there. (Myers 1998, p3)
A church witnessing to its values and beliefs, indeed any faith-based or secular organization witnessing to its values and beliefs, will encounter a mixture of acceptance, rejection and indifference – but these are consequences of witness and not its intention:
People are also attracted to Pentecostal churches because of the neighbourly love they see expressed, both formally and informally. The new face of Pentecostalism is the social ministries that churches are launching in response to a holistic understanding of the Christian faith. While these acts of mercy and compassion typically are not explicitly intended to attract new converts, they are clearly affecting the perception of Pentecostal identity. (Miller & Yamamori 2007, p24)
Finally, it is contended that integral mission can be seen as the church being who she should be and doing what she should do - irrespective of external influences; disregarding promises of financial assistance and project support; putting aside intervention. The church is not in some competitive fixture to win external support in the fight against poverty and injustice; the church is not there in the midst of the vulnerable to gain international favour, nor fame, nor fortune. The church, with all her weaknesses and failings, with all her resource limitations, but in the immeasurable strength of the God she believes in, is simply doing what she is called to do.
Integral mission flows out of an integral gospel and an integrated people. There is a great danger that we transform the mission of the church into a set of special ‘projects’ and ‘programs’, whether we call them ‘evangelism’ or ‘socio-political action’, and then look for ways to integrate these methodologically. Rather, the mission of the church is located in the adequacy and faithfulness of its witness to Christ. Our core business is neither the take-over of the world’s systems nor the maximising of church membership.
Moreover, we need to remember that the primary way the church acts upon the world is through the actions of its members in their daily work and their daily relationships with people of other faiths. A congregation with huge social welfare projects or many ‘church-planting’ teams may be far less effective in secular society than congregations which have none of these things but train their members to obey Christ in the different areas of civic life into which they are called.
‘Integral mission’ has to do with this basic issue of the integrity of the church’s life, the consistency between what the church is and what it proclaims. On this understanding, what makes an ‘evangelical’ politician truly ‘evangelical’ is not that he adds gospel preaching onto his daily political activities, to make the latter more ‘holistic’; but rather that his political outlook and agenda are profoundly shaped by a vision and values that spring out of the Evangel (for instance, defending the most vulnerable- whether unborn children, the mentally disabled, cultural minorities or downtrodden tribal groups, working for ethnic reconciliation, and so on). (Ramachandra 2006)