Communion with God, and in partnership with others
When considering Christian relief and development programmes – who should be engaged, who should develop strategy, who should implement the work, who should be sent?
Personnel and partner selection is an ongoing issue facing many churches and Christian organizations. Can non-Christian professionals offer solutions to spiritual problems? Can Christians from Western backgrounds properly understand and engage with other cultures? Can non-Christian partners engage with integral mission? Can and should indigenous spiritually-minded, well-intended Christians be expected to embrace all elements of professionalism and understanding from their Western partners and supporters perspectives? Should Christian relief and development efforts be in partnership with non-Christian efforts?
It is important not to be prescriptive in such matters. Much will depend on the organization’s internal mission and vision, its organizational and structural set up, the countries and thematic areas it works in, its partners and supporter base, the employment rules and regulations that govern its procedures, and readiness of others. Thus there is no single or simple answer, there is no given solution: however there are certain considerations that can be brought into the equation:
Consideration needs to be given to the following matters:
- If an integral mission approach is adopted, how important is it that leaders of an organization or leaders of the subsequent response on the ground, are able to effectively engage with both the physical and spiritual? Is it possible to have non-Christian leaders lead and witness to a Christian response? What weighting should be given to the person’s connectedness to God, to the truth– however it may be measured or gauged? What importance should be given to communion and counsel with God in the life of a leader and the role of God’s wisdom versus wisdom from others?
Listen to no man who fails to listen to God... No man has any right to offer advice who has not first heard God speak. No man has any right to counsel others who is not ready to hear and follow the counsel of the Lord. True moral wisdom must always be an echo of God’s voice. (Tozer 1990, p20,21)
Where is truth found? How is truth to be known? It is a problem for kings, so that they may guide national policies aright (cf. 1 Kings 22:5-7); it is a problem for prophets, that they may be certain that what they preach is dictated by God and not by the preference of congregations (cf. Ezk. 2:6,7); it is a problem for priests, lest pastoral counsel degenerate into that sort of “partiality” or “respect of persons” which tells people what they want to hear (cf. Mal. 2:7-9). But the problem is not confined to the great ones of the earth. Amos makes no reference to them. It was the people themselves, and each for himself or herself, who faced the choice and chose amiss. Antiquity is no safe guide, for (as Pusey says) “the popular error of one generation becomes the axiom of the next”. Human authority is no safe guide, for (to quote Pusey again) “the children canonize the errors of their fathers”. Nothing affords a safe anchorage for life except the word which God Himself has spoken. The people of God possess this – in Amos’ day by the written and preached deposits of their own ancient past and in the contemporary voice of prophecy; in our day by the written deposit of the completed Scriptures – and it is the hall-mark of the people of God to recognize this divine word of truth, to use it as the criterion for judging all things, and to reject all would-be competitors. (Motyer 1974, p53)
Faith institutions and leaders often stand as courageous leaders who “speak truth to power” and help with difficult moral transitions. Witness the role of Archbishop Desmond Tutu in fighting apartheid in South Africa, and of faith groups in confronting child soldiers, trafficked girls, female genital cutting, persecution of witches, and oppression of excluded groups. Thinking deeply about such issues is central to the calling of religious leaders, and they rely on centuries-old traditions to do so. (Marshall 2005, p10)
- What value is there is a joined-up response – a liaison of the Christian, other faiths and secular, each with their distinctive contribution? Why is contact with other faiths sometimes perceived as a dilution of your own belief, rather than a display of strength and confidence? Can positive engagement be possible with a security that lies in God, rather than lying in the strength of Christian reasoning or interpretation? Is there a call for the church and Christian organizations to put aside such fears and venture outside their safety zone?
People of different faiths are sometimes afraid of losing their religious identity, or even their faith, in interfaith dialogue, but my experience and that of others have been the opposite...
Religious dialogue must happen from on the grassroots, solving practical questions concerning the everyday life of the people. Common projects like solving the problems of water supply, lack of security in the neighbourhood, conflicts between youths or the need for extra homework assistance for young people or immigrants. Having concrete common problems to solve can help people to develop friendship and fellowship.
We see today also a tendency that different religious communities find common ground in a world that gets more secular. They realize that there is a common understanding between them of the importance of religion in the different aspects of life.
Still, we must remember that many religious groups are not interested in dialogue, both among Christians, Muslims, Hindus, Sikhs and others. It is safe to stay within our own community, and there may be an inclination among religious and political leaders to keep their positions of power. Religion may also be used for political and economic purposes. Different interpretations of a religion can also hamper a necessary development in different areas, and conserve attitudes that need to be changed in order to promote a free and just world with equal rights for all. Old traditions can stand in the way of necessary development. Inequality between the sexes can be a challenge, and is often maintained by laws emanating from a doubtful interpretation of the scriptures of a religion. Certain religious groups are only motivated by the hope of gaining converts and serve only their own followers. (Bondevik 2008, p225)
At its heart, the arguments for engaging in an active dialogue between institutions of faith and development turn around the growing appreciation that there are enormous areas of overlap, convergence, shared concern and knowledge, and a core common purpose. Both faith and development institutions seek to work WITH poor communities to improve their lives and ensure them a better future. (Marshall 2005, p11)
As Christians our primary resource for the context of transformation is the Bible. But if Transformation has to do with moral goods, values and virtues do cultures not have significant differences in the priority and values of moral goods? Some cultures may place a much higher value on family, clan and community than the individual, on submission and obedience to traditional authority than individual freedom. Should we as Christians see transformation as universal and trans-cultural?
We need to explore further and consider how other faith communities may partner us in transformational development. It is here I believe a clearer articulation of the goals of moral personhood and moral community could become key instruments in finding a basis for joint action. Other faith communities must be encouraged to identify resources from their faith for promoting moral personhood and moral community. This could lead to traveling together in a journey where Christ’s blessed presence may become visible. (Samuel 2008, p31,32)
Dialogue with other faiths: the catholicity of the Church is not a static concept, of course. Catholicity is not only about communion among the churches, it is not only about communion among local Christians. Catholicity has to do with the whole world, the whole oikoumene, the whole of the inhabited world, and for this reason it is absolutely essential that ecumenism should be in a close relationship to dialogue with people outside the Christian churches (with people of other faiths, for example). (Nazir-Ali, 1995 p72)
It was recognised that inter-religious activities can often be more effective than those carried out by a single faith community. In several countries, Benin among them, there have been joint Christian-Muslim approaches to the authorities to discuss ways of reducing poverty, improving tribal relations and ensuring political stability. In Niger, Christian and Muslim religious leaders took part in the discussions around the country’s Poverty Reduction Strategy. The common programme of Muslims and Christians in Africa co-ordinated from Nairobi was mentioned as highly productive. (World Faiths Development Dialogue 2003, p6)
It is suggested that the major areas of opportunity for, but in general neglected by, the church are as follows... Networking with other development agencies at local and sub-national regional levels: in particular, the church could activate links with Christian businesses and sources of development finance, as well as with public sector agencies and Christian NGOs. (Belshaw 2001, p58)
- In relation to the above, where do leaders and members of the local church sit in the personnel recruitment mix? Taking into account all that has been said before, are they always going to be an integral part of the solution whatever their strengths and weaknesses, or are they going to be involved as thought appropriate?
The church is central to God’s plan, and the local church in particular is the means that he uses to change communities. Church denominations and specialist Christian development and mission organizations must support the work of the local church and not marginalize it. Christian development agencies face a choice as to whether they work through or around the local church. If in ten years’ time we have strengthened our own organizations to serve poor people, but left local churches weak and marginalized, then we will not have contributed to God’s long-term strategy. (Grant 2008, p174)
...the sign of the kingdom is the church, the community of faith, not the development worker or the development agency. Somehow development workers must become a part of the church. As Christians, their local community of faith is the local church. Their work needs to be seen as a sign of that church, not some personal beacon. (Myers 1998, p38)
Partnership with churches is essential for building moral communities. The church must be encouraged and equipped to be a moral community nurturing citizenship among its members, engaging in sharing Christian truth and public truth, challenging and influencing public policy and discourse. (Samuel 2008, p22)
The communication of the gospel is not primarily the work of visiting evangelists; rather, it is the work of the local Christian communities who patiently articulate to others what Christ is so obviously doing in their own collective life. Christians who come from outside the church must first seek out local believers and identify with them. (Peskett & Ramachandra 2003, p205)
We hear cries of pain of churches and communities of Christ’s people in local areas when some outside agencies, driven by ardour of their convictions, have acted – in the opinion of some local churches – without consultation, to the detriment of the work and vision of these churches. Such action does not strengthen, but weakens the credibility and witness of the church. (Stuttgart consultation 1987, p285)
- What import should be given to a view that indigenous challenges are often better off with indigenous solutions – and these in turn will be more sustainable? An indigenous-led development of strategy and subsequent response will often bring with it a connectedness beyond compare to outsiders. An indigenous response will:
o bring first-hand experience of living in a world of injustice and persecution, a world of suffering, a world of discrimination;
o bring generational experiences of living in times of drought, floods, hurricanes, tsunamis, hunger;
o connect more with the poor, the vulnerable, and the marginalized;
o likely reflect a life where the physical and spiritual more naturally go hand-in-hand in the society they live and work;
o have a better understanding of identity issues relating to nationalism, tribalism and Christianity in their cultural context.
A connectivity that is not generally reflected with personnel involvement from the Western world, however much overseas experience and good intent they may have.
Priority must be given to adequate mentoring and coaching of new leaders, especially the young, in order that the emphasis on the leadership role is in servanthood and not status. Skills of resourcing in the local and international environment will be essential in the coming years as well as skills of research, problem solving and implementation. NGOs will need to provide significant resources in education and mentoring. (Consultation report 1996, p406)
Development agencies need to see that many of the solutions to problems may be found in indigenous culture. The problem is that culture is usually tied to religion and it is difficult to separate the two. In working with culture we must always ensure that cultural traits and practices should be judged on the grounds of biblical truth and values.
In reflecting upon the Christian response to human need, we have recognized the central place of the local church as the vehicle for communicating the Gospel of Jesus Christ both in word and deed. Churches around the world have throughout history displayed active concern for the needs around them and continue to serve the needy. We call upon aid agencies to see their role as one of facilitating the churches in the fulfilment of their mission. (Wheaton Statement 1983, section 41)
There may be a need for greater realism in the so-called participative approach to the preservation of indigenous peoples. Whatever is done by Western NGOs, Christian or otherwise, is largely driven by a Western agenda. As Christians we have the advantage of being subject, like those whom we seek to serve, to a higher authority. ... we need to recognise that if we encourage the survival of indigenous peoples through such means as participative development, the protection of land rights and bilingual education, we are encouraging them to move in the direction of self-determination and autonomy. (Hughes 2001)
NGOs must focus on: facilitating collection of local knowledge and wisdom; dialogue with local communities to identify information needs, assess problems, and enhance local capacity to effect solutions; equipping local communities for knowledge acquisition and application... (Consultation report 1996, p405)
Church leaders hold the potential of being change agents in their societies. Often they are not representing a power threat to the political leadership in the country, and thereby they hold a potential for developing and practicing an alternative leadership system: a system, where e.g. the fear aspect and the lack of initiative may be exchanged with systems of respect, cooperation, learning and development. If new leadership systems may be developed, systems where the leaders and their followers may hold more constructive roles, this may bring a situation where quality results may be reached. The bigger picture is that such changes may ultimately bring positive change to the organization and to the society. (Lemvik 2008, p347,348)
- What value is there in a global Christian response – Christians from the Two-thirds world and the Western world working together for a common cause, to a common vision? Aid workers, developers and theologians from the Western world have a rooted understanding of the Western culture and the related populous view of poverty, a people who have significant resources to share and influence to bear on the powers that take decisions affecting the poor. Recruits from the West may offer access to counterpart organizations, donor support, and churches; they may proffer professional advice from a Western or contextualized perspective; they may be a bridge and the story tellers to the rest of the world; they may facilitate and help apply wider learning.
Speaking on mission in Africa with special reference to the Catholic Church, but of equal relevance to the whole church, Bosch (1991) writes:
The rediscovery of the local church as the primary agent of mission has led to a fundamentally new interpretation of the purpose and role of missionaries and mission agencies. ...no longer may foreign missionary orders and societies dictate the pattern of evangelism in the Third World. The whole world is a mission field, and the distinction between sending and receiving churches is becoming pointless. Every church is either still in a diaspora situation or has returned to it. And churches everywhere need each other. (Bosch 1991, p380)
Taking all the above considerations into account will encourage action by Christian organizations in the following areas:
o review of personnel recruitment policies and partner selection criteria;
o reflection on differences between leadership concept in Two-thirds world versus the West;
o re-examination of the appointment of leaders (including greater opportunities for women) of: projects; programmes; country and regional offices; and so forth;
o preparation of personnel – the development of the professional and spiritual qualities hand-in-hand;
o development of indigenous leadership: introduce into programmes the longer-term development and support of local leaders, building upon indigenous knowledge, understanding and perspectives, as well as connecting to the wider academic world for essential scholarly support and to meet required standards: albeit the standards may have been set by, and governed from the West. The training and equipping of future indigenous leaders is often a medium- to long-term course of action.
- Involvement of the local church: reconsider their central role and inclusion - to promote the integral mission approach, as discussed at length in other sections.
- Working with other faiths and the secular world: bringing about a joined up response in the fight against poverty, each making a distinctive contribution with integrity – whilst maintaining transparency and honesty about their actions and upholding what they stand for and what they believe in.
- Two-thirds world and the West in partnership: look at the development of stronger partnerships – drawing on the strengths and capabilities of the two parties.