Last week I attended two days of teaching put on by different groups, the Community Mission Conference(Livability and Tearfund) and the first session of the Northamptonshire and Leicestershire Mission Shaped Ministry course (Fresh Expressions).
Over the two days one thing resonated and came out of both days – the issue of keeping the faith central to whatever it is we are doing and unashamedly articulating such a thing. A holistic theology sees what god is going to do with the world. One of my favourite theologians, Tom Wright, talks about the heavens and earth being renewed at Jesus’ return and being made whole – transformed into a perfect physical reality with God at the centre. This is the culmination of a resurrection life, for the individual and the world. However, as believers that resurrection life has already begun and for the world the Spirit of God is active, beginning that change and pointing forward to that transformation. We see it when people and communities are transformed and they come towards God – addictions are overcome, destructive patterns of behaviour are put behind and people find hope, confidence and purpose where previously there was despair and hopelessness.
Christians are not the only ones interested in transforming society and dealing with the problems. Many other people and groups, including the government, have a desire to help people out of poverty and to improve certain communities where there is a lack of opportunity, high crime or other issues. They are usually very happy to have the help of Christians in doing this – they don’t care whether the motivation comes from faith or not so long as the outcome is the same. The difference with Christians however, is not simply a different source of motivation to others, it is in the nature of what the transformation is. The transformation is not just of external circumstances, it is holistic and involves the entire person. The internal spiritual change is at the heart of any external change, indeed it is God’s Spirit that is driving and directing that change, be it personal or communal.
So, the question is how do we express this holistic transformation when talking about our community projects? We need not just a justification of our Christian basis but a language which expresses God, revealed in Christ, as the agent of any change.
When planning any ministry I therefore need to articulate what the aspect of transformation is that I expect to see in that ministry, thus keeping faith central and key to it.