It seems simple enough, and it’s repeated again and again in the life and teachings of Jesus—we’re called to both proclaim and demonstrate the kingdom of God. But to this day his followers argue over which part of that mandate is more important.
At one end of the spectrum is a woman who came up to talk to me after a Perspectives class I taught, whose understanding of Christian mission boiled down to “saving souls.” “I wish we could get past the distraction of all this ‘humanitarian’ stuff,” she said.
On the other extreme was a man who sat next to me at a professional conference last year. He was from an aid agency with a Christian name, but took great pains to reassure me that their organization doesn’t “proselytize.” “Based on our programs, no one would know that we’re faith-based,” he told me.
Most Christians reject these extremes (see Tim Hoiland’s “Serving Justice vs. Saving Souls” over at Relevant), but still struggle to follow Jesus’ example of naturally and seamlessly ministering to “whole” people—body, mind, and spirit. Often we end up “tacking on” one set of activities to another. Many Christian mission agencies that have always focused on evangelism are now launching companion programs focusing on health and poverty. Christian relief and development agencies are developing initiatives that focus on spiritual outreach.
But the ministry of Jesus is more than just doing evangelism and social involvement alongside one another. It also goes beyond us trying to “integrate” the two. We have to recognize that these things are already integrated. They are indivisible, and the attempt to separate one from the other sabotages the whole mission, and our faithfulness to Christ.
The term “Integral Mission” is fairly new. It is rooted in conversations that began fifty years ago, and influenced heavily by leaders from the global South (the expression itself is inspired by the Spanish “Mision Integral”). But the concept is as old as the mission itself:
“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.” ~Micah Network
It’s easy to point to examples of what’s not right, but what does truly integral Christian mission look like when it’s pursued well? Last year, the Accord Network published a set of Principles of Excellence in Integral Mission, which might point us in the right direction. They argue that for relief and development practitioners like me, integral mission happens when…
- Our Christian faith is at the center of our identity, motive, and manner of being.
- We acknowledge the reality and significance of the spiritual realm.
- The Church is central.
- Transformational practices start with us.
- We recognize the whole system of poverty.
- In our relationship with churches, our local partners, and the community, we enter as guests, co-labor as partners, and continue as friends.
- We support communities and churches in measuring all that matters.
- We tell the story with integrity.
There’s a lot to explore here, which I plan to do in a series of posts over the coming weeks, but today I want to hear from you. What do you think about this? Where have you seen examples of integral mission?