Mission with humility, justice and inclusivity
In a world where understanding of Christian mission is changing rapidly, Bishop Geevarghese Mor Coorilos, moderator of the World Council of Churches (WCC) Commission on World Mission and Evangelism (CWME) explains what new visions the WCC mission statement will bring to the churches.
Coorilos spoke about the mission statement in an interview in Crete, Greece, where the statement was adopted by the WCC Central Committee in September this year.
What is the new mission statement and what does it aim to achieve?
The new WCC mission statement “Together towards life: Mission and evangelism in changing landscapes”, prepared by the CWME, is about seeking vision, concepts and directions for a renewed understanding and practice of mission and evangelism amid changing global landscapes.
Since the integration of the International Missionary Council with the WCC at the New Delhi Assembly in 1961, there has been only one officially approved WCC mission affirmation in 1982. As the global landscape has radically changed since then, a fresh look at the global situation and its implications for mission and evangelism became imperative.
The statement aims at stimulating creative mission reflection and encouraging discernment of action by member churches and related mission agencies of the WCC. It is also expected that the new affirmation will promote a renewed appreciation of the mission of the Trinity (missio Trinitatis), especially the “mission of the Holy Spirit”, the “life-giver”. Differently put, it aims at articulating a fresh understanding of a prophetic missiology that affirms “life” in its fullness, in relation to justice, inclusivity and integrity of creation.
What impact will the mission statement have on the life of the churches?
The new mission affirmation, we hope, will impact the life of the churches in a significant manner as it seeks to address the changed and the changing ecclesial landscape of global Christianity since 1982. Some of the changes that are addressed include a shift of the centre of gravity of world Christianity from the global North to the global South and East, the sweeping influence of neo-liberal economic ideologies, the impact of migration, new forms of oppression of people and the environment, new ways of being churches and the phenomenal rise of Pentecostal and charismatic churches.
This statement will help member churches to make sense of their ecclesial and social milieu from contemporary missiological perspectives. The new mission statement, being creation (life) centric, will challenge churches to assume the role of a "servant" (instead of "master") of God's mission, and NOT to conceive of mission in colonial, expansionist and triumphalist terms. It will also have implications for the way evangelism is practiced by churches as the new mission statement advocates "authentic evangelism" which promotes values of humility, hospitality, justice, inclusivity and the dialogue of life.
The statement has been translated in many languages. The CWME will also prepare study guides that can be used for training missionaries and evangelists by member churches, affiliated bodies and mission agencies. In fact, we are encouraged by the enormous attention the new mission statement has already received from various quarters, including member churches.
The CWME will also ask member churches and affiliated mission bodies to share in ways of reflecting and implementing the statement in their local contexts. The reflections and follow up actions on the statement will be shared in the International Review of Mission before the Busan Assembly.
Why is emphasis on "mission from the margins" important?
The section "Spirit of liberation: Mission from the margins" figures at the very centre of the new mission statement. This is hugely important as "mission from the margins" is indeed one of the defining features of the statement. What makes the new mission statement distinct is the affirmation of the agency of the marginalized in mission. It is mission "from the margins", not mission "to the margins", not even mission "at the margins" where the poor and the marginalized are treated as objects of charity.
This missiology further claims that the people at the margins have a special gift to distinguish life affirming forces from life negating ones. They are placed in a unique position "to see what is out of position from the view of people at the centre". The statement advocates justice, solidarity and inclusivity as the key expressions of mission from the margins.
The prophetic dimension of the statement also lies in its outright rejection of the idolatry of Mammon in a world of free market economics. This is a missiological affirmation where the hitherto "receivers" of mission reclaim their status as agents and initiators of mission and in this sense the new affirmation is ground breaking.
What contribution does the mission statement make to the theme of the WCC’s Busan Assembly?
Well, there is so much in common between the emphasis of the new mission affirmation and "God of life lead us to justice and peace", the theme of the Busan Assembly of the WCC. The thread that binds the two is their life-centric focus. Life as promised by God in Christ, life in its fullness, presupposes justice, peace and integrity of creation.
The Busan Assembly theme and the emphasis of the new mission statement seek to advance the concept of “life” understood in this holistic manner. We believe that the assembly theme in many ways is "missional" in its call and direction. Therefore, the mission statement with its profound theological reflections on a "mission of life affirmation" is also offered as a contribution from CWME to the WCC assembly.