Confidence in the Midst of Crisis: A Theological Reflection Vista 9: April 2012

Posted February 13, 2018 by europeanmission
Categories: Uncategorized

We are beginning the occasional publication of articles from previous editions of Vista, which are worth revisiting and reading again. This article by Dr. Andrzej Turkanik is as relevant now as it was when first published almost 6 years ago.

A friend of mine wants to get rid of his TV set. The reason: every time he watches the news, he gets depressed. Stories such as the European debt crisis, the status of the European monetary system, unemployment rates with ensuing immigration challenges, increasing medical costs and another paedophile or corruption story permeate the airwaves causing many to feel anxious and uncertain.

One of the challenges with the globalized world is the assault of information through computers, televisions, cell phones and perhaps media that we are not even aware of now but will surely be “vital” to our lives by year’s end.

Isolating ourselves from this information is not the answer. We must look for the answers by understanding the underlying causes which include, among other things, a basic human characteristic of greed resulting in excessive consumption, pride and entitlement. There is hope but I believe it is not found in traditional areas where political and economic leaders search.

The solution demands not just a brilliant idea or a rich and well-organized country that treat the symptoms of problems without addressing the underlying causes, but a person. It is in the darkest moments that the presence of the followers of Jesus can encourage a society which has lost hope.

Believers may feel overwhelmed by the speed and complexity of these challenges, which for many form the predominate concerns of today’s world. The good news for us and those around us is we do not need to stare into the face of the crisis and the abyss of despair, but rather into the face of the One who repeatedly said to those around him, “Do not be afraid”. The fact that He called us to follow him in Europe today means that it is perhaps for such a time as this we are here and now.

We are neither immune to the problems around us, nor are we in possession of the answer to the issues. Perhaps we feel the tension similar to the one the first disciples felt as Jesus was about to depart. But he deliberately left them in the situation giving them the tools to manage. At the very end of Matthew’s Gospel, the end of the Great Commission passage, Jesus tells the disciples: “And surely I am with you always, to the very end of the age.”

The gift of Jesus’ presence to the disciples then, as well as to us now, and continuing until the end of time, is a sufficient guarantee that someone has complete control over the affairs of the world, including an unstable Europe. It is He, the great I AM, who promised to accompany the helpless and the hopeless. But as for the first disciples so also for us the challenge remains the same: “go”.

Dr. Andrzej Turkanik
Executive Director, Quo Vadis Institute
Andrzej Turkanik completed degrees in music, art, and theology before earning his PhD from Cambridge University. A native of Poland, born and raised during the Communist regime, he studied music and art in Poland, and theology in Germany and England. He and his wife Malgosia and their children live in Salzburg, Austria, where he serves as the executive director for the Quo Vadis Institute, an organisation focused on developing ideas and knowledge to produce flourishing societies in Europe.

Read the rest of Vista 9 here

A New Way of being Missional Church in Eastern Europe Vladimir Ubeivolc

Posted January 28, 2018 by europeanmission
Categories: Central and Eastern Europe, missional church, Uncategorized

Porţile Oraşului (The Gates of the City), Chişinău

Porţile Oraşului (The Gates of the City), Chişinău

How to be a church and how to do mission?’ These are the most difficult questions which pastors, theologians and practitioners have tried to resolve over the centuries. In Soviet-era Eastern Europe1 Evangelical churches did not discuss mission, yet the topic of mission now features at many conferences across post-Soviet Eastern Europe.

This article combines missiological reflection with a case study of Light to the World church (LTTW) and Beginning of Life (BoL) NGO.

The Church of and for tomorrow

Very often, when we talk about Church, we ground our discussion in Scripture, church history, doctrinal confessions, or possibly in classical eschatological terms.2 I acknowledge the importance of biblical studies, yet at the same time, I think we have a serious gap between the Bible, church history, and eternity. Practically, we struggle to think and act in the perspective of the coming future, or tomorrow.

Of course, there are many theologians and leaders who deal with ‘tomorrow’ as a reality, but most of them are not from Eastern Europe. One issue for Eastern European churches is the division between theological discussions and the Church’s practice. Theology and mission are not discussed together. I think one of the reasons is that our theologians are not answering society’s contemporary questions but are answering challenges from the past.

So, what is the church of, or for, tomorrow? We need to consider the local church, not only from a historical perspective, but also from its role in serving contemporary society with a focus on the future. The church cannot withdraw from active life, justifying its absence because of its tradition or quietist theology, and still remain an important player in society. At the same time, simply echoing the world’s methods of combating problems is not a satisfactory way of undertaking mission.

The church of tomorrow

The church of tomorrow is involved in being a church and shaping theology from the perspective of the future. The Church uses its spiritual gifts of knowledge, wisdom, and prophecy for understanding its identity in contemporary life from the perspective of tomorrow. The Church also uses natural gifts of analytical thinking to predict impending issues and problems. ‘Missional church is, on a deep level, about theological imagination – a different way to see and experience life in the church and the world.’3

It is impossible to shape its identity without a missional worldview. The missio Dei is essential to such a church. When discussing the missio Dei, a trinitarian foundation is necessary, but, more than this, shalom becomes the final goal for God’s mission4 and an intermediate goal for every Church. Shalom should result during and from the Church’s mission (John 14:27). In this sense shalom becomes both a goal and a method. ‘Shalom suggests a restoration of relationship between all peoples, as well as reconciliation between humanity and God. It also suggests the restoration of the earth and our relationship to the land.’5

Trinitarian foundations and shalom frame a holistic approach to mission. The church of tomorrow still locates itself in the Bible and the Christian tradition. At the same time, in addressing contemporary issues, the most important question should be not: ‘What did our precursors teach on this issue?’ but ‘How it will affect our successors?’ The church of tomorrow should be able to foresee coming problems in the Church, as well as in society at large.

The church for tomorrow

The church for tomorrow is the practical response to the theological and prophetic reflections arising out of the discussion above. Because its essence and theology are shaped together with the coming generation, young people must be active players in the conversation. ‘A Community theology invites listening and becomes open to being surprised by God’s purposes rather than our good intentions.’6 ‘Leaders are responsible not for monopolizing theological discourse in the congregation but for leading and equipping people in the practice of theological imagination for interpreting the Word and making sense of their daily lives in the world.’7
New generations are both the object and subject of mission. When we think about the role of young people, it does not mean that older generations should be neglected. It means that they should not dominate any more. The church for tomorrow creates an environment for peaceful cooperation for different generations, open to their values, preferences and methods.

In the church for tomorrow, all generations are equal in theological dialogue and mission. Therefore, the church for tomorrow unites all generations in its reflections, shaping of theology, and its mission.

2. Missional community in Eastern Europe

What does it mean to be ‘missional’ in Eastern Europe? Eastern European evangelical churches are known by their activism in evangelism, church planting, and their Bible schools with a variety of theological programmes. The missional church is currently only discussed in a small number of theological circles. Consequently the idea of the missional church faces considerable resistance from denominational leaders, local pastors, as well as theologians.

I understand missional church to be a local congregation of believers, open to the triune God, who realize their mission through the Holy Spirit, and who have covenanted among themselves. Missional church assumes the missio Dei, that its mission is holistic, and that this involves prophetic presence, witness/evangelism, and social action.8 ‘A missional church is formed by the Spirit of God at work in the ordinary people of God in a local context.’9 Therefore, it is very important to rethink the obstacles and the prospects for missional communities in Eastern Europe.

Obstacles for missional churches in Eastern Europe

The Mennonites’ influence

It is hard to overestimate the role of Mennonites in spreading the Gospel in southern Ukraine and Moldova. Their mission was through ‘witness’, where words were secondary to a Gospel-shaped lifestyle. As Shenk reminds us: “Mennonites became known as ‘the quiet in the land’.”10 German peasants and artisans, whose life was attractive for Moldovans, established the first non-Orthodox communities in Moldova. From the very beginning, Moldovans were not evangelized verbally; rather, the Gospel was shown to them. A hundred years have passed since then, but this quietist approach is still passed down from generation to generation.

Historical background

Christians in the Soviet Union suffered from persecution and restrictions. During the Soviet era, Christians were excluded from an active societal life. Evangelism and public worship were prohibited. Churches were silenced and obligated to listen to the ‘state’s prophetic voice’ directed at them. All social action was forbidden because the Soviet state argued that there were no poor people under socialism.

Inertia of Eastern Europe’s people

Moldova and Ukraine emerged over several centuries of imperial struggle between the Russian, Ottoman, Austro-Hungarian, Polish-Lithuanian, Prussian, and Soviet empires. Even today we are impacted by the geopolitics of the USA, EU and Russia. For generations, people in Eastern European countries could not make their own decisions, because their freedom was limited and this created a passive attitude to any kind of initiative. ‘Communism never found a way to motivate people to work hard. It appears that people are lazy… by default…’11

Christians tend to share this mentality. They wonder why traditional forms of mission, used for many years, should be changed for the future. People are generally very active when problems touch their family, but when they are involved in bigger processes, they believe that somebody from outside should come and resolve their problems.

Competing theologies and missiologies from the West

Moldovan capital Chişinău (Kishinev)

Moldovan capital Chişinău (Kishinev)

When the Soviet Union collapsed, western mission agencies and denominations swarmed into Eastern Europe. Some of them offered their services; some came with their vision, theology and financial support. Most evangelicals were open to, but naive, in relations with their western brothers.12 They were glad to have any kind of theological school, church building, or conference. Many western organisations did not coordinate their activities and competitive attitudes were widespread. In the 21st century, the situation has changed because local leaders, more aware of the alternative approaches, have become more selective. In situations where people in churches faced real poverty, and where churches were interested in raising money for different projects, it was very hard to be objective when determining motives. Money from the West frequently dictated vision.

A missional approach is different in its methodology of discipleship. No western theological school with a missional vision, has yet arrived in Eastern Europe with professors, programme, vision and money. There are many traditional theological schools which arrive with all manner of other resources and consequently it is very hard for church leaders to take the risk of adopting a missional approach.

Prospects for missional churches in Eastern Europe

The hope for missional communities in Eastern Europe rests on solid foundations.

Availability of numerous active leaders

Many pastors and leaders are dissatisfied with the current situation and understand the need for change. They are already active in different areas of society and church. Not all of them have profound theological foundations, but they are open and enthusiastic. Speaking at Moldovan and Ukrainian conferences, I meet many leaders who long for access to missional resources in their Slavic languages.

Emerging, local theologies of mission

There have been several attempts by local missiologists and practitioners of holistic mission to provide resources. These include: Mission in the Former Soviet Union (edited by Peter Penner, 2005); Forum 20, twenty years of religious freedom and active mission: Results, problems, perspectives of Evangelical churches in post-Soviet society (Rahuba et al, 2011, in Russian); Evangelical mission in the Eastern European Orthodox contexts: Bulgaria, Romania, Moldova and Ukraine (edited by Malancea and Ubeivolc, 2013). More recent titles include; New Horizons of Mission (edited by Penner, in Russian) and Grey Areas of Evangelical Ecclesiology (Ubeivolc, in Russian/Romanian). All of them demonstrate a growing interest in the theological rethinking of mission from a trinitarian, missional point of view.

Networking

Contact with international missional communities and missiologists helps to shape local and regional theologies of mission. Today Eastern Europe has become a region with open doors. Ukrainian, Moldovan and Romanian laws ensure the religious freedoms that permit missional churches to be established.

3. A case study from Chişinău

There is a risk of criticizing existing forms of the Church without suggesting alternative models. What would these look like in Moldova? This article outlines several options. Of course, these examples are not perfect, but they demonstrate that missiological innovation can transform missional practice and local congregations.

Light to the World church was planted in 1994 by Evangelical-Baptists following an evangelistic crusade organized by the Billy Graham Association. In the 1990s, the church was active in evangelism and discipleship. From 2003 the church’s mission began to develop: it became more contextual, flexible, and open to holistic and missional approaches. From 2012, the church adopted a holistic approach to mission, and together with Beginning of Life formed a ‘Church of / for tomorrow’ model. There are four different clusters in church; each of them leads services in their own style and form. Every Sunday there are around 300 people attending the different clusters.

Beginning of Life was established in 2000 alongside LTTW church as a nongovernmental organization with a goal to fulfil God’s mission in areas where doors were closed to evangelical churches. BoL runs three programmes: 1) ‘Place of Change’ for teenagers, a holistic outreach programme where Christian teenagers play one of the most important roles. 2) ‘Way to Success’ aims to prepare high school students for independent life, teaching life skills, critical thinking, professional orientation and character development from a Christian perspective. 3) ‘Metamorphosis’ serves people who have suffered from social injustice. This programme includes an early learning centre for mothers and kids; a humanitarian aid centre; a rehabilitation centre for victims of human trafficking and exploitation; a prevention centre for social orphans; and some small businesses with a goal to provide jobs for the most vulnerable women.

My research interviews with key people from the NGO helped me to identify aspects of the ‘Church of / for tomorrow’ model:

Equality of different levels of involvement into life of whole community / society as well as in the lives of certain individuals.
Consistency – when people or churches face different problems, they see only the upper part of the iceberg, but missional community takes responsibility for identifying the deeper roots of a problem and finds ways to resolve it.
Flexibility – ability to change programmes as necessary and leave one’s comfort zone.
Leadership adequacy – leaders are selected and trained according to their gifts and readiness, which leads to lack of autocracy. Different leaders are responsible for decisions in their area.
Freedom in choosing forms for each project and cluster.
Readiness to serve people outside the church, as well inside.
Ability to see children and youth as equal parts of the church and helping them develop their potential.

Thinking about the development of the Church of / for tomorrow, we need to bear in mind that the Church of / for tomorrow involves clusters working together because shared vision and relationships unite them. McNeal, describing Mike Breen’s English missional community, underlines the fact that ‘people began to prefer larger gatherings for mission even more than their small group experiences and started to hang out more in the clusters. Identity began forming around these mid-sized groups,… a sort of extended family. The communities began reproducing.’13

There are risks, which leaders should recognise: every cluster can easily become an independent church; competition between clusters can become a problem; different theologies can undermine unity.

At the same time, there are benefits, which are unlikely to be seen in other church models in Eastern Europe: an acceptance of people from different sub-cultures and language groups; involvement in ministry of larger numbers of church members; transformation in society, changes in individual lives, and ongoing church development.

It is too early to say that this model of church and mission is the best. However, it is clear that it has sound theological foundations, genuine relevance, and a promising future.
Vladimir Ubeivolc

Dr Vladimir Ubeivolc is director and co-founder of Beginning of Life NGO in Moldova. For many years he taught Ethics and Missiology in universities in Moldova and Russia, leading and speaking in conferences in former Soviet bloc countries in Eastern Europe and Central Asia. He holds a PhD in Contextual Missiology and is the author of numerous articles on holistic mission, human trafficking and social justice.

Endnotes
1. By “Eastern Europe” I have first in mind contemporary geopolitical divisions. Such countries as Ukraine, Moldova and Belarus are on the radar of my research. At the same time Romania, Bulgaria, Georgia and Armenia have a lot in common with the first group. Some conclusions could also include Russia.
2. E. Voegelin, ‘Representation and truth’ in The collective works of Eric Voegelin, v.5 (University of Missouri, 1952), 176.
3. C. Van Gelder & D. Zscheile, The Missional Church in Perspective. (Grand Rapids: Baker Academic, 2011), 147.
4. J. Moltmann, The Trinity and the Kingdom (San Francisco: Harper & Row, 1981), 212.
5. M. Frost, The Road to Missional (Grand Rapids: Baker Books, 2011), 104.
6. A. Roxburgh & M.S. Boren, Introducing the Missional Church (Grand Rapids: Baker, 2009), 92-93.
7. Missional Church in Perspective, 156.
8. V. Ubeivolc, ‘Mission of Evangelical churches in Moldova. End of the twentieth to the first decade of the twenty-first century’ in Malancea M. & Ubeivolc V. (eds.) Evangelical Mission in the Eastern European Orthodox Contexts (Chişinău: Universitatea Divitia Gratiae, 2013), 130-137.
9. Introducing the Missional Church, 122.
10. W. Shenk, ‘Forging Theology of Mission from an Anabaptist Perspective’, in Mission Insight 13 (2000).
11. The Curtain Rises: Oral Histories of the Fall of Communism in Eastern Europe (Jefferson, NC: McFarland & Co., 2004), 204.
12. W. Sawatsky gives an excellent description what happened in the 1990s in his article ‘Return of mission and evangelization in the CIS (1980s – present)’ in Sawatsky W. & Penner P. (eds.) Mission in the Former Soviet Union (Neufeld, 2005), 94-119.
13. Missional Communities: The rise of the Post-Congregational Church (Jossey-Bass, 2011), 40.

Vista 29 coming soon

Posted January 10, 2018 by europeanmission
Categories: Uncategorized

With the first edition of 2018, VISTA will feature the topic of Islam in Europe. Our regular readers will immediately note the timeliness of this subject. We have a number of expert writers and practitioners lined up to offer their evidence-based insights.

However, one of our authors has agreed in faith to write for us. As a top-rate journalist and researcher of Islam, Jenny Taylor, is supported by a small charity that she established to enable her to engage at the important intersection of religion and the media.

We want to affirm her ministry and acknowledge her generosity in agreeing to write about Tablighi Jamaat.

VISTA receives no funds and exists solely because our team of co-editors is supported by other means of employment. Jenny does not currently enjoy this benefit and we want to encourage one or two of you to directly support her writing for this edition by following this link and making a small one-off donation to her ministry.

If you donate, please make a note in the Detail box that your donation is related to here article for VISTA.

Please feel free to contact Darrell Jackson if you have any questions about this

Evangelicals and the Phenomenon of Leadership in the former Soviet Union

Posted January 2, 2018 by europeanmission
Categories: Uncategorized

Leadership theory and practice is essential to effective Christian mission, yet as a multi-faceted, culturally conditioned phenomenon, it is often underestimated and lacking in critical examination. Indeed, greater cultural understanding can be crucial for effective cross-cultural leadership, as secular theorists such as Geert Hofstede have shown.

However, research among Christian communities is often lacking. To help meet this need, Hodos Institute and the Graduate School of Leadership (GSL) at St. Petersburg Christian University carried out extensive research in 2015-16 among evangelical youth (ages 13-29) and youth leaders across 13 countries of Eurasia (former Soviet Union – FSU). The results of this study can be helpful for mission leaders and missionaries in the FSU, as well as in Eastern Europe.

In the first phase of the project, 245 interviews were conducted with youth leaders. Respondents represented 13 countries of Eurasia, including Russia, Ukraine, Belarus, Moldova, and others. Following the interview phase, an online questionnaire was developed based upon the information collected in interviews. Nearly 2,500 evangelical believers from across the FSU completed the questionnaire, and in total, nearly 3,000 people contributed their thoughts through various means. In the final stage, around 150 youth participated in focus groups in Central Asia, and 30 experienced youth leaders participated in a consultation in St. Petersburg, all for the purpose of refining results and gaining further feedback. Material from this project and resulting practical recommendations for leadership formation among evangelicals in Eurasia is presented in detail in four books published in Russian. These books (see right) are also available in PDF format, and can be downloaded at http://www.hodosinstitute.com/publications.

What emerged from the research were the following primary observations:

1. Leadership is in the process of redefinition

When asked the open-ended question – What is leadership? – a majority of respondents answered beginning with: “It is a person whom others follow, or a person who influences others.” The emphasis on a single figure as leader was evident across the research sample, and overall there was a lack of attention to notions such as followership and collaborative leadership. Also notable was a strong emphasis on positional leadership, which leads younger believers to believe that they have no opportunity to exercise leadership without a position of authority.
Language also plays an important role in the redefining of leadership. Often indigenous terms have their own cultural baggage, and borrowing the English term can also be problematic. One youth leader from Kyrgyzstan commented that in the Kyrgyz language, there is no equivalent word to ‘leadership.’ In Russian, the English loan word has been widely adopted (liderstvo), but as in other Eurasian countries, the term often carries a pejorative meaning, conjuring thoughts of autocracy, pride and abuse of power. Some older church leaders reject the term ‘leader,’ saying that they need servants, not leaders.

2. Mentoring and leadership formation are needed and desired among young Christians throughout Eurasia

Most evangelical Christians in Eurasia acknowledge that mentoring is important, but they also note the deficit of established and wise mentoring practices in evangelical communities. Mentoring is often reduced to or substituted with “instruction,” often long lectures or sermons. The younger generation of evangelicals is looking for mentoring that is not reduced to prohibitions, restrictions or dictates from older leaders, but rather mentoring through good examples, relationships of trust, and teamwork. They want to see principles and values lived out in authentic relationships of collaboration.
Respondents also noted that young people are often seen as simply implementers. One youth leader in the study confessed, “We are not forming [young leaders], we use them…and this is a tragedy!” Young people shared that often they hear appeals to serve, minister, take responsibility, etc., yet often the necessary conditions are not in place for their participation.

3. The dramatic socio-political changes following the breakup of the Soviet Union have led to significant generational differences in regards to understandings of leadership

Among respondents the younger generation sees leadership more horizontally, while the older generation is still rooted in a vertical mindset. Paradoxically, however, while young people desire more teamwork and collaboration, they still want a visible, strong leader.
Misunderstanding between generations is also prevalent. For example, while the majority of older generation claimed that young people view leadership as popularity (charisma), less than 1% of younger respondents confirmed this stereotype.

4. Leadership and mission are often disassociated in both theory and practice

The majority of respondents indicated that good Christian leadership practice is needed both inside and outside the church, but they indicated that church-based leadership training is mostly concentrated upon ministry within the church. At the root of this issue is a truncated definition of mission. For example, while young people spend the majority of their time at studies or work, they most often demonstrate leadership only in the church context. Their work or study context is not seen as an arena for Christian leadership, other than simply for evangelism.
For the betterment of mission collaboration and partnership in Eurasia, it is important to note that leadership formation programs, particularly those funded by Western partners, often lack critical evaluation and analysis. Respondents reported that events and resources are funded without sufficient thought given to assessment of effectiveness or appropriateness.
We reiterate that cross-cultural understanding of the phenomenon of leadership is crucial in Christian mission, and further studies are needed, not only in Eurasia. Cultures are never static, and the need for learning is ongoing. As one mission leader has said, “Cross-cultural leadership is a school from which you never graduate.”1 We hope that the results of this study will provide missionaries and leaders with much-needed understanding of the Eurasian context. Moreover, we hope that it will stimulate further study and critical thinking among those involved in missions in Eurasia and Eastern Europe.

Alexei Belov, Jon Coody and Alexander Negrov

For more information on the Hodos Institute, visit http://www.hodosinstitute.com or email anegrov@hodosinstitute.com
Endnote
1. Joshua Bogunjoko, as quoted by James E. Plueddemann in Leading Across Cultures: Effective Ministry and Mission in the Global Church, (Downers Grove: IVP Academic, 2009), 31.

A Missiologist’s look at the future: A missiological manifesto for the 21st century − A Central and Eastern European perspective

Posted December 19, 2017 by europeanmission
Categories: Uncategorized

Roma men worshipping at a conference in Hungary.
Photograph by Ryan Portnoy for The Good Story

Over the next few weeks we will be posting articles from the latest issue of Vista . The first is written by Anne-Marie Kool. Enjoy!

Despite being born in the context of Europe, the academic discipline of missiology, including that of ecumenism and evangelism is currently “in a fragile state of existence.”1

This article seeks to contribute to the ongoing conversation on the state of the church in mission in Europe with a special focus on Central and Eastern Europe reflecting on future perspectives and challenges in six key areas. These themes originate from an analysis of the images of Europe used in the Atlas of Global Christianity.2 It is based on my personal experience of three decades living and working as a missionary and missiologist in the Eastern part of Europe, but keeping in touch with developments elsewhere in Europe and beyond.

My hope is that this manifesto will stimulate critical and constructive discussion and result in “acquiring the posture of a missional church”3 in our European contexts, and a true shift from Western to Global Christianity.

1. Impact of secular values on Church and mission

In Central and Eastern Europe a process of ‘business-ization of mission organisations and churches can be observed, similar to worldwide trends, that are increasingly operating on the basis of business principles instead of theological ones.

Emphasis is more on output and results, value for money, quick results, success stories, quantity instead of quality, than on fruits growing in a hidden way, sacrifice and commitment and on long-term transformation powered by the incarnation in Jesus Christ. Churches have embraced secular values, eroding her credibility and calling leaders to repentance for conforming more to the world than acting as disciples of Christ.4

An additional challenge is the nationalistic fuelled neo-paganism in many countries, a missional encounter denied by some, but considered by others as “the greatest intellectual and practical task” facing the church.5 The question is: do we live in a ‘Christian’, a secularized or a neo-pagan context? These are related to a huge missiological challenge how in our mission and evangelism to relate gospel and culture, seeking to be faithful to the gospel and relevant to the context at the same time. In Eastern Europe these are rather new conversations in the theological discourse.

As Lesslie Newbigin emphasized back in 1962 (sic!), our missionary methods are too much conformed to the world in which we live.6 He states that as we believe in the great tradition of the Reformed Churches, the “ecclesia reformata semper reformanda”, that “reformation is not a thing which is simply done once, but that … the Church must in every generation be ready to bring its tradition afresh under the light of the Word of God”, missions cannot be an exception to that rule.7 We need to look afresh “to our chart and compass and to ask how we now use the new winds and the new tides to carry out our sailing orders.”8 It contains the “costly, but exciting task… of fundamental theological thinking, of Bible study, and of discerning the signs of the times.”9

2. Ecclesiology and mission

In European Christendom, the church has lived for 1500 years in a position of power. Her calling is now to let go of the pre-occupation with power and the confidence of being in control of our life, our environment, and our destiny, so characteristic of modern culture,10 accepting a minority position, and to recover the redemptive power of the Gospel message as defined by the cross. Nothing less than a metanoia of the church is needed, a re-formation,11 with an attitude of waiting on God in deep humility.

Across Eastern Europe, new expressions of church are being sought, but the question is whether the established Christian churches in Europe are willing to surrender their resistance and fear of change, accepting to be transformed into a missional church to impact their own culture as well as serving the rest of the world. In this, non-Western churches have much to teach us.12

At a slightly broader level, letting go of power and control is closely linked to a process of de-Westernization of Christianity. After the changes in 1989 a period of euphoria in “East” “West” partnerships was followed by a period of disillusionment, and now by a search for a contextualized paradigm for mission in Central and Eastern Europe.13 This would imply a new take on partnerships between “South” and “North”, and between “East” and “West”, with a focus on mutual learning to “Walk humbly with the Lord”14 and with the “North” or the “West” to be ready to fulfil – only – a role of facilitator, enabler, in truly equal partnerships, ready to learn from the South, or from Churches in Post-Communist Europe, on their terms! That would give birth to a framework for a real Global Christianity.

3. Issues of otherness and the reconciling role of Churches

One of the burning issues all over Europe is undoubtedly that of “otherness” and exclusion, especially in Eastern Europe with regard to the 10-12 million Roma (Gypsies), but also with regard to e.g. migrants and other minorities.

According to a recent study the stereotyped image of the impoverished gypsies that was created and repeated over the centuries defines the attitude of exclusion of millions of Europeans.15 Stereotyped images also play an important role in the way migrants are depicted. Because of the strong tendencies of exclusion, in the society at large, the emergence of reconciling communities is needed. The role of pastors is to empower their local congregations to grow into open, welcoming, reconciling and missional communities, that embody and radiate the love of Christ to “indigenous”, “strangers” and “minorities” alike. Focusing on the future(s) of Pentecostalism in Europe, Raymond Pfister calls for a “spirituality of reconciliation” to face the challenges brought about by the “damaging effects of cultural and religious clashes”. The work of the Holy Spirit in reconciliation as the reconciling Spirit enables such a reconciling community to come to existence, defining the ministry of the Spirit as a ministry of reconciliation. Pfister observes that God’s reconciling initiative in Christ extends to social reconciliation as well as individual.16

4. Myth and reality of migrants as “outsiders” reaching out to the “insiders” in “reverse mission”

In the Communist period “migrant” African students served as “underground” missionaries in the Eastern European countries, an unknown story that needs to be told! Many African Churches come to Europe in “reverse mission”, like one of the largest Churches in Eastern Europe founded in 1994 by an African, Sunday Adelaja pastor of Embassy of God in Kiev, Ukraine.17 Some seek to reach “insiders” as “outsiders”, some care only for their own ethnic group, some are bringing renewal, but reality is often more complex.

Migration experiences in Central and Eastern Europe differ significantly from those in Western Europe.18 For many countries in the Central and Eastern part of Europe the influx of migrants is a rather new phenomenon, causing similar distancing attitudes based on negative stereotyped images as vis-à-vis the “others”, the Roma, with whom they have co-existed for centuries.19 These attitudes are often fuelled by a lack of adequate information and by historical factors.

The challenge of promoting mutual learning between local and migrant churches starts with deconstructing the stereotyped images of the migrants. Efforts to give migrants a face, by creating informal safe spaces for story-telling, could serve as a first step. The role of theological education in teaching (future) pastors to develop innovative non-formal and informal training programs and to create places for drinking “three cups of tea”20 in their congregations in which both migrants and “indigenous” people participate, is crucial and can help overcoming the wide-spread fear for these “unknown others” that are endangering the future of our “Christian continent”, as the majority belong to a religion, Islam, that has been stereotyped strongly through IS.

In addition, both indigenous and migrant communities face the quest of becoming inclusive communities reaching out to each other and joining hands in meeting each other’s needs, and shaping the missional work of the church.21 The question is how can this be lived out, in mutually strengthening each other, and learning from each other. What theological clarification processes are important in such a local partnership? Which prejudices need to be overcome? Where is repentance and reconciliation needed?

5. The Roma at Europe’s periphery: an unknown “revival”?

The religious landscape of Europe is changing significantly, also with a surprising growth of independent churches. Many of Europe’s “outcasts”, the Roma, belong to the Charismatic-Pentecostal tradition. The Hungarian theologian Ferenc Szűcs stated more than a decade ago that involvement in reaching out to the Roma may have a renewal effect on the church, because it compels the church to reflect on issues of Gospel and Culture. It requires them to reflect on how to translate the Gospel in the mind-set of the Roma, whose culture is so far off from the Reformed Church. He anticipates that this would at least “stir up the dead-waters of our Volkskirche” (civil church), because it is the greatest mission challenge we face. If the churches do not involve themselves, this social bomb is going to go off right in our midst, and the consequences are unforeseeable.22

Collaborative, relevant research is needed to find key Roma local figures that have played and play a role in the growth of Roma Christianity. We need to get to know them, writing up their life story, and honour their lives. Giving Roma Christianity a face, making steps towards getting to know Roma Church history, will not only be beneficial in teaching the Roma Churches, but also to help the majority society to move from image to reality. In this process a key notion should be: Nothing about us without us.

6. Role of missiological education in revitalizing and transforming the Eastern European Churches and societies

The Churches of Eastern Europe are in great need for leaders, who are agents of transformation and innovation and well-equipped to deal with the burning issues of their contexts, like the churches’ response to otherness and exclusion, nationalism and ethnicity, revitalization of the churches into missional communities as well as communicating the Gospel in a relevant way to the de-churched (nominal) and un-churched people and radiating reconciliation in church and society. A renewed focus on developing urban transformational leaders, both pastors and professionals, in the Post-communist context is also needed because of wide-spread corruption, a negative view of work as a shadow of the communist past, and a strong dichotomy between “Sunday” and “the other six days of the week”. It implies for the power of the Gospel to become manifest in urban settings, through the training of professionals to see their work through a theological lens, to connect Christian values to their workplace, as well as empowering and equipping pastors for church planting and church renewal with the urban realities of their large cities taken into consideration.

Jason Ferenczi’s vision for theological education in the FSU is relevant for the whole of Europe, to “develop leaders who can articulate a Christian worldview in the context of extremely pluralistic societies in a way that answers the deep spiritual questions of a highly educated population.”23

In a sense it is not so difficult to state that our missional curriculum must be theologically solid, spiritually sound, face current realities and be contextually relevant, with priority given to dealing with migration issues and ethnic minorities and that we need to stimulate research on mission and evangelism related issues. However, the Eastern European reality and paradox is that the current academic and church climate does not favour allowing space for developing such a curriculum and such research, despite the current challenges of Europe and European Christianity.

In some countries national accrediting agencies would not allow for such space, like in the Czech Republic. In other countries a Christendom paradigm persists, therefore the need for such changes are considered not necessary. In many countries there is a strong gap between mission theory and mission praxis. A dominating pragmatic bias and dominance of quantitative factors in church and mission do not favour the slow and often costly production of contextual textbooks on mission- and evangelism-related topics and the financing of the research needed for it. Translating a book from English is often considered more efficient. That is also true in Central and Eastern Europe. It is much easier to raise funds for short-term projects that are easily quantifiable, for emergency aid or for church-planting projects, with a more or less clear output.

The result is that relatively little is known about dynamic and innovative initiatives in mission and evangelism taking place in the Eastern part of Europe. Those who have the experience, skills and qualifications to research and write up these mission practices to draw out the lessons for the own context, correct the existing images of European Christianity and enrich European and global Christianity, are overloaded in their ministries, and do not have the quality time and no access to the relevant e-resources, that are so easily available in the university libraries in the West.

Therefore, in a situation with “fragile structures” for missiological education, we need to develop innovative structures which facilitate international and interdenominational learning communities and networks, for missiological education and missional formation for people from different backgrounds, including migrants, where different cultural and theological perspectives from Central and Eastern Europe, as well as from around the world are brought together for both the student body and faculty. Safe spaces for this process of acquiring knowledge and facilitating learning processes to take place in Eastern Europe are needed. The Osijek Doctoral Colloquium, initiated last year, seeks to offer such a safe space.

My hope is that a practice of drinking “three cups of coffee” in one of the many coffee places around Central and Eastern Europe with asking questions in relation to the themes offered in this missiological manifesto, will stir up a process that will result in “acquiring the posture of a missional church”24 in our own Central and Eastern European contexts, and in a true shift from Western to Global Christianity by taking away Western philosophy induced hindrances for the advance of the Gospel.

Anne-Marie Kool

Anne-Marie Kool (Hungary/Croatia/Netherlands) is Professor of Missiology and Director of the Osijek Institute for Mission Studies under the responsibility of the Evangelical Theological Seminary in Osijek, Croatia, with a focus on Central and Eastern Europe. She serves as Vice-President of the Central and Eastern European Association for Mission Studies. Since she arrived in Hungary 30 years ago, she has been affiliated with several institutions of higher education, teaching and researching on church and mission related topics and supervising master and doctoral students in post-communist Central and Eastern Europe. Her PhD researched the Hungarian Protestant foreign mission movement. More recently, she has been researching Roma Gypsy (Christian) communities in Central and Eastern Europe.

 

Endnotes
1. Dietrich Werner, “Evangelism in Theological Education in Europe – 12 Considerations from ETE/WCC,” in WCC-consultation on evangelism in theological education and missional formation in Europe, 28-31 October 2012 (Bossey, Switzerland: WCC, 2012).
2. Anne-Marie Kool, “Re-Visiting Mission in Europe through Contemporary Image-Formation: A Missiological Manifesto for the 21st Century,” in Fuller Theological Seminary: 50th Anniversary Celebration and 2015 Missiology Lectures (Pasadena, CA: 2015)
3. George R. Hunsberger, “Acquiring the Posture of a Missionary Church,” in The Church between Gospel and Culture: The Emerging Mission in North America, ed. George R. Hunsberger and Craig Van Gelder (Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans, 1996).
4. “The Thailand Report on Secularists. Christian Witness to Nominal Christians among Protestants.” Lausanne Occasional Paper nr. 23 2002 (1980).
5. Lesslie Newbigin. Unfinished Agenda: An Updated Autobiography. St. Andrew Press, Edinburgh, 1993.
6. Lesslie Newbigin, “Bringing Our Missionary Methods under the Word of God,” Occasional Bulletin from the Missionary Research Library XIII, no. 11 (1962), 2.
7. Ibid., 1.
8. Ibid., 2.
9. Lesslie Newbigin, One Body, One Gospel, One World (London and New York: International Missionary Council, 1958)., 11, cf. Anne-Marie Kool, “Changing Images in the Formation for Mission: Commission V in Light of Current Challenges. A Western Perspective,” in Edinburgh 1910: Mission Then and Now, ed. Ken Ross (Regnum, Oxford UK; William Carey, Pasadena, CA; SATHRI, Bangalore, India, 2009).
10. John Drane, “Resisting McDonaldization,” in Walk Humbly with the Lord. Church and Mission Engaging Plurality, ed. Viggo Mortenson and Andreas Osterlund Nielsen (Aarhus, Denmark: Eerdmans, 2010), 164-165.
11. Darrell L. Guder, The Continuing Conversion of the Church, ed. Craig van Gelder (Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans, 2000).
12. Kool, “Changing Images in the Formation for Mission: Commission V in Light of Current Challenges. A Western Perspective,” 174.
13. Anne-Marie Kool. “Revolutions in European Mission: “What Has Been Achieved in 25 Years of Eastern European Mission?”.” In Mission in Central and Eastern Europe: Realities, Perspectives, Trends, edited by Corneliu Constantineanu, Mihai Himcinschi, Anne-Marie Kool and Marcel Măcelaru. Regnum Edinburgh Centenary Series. Oxford: Regnum, 2016.
14. Viggo Mortenson and Andreas Osterlund Nielsen, “Walk Humbly with the Lord. Church and Mission Engaging Plurality,” (Aarhus, Denmark: William B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, 2010).
15. Klaus-Michael Bogdal, “Europe Invents the Gypsies. The Dark Side of Modernity,” Eurozine, no. 24 Feb. 2012 (2012). http://www.eurozine.com/articles/2012-02-24-bogdal-en.html (accessed 23 Sep. 2014).
16. Raymond Pfister, “The Future(s) of Pentecostalism in Europe,” in European Pentecostalism, ed. William K. Kay and Anne E. Dyer, Global Pentecostal and Charismatic Studies (Boston: Brill, 2011).
17. Asamoah-Gyadu, J. Kwabena. “African Initiated Christianity in Eastern Europe: Church of the ‘Embassy of God’ in Ukraine.” International Bulletin of Missionary Research 30:2 (2006): 73-75.
18. See the special issue of Acta Missiologiae 5 (2017) on migration.
19. Some refer to the Roma as migrants, like in Roman Catholic documents dealing with the Roma pastoral care. I do not consider this a correct view, as many of the Roma have been forced to settle quite a while ago.
20. Greg Mortenson emphasized the importance of a relationship-focused approach over and against a project-focused approach. Greg Mortenson and David Oliver Relin, Three Cups of Tea: One Man’s Mission to Fight Terrorism and Build Nations – One School at a Time (New York: Viking, 2006).
21. Kyriaki Avtzki et al., WCC consultation on evangelism in theological education and missional formation in Europe, 28-31 October 2012 (Bossey, Switzerland: WCC, 2012).
22. Ferenc Szűcs, “Az Elmúlt Tiz Év Teológiai Értékelése,” Théma 2:4 (2000).
23. Jason E. Ferenczi, “Theological Education in the Former Soviet Union. Some Recent Developments,” Religion in Eastern Europe 21:6 (2001), 1.
24. George R. Hunsberger, “Acquiring the Posture of a Missionary Church,” in The Church between Gospel and Culture: The Emerging Mission in North America, ed. George R. Hunsberger and Craig Van Gelder (Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans, 1996).