Perspectives on Islam in Europe

Posted April 19, 2018 by europeanmission
Categories: Uncategorized

221In 2016, the Pew Research Centre estimated that one in every twenty Europeans self identifies as ‘Muslim’, making a total Muslim population in Europe of just under 26 million. This is a significant increase over the 2010 population that Pew reported at 19.5 million. With the dramatic rise in the number of migrants arriving in Europe between 2014 and mid-2016, Pew refocused its interest on the EU countries and attempted to project future shifts in the religious population as a result of immigration. Their research shows that 53% of migrants entering Europe between 2010-2016 were Muslim.

In addition to the increase in the Muslim population in the EU through immigration between 2010 and 2016 (3.5 million), there was an increase through 2.9 million children born to Muslim parents. Importantly, the Pew research also estimated that over the same period 320,000 Muslims switched or abandoned their religion.

Brill’s Yearbook of Muslims in Europe (Volume 5, 2013, p.18) points out that literature about Islam in Europe can be broadly distinguished according to its region of origin. Literature from the West tends to focus on Muslim immigration whereas literature from south and eastern Europe focuses on Muslim ethnicity and history. Of course, since the rapid acceleration of immigration between 2014 and 2016, all regions of Europe have been faced in new and challenging ways by the immigration of Muslims Reflecting this trend, the Pew Report provides definitions for key terms such as ‘migrant’ and ‘refugee’ but worryingly does not define ‘Muslim’. The widely regarded Yearbook of Muslims in Europe, now in its 9th edition admits that ‘attempting to define ‘Muslims’ is not an easy task’ (Yearbook of Muslims in Europe, 2009, pp.9-14). The Pew Report states on page eleven, ‘Europe’s Muslim population is diverse. It encompasses Muslims born in Europe and in a wide variety of non-European countries. It includes Sunnis, Shiites and Sufis. Levels of religious commitment and belief vary among Europe’s Muslim populations. Some of the Muslims enumerated in this report would not describe Muslim identity as salient in their daily lives. For others, Muslim identity profoundly shapes their daily lives. However, quantifying religious devotion and categories of Muslim identity is outside the scope of this report.’

These are important qualifications for a report that some readers of Vista might have consulted and used as they have considered responses to the presence and growth of number of Muslims in Europe. The statement from Pew obscures the fact that self-identifying as ‘Muslim’ does not necessarily signify devout observance of the pillars of Islam. It also overlooks the decision by Pew (in the absence of census or survey data) to assume that Muslim identity can be predicted by ethnic and national origin. Whilst the report’s authors acknowledge that, for example, ‘there is a higher share of Christians among Egyptian migrants to Austria than there is among those living in Egypt.’ It continues, ‘this type of data is used to estimate the religious composition of new migrants, but only when available’ (emphasis mine). The problems of such an approach are underlined by Jørgen Nielson who realises that ‘religion becomes an ambivalent marker for ethnicity and national belonging’ (Yearbook of Muslims in Europe, 2013, p.18).

“Pew’s research obscures the fact that self-identifying as ‘Muslim’
does not necessarily signify devout observance of Islam.”

A further eccentricity of the Pew report (seen on p.46) is that their estimate of religious switching across Europe is based on a figure of 10% reported from the French Trajectories and Origins survey of immigrants in France. It found that ‘approximately 10% of those raised Muslim later switched to no religious affiliation or to some other religion’. I am aware that there is little hard data available on conversions by Muslims to another or no religion, but this edition of Vista features important stories of Muslims who have become followers of Christ and descriptions of many thousands of Iranians who are now also following Jesus. This frequently comes about through the active witness of evangelical protestants and it is not as common to evangelical Christians in France as it is elsewhere. The likelihood is that the witness of evangelicals in historically protestant countries (rather than the traditionally Catholic and officially secular nation of France) is likely to contribute to conversation rates of higher than 10%. However, until we have access to hard data, we can only rely on the estimates of organisations like Pew.

More important, perhaps, are the many stories that point to significant movements of migrants towards faith in Christ and who have migrated from countries that are historically Muslim. Reza Gholami is not a Christian but has investigated the question of why so many migrant Iranian Shi’a Muslims seem determined to distance themselves from Islam (Gholami, Secularism and Identity, 2015). He worked with Iranian communities in Aarhus, Paris, and London and discovered something the he calls ‘non-Islamiosity’ to be widespread among Iranians. He saw that they seemed determined to find a secular explanatory framework for expressing freedom-related concepts, such as ‘identity’ and ‘community’, both personal and social. Doing this meant that they had to jettison the explanatory framework of Islamiosity held previously.
He rejects an either-or approach to ‘secularity’ and ‘religiosity’. He argues instead that secularity allows an individual to negotiate new ideas of self and community which are not necessarily non-religious; rather, they are non-Islamic. This finding is of significance for Christians with experience of Iranian (or Persian) background believers. The offer of faith in Christ must be offered as a journey into new forms of religious-framed freedom for them. Those of us with personal experience of talking with new Iranian believers will probably be able to testify that this is a central part of their stories of coming to faith (alongside their frequent reporting of a vision or dream in which they encountered the risen and exalted Christ).

In the face of the politics of fear, Christians in Europe have new opportunities to present Christ to new Muslim friends, for the Muslims of Europe are here to stay. Robert Pauly (Islam in Europe, 2004, p.174) makes this point in arguing that European governments should develop domestic policies of social integration as these are more appropriate and more effective than Governments directing their immigration policies towards excluding Muslims. Intentional and committed Christian witness to Muslims, even in the face of the revivalist Islamic movements such as Tablighi Jamaat (see Jenny Taylor’s article in this edition of Vista), is a particularly evangelistic way of working towards greater social stability in the countries of Europe. It is costly and long-term, but the Iranians who are now faithfully and joyfully following Christ are a shocking reminder of the power of God to change lives and hearts at a time of unprecedented Muslim migration into the nations of Europe.

Darrell Jackson
Rev Dr Darrell Jackson is Associate Professor of Missiology, Morling College, Sydney, and continues to research and lecture in the area of Islam and Muslims in the contemporary world.

Read the rest of Vista 29 here

Being family with new believers

Posted March 21, 2018 by europeanmission
Categories: Uncategorized

untitledGone are the days when mission agencies gave advice to new missionaries going to Muslim communities that said something like “You won’t see people come to faith, but you’re called to be faithful. Serve God, and look after your walk with Him, and you may see some minor breakthrough”. That was good advice for my uncle’s generation. Years after his time in South Asia, I met up with my uncle just before he died and was able to tell him that there were 20 Believers from a Muslim Background (BMBs) in the town that he had worked in. He wept with joy as he told me that he had given up hope of seeing any. For the two of us it was a real sense of celebrating that God is able to do more than we can ask or imagine.

People around the world are coming to faith in Christ. There are more BMBs alive now that in all the rest of history put together. There are some silly figures being put out by overzealous mission agencies, but I’m confident in saying that in Bangladesh, where I worked, there were about 5,000 BMBs in 1990 and about 120,000 in 2005. That is God at work, and we had the privilege of sharing the faith walk of many BMBs as they explored what it meant to follow Isa al Masih (Jesus the Messiah) in their context.

BMBs in the UK
We moved back to the UK in 2007 with the conviction that what we were seeing in Bangladesh would also happen in the UK, but not by the same means. This is, indeed, what we are beginning to see. A couple of years ago some colleagues and I did some informal maths and figured that we knew of about 5000 BMBs in the UK, with half of those being Iranian. This compared to about 120,000 converts to Islam in the UK, which sounds daunting but the ratios of the population converting either way is about the same.

Since then, we have begun to see the numbers of BMBs grow. I hesitate to say “grow dramatically” yet, but they are beginning to grow. If the trend follows what is happening in some areas overseas then we will indeed see some dramatic growth.

Who are these BMBs?
We are seeing three distinct groupings of BMBs taking shape. As Bryan Knell reports, the major grouping of BMBs is made up of Iranians. Associated with them are others who have migrated away from war torn areas, destroyed by Islamic factions. This group is characterised by (nb: gross generalisation alert) a starting point of dislike of Islam and what it’s done to them, their family and their home country. In the walking away from Islam they then find Christ. Thus, mixed feelings toward, and sometimes outright antipathy to, Islam is typically a part of their faith walk.

Related to this group are those that are coming from refugee and asylum-seeking situations. Such people have huge physical, social, psychological and spiritual needs. They may find that these needs are met by Christians and that they are attracted to Christ. The faith walk of this group is mixed up with their marked sense of need and finding those needs met in Christ.

The third grouping of BMBs is drawn from the settled, often ethnically-oriented Muslim communities that are now part of the UK scene. Bryan Knell refers to the Mirpuri and Sylheti communities and rightly notes that there are very few coming to Christ from these types of communities. Around the country we are just beginning to hear stories of enquiries and baptisms that involve such people. Their faith walk is not one of dislike for Islam and then finding Jesus. Indeed it’s the opposite of this, in that they first encounter Jesus (maybe over years of friendship with Christians or maybe through dreams and visions) and then, once they are attracted to him, take quite some time of investigating who he is and should they follow him. This involves a slow re-evaluation of what Islam is for them. So rather than coming from a place of antipathy to Islam and then finding Christ, they start with an attraction to Christ and then need to re-evaluate Islam.

Rising to the challenge
These groupings give different positive challenges to the church. We tend to see the Iranian groups as the norm, for they are, indeed, the largest group. But their needs are not the same as the others. The second group brings the challenge of long-term, hands-on care to help meet the deep needs they bring. The third group brings the challenge of working through respect for history, culture and roots in Islam whilst following Jesus. There is real wisdom needed in what the walk with Christ looks like for someone from these communities, for they need to both stand up for Christ and respect their family and roots.

All believers present the church with the positive challenge of providing family, being family, for new believers. They need big sister and big brother figures. They need wider family. They are used to the idea that praying five times a day is a normal ideal and maybe even did manage to pray three times a day. To move to a church that lives for Sunday worship and a midweek homegroup is just not sufficient. The church in the UK needs to rediscover deep community, being in each other’s houses and eating together, and being family through the week.

The other shared need of BMBs is for good discipling and teaching. Like all new believers, they need to work through what their new faith is all about and how it can relate to their history and background, as well as how they fit into their new family of faith. This means wise and sensitive input and the ability to walk with them as they make decisions for them and their family.

There are good resources in “Joining the Family” and in “Come Follow Me”, which can help with background issues and wisdom in discipling BMBs. However, the more important challenge is that of deepening our sense of being family, of being a close community. I see this as a remarkably positive challenge to the church today. Maybe we need BMBs to awaken us to the need, but ultimately, it’s the church itself that will be the richer for it.

Colin Edwards
Colin is Vice Principal of Redcliffe College and course leader for its MA in Contemporary Missiology. His area of interest is Muslim/Christian Relations, particularly looking at socio-cultural aspects, interfaith dialogue and mission.

Read the rest of Vista 29 here

Islam in Europe: Threat or Opportunity

Posted February 28, 2018 by europeanmission
Categories: Islam

Islam in EuropeWhat is your perspective on the huge increase in Europe’s Muslim population? Do you see it as a threat or a huge opportunity for the gospel?

In this edition of Vista you will almost certainly find one article that supports your perspective. But perhaps more importantly you will find another that challenges it.
Darrell Jackson’s lead article sets out the most recent statistics on Muslim populations in Europe but also highlights important qualifications regarding the interpretation of this data and of concepts of Muslim identity.

The heart of this edition though are four opinion pieces. Bert de Ruiter writes of the Europeanisation of Islam and gives a call to loving engagement. Jenny Taylor provides a critique of integration narratives and highlights the threat that Islamic terrorism continues to pose. Bryan Knell tells stories of conversions among some communities and stubborn resistance among others. And Colin Edwards provides a classification of Believers from a Muslim Background (BMBs) and writes of how the need for intense community among these converts is a challenge to our concepts of church in Europe.

Finally, Jo Appleton set out some helpful resources for Christian Muslim engagement.

Our prayer as an editorial team is that this edition of Vista would make you think more deeplyabout these different perspectives. But perhaps more importantly, to think about how to  “love your neighbour” who in today’s Europe is often a Muslim.

Download Vista 29 here

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.