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

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.


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).
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