A few weeks ago I arranged to speak with someone from CABSA, to find out from her how she think the church is doing in it’s mission in a context of HIV and AIDS. It was one of those conversations where I quickly realized that the best thing I could do is to keep my mouth shut about everything I thought I knew about HIV and AIDS, and just listen. Early in the conversation she explained that the question she is asking is not whether a congregation are involved with an AIDS project here or there, but rather whether they are HIV competent. HIV competent meant that the congregation understood the complexities of the problem, contributed to breaking down the stigmas concerning HIV and AIDS, and in short, was a space where those who carry the virus would feel safe to participate in this community. Very few congregations would be able to call themselves HIV competent.

Over the past year, and the past few months specifically, I’ve been struggling with some similar questions concerning mission. To state it bluntly: I’m disillusioned with the way the church always want to fix the problems of others, while keeping them on a distance. Something deeper is needed. Maybe we need some missional competence (although I hated the concept even while writing the post title), or something like it. We need to be poverty competent, suffering competent, in the sense that the friend from CABSA challenged me.

What would mission become when the local congregation isn’t asking themselves “where is God active in the world today”, and then join projects in the community, but start asking themselves: “who are the poor today? why are they poor? how do we end poverty? and most importantly: is this a community in which the poor, as the poor, are welcome?”. These questions might be somewhat in tension with the reflections in the previous post, which should lead us to ask “who are the poor whom this congregation should be joining and learning from?”, yet, these questions might be somewhat more practical for the average middle-class white congregation to ask.

It is the change from: we are running a soup kitchen down the street to those who benefit from the soup kitchen are teaching Sunday school, serving as elders, and participating in the life of this community. It is the change from we are handing out breastmilk to HIV+ mothers to some of our cell group leaders are HIV+.

Maybe that wouldn’t make us competent. Maybe that wouldn’t even make us missional. Maybe that would just remind us that we are broken. Maybe brokenness is closer to the core of being church than mission?



White kid in Swaziland

February 23, 2010

I grew up in the southern part of a small country called Swaziland. It has less than a million people living in it, and most on them living in the north. My father was a pastor in a black congregation there. The people of Swaziland are poor, as is general for the most of Africa. We lived in a 600m2 house owned by the church, across the street my father’s black collegue was living in a much smaller house with his family.

I have many good memories from this place. Typical child stuff – playing, climbing trees, riding bicycle. But I also remember the black congregations in which my father was working. I remember the singing, and even today still remember some of the songs, and recognize them in black congretions in Mamelodi when I visit. I remember the ways in which they collected the meagre amount of money on a Sunday, with singing and dancing.

But I never had black friends in Swaziland. Well, apparently I had as a very small kid according to my parents, but I can’t remember them. My friends were white. Blacks were the other. They played by themselves. We played by ourselves. When we had birthday parties, it was the white kids from the small white community in South Africa, and the white kids that we went to school with in Piet Retief, the white town on the other side of the border.

I do remember some of the black collegues my father had, with some of them I can remember not really noticing colour. Not caring to be touched by them. Easily talking to them. Especially Baba Gama, who always checked to see if I could recognize his voice when he was calling and I would answer. I remember black people sharing the table with us at our home, and we with them at conferences. I had much of the inter-culture experience that kids of missionaries have. I treasure that.

But I know this: the black people living across the street, the black people in town, even the black congregants, I weren’t looking at them as equals. I don’t know if I were racist at this stage of my life, but I definitely had a sense than the black people among whom I were living weren’t “on the same level”.

on the primacy of mission:

October 20, 2008

Why is mission so central at this stage? Should it be? Is it possible that as missiologists we should “dethrone” mission from its current position of privilege in theological talk? Why the missional church? Why the missio Dei? And why am I even asking these questions?

I didn’t follow much why back with the Christology, Ecclesiology, Missiology argument raging on. But from what I gather many today seem to say something in the line of “Christology forms our Missiology forms our Ecclesiology”, right? But how do we come to this?

It was Andries van Aarde’s Fatherless in Galilee that pointed me in the direction of the idea of a “Christology from the side”. Where a “high Christology” tend to work out our Christology from the faith-language (read “dogma”, “theology” etc.) of the Bible and church and a low Christology tend to construct Christology from the historical reconstructions on the life of Jesus, a Christology from the side focus on how the contemporaries of Jesus would have seen Jesus (I’ve typed this from memory after reading the book almost a year ago, so I hope I got it somewhat right).

The relation Christology-Missiology-Ecclesiology seem to come from a high view of theology, I think. Where some worked out idea on Christology (whether high or low) should give rise to our understanding of mission (which if you read the work of David Bosch, is quite difficult to do without an idea about who is doing this mission, but I’ll leave that part for now), understood very broadly, which should then form our thinking on church. Looking from the side, tracing the narrative of the Jesus-movement and early church, I have some doubts whether we will come to the same conclusion:

From the side we see the this guy Jesus, a sort-off Rabbi who calls those who didn’t make the usual Rabbi cut to follow him. This group was formed by the words and actions of Jesus, the way in which Jesus interacted with the culture within which he found himself. The events surrounding Easter round-about 27AD or so happened, and we then find this already formed community of Jesus-followers remaining in community. If we follow the Acts-narrative, it is within this community that the implications of being a community living in the way of Jesus is then worked out. Acts 6 – If we are community, how do we care for those of other ethnic backgrounds? Acts 13 – How do we create similar communities in other places? And later in Acts the implication of being in this community in a time of famine is also worked out.

From the side I see a not-so-average-Rabbi calling not-so-average-disciples, teaching them his anything-but-average-ways. These not-so-average-disciples continue the community, not because the community should perform some strategic function within the strategic plan which the Rabbi (didn’t?) lay out for the world, but because this community continues to seek for the ways of this Rabbi, which was recognized as Jesus the Lord.

Looking from the side, I doubt whether we see an early Christian community getting together because this is seen as the implication of the message of Jesus. I doubt whether a number of scared disciples get together after the crucifixion because the preaching on the kingdom of God had as implication that communities should be formed. Rather, a shared experience surrounding Jesus bring these people together, and the words and actions of Jesus in relation to his culture force them to consider their own words and actions.

If our task is to write a systematic treatise on theology we might end up with mission being primary, forming a centerpiece of the puzzle. If we tell the story of how it came to be, then, looking from the side, mission could be almost missing, the centre pieces rather being occupied by Jesus and the community who gathered around him and because of him. Rather, what we consider as mission today then seems to ooze out everywhere.

Well, OK, late-night ramblings after some heavy theological discussions earlier… but such is the nature of a blog

Probably the worst title for a post that I’ve ever chosen. It’s from David Bosch’s magnus opumTransforming Mission. This is the largest synchroblog I’ve ever taken part in. The topic: missional. There is some fine names on the list of people who will contribute today, you can find them at the bottom. I believe you will find some good definitions on the term, so I’ll leave that to others. The question I would rather like to ask is: “Why the missional church?”.

The missio Deihas become an ever more popular topic over the past years. Also in emerging circles, which interest me very much, it’s very popular. Sometimes I find that Bosch seem to be credited for this concept. I’m not exactly sure why. Alan Hirsch called it Bosch’s greatest gift to us, and Nelus Nimandt in a recent article said that emerging churches has learned greatly from Bosch’s thoughts on the missio Dei. I might not be the Bosch expert, so maybe I’m missing something, but as far as I can see Bosch is simply giving an overview of how the concept has developed since 1932 onwards. At a few points one do however find some comments…

First, let me give an overview of the missio Dei.The classical view of the missio Dei says that God is a sending God. God the Father sends the Son, and God the Father and the Son sends the Holy Spirit. This become important for mission when to this is added another “movement”: Father, Son and Holy Spirit sends the church into the world. The church then change form being on a mission, to being an instrument in God’s mission. And from this our title: The missio Dei institutes the missiones ecclesiae. The sending God is the motivation for the missionary activities of the church. To use the words of the synchroblog: The missional church is not the church that send other on a mission, but it is the church that was sent by God.

We could have stopped the post here, but some questions remain, and Bosch doesn’t stop his exposition here. The missio Deithen developed to embrace both church and world. The world become the focus of God’s mission and the church is privileged to participate. A radicalized version of this started suggesting that the missio Dei actually excluded the church.

Well, Bosch so make some comments. And these help us to understand his own views. Apparently Bosch also thought that maybe the missio Deihas lost it’s usefulness because it has become so wide that it can be used by people who subscribe to mutually exclusive theological positions. But still he found the value of this in that it helps us to remember that neither church nor human is the author of mission. In his own words: “God is a fountain of sending love. This is the deepest source of mission.

In our denomination I have heard people talking about participation in God’s mission a lot lately. This is a phrase which Bosch used in his writing about the missio Dei. However, it has found a strange pragmatized meaning which I’m a bit uncomfortable with, and also which I don’t find in Bosch (I’m open for correction on this one, but I’m pretty sure). When talking about participating with God where God is working in the world, people are then told that we should go and search where God is already at work in our community, and participate. There might be some good intentions, and also theological truth in recognizing that God is working wider than the church, but it leave us with some questions:

  • Is God then not working at some places?
  • How would we know when we have found God where God is working?
  • Isn’t it possible that God might be working exactly when we start doing something?

This pragmatic understanding of the mission Dei seem to remind me of what Bosch wrote about a radicalized understanding, where the missio Dei exclude the church’s involvement, where we should be very glad if ever we are allowed to participate.

OK, I haven’t done so much metaphysical speculation in a very long time, Trinity, the character of God… not at all my style. So let me make some final remarks… but first, a last quote from Bosch:

“During the past half century of so there has been a subtle but nevertheless decisive shift towards understanding mission as God‘s mission. During preceding centuries mission was understood in a variety of ways. Sometimes it was interpreted primarily in soteriological terms: as saving individuals from eternal damnation. Or it was understood in cultural terms: as introducing people from the East and South to the blessings and privileges of the Christian West. Often it was perceived in ecclesiastical categories: as the expansion of the church (or of a specific denomination). Sometimes is was defined salvation historically: as the process by which the world – evolutionary or by means of a cataclysmic event – would be transformed into the kingdom of God”

The missio Dei remind us of why we talk about missional.

And now Bosch is quite and Cobus is talking. Although answering the why question obviously influence the whatpart, the missio Dei do not provide the blueprint of what I should do tomorrow. I get highly uncomfortable when some claim to be part of God’s mission in contrast to others. I get highly uncomfortable when what we say imply that we might forget about some people who suffer, because we haven’t found God working there yet.

Themissio Dei institutes the missiones ecclesiae. This is why we are missional. Here we are, we cannot with a clear conscience do anything else…

I’ll be walking with lions, literally, the next few days. So feel free to comment, but I’m not sure whether I’ll be having signal, so might only join in again after Thursday. If you’ve read through all this… thank you!

Other synchrobloggers on the missional topic today:

Alan Hirsch
Alan Knox
Andrew Jones
Arnau van Wyngaard
Barb Peters
Bill Kinnon
Brad Brisco
Brad Grinnen
Brad Sargent
Brother Maynard
Bryan Riley
Chad Brooks
Chris Wignall
Cobus Van Wyngaard
Dave DeVries
David Best
David Fitch
David Wierzbicki
Doug Jones
Duncan McFadzean
Erika Haub
Jamie Arpin-Ricci
Jeff McQuilkin
John Smulo
Jonathan Brink
JR Rozko
Kathy Escobar
Len Hjalmarson
Makeesha Fisher
Malcolm Lanham
Mark Berry
Mark Petersen
Mark Priddy
Michael Crane
Michael Stewart
Nick Loyd
Patrick Oden
Peggy Brown
Phil Wyman
Richard Pool
Rick Meigs
Rob Robinson
Ron Cole
Scott Marshall
Sonja Andrews
Stephen Shields
Steve Hayes
Tim Thompson
Thom Turner 

emerging event at TUKS

October 23, 2007

TUKS mission is an organization that promote mission at the university of Pretoria. Most people, myself included, knew no more about TUKS mission than their yearly missions week, where they usually got some fancy preacher from America. I attended this event in my first year (2003), and the first evening of my second year, but then decided that this was the end. I couldn’t stand the people trying to manipulate everyone into going to faraway places to preach a gospel of sin management (to use the words of Dallas Willard). And what was more, I got fed up with the people they got to man all kinds of book stalls and stuff outside or in front of wherever they were meeting. I especially couldn’t see what the creationists had to do with missions.

OK, now I’ve got this of my chest, the secret is out, and everyone can know what I thought about these people. Then I saw a poster on campus a few days ago about an analogy meeting which would be held last night, and from what the poster said, I had this feeling that these people got some ideas from the alternative worship or emerging crowds, so I decided to give them a second chance. I told Maryke beforehand that if I get irritated, I’m just going to leave. I’ll leave them to do things their way, but I’m not going to attend just for the sake of attending.

But I was quite wrong! Waiting outside TUKS conference centre I noticed more people than I expected. Analogy isn’t the big missions week event held every year, but something new that got started by TUKS mission. I also noticed a number of first and second year theological students, which was something new. Usually the theological students don’t mix with the TUKS mission crowd, not that the theological students don’t like mission, they are very much involved with the outreach events from Universiteitsoord, but there has, since I can remember, been a major discomfort with the way TUKS mission did things, and the people they associate with.

OK, so we came into the conference centre, right outside the door was a table with coffee and tea. Inside there wasn’t any chairs, everyone sat on the ground, and the room was filled tight! The event started out with a home made video, that was done quite professionally (advantage of a student community), that showed some picture while a song played that I didn’t know. Then someone stood up and told us that we can stand up and get coffee at any stage in the meeting. There was a number of different voices that added to the event, reading poems, explaining things, or whatever.

We then watched a video from Special Assignment about child prostitution in Sunnyside, the area right beside the university. This was great! The move from talking about Afghanistan and the Muslim crisis in the mid-east to talking about the realities at our doorsteps, talking about the needs of people just a couple of blocks from us was great! Afterwards someone that work with these kids talked for too long, didn’t time her, but that was the one thing that could have been shorter. After her we had two homeless guys that formed a panel, they told their stories, and then we could ask them questions.

The evening ended of with a time of reflection, lying around on the carpet (at this stage some people had to go, so there was more room), while some poems was read. All in all, this was a good experience, and somehow, I’m not sure whether they were aware of this, they started doing that which many of us are talking about. The liturgy won’t be found in any textbook, but the evening was big on liturgy. There wasn’t a sermon, but you found theology. We didn’t know each others names, and there was no “let’s get to know each other” activity, but there was community.