‘Prophetic’ and ‘transformational’ ministries: two examples

Aug 29, 2017 by

by Andrew Symes, Anglican Mainstream.

How should Christians respond to rapid changes in the surrounding culture? Two different approaches can be found in recent publications from the Evangelical Alliance, and the Barnabas Fund.

The EA are promoting a “Movement Day’ conference in early October, which seeks to bring together leaders from church and community, business, government, arts and media etc to “engage in a conversation as we imagine a better future for our places”. Taking inspiration from Jeremiah’s encouragement (29:7) to the people of Israel to “seek the peace and prosperity of the city…if it prospers, you too will prosper”, the conference organizers envisage creative engagement and cooperation between Christian and secular leaders, working together for the common good. There will be input from “theologians and practitioners who are grappling with what it means to be demonstrating his Kingdom” in various spheres, and special attention paid to equipping Christians working in secular roles.

Also promoting the ‘Movement Day’ are Tani and Modupe Omideyi, leaders of Love and Joy Ministries, a church in Liverpool. An interview with them is featured on the EA website, where they describe their vision for reaching the city for Christ using a number of facilities including an arts centre and school as well as a church. They believe that as well as sharing the Gospel, Christians can be influential in being used as agents of city-wide transformation in relationships, attitudes and social justice. This involves helping the church to become more outward looking, ethnically diverse and intentionally cross-cultural. Currently those outside the church view it negatively: “they know what we don’t like”; we’re seen as divided and fearful. What’s needed is a model for unity in our nation.

The latest magazine from the Barnabas Fund demonstrates another evangelical approach to culture which has some similarities to that of the Evangelical Alliance. The BF publication features good news about how communities around the world are being helped towards transformation, with thumbnail sketches of projects funded by BF including examples of literacy, child care, agriculture and training of church planters. Readers are shown how donors’ money is making a difference in practical ways to the lives of Christians locally, where they are a suffering minority. Both BF and EA believe that where the church is having an impact outside its walls as well as among Christians, Christ is exalted.

The difference with BF is that , as they say in their mission statement at the beginning of the magazine, they are not just focusing on the ‘positives’. They see their role as pointing out some of the very serious problems facing Christians in much of the world, and the root causes of these problems. The persecuted church in the global south needs a voice, advocate and fundraiser in the more wealthy countries. But as well as awareness of suffering, Christians in the more affluent and comfortable West need to understand why their brothers and sisters are under pressure. Like poverty, persecution is not just ‘one of those things’ to which we can respond with compassion – it will have causes in human sin, false religions and ideologies, and spiritual powers and principalities.

So BF seeks to “inform and enable Christians in the West to respond to the growing challenge of Islam” by intercession and advocacy, and also “address both religious and secular ideologies that deny full religious liberty to Christian minorities”. The magazine’s opening editorial compares the challenges faced by Luther 500 years ago – a spiritually moribund church, and a resurgent Islamic empire looking to invade Europe – with today, and adds a third danger, “the secular humanism that is reshaping society and has eroded, if not destroyed, the Judaeo-Christian foundations…gradually eroding religious liberty”.

Two approaches to Gospel, culture and mission. Both are evangelical; they take Scripture as their authority and are convinced of the necessity of each individual to hear the Gospel of Christ and respond in repentance and faith. Both agree that the Lord works through local churches and Christians not just to bring people to faith, gather and teach them in church, but also to influence culture and change wider society for the better. Both are motivated by love and compassion, committed to serve people of all races and classes.

So what are the differences? The first approach either sees the world as essentially benign, or that it is counter-productive to point out the underlying faults publicly. The church’s role is to be united and demonstrate to the world that it wants to make a positive contribution by partnering with people of good will from all faiths and none, to making lives and communities better, which is “kingdom transformation”. It does this through “prayerful presence and influence”.

The second approach is more pessimistic about the seriousness of the problems faced by both society and church: the ideologies and structures in cultures around the world which blind unbelievers to the truth and oppress believers, and the poor spiritual state of the Western church itself. It seeks to highlight and address these problems so that Christians are better informed in prayer and practical discipleship.

Which approach is best? How do we judge? Scripture first: the Bible in its various literary forms, written at different times in the history of God’s people, often points out serious sin: false ideology, worship of idols, oppression of the poor, immorality in Gentile nations as well as in Israel. That verse in Jeremiah encouraging the faithful to seek the wellbeing of their local community was not written in a benign context, but to exiles whose predicament was directly due to their disobedience to God, and who were in danger of losing their faith and distinctiveness altogether. Much of the Bible’s message can be summed up simply: ‘this is what is wrong with the world and with us: let’s repent so God can forgive and restore us’. A ministry which does not include the analysis of spiritual powers of evil, sin, individual and corporate, and the call to repentance, is not following the biblical pattern, however well-intentioned.

However that doesn’t mean that an understanding of these issues necessarily needs to be foregrounded in the prayer and mission policies of a local church. In terms of actual methods of engagement with the community and the world, ministry focus may need to be more pastoral and generous. For example, having a realistic understanding of some of the negative aspects of secularism and Islam should not prevent Christians from engaging with secular or Muslim people with gentleness and respect. There is an essential role for those who sound the alarm when Christians are persecuted, or pressurized to conform to secularism, as well as for those who, without being naïve or in denial about serious problems in culture and church, focus on evangelism, pastoral care and social engagement.

Two more recent examples of the different approaches can be found here:

Cultural climate change, by Jonathan Sacks, Standpoint. Sacks argues for all religion to engage positively as an influence for good in the world, rather than retreating or becoming aggressively fundamentalist.

The long march through the institutions: a recent example, by Alan Williams, Kipper Central. Williams shows how anti-family LGBT ideology has not just ‘evolved’ but is part of a strategy originating in Marxist thought of the 19th century, and whose aim is to transform and dominate Western culture.


More recent articles on Gospel and Culture from Andrew Symes:

Gospel, Church and Nation 

Understanding the culture, preaching the whole Gospel

The ‘just be positive’ message: are we substituting God’s grace with our own?


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