Recently, a former colleague of mine in Thailand wrote about a workshop that he would be attending. Preparing to share on why theological schools should implement elements of “integral mission” into their curricula, he asked for my thoughts.
In case you’re not familiar with the term integral mission, various faith-based groups promote an understanding of Christian ministry that integrates the “Good News” message of Christ along with social responsibility. For many, the promotion and practice of integral mission is in response to ministerial traditions that prioritize evangelism over the church’s role of attending to felt physical, social or emotional needs or even taking responsibility for the health of our planet.
Many of us have been associated with faith traditions that prioritize evangelism – a.k.a. saving souls - above all other activities of the church. Such priority may be based on a sense of urgency to prevent “the lost” from spending eternity in hell. It can also be about multiplying the size and influence of the church. Unfortunately, such one-dimensional spiritual concern and action can result in coercion and exclusion. And when non-spiritual needs - such as hunger and poverty - are addressed, strings may be attached.
With so much focus on the hereafter, the here and now may not really matter. And there might not be much motivation to steward this fragile planet and the rest of creation.
Being a person of faith, I support the concept and practice of integral mission. And here’s the response that I shared with my friend in Thailand.
“These days, I have been busy working with disaster response related to Hurricane Florence. In fact, this week I'm in eastern North Carolina where there was a lot of flooding. Every time I see the devastation of storms that have hit the US, the Philippines, China and elsewhere, I know that I'm part of the problem, particularly due to my giant carbon footprint from the energy I use to travel, live and work.
This reminds me that everything is connected.
Perhaps the message that I would share related to integrated mission is that everything is connected.
God created humankind to live on this wonderful planet with its seasons, soil, water, seeds, animals, plants and so much more. God gave us the capacity to understand how these things fit together so that we can have and share the abundance. That’s because everything is connected.
Somehow, many Christians have forgotten about such connectedness. As a result, we have become mainly concerned with the self/God connection in expectation that God will bless our temporary, earthly lives until He takes us on to heaven.
Romans 1:20 states, ‘For since the creation of the world His invisible attributes, His eternal power and divine nature, have been clearly seen, being understood through what has been made, so that they are without excuse.’
This verse reminds us that creation was made by God and reflects God. For us to disregard this fact brings consequences to all creation, including people. Our ignorance and greed lead to the plunder of resources that benefits a few and hurts so many more. The carbon that we spew into the atmosphere is disrupting the climatic balance that sustains all of creation.
We must remember that all things are connected. We must allow this truth to empower us to love one another and honor all that God has made. Let’s not forget what’s stated in Psalm 20:1, ‘The earth is the LORD'S, and all it contains, the world, and those who dwell in it.’ Otherwise, we preach an empty, one-dimensional Gospel.
Integral mission is needed to reset the beliefs and behavior of a church that, in many quarters, has abdicated its responsibility to nurture the earth and its inhabitants.”
I’m sharing this message to help clarify our motivation to serve farmworkers and others through Cultivate Abundance. Yes, we are a faith-based organization. And we serve in the full knowledge that everything – from God to justice, from soil to seed, from light bills to hurricanes, from hunger to generosity - is connected. Let’s not forget that.