This week has been something of a roller coaster experience for me. Some bad news at the beginning of the week rocked me to the core but also the joy of spending time with sisters and brothers committed to the communication, living out and establishment of the kingdom of God on this earth was overwhelming.
The conference itself was quite large with over 340 participants from over 63 counties participating in 6 intense days of study, lectures, workshops and discussion groups. Among the speakers, as I mentioned earlier in the week, there was still a disparity between men and women but the balance is getting better. There was a very good balance between Western and non-Western speakers. This morning when we stood up to say where we were all from the vast majority of participants were from the majority world. The content of the plenary sessions and workshops was very rich although probably too much speaking from the front. One of the themes absent from our deliberations was the global refugee crisis. This is strange as this is not a new phenomenon.
Some issues about the conference itself that I noted was that, firstly, it was not a consultation. For me a consultation is often limited to a group of specialists dealing with one specific subject which is discussed and a statement is made afterwards. In a real sense it wasn’t even a conference; it was, for me, a triennial assembly. It was place where likeminded people of a certain organisation could share what they have been doing and what they are planning. This is a very valid and valuable exercise.
Given the real nature of this gathering I think that the programme was too full. From 08.00-2100 each day with little time to network or even chat, this was too much. The amount of information was amazing and will be so useful but most people skipped sessions to spend time chatting. An assembly needs to give the participants time to relax and chat.
Having made these criticisms, want to say what an incredible privilege it was to be in Lima.
I want to turn now to reflections on the Micah Global Triennial Consultation (assembly) as an expression of the state of the understanding of integral mission. Firstly, it must be said that the vast majority of the representatives were from NGOs. Almost every session was directed towards, and used the language of, NGOs. In one session a pastor of a local churches shared at when many people heard he was from a local church, they asked him why he was there! The idea that integral mission is done by NGOs and not by local churches is stubborn. It is true that many local churches are not interested in integral mission but if that is so, why was there no plenary session or workshop on “how to encourage your local church into mission”?
Although it is true, as Melba Maggay pointed out, that the MGO is part of the church, they participate not as local churches. this together with the fact that many contemporary NGOs employ many non-Christians makes the importance of the local church even more acute.
In addition to this we were often given the impression that the local church is a dangerous place of oppression. “This is the way people are treated in the church” was a phrase I heard more than once. The answer given to this oppression is of course the NGO. If the local church is, as I understand it to be, the primary means that God uses to carry out the divine purposes in the world, then surely a call to repentance to the church is more appropriate than a circumventing of her mission.
Given this dysfunctional relationship between the local church and NGOs interested in Integral Mission, perhaps it is the role of Micah to be a bridge between the two. This could be in the form of encouraging the local church to see its role in integral mission (perhaps through a Micah Course) and helping the NGOs navigate the minefield of ecclesial politics.
Rene Padilla made some interesting comments in the final panel session. The most interesting was that he highlighted the importance of theological reflection in the whole process of thinking about integral mission. As he points out, theology is not for theologians but for the people who want to live out their lives in an integral way and take part in God’s mission as part of their Christian communities. How can Micah and its partners help these people think through how they can do this. That would be certainly better rather than taking over and doing the integral mission for them?
So what can we say are the biggest issues in integral mission after this event? For me the biggest is still the role of the NGO in relation to the local church. Perhaps it should not be but the reluctance, ignorance and impotence of the local church and the “if you won’t, we will” attitudes of many NGOs holds the integral mission of the world church back.
I hope you have benefitted from these blogs this week and are able to engage with them on any level you find appropriate.