Thursday, October 07, 2004

"Power of Connecting" = Power to impact the world for Christ

"The Kingdom Collaboration Resource Site"

The single most exciting development in the mission world, at least in my view, is the emergence of the networking and partnership movement. It's filled with the waters of hope, and if readers aren't aware of it yet, it's time to jump in. The water's great!

We all know that mission isn't done alone. But now we're discovering how to do it together.
Tired: Churches building one strong individual relationship with each mission agency whose type of mission they admire.
Wired: Churches building dynamic multi-lateral relationships with other churches and agencies to engage in mission as a networked team.
We're discovering the power of connecting.

I've seen scores of churches come alive in their missional purpose as they move into these new ways for God's people to work together. What churches need now are tools, information, relationships and coaching to develop durable networks and partnerships to reach out with love and Christian witness to their neighborhoods and on around the world.

Presbyterian Frontier Fellowship has long been lifting up this effective mission development to our churches. PFF has a "networking for mission" intro page and offers coaching and seminars on how to launch and nurture global partnerships to reach unreached peoples.

And the General Assembly Council's Worldwide Ministries Division doesn't want to be left out of the picture, either. It has geared up to assist new mission networks and is making significant headway. The 2004 GAC Annual Report notes that
The WMD increased from four to nine the number of its mission networks — organizations linking U.S. congregations, presbyteries, and synods that share an interest in mission in a particular country or among a particular group. The existing networks focus on Congo, Cuba, Ghana, Guatemala, Kenya, Malawi, Sudan, global education, and the Kurdish people. Eight network start-ups are planned in 2004, for supporters of mission in Cameroon, Colombia, Ethiopia, Egypt, Nicaragua, South Africa, Thailand, and Vietnam. Learn more by calling (888) 728-7228, ext. 8185.
With all of this momentum in evidence, I'm pleased to introduce a new resource for churches and individuals interested in taking a swim in this partnership pool: a new partnership resourcing Web site. It goes by the memorable name of

On it church leaders can find helpful tools, background papers, biblical underpinings, links and coaching. The site already has abundant papers, articles, and success stories detailing partnerships and networks. And more items are being added all the time.

The articles are compelling:
  • 15 Key Principles For Success
  • 15 Most Common Reasons NOT to Collaborate
  • Initial listings of vital networks, and more.
Power of Connecting is not itself an organization - it's a networking watering hole built for those who are discovering the energy released for the glory of Christ when Christians cooperate. The site is dedicated to men and women worldwide who are committed to helping God's people work together. If you have that vision in your heart, this Web site is your site.

Among other opportunities, visitors can sign on to join the new "Company of the Committed." The Company of the Committed is an informal international network of like-minded men and women actively working to help God's people collaborate more effectively in partnerships, networks, and strategic alliances. We believe the Biblical principles of trusting relationships and functional unity (John 17:21-23/Psalm 133) release God's power, bring credibility to our witness, strengthen our effectiveness, and bring hope and encouragement to His people.

We know that the world is a big, complex place. Though the number of those committed to helping God's people work together is growing, still it often feels like help, information, or encouragement is a long way away. This site is meant to help reduce the distance between you and those who share your vision. Check out the site's many useful and interesting features.

Power of Connecting is powered by which is led by Phill Butler, a Presbyterian layman with extensive experience in partnerships. I serve on visionSynergy's board.

Take the plunge. The water's great. If you do, you and your church will be showered with the blessings of discovering companions on the journey of touching the world for Jesus Christ.

-- Dave Hackett

Links listed:

Friday, October 01, 2004

More on the distinction between proselytism and evangelism

Today's earlier blog, "Language matters in witness," has already drawn responses from many readers. Some have pointed me to some outstanding additional resources and statements.

Two in particular bear directly on our topic of the distinction between proselytism and evangelism.

The Ecumenical Review has a July 2000 article on Proselytism and Church Relations. The author, Veli-Matti Karkkainen, plumbs the nuances of the terms drawing on research and papers developed in conjunction with the World Council of Churches. He states that

1. Proselytism is often seen as what other communions do.
Proselytism, understandably, is a concern of older, more established historic churches. Usually proselytizing charges come from the older churches who take to themselves the right to define what proselytism means. Often younger churches, those regarded by others as "proselytizers", have not been invited to participate in discussions on the subject, nor is it readily apparent that they are particularly concerned to address the subject themselves. The evangelizing activities of, for example, many free churches and their numerous outreach organizations have been effective to the point that older churches are concerned that they may lose even a substantial amount of their members as a result of such activities.
2. Calling a church's witness "proselytism" is often an attempt to deny a church its right to share its distinctive witness.
Every church has to be given the right to give its distinctive witness, both to non-believers and members of other churches, even if that message disagrees with the doctrines of other Churches, without it being labelled as "proselytism." ... [A] church, to be a church, has to be engaged in mission and evangelization and must let other churches do the same. ... Thus the refusal to let other churches give their distinctive testimony to the apostolic gospel means nothing less than denying their ecclesiality. A church cannot exist if it has to ask for its right of existence from other churches. Rather, all churches receive their ecclesiality from the presence of Christ and his Spirit among his people.
3. Proselytism, while originally a positive term, has come to mean inappropriate attempts at conversion.
In 1970, the WCC produced another joint document, Common Witness and Proselytism (1970). ...According to Common Witness and Proselytism, the concept of proselytism covers all inappropriate attempts at conversion which violate the individual's right to religious freedom and prevent him or her from making a religious decision in freedom. The document encourages the avoidance of actions and attitudes which might be rightly considered as proselytism: every kind of violence, moral constraint, pressure, using of material benefits, other kinds of inducements, and so on.
4. Even the Pentecostals - often labeled as likely to proselytize by some - reject proselytization. The Pentecostal team involved in WCC discussions defined proselytism as follows:
Proselytism is a disrespectful and uncharitable recruitment of committed members of Christian communities by persons from other Christian communities. We reject all activities which violate the dignity of human persons, their freedom from external coercion, and manipulation in religious matters, or whatever, in the proclamation of the gospel, which does not conform to the ways God in Jesus Christ wishes to draw people to himself in Spirit and truth.
A second article, this one by the International Religious Liberty Association, is called Evangelism and Proselytism, by Dr. BB Beach of Newbold College.

1. Beach's definition of proselytism. Beach sees proselytism, or what he also calls "false evangelism," when there is one or more of the following taking place:
Use of cajoling, material inducements, and even bribery to win adepts. Use of intimidation, such as a superior in the workplace exerting improper pressure on employees. Offering social or educational inducements. Falsely attributing teachings or beliefs to others, which they do not hold. Any form of evangelism involving fiscal fraud or extortion. Use of slander and libel. Keeping individuals in intensive indoctrination and separated from family and old friends. Consciously and as a matter of strategy taking advantage of people’s misfortune (e.g. poverty, ignorance, sickness, death in the family).
2. An overlooked aspect is every person's fundamental right to be proselytized.
There is one aspect of evangelism or proselytism that is often overlooked. In dealing with the right to proselytize, one must also consider the right to be proselytized, that is the right to receive information, to be taught, to grow in a new or different religious experience. We should deal not only with the right to witness and impart information, but also with the right to receive information....This right to receive information is also a right recognized by the Universal Declaration of Human Rights.
Taken together, these demonstrate the wide gulf between regular evangelism and proselytism. Even ambitious evangelistic initiatives would fail to meet these definitions of coercive proselytism.

I conclude that all but severely limited uses of the term 'proselytism' are, simply put, religious discrimination.

As Beach puts it, almost all common uses of proselytism "refer to witness and evangelism by other religious confessions, never one’s own, for, after all, reprehensible methods are never used by "my" church, but only by "other" religious bodies!"

I urge my fellow Presbyterians to convert away from our casual use of the term. Let's keep it for the real McCoy.

--Dave Hackett

Links listed:

Language matters in witness

Language and terms regarding our Christian witness are not trivial - and the October 1st PC(USA) News article about the New York meeting of high-level Presbyterians and Jews amply demonstrates the reason why.

Most of that strained discussion, the Presbyterian News Service article reports, centered around the PC(USA) vote to begin selective divestment of funds with Israel. But, the article reports, Jewish leaders also had another area of concern: "Jewish leaders also protested the denomination’s decision not to ban funding of messianic congregations such as the controversial Avodat Yisrael in Philadelphia. Rather than decrying the proselytization of Jews the Assembly opted to study how interfaith relations impacts Christian evangelism."

That's the word of the day: proselytization. And it's loaded with freight.

What does proselytize mean, especially in common usage? And how does using it distort the discussion of normal Christian behavior? In a recent meeting with PCUSA Moderator Rick Ufford-Chase, Rick asked me to help him understand the difference I see between proselytism and evangelism. "You can write a blog about it!," he suggested. So here it is. gives this definition of proselytize: "To induce someone to convert to one's own religious faith."

Ah, there's the "inducement" factor. And the first thesaurus entry for that word? "Brainwash." The common understanding of proselytization is of an aggressive, manipulative, theological hijacking version of witness. Using it is like setting up a straw man so terrible everyone would want to decry it.
Whatever happened to gracious and faithful presentation of Jesus' message, "Come, follow me," to those of all faiths along with an invitation to find peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ?

Evangelism is loving, gracious, non-coercive, and invitational. Labeling evangelism as proselytism distorts the normal activity of Christians. And using a hostile term to describe a universal Christian obligation is a lousy way to clarify muddy waters, even in sensitive inter-faith dialogues. We need to be clear that Presbyterians are committed to evangelism.
The massive 1991 PCUSA policy paper on evangelism, Turn to the Living God, carefully parses (and promotes) evangelism. It clearly states "All Christians have the obligation to share their faith with others and to give a reason for hope that is within them (1 Pet. 3:15). The whole church has the responsibility to identify, train, and support those who possess special gifts for evangelism and for equipping others in evangelism (Eph. 4:11-12)."

The paper also says that "As Jesus attracted people by who he was, so the church today is challenged to demonstrate a quality of living as revealed in Scripture that is attractive to people and is itself a means of evangelism."

The paper restates a World Council of Churches affirmation of global evangelism: "Mission and Evangelism -- An Ecumenical Affirmation" [paragraph 25], calls for the establishment of [Christian] congregations in every human community and culture: This task of sowing the seed needs to be continued until there is, in every human community, a cell of the kingdom, a church confessing Jesus Christ and in his name serving people." It quickly adds, "The Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) is committed to this task."

Of course those of other religions would want to label any witness activity of Christians as harmful and manipulative. Some in our own church hold ideologies so severely embarrassed by the scandal of Jesus' particularity that they would disallow any evangelism, any attempt to bring a follower of another faith into the fold of Jesus. The influence of Universalistic theologies is also a factor as some conclude that sincere holders of any religion are equally right with God.

Not so those of the Reformed faith, who walk in the "by faith alone" footsteps of Martin Luther.

Not so those of mainstream Presbyterian theology, who know that the great ends of the church start off with the "proclamation of the gospel for the salvation of humankind" (Book of Order G-1.0200).

Not so those who acknowledge that call in the Presbyterian's most recent confession, A Brief Statement of Faith that "The Spirit gives us courage ... to witness among all peoples to Christ as Lord and Savior."

The fact is, language matters in witness. Evangelism in Christ's way is not the straw enemy known as proselytism. Presbyterians clearly affirm evangelism - and if we're faithful to Christ, we are everyday bearing a clear, invitational witness to Christ to those who follow any other way.

-- Dave Hackett

Links listed: