From the Worldwide Faith News archives

Church must shift to meet new mission needs

From NewsDesk <NewsDesk@UMCOM.UMC.ORG>
Date 23 Oct 1998 14:45:21

Oct. 23, 1998	Contact: Linda Bloom·(212) 870-3803·New York     {617}

STAMFORD, Conn. (UMNS) - The church must allow itself to become part of
the larger work of God if it is to succeed in mission in the future.

That was the message the Rev. S. Wesley Ariarajah, professor of
ecumenical theology at Drew University School of Theology, brought to
the United Methodist Board of Global Ministries during its Oct. 19-22
annual meeting.

Ariarajah, a Methodist minister from Sri Lanka and former deputy general
secretary of the World Council of Churches, spoke on "Christian Mission:
The End or a New Beginning."

He outlined four shifts in philosophy needed to move the church from the
"Protestant party line" on mission to a new understanding of how mission
should be accomplished.

The first shift is to change from an exclusive to an inclusive concept
of mission. That means accepting that "God is already in mission in the
world today" and acknowledging the validity of other faith responses.

In Sri Lanka, for example, Christians compose only 6.8 percent of a
population that is 65 percent Buddhist and 18 percent Hindu. Although
Christians there believe God is present and cares for all people of Sri
Lanka, they generally are unable to make that link to the other
religions, Ariarajah said.

Without that sense of inclusiveness, of discerning God's presence in the
lives of other people, "there's no meaningful mission that is possible
in Sri Lanka," he added.

The second shift is to move from the concept of conversion to the
concept of healing. While Christians think of conversion mainly in faith
terms, for a non-Christian, it means "dragging a person from one
community to another," according to the professor.

Mission must move from the idea of creating an alternative community to
healing a community and bringing it wholeness, "an idea of creating a
safe community in an unsafe world," he explained. "Jesus was primarily a

The hidden assumption of mission has long been that its purpose is to
"bring the whole world to Christ," Ariarajah said. He described the
third shift in mission as moving from a majority to a minority
mentality, focusing more on being a witness than on the necessity of

Within his own tradition, Jesus viewed mission "as a stubborn witness in
the world as to who God is," he explained.

The most important mission, then, is to become a witness to the saving
grace of God. "The church is the proof that God will save the world,"
Ariarajah pointed out. "If we can be saved, the world can be saved. If
we can be God's community, the world can be God's community."

Moving from a doctrinal to a spiritual understanding of mission is the
fourth shift the church must make, particularly if it wants to draw in
young people, the professor said.

The search for authentic spirituality, community and belonging can be
satisfied by the teachings of Christ, he said. "Have we ... somehow
glossed over the radical challenge that Christ brings for life?"
United Methodist News Service
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