Over the past two years I have been part of a group focused on issues of community development among the least reached. As a result of that work, a new book, Undivided Witness: Jesus Followers, Community Development, and Least-Reached Communities was just released this week.
It is edited by David Greenlee (OM), Paul Bendor-Samuel (Oxford Centre for Mission Studies) and Mark Galpin (All Nations Christian College) and has 12 contributors with significant experience in community development. I (Scott) am one of the contributors and have written one of the ten chapters. My chapter explores the Christian development workers’ commitment to professional excellence in the context of multiple (and frequently conflicting) stakeholder expectations in the international aid sector. The book is currently trending #1 in the Christian missions category on Amazon.
Our overall hope in writing this book is that it will stimulate more reflection and discussion on this area of ministry, contribute to a rarely explored theme in missiology, and encourage the discovery and recognition of the links between community development and the emergence of ‘vibrant communities of Jesus followers’ in least-reached settings. By demonstrating the synergy between church planting and community development, we hope to dissolve the perceived tension between these ministry approaches and to encourage organisations that have traditionally focused on church planting and evangelism to recognise the strategic role community development can play in achieving their Kingdom objectives in least-reached contexts—never to be used merely as a platform but as an integral feature of truly holistic mission.
In addition, we hope that our work will influence and shape the practice of those already committed to the strategy of community development as a ministry approach in least-reached contexts, enabling them to become more effective and transformative in building God’s Kingdom. While we have confidence in these principles, we consider them to still be under development. Input from readers is therefore welcome to both refine the principles and to develop a robust explanation and grounding for each. In turn, this will help us contribute to a missiology that guides ministry and service involving community development among the least reached.
Wes Watkins of Motus Dei Network writes:
‘Tribalism’ is everywhere, including in the missions community. There are people who are passionate about church planting. Others whose heart is for community development, social justice, and the poor. Then there are those who want to reach the least reached. These different tribes only occasionally speak, and, maybe more than they care to admit- view the other tribes with suspicion. Twenty years ago, I remember feeling this tension when I began preparing for ministry in a poor, unreached Muslim country. Books on church planting and discipleship seemed to focus on responsive contexts that already had a local church. Community development practitioners rarely spoke about evangelism. And literature on the least-reached didn’t have much to say about God’s heart for the poor and marginalized. It was as if I was forced to choose my tribe in an either-or dichotomy. But doesn’t God care about all three?
To deal with this issue, a group of practitioners, missiologists, and scholars gathered at the Oxford Center for Mission Studies in 2018 to explore this unexplored space called ‘CDLR’ (Community Development Least Reached) which is the intersection between 1) community development, 2) the least reached, and 3) emerging, multiplying vibrant communities of Jesus-followers. What resulted is a list of ten principles which form the chapter structure of Undivided Witness:
- Understanding the Kingdom of God is crucial to understanding how and why community development and vibrant communities of Jesus followers among the least reached are connected.
- Our understanding of how people enter the Kingdom of God will affect how we do ministry.
- The gospel impacts the whole person and people’s whole contexts.
- Our motivation is to glorify Christ. We long for people to come to faith in him, but our vision does not stop there. We want to see the Kingdom of God impact people and the communities we live in.
- Spiritual warfare and prayer are an integral part of community development.
- Creation glorifies, praises, and witnesses to God. Caring for creation is an act of worship. Our concern for creation is an act of obedience to God and participation in his work of reconciling all things to himself.
- Community development will only be truly transformational if it brings a vision for vibrant communities of Jesus followers and the renewal of the whole person and community.
- Community development workers are committed to professional excellence.
- There is significant overlap between the principles of excellence in community development and working toward the formation of vibrant communities of Jesus followers.
- The ‘least reached’ are so for a reason, both spiritually and often in terms of poverty and development.
Undivided Witness models some of the best integrative thinking in missiology. The ten principles of ministry on the overlap between community development, discipleship movements, and least-reached peoples are skillfully unpacked and explained with challenging case studies and deep theological reflection. This is an important conversation on perhaps the most difficult and strategic ministry context in the world today.