Decolonising Apostolic Ministry 5: Evolution not Revolution

Decolonisation must be by evolution, not revolution. An evolution, however, punctuated by moments of revolution, of revelation. This is a journey both systemic and deeply personal.

I’m sitting in the airport on my way home from 10 days in a Middle Eastern context where the very things that have been discussed here are being wrestled with, through blood, sweat and tears, in real local church situations. The very pains and frustrations suggested here are real pain and real frustration to the work of the Kingdom. If I had any doubt, I’m reminded how urgently these changes are needed.

Yet even so, I’m arguing for evolution, not revolution. The Newfrontiers journey from its humble beginnings in a small town in Sussex to becoming a truly global, polycentric, multi-contextual movement, is under full steam. We can’t deny that, in the sovereignty of God, this worldwide family had its origins in the English countryside. We celebrate our history, and the extraordinary things that God has done. Equally, we know that intentional shedding of any outstanding vestiges of colonial language, mindsets, biases and practices is non-negotiable if all members of this family are ever to express their contextual freedom in sharing a gospel whose ultimate destination is every culture, every language, every heart.

I believe that this journey requires imagination, collaboration, invocation and personalisation.

  • Imagination

“The imagination must come before the implementation. Our culture is competent to implement almost anything and to imagine almost nothing.” Walter Brueggemann.

What could a truly muti-lingual, polycentric apostolic family look like? What if apostolic ministry were able truly to initiate kingdom advance cross-culturally without importing unhelpful practices mixed up within the liberative gospel of Christ? If we can’t imagine a different future, how will we build it?

“No eye has seen, no ear has heard, and no mind has imagined what God has prepared for those who love him.” I Cor 2:9.

  • Collaboration

The type of leadership required for this kind of future, I suggest, is less a visionary, active implementer-type leadership and more chairmanlike, inclusive leadership that is able to listen to multiple voices. Such approaches represent a different kind of leadership, are often slower and less efficient, involve a larger rather than a smaller core group, but facilitate meaningful diverse perspectives. Anyone engaging with a diversity journey at local church or sphere level will be familiar with the different set of skills required.

It’s probably impossible to decolonise oneself without help from the outside. As D.T. Niles wrote, “The gospel is not safe in any culture without a witness within that culture from beyond itself.” Where echo-chambers are chronic (e.g you have been reading theology written by white people for years, even decades) then the balancing of these voices by tuning in to others will also take time.

  • Invocation

There needs to be a decolonising of the spirit, not just of the mind. Colonialism itself was the haunt of spiritual forces which have left their fingerprints on both coloniser and colonised cultures. Prayer and the conviction of the Holy Spirit are vital to this journey.

“Absent from the lists in most charismatic Christian literature are other demons and higher-level spirits often experienced negatively by poor people or others on the margins of society. Nationalism, legalism, ethnocentrism, racism and militarism are among the worst offenders, together with well-known demons like pride, fear, hatred and greed.” Bob Eckblad, A New Christian Manifesto.

  • Personalisation

In John’s prologue, we read “the Word became flesh.” Throughout John, Jesus keeps making his words flesh. He says, “I am the bread of life,” and he feeds 5,000 hungry people. He says, “I am the true vine,” and he miraculously creates wine. He says, “I am the light of the world,” and he heals a blind man. He says, “I am the resurrection and the life,” and he raises Lazarus from the dead. In every instance, he takes a large, conceptual, cosmic claim, and makes it personal, tangible, accessible in the life of a specific individual at a specific time in a specific place.

Matthew Vellanickal calls this, “the process of an ever-renewed incarnation of the Word of which Christ was the perfect expression in a given nation, in a particular place and time.”

There is a sense in which every word must become flesh.

Decolonising apostolic ministry, likewise, can sound conceptual, systemic, impersonal. The blame, and the need for initiative, can easily lie elsewhere. But in fact, there is a responsibility on every individual to go on this journey, to ask, “are the prejudices, biases in me? Are the unhelpful practices or narratives that I am perpetuating?” The decolonisation journey, in the spirits and minds of both coloniser and colonised cultures, is a deeply personal one.

This is the end of this series for now. I’ve enjoyed the interaction, the emails, the responses, the discussions arising from the questions raised here.