The missionary calling of the church is something that always needs to be rediscovered. A point that has been lost on many is that the expression of mission that prevailed during the age of European imperialism was but one episode in a long history. Those who are sensitive to the missionary calling have been rethinking its meaning ever since. The latest organised attempt to do this was the World Council of Churches World Mission Conference, held at Arusha in Tanzania in 2018.
The Arusha Conference cast mission in terms of discipleship – something to which all who follow Christ are called. It promoted a comprehensive rethinking and rediscovery of the meaning of mission geared to pressing contemporary challenges, several of which have come into even clearer relief in light of the coronavirus pandemic. It summarised its findings in a 12-part statement, the Arusha Call to Discipleship.
There is virtue in the brevity of the Call. It is just over one page in length. But it seemed to me there could also be value in unpacking the summary statements of the Call. This is what I have attempted in my new book, which has just gone to press as a co-publication of WCC Publications and Globethics. Rather like a biblical commentary, the book seeks to explain each phrase and sometimes even each word, exploring what lies behind it and interpreting its meaning.
I hope the book can be part of a literature that opens up the latest thinking about the meaning of mission to a wider public. It is organised so that it can readily be used as a textbook, say in a semester-length course on contemporary missiology. At the same time, I have tried not to make it heavily academic but rather to write in a way that will be readily accessible to church study groups or interested general readers.
The Call finishes with this prayer:
Loving God, we thank you for the gift of life in all its diversity and beauty. Lord Jesus Christ, crucified and risen, we praise you that you came to find the lost, to free the oppressed, to heal the sick, and to convert the self-centred. Holy Spirit, we rejoice that you breathe in the life of the world and are poured out into our hearts. As we live in the Spirit, may we also walk in the Spirit. Grant us faith and courage to deny ourselves, take up our cross and follow Jesus: becoming pilgrims of justice and peace in our time. For the blessing of your people, the sustaining of the earth, and the glory of your name. Through Christ our Lord, Amen.Arusha Call to Discipleship, World Council of Churches, 2018