The local church changing the world

When I worked for the evangelical development agency Tearfund, nearly ten years ago now, one of the things I championed was the local church as God’s primary agent of change in the world. In my role as Research and Policy Director I initiated a small project to get the organising discussing the issue. At the time the centrality of the local church was met with theoretic acceptance, but I think people struggled to see how Tearfund, as a large, professional organisation, could work effectively with small local churches.

So it’s been exciting for me to observe from a distance Tearfund recognising the local church as central to its mission and central to mission among the poor. This weekend it publishes a report called Thick Of It on the importance of the local chruch in development.

A dramatic untold story is unfolding in some of the poorest places on our planet. Here, at the heart of HIV epidemics, at the epicentre of disasters, the church is bringing transformation to some of the most vulnerable and remote communities on earth – sometimes singlehandedly. Often the church is reaching these places in a way that other institutions do not – and cannot. Its long reach and presence extends even into war zones, refugee camps and mountain hamlets. Crucially, it is tackling poor people’s material and spiritual poverty to bring development that is truly sustainable.

It’s two headline conclusions are:

  • Governments and international donors serious about achieving the MDGs should actively engage in partnership with the church.
  • The church in the West should recognise its role and potential to help bring root-and-branch transformation to poor.

I hope Tearfund will make the logical next step and recognise that where there are no local churches, it needs to be involved in church planting – planting churches among the poor with a vision for the poor. One of the phrases I coined at Tearfund was ‘sustained Christian development requires sustainable Christian communities’.

5 thoughts on “The local church changing the world

  1. Amen! I work for a ministry promoting adoption and orphan care and have experienced the same response to the role of the local church. I love how you have articulated the importance and relationship of the church as the “primary agent of change in the world.” I would love to hear more of your thoughts on the relationship between Christian non-profits and churches and how to work effectively together so that the church is really equipped to do the work. I ask because I also see the place for non-profits and many churches are themselves starting non-profits to do work. I’d love to explore the pros-cons of this. Thanks again Tim!

  2. Hi, my name is Joe Miller. I am a church planter in the USA near Seattle, WA doing my Doctoral studies in building self-replicating teams for church planting.

    I have been sitting on an old quote from one of your blogs since last november. I just posted it, and it gave me the chance to actually sit down and read through some of your website. I am really impressed with your perception and insight into many topics.

    I added you to my blogroll and look forward to following along with your writings. God bless brother!

  3. Thank you, Tim. (I am from Australia. I sometimes I teach at theological colleges on justice and poverty issues. Students really like your book Good News to the Poor! Thank you!)

    Indeed the role of churches is important, I think. There is a tendency for some people to think that the church should look after the spiritual matters, and a development agency should look after the physical needs of the poor. But I think this is a manifestation of our Western worldview in which we separate the spiritual and the material world. But the ancient Jews and the apostle Paul did not think like that.

    In practice the development agency and the church will be using their own gifts, skills and abilities according to the specific (cultural, social and historical) context in which they operate. Sometimes the chuch finds itself in a good position to meet the material needs of the poor. But at other times it is the development agency which is in the best position to do that task.

    I hope it all makes sense.

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