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’.