The Heart of Integral Mission is … the Heart

Christian development has a long history, and a checkered one, if we are honest. One of the latest developments from a historical perspective is the professionalization of the field in the 80s and 90s, ably described by Bryant Myers, in his book Walking with the Poor. Prior to that time, development workers were “talented amateurs” with their hearts in the right place, but, all too often, lacking the skills and perspectives necessary to help communities develop without causing unintentional harm. Since that time, professional development has become part of the life and experience of most development workers. It is a rare worker that doesn’t have a professional degree and a rare year that doesn’t include a training or two on a new perspective, technique, or cross-cutting issue. We preach the same emphasis to members of local churches who want to get involved in this thing we call “integral mission”. This emphasis on education and skill-building has had a significant positive impact on our mission to reduce poverty and increase human well-being.

 But when we talk about integral mission, diverse technical skills and a sound fundamental understanding of development are necessary but not sufficient. We need to be able to facilitate a group effectively. We need to know how to mitigate the risks for the women and girls whom we serve. We need to understand effective and transparent financial management. But those things don’t change lives holistically. Skills and perspectives are not enough. More importantly, skills and perspectives are not the right place to start. The first qualification for an integral missionary is a life that is being transformed by the Holy Spirit. And that first qualification is what has been neglected as the pendulum whistled by.

 Our being, our relationship with Jesus, our own transformation, should be the source of our actions and of our words. But “being” has always been the neglected step-child of the integral mission trinity. “Being” has always been a difficult idea for development professionals, and for all of those educated or socialized into the Western traditions. It is difficult to see, to touch, to measure. It is internal, not external. So, somewhat ironically, the advocates of integral mission often integrate word and deed, and detach them from being / transformation, and outsource that element to the local church.

 The Micah Network’s Declaration on Integral Mission is an excellent document, but it is typical when it talks about our being.

Integral mission or holistic transformation is the proclamation and demonstration of the gospel. It is not simply that evangelism and social involvement are to be done alongside each other. Rather, in integral mission our proclamation has social consequences as we call people to love and repentance in all areas of life. And our social involvement has evangelistic consequences as we bear witness to the transforming grace of Jesus Christ.

If we ignore the world we betray the word of God, which sends us out to serve the world. If we ignore the word of God we have nothing to bring to the world. Justice and justification by faith, worship and political action, the spiritual and the material, personal change and structural change belong together. As in the life of Jesus, being, doing and saying are at the heart of our integral task

Have you ever noticed the word “being” in the last sentence? It is unreferenced otherwise, an insignificant part of a document that focuses on reuniting proclamation and demonstration.

The problem is that the heart, the mind, the soul, our being, which Jesus thought was central, is functionally irrelevant to our conception of integral mission, both in our words and in our deeds. In our words, we spend most of our time talking about word and deed. In our deeds, we spend all of our time improving our skills, doing the work, and teaching others to talk about integral mission the same way that we do. Have we also, unknowingly, become Pharisees who whitewash the outside of the tomb? I hope not. I hope we are just taking spiritual transformation in our people for granted. As a given. But, in order to do great development work, to truly live out integral mission, we must remember that the reason that our words and our deeds are a whole is that they spring from the same source. Our new techniques, our ways of speaking must always and intentionally be grounded in their source, our being.

 Luke 6:45 – A good man brings good things out of the good stored up in his heart, and an evil man brings evil things out of the evil stored up in his heart. For the mouth speaks what the heart is full of.         

If we truly believe that, then we must begin devoting as much time, individually and corporately, to our being as we do to the professional skills that we find so useful.