Leaders in Africa, Europe, the Middle East and the United Kingdom were asked by BMS World Mission, "What is the biggest issue facing the church?"
Baptist leaders share their answers to the question, "What is the biggest issue facing the church?" (Image courtesy of ponsulak/FreeDigitalPhotos.net)
David Kerrigan, general director of BMS World Mission, highlighted positive social ministry and outreach efforts, while noting "a lack of confidence in the gospel message."
He cautioned against a division between action and conviction, in which the former replaces the latter, summarizing: "Action without conviction is just social work – good in itself but not the whole gospel. And conviction without action is mere pontificating. Blend the two together and what we have is truly gospel."
Helle Liht, assistant general secretary of the European Baptist Federation, offered a complementary perspective.
She shared a conversation with an Estonian pastor who described a local church that was "well known in their neighborhood" for the social ministries but was not growing.
The reason, Liht wrote, is that "church members find it challenging to build personal relationships that embody both the gospel message and social care. It is either one or the other."
She added that "the bridge of personal relationships that holds together word and deed, where we live out the whole story of Jesus Christ with the power to change lives, is not there."
Referencing several humanitarian crises, Liht also emphasized the need to build bridges between "communities that express their concern for these troubled situations" and those who need help.
In other words, connecting people with resources to those who need them is vital.
Nabil Costa, executive director of the Lebanese Society for Educational and Societal Development, noted declining membership as a key challenge in 2015, urging a renewed focus and refined approach to training Christian leaders.
He also emphasized that "the church needs to regain its confidence in the public sphere" so as to be "salt and light" amid a growing secularism in the West and a fanatical extremism in the Middle East.
Ray Motsi, president of the Theological College of Zimbabwe, commented that many issues facing the African continent, such as poverty, development and politics, were not being sufficiently addressed by local churches.
What he called "easy believism" – a version of the "Prosperity Gospel" – is a popular but unhelpful response. These churches, Motsi commented, are "similar to traditional healers, except that they now use the Bible and Christian jargon."
He concluded that immorality and a failure to establish "a culture of accountability, integrity, justice, transparency and good governance … is the root cause of most or all the African problems."
The African church, once described as "100 kilometers wide but is still an inch deep," has not filled this void, and, therefore, has had "little positive influence on the society and community," Motsi wrote.