WHAT IS HOLISTIC MISSION?

Our vision as a team is to see a new generation of leaders in Cambodia engaged in holistic mission.  We recognize that the term “holistic mission” is potentially ambiguous and subject to varied interpretations.  We have therefore prepared this “position paper” which outlines our current understanding of holistic mission and some parameters as to the manner in which it is to be implemented within the work of our team.  We are by no means experts in the areas of development and holistic ministry.  This framework paper may therefore, quite frankly, contain misguided thinking, errors in judgment, or poorly crafted terminology.  We submit this paper, therefore, as a “work in progress.”  We warmly welcome any clarification or suggestions from those whose experience is broader and understanding is deeper than ours!

We desire for our team to have a culture of conceptual development about holistic mission.  This position paper for a holistic mission framework is simply the starting point for that development.  True to our core values, we desire to have an “attitude of learning” – continual learning and growth about this subject and how International Teams East Asia – Cambodia Team can be a part of God’s holistic mission in the world.

Introduction

As we live and minister here in Cambodia, we become increasingly aware of the vast number of social problems plaguing this nation.  Human trafficking, deforestation, HIV/AIDS, corruption, injustice, poverty, and many other issues surround us, leading us to experience heartache, compassion, and sometimes frustration and anger.  As we read God’s Word, we realize that God cares very much for these issues, and He desires for us as His people to share His compassionate heart for these problems, as well.  Sticking our head in the sand like the proverbial ostrich is simply not an option.
 
Furthermore, we see a variety of agencies around us responding to some of these problems.  Some of these agencies are Christian organizations, but many others are ‘secular’ development NGO’s.  External governments are also intervening through foreign aid programs.  As we try to look at these problems from the perspective of a Biblical worldview, we cannot avoid the suspicion that the secular NGO’s, in their naturalistic/humanistic frame of reference, are missing something.  The dimension of spiritual darkness, so obvious in Cambodia with its animistic Buddhist worldview, is a critical factor in the underdevelopment of this nation.
 
Thankfully, many Christian development workers have begun to organize a coherent framework for understanding all these factors in an integrative way, through the development of the concept of Transformational Development (TD).  Likewise, as an organization, International Teams East Asia – Cambodia Team (ITEACT) needs a consistent framework for understanding these social problems and implementing strategic responses to them, within the context of our mission to ‘advance the multiplication of disciples, leaders, and churches in Cambodia through strategic partnerships.’  Thus, we need to consider the implementation of TD within the context of our mission of multiplication – we will call this ‘holistic mission.’
 
This framework, then, will consider the problems which holistic mission needs to address.  A brief consideration of secular and other perspectives on poverty and development will be included.  Following that, we will develop a theological framework for understanding development from the perspective of a Biblical worldview.  Next, we will integrate these perspectives into a coherent understanding of the nature of holistic mission.  Finally, we will develop a paradigm for implementing holistic mission within the context of our specific organization.
 

Secular Perspectives on Poverty and Development

Our starting point will be the general theories of poverty and development which many of those working in ‘secular’ NGO’s are using as their framework of reference.
 
Development thinkers have formed various theories about the nature of poverty.  Some approach poverty from a purely economic perspective.  For instance, they may look at ‘asset poverty,’ which is the lack of economic wealth.  Another view would consider ‘income poverty,’ which measures the level of income in a given household against a standard ‘poverty line.’  These economic views of poverty are correct in understanding poverty as an issue related to the use of resources for fulfilling basic human needs.  However, a mere economic view of poverty is too limiting.  Other views of poverty add helpful components.  For example, the capability view of poverty focuses on the ability (or lack thereof) that the poor have to carry out fundamental, valued activities.  Other poverty perspectives emphasize the importance of the poor defining for themselves what it means to be poor.  Another helpful dimension of poverty has been explored by the work of other development thinkers, such as Robert Chambers and John Friedman.  These take more systemic approaches, understanding poverty as a collection of interrelated factors.  Chambers’ approach includes material poverty, physical weakness, vulnerability, isolation, and powerlessness.  Friedman emphasizes that poverty is a power issue.  Christian thinkers like Jayakumar Christian and Bryant Myers build on these systemic views, but add spiritual components to them.
 
One’s view of poverty inevitably shapes one’s view of development – how one defines the problem often implies the necessary solution.  If poverty is merely economic, then economic solutions are required to promote economic development.  If the problem is an inability to meet basic human needs, the response is to build capacity and develop structures for ensuring the fulfillment of those basic needs.  More systemic approaches realize the need for expanding the lifestyle of the poor across a variety of ‘transformational frontiers.’  Empowerment of the poor seems to be a major theme in these systematic views.
 
Reading some of this literature on poverty and development is a bit overwhelming.  The ideas introduced in these various perspectives are largely accurate, but they are not complete.  They are helpful, but they are not adequate.  For example, in one sense, the economic definitions of poverty seem inadequate.  Certainly, the problem of poverty is not as simple as measuring how much income (or wealth) everyone has.  But the more systemic views are also somewhat confusing.  Because they include so many factors, it begins to appear as if poverty is everything!  One begins to wonder what poverty really is!  Christian theories add the necessary spiritual dimension, but may not always pay proper attention to the role of the church.
 
Clarity can come in two points:
First, we should define poverty as an ‘incapacity to mobilize essential resources to satisfy basic human needs.’  Defining poverty simply in terms of income, or of wealth, is inadequate.  The root issue of poverty is not being able to mobilize the resources necessary for satisfying one’s basic needs. For instance, someone may have zero income, but have such a great store of wealth that they have all the resources they will ever need.  Conversely, someone may have no wealth, and live from paycheck to paycheck, but those paychecks are enough to support a comfortable lifestyle.  Neither of these people could be considered poor.  Furthermore, someone could have neither income nor wealth, but be so ‘well connected’ (social capital) that their basic needs were always satisfied.  In short, there are a variety of ways to mobilize the resources essential for meeting basic human needs.  Any one of those ways will keep a person from being poor.  But when someone is simply incapable of mobilizing those resources, that is when the horrible state of poverty becomes frightening reality.
 
Second, we must realize that poverty is not everything.  Poverty is not the only ‘development problem.’  Rather, it is a single factor within the entire framework of underdevelopment.  Other factors include broken families, oppression, ignorance, disease, crime, and injustice.  All of these factors are systemically related.  But they are distinct factors.  Together, they make up the complex issue of underdevelopment.  The diagram here reveals that at the core of underdevelopment are three fundamental issues:  power, resources, and knowledge.  In order for people to develop, they need access to resources, they need the power to use those resources for their own development, and they need the knowledge to know how to use those resources.  A breakdown in any one of these core development issues can lead to the various factors of underdevelopment.
 

A Theological Framework for Understanding Development

In order to grasp the vast array of Biblical teaching which relate to holistic development, we need a clear framework to organize our thinking.  Various teachers have suggested a four-stage process in the implementation of God’s plan to bring glory to Himself through His people.  This process consists of Creation, Fall, Redemption, and Consummation.  Let us consider each of these phases in turn:
 
 

CREATION

The starting point of a Biblical worldview comes in the understanding that God is the Creator.  This fundamental premise is clear from the very beginning (Genesis 1:1), and on throughout all of Biblical revelation.  It is clear that God has created all things in existence in the natural world (Genesis 1:1-25), and He is the creator of humanity as well (Genesis 1:26-31).  As Creator, He is the Master of all that exists (Psalm 24:1-2, 89:11-12).  Another way to say this is that God is the sovereign Lord, or that He reigns as King.  As such, all created things are accountable to Him, and are made for His glory (Psalm 19:1; Psalm 95:6; Isaiah 43:7; Revelation 4:11).
 
The pinnacle of God’s creation is humanity, which God has made – male and female – in His own image.  God designed humanity for a relationship with Himself.  Humanity was designed to love and serve the only true God, his Creator.  We can call this role or responsibility of man ‘worship.’  It is clear, however, that humanity was not designed to be an isolated worshipper.  Worship is not the sole responsibility or role of man.  God also designed man to be in ‘relationship’ with other human beings (Genesis 2:18-25).  This responsibility of relationship is the foundation of human society.  Finally, God also entrusted man with a role of responsibility over the natural order.  The natural order still belonged to God, but man was expected to rule over it on God’s behalf (Genesis 1:28; Psalm 8:6-8).  Thus, we call this responsibility ‘stewardship.’
 
Each of these roles/responsibilities is also an area of need.  Humanity needs a right relationship with God, a right relationship with other human beings, and a right relationship between his body and the natural order.  This is clear in Genesis 2:16-18.  God gave man a command – man must obey in order to be in right relationship with God.  God created a helper for the man – to ensure that he was not alone.  God provided food for the man – ensuring that he was in a right relationship with the natural order.
 
Thus, in creation we get a clear picture of man’s true identity and calling.  He is made in God’s image, and is called to fulfill the roles and responsibilities of worship, relationship, and stewardship.  It is little wonder that, when man truly fulfilled these roles under the sovereign Lordship of God, we call that condition ‘paradise.’
 

FALL

Paradise did not last too long, however.  After surrendering to the temptation of the devil in the guise of a serpent (Genesis 3), everything went drastically wrong.  The two main results of this fall into sin can be expressed as ‘alienation’ and ‘corruption.’  Alienation is a description of what happened in the three major roles of humanity, and corruption is a reflection of what happened in the main actors themselves.
 
We see the ‘alienation’ effects in the account of the Fall itself.  Humanity is alienated from God, as Adam and Eve hide from the Lord as He walks in the garden (Genesis 3:8).  Adam and Eve are alienated from each other, as their shame causes them to cover themselves with fig leaves and hurl accusations (Genesis 3:12, 16).  Finally, as a result of the curse, humanity is alienated from the natural order (Genesis 3:17-19).  These various categories of alienation, left unchecked, lead to more comprehensive problems.  Alienation from God leads humanity to seek substitutes for Him, resulting in idolatry.  Alienation from other people leads to multiple dysfunctions in human society, a condition which we can (as noted above) call underdevelopment.  Finally, alienation from the natural world and a rejection of humanity’s role as stewards of it leads to environmental degradation.
 
The main actors in this horrific drama are also corrupted by the fall into sin.  God Himself, of course, is holy and remains untouched by sin.  However, humanity’s choice leaves opportunity for the infiltration of a usurper – Satan with his demonic forces (Ephesians 2:2).  The facilities of man, created in God’s image, are corrupted (Ephesians 4:17-19).  We call this ‘the flesh,’ humanity’s natural powers being used in a way of life which exalts self and opposes God (Ephesians 2:3).  The collection of fleshly humans into society is also corrupted, resulting in the evil world system (Ephesians 2:2; 1 John 2:15-17).  Finally, the natural order is corrupted, resulting in universal decay (Romans 8:20-23).
 




REDEMPTION

Thankfully, God never lost control of the situation.  He also never abandoned His plan to bring glory to Himself through doing good to His people which He had created.  God’s holistic plan of redemption had two major phases.  The first phase involved in the creation of the people of Israel.  God called Abraham (Genesis 12:1-3; 17:1-8), a man of faith, and from his descendants created a nation for His glory (Isaiah 49:3), a nation which would be a model of the holistic peace that God intended for His people (see Exodus 19:3-6).  To guide this model nation, God gave them the Torah, a set of instructions which would lead Israel into a lifestyle which reflected the principles of holistic peace.
 
In the Torah, the supremacy of God as the only Lord and King is unmistakable.  Israel is clearly called to a recommitment to fulfilling the human role/responsibility of worshipping the one and only true God (Exodus 20:1-6).  The prophets, the ‘guardians of the Torah principles,’ repeatedly called Israel to forsake their idolatries and renew their commitment to worship.
 
The Torah also includes comprehensive guidelines for life in human society.  Seven fundamental pillars of human society are amply supported in the Torah’s instruction.
1. Democratic Rights.  The Torah demonstrates respect for the person, including basic rights such as property (Exodus 20:17; 21:28-36; 22:9; Leviticus 6:3-4).
2. Family.  The family is the core of society in the framework of the Torah.  There are numerous laws which regulate sexual behavior and protect the integrity of the family unit (Leviticus 18).
3. Equitable Economic System.  Care is given to avoid economic oppression (see Deuteronomy 24:10-22)
4. Education.  Education of the next generation in the Torah lifestyle is important (Deuteronomy 6:7-9).
5. Health Care.  Instruction is given in basic sanitation and health (e.g., Leviticus 13; Deuteronomy 23:12-13).
6. Public Safety.  Protection from violence is provided for in the law (e.g. Numbers 35).
7. Balanced Legal System.  A system of judges who implemented the law without partiality is instituted (Exodus 18:17-26).
 


These seven pillars are in direct opposition to the seven factors of underdevelopment outlined above.  The protection of democratic rights diminishes oppression.  Strengthening the family minimizes the damage done by broken family structures.  An equitable economic system protects against poverty.  Education works against ignorance.  Health care guards against disease.  Ensuring public safety protects society from crime.  A balanced judicial system works against injustice.  By addressing these issues, the Torah thus provided a basic framework for healthy society.  The prophets were equally concerned when the people of Israel wandered away from this ideal (Isaiah 58:1-11, Micah 6:1-8).

 
The Torah also does not ignore the final responsibility of man – environmental stewardship. The people of Israel were instructed in how to live in care for the land (Exodus 23:12; Lev 25:1-5; Deut 22:6-7).
 
The first phase of God’s redemptive plan through Israel and the Torah was good, but it was only provisional.  The complete implementation of God’s redemptive plan came in His Son, Jesus Christ, and the community of disciples gathered around Him.  After Pentecost, this community of disciples became the church, now empowered by the Holy Spirit to be the agents of God’s holistic mission in the world.
 
The New Testament reflects the same concern for the spiritual, social, and physical responsibilities of humanity.  The redemption introduced by Christ is designed to bring restoration in each of these domains:  spiritual, social, and physical.  We have been reconciled to God (2 Corinthians 5:18-21).  We are united into ‘one new humanity’ (Ephesians 2:14-22).  The world will be restored and set free from bondage (Romans 8:19-22).
 
Thus, New Testament salvation goes beyond merely receiving forgiveness of sins.  That is foundational, of course, for sin was the fundamental problem which generated all these problems in the first place.  The vision of the New Testament is broader, however.  Salvation is redemption from sin (and its effects) and restoration of man’s holistic role in God’s Kingdom.
 
God’s people are to engage in ministry in each of these domains:  spiritual, social, and physical.  This ministry involves both fulfilling our divinely ordained roles and alleviating the effects of sin in each domain.
 

CONSUMMATION

Our salvation thus defined has commenced, but it is not complete.  God’s Kingdom has been inaugurated, but the consummation awaits Christ’s return.  When Christ does indeed return, He will institute the complete fullness of His Kingdom and holistic peace – lasting, perfect peace – will be here at last.  God promises to bring about a final consummation which will bring total restoration in each domain:  spiritual, social, and physical.  We will be set free from sin and share eternity with God.  We will be together as a multitude praising God.  The natural order will be restored as a new heaven and a new earth. 
 
In the meantime, we live in the ‘overlap of the ages.’  It is in this overlap that we must participate in God’s plan through engaging in holistic mission.
 

The Nature of Holistic Mission

In light of these principles we can define holistic mission as follows:  Holistic mission is the process of leading human society toward holistic peace through the church’s work of creating communities of disciples which engage in integrated ministry to spiritual, social, and physical needs.
 
Several points in this definition deserve more detailed explanation:
Holistic peace
This is the wholeness which results from environmental stewardship, healthy societal character, and Christian discipleship.  The Biblical word for this is ‘shalom.’
 


Church’s work
Holistic mission is ultimately not the work of any organization.  It is the work of Christ’s church.  While the church may decide, under the leading of the Holy Spirit, to commission certain of her members to cooperate together in an institutionalized manner – that ‘mission organization’ remains an arm of the church and is responsible to the church.  Organizations which ignore their church in their efforts to do development work are not engaging in holistic mission.
 
Some of thinkers (e.g., Rick Warren) have summarized the work of the church in five functions:  worship, instruction, fellowship, evangelism, and service.  Each of these functions has a critical role to play in holistic mission. Worship is the focus and motivation of holistic mission.  Through instruction we can promote a biblical worldview.  In fellowship we have an opportunity to model the kingdom community.  Evangelism is the means of spreading the power of holistic change.  Finally, through service we reach out in mercy ministry (Note:  ‘Mercy Ministry’ is ministry which alleviates the effects of sin and demonstrates God’s compassionate love through word and deed, with a special focus on the marginalized of society).
 
Communities of disciples
We can call these groups ‘missional communities.’  It is a group of Christ’s followers, working together in harmony, which best promotes holistic mission.  Once again, we believe that God’s primary agent of influence for His Kingdom in the world today is the church of Jesus Christ, expressed through the formation of local congregations of believers.  This community models the values of the Kingdom, champions the truth of a biblical worldview, and serves holistically to the world around it.
 
Creating communities of disciples
The act of creating such communities is essentially equivalent to what is normally called ‘church planting.’  However, since this is done by the church, and not an isolated individual, the better term would be ‘church multiplication.’
 
Integrated ministry
Holistic mission is not simply ‘tacking on’ social outreach to our already existing ‘spiritual ministries.’  Rather, the various ministries are woven together, not just placed side by side.  Holistic ministry thus integrates saturation church planting (necessary for pervasive influence of church within society) with transformational community development.
 
Spiritual, social, and physical needs
Our theological overview has shown that God created humanity with spiritual, social, and physical responsibilities.  Each of these areas of responsibility was an area of dependence or need – we were designed to need God, to need each other, and to need the sustenance of the natural order.  Furthermore, humanity’s rebellion has brought alienation and corruption into each of these areas, resulting in further human need.  Holistic mission responds to these needs, bring the holistic message of God’s salvation to the community, and working out that salvation in compassionate service.
 
Thus, holistic mission will embrace and integrate evangelism, mercy ministry, church planting, church growth, and community development. 
 
A few other points about holistic mission deserve attention:


•  Holistic mission cultivates a Biblical worldview.
A worldview is simply one’s set of basic assumptions about the world and how it operates.  A worldview is how you think about the world around you.  A worldview is how you perceive the world – the ‘glasses’ through which you view all of reality.  Because worldviews are usually shared within the context of one’s culture, a person’s worldview is usually not examined or reflected upon unless it is challenged externally – by a major crisis which unravels the worldview or by encountering other, contrary yet plausible, worldviews.
 
We act based on what we think.  Because worldview is such a central defining element in how we think, it will have pervasive impact on how we interact with the world around us.  A faulty worldview will have far-reaching negative consequences in the spiritual, social, and physical realms.  Cultivating a Biblical based worldview is therefore foundational to holistic mission.
 
•  Holistic mission increases commitment to God’s purposes.
The fundamental cause of alienation in the spiritual, social, and physical realms is sin.  It is only in leading people into a greater commitment to God’s purposes – living under His authority in His Kingdom and living in accordance with His plan and principles – that the root cause of spiritual, social, and physical problems can be dealt with.  This is therefore the central aim of holistic mission.

•  Holistic mission does not distinguish between the secular and the sacred.
We firmly believe that Christ now reigns over the entire world.  As His disciples, His authority extends over every aspect of life.  We are called to serve in spiritual, social, and physical roles.  All this means that it is inappropriate to divide life into ‘secular’ and ‘sacred’ spheres.  Agents of holistic mission will be found among housewives, police officers, pastors, soldiers, travel agents, elected officials, etc.
 

ITEACT Programmatic Structure for Holistic Mission

As an organization, we have long operated with the following mission statement:  ‘To advance the multiplication of disciples, leaders, and churches in Cambodia through strategic partnerships with organizations and local churches.’  This is a strong mission statement, and the essence of this mission must remain at the core of what we do as an organization here.
 
However, the mission statement is still somewhat vague.  We know that we partner with organizations and local churches – but what is the nature of those partnerships?  Can we partner with any organization?  Any local church?  Doing any kind of ministry – as long as it somehow advances the multiplication of disciples, leaders, or churches?  We need to strengthen this mission statement so it more clearly reflects what kind of partnerships we desire to develop.  Leadership development has long been a focus of our ministry as an organization – and this is appropriate since it responds to a serious need within Cambodian society.  However, recent developments within the team have demonstrated a need for increasing focus on holistic ministry, which we define as work which integrates ministry to the spiritual, social, and physical needs of members of Cambodian society in an attempt to increase their commitment to living in accordance with God’s purposes.  Thus, we propose that, from this point forward, we operate with a new mission statement:
 
‘To advance the multiplication of disciples, leaders, and churches in Cambodia through strategic partnerships of leadership development and holistic ministry.’
 
We also need to clarify what our vision is.  Our mission statement defines what God has sent us here as an organization to do.  Our vision describes why we do it – the end product that we want to see as a result of the fulfillment of our mission.  We propose that the following best encapsulates our vision as a team:
 
‘To see a new generation of leaders in Cambodia engaged in holistic mission.’
 
In order to complete this mission and move towards seeing this vision become reality, we need to ensure that the appropriate structures and programs are in place.  We currently have a strong program of next generation leadership development operating in Kampong Cham, Cambodia.  However, we want to ensure that the leaders we are currently developing share our vision for holistic mission.  There are a number of ways to do this:
1)  Deepen the commitment to holistic mission within our organizational culture.  If holistic mission becomes part of the way we think as an organization, then it will more naturally spill into the way we develop young leaders.
2)  Provide young leaders with training from those experienced in holistic mission.
3)  Provide young leaders with opportunities to engage in holistic mission.
The best way to engage in all three strategies is if holistic mission actually becomes part of what we do as an organization.  If we engage in some manner in holistic mission, then we will deepen our organizational commitment to this process, we will have human resources with a background of actual experience to help train young leaders, and we will have a ready context for offering young leaders the chance for practical application of holistic mission (e.g., through internships, etc.).
 
In order to implement holistic mission within our organization, we need a new structure, a new program division.  It is important that we structure this division well.  We have cast ourselves as an organization that does not plant new churches.  We have determined to be an organization that works in partnership with other groups.  We are part of a worldwide mission organization that firmly believes that ‘mission belongs to the church.’  In light of all these factors, the best approach for designing this new ministry division is as follows:

[Note:  the following section in brown was part of the original position paper produced by the team.  However, a modification in this plan has been made.  The project discussed below will instead be developed under the SHALOM ministry area.]
 
The new ministry division will be called ‘Partnerships for Holistic Mission’ (abbreviated PHM).  The PHM Ministry Division consists of formal, strategic partnerships focusing on the intentional implementation of ITEACT’s holistic mission framework.  The overarching objective for this ministry division is to develop structured opportunities for mobilizing the Cambodian church into holistic mission.
 
What will our PHM work look like?  Since we do not yet have extensive experience in this area, it is hard to determine the precise nature of such a ministry.  However, we can outline some proposed components of such a ministry division.  The actual outworking of PHM will take place in specific projects, each ideally focused on a particular community.  These projects will always take place in partnership with a local church, who will be the primary agent of holistic mission in that community project.  ITEACT will function as a catalyst for the local church, inspiring and equipping it to fulfill the holistic mission which God has given it.
 
The criteria for inclusion of a project in the PHM ministry division would include the following:
> The proposed project must be holistic – integrating spiritual and social/physical needs.
> The proposed project must be done in partnership with a Cambodian church
> The proposed project must have a leadership development component
> The proposed project must allow for the involvement of other ITEACT missionaries (i.e., not an individual project)
> The proposed project must have a formal project plan identifying intended outcomes
 
The ultimate goal of each project should be a community-based church with the vision and capacity to engage in holistic mission.  Each project should also look at the various factors of holistic peace outlined above:  Christian Discipleship, Healthy Society (democratic rights, family, equitable economic system, education, health care, public safety, and a balanced judicial system), and Environmental Stewardship.  While specific indicators in each of these areas are beyond the scope of this paper, the factors of holistic peace at least provide a model for considering what specific details should be in place in each community.
 
We can, however, identify some general outcome areas which we would like to see present.  These are marked indicators of success in each of these projects.
> Multiplication.  We want to see the core group/church initiated in these projects multiply itself through ongoing outreach in holistic mission.
> Biblical worldview.  We want to see members of the community captivated by a Biblical worldview, the structure of which we have outlined above.
> Character.  We want to see the members of the community demonstrated Biblical, Christlike character.
> Abundance.  We want to see the community able to access abundant resources in their attempts to meet basic needs.
> Peaceful and Just Relationships.  We want to see the community knit together in peaceful and just relationships – the kind which make for a healthy society.
> Restored Identity and Calling.  We want to see all members of the community understand their identity as humans made in God’s image and their calling to glorify Him through worship, relationship, and stewardship.
If International Teams East Asia – Cambodia Team can play a catalytic role in seeing these outcomes become reality, we will have come far on the road to seeing our vision and mission as a team fulfilled.
 
May God grant us favor as we engage in holistic mission for His glory!