by Kristine Greenaway
The next World Mission Conference is to be held in Arusha, Tanzania, 8-13 March 2018.
The proposal to hold the conference was approved on 28 June by the World Council of Churches (WCC) Central Committee at its meeting in Trondheim, Norway.
Bishop Geevarghese Mor Coorilos, Moderator of the WCC’s Commission on World Mission and Evangelism (CWME), presented the proposal.
The conference theme is “Moving in the Spirit: Called to Transforming Discipleship.” More than 700 delegates from churches worldwide are expected to gather for the event hosted by the Evangelical Lutheran Church in Tanzania.
The conference is the first to be held in Africa since 1958, when it was hosted in Ghana.
“CWME recognizes that the African continent is one of the most vibrant regions of world Christianity,” CWME Director, Dr Jooseop Keum explains.“It is important that the spirit of Africa pervade the conference from planning through to delivery. A significant numbers of speakers and participants will be from the region.”
The mission executive adds that holding the conference in Africa will allow participants to learn about African ecumenical mission initiatives.
The first world mission conferencewas held in Edinburgh, Scotland, in 1910. A series of conferences has followed at approximately10-year intervals. Much has changed in Christian mission work during that 106-year period. From the early approach to mission that focused on conversion to Christianity, church practice has evolved to focus on work with people living in conflict zones, in regions affected by climate change, and in situations where economic survival is threatened.
“When we see the rise in intolerance and violence in so many parts of the world, it feels as if the world is regressing,” says Keum. “WCC’s mission statement Together Towards Life encourages churches to work together to protect life in the face of death and destruction. We want to affirm the dignity of life when peoples’ rights are threatened.”
This approach to mission requires a new way of understanding the role of people involved in mission.
“We are living in a troubled world,” Keum says.“During the conference we want to explore what it means to be doing church mission work today.”
Increasingly, churches are using the word “discipleship” to describe a form of mission work that involves following closely the example of Jesus as he reached out to people who had been rejected by society or who were living in poverty. This means being open to being changed (“transformed”) in response to what churches learn from the people at the margins of society with whom they are working, the proposal says.
This can be a “costly” approach, Keum acknowledges. It is one that requires being open to the move of the Spirit in current times and to the heart of the Christian faith, which calls for people to be willing to take risks for their beliefs.
CWME’s proposal says that the conference will be inclusive of Christians from a wide range of traditions and will seek to “foster relationships with fellow churches” in order to encourage church unity and joint mission.
“World Mission Conference have always been an opportunity for churches, mission agencies and practitioners to meet and vision together for the coming years,” Keum notes. “Through the conference we want to launch an ecumenical missionary movement. We see this as a call to work with a wide range of partners from Roman Catholic, Pentecostal and Evangelical churches and movements to meet the challenges of doing mission work today.”