Robert Gailey, Derran Reese, and Monty Lynn. Development in Mission: A Guide for Transforming Global Poverty and Ourselves. Abilene, TX: ACU Press, 2021. Paperback. 224pp. $20.99.
Development in Mission attempts an ambitious goal, presenting a guide to Christians for building a theological foundation and practical framework of healthy and effective engagement in global poverty alleviation. Authorship is shared by Rob Gailey (Director of the Center for International Development at Point Loma University), Derran Reese (Director of Experiential Learning at Abilene Christian University), and Monty Lynn (Professor of Management at Abilene Christian University). All three bring significant cross-cultural experience to this work: Gailey as a missionary to Malawi, Reese as a missionary to Thailand, and Lynn as a former Fulbright Scholar.
The book is organized into three parts. The first lays the groundwork through an overview of the state of the world and development work, a theological framework, and a vision of distinctly Christian development practice. The second provides a survey of possible development sectors. The third discusses ways for churches and organizations to discern their path forward.
Chapter 1 explicitly attempts to move the discussion of church engagement in relief and development past the unintended paralysis and discouragement some may experience after reading texts such as When Helping Hurts (28). (Notably, Brian Fikkert, co-author of When Helping Hurts, writes an insightful foreword for this text.) These authors intend to help individuals, churches, and organizations chart a hopeful path forward that results in development that redeems and transforms all parties participating together in God’s mission.
The authors cut through the hubris of Western and evangelism-centric missiology by taking readers along on a brief survey of missio Dei theology in Chapter 2, where they argue that the global church are participants, not drivers, in God’s holistic mission to restore and renew all of creation (55). They challenge the reductionist view that salvation centers around “going to heaven” (53). They argue, “salvation is not the soul’s escape from the body and the created order. Instead, it is an embodied participation in God’s restoration of all things (55).” The authors urge resisting the tendency to prioritize some areas of mission work over others by emphasizing the scope of God’s mission: the restoration of all creation (58). This chapter broadens the horizon of what is and is not mission while assuring churches and organizations that they cannot attempt it all and should partner with and encourage others engaging in different areas of mission.
Having laid out a theological foundation for holistic mission, Chapter 3 sets out to describe a uniquely Christian approach to poverty alleviation. The authors agree that secular efforts such as the UN Sustainable Development Goals share much in common with Christians concerned with human and ecological need. Effective Christian poverty alleviation, however, incorporates the best and latest research from development studies and finds its life and direction in the missio Dei (64). A concept unique to Christian mission engaging in humanitarianism is the practice of self-sacrifice (kenosis) following the example of Jesus. This is not to say that secular aid workers do not sacrifice, but Christian practitioners believe deeply that relinquishing power and privilege is necessary for transformational development (74).
Chapter 4 constitutes the entire second section and introduces a diverse range of sectors through which individuals and organizations might engage in transformative development. The chapter discusses sectors typically associated with Christian mission, such as food, health, and Scripture translation, as well as some not always considered by Western evangelicals, such as peacebuilding and creation care. Each sector includes a theological frame as well as research and practical insights for further engagement and is intended to be read as needed rather than through from start to finish. This chapter provides readers with a go-to resource to orient themselves when taking an initial look at a new mission opportunity.
Discerning which sector of mission is suitable for each church or organization is the focus of Chapter 5. The authors admit that, “The journey that lies ahead for those who seek to join God in the work of transformational development can be both thrilling and overwhelming” (182). They remind readers that God initiates and sustains mission, and prayer and self-reflection are the beginning points for our participation. Churches and organizations should move patiently when considering congregational fit through their particular calling and context. Discerning which sector(s) to commit to and invest in can happen through the use and examination of mental models (189), root causes (192), and theories of change (193). Chapter 2 advised that churches and organizations cannot take everything on, and the authors now expand on this with a brief discussion of forming partnerships within a chosen sector to draw on the experience and expertise of others, especially local partners. Throughout this book, the authors commend the reader to approach mission humbly, and this section is no different: “it is paramount that a church approaches partners with a posture of listening” (199).
A key idea this book attempts to convey is that transformational development ought to be mutually transformational. As Christians from diverse backgrounds participate in God’s mission to renew all things, all should be transformed through the relationships they form. In other words, churches and organizations entering God’s mission should expect to be challenged and changed.
While the authors express their desire to include the voices of male and female scholars from the Global South (47), they primarily do this through relatively short quotes, footnotes, and an afterword by Ruth Padilla. The book would have been better had they given these men and women more room to speak to the Western Church.
While keeping an overwhelmingly hopeful tone, the authors consistently urge those attempting to engage in poverty alleviation to practice humility, deep introspection, and broad collaboration. This is an effective introduction to holistic mission and development for undergraduates, mission practitioners, and church leadership. This text may appear intimidating to church and organizational volunteers, but they should take note that the entire second section, 83 pages, does not need to be read all the way through. This makes it an ideal text for missions committee members to work through and discuss. Towards this purpose, a future revision could be improved by a discussion guide, potentially including expanded testimonies from the Global South.
Christian HolyLand Foundation