Part 1: Polycentric and Integral Mission
With every church and leadership scandal, every report of declining church attendance, and every sad indication that the church has lost credibility before a watching world, we are compelled to ask, “Will we continue doing what we’ve always done, or will we change?”
For too long, single centers of power and privilege have controlled our churches, theologies, and mission (monocentric). The leaders of those centers all sound the same (monovocal). They look alike and share the same ethnicity, gender, or class background (monocultural). What makes it worse, they often focus on one aspect of the gospel (dualistic). That can’t continue unless we want to decline into oblivion.
For centuries, the vast spectrum of Christian expression has resonated mainly with a single, dominating frequency. Anchored in a monocentric, monovocal, and monocultural paradigm, the traditional foundations of mission and ministry have shaped the faith’s global narrative. However, in an era marked by church scandals, declining congregations, and a pressing quest for authenticity, an inevitable question arises: Are we poised on the cusp of theological evolution? In the following article, split into two parts, I introduce the concept of “holisticostal” — a dynamic amalgamation of holistic nurturing and the inclusiveness echoed at Pentecost.
The church’s future is polycentric, integral, pentecostal, polyvocal, and intercultural (P.I.P.P.I.). As a shorthand, I call this holisticostal. Holisticostal missional movements are reshaping the church and the world. For centuries, the vast spectrum of Christian expression has resonated mainly with a single, dominating frequency, anchored in a monocentric, monovocal, and monocultural paradigm, overwhelmingly shaping mission and ministry. (1/2) Click To Tweet However, in an era marked by church scandals, declining congregations, and a pressing quest for authenticity, an inevitable question arises: Are we poised on the cusp of theological evolution? (2/2) Click To Tweet
Holisticostal mission1 is a term I’ve coined combining elements of integral (holistic) approaches, intercultural perspectives, polycentric and polyvocal themes, and the rich diversity catalyzed in Pentecost. Let’s break down the components:
- Integral (Holistic) Mission: The term “holistic” refers to a comprehensive approach that considers the whole person, addressing physical, emotional, social, and spiritual well-being. An integral, holistic approach to mission and ministry involves caring for people’s physical needs, fostering community development, providing emotional support, and nurturing spiritual growth.
- Intercultural Mission: “Intercultural” signifies engaging with diverse cultures and promoting understanding and cooperation across different cultural contexts. An intercultural approach to mission is about bridging cultural gaps, promoting inclusivity, and learning from one another in mission and ministry endeavors.
- Polycentric and Polyvocal Mission: “Polycentric” and “polyvocal” refer to recognizing and including multiple centers of authority and voices within a given context. In the context of mission and ministry, this means valuing diverse perspectives, empowering local leadership, and promoting collaborative decision-making processes.
- Pentecostal Mission: The Pentecost event flung the doors wide open for a diverse church in every sense of the word – cultures, abilities, genders, languages, gifts, and more.
How did I arrive at “holisticostal mission” when combining polycentric, integral, pentecostal, polyvocal, and intercultural?
Holisticostal is a neologism born from the fusion of “holistic” and “pentecostal,” representing a transformative approach to mission and ministry.
The “holistic” aspect emphasizes the integral mission, recognizing the interconnectedness of physical, emotional, social, and spiritual well-being and transformation. It acknowledges that mission extends beyond solely proclaiming the gospel, encompassing acts of compassion, community development, and addressing systemic injustices.
On the other hand, the “pentecostal” component captures the focus on polycentric, polyvocal, and intercultural mission, mirroring the diversity and unity witnessed during the Pentecost event. It acknowledges that effective mission requires a multitude of voices, centers of authority, and cultural perspectives working together. Furthermore, the “pentecostal” dimension reminds us that all integral, intercultural, polyvocal, and polycentric mission is only possible through the power and presence of the Holy Spirit. The Spirit empowers and equips disciples and shapes them in the image of Christ, guiding their mission to align with the gospel while reflecting the fruit of the Spirit.
Holisticostal mission thus emerges as a concept that embraces complexity and dynamism, weaving together diverse elements to illuminate a mission that is true to the gospel and relevant to the ever-changing world.
By combining these elements, holisticostal mission and ministry is an approach that integrates the empowering and diversifying work of the Holy Spirit, holistic transformation, intercultural engagement, and the inclusion of diverse voices and centers of authority. Holisticostal missional movements are reshaping the church and the world. Holisticostal is a neologism born from the fusion of 'holistic' and 'pentecostal,' representing a transformative approach to mission and ministry. (1/2) Click To Tweet Holisticostal mission is an approach that integrates the empowering and diversifying work of the Holy Spirit, holistic transformation, intercultural engagement, and the inclusion of diverse voices and centers of authority. (2/2) Click To Tweet
Holisticostal Mission is Polycentric
The meaning of polycentric is “from everyone to everywhere.” Mission is “from everywhere to everywhere, and from everyone to everywhere.” This idea encapsulates the principle of polycentric missional movements.
Mission is no longer merely from the ‘Christian West to the rest.’ Instead, Christian mission can and does emanate from all parts of the globe to all parts of the globe. Christianity is global, every culture and region sends and receives missionaries, and the Good News of the Christian faith is shared cross-culturally in all directions.
Polycentric mission2 recognizes that God’s mission is not limited to a single organization or group but is a collaborative endeavor involving diverse individuals, churches, and communities, each contributing their unique gifts and perspectives.
This polycentric approach is reshaping Christian ministry and mission. But where did it come from? Who are the influential thinkers in the field of polycentric scholarship? How do we put polycentric approaches into practice?
“Polycentric” refers to a system, structure, or model characterized by multiple centers of mission, ministry, power, or influence rather than a single central authority. This concept, which can apply to various domains such as mission, ministry, governance, economics, urban planning, or environmental management, implies decentralization of authority and encourages diverse and independent decision-making. A polycentric system promotes flexibility and adaptability, allowing different centers to operate autonomously and interdependently while contributing to the collective whole. Polycentricity values the capacity for localized solutions to problems, recognizing that one-size-fits-all strategies may not be universally effective or appropriate.
Polycentric approaches are essential for Christian ministry, leadership, mission, theology, and missiology because they better reflect the global, diverse nature of the body of Christ. The shift from a Western-centric view to a more polycentric one acknowledges Christians’ vital contributions and unique perspectives from different cultural, social, and geographical backgrounds. This approach fosters a more equitable, diverse, and interconnected global Christian community, enriching our understanding of the gospel through varied cultural lenses.
Polycentric mission shifts the focus from the ‘center’ or headquarters to the periphery, engaging with local contexts and empowering indigenous leaders and communities to take ownership of the mission and contextualize it effectively.
Polycentricity encourages mutual learning, respect, and partnership among different ‘centers’ of Christianity. As such, polycentric principles lead to a more authentic, inclusive, and effective practice of ministry, leadership, mission, and theological reflection, demonstrating the universality of the Christian faith while appreciating its diverse expressions.
Polycentric approaches can bring new life, renewal, and regeneration into the Christian faith by fostering a fresh understanding of the gospel through the lens of diverse cultures and contexts. Acknowledging the multiplicity of ‘centers’ of Christianity, it celebrates the richness and depth of Christian expression around the globe, enabling a vibrant exchange of ideas, practices, and perspectives. This breathes new life into communities as they learn from each other, rediscover aspects of the gospel through different cultural lenses, and gain a broader, more nuanced understanding of the Christian faith. This renewal can stimulate spiritual growth, generate creative approaches to ministry and mission, and inspire a more profound commitment to unity in the body of Christ.
The polycentric model, therefore, plays a crucial role in the continual regeneration of the global church, making it more inclusive, dynamic, and reflective of its universal yet diverse nature. Christian mission can and does emanate from all parts of the globe. It is global, every culture and region sends and receives missionaries, and the Good News of the Christian faith is shared cross-culturally in all directions. (1/2) Click To Tweet Polycentric mission recognizes that God’s mission is not limited to a single group but is a collaborative endeavor involving diverse individuals, churches, and communities, each contributing their unique gifts and perspectives. (2/2) Click To Tweet
Holisticostal Mission is Integral
The meaning of “integral” is captured in the phrase “whole gospel, whole church, whole world, whole life.”
Our mission and movements must be transformational and integral (holistic). This is what the voices of world Christianity teach us.
Integral mission3 isn’t just about what the church does; it is, more importantly, about the nature of the church. Integral mission is about the church’s being and not just its doing.
The church has integrity and credibility when it aligns its social justice and proclamation, peacemaking and teaching, compassion and advocacy, public and private practices, actions and preaching, and passion for humility, mercy, love, truth, compassion, and justice. Missiologist Vinoth Ramachandra writes:
Integral mission is then a way of calling the church to keep together, in her theology as well as in her practice, what the Triune God of the Biblical narrative always brings together: ‘being’ and ‘doing,’ the ‘spiritual’ and the ‘physical,’ the ‘individual’ and the ‘social,’ the ‘sacred’ and the ‘secular,’ ‘justice’ and ‘mercy,’ ‘witness’ and ‘unity,’‘preaching truth’ and ‘practicing the truth,’ and so on.4
The “Micah Declaration on Integral Mission”5 defines integral mission (‘misión integral’ in Spanish) and prioritizes the role of the local church in such mission. Christian leaders, activists, and theologians gathered to draw this declaration. Here is some of what it says:
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 witness the transforming grace of Jesus Christ.6
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.
Integral mission urges us to acknowledge the intertwined relationship between proclamation and action, the word of God and our world, spiritual transformation, and societal change. We must embody the gospel message daily and witness to Christ’s love and grace in a world yearning for truth, justice, and redemption. We must holistically engage with our communities, caring for people’s spiritual and physical needs and addressing the structural and systemic issues perpetuating suffering and injustice.
In part two of this article, I’ll unpack this shift’s pentecostal, polyvocal, and integral dimensions. The monolithic methods of past approaches to Christian mission are fading away, urging us to re-examine the essence of mission and ministry. The future cannot be pinned to a monocentric paradigm that breeds homogeneity and fails to resonate with a diverse world. Instead, our times beckon the rise of the holisticostal era — a revolutionary blend of holistic care and the unifying spirit of Pentecost. With its emphasis on integral well-being, the valorization of diverse voices, and an unwavering commitment to intercultural bridges, holisticostal mission doesn’t merely adapt to modern challenges — it redefines them.
It reminds us of the vibrant tapestry of Pentecost, where different tongues, cultures, and backgrounds converged under the guiding hand of the Holy Spirit. It’s a clarion call to churches globally: To be truly transformative, our mission and ministry must mirror this divine inclusivity, ensuring every voice is heard, every culture respected, and every individual holistically nurtured. This is not merely a trend but an imperative; the clarion call of the 21st-century church is to be unabashedly holisticostal. Only then can the global church rebuild its credibility, resonate authentically, and propel the gospel into the future. Integral mission urges us to acknowledge the intertwined relationship between proclamation and action, the word of God and our world, spiritual transformation, and societal change. We must embody the gospel message daily. (1/2) Click To Tweet We must witness to Christ’s love and grace by holistically engaging with our communities, caring for people’s spiritual and physical needs and addressing the structural and systemic issues perpetuating suffering and injustice. (2/2) Click To Tweet
*Editorial Note: Part 2 of Dr. Graham Joseph Hill’s magnum opus on missiology, entitled ‘Holisticostal Mission:’ Paradigm Shifts in Theology and Practice (Pt. 2), will publish on Thursday. It is well worth a deeply careful, reflective read. ~CK
Graham Joseph Hill (Ph.D.) is State Leader for Baptist Mission Australia (Western Australia). He was formerly Principal of Stirling Theological College and Vice-Principal of Morling Theological College. Graham is the author or editor of thirteen books, including Healing Our Broken Humanity (co-authored with Grace Ji-Sun Kim). Graham directs The Global Church Project and hosts the Faith Across Borders podcast. His author website is grahamjosephhill.com.
1 I coined the phrase ‘holisticostal’ mission here: https://grahamjosephhill.com/polycentric-mission/.
2 I initially described polycentric mission here: https://grahamjosephhill.com/polycentric-mission/.
3 Quoting Missiologist Vinoth Ramachandra in C.V. Mathew, Integral Mission: The Way Forward, 57.
4 IBID, 48.
5 A full treatment of the “Micah Declaration on Integral Mission” can be found in a few places: (1) The Micah Network itself, (2) All Nations UK, and (3) within the Lausanne Movement, among other organizations. As you can see, it is highly influential within the broader missional world.
6 IBID, the “Micah Declaration on Integral Mission.”