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Interview: Rob Haynes

Wesleyan Accent is pleased to share an introductory interview with Rev. Dr. Rob Haynes, World Methodist Evangelism’s new Associate Director of Education and Leadership Development.

 Recently earning a PhD in Theology and specializing in Missiology and Wesleyan Theology from Durham University, his thesis is a dive into “Consuming Mission: Towards a Theology of Short-Term Mission and Pilgrimage.” He is a Senior John Wesley Fellow and a Senior Harry Denman Fellow. His publications and presentations include “The Overlooked Globalizers: Wesleyan Short-Term Missioners, The Missio Dei, and World Christianity.”

Wesleyan Accent: In your experience, what’s the biggest misconception about “evangelism” or mission?

Rob Haynes: I don’t know if it is a misconception, necessarily, but it is important to consider the source of the missionary enterprise.

A few years ago, some people knocked on my door with some literature in hand. They initiated their discussion with, “Do you know why Jesus came to earth?” I quickly replied that I did, in fact, know why Jesus came.

Jesus explicitly tells his hearers why he came. In Luke 4 he is teaching in the synagogue in Nazareth when he reads from the scroll: “The Spirit of the Lord is on me, because he has anointed me to proclaim good news to the poor. He has sent me to proclaim freedom for the prisoners and recovery of sight for the blind, to set the oppressed free, to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor.”

This is the inauguration of Jesus’ ministry and he demonstrated it with his life, work, teaching, death, and resurrection. But the work did not stop there. Jesus inaugurated the Church, his followers, to carry on the work he began.  This initiation is recorded in John 20:21, one of Jesus’ post-resurrection appearances. “Again Jesus said, ‘Peace be with you! As the Father has sent me, I am sending you.’ And with that he breathed on them and said, ‘Receive the Holy Spirit….’”

The work of mission and evangelism hinges on four little letters: two in “as” and two in “so.” As the Father sent Jesus, so Jesus sent his followers, by the power of the Holy Spirit. This is done in both words and deeds. Evangelism is mission, but mission is not merely evangelism.

God invites, even commands, his followers to be involved in the work he is doing still: that which he announced in Luke 4. As his followers, we have the amazing privilege, and responsibility, of participating in his ongoing work of redemption.

WA: While globalization brings specific challenges, it also brings new opportunities. How do you think the realities of globalization will shape Christian faith around the world and in North America over the next 20 years?

RH: In 1792 William Carey proclaimed that the mariner’s compass was a gift of God to the work of the missionaries of his. We may be experiencing a similar opportunity in our day.

Travel is becoming easier and cheaper all the time. Communication is instantaneous. Social media platforms play a significant role in the revolutions (like the Arab Spring) and relief work (like follow-up to natural disasters). Mass movements of people, that are both voluntary and involuntary, are impacting communities and national governments alike. Issues of globalization will only accelerate.

Many of these can be used in the work of developing mission leaders. As of 2010, there were 43 million people living in the United States who were born overseas. Three quarters of whom identified themselves as Christians. (I recommend “Diaspora Missions: East Meets West (and North meets South): Reflections on Polycentric Missions.”) While many see the church in decline in the United States, it is worth examining the new things that globalization is bringing to the American Church. Old forms may need to be re-evaluated to faithfully make disciples and evangelize those yet outside the church.

Trans-cultural mission is available to many in their own back yards. This does not replace the need for foreign missionaries, but opens the doors to new possibilities. Similarly, globalization provides significant opportunities to form faith, deepen discipleship, and cultivate leadership across borders and cultures alike.

WA: What are some of the benefits of theological education, sometimes seen as superfluous in an era of religious and doctrinal pluralism?

RH: Mission and evangelism are scrutinized by people inside and outside the church. Often the discussions about these address the how, but they sometimes fail to address the why. Our theologies shape the why, which will make a more lasting impact on the how.

It is important to point out that everyone does theology, at some level. It may not always be good theology, but we all do theology:

“God helps those who help themselves.” This is not scriptural, but it is a theological statement.

“I am spiritual, but not religious.” Usually I hear this when someone doesn’t want to go to church but wants to talk about God.

“All roads lead to the same place.” This is a theological rejection of Christ’s exclusivity.

Theologies shape motivations and motivations shape actions. Teaching sound missional theology is the essential to any renewal of missionary efforts.

By teaching a sound and robust biblical theology of mission we can impact the how and the why of missional service. Wesleyan theology is a missional theology. We embrace God’s invitation to participate in his redeeming work as he invites all to be saved. That work is a part of the effort towards the full restoration of God’s Creation, and everything and everyone in it. No one is excluded in the invitation, though not all may accept it.

By emulating the self-sacrificing love that Jesus demonstrated (see the discussion of Luke 4 and John 20 above) we can reshape the why that will naturally reshape the how.