Attentiveness: Pivot Ponderings - Gordon Conwell

Attentiveness: Pivot Ponderings

Gordon-Conwell has always been a mix of Bible, mission, and creativity. We have been strong on the authority of Scripture, attentive to local and cross-cultural contexts, and ever creative in finding new ways to fulfill our part of God’s mission.

I would argue that these three threads of our essential DNA have prepared us well for the rivers of change that make up our present context. Changes in higher education, global changes (trade and pandemic), social changes in the West, the reconfiguration of global religions, resurfacing racism and nationalism, and technological changes only begin to illumine what church leaders are facing.

The changes and challenges are dizzying, in part because the human response is anxiety, anger, and depression. I have had to spend more time in silence and on long walks to recenter myself in this liminal time in which we live. It is critical that we recognize what is going on around us and that we adapt in appropriate ways and refuse to adapt where the gospel might be compromised.

That is a good transition to the importance of thinking missiologically at this time. Mission historian Andrew Walls stated that the church is always engaged in two principles: the indigenizing principle and the pilgrim principle. These two principles are in tension, they are dynamic, and they are vital.

On one hand, the church (and I am thinking of our seminary right now) must adapt. It must indigenize to local contexts and even to social and cultural movements. We become irrelevant and we may even miscommunicate the message of grace if we do not adapt/indigenize. Thus, missionaries translate the Bible into local languages and dialects, and special missions—Young Life, IVCF, YWAM, World Vision, etc.—continuously develop to reach different groups.

At the same time, a gospel community that only adapts may lose its message or Christian identity. We don’t just accept local cultural ideas about sexuality, race, or entertainment. The gospel calls us to a pilgrim existence. We are just passing through; this is not our home. We are strangers and aliens in this fallen world. Christian identity is identity in Christ, but it is an identity in Christ that can invite others in. It is both indigenizing and pilgrim.

And that is where we are today amid our Pivot toward the future. We ask, “What is essential? What is core gospel? And what needs to be adapted to communicate clearly?” These are often decisions that are made in long-term conversations, prayer, and even confession. Such decisions are a spiritual journey, not just a pragmatic enterprise.

The way forward to greater effectiveness for the Kingdom is through humility and confession, attentiveness to God’s Spirit, and then bold united action for the sake of the Kingdom.

We must think missiologically, and we must decrease so that he may increase.

Dr. Scott W. Sunquist, President of Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary, is author of the “Attentiveness” blog. He welcomes comments, responses, and good ideas.


Subscribe to President Sunquist's Attentiveness Blog