How an understanding of sociology informs missiology
By Kenzo Tuabazulua
How an understanding of sociology informs missiology
According to Spencer and Taylor (2021), sociology is the study of how human beings interact while in groups or in the societies to which they belong and identify with. It entails studying the people’s social life, the changes they undergo while in their societies and the consequences of their behaviors. A society is a group of people living in a given area or country with shared values and beliefs (Spencer and Taylor, 2021). Missiology on the other hand has been defined by Oborji (2016) as a discipline that is used to guide and direct the Church’s proclamation efforts as it spreads the gospel to all people, wherever they are. Missiology is meant to provide direction to the church by making disciples of all men (Mat, 28:19). Since missiology entails spreading the gospel to all nations, its success is solely reliant on how the ministers understand the sociology of different nations or rather how the target audiences are socialized. It is important to understand this because their socialization determines the extent to which they will receive the information of the gospel of Jesus Christ and act on it. This paper seeks to evaluate the effect of sociology on missiology by providing information on how the understanding of sociology informs the success of missiology.
Various social science disciplines have steadily been embraced and used by Christians for mission during the last several decades. Most missions departments in Bible colleges and seminaries, for example, would have a trained anthropologist on staff and offer anthropological courses. Prior to approval by the organization and field assignments, most missionary candidates are subjected to psychiatric testing. The majority of missionaries have completed official language instruction to further improve their interactions with the local communities. This instills foundational assumptions that guide Christian anthropologists when performing a cultural analysis of local communities.
Church growth studies, the use of the homogeneous unit principle, the understanding of ethno-linguistic peoples, and people movement, efforts to evangelize the unreached people-groups, the 10/40 window and so on have all benefited from the inter-disciplinary use of the social sciences in missiology. As part of their ministry preparation, a rising number of Christian missionaries acquired some basic training in mission-related areas including sociology. Though missiology has been a recognized academic subject in Europe before the turn of the century, the Fuller Theological Seminary’s School of World Mission was the first evangelical institution in North America to offer official degree programs in missiology in September of 1965.
According to Montgomery, sociology is an equally important aspect in the study of missiology as well as theology (Montgomery, 1999). Sociology improves missionaries’ ability to understand another culture, understand how various groups relate with each other, acknowledge inner community meanings, compare different cultures and understand the psyche of people living in a particular community. Missionaries are entrusted with the ability to spread Christianity to communities across the world. These communities often have their own established traditions and beliefs that have been passed down through the generations. Without proper cultural analysis, missionaries are likely to face heavy resistance from the local community. Sociology increases missionaries’ ability to understand local community laws, beliefs, traditions, customs and beliefs.
As a result of this, the missionaries are able to understand the psyche and structures of people in the community. Through studying various communities, missionaries are able to study and understand the local languages in a particular community. This ensures that the missionaries are able to communicate effectively with the community members therefore allowing them to spread the gospel. There is improved communication and relation between the local community and missionaries as a result of sociology which increases the effectiveness of missionaries in spreading the gospel across the world.
Sociology allows missionaries to develop appropriate strategies that will help in achieving their theological missions. Missionaries are able to practice contextualized ministry which is inclusive of leadership training, appropriate church establishment and evangelism. The development of these strategies show missionaries the best way to teach non-believers, adopt new Christians into the faith, train ministers within the local communities and develop a working relationship with other non-Christian leaders in the community. The primary goal of missionaries is to increase the spread of the gospel to non-believers across the world. The strategies used by missionaries to spread the Christian gospel include; crusades, conquest, print, technology and use of word of mouth (Rommen, 1996). The strategic approach in achieving this goal is dependent on the nature of the local community. History shows the use of methods such as conquest for heavily resistant communities where Christianity was imposed on the local communities.
However, the most common method used however involves sending a group of missionaries to a local community where they are tasked with setting up a church, training local church leaders and newly converted Christians. This method ensured that the church was able to peacefully set up a local worship center in collaboration with the members of the community. Through training local leaders, missionaries were able to ensure continuity of the church. (Rommen, 1996). It is therefore clear that through studying the community behaviors, missionaries are able to use the best practices and strategies to increase the number of believers in a community.
Studies have shown that sociology increases the understanding of the role of social institutions in society. According to Spencer and Taylor (2021), religion plays an important role in the society as it outlines the beliefs and traditions of people in a community. Religion additionally ensures social cohesion through common rituals and maintains social control through establishing morals and norms in the society. According to (Frye, 2021) purpose of missiology is to spread the gospel through setting up local Christian churches and promoting the Christian religion. As such, sociology helps missionaries improve their understanding of the role that religion will play in the local community. Religion creates a sense of belonging as well as reinforcing the community beliefs. Through missiology, leaders are able to come up with the best practices that will spread Christian beliefs in the community Missionaries are tasked with the role of offering guidance to the people in society in regards to their moral decisions. Sociology helps missionaries work together with the local community leaders to offer spiritual and moral guidance.
Sociology allows missionaries to reflect on the historical strategies and practices in a given community. The purpose of missiology is to develop a scientific analysis and description of the life of the church in the past, present and in the future. Through understanding sociology, learners are able to understand how various communities reacted to missionaries in the past and in the present. Missionaries are therefore able to reflect on the best practices that were adopted in a given community at a particular time. It is also possible to analyze the evolution of the church in the community and understand the progress of Christianity over time. Missionaries are therefore able to come up with the best strategies that will improve the spread of the gospel in a particular community in the future. Through analysis of historical missions in a particular community, it is possible to understand mission related issues as well as understanding the influence and relevance of a church in the community (Oborji, 2016). Missionaries are able to adopt better strategies such as local bible translation to increase the influence of the church in a given social community.
Missionaries improve the welfare of marginalized communities through studying the various societies and understanding their social interactions. Missiology has greatly benefited communities in many third world countries through providing them with access to resources such as education and religion. Missiology seeks to improve the living standards of various communities across the world by solving the local problems in the society. Through sociology, missionaries are able to study the society and identify the major problems affecting the various societies across the world. Missionaries in these parts of the world are able to come up with innovative and effective solutions that have been able to improve the living conditions of people in the given society. Missionaries carry a large amount of knowledge that they are able to pass down among the community members such as teaching the community members new languages, the importance of religion and providing moral guidance (Frye, 2021). Sociology therefore allows missionaries to understand the various social problems that affect various communities and therefore come up with possible solutions that will fix the problems in these communities.
In conclusion, an understanding of sociology informs missiology through increasing understanding of social behaviors, developing better strategies for achieving religious goals in a community, promoting an understanding of religious institutions, improving the welfare of marginalized communities and planning for future Christian missions in a community. Through understanding the local behaviors in a community, missionaries are able to adopt the best strategies to ensure that they achieve their mission of spreading the gospel in the community. Missionaries are also able to plan for resistance and any unexpected problems that are likely to be faced in the future. An understanding of sociology therefore determines the extent to which a community will receive the information of the gospel of Jesus Christ and act on it.
Frye, R.M., 2021. The Reader’s Bible, a Narrative: Selections from the King James Version. Princeton University Press.
Montgomery, R.L., 1999. Introduction to the Sociology of Missions. Greenwood Publishing Group.
Oborji, F.A., 2016. Missiology in its relation to Intercultural Theology and Religious Studies. SEDOS Bulletin, 47(6).
Rommen, E., 1996. Missiology and the social sciences: Contributions, cautions, and conclusions (No. 4). William Carey Library.
Spencer, H. and Taylor, M., 2021. The study of sociology. Routledge.