EMQ » April–June 2023 » Volume 59 Issue 2
Summary: Pastors and local churches have a grass-roots role to play in creation care efforts. However, pastors may find it overwhelming to know where to begin. But there are practical steps they can take personally and with the involvement of their churches that will enable their congregations to be catalysts for change in this area for their communities, nations, and the world.
By Ashkenaz Asif Khan
In November of 2022, the presidents of the world’s most powerful nations cleared their schedules to meet in Egypt to talk about a pressing global environmental issue. Following their example on a local level, could 5-10 pastors in a city meet to discuss how they can teach their congregations about a biblical response to environmental concerns?
What qualifies pastors to even consider this? Do they need to be trained environmentalists or extensively study sciences like botany, zoology or chemistry? Or must they belong to a political activist group or business lobby? Requirements like this would put teaching about the environment out of reach for most Global South pastors in countries like Pakistan.
If they do want to preach or teach on this subject in the church, we are left with other questions. Does it really connect with the gospel, and is it biblically sound? How will the governing bodies in churches (elders, boards, etc) respond to this, and will they approve? Is this just a passing fad? Who has even preached on this in the last 10-20 years?
Is there a hidden agenda? Is this as important as evangelism or missions? Will sermons on this topic risk losing offerings? Or if people outside the church provide funding, training, or curriculum to teach on caring for creation, does this tie to a church to unwanted outside influence, dependency, or legal challenges? If a program to engage the church in creation care is the next step, how will that be implemented?
With so many unanswered questions, it can be hard for a pastor in the Global South to know where to begin. As organizations, missionaries, and other pastors come alongside their Global South peers, they must maintain awareness of these challenging questions.
Beginning with the Bible
The place we need to start is the Bible. Our teaching as pastors needs to include the creation account. In Genesis, the triune God created the whole universe, he called it good, and then he gave it to people to tend. How wonderful is the creation account!
In it, we can find divine truths about how God intended the world to be. It also teaches about the Fall, and how it complicated our relationships with God, each other, and the earth. Our human relationship and responsibilities to the earth, its resources, and its creatures are rarely taught in our churches, but they are all found in the Word of God. A source of this problem is that it is rarely taught in our seminaries, and it is deserving of attention at all levels of our seminary education! There is also little to no curriculum available in local languages.
And yet, passages in Genesis and the Psalms (and elsewhere in Scripture) clearly lay out lessons about caring for creation. Pastors need to spend time to study for themselves what the Bible says on this topic. And then, with some effort, they can incorporate this into sermons, Sunday School lessons, and small group Bible studies. We could encourage our congregations to think about what God says and consider the practical applications to their own lives.
But it is not enough to only present a series of sermons or Bible studies for a number of weeks and assume that some change will happen.
As pastors study what the Bible has to say about caring for God’s creation in their own personal Bible studies or in seminars or workshops on this topic, their own attitudes are the first that need to change. They need to share what they are learning with their family, so they, too, can experience God’s transformation in this area.
The attitude changes in the whole family then need to shift into modeled application because creation care is more about practice than theory. By making changes in their own lifestyle, they can demonstrate to the children, youth, and adults in their congregations what caring for creation looks like. As members of the congregation recognize these changes, they can be inspired, tell others, and join in living a new way. The momentum is then set.
Pastors and their families cannot be the only ones engaging in creation care. God’s plan for the church is that pastors would encourage and guide people in their congregation to get training for various ministries, and creation care can be one of them. Pastors can help identify 3 or 4 people who can be champions for this cause in their congregations.
Larger churches or NGOs may have people with specialized knowledge willing to train people in smaller churches in certain areas like creation care. Or the government may have valuable courses that creation care champions from churches could take. Once these people gain knowledge and skill, they can then train others in the congregation without pastors worrying about doing it all by themselves.
Their training can also benefit the wider community. In countries like Pakistan, where Christians are a minority, churches hosting programs like this can provide services that are for the common good. The localized training a church can give can focus on the social, economic, and political issues in creation care that are most important to the local community, and can be infused with activities that fit the context.
It can provide opportunities to build friendships with non-Christians, and potentially opportunities to witness. It also positions Christians as participants with fellow citizens in helping build their nations. Taking creation care courses abroad or even having an outsider conduct training locally can lack some of these special qualities that local churches can give.
Advocating for Change
Churches can take this another step further by advocating for changes in laws and policies to protect creation from destruction. The prophetic role of the church in broader society has always been challenging. Advocating for change in the face of powerful businesses and governments is not without risk. But God has raised people in history who spoke out and paid the price, sometimes with their own lives.
The ability for a church to speak into an area, like creation care, will depend on the level of freedom in their society, and each church will need to determine what works best for their unique situation. However, opportunities at local or provincial levels where a few church members can represent creation care at a gathering or meeting may present less risk. Many churches do not get involved in such meetings, but they could be missing out on wonderful opportunities to get involved with non-Christians.
Efforts like this may also use talented people in a church who may otherwise have not found a meaningful place to serve. They could lead the church into civic efforts that make the presence of the church known amongst people who never would go to their church.
Nowadays environmental issues are attracting government and private groups. Organizing the church to give manpower for a community creation care activity or providing a small donation can earn a tremendous amount of goodwill among secular groups. It can be a win-win situation.
Planning for Impact
A church’s participation in creation care can begin with an 8-point promise like this:
- Thank God daily for his wonderful creation.
- Show kindness to humans and animals.
- Grow a small vegetable garden.
- Refrain from littering.
- Plant a tree at least once a year.
- Make efforts to reduce consumption of electricity, fuel, and water.
- Limit the use of disposable paper and plastic.
- Participate in local and national creation care initiatives.
Pastors and their churches can also consider to these 10 annual creation care activities:
- Spend the year reading the Bible and noting all the passages about creation and its care.
- Preach at least 2 sermons about caring for God’s creation.
- Create at least 4 Sunday School lessons for children and youth about caring for creation.
- Plan at least 2 outdoor church-wide activities.
- Organize at least 2 additional outdoor church activities for children and youth.
- Invite neighboring churches to participate with your church in at least 2 creation care seminars or workshops.
- Participate in at least 2 community-level creation care activities arranged by other organizations.
- Conduct at least 1 worship service outdoors.
- Limit the church’s use of electricity and water.
- Start a kitchen garden at the church.
If the church belongs to God, and God the Creator has bestowed the responsibility of caring for the creation to Adam, then the Church is a stakeholder in caring for creation. The Church can be light and salt in this area. Even small steps can help it reclaim its place as a catalyst for God’s kingdom in their society.
Ashkenaz Asif Khan (email@example.com) leads the Creation Care Forum in Pakistan. He is ordained and the principal emeritus of Zarephath Bible Seminary. He previously served as a full-time pastor, and is a graduate of Asian Theological Seminary, Manila (MDiv, 1987). He lives in Rawalpindi, a city near Pakistan’s capital, with his wife, Seema, who served for 20 years at a leprosy hospital. They have four adult children and a daughter-in-law. More of his writing can be found on his blog: ashkenazasif.wordpress.com.
EMQ, Volume 59, Issue 2. Copyright © 2023 by Missio Nexus. All rights reserved. Not to be reproduced or copied in any form without written permission from Missio Nexus. Email: EMQ@MissioNexus.org.
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