Reflections on Transformational Development (TD)

This paper is based on a chapel message preached at World Vision International (WVI) in Monrovia, California July 17, 2013. The message has been modified slightly so that it can make sense to those who are not familiar with WVI. Scripture passages are from the NIV.

This morning I will look at Scriptural foundations for four ways of looking at transformational development. My evaluation experience influences almost everything I say about transformational development but I will avoid talking about evaluation.

Defining transformational development (TD).

Enable increased love for God and neighbor.

My definition for TD is based on Ephesians 4:28:

 28 He who has been stealing must steal no longer, but must work (Acts 20:35), doing something useful with his own hands (1 Thess. 4:11), that he may have something to share with those in need (Luke 3:11).

Individual transformation.

Note that both women and men can steal, so the definition needs to be gender neutral.

Also note that stealing is an example of sin that hurts the neighbor; there are other actions that hurt the neighbor. So the definition needs to be broadened beyond stealing to sinful actions in general.

Note that the repentant sinner is to be engaged in useful activities, not just avoiding doing bad things. In Acts 20 Paul was on his way to Jerusalem where he expected to be arrested and perhaps killed for his faith. He asked that the elders of Ephesus be brought to him so that he could say farewell. Here is his farewell in verses 20:32-35:

32 Now I commit you to God and to the word of his grace, which can build you up and give you an inheritance among all those who are sanctified. 33 I have not coveted anyone’s silver or gold or clothing. 34 You yourselves know that these hands of mine have supplied my own needs and the needs of my companions. 35 In everything I did, I showed you that by this kind of hard work we must help the weak, remembering the words the Lords Jesus himself said: “It is more blessed to give than to receive.”

Finally note that the primary outcome of hard work is to have things to share, not just to make one’s own life better.  In Luke 3:7-11 John the Baptizer told a crowd that simply being a descendent of Abraham was not enough to escape the wrath of God upon those who did not produce fruit that was in keeping with repentance. When they asked what to do John answered in verse 3:11:

11 The man with two tunics should share with him who has none, and the one who has food should do the same.

Pulling these Scripture lessons together into a definition for TD led me to this statement:

Transformational Development Definition
The person who is sinning must stop, and do something with their hands, that they may have something to share with others in need. Transformational development is planned, implemented, monitored and evaluated to facilitate this kind of radical change in individuals that leads to increased love for God and neighbor.

Social transformation.

Earlier in Ephesians, 2:11-20, Paul discusses the doctrine of reconciliation, or the restoration of broken relationships in society. Daily news reports describe how broken relationships can cause violence and suffering that involves millions of people in a nation. Unwillingness to restore broken relationships has caused great dysfunction in the American political system. Unwillingness to restore broken relationships leads groups to commit crimes against humanity in the name of some religion. Listen carefully to what Paul says about reconciliation or social transformation.

11 Therefore, remember that formerly you who are Gentiles by birth and called ‘uncircumcised’ by those who call themselves ‘the circumcision’ (that done in the body by the hands of men) – 12 remember that at that time you were separate from Christ, excluded from citizenship in Israel and foreigners to the covenants of the promise, without hope and without God in the world. 13 But now in Christ Jesus you who once were far away have been brought near through the blood of Christ. 

14 For he himself is our peace, who has made the two one and has destroyed the barrier, the dividing wall of hostility, 15 by abolishing in his flesh the law with its commandments and regulations. His purpose was to create in himself one new man out of the two, thus making peace, 16 and in this one body to reconcile both of them to God through the cross, by which he put to death their hostility. 17 He came and preached peace to you who were far away and peace to those who were near. 18 For through him we both have access to the Father by one Spirit.

19 Consequently, you are no longer foreigners and aliens, but fellow citizens with God’s people and members of God’s household, 20 built on the foundation of the apostles and prophets, with Christ Jesus himself as the chief cornerstone.

Social transformation, the dissolution of enmity among groups, is based on individual transformation, a renewing of the mind that allows a self-centered person to become “a living sacrifice, holy and pleasing to God” (Romans 12:1-2).

Now I want to discuss four ways of looking at transformational development.

1. What is God doing?

No matter the conditions in a geographical area God is reaching out to reconcile individuals to him and to dissolve enmity among groups.

God is engaged in transformation everywhere all the time. Effective TD will begin as various groups of development stakeholders discern what God is already doing in target communities and look for divine guidance regarding their enabling role in that situation. TD enables transformation by participating in what God is already doing.

The world does not understand this. The world will challenge TD advocates in various ways.

  • Some will say that whatever God is doing is a subjective matter that is irrelevant to doing good development work.
  • Others will deny that God is at work in the midst of deprivation and suffering. “You say God is love.  If that’s true, how can love allow such deprivation and suffering?”
  • Some will say that the progress in the various fields of science and technology the past few centuries tells us all we need to know to do good development.
  • A growing number will say that to focus on Christian doctrine to guide development work is offensive to all the non-Christians and the majority of people in need are non-Christians.

We have to be prepared to understand such challenges and to speak to them in a loving way. We have to be calm and steadfast in our faith, patiently trusting God to show us the way as we seek to understand what God is already doing in this setting where we intend to work.

2. Confront sin.

We must be willing and able to uncover and confront sin everywhere we work.

Development plans rarely discuss how prevalent types of sin need to be addressed in the target communities or how we will defend development work against the tactics of the devil.  John 14:15-17 provides wisdom:

15 If you love me, you will obey what I [Jesus] command. 16 And I will ask the Father, and he will give you another Counselor to be with you forever—17 the Spirit of truth. The world cannot accept him, because it neither sees him nor knows him. But you know him, for he lives with you and will be in you.

The people of the world do not see the Spirit of truth unless they know Jesus. People of the world seek evidence for truth based on what they see, hear, feel, etc.  They accept as evidence those experiences that can be shared dispassionately; agreed upon by people with different perspectives; that are not idiosyncratic.  Truth in the world is objective and impersonal.

For followers of Jesus truth is intensely personal for it describes liberation from sin through an ever-growing relationship with Jesus.  Evidence for truth is what we see, hear, and feel in the world as guided by the Holy Spirit.  The significance of what we see, hear, feel is not determined by how many other people have the same experience as we have in a particular setting.  The significance is in what we learn about God working in that setting, as we pray together about what we see, hear, and feel.

To be accountable to donors we must carry out monitoring and evaluation of our development projects as agreed. To be accountable before God we must confess our efforts to confront sin through our work and heed what God says back to us.

3. Kingdom visioning.

What do staff, community members and other stakeholders envision for communities in this area that will make manifest God’s establishment of his kingdom?

Isaiah 65:17-25 is often cited as a vision for transformational development.

17 Behold, I will create new heavens and a new earth. …
18 Be glad and rejoice forever in what I create, for I will create Jerusalem to be a delight and its people a joy.
19 … the sound of weeping and of crying will be heard in it no more.
20 Never again will there be in it an infant who lives but a few days, or an old man who does not live out his years; …
21 They will build houses and dwell in them; they will plan vineyards and eat their fruit.
22 No longer will they build houses and others live in them, or plant and others eat. For as the days of a tree, so will be the days of my people; my chosen ones will long enjoy the works of their hands.
23 They will not toil in vain or bear children doomed to misfortune; for they will be a people blessed by the Lord, and their descendents with them.
24 Before they call I will answer; while they are still speaking I will hear.
25 The wolf and the lamb will feed together, and the lion will eat straw like the ox, but dust will be the serpent’s food. They will neither harm nor destroy on all my holy mountain.

To move toward such a vision in a particular setting requires that we look around carefully for what God is already doing and design our own work accordingly. Unafraid we must uncover and confront prevalent sin. The world may wish for such a vision becoming reality but it will not support the Christian way towards it. Let’s be clear about the worldly challenges that we must face and overcome from the kingdom perspective.

4. Do we believe?

Do TD staff and community members (including church leaders) believe that God is powerful enough to transform communities in this setting according to the overall purpose of transformational development?

There is no way to be God’s servant in transformation without this core belief.  This is a key evaluation question that I never asked. Reflecting on why I never asked the question, I doubt anyone would say, “No. I do not believe God has the power to transform this situation.” So it is a rhetorical survey question or focus group discussion topic.

Transformation is not caused by community development work.  Transformation in individuals and society is the work of God acting through God’s faithful servants.  The potential for transformation is affected by development work but transformation itself is an outcome of God’s direct intervention in people’s lives. What evidence can I examine regarding belief in God’s power to transform individuals and communities? Let’s look at John 14:4-14. Jesus has just told the disciples that he will prepare a place for them in his Father’s house. Then he says:

4 “You know the way to the place where I am going.”
5 Thomas said to him, “Lord we don’t know where you are going, so how can we know the way?”
6 Jesus answered, “I am the way and the truth and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me. 7 If you really knew me, you would know my Father as well. From now on, you do know him and have seen him.”
8 Philip said, “Lord, show us the Father and that will be enough for us.”
9 Jesus answered: “Don’t you know me, Philip, even after I have been among you such a long time? Anyone who has seen me has seen the Father. How can you say, ‘show us the Father’? 10 Don’t you believe that I am in the Father, and that the Father is in me? The words I say to you are not just my own. Rather, it is the Father, living in me, who is doing his work. 11 Believe when I say that I am in the Father, and the Father is in me; or at least believe on the evidence of the miracles themselves. 12 I tell you the truth, anyone who has faith in me will do what I have been doing. He will do even greater things than these, because I am going to the Father. 13 And I will do whatever you ask in my name, so that the Son may bring glory to the Father. 14 You may ask me for anything in my name, and I will do it.

In this passage Philip wanted to experience direct evidence that would substantiate his faith.  He wanted to see the Father with his own eyes, and then he believed that he could accept the ambiguity of the future.  But in my imagination Jesus said, “Philip, dear dear Philip, don’t you get it yet? I am the way. When you see me, you see the Father. And if you believe in me, you will serve the transforming will of the Father just as I have been doing. Of course you will not be able to do this alone. Just ask me what you need to do to enable transformation here and now, and I will do it. I will do it to bring glory to the Father, not so that you will be a successful agent of transformation.”

Final thought.

In closing, I encourage you to let Scripture inform you daily how to engage in your aspect of ministry. Look around your work place for what God is doing, and align your vision and action with it. Daily put on spiritual armor described in Ephesians 6 so that you can uncover and confront prevalent sin. Constantly rehearse the kingdom vision of self-sacrifice for the common good to fend off the many self-centered worldly visions that bombard our senses. Finally, believe with every fiber of your being that God has the power to transform any person in any situation and to dissolve enmity among any groups in spite of long histories of warfare and other forms of violence.

You will experience indescribable joy!

Faith in action study bible: Living God’s word in a changing world (2005) published by Zondervan is an excellent resource for reflecting on scriptural implications for transformational development.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *