Climate related events are in the news almost daily. Are these events a distraction from gospel ministry, or an opportunity for missions?
In John Stott on Creation Care, Stott is asked whether ecological involvement can properly be included within ‘missions’. Some perceive Christian environmental involvement as a distraction from ‘soul saving’ gospel proclamation. Yet, the ecological crisis impacting every corner of the world cannot be ignored. Christian love requires us to respond to those affected by disasters, including the growing climate crisis.
The Cape Town Commitment states:
If Jesus is Lord of all the earth, we cannot separate our relationship to Christ from how we act in relation to the earth. For to proclaim the gospel that says ‘Jesus is Lord’ is to proclaim the gospel that includes the earth, since Christ’s Lordship is over all creation. Creation care is thus a gospel issue within the Lordship of Christ (CTC I-7).
So, if creation care is a gospel issue under the Lordship of Christ, how must we respond?
Global Climate Issues
In July 2023, after scientists confirmed that July was on track to be the world’s hottest month on record, UN secretary general, António Guterres stated, ‘The era of global warming has ended; the era of global boiling has arrived. . . . Leaders must lead. No more hesitancy, no more excuses, no more waiting for others to move first.’
Climate issues are a growing global reality, impacting human and non-human life. We write from the Asia-Pacific region, which is especially vulnerable to climate change because of its dependence on natural resources and agriculture, densely populated coastal areas, weak institutions, and widespread poverty.
Climate change is impacting even wealthy countries in the Global North today. It has already been a painful reality for poorer nations. For island countries like the Philippines, coastal fishing communities and marine ecosystems are at risk from intensifying and more frequent storms. Climate issues compounded by land-use change (eg deforestation and mining) threaten food security and biodiversity.
Similarly, India is one of the most disaster-prone countries globally. Its location and geography render it vulnerable to natural hazards including cyclones, drought, floods, earthquakes, fire and landslides, all of which have intensified. Alongside irreparable damage to ecosystems, the impact on humans is devastating with the poor, who contribute least to the problem, most severely affected. At least 10,281 farmers in India ended their lives in 2019, accounting for 7.4 percent of suicides.
These examples from the lived experience of the authors reflect the intensity of the global crisis. Political leaders are being urged to respond and act. Churches in many regions are taking action, yet many are paralyzed by the overwhelming challenges. What are these challenges and how can we address them as a global Christian community?
Creating Opportunities from Climate Challenges
In 2012, the Jamaica Call to Action, arising from the Lausanne Global Consultation on Creation Care and the Gospel, addressed the global church, stating: ‘We are faced with a crisis that is pressing, urgent, and that must be resolved in our generation.’ Whilst this document is now a decade old, it points out important issues, some of which are discussed.
Challenge 1: The global church is insufficiently engaged in climate issues.
Lack of church engagement with climate not only ignores the growing suffering of God’s creation, it could also affect our Christian witness. Surveys in Australia, the UK, and Canada show Christian youth longing to receive biblical teaching on creation and climate yet feeling their churches are doing too little. What could be different if Christian leaders are better equipped to engage in climate issues?
The whole church needs to consider climate issues within the biblical narrative of creation and redemption. Creation care is not a specialist add-on to Christian ministry. In fact, it was the first missional task when God gave Adam and Eve responsibility to care for the earth. Caring for creation is part and parcel of our walk with Jesus and our leaders should set an example.
Opportunity 1: Turn our current minimal engagement in creation care into an opportunity to learn and engage in climate issues.
To be Christ-like is to be in a right relationship with God, neighbor and creation. ‘We care for the earth and responsibly use its abundant resources, not according to the rationale of the secular world, but for the Lord’s sake.’
Practical Step 1
Learn more about the issues. Read books and articles on creation care theology and practice. Get to know what scientists say.
Challenge 2: Many Christians are used to a comfortable lifestyle and reluctant to simplify.
Responding to climate issues requires an honest assessment of our lifestyle choices. Are we prepared to adapt our consumption to ensure fairness and quality of life for all of creation? Living justly and humbly with mercy (Micah 6:8) may require us to acknowledge selfishness, adopt new habits, and live against the norm. Are we prepared for this?
Of course, it is impossible to live a perfect eco-conscious and just lifestyle because we are broken people living in a broken world; but gospel values compel us to do our best.
Opportunity 2: Churches should adapt and model how Jesus lived, caring for others, and living simply.
There is no perfect person nor perfect planet until it is perfected by Christ—a promise of restoration that all of creation is longing for (Rom 8). Until then, our efforts should reflect how Christ lived.
Practical Step 2
Start within the church and with practical needs in your community. Assess how our practices may harm the environment. Support local, small-scale farmers. Eat seasonal food and less meat. Can we use public transport for travel? Encourage small groups to hold one another accountable. Research traditional practices that have less negative environmental impact.
Challenge 3: Poor creation theology. We have focused on humans, specifically souls, in our Bible teaching and missions.
The evangelical church has largely failed to consider the whole of creation. We tend to prioritize spiritual over physical issues, whereas Jesus’ Lordship is over the whole of life. We need to re-read the Bible with a fresh perspective, reflecting and discussing how all creation is part of God’s plan of salvation and restoration. If leaders teach creation care as a gospel issue, then our response will not be from pressure to ‘save the planet’ but from obedience and worship of our Lord Jesus to care for his earth, entrusted to our care.
Moreover, creation needs to be integrated into our prayer and worship, both personally and as faith communities. How often do we pray about God’s creation? We can recover the practice of lament. The Israelites often cried out to God in times of suffering. Do we pray for those experiencing suffering and oppression? How often do we repent for human-induced actions causing harm to wildlife?
Opportunity 3: The earth is the Lord’s so we respond out of love for God and God’s creation.
If we embrace creation care as discipleship, then our response emerges from our identity as God’s image-bearers rather than as ‘saviours’ of the planet.
Practical Step 3
Nurture care for creation as part of our rhythms of prayer, Bible study, and worship. Spend time with God through reflecting on his word in nature.
Challenge 4: We tend to see people as separate from nature.
Some people fear that caring for creation means neglecting people. Yet, creation includes people. Caring for creation then, includes caring for people’s spiritual as well as physical and social needs—health, work, homes, and safety—all of which depend on the environment.
Many churches and Christian organizations are already committed to addressing people’s social and economic needs. Now we must broaden our mission to include the natural world. We are not choosing between caring for people or nature, as both are important to God and part of his plan for restoration.
Opportunity 4: Learn from Christian traditions / denominations that already get this!
We cannot all care well for every aspect of creation. But, as leaders, we are invited to consider the entirety of God’s creation. As we spend time with God and learn from others, we can discern where we are called to be faithful in our respective communities and contexts.
Practical Step 4
Ask folks in your congregation/organization who are engaged already to share their stories. Invite specialists/experts to share specific opportunities. Learn from indigenous communities.
Challenge 5: Saving the planet seems impossible and pointless.
Climate is a complex, global issue, and we can easily get discouraged or dismissive of our ability to change anything. However, our motivation is not just solving the climate crisis, but also obedience to Christ. Creation care is part of our discipleship journey. Just as we cultivate prayer and Bible study as regular Christian rhythms, we need to integrate care of creation as part of our everyday lives too.
We will never fix all that is wrong in creation, but as part of our Christian discipleship we can work at it faithfully and in community. We also need permission to embrace our mistakes and struggles as part of the creation care journey.
We need to persevere and stay the course together. ‘All of creation is waiting in eager expectation for the children of God to be revealed’ (Rom 8:19). And this begins with the church responding to the groans of creation.
Opportunity 5: Get your community to engage at multiple levels—head, heart, hand.
Creation is waiting for us! Our actions can be a vital encouragement to those who do not yet have hope in Christ.
Practical Step 5
Go beyond one-off events and commit to multi-year engagement. Find a specific niche for your community to focus—forest, river, ocean, city etc.
As we listen to scientists and from those suffering around the globe, we would benefit from Christian resources that can help us journey further in caring for creation. (See endnotes for some highly recommended ones for church and missions leaders.)
- Develop a more robust creation care theology.   
- Study the Bible with an ecological lens.
- Worship God remembering God is Creator and Jesus is Lord of all creation. 
- Pray with the global church for all of creation.
- Join a network of churches and engage in environmental action in your local context.
- Receive updates about current creation care events around the world.
- Journey with other creation-care minded individuals and organizations. 
- Engage at international level in climate policy discussion.
In summary, we care for creation not because this is the flavor of the times, but importantly because of our response to the urgent call of our Creator-God who loves us and cares for this world.
- RJ (Sam) Berry with Laura Yoder, John Stott on Creation Care (Illinois: IVP, 2021), https://ivpbooks.com/john-stott-on-creation-care.
- ‘The Cape Town Commitment,’ Lausanne Movement, Part 1, Sec. 7, accessed 1 August 2023, https://lausanne.org/content/ctc/ctcommitment.
- Ajit Niranjan, ‘‘Era of global boiling has arrived,’ says UN chief as July set to be hottest month on record,’ The Guardian, 27 July 2023, https://www.theguardian.com/science/2023/jul/27/scientists-july-world-hottest-month-record-climate-temperatures.
- Venkatachalam Anbumozhi, Meinhard Breiling, Selvarajah Pathmarajah, and Vangimalla R. Reddy, eds. ‘Climate Change in Asia and the Pacific: How can countries adapt?’ ADBInstitute (India: SAGE, 2012), https://www.adb.org/sites/default/files/publication/159335/adbi-climate-change-asia-and-pacific-how-can-countries-adapt-highlights.pdf
- ‘Accidental Deaths and Suicides in India,’ National Crime Records Bureau, accessed 1 August 2023, https://ncrb.gov.in/sites/default/files/ADSI-2019-FULL-REPORT.pdf.
- ‘Creation Care and the Gospel: Jamaica Call to Action,’ Lausanne Movement, accessed 1 August 2023,https://lausanne.org/content/statement/creation-care-call-to-action.
- ‘Leader’s Summary: They Shall Inherit The Earth – Tearfund Climate Report,’ Tearfund, accessed 1 August 2023, https://www.tearfund.org.au/resources/leaders-summary-they-shall-inherit-the-earth-tearfund-climate-report.
- ‘We are Burning Down the House,’ We Are Tearfund, accessed 1 August 2023, https://wearetearfund.org/burning-down-the-house/.
- ‘For All the Earth,’ Tearfund Canada, accessed 1 August 2023, https://tearfund.ca/climatesurvey/
- Editor’s Note: See article entitled ‘Devastating Fires and the Church’s Mission’ by Tim Carriker in the March 2020 of Lausanne Global Analysis, https://lausanne.org/content/lga/2020-03/devastating-fires-churchs-mission.
- ‘The Cape Town Commitment,’ Lausanne Movement, Part 1, Sec. 7, accessed 1 August 2023, https://lausanne.org/content/ctc/ctcommitment.
- Colin Bell and Robert White, Creation Care and the Gospel: Reconsidering the Mission of the Church (Peabody, Massachusetts: Hendrickson Publishers, 2016).
- R.J.(Sam) Berry with Laura Yoder, John Stott on Creation Care (Illinois: IVP, 2021).
- Douglas Moo and Jonathan Moo, Creation Care: A Biblical Theology of the Natural World (Grand Rapids, Michigan: Zondervan, 2018).
- Dave Bookless, Planetwise: Dare to Care for God’s World (Nottingham: InterVarsity Press, 2008).
- ‘Why care for creation?’ OMF International, accessed 1August 2023, https://omf.org/resources/why-care-for-creation/.
- Climate Vigil, accessed 1 August 2023, https://www.climatevigil.org/album-leadsheets.
- ‘Doxecology,’ Resound Worship, accessed 1 August 2023, https://www.resoundworship.org/projects/doxecology.
- ‘Season of Creation 2023,’ Season of Creation, accessed 1 August 2023, https://seasonofcreation.org.
- ‘Become an A Rocha Church Partner,’ A Rocha International, accessed 1 August 2023, https://arocha.org/en/church-partners/
- The Pollinator: Creation Care Network News, accessed 1 August 2023, http://news.lwccn.com.
- The Oikos Network, Oikos, accessed 1 August 2023, https://www.oikos-network.org
- ‘Join the Rubbish Campiagn!’ Renew Our World Campaign, accessed 1 August 2023, https://www.renewourworld.net.
- Christian Climate Observers Program (CCOP) 2023, accessed 1 August 2023, http://www.ccopclimate.org.
- Berry, John Stott on Creation Care, 193.
Lalbiakhlui Rokhum, more popularly known as Kuki, served for over 20 years in the Evangelical Fellowship of India Commission on Relief, and has just joined A Rocha International as Director of Church Engagement. Kuki is passionate about issues of justice and is involved in teaching Integral Mission and issues such as creation care and climate change.
Jasmine Kwong is a Lausanne Catalyst for Creation Care and also a Creation Care Advocate in OMF International. She speaks and writes about creation care and is particularly passionate about community food issues and marine conservation. She is based in the Philippines.
Dave Bookless is Lausanne Catalyst for Creation Care and Head of Theology for A Rocha International. He is based in Southall, London, and speaks and writes globally on the bible and creation care.