Church of God Eastern Europe Missions: Leadership, Economics and Culture

By the end of 2003, in a dissertation proposal for the Church of God Theological Seminary, which dealt with Bulgarian American congregation from an evangelical point of view, we suggested that there is not just one single problem that contributes to the struggle of these congregations to establish themselves permanently in the North American culture. The research which followed in the next couple of years, further showed that a multilayered dilemma consisting of economical, cultural and leadership factors was the reason for both the success or failure for the church communities established by Christians emerging from a postcommunist context.

The research results confirmed the originally proposed problem in ministry, not only within Eastern European congregations in North America, but also by partnering ministries, research foundations and practicing colleagues working in the former Soviet satellites. The majority agreed, that not only the existence of the described tridementional dilemma, but the lack of a properly applied solution for it, constrained Christian congregations emerging from this context from reaching their potential in their respective communities. Rather symbolic in this discussion still remains the remark made by one of the leading Bulgarian experts in religious freedom and human rights, who elaborated our statement that Bulgarian evangelical congregations remain “beggars in a land of plenty” not only in America, but in the European Union as well, being held prisoners of their own mentality formed by the communist past.

Our work in the Bulgarian evangelical context, gave us the opportunity to extend this research beyond the North American scope into Bulgarian immigrant communities in Great Britain, Italy, Spain, Germany and Switzerland. The study repeatedly confirmed that these congregations struggled with the same dynamics we had proposed originally, which naturally led to applying the research model in a native Bulgarian context.

Our direct work in the past five years with over 400 hundred Bulgarian congregations from various evangelical denominations has confirmed that the problem of ministry for the majority of Bulgarian protestant churches both in and outside of Bulgaria, emerges from three groups of factors related to (1) leadership, (2) economics and (3) culture. Problems and solutions of this nature or their lack thereof, conforms the work of any missional organization ministering in an Eastern European context. The work of the Church of God European Mission makes no exception to this rule, as the proper timely address of these issues with applicable and unambiguous resolutions defines the very foundation of the state of the Bulgarian evangelical church in the beginning of the 21st century.