What do war, a presidential order, and a vision for gospel-centered ministry have in common?
They’re all things God is using in Ukraine to tear down walls between evangelical groups and unify the church for kingdom advance.
The evangelical landscape in the Eastern European country of Ukraine was largely fragmented and sectarian during much of the post-Soviet period. Trust between denominations and movements was low. Under Soviet rule, all evangelical churches had been lumped artificially under one label (Baptist). Yet once the modern state of Ukraine declared independence from the Soviet Union, religious liberty followed, and any religious group could legally become a separately recognized entity. While such freedom of conscience was doubtless a good thing, the relational fragmenting of the church was an unfortunate consequence.
New political developments, however, helped churches find common cause. At the end of 2013, Ukraine’s president attempted to crush free speech, but Ukrainians rose up in a mass protest dubbed the “Revolution of Dignity.” The church had largely kept to the sidelines during Ukraine’s previous “Orange Revolution” in 2005, but this time many Christians joined in. Churches of all stripes came out to the main square in Kiev to stand alongside the people, to pray for those present, and to be a prophetic voice for justice in the face of oppression. Some churches were still conflicted about their role, but as a whole Christians were calling for justice.
When Ukraine’s president fled the country in early 2014, it was only a few days before his main supporter, Vladimir Putin, decided to attack. At this point, most of the churches still conflicted about their role in the public square found clarity. In the face of a serious military threat to Ukraine, evangelical churches began to cooperate in new ways.
Though only a small part of the population—usually estimated at 2 percent to 3 percent—the evangelical church in Ukraine became a driving force to serve the million-plus internal refugees (some estimates say nearly 2 million). A volunteer chaplaincy was formed to minister to the many soldiers fighting for their country. The Ukranian evangelical church has stepped up to meet the challenges of the hour, and various groups within the church have grown closer as a result. Consequently, public perception toward the evangelical church is improving; instead of seeing it as an isolated sect, people are seeing the church as a group actively seeking the country’s good.
As Ukraine strives to build stronger ties with European nations in the West, another door has opened for the the growth and unity of the evangelical church. This year marks 500 years since the Protestant Reformation, and Ukraine’s current president has signed an order that Ukraine should celebrate the anniversary on the highest possible level. Of course, this is largely a political move to associate more closely with Western Europe, where many countries have a Protestant history.
Regardless of motives, this order has had a couple of positive effects. First, it has opened doors for sharing the gospel, especially in public schools and universities. Each institution is obligated to hold lectures on the Protestant Reformation, and many are open to having Protestant ministers or professors speak on these topics. Second, the order has further unified the evangelical church. Many anniversary-related projects are being planned by a wide variety of cooperating evangelical churches under the label R500.
While the church in Ukraine has become more unified in the last couple of years, political crisis and historical serendipity aren’t enough to create deep and lasting unity. The war (we hope) will come to an end. There must be a more solid foundation for healthy unity among Christians. Thankfully, there is a movement springing up among many groups and denominations for a more gospel-centered approach to church.
I have the privilege of being the coordinator of City to City Ukraine, an affiliate of Redeemer City to City. This movement was launched in Ukraine last year. Our first event was a two-day conference to explain City to City and present a gospel-centered vision for ministry contextualized for the city. We had around 150 church and ministry leaders attend—many more than we expected. Not only that, we also had people present from most major evangelical denominations represented in Ukraine. One of the conference participants remarked, “I’ve never seen a conference in Ukraine where so many people from different denominations gathered together with so much unity around the gospel.”
The excitement we witnessed over this gospel-centered approach and the level of desire for further training is truly inspiring. We’re now working to develop the City to City Ukraine network, focusing on training church leaders in preaching. If you’re interested in learning how you can help us develop this network, please contact us.
How You Can Pray
- For a truly gospel-centered unity among various Protestant churches in Ukraine, and a vision to reach Ukraine together.
- For continued development of training networks, including City to City Ukraine, that will help the church bring the gospel to bear on every level of society.
- For the kingdom to advance in difficult times of war and instability, and for bold chaplains and church planters for the war-torn area, Donbass.
- For the Ukrainian church to take full advantage of the favor we’ve been given during this Reformation anniversary year—and for a true Reformation to sweep through this country.