General introduction and theological background

"We can be the first generation to succeed in ending poverty; just as we may be the last to have a chance of saving the planet."

Preamble – Transforming our world: the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development

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What are the sustainable development goals?

The sustainable development goals are intended to focus and coordinate national policies towards a common vision for humanity. They build on past efforts to implement the poverty reduction agenda known as the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) and include the three pillars of sustainable development: economic, social and environmental. They target the urgent environmental, political and economic challenges facing our world: poverty, inequality, climate, environmental degradation, prosperity, and achieving peace and justice.

The sustainable development agenda of the United Nations is based on commitment by governments, non-governmental groups, and individuals to meet 17 goals. This shared commitment sets a universal agenda for developed and developing countries in the period leading up to 2030. While the goals are not legally binding, governments have assumed a moral commitment to implement them to the best of their capacities and in accordance with national priorities.

The preamble to the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development offers an excellent introduction to the genesis and objectives of the thrust to overcome poverty, inequality, and environmental degradation.

What do these goals have to do with the Christian faith?

At the heart of our call to discipleship is God’s word spoken through the prophet Isaiah: “seek justice, rescue the oppressed, defend the orphan, plead for the widow”. (Is. 1:17)

Is this not the fast that I choose: to loose the bonds of injustice, to undo the thongs of the yoke, to let the oppressed go free, and to break every yoke? (Is. 1:17)

Indeed, we are already responding actively to most - if not all - of the issues identified by the United Nations. Yet faith groups are not mentioned explicitly in the preamble to the sustainable development agenda. We’ve been hiding our light under a basket. It is time to make our light shine. Drawing attention to what churches and church-related organizations are achieving is a form of witness to the transformative power of our faith.

We’ve been hiding our light under a basket. It’s time to make visible what God is doing in the world through God’s people. In this way we witness to our faith in action and we open the door to new partnerships for meeting the goal of walking with our neighbours in need and protecting God’s creation.

"God loves the world and never ceases to engage with it: this deep faith conviction motivates the churches to engage in the public space. God created the world through the Word and brought it to life through the Spirit. In the incarnation of Jesus Christ, God entered into the world in the most profound way, coming with deep compassion into the joys and sufferings and hopes and pains of this world."
The Church in the Public Space (LWF)

The "philosophy" of the Agenda 2030

“We are determined to take the bold and transformative steps which are urgently needed to shift the world onto a sustainable and resilient path.”

(Preamble, Transforming our World: the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development)
The declaration at the heart of the UN’s 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development resonates with the Christian call to transform the world.


We are determined to end poverty and hunger in all their forms and dimensions, and to ensure that all human beings can fulfil their potential in dignity and equality and in a healthy environment.


We are determined to protect the planet from degradation including through sustainable consumption and production, sustainably managing its natural resources and taking urgent action on climate change, so that it can support the needs of the present and future generations.


We are determined to ensure that all human beings can enjoy prosperous and fulfilling lives and that economic, social and technological progress occurs in harmony with nature.


We are determined to foster peaceful, just and inclusive societies, which are free from fear and violence. There can be no sustainable development without peace and no peace without sustainable development.


We are determined to mobilize the means required to implement this Agenda through a revitalized Global Partnership for Sustainable Development, based on a spirit of strengthened global solidarity, focused in particular on the needs of the poorest and most vulnerable and with the participation of all countries, all stakeholders and all people.

The principles that shape the sustainable development agenda mark a shift from previous global initiatives to alleviate hunger, improve health care, and protect the world’s resources.

The agenda is universal. It is not only a call to action for developing and developed countries but is “for all stakeholders” which by definition includes individuals, churches, and church-related organizations.

People are at the heart of the 2030 agenda – all people. No one is to be left behind. This means respecting the dignity of the individual and it means the goals and targets must be met for people in all segments of society, especially those who are the most vulnerable.


"Leave no one behind." (UN Agenda 2030)


As Christians we believe in a God of abundance, we believe that God came in Christ to the world so that all might have life and have it abundantly. As Lutherans we believe we are freed by grace to love and serve our neighbors and neighborhoods. As a church we need to leave no one behind.

(Mikka McCracken, Evangelical Lutheran Church in America, World Hunger program)


The sustainable development agenda interlinks the goals and underlines that they are interdependent.  It makes clear that you cannot separate them. In order to achieve one goal, targets for other goals must be met.

The agenda points to the wide range of goals and their targets: whatever we do on one goal will have broad-reaching effects. We cannot meet the targets for one sustainable development goal without considering their effect on the other goals.


Interlinked goals? Why?

The only way to meet any one of the 17 goals is to recognize the links among all of them. Take for example the goal of attaining gender equality (SDG 5). Clearly this depends on meeting the targets set for achieving good health and well-being for women and men (SDG 3) as it also depends on creating the conditions that make the establishment of peace, justice and strong institutions achievable. (SDG 16)

The 2030 Agenda places people at the centre of the development process. It calls on governments, parliaments and other stakeholders to design and deliver laws and programmes that meet the needs of all the people, break down policy silos, and uphold human rights. This means the principle of leaving no one behind is at the heart of the sustainable development agenda.

A holistic and synergistic approach informs the entire 2030 Agenda. The approach reflects a shift in the focus of development thinking from satisfying basic needs to upholding human rights.

This video produced by the UN provides a brief but comprehensive overview of the sustainable development agenda and points to the principles that will guide efforts to reach the goals by 2030.

Theological framework for sustainable development work

The United Nations Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) reflect the interrelatedness of creation and the interdependence of human needs. By grace we have been invited to be part of this work of God for our world today, even while knowing that perfect justice and perfect peace await us only in the full reign of God to come. Scripture reminds us that while we long for this full reign, the church universal is called to work for justice in the here-and-now, to ensure that the needs of our neighbours are met, and to advocate for the rights of all peoples.

In the full reign of God “they will hunger no more.” (Rev. 7:16)

In our world today, we can ensure that all who hunger are fed.

In the full reign of God “they will thirst no more.”  (Rev. 7:16)

In our world today, we can ensure that everyone has access to clean water to slake thirst.

In the full reign of God “nation shall not lift up sword against nation” (Isaiah 2:4).

In our world today, we can ensure that strong, just institutions prevent violent conflict and hold abusive powers accountable.

In the full reign of God “the Lord of hosts will make for all peoples a feast” at which all shall be fed (Isaiah 25:6).

In our world today, we can ensure that every community has access to the resources they need for well-being and that none are inhibited from the opportunity to share in the abundant gifts of God.

In the full reign of God “your sons and your daughters shall prophesy, and your young men shall see visions, and your old men shall dream dreams” (Acts 2:17).

In our world today, we can ensure that all voices are heard and that each person has the chance to develop and utilize their gifts for the sake of their community.

In the full reign of God “there is neither Jew nor Greek, slave nor free, male nor female” (Gal. 3:28).

In our world today, we can ensure that policies and institutions promote the full value of all people as created in the image of God, establish gender justice in every community, and protect our neighbors from violence in all its forms.


Faith calls the people of God to be part of the transformation of the world by striving for justice and peace in every land. The sustainable development goals provide concrete markers for progress toward this transformation. They also reflect what the church has been doing since its inception: in faith, accompanying neighbours toward a just world that reflects the intentions of God, our Creator and Redeemer.

This workshop is a tool to guide you in exploring the relevance of the goals to your church or church organization’s mission. Tool 1: Workshop - Theological relevance

Five sustainable development goals shared by churches and the United Nations

Almost all of the 17 goals connect in some way to the work of churches and church-related organizations. This toolbox focuses on five goals that connect obviously to priority work in churches and church-related organizations. Over time, more goals may be added to this initial list.

The pages that follow below are designed to help you learn more about each of the five goals and its relation to our faith and to offer inspiring examples of what churches and secular groups are doing to meet the targets set for attaining the goals. Many of the church examples are drawn from the Waking the Giant pilot countries – Liberia, Tanzania, Colombia, and the United States of America. There are examples as well from church work in other countries throughout the world.


SDG 3 - Good health and well-being

Ensure healthy lives and promote well-being for all at all ages

“I am the Lord who heals you.” Exodus 15:26

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SDG 4 - Quality education

Ensure inclusive and equitable quality education and promote lifelong learning opportunities for all

“How much better to get wisdom than gold.” Proverbs 16:16

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SDG 5 - Gender equality

Achieve gender equality and empower all women and girls

“There is no longer male and female; for all of you are one in Christ Jesus.” Galatians 3:28

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SDG 10 - Reduced inequalities

Reduce inequality within and among countries

“… do not oppress the widow, the orphan, the alien, or the poor …” Zechariah 7:10

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SDG 16 - Peace, justice and strong institutions

Promote peaceful and inclusive societies for sustainable development, provide access to justice for all and build effective, accountable and inclusive institutions at all levels

“Blessed are the peacemakers, for they shall be called the children of God.” Matthew 5:19

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