We may not be cut out for it
For I’m building a people of power, I”m making a people of praise, who will move through this land by my Spirit.
Now is the time for us to march across the land.
What were we thinking of in the 1980s? When did the church ‘marching across the land’ end well? What would it even look like, the clatter of zimmer frames, the trundle of wheelchairs, the clergy in nice jumpers, overweight people looking hot and wanting to sit down, the toddlers needing the toilet?
Surely ‘marching across the land’ is not how the Kingdom of God spreads. Here’s how the experts do it:
For the sake of Christ, then, I am content with weaknesses, insults, hardships, persecutions, and calamities. For when I am weak, then I am strong.
A friend who is missions director at a large American church sent me a copy of their latest thinking about church/mission relationships.
Two earlier phases of mission support
For 50 years or more, his church ran a typical missions policy, mainly focussed on supporting career missionaries through a missions committee.
Inadequacies in this model led them to a second phase, dating from around 2008:
- They evaluated missionaries’ work as well as the missionaries themselves, learning about their impact and their standing among local partners.
- They expanded involvement of the congregation through short-term teams and other partnership opportunities.
- And they took over some of the traditional roles of the mission agency in pastoral care and missions advocacy.
Another new day
But after only eight or so years of this second phase, they again felt a need to refocus, to keep up with a rapidly changing world.
They are seeing a future made of ‘vocational professionals who partner with local Christians to advance missional goals’.
To get there, they suggest diverting funds from traditional missions to build a learning community of disciples within the church.
This community would learn in millennial-friendly contexts such as cross-team story-telling as well as pursuing a basic training curriculum.
Meeting every month or so, they would become a missions-focussed community within the wider congregation.
Presumably from this community would come the ‘Kingdom professionals’ as well as the members doing mission in other ways: some involved in short-term teams, some awarding grants, some in partnership/networking initiatives, some supporting the existing, traditional missions force, some doing local international ministry.
For our UK context
I found a lot of thought-provoking stuff here for our UK context.
- What do we think about recruiting generalists–eg ‘church planters’–for mission to the least-reached? Is it seeing God’s blessing? Have we analysed how these generalists actually spend their time? How possible is it to send generalists for most of the places we want to send people?
- Should we be recruiting ‘Kingdom professionals’ instead, people with a clear role and duties? One example cited was sending a Western doctor to an international hospital, with an understanding her role would include teaching indigenous Christian nurses who may then serve among the unreached in villages.
- How good are we at networking with the global south? Does a commitment to this networking lead us towards or away from a focus on evangelism among the least reached?
- What do we think of developing a missions community within our church? This community would embrace people as diverse as an old-style missions committee, short-term teams, and people with cross-cultural opportunities within their work-life or ministry. Such a community would cohere around a regular practice of mutual learning, story-telling, support, and worship.
- What’s the role of the traditional mission agency in this reshaped landscape?
Challenging stuff both for traditional agencies and churches!
Creativity is son-light, filtered
Creativity is son-light, filtered. Some delicious verse from J R R Tolkein on how our ‘creativity’ is really a derivative of the divine creativity:
Man, Sub-creator, the refracted Light
through whom is splintered from a single White
to many hues, and endlessly combined
in living shapes that move from mind to mind.
For Tolkein, myth was a fragment of a truth, and a pointer to God. (The quote also shows him to be no fan of modern technology.)
“We have come from God, and inevitably the myths woven by us, though they contain error, will also reflect a splintered fragment of the true light, the eternal truth that is with God. Indeed only by myth-making, only by becoming ‘sub-creator’ and inventing stories, can Man aspire to the state of perfection that he knew before the Fall. Our myths may be misguided, but they steer however shakily towards the true harbour, while materialistic ‘progress’ leads only to a yawning abyss and the Iron Crown of the power of evil.”
Our church hosts a congregation for people with learning disabilities. The leader of this ministry, Chrissie Cole, wrote recently for our church bulletin. I thought it was a great story and worth reproducing.
“You mean, I can pray in the garden?” This remark was made by a young man with autism and a learning disability the first time he came to the Causeway group.
We were looking at the story of Jesus praying in the Garden of Gethsemane. This young man has gone on to be a valued member of our group, who prays the most wonderful prayers which show a degree of compassion for others which is quite surprising given his autism. I hope he has also begun to pray in his garden!
But I am always being surprised by the people who come to the Causeway group; by their faith which takes Jesus at his word, and by their love and support for each other. The Causeway group, which is supported by the Christian charity Prospects, aims to provide accessible worship and teaching for people with learning disabilities such as the young man above. We have been running for 24 years and at the moment have 21 members.
Over the years I think I have had more encouragement and blessing from them than I have given back. Some people might question whether those who do not have the understanding to grasp the theological truths of Christianity are really able to be Christians. To which I would reply that Christianity at its heart is not about theological truths, but is about a relationship with a living God.
Anyone who can respond to another person, on whatever level, is capable of responding to Jesus and the Holy Spirit, and I have seen this happen in wonderful ways over the years. It has also become clear to me that God has equipped them with gifts, as he has everyone in his church, such as being able to lead us in prayer, lead worship on the piano, or notice when someone else is feeling down and needs prayer. I believe it is important that, as with all of us, they are encouraged to use their gifts to build God’s church, both in the Causeway group, and in the wider church.