My colleague Flora, from the mission where I work, wrote this:
Two years ago I took time out from ministry, having got near breaking point. This was the result of at least 8 years of trying to cover more than one leadership role. My time out enabled me to recognise that I also have an inbuilt tendency to fill gaps rather than let things fall apart. It has been hard to step away and see others struggle because I am no longer picking up pieces.
Five months of rest and reflection led me to realise I could not go back to team leadership. One of the problems when you are gifted in different areas and good at multi-tasking is discerning what God wants to do through you. In recent years I had come to recognise that at heart I am a mission mobiliser, encouraging people into the adventure of sharing the gospel cross-culturally. Part of my struggle was that I had become tied to a desk. Also, I knew that as a mission mobiliser with no time or opportunity to develop personal experience of cross-cultural evangelism I was at a severe disadvantage.
As I laid this before God I found Him opening up areas of ministry I would never have imagined. Eighteen months on I am in regular contact with refugees and asylum seekers of different nationalities in my city and have a number of Muslim friends. Through my church I am now involved in evangelism and discipleship, primarily with Iranians. Recently I had the joy of helping to baptise six new followers of Jesus!
At the same time God has opened up doors of opportunity and influence locally and nationally as a mission mobiliser.
Flora’s story echoed with me. Perhaps there are seasons when we have to fill gaps and serve our organisation. But it drains us, and it we know it. Unless gap-filling is our particular gift, there comes a time when we have to get out, rethink, and get into what we love and are good at. For Flora, it took a sabbatical; for me illness.
A friend who is nursing a very sick wife wrote about how much they were enjoying talking and eating and Bible study and TV. That resonated with me.
Conversation, company, meals, devotion and story-telling: you don’t know how valuable they are till you’ve lost a lot of other things.
Illness can make you do that, pan for the gold. When a flow of suffering washes normal life away, you realise that gleaming among the residue was the treasure you’d been wanting all your life.
We often stumble into this gold, and then stumble away from it again.Maybe suffering or illness helps refine our tastes. It’s interesting to compile a list of what does or doesn’t have this life-giving, joy-giving quality. Here’s my attempt — you may disagree:
People creating something together, for example in a sports team or an orchestra or a village fete
Pottering in the garden
Being happily part of a family
People accumulating together but without community: queues, traffic jams, tourism
Eating ‘al desko’
Looking at a screen into the small hours
Death by Powerpoint
‘Slow mission’, I think, is about choosing these things — things that will exist in some form in eternity — over the things that will pass away?
When ice melts off a roof, you hear dripping and thawing for some time. Then, occasionally, a whole chunk falls off. I think I have lived through such a change in the UK. Census returns show it:
UK Census 2001 Christian: 71.7% No religion: 14:8%
UK Census 2011 Christian: 59.3% No religion: 25.1%
A piece of ice fell off the roof. When I was growing up, we theoretically believed in the ten commandments and the Sermon on the Mount.
School worship was vaguely Christian.
National celebrations like Armistice Day saw the country getting its Christian hardware out.
It was a staple of farce that the moment something immoral was happening in your house, the Vicar would call, and you were bothered.
In fairness it was all ripe for collapse, because not too many people believed in it really, though some did.
What has happened since has been:
The incineration of millions of old nominal Christians (after they died).
Their replacement by millions of younger people not brought up in Christian traditions
A new widely accepted story about what we believe.
The new normal
I blame the BBC for this latter point, though really our national broadcaster only reflects back to us our own thoughts. What is the new normal? All religions are treated equal and thereby categorized and thereby diminished. The BBC looks down on them all and ‘caters’ for them all, while believing in none of them.
The position from which it looks down is not defined, but is assumed to be somewhere liberal, reasonable, empirical, scientific: a totally superior vantage point to where the poor saps who still follow ‘a religion’ lurk. Christians may prefer Fair Isle jumpers and fair trade coffee to beards and burkhas butreally. All religions are the same and don’t lead anywhere. Though of course one must give them the utmost respect.
The Christian faith was like the constellation Ursa Major in the Northern hemisphere: always there, always indicating true north, always pointed out to children, always called the wrong thing, but everyone recognised it.
Now the stars have fallen from the sky.
Millions of thoughts flow from this, which might occupy other blogs. One is worth thinking about in passing.
It is a loss. Since the Emperor Constantine the European peoples bought into a project to unite every aspect of their lives– science, philosophy, trade, agriculture, birth, marriage, death–under the Lordship of Christ.However well or badly that worked out, we agreed on where the pole star was. Now it’s gone.
The title was irresistible and was happy to promote this book up my reading shelf. This was the first time I’d come across Erin Loechner who is evidently famous in lots of places for her interior design (in the sense of homes, rather than souls. Though she’s not bad on the interior design of souls either.). Here are the pluses and minuses for me:
* Beautifully designed and very often beautifully written
* A personal life-story, nevertheless it’s crafted well enough to connect her story with ours and is stimulating and thought-provoking.
*It’s an enjoyable, fresh, challenging read.
*I found the beginning (?more about hope, ambition and dreams) more interesting than the latter half of the book (more about the challenges of rearing a toddler and for me a bit more been-there-done-that)
* It’s about a blogger reflecting on her blogging life, which as a blog itself contained a lot of reflecting on life. Shades of someone looking at herself looking at herself looking at herself in two facing mirrors. In this sense, it’s quite millennial in its enthusiastic self-analysis, but that’s refreshing for a boomer like me.
* There are some lovely aphorisms in the book, but I got a little worn down by the sheer mass of cutesy one-sentence solutions by the end.
I certainly don’t mean to be harsh. I liked this book, and its writer, a lot and will recommend it to others. Bit more cutting would have made the diamond shine brighter.
** I picked this book up for free as an Adavanced Review Copy. There was no obligation to write a review, still less a positive review, but it’s a good book. **
I am reading a series of devotional books by F B Meyer (1847 – 1929), one page on each chapter of the Bible.
From an entry on Psalm 62:
‘[Abraham] was left waiting till nature was spent… till all that knew him pitied him for clinging to an impossible dream. But as this great silence fell on him, the evidence of utter helplessness and despair, there arose within his soul an ever-accumulating faith in the power of God…
A command to ‘preach the good news to all creation’ (which as we know is the last command Jesus gave on earth) can, for the Christian, awake our inner geographer. Where has the gospel not yet gone? How is it that people not been offered this meal, this treasure, this healing oil?
Yet at the same time the New Testament seems more devoted to how we live than where we preach. The church should ‘grow to become in every respect the mature body’ and this sends us deep rather than wide: caring for our own souls and for the souls of those around us.
So: spread good news through the world or try to foster justice and compassion in ourselves and in the community around us? Wide or deep? Obviously both, and both elements are covered by the word ‘disciple’ which Jesus used when he left us with the command to ‘make disciples of all nations’.
As if it were a cure for cancer, we Christians are urged, as far and as fast as possible, to spread the news of Christ’s resurrection and the new hope it fires up.
Or are we?
WEC International, the NGO in which I serve, has in its foundation documents ‘the evangelization of the world in the shortest possible time’. This is a Biblical idea: ‘run … the race marked out for us’ says the Book of Hebrews;‘make the most of every opportunity’, wrote Paul. Jesus told us to pray that workers would be ‘cast out’ into the harvest field. ‘Look forward to the day of God and speed its coming’ says 2 Peter. It is scandalous that the Universe has changed—Christ is risen— and many people have yet to hear.
At the same time, slow mission is also scriptural. Seeds take time to grow. Harvests await their season. No Christian has ever matured overnight. However much we try to speed things up with discipleship courses or fast-track leadership, God takes his own sweet time with our souls, and with his work. God’s kingdom seems to move forward not like an army, but like a family, at the pace of the youngest child. Most of us spend ordinary days doing ordinary things. Are we just marking time? Or is the collective quiet goodness of God’s people in itself a force for transforming the world?
To understand our place in God’s kingdom, probably we have to appreciate both ‘fast’ and ‘slow’, in a mix that is unique for us.
None of the big things hurry. Tides don’t hurry; seasons don’t; sunrises and sunsets don’t; love doesn’t. It takes two decades to turn a baby girl into a young woman. It took 10 billion years to create the earth, then four billion more for the earth to nurture self-aware and God-aware creatures. God doesn’t rush. Jesus never rushed. There is a time and a season for every activity under heaven.
‘Slow mission’ is about huge ambition–all things united under Christ–and tiny steps.
I contrast it with much talk and planning about ‘goals’ and ‘strategies’ which happens in the parts of church I inhabit, and which have an appearance of spirituality, but make me sometimes feel like I am in the Christian meat-processing industry.
Here’s a summary of slow mission values, as currently figured out by me:
Devoted. Centred on Christ as Saviour and Lord. Do we say to Christ, ‘Everything I do, I do it for you.’ Do we hear Christ saying the same thing back to us?
Belonging. We sign up, take part, dive in, identify, work with others, live with the compromises. Not for us a proud independence.
Respecting vocation. Where do ‘your deep gladness and the world’s deep hunger’ meet?1. Vocation is where God’s strokes of genius happen. That’s where we should focus our energies.
To do with goodness. Goodness in the world is like a tolling bell that can’t be silenced and that itself silences all arguments.
Observing seasons. ‘There’s a time for everything, and a season for every activity under the heavens.’2.The world will be OK even if we check out for a while. (Note: our families, however, won’t be.)
Into everything. We are multi-ethnic and interdependent. We like the handcrafted. We are interested in all humanity and in all that humanity is interested in. Wherever there’s truth, beauty, creativity, compassion, integrity, service, we want to be there too, investing and inventing. We don’t take to being shut out. Faith and everything mix.
Quite keen on common sense. We like to follow the evidence and stick to the facts. We like to critique opinions and prejudices. We don’t, however, argue with maths. Against our human nature, we try to listen to those we disagree with us. We’re not afraid of truth regardless of who brings it. We want to be learners rather than debaters.
Happy to write an unfinished symphony. Nothing gets completed this side of death and eternity. What we do gets undone. That’s OK. Completeness is coming in God’s sweet time. ‘Now we only see a reflection as in a mirror; then we shall see face to face.’3.
Comfortable with the broken and the provisional. Happy are the poor in spirit, those who mourn, the meek, those who hunger for right, the pure in heart, the peacemakers, the laughed-at. This also implies a discomfort with the pat, the glib, the primped, the simplistic, the triumphalistic and the schlocky.
Refusing to be miserable. The Universe continues because of God’s zest for life, despite everything, and his insouciance that it will all probably work out somehow. In sorrows, wounds and in the inexplicable, we join God in his childlike faith.