Yesterday I got my highest number of hits on the blog all week- yet I didn’t post a thing! This may have something to do with the fact that extra traffic seemed to come my way thanks to it being listed in numerous press releases and websites for being highly commended in the Surefish/Christian Aid web awards. If you are one of these people I hope you find something of interest amidst my unfinished musings and come back or sign up to the twitter feed @ https://twitter.com/unfinishedchris .It got me thinking about the concept of serendipity or happenstance- where we just come across things by accident and then take to them. Down the years this has happened to me with authors, artists, musicians, plays and even sport. Isn’t it amazing how we sometimes restrict ourselves to the familiar, uncertain of the risks or hassle we may be given by just pushing things out a little further. Just recently I was talking to a couple of parishes about mission in relation to a new build housing estate a couple of miles from some long established village churches and I read this from Acts 1:6-8:
“So when they met together, they asked him, “Lord, are you at this time going to restore the kingdom to Israel? He said to them: It is not for you to know the times or dates the father has set by his own authority. But you will receive power when the Holy Spirit comes on you; and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem, and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth.”
I pointed out that the disciples were looking for the restoration of their Kingdom of Israel, something that was past but they felt needed to be restored before anything else. Instead Jesus gave them a new vision- to share the good news and be his witnesses, not just in their immediate locality- the familiar capital city of Jerusalem but to Samaria and the ends of the earth. I asked them to think about how the ends of the earth to them could be this new estate only a couple of miles down the road and how they could engage with the challenge and opportunity for mission this throws up. My prayer for you today is that you would allow God’s Holy Spirit to lead you with spiritual serendipity into the unfamiliar and equip you to be able to respond to extending something of God’s love and grace to those you find there. You may be pleasantly surprised what you discover about yourself and the gifts God has given you on this journey by being open to take on the unfamiliar.
In the opening chapter of Acts the resurrected Jesus tells his followers not to leave Jerusalem but to wait there for the promises of the father- The Holy Spirit. The disciples are excited at the prospect of the restoration of the Kingdom to Israel- they still don’t get it! Only a few verses later Christ tells them to be his witnesses on Jerusalem, all Judea, and Samaria and the ends of the earth and then he disappears! As my friend George Lings would say, the message may have reached the ends of the earth but the church has set up a number of mini-Jerusalems. How many Christians effectively reach out beyond church walls other than through blitz events like Hope and Soul in the City and specific ministries like Street Pastors?
Some would say that the church is obsessed with Jerusalem and making it look better, bigger, slicker and brighter- when the real need is to set up camp in Samaria or even venture to the ends of the earth. As a church we tend to focus on people who are like us- Churched- those comfortable to be our people. What about the de-churched on the fringes of Samaria who are at least 3 times bigger than we are and many of whom don’t like who we are? What about the non-churched where we could come into contact we a group amongst the under 45s who are 6 times greater than that age profile in our churches? There is some excellent news and stories around the Back to Church Sunday initiative for which we should praise God, but we can’t ignore the facts that around 40% of the populations have had some experience of church yet have not returned- was it really their fault. My friend George suggests that the complex DNA have the church has dominant Anglican genes called worship and pastoral care and that evangelism and mission genes are recessive. For a national church, the Church of England, the number of people who appear to be deeply alienated from us is disturbing. It’s time to leave Jerusalem.
In today’s Church Times Peter Graystone, who works for Church Army developing pioneering evangelism projects, writes about the Business Committee of General Synod cutting an entire day of debates at its next meeting. Peter says that; “the true cost of this decision is the loss of the reports that would have filled this summer’s group of sessions with hope and inspiration. In particular….. the absence of the report…. painstakingly to mark the fifth anniversary of the occasion when Synod debated and commended Mission Shaped Church: church planting and fresh expressions of church in a changing context. Ironically, that report challenged the entire Church, including General Synod, to make mission initiatives to the non-churched a priority – the very thing that has not happened in its exclusion from next month’s agenda.”
Peter adds, “The saddest aspect of this decision is that the narrative of five years of pioneering mission is one of hope and encouragement. Synod members will now not hear of the parts of the Church of England where, as a direct result of the principles advocated by Mission Shaped Church, the Kingdom of God is growing in ways that are beautiful and life-enhancing.”
Too often we moan and wring our hands about the decline of our churches and yet, on this occasion, those responsible responsible for organising the business of the Anglican Churches’ policy making body have missed an opportunity to hear stories of hope and encouragement. I know I’m an unfinished Christian but this really does sound like unfinished business- why can’t the Business Committee make space for General Synod to hear great news, God knows they need to?
Yesterday I heard the well-known evangelist J John address an annual consultation from the Group for Evangelism in London on the theme ‘For God’s sake say something!’. Around 70 people responsible for co-ordinating evangelism and mission across a variety of Christian denominations gathered for a discussion on the subject of proclamation evangelism- has it had its day or does it still have a role? J John may not be everyone’s cup of tea, but with great humility and purpose his keynote address provided a real challenge for the audience. He talked about a letter he had sent to 1,500 church asking them if they provided any sort of training programme to their congregation in how to share faith. Out of the 1,017 replies only 36 said they had something in place. Isn’t that just the problem with sharing our faith- it’s always somebody else’s responsibility. J John has developed a programme called Breaking News to help equip churches with some techniques and guidance on how to share faith: but is training without prayer or a real heart enough?
Jesus said the gospel is based around two prinicples: loving God and loving our neighbour. So how many of us care enough to pray by name for our neighbours ?(in fact how many of us really know our neighbours well enough to tell them that we are doing so?). J John went on to explain how his family are known locally as the ‘neighbours from heaven’ who care enough to help put and infirm neighbours to bed each night; to put out the bins of their elderly neighbours who can’t manage it, and to visit the dying son of a woman in the street who isn’t a Christian. They are ready to respond to need where it is because that’s what Jesus would do- even when they feel inadequate for the task.
I am becoming more convinced that praying, loving, caring and sharing is the best mission strategy we can have. This is how we can live out the gospel; this is how we can make a difference ,and this is how we can introduce Jesus- the saviour who loves- because that is what we’re meant to do. We don’t need a branded week/month of action to do this and then go away- hit and run mission has little legacy. We need to build it into our service for our neighbourhood day-in-day out and pray without ceasing. We then have the credibility to talk about the one in whose name we do this and people start to listen when they see what this love has caused us to do. Could there be a better calling card?
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I first met Rob Bell a couple of years ago when he visited the UK and premiered this film Breathe-it was the first time I’d ever seen a Nooma film. It was called breath and it blew me away with its proposition that the name of God could be the sound of breathing. I just loved the way Rob unpacked the paradox at the heart of what it means to be human- “all come from the dust and then die and return to the dust.” I thought about this film today when I reflected about how quickly I get frustrated and angry and forget about being breathed into with the divine breath of our mighty creator God- a sacred divine dirt clod. Is there anything right now that you need to breathe out or breathe in?
You can get a glimpse of this from the You Tube video below. I hope you enjoy it. As Rob says, may you come to see that God is here, right now, with us all the time and that the ground that you are standing on is holy and that as you slow down may you become aware that you live, move and breathe in God.
Filed under bible, Christianity, evangelism, faith, faith Christianity, Hope, mission, religion, Rob Bell, theology, unfinished
Today a guy called Peter Andrews told me about a great idea for sharing faith called hot potatoes. Peter hosts a regular event at a local pub where he provides a free baked potato meal to punters who call then decide from a menu of ‘hot potato’ issues which they’d like him to talk about. All the issues on the menu such as debt, relationships, love, honesty provide Peter with the opportunity of introducing a Christian perspective to the issue. He says people go away with full tums and nourished souls. Now I wonder if the local Harvester could add this to their early bird menu?
Filed under bible, Christianity, Evangelical, evangelism, faith, faith Christianity, Hope, Jesus, mission, Prayer, religion