Mission can be a complicated business; I’ve just spent four years researching and writing a thesis discussing some of the complexities. What exactly is the relationship between proclamation and social action? How do you define unreached peoples (and should you be defining them anyway)? What is the best strategy for short-term mission? The questions go on and on. Books are written, sermons are preached and strategy papers are carefully developed then filed away and forgotten.
“And I am sure of this, that he who began a good work in you will bring it to completion at the day of Jesus Christ.” Philippians 1:6
The word incarnate means “to become flesh.” Jesus did this, literally. He laid aside his rights to godliness and took on our fragile human form – living, laughing, loving, bleeding, dying.
In a profound reversal, we the Church also use the term ‘incarnate’ to describe OUR life-long process of growing in Christlikeness. But what does it look like to become like “the Word made flesh?” (John 1:14)
Last week, I was asked to lead a seminar on the subject of humble mission with the following strapline:
Humble mission: what is the role of the European church in Mission? Can we overcome barriers from our
When I was invited to contribute to the GC blog my mind wandered far and wide. What would be interesting? What would be helpful? What would enable people to engage in the mission of God? What are the ‘buzzwords’ of the day? Partnership, diaspora, discipleship, post-christendom. Or, what are the questions I get asked regularly? Does God really have a plan for my life? How can I be sure what God is calling me to? How does faith work? Why is prayer so important? What does mission mean? Who are the unreached? So my mind wandered.
I had the privilege to be at this gathering in London on Tuesday. It had been arranged by Global Connections to discuss Mike Stroope’s important book, Transcending Mission, which I reviewed last year. In God’s providence the author was already planning to be in the UK so Mike was able to attend. (In what follows I beg forgiveness if I misrepresent any of the contributors and will revise it if an error is pointed out.)
Mike gave an introductory paper, telling us a little of his ministry story as well as informing us of the thesis of the book and of the reactions it has received. I was fascinated to hear that he had had a significant part to play in the SBC International Missions Board’s leadership in the 1990s, a story told by Keith Eitel in Paradigm Wars. I had been in Nepal at that time and had seen some of the fruit of the machinations in the organization that Eitel documents. (I asked Mike about it at the end of the day but didn’t have enough time to really interact. Suffice it to say that those events had a significant impact on the development of my missiology so I do hope I can interact further before long.)
A Muslim man joined us recently for our regular communion service at the place where I live and work. Which made me think hurriedly about how to do communion inclusively and build bridges rather than barriers. I could of course simply have said “This is not for you, but you’re welcome to observe”, as indeed you might, but as part of a community that is trying hard to get along well with our ‘cousins’, I knew this wasn’t how we would want to treat a visitor. So I improvised.
This post is probably the most straightforward one in this series.
If you are trying to reach people from other religions with the gospel, it’s a good idea to learn from people who already have extensive experience in the field. Why go ahead and make lots of mistakes, when you can learn from the mistakes and experience of others?
During our time living among the Kouya, I was regularly called on to preach in church – people didn’t really think that Bible translation kept me busy enough. It became obvious, pretty quickly, that the way I’d learned to preach in the UK wasn’t going to cut the mustard in rural Ivory Coast. The logical three-point (alliterated) sermon gave way to a more narrative form and I soon realised that I needed to be far more overt in talking about the spiritual realm – bush spirits, witchcraft etc., than I would have been in the UK (more of this in a later post).
Christian mission often finds itself up against ‘world religions’. We have been told, since year dot (when we were toddlers), that there is a set of eleven or so ‘world religions’, of which Christianity is one. Those who told us this, didn’t seem to have any qualms about its truth.
When we believe the above, we see mission as doing our bit for Christianity, against other ‘world religions’. When we look in the bookshops, we find lots of books on the shelves telling us about those other religions. We think that is helpful, because if we can understand them better, that should help us to convince them that Christianity is ‘better’. At the same time we wonder – if there are so many world religions; then how can we be sure that ‘ours’ is the best?
I have often been struck, that in Africa we do not have a ‘supernatural’. That is, African people, Christians included, refer to things ‘supernatural’ in the same way as they do to things ‘natural’. (While the term ‘supernatural’ is used in some African Englishes, it does not mean ‘supernatural’. It is used like a euphemism for ‘God’, or ‘amazing’.)