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.
“To obey is better than sacrifice, and to heed is better than the fat of rams.” 1 Samuel 15:22
After 10 years of working in the civil service, as I was watching a James Dobson film, God gave me a strong desire to be a teacher. I had no A levels, never mind a degree, and a wife and young family to support so it seemed a crazy idea. However, when God speaks into your heart it is simply a question of whether you will obey or not. I did obey that call and became a Primary school teacher and then was involved in Initial Teacher Education for 16 years.
“As for me, my life has already been poured out as an offering to God. The time of my death is near. I have fought the good fight, I have finished the race, and I have remained faithful.” 2 Timothy 4:6-7
Do Paul’s words inspire you with a vision for your life? Are they a source of motivation? Or do they fill you with a sense of inadequacy, or maybe even guilt?
If I’m honest, over the years I’ve experienced all of these feelings as I’ve contemplated Paul’s no-holds-barred faithfulness. Could I EVER live a life like that? What would it look like for me to be faithful for a lifetime?
This is a complaint that I hear regularly from people who are professionally involved in promoting world mission. The accusation is levelled against individual churches, groups of churches and sometimes as a blanket condemnation of the church as a whole. For what it’s worth, I beg to differ. It’s not that everything in the garden is rosy, it isn’t. However, I’ve never met an evangelical church leader who had no interest in world mission and who didn’t wish that his church was doing more in this area. However, I have met a number of church leaders who resent what they see as pressure – bullying even – by mission agencies to be involved in their area of mission.
A recent visit to the Wilson Carlile Centre in Sheffield, home of the Church Army, prompted me to find out more about this remarkable evangelist. A successful Victorian businessman who suffered a breakdown following financial ruin, he turned to Christ and, heavily influenced by D L Moody, discovered a passion for evangelism.
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.)
It was a joy earlier this year for me (Ben) to be commissioned by my church into the ministry of Mission through Business. The local church has the authority and precedent to do this (eg Acts 13), and it was very significant for us as a family to have the church standing as a commitment to pray, encourage and hold us accountable as we move forwards.
In the run-up, the church took time to understand me and the ministry, testing the purposes against the Lord’s will. This went through various cycles, with the leaders, the deaconate and the membership all involved. The process will differ at each church, but one of the key tests remains the same:
What do we look for in a worker sent by the church?
In the next couple of posts, I will be returning to a theme that I’ve touched on before and will undoubtedly touch on again; the partnership between churches and mission agencies. To let you know where I am going, the basic thesis of these two posts is that the way that mission agencies are set up makes it difficult for them to partner seriously with churches in their home countries. I’ll touch on a different aspect of this in each of the posts.
However, before going too far, I’d like to make a couple of statements.
- I know that many agencies have some good partnerships with churches in the UK.
- I believe that for the most part, mission agencies and their leaders take the role of the church and partnership with churches seriously.
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.
It’s the question many would love a clear answer on.
“How do I know it’s the will of God? How can I become better at discerning His desires and purposes?”
I’ve been reading Mueller’s autobiography recently, reflecting on his dependence on God and desire for God’s glory in everything. There’s a little section in there that’s worth sharing – how to ascertain the will of God.