Sunday, 28 June 2009

Just Mission

Tom Butler, Bishop of Southwark, in a little book co-written with his wife Barbara, entitled “Just Mission” (Mowbray, 1993) suggests four keys way in which we can, and should, engage with people. The Butlers first concept is that of presence. We just need to be present. They write: “Jesus had a mission – and the first thing he had to do to carry out his mission was to be here – he had to be in the world before he could change the world – he was born in a particular time in a particular place, and from living this particular life he changed lives at all times, everywhere. Likewise, before we can engage in mission of any sort we must ‘be there’.” Quite so! I think that sometimes we underestimate the simple fact of our presence. We have lived through a time of declining numbers at church in the mainstream denominations in the UK. That, of course, is not the overall picture – which is very different. Of course, there have been some churches telling a different story and it is also important to note that there is finally some evidence that this trend may be bottoming out. But even in our secular society it is amazing to see the extent to which people sometimes turn to the church. As someone once put it: ‘people do like a church to not go to.’ We live in a world that is loaded with information. We can easily be like the little girl who received a book on penguins from her grandmother. Her thank-you letter read: ‘Thank you for sending me the book on penguins. I now know more about penguins than I wish to know.’ Maybe so – but let us recognise the value of our just being there and the recognition others have of what we represent. The second theme needs to take us further and into doing and is, quite simply, a question of action. There are things that we need to get on with, all of us. It is very easy for us to get socialised into particular ways. Sometimes we need to consider whether God is calling us to do something different. There is the Hindu story of the tiger cub brought up with a flock of sheep, so that it grew to behave like a sheep and eat grass. One day a tiger strayed into the flock and the sheep scattered, but the tiger cub was asleep and the tiger caught it, surprised to find that it was a tiger. The tiger cub would not believe it was anything but a sheep, so the tiger took it to a pond and forced it to look at its reflection, challenging it to behave like a tiger and not like a sheep, challenging it to become what it already was. Sometimes we need a similar challenge to appropriate action. The Butlers third theme is that of proclamation. They actually call it witness. We need to tell the good news. We need to speak about God’s love. We need, as someone has said, to gossip the Gospel. If you have got some really good news, you want to share it. That’s natural. I’ve passed my driving test. I’ve passed my exam. A new baby. A new job. Whatever it is – we want to get the news around. It ought not to be any different when it’s a question of how we treat the Gospel which, of course, literally means good news. And then the Butlers’ fourth category is spirituality. It’s prayer. It’s being with God. It’s reading the Bible. It’s finding those inside resources that we need in order to do all the other things. It’s touching the hem of his garment. And maybe that means we need to be open to doing things a bit differently sometimes. A Kenyan Christian wrote to a friend having returned home after a visit to England – and made the comment: ‘The Church in England is very strange. They always start their services on time, even when the Holy Spirit hasn’t arrived!’ Now I am sure we see things differently from what is represented by that comment – but I do suspect there is something important to learn there. So let’s get on with the task that ought to be of our very essence and that we might easily describe as ‘just mission.’ Let’s recognise that just our presence makes a difference. Let’s look to do just those actions, big and small, to which God is calling us for the moment. Let’s just tell the story, in so many different ways. And let’s, first of all, look to God for the spiritual resourcing we need.

Thursday, 25 June 2009

The Church Entrepreneur

I have just finished reading Andrew Mawson's "The Social Entrepreneur" (Atlantic Books, 2008). Lord (as he is now) Mawson has certainly achieved a great deal. I remember being part of a United Reformed Church team visiting Bromley-by-Bow in the relatively early days in the 80s - though even then some of the workshops were up and running and the "tent" had been created in the church. Everyone can't possibly be an Andrew Mawson - and end up with the Olympics on their doorstep - but I see a lot to learn in what he writes. He certainly says a lot of good stuff about church relating to community and I am attracted to the idea of entrepreneurship. If church is going to work, we need to be innovative. We need to relate to our local contexts. We need to engage with the issues that really matter to the local people. Mawson has a way of identifying and using talent that is just sitting there. I think there's a lot to learn.