A Passion for Mission

Yesterday afternoon I joined a few hundred church and mission leaders at All Souls in central London for Global Connections, Passion for Mission conference.

There were two key elements to this year’s event. The afternoon session hinged on the theme: God’s Mission in a Time of Transition. What is the role of the UK in mission today in a world that has changed so much and continues to change? Before an evening session where we celebrated the contribution of outgoing director Martin Lee and welcomed incoming director, Anna Bishop.

The following write-up is compiled from my sometimes sketchy notes.

Martin Lee opened the conference by emphasising that the UK still has a vital role to play in world mission, but that role is, today, very different from what it has been in the past. He reminded mission leaders that they needed to listen to other voices, including the voices from the margins.

We then had three short presentations from leaders representing different parts of the world. Peter Rowan of OMF, who is from the west; Louisa Evans of All Nations Christian College, who is Malaysian; and Israel Oluwole Olofinjana of Woolwich Central Baptist Church, who is Nigerian.

Peter Rowan – OMF International

Imperatives for missional connectiveness

Peter began by reflecting on the imperative of listening. Dietrich Bonhoeffer put it like this, ‘The first service that one owes to others in the fellowship consists in listening to them.’ So, the first service we owe to mission is to listen to others.

Revelation opens with prophetic messages – the instruction at the end of each message is to all the churches, ‘Whoever has ears let them hear what the Spirit says to the churches’. No single church/mission organisation has a monopoly on the Spirit or the word.

We should make sure that we don’t concentrate so much on what we are doing that we miss what God is doing in the world. We need to listen to voices on the margins. Those places where we used to serve are where God is at work.

The deep spiritual sickness afflicting the rich north might actually be healed when the voices from the other world are heard and understood – David W Smith.

The imperative of unity

‘Jesus calls the church to missional effectiveness by working for unity’ – Ross Hastings

Reconciliation is at the heart of the Gospel – see Ephesians. So what are the social implications of the Gospel of reconciliation? What does this mean for our evangelism and our mission?

Paul wrote to the Romans, wanting to involve those congregations in his mission to Spain. They had to cooperate with each other before they could cooperate with Paul on his mission. They had to love Christians beyond one small circle.

Our churches need to address our attitudes to each other, and our patronising attitudes to the churches in the majority world.

Seeking to maintain Gospel integrity and the unity of the church are not mutually exclusive goals.

The imperative of radical acts of service

Sometimes it takes a radical act for people to start listening to each other.

On July 1st 1997. Hong Kong was returned to Chinese sovereignty. In contrast to the pomp and ceremony, the pastors of six congregations held a foot washing service at St Andrews church.

‘Rev. John Aldis, senior pastor of St. Andrew’s Anglican Church – the largest English-speaking congregation in Hong Kong – wept as he read a statement of repentance to Chinese pastor Jonathan Chan. Speaking as a representative of Britain to the Hong Kong Chinese people, Aldis asked for forgiven ess for “our injustice, our pride and our isolation.”’ – Read the full story on OMF’s website

Followers of Jesus are called to take courageous steps to embody the gospel. This needs to start with mission leaders, between churches and between agencies. Are there missional connections of a peacemaking kind that need to begin, even here, today?

Louisa Evans – All Nations

In an Asian culture, there is…

A holistic view of Christianity

This applies to the whole family – Family orientation in the global south means that once saved, the saved person will not stop praying for the family. Acts 16:31

The whole nation

The whole person

The spirit man – we live in a context where spiritual encounters are commonplace. Yet some of Louisa’s most common spiritual encounters were in London. The devil is alive and well in the UK but few Christians in the UK believe in the work of him and know what to do.

Suffering

Louisa had to go to church secretly for two years because of parents (non-religious Buddhists). When she did tell them she had become a Christian she only went to church when they allowed her to.

The freedom to worship is not appreciated here in the UK.

One M man’s father tried to kill him in his sleep. In Malaysia, Allah is claimed for Muslims only. Christians cannot read the Bible in their own language because of this.

One Christian pastor was kidnapped in broad daylight – and the police said that they had no information about what happened.

What should be our response?

We need to pray – but our assumption is that persecution is out there and not here. Can we continue to assume that?

The opposition that we see is a reminder that this world is not our home and suffering for our faith is a reminder that we live in the end times.

She also reflected on the fact that often, when we pray for persecuted Christians, we pray for ‘them’. Shouldn’t we think about the language we use when we pray for our brothers and sisters?

Friendship as a way forward

Friendship in mission is the only way forward. It’s true that Global South Christians were looked down upon. But now, some global south Christians have built up their own superiority.

We need to acknowledge our mutual need of each other.

Move from a posture of learning from to learning with. This is only possible if we are friends, so we need to ask how can we build true cross-cultural friendships.

We need to be intentional in the building of cross-cultural friendships.

Frequently, coffee breaks and meal tables at Christian events in the UK are segregated. To build cross-cultural friendships we need to do the uncomfortable thing of reaching out to those who are different to us, this that are from different cultures. Not just nationalities, but those of different statuses.

  • As I have loved you, so you must love one another. By this, all will know that you are my disciples if you love one another. – John 13:35

Israel Oluwole Olofinjana – Woolwich Central Baptist Church

Learning from the Global South, he would prefer the term ‘Majority world’.

We need to learn from people in other continents, but we can also learn from those that have come to the UK. And this doesn’t mean that people from the global south have it sorted.

Building bridges and tunnels in our relationship

Relationship is very, very important. We have to be intentional in our networking. Who are your closest friends? Are they people like you?

We need to build both bridges and tunnels. Bridges are obvious, tunnels aren’t. The tunnels are the times behind the scenes. Can we eat together? Can we sit and relax together? It is when we relax together that we work things out. Our friendships should not be reduced to activities.

Turning our ideas into reality

There’s been talk about the centre of gravity of Christianity having shifted, this talk can remain as lip service. How has that informed and shaped our practices? How does it inform and shape how we do things?

Be intentional in our organisations to reflect the Global Church

We need to look at how our structures can change to reflect the reality.

Having one or two people from the global south in our structures is good, but we shouldn’t stop there.

We also need to read books by global south practitioners. We need to listen to their ideas.

Martin Lee – Global Connections

The world is a different place – even our maps were down by people from the north and west.

The old power blocks are changing. We are seeing the rise of nationalism and the rise of religious fanaticism.

The global church is still in a time of transition. Europe and North America is no longer the place of power.

If you are Pentecostal – you are probably young, female, poor and from either Africa, Asia or South America, and you are the real face of world Christianity today.

We look at our falling church attendance and see churches that have abandoned global mission, and usually operate from a come and see point-of-view.

There is a vital role for global mission in the UK church – it’s just a different role to what it used to be. God hasn’t asked us to abandon his call. The issue is that it needs to be different.

What could it look like:

Even in a globalised world there are many places where Christ is not known or not heard

There are a large number of Christians in Asia compared to 100 years ago, but as a percentage of population it is very small at just 8%

There are still vast numbers of people in the Middle East, Asia and Central Asia who have not heard of Christ. There aren’t Christians in Saudi because you are killed.

Yet 85% of Christian mission is aimed at other Christians. We are still trying to sustain the growth of churches in Africa, Asia and South America. Many Hindus and Buddhists still don’t know a Christian.

What abmiddle-classlass Buddhists in Japan? It’s still difficult to raise support for those working in business communities.

In an urbanised world people are everywhere, and we need to be going and telling them.

Places where Christ is not known

There are more people alive today that do not know of Christ or who have ever met a Christian. We cannot ignore this and something needs to change

Is ensuring we serve the hard places a key part of the UK Church’s strategy?

How can we genuinely partner with the church in the global south?

‘We need to tackle our inherent national pride. We need to shift that we need more from the global south.’

‘British Christians prayed for revival and when it came they did not recognise it because it was black.’

It’s hard for a westerner – we are used to power and money. Our response is that we’ve got all the resource. So maybe we try to assimilate others into our structures. And that makes us look like we are doing well. Yet it’s often the structures that get in the way of us reaching the hard to reach places.

‘Much of the Muslim world is hostile to Christian witness; the forms of mission that we have been used to for generations won’t work in Saudi Arabia or Kuwait – we need creative approaches to have access in these situations.

Not only that, but much of the Muslim world is hostile to people from Western countries; let’s face it, we’ve not done much to win their friendship over the last few decades. However, the church is no longer mainly Western; perhaps it is a generation of Chinese, Philippine, African and Latin believers who will take the Gospel to the Muslim world.

Lastly in the heightened antagonistic atmosphere of the early 21 century, witnessing to Jesus in the Muslim world can be a dangerous enterprise. People have died taking the Gospel into the Muslim world and in all likelihood it will cost the lives of many more believers before we see large numbers of Muslims coming to Christ. We need a generation of Christians who believe in something bigger than their own lives, who are willing to live and work in hostile situations, perhaps seeing very little tangible fruit for their work and who are willing ultimately to lay down their lives. In a risk averse, litigious society it is hard to find people and organisations willing to put lives on the line in this way, but it must be done.’ – kouya.net

Global south missionaries are not using our structures and systems but they are taking the gospel with them. They tend to come from less affluent countries and understand poverty and suffering, and don’t come from a background of global dominance.

So how do we partner with them?

Mutual respect and collaboration

We need to be flexible and bent out of shape. There’s no magic formula for partnership.

What place does the western church and mission movements have as part of the new worldwide church?

Can the church engage in the mission of God in new ways?

‘Together we can be a new community – 100 places learning from each other, with no one single centre or single type of mission activity’ – Andrew Walls

What does a learning relationship look like?

God is interested in character as we transition leadership

It comes down to our character and how god has changed us.

In the majority world we often see more prayer, depth in relationships, etc. Yes, there are issues even here. The church in the global south is sinful, just as we are in the west.

However, there’s a huge contrast in the spiritual poverty of the churches in the west to those in the majority world.  The western church could be described as ‘one inch wide and not even an inch deep’.

Where’s the power of god in my life and my dependency on him?

The UK church needs to have more commitment to prayer. a discovery of a deeper spirituality. We can learn much of this from global south churches. Prayer and fasting is a normal part of a church congregation.

We need a dose of radical discipleship and service ourselves. We need to learn.

Integrity

Whatever we do, God is ultimately interested in the character of us. Integrity is key. Whatever plans, strategies, meetings… God is interested in our integrity and faithfulness.

John the Baptist ‘I must decrease that he may increase’

Nothing is more important than God’s mission.

As the power base in the church transitions, the west no longer has power, only influence. Let’s influence through character, not misuse of power.

Can the UK church become a christlike in it’s attitudes, thinking or others more than ourselves.

Day of prayer for the media

I have a print photograph from the same place as the digital image accompanying this post. It’s from the Newseum in Washington DC, where there’s a memorial to journalists who have been killed in the process of doing their job. My photo is from 17 or 18 years ago. There were a lot of names on the memorial then, but the thing that struck me was that there was also a lot of blank space. They expected journalists to continue dying in the course of doing their work.

This Sunday, the Media Net are asking Christians to pray for all those who work in the media. Not just journalists, but all those in the media; the sound guys, photographers, writers, producers… Honestly, I can’t think of a time when this is more needed.

We maybe don’t realise how significantly the media influences our culture. It shapes the way we see the world, not just in the stories that hit the headlines, but in the choice of storylines in EastEnders or through the images that fill the advertising space at the bus stop.

And yet, for years Christians were encouraged to avoid media jobs because, ‘they require you to work on Sunday’, or, ‘because your morals will be eroded away’. At least, those were the reasons I remember being given for why I shouldn’t pursue a media career. I think we are now seeing the result of this advice – take the Christian influence out of a community and see where it ends up.

Only our media aren’t going anywhere. TV, radio, magazines and adverts shape our culture and we need to encourage and support the Christians working in this environment to shine like a city on a hill.

But, the day of prayer for the media isn’t just about the Christians. We need to be praying for others in the industry to strive for truth and wisdom in the stories they are involved in telling.

So, what do you pray and who can you pray for?

The Media Net website has a page full of good ideas. You can also sign up to join in the Thunderclap on the 28th May.

Personally, I’m going to Tweet some people that I have contact with in the media and ask them what I can pray for them. Some are Christians, others aren’t, but it’s not bad to ask.

If you need more inspiration, the following audio clip is Hazel Southam on the Signal podcast. She’s a Christian and a journalist who works for a host of outlets. In this, she explains why this prayer is important for her. Hazel worked with me five years ago when we were involved in Biblefresh.

The video below is from the Media Net. Why not share it now on social media or use it in your service on Sunday when you encourage others to pray.

Header image by Ross Catrow from Richmond – James V. Walker, CC BY-SA 2.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=36930260

Preaching on John 9: The testimony of a man born blind

I spoke on John 9 last night at Haddenham Baptist Church. It’s a wonderful passage, that comes at the end of the Feast of Tabernacles where the Jews would remember their time in the wilderness, living in tents while waiting for their more permanent home.

The things that I found most striking about this passage were:

Jesus isn’t the main character

After a pretty intense couple of chapters, set during the second half of the Feast, where Jesus talks about who he is, we arrive at the healing of a man who had been born blind. Jesus makes mud and puts it on his eyes and then sends him off to wash in the Pool of Siloam. That’s about it from Jesus until the end of the chapter when he comes to find the man he’d healed so that he can know who Jesus really is.

The rest of the chapter is the man’s testimony, first to his neighbours and then to the Pharisees about what had happened to him.

Fake news isn’t new

Anyone who thinks that fake news is a social media phenomenon needs to think again. This passage is littered with groups trying to put their own spin on the man’s story to suit their worldview.

18 The Jewish leaders still refused to believe the man had been blind and could now see, so they called in his parents.

They already had the testimony of the people to say that this was the man who was once blind, and the statement of the man himself.

24 So for the second time they called in the man who had been blind and told him, “God should get the glory for this, because we know this man Jesus is a sinner.”

The Pharisees had made their mind up as to who Jesus was, despite evidence to the contrary.

29 We know God spoke to Moses, but we don’t even know where this man comes from.”

This is a complete lie. In the previous chapters, the Pharisees had already commented on the fact that Jesus had come from Galilee.

In clinging to their own world view, the Pharisees can’t see the truth of the evidence put before them.

Seeing clearly

It’s interesting that the first time the blind man gets to see Jesus is at the end of the passage. He would have set off to the pool in the opening verses without having seen Jesus and by the time he came back Jesus was gone.

So the main bulk of his testimony was based on the understanding that being healed in this way could only be done by someone good with power over creation.

Then in the last few verses, he meets Jesus, and understanding fully worships him.

All that evidence

There’s a sting in this story for the Pharisees.

41 “If you were blind, you wouldn’t be guilty,” Jesus replied. “But you remain guilty because you claim you can see.

All the evidence the Pharisees have. Not just in what they have seen over the last few days, but all the knowledge they have in knowing the Scriptures, means that they should really be able to interpret what’s going on and who Jesus is – but all that knowledge seems to mean nothing.

There’s a caution for us in there too. Do we misinterpret evidence because of our own ideas and biases? Do we avoid asking questions because we are afraid of the answers we may get (or just ignore the answers anyway)?

Twitter connections

Last week I was hanging out in London, meeting with mission leaders who face challenges in how to communicate about their work and using Twitter to pass comment on the local skyline.

My observations lead to the following conversation…

I was genuinely interested in visiting The Globe Church, having stumbled upon their website a few months back. I was curious to see what a church plant, close to the centre of London, was like. They’ve only been around for a year or so.

I wasn’t disappointed. The evening meeting was busy with a crowd of what looked like, young professional people from across the city. There was food, good conversation, and I was given a few minutes to share something about Bible translation, which was kind of them considering I was just a random visitor.

The most exciting thing, for me, aside from seeing a young church plant in action, were the conversations we had around the table. Praying for the places where people work and the small office Christian gatherings that were happening and for one person to have the opportunity to talk to her colleague about her faith, as they were both away from home on a training week. Honestly, the missional zeal for what was going on in the city was energising and I loved it.

Thanks, people of The Globe Church, that was a great evening.