Reflecting on a reflective consultation

The consultations that we run as an Alliance can be frustrating to some. Those people who like to leave gatherings with a list of things to implement can be disappointed. The purpose of these events is not to set the objectives of individual organisations, but to listen to God and one another as we seek to define a larger context for ourselves.

I’m not sure it’s a perfect analogy, but I keep turning to sporting metaphors. Imagine players and a coach turning up for a game of football, only to find no pitch marked out and no idea what kind of game they are supposed to be playing. Through these consultations, we are trying to create some broad objectives and to mark out a rough pitch, before inviting the teams (or the Organisations) to take the broad framework to apply to their context. It may be that a game of American Football breaks out in one place, Soccer in another, and Rugby Football in another, that’s OK as long as the principles are applied and the teams playing have agreed upon what’s happening.

The point is, the Organisations take the broader principles and then ask what it means in their context.

The analogy is messy. I could have talked about us making up the rules, but rules aren’t what a consultation is about. Rules are another level of detail that comes further on.

As I said, some people struggle with these kinds of events, they like a nice defined list of objectives, but I love them. It’s the opportunity to really dig into an issue and hear perspectives from all parts of the world. Just to give you an example, at this last consultation, there were representatives from, Switzerland, Romania, Brazil, Hong Kong, Norway, Canada, US, Kenya, Cameroon, New Zealand, France, Slovakia, Singapore and Colombia. 

Some personal notes

As much as I loved the consultation, this was the toughest trip I’ve made yet. Sophie, my youngest daughter had been ill for a while, but it got worse just as I left. She had a visit to the hospital on my second night away and is now being treated for a chest infection. I don’t like being a flight away from home when my kids are ill.

On the second day, I picked up an eye infection. The middle morning of the consultation I spent at the doctor’s surgery getting treated. By the morning of the final day the infection was clearing up, only for that evening the second eye beginning to show the same symptoms.

Having said all that, it was wonderful to be prayed for by so many friends and supporters and to know the peace that God gives when things are beyond your control.

Mission and the church

When God called his followers to tell others about the good news that Jesus is for this world, he didn’t create global mission agencies, instead, he called his church to the task. Mission agencies, like the Wycliffe Global Alliance that I work for, haven’t replaced the church in this role (or at least we shouldn’t have), but we have found that at this point in history, for some tasks (like Bible translation) agencies such as the Alliance appear to be the most effective way of achieving some things.

However, the call to the church hasn’t disappeared or been replaced by the agencies. So, we as an Alliance face a challenge, to consider how we work as an expression of the church’s missional calling.

What does that look like isn’t an easy question to answer. While the Church is global, there are many different churches. Some international, some local, with a variety of structures and a variety of attitudes to mission all mixed in. Should we be listening to all of them? How? What happens when they disagree?

This week I’m in Germany taking part in a Consultation on Ecclesiology – a conversation about the place of the church in the way the Alliance works. I hope we will get into some of these questions and begin to think about the kind of attitudes we should have to the church and consider how we should be making space for the church to speak into the Bible translation movements.

If that sounds a bit dry and technical, maybe I’ll be able to write more later in the week that illustrates what this is all about.