Last night at our leaders gathering we used part of an excellent new resource from Girls Brigade. Called bridge the gap, it's a DVD and group study resource on how to be missional people. On episode 1 Ruth Gilson, GB's national director, says that GB is about blessing everyone and saving many (or something like that). In other words, GB exists to bless all who come to it whether they find faith in Jesus or not.
This statement jumped out at a number of our leaders. One asked if as a church we would ever do something that was not intended to bless people. And of course, when phrased that way, the answer is obviously 'no.' Sadly, though, we inadvertently or carelessly do all sorts of things that don't bless people.
Churches can be places of petty vindictiveness and long-running feuds between members that render its witness anything but a blessing to those coming in off the street. Such visitors catch a whiff of cordite on the air and twig that they have wondered into a war zone and need to beat a hasty retreat. As Paul says in 2 Corinthians 3, everywhere we go we kick up a stink; the trouble is that sometimes it is anything but the aroma of Christ.
It means that we have to work at being good news on two fronts simultaneously. The first is the obvious one of what we do to reach out and embrace people of all kinds, offer to bless them and bring good into their lives. It's the ministry that Jeremiah urged on the exiles in 29:7: 'seek the shalom (the well-being, peace, wholeness) of the city where I've sent you into exile and pray to the Lord on its behalf, for in its shalom you will find your shalom'. Everything we do should be good news, aiming to bless people regardless of how they respond to us.
The second is less obvious but equally essential: the community we build must be a place of wholeness and acceptance, a place where the barriers between people come down, where there is genuine forgiveness, where past hurts are not allowed to fester or ossify into stumbling blocks to one another. I think this is why Paul spends so much time in his letters talking about our relationships with one another. Time and again I come back to Philippians 2:1-5, 11-18 and see that this is key to being a missional people.
We will not be able to be good news to the world unless we can be good news to and for one another.