Friday, May 20, 2011

Sharing the story with our neighbours

 As promised, here's my church magazine musings on uke 10. I haven't edited it, so you'll have to forgive the one or details that are specific to my situtation. Just read it as contextual theology!

At the church meeting in early May, the leaders gave some details of what they’d talked about at their awayday in March. Part of our focus then was on how the church needed to look for new ways to engage in mission.

We did not return from Southend with a blueprint for the future (churches should always be sceptical of leaders with blueprints!). But we did come back pretty convinced that we needed to look for ways to give opportunities for groups to form that are committed sharing the good news of Jesus with people who don’t and won’t come to church as we currently do it.

Looking at Luke 10 recently on Sunday morning, I suggested that Luke was telling us something profound about our mission. Clearly Luke told this story – a very specific one about a detail of Jesus’ journey south from Galilee to Jerusalem – because it offered an insight for his original audience – mainly small Gentile churches scattered across the Roman empire – into how they should approach mission.

A summary of the story is that mission is simply about living our lives where our neighbours live theirs. Simple though this summary is, it has profound implications for the way we organise ourselves as a church. It seems to me that there are six key things we need to learn from Luke 10:1-11 (a fuller version of this is posted on the church website along with the recording of the sermon on which it’s based).

1) pray: all our living starts in prayer. We are who we are because we pray; we discover our identity in God through praying on our own and with others. Here in verse 2, Jesus tells his followers to see the problem they faced – that the harvest is ready, but there are few workers to bring it in – and to pray. They can do nothing to solve this problem unless they pray. Likewise, we will not discern the way forward as a church unless we pray. All effective mission begins in prayer. But we also need to remember that as we pray, God will almost certainly invite us to be the answer to that prayer.

2) go: Jesus sends us to share story we live by with those who do not know it. People no longer come to church because they simply have no idea what church is for. So Jesus gives his followers two instructions as he sends them to their neighbours. The first is that we need to travel light. For us this means that we shouldn’t see mission as being about programmes and strategies. Jesus invites us to ‘leave all that at door, go empty handed and see what I’m already doing in your neighbourhood.’ It was the way he himself did mission as he tells us in John 5:17.

Secondly, he says that we should accept hospitality from our neighbours. Of course, in our society this is not always easy and often we will create spaces and occasions where we can interact with our neighbours. But the important principle here is that we need to let our neighbours set the agenda for this and not us. We often want to tell people information they are not seeking and answer questions they’re not asking – and hence we don’t connect with them.

3) eat: real connection between people happens at the dinner table: people open up to each other’s stories in the shared conviviality of sharing a meal. In this regard, all meals are a bit like communion.

4) work: why does Jesus tell these missionaries that ‘ a worker is worth is worth their hire?’ (v7b). It’s not to make a case for paid ministry but merely to recognise that in the culture in which Luke is writing, when people stayed with other people, they mucked in with the household tasks.

This suggests something really important about our mission: we will work alongside people who don’t share our view of life in order to create public good. We do this in the workplace with our work colleagues; we also do it in joint projects that seek to address a social need; and we’ll do it in organising events that bring neighbours together round a BBQ or street party or a gardening project that enables the able bodied to help those less able to look after their gardens because of age or infirmity.

5) stay: (v7): mission is not really about doing events, one-offs. Rather, it’s about going and staying, about making relationships over the long haul, sharing the ups and downs of our neighbours’ lives, being there with and for them. In short, mission is about being the Kingdom of God in the streets where we live.

6) share our story: finally mission is about sharing the story of our lives as they have been transformed and shaped by the story of Jesus – but this is the final part of engaging in mission. Mission is not about learning a whole load of techniques – how to answer certain tricky questions, steer the conversation round to the four spiritual laws. Mission is always about relationship: tell me your story, I’ll tell you mine.

Inevitably my story grows from my relationship with Jesus fed by the Word, prayer and fellowship (this is why we gather on Sundays!). And we believe that our story can bring peace and healing to our neighbours, most of whom are not looking for answers to difficult philosophical questions. Most people want to know they’re loved by us and possibly by God; that they are not alone; that their lives can make sense…            

This is why mission is about living our lives where our neighbours live theirs. Doing this could lead to people hearing the story that is making our lives what they are.

1 comment:

Charles said...

Thanks excellent post