Wednesday, September 17, 2014

Finding renewed confidence

Here's a second random observation from our recent trip to Sri Lanka. I was there partly at the invitation of the Lanka Bible College. So a week of our three week stay was devoted to teaching a course on New Testament social history. I've done this three times before - to different sets of students.

This year I had nine men and women working their way through a masters programme in divinity. It's difficult to gauge what level these students are at compared with students doing a masters course in the UK. My guess is that they are at an equivalent level of second year undergraduate (level 5 I think).

But these guys, after a slow start, proved to be a lively and conversational bunch who by the middle of the week were beginning to make connections between what we were studying and their various ministries in Sri Lanka. We had a number of really good conversations about how we live the good news of Jesus in a way that makes it accessible to others.

The second weekend we were there I was leading a seminar for baptist leaders - lay and ordained. Again, we had a good conversation about how churches needed to be organised to more effectively engage in mission.

Churches on the island still tend to be very hierarchical and ministry is seen as a way of gaining status in a culture where status and honour are still key drivers for people. However, in the course of conversations both in college and at the seminar, I detected what I felt was the stirring of a willingness to explore new ways of being church and new approaches to engaged in mission. I took this to be a moving of the Spirit.

One church talked of using English lessons for Tamils living nearby as a way of making community with those beyond church; another spoke of running a programme for those struggling with drug and alcohol addictions. Both were thinking missionally about their context and church life. I've not found this kind of thinking from Baptist church leaders before and it was encouraging. Churches are exploring how they can use their resources (like the building pictured) to engage more creatively in the mission of making Jesus known in sometimes difficult circumstances.

There is a recognition that the church and culture are growing further apart - something that is all too prevalent in the UK - and of the need to leave the comfort of buildings and well-worn programmes to do something new. It is not easy being a Christian in Sri Lanka - especially outside the capital. But opposition is leading to a renewed confidence in the gospel and desire to share it with others.

I came away from my eight days feeling stirred and encouraged. That is not always how I feel when I reach the hotel for my chill out time. Of course, when you find renewed confidence in others, it stirs in you - and that's great. God is good.

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