A Reflection by Andrew Page
More than one person has said to me that if the church in Aotearoa New Zealand is to reach our community, we need to learn missiological lessons from those we send overseas. I am an ex-Tranzsend overseas worker, ex-Tranzsend Team Leader and now a pastor-in-waiting. Reflecting on 18-plus years serving within global missions, I wonder what the me of last week would want to say to the me in three weeks’ time!
I suspect he would say something like this:
1. It is God’s mission, not yours!
You will never win your community to Christ.
But God can.
So, your job is to understand what the Spirit is doing in your community, join that work, and rely on God’s power. This means that the regular visits to the local café are definitely okay! But I suspect it also means you will need to spend much more time in prayer, and yes, maybe even fasting, than you are probably used to.
2. Are you Saul, or are you Paul?
I grew up believing that Saul’s change of name to Paul represented his new faith as a follower of Jesus. I heard a pastor say that quite recently on a podcast. But Acts does not make the shift from Saul to Paul at his conversion in Damascus. The name change happens in Paphos at the opening of Paul’s missionary work. Both Saul and Paul were followers of Jesus, the difference was in the context they were reaching. In Saul/Paul’s words, he became a Jew to the Jews, and a Greek to the Greeks, so that by all possible means he might save some (1 Cor 9:20-22).
George Wieland recently challenged me to imagine myself standing in front of the congregation of Belmont Baptist, and ask myself “What is my job?” He then challenged me to ask the same question standing at the door of the church, looking out on the street, and then to ask it a third time as I sat in the town, far enough away from the church that I could not even see it. Try it – you will see that the same question leads to different answers depending on the context. I am not suggesting that your answer to the first question is wrong – but am saying that if you and Belmont Baptist try to reach out to your community based on your answer to the first question… well, it was not Saul who reached the Hellenistic world.
3. Your understanding of mission is too small!
I know you want your church to grow. God probably wants that too. But God’s concern is not just for individuals, it is also for communities and ultimately for all of creation. The missio Dei is a big, wide, generous, transformational work of recreation of all of creation, not the narrow task of saving individual souls. This means that if all you are doing is evangelism and discipleship, you are missing so much of what God is calling the church to be. The world needs to see God’s love, it needs the gospel to transform social structures, it needs to understand God’s care for the groaning creation – and we, Christ’s Bride, are called to this big mission.
4. Your understanding of mission is too big!
Saint Francis never said, “Preach the gospel at all times; when necessary, use words.” In fact, he was a prolific preacher. Throughout the scriptures we see God working through the spoken Word, and Jesus and the apostles preaching about the Kingdom of God.
Remember that night, back in your university days, when you were walking into town with 20 bucks in your pocket to buy a CD? You passed that old lady going through the bins, looking for something to recycle, and God changed your plans! Remember how frightened she looked as this long-haired, trench coat-wearing metalhead loomed out of the Hamilton fog and shoved the money into her hand? But you were even more scared, weren’t you? You were too scared to tell her the money was from God. Instead you mumbled, “This is for you,” and dashed off into the darkness. It was a nice act of charity, Andrew, but it was not mission.
Do lead your congregation into a big understanding of mission. But as you do that, always tell the story of who you represent and how he is the ultimate hope for individuals, communities and all of creation. If you are not sharing the good news of Jesus, you are not doing mission!
Anyway, I think that is some of what the old me would say to the coming me. But, really, what does he know?