So, turning up on Friday night, I had a few people who had said they were coming, admittedly we only wanted a few, but I was still feeling a bit disappointed as it is really hard sometimes to get volunteers for things especially mission stuff, inviting people to talk to people about Jesus shouldn’t feel such hard work, but it is.
Yet most Church mission takes it for granted that Christians are relaxed and confident about gently and normally talking about their faith, run a café and staff it with Christians to talk to the customers, start Street Pastors and go out onto the streets and talk to people…
Yet, in my experience this is rarely actually the case, most Christians feel very uncomfortable talking about their faith, yet this is in some ways understandable as it is rarely taught and nor is it modelled; indeed the feedback from some at the Bristol School of Mission Day was about the desperate need for Missional Mentors, someone to help listen, advise, encourage and support them to grow into mission.
Dave who was teaching us this first session talked about how he wanted a missional Church which encouraged all of the people there to be actively sharing their faith, somewhere where people couldn’t hide away, that grew through evangelism not simply by attractional methods of Christians swapping Churches to the lastest place with the biggest buzz. This reminded me of my original home Church, the original All Souls (Eastbourne) which in my dads time used to talk about “growth through evangelism”, local people finding Christ, something which has been lost in what appears to be a desire for “growth at any cost irrespective of where they have come from”, which creates another danger consumer Christianity which has a list of expectations but doesn’t want to serve in roles that are costly, uncomfortable and sacrificial which mission and outreach often is.
Dave talked of their vision to see “strangers become friends” which chimed with me because at All Souls (Southey Park) our motto was “where strangers become friends and friends meet with Jesus” too often we wont let our walls down enough for strangers to become friends, evangelism at arms -length, and often we feel more awkward talking with our friends or family about Jesus than strangers. Yet here we were up for talking to strangers, getting to know them, maybe meeting them for a coffee or a chat?
One of the visions behind “Bright Idea Church” is for the Church scattered to learn to be effective and fruitful in taking the opportunities to make Jesus known in the normal everyday life of being a Christian, not just on a Church recruitment drive but to genuinely make friends, get to know people and in a normal everyday way talk about our faith naturally and approachably.
Sadly only three of us came to the training, which was excellent, Dave had three great questions to ask people as a bit of a ‘tressell’ something to help hang a conversation on and help it progress, these were:
“What do you think life is all about and what do you want to achieve?”
“What do you think Jesus was about and what do you think he was trying to achieve?
“If it were possible to know God personally, would you want to know him and why?”
We were offering sweets and the questions were a form of a survey, also we were partnering with a Christian kids dance school (dancing to worship music, but not cheesy stuff) -and they were very inclusive lots of other kids joined in the dancing that afternoon, including some random teenage cheer-leaders!
Faye who was leading this dance school was talking about the different ethos they had which is more about nurturing their souls and their self-expression, rather than the kids becoming ‘really stiff’ trying to get the dance moves right, loosing confidence and esteem, and removing the competitive elements from the dance with no grades etc, making the kids feel like ‘successes and failures’.
I thought about evangelism and thought this probably is applicable, people feel ‘very stiff’ about doing it wrong, feel often like failures and loose their confidence and knocks their esteem.
We had a good afternoon with some long and positive conversations with people, I chatted to a lady who was an atheist from Poland who really softened by the end of the conversation, a guy who was a Christian but had recently lost his wife and asked if I could pray with him, a guy who was a big fan of Francis Bacon and a lovely Christian guy in a wheel chair who I think was quite lonely. Dave and Rachel ended up having a couple of much longer conversations with a couple of guys, and we all gave out a number of invites to Bright Idea Church the next day, one lady came who we had invited a Muslim lady who was someone we thought less likely to come, but she loved her morning and there is a lovely picture of her dancing away loving her time with new friends (made me realise afresh too how lonely it must be being in a new country and people who welcome and love you must feel very special).
Then that evening we had our School of Mission training evening on living missionally, it was really hot and a Saturday night, deep down I had this fear that no-one was going to come. I got to the Church and helped AJ set up the venue, it looked really cool -was so grateful for this Churches blessing-. Despite being a warm evening we still had people come and engage and AJ said “you could ‘live-stream it Mase!’” -I nodded like I was up with the technology and he went ahead and did something with my mobile and people could watch it from elsewhere (135 of them to be exact, not sure what God did with that but pray that this will have ripples of blessing from whoever watched it). I was all stressing, but soon as John Wilson began to lead a bit of worship I chilled out a bit and felt God say “Mase, I got this!” and despite the heat and everything people were engaging and getting into the presence of God and he was doing what we can’t do touching and transforming lives. Hilary came and spoke powerfully about prayer and intersession and about how our everything needs to be birthed in prayer and our relationship with God -If its not birthed in prayer is it birthed in pride? Talking too of “mission being finding out what God is doing and joining in” -yet too often we rush to the joining in end of this spectrum rather than the “seeing and finding out” end which is revealed out of that place of intimacy with the father, she taught of “contemplative activism” -which is actually what we are exploring as Poole New Monastics- but this was truly holding the two intension -too often people talk about contemplation but they never seem to actually engage in the salt and light transformation activism stuff, but this was different this was prayerfulness with ‘dirt under the nails’ prayerfulness that is not retreating from the world, but rather in our prayers drawing closer and deeper into the world and our connectedness to it.
This was followed by John Good speaking who shared about thinking of new ways of living out our faith in our daily lives rather than just reciting faith-statements but rather trying to live out a faith that actually makes a statement that is not all hypothetical head knowledge or endless rhetoric from our mouths, but practically living out our faith as embodied people -the phrase that one of the overseers of the School of Mission Chris Harwood uses a lot faith is about “embodied not espoused” -you are what you do rather than what you say you do -or what you intend to do one day! His final thought was about freedom coming from our closeness to the King, seek first the King and the Kingdom. In the discussion time afterwards AJ and I talked about this idea of being handcuffed to Jesus and how that would take you to different places -where would you go and not go, what would you be doing, which caused something to burn within us.
We worshipped and then spontaneously people began to pray for Bournemouth and for the Church it was beautiful. We ended by talking about wanting to be a catalyst, helping the Church to think seriously about mission -a call to be the grit in the oyster- but also a call to community, how can we do all we can to see God’s Kingdom coming here in our conurbation on earth as it is in heaven, suggested a 4 times a year meeting up.
I also mentioned the forth coming tour, which is feeling scarily close now, and felt God say “the Kingdom often comes in inches not miles” but each step I have discovered not only Gods faithfulness but also his missional heart, longing to partner with his people again and dream with our eyes open of the coming of his Kingdom, dreaming with our eyes open -not asleep- as something is being birthed in reality amongst us and in our nation.