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Keeping and extending the conversation: Aka ‘No show Sheffield!’

After I had finished the tour I was chatting to my friend AJ in Bournemouth over a fry up.

I was moaning about my “Sheffield failure” where I was not able in the end to catch up with anyone I had wanted to see,

He something wise (and then something unbelieveable), “I reckon the school of mission is about drawing people into this conversation, most Christians aren’t talking about it (partnering with God in his mission and story), and the fact that you didn’t get to see everyone you wanted means that the conversation didn’t end, it just has a bit of a comma… And, Mase, do you want my mushrooms?”

And although AJ is wrong about mushrooms (the best bit of a fry up) he is right that the worse thing that often happens with our conversation is we think we’re sorted and stop thinking and exploring it. Perhaps he is right, the fact that there are many, many people and projects I want to visit, engage with and learn from means that this journey still remains open, it just means that perhaps we have burrowed a bit deeper bellow the surface?

My mind was transported back to the journey as I drove through Sheffield, the various people I was hoping to see having pulled out the weeks, days and hours before I was due to visit.

As, I thought about the tour, earlier in my tour when I was up on Hanham Mount in Bristol, a Facebook message pinged up inviting me to join some folk in another part of the city which is called “Church without walls” but I had already promised I was going to meet up with some friends who wouldn’t call themselves Christians so did not think I could cut and run on them. Later on my poor administration meant I did not get to catch up with a friend Jonathan Dowman, a great creative pioneer working in Leicester on my travels between Birmingham and Derby, nor did I manage to fit in a youth house party in Rippon.

So, there were plenty of people and places I would still love to visit and see what God is doing with them and their context, stories I would love to have heard, people I would like to have met.

To be fair visiting people and projects in the first week of August always was going to be problematic people have holidays and a multitude of Christian festivals were all in their full summer swing!

The rain began to fall heavily and traffic began to get really slow, I pulled into a service station for a coffee and to ring home. No answer. I was feeling at this point more and more home sick. Sat on my own I began to think about everything.

I suffer with depression, and this was a low slump in my journey, I was tired, I was missing my wife and my daughter -I was questioning the wisdom of such a project that pulled me away from home for a fortnight. I wondered what I had learned on the tour already, was it worth it? Was I simply being self indulgent?

I know when I return everyone is going to ask “what did you learn?” and as you’ve probably read all the thoughts, ideas and experienced can’t be nearly distilled into a simple soundbite to share, rather it is more like taking the missional conversation/thinking a bit deeper.

Being ponderous I wonder whether actually we ever get “answers” in a journey like this?

What we learn is rarely a “simple formula” or “magic bullet” but rather it stems from the outworking of what believe God is saying to us in our context and seeking to be obedient.

Yet there is much worth in hearing other peoples stories, not because we want to ‘nick their ideas’, but in hearing the stories of God at work in his world in mission, not only encourage us but also can expand our minds to the possible, attune our voice to what he may be saying, share the experience (which is too rarely talked about) about being people who seek to partner with God in mission.

In many ways “missional learning” is less like understanding Maths or Science ‘where two plus two equals four’ but rather like understanding art, literature or music -or perhaps understanding in human relationships where our knowledge becomes both broader and deeper but never becomes completely “solved” as working out God and his plans are beyond our comprehension, rather the question is not whether we fully understand what or why God is doing what he is doing but rather whether, even though we don’t understand, we still echo the words of Isaiah “here I am send me!” and the words of Jesus who said “not my will but yours be done!”

Too often we think of Missional learning as a ceriable (head) thing, when it is a relational understand of God and his faithfulness. Being open to what God says to us, listening to the whisper of his spirit, even when he says uncomfortable and challening things, and to keep on listening. Listening is not a ‘one off’ activity but rather a way of life. We are great “finishers”, if we listen to the language of leaning it uses the last tense… “I trained”, “I learned” or “I read”… but learning and listening are on going thing, we are (or ought to be) life long learners and habitual listeners.

Hearing other stories is not to develop our perfect blueprint of error free evangelism but rather to hear testimonies of God’s work through God’s people.

The book of revelation says “they overcame by the blood of the lamb and the word of their testimony” -too often we think of testimony of our salvation story, rather than the on going story of our relationship with God through Christ -a little like telling of our marriages and only talking of our wedding, or our kids and only talking about their birth!

The blood of the Lamb refers to Jesus death on the cross other than the resurrection the most amazing thing ever to happen on this planet, and yet the Bible puts my feeble story in the same sentence, the same breath, as this. Yet, this makes sense, it is our story of on going relationship with the crucified and risen Jesus that links that most momentous day with our time and context. Yet the story of God is one which invites us into participating with God in his story (literally history) which also becomes our story. Yet if we read and engage with this story we realise it is an invitational narrative, others by sharing their story of God become joined in with God’s story for and with them!

people to engage with!

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