Monday, September 29, 2014

the weighted coin: inward

Over the last week, in between speaking of Fresh Words and Deeds to a group of ministers in Jerusalem, I’ve been marking assignments.

They are the consequence of my teaching a week long intensive in Sydney in July, titled Mission, evangelism and apologetics. In being invited to teach, it has provided me with a very lifegiving opportunity to think again about how the local church might be effective in mission.

In preparation, I designed the following assessment.

You are to prepare a set of four Lenten studies on mission for your home church. Each study must engage at least one biblical text and the introduction to World Council of Churches statement re mission and evangelism.

Four reasons. First, I wanted students to show me how their understanding of mission might be grounded in the local church.

Second, most of them will lead churches that offer a discipleship opportunity in Lent. So it would be an assessment likely to be directly useful in ministry.

Third, I wanted to expose the students to the best of contemporary missiology. In 2013, the World Council of Churches agreed to a new statement – Together towards life: mission and evangelism in changing landscapes. It is the first statement produced by the WCC since 1982. In the last thirty two years, a lot has changes in the world, and a lot of fresh thinking on mission has emerged.

Fourth, reading the statement, I was surprised with how radical, challenging, theologically and Biblical it was. It is affirming of fresh expressions and surprisingly forthright regarding verbal proclamation of faith. For example regarding fresh expressions ;

“Today’s changed world calls for local congregations to take new initiatives. For example, in the secularizing global north, new forms of contextual mission, such as “new monasticism”, “emerging church”, and “fresh expressions”, have re-defined and re-vitalized churches. (72)

And regarding evangelism:

Evangelism”, while not excluding the different dimensions of mission, focuses on explicit and intentional articulation of the gospel, including “the invitation to personal conversion to a new life in Christ and to discipleship (85).

Overall the assignments were of a pleasing quality. All located four Bible texts and engaged them from a missional perspective. All identified a clear local context and all worked constructively with the WCC document. A pleasing number offered multi-sensory approaches, including film clips, indigenous cultural references, community walks and grounding stories.

One of the students made a comment that fascinating me, and tied in directly with an interactive session I did in Jerusalem. They commented that they had always seen Lent as set aside to look inward. So could they do something in Lent that invited people to look outward.

It was for me a reminder of the current imagination of the church in general, the gravitational pull of Sunday services and gathered worship. It feels to me like the church has a weighted coin. Everytime we toss it up, it lands “inward.”

Mission and worship are two sides of the same coin, but we need proactive strategies and courageous intentionality to restore a pendulum balance. Hopefully, assignments like this – Lenten studies on mission are – a step in a more missional direction.

Posted by steve at 05:30 AM

1 Comment

  1. Hi Steve, thanks for this. I have been thinking a bit on the coin image, as it has been helping me in framing a new service. Both my old and my new congregations all seem to be really keen on harvest festivals. The old tradition was to bring harvest and homemade items into the church, where they are donated and then auctioned off, complete with a big morning tea/lunch.

    I had two issues for this. One was that these congregations are not all farmers (or gardeners or cooks), so I made the move to ask some people in my old congregations to bring a symbol of the gifts God has given them to serve the world. The second is the handing of the gifts to the church, which was obviously not possible when the paramedics in the congregation brought in their emergency bags and posed the question as to why we are taking the blessings God has given for our members to serve the world and appropriated them for the service of the church.

    So, now we have a service with symbols of gifts are brought in, God is thanked for them, they are blessed and sent out into the world. While cakes and the like may get appropriated for morning teas etc., I have also encouraged people to think about a neighbour who may appreciate a considerate gift.

    To get back to your original image, I envision this as a missional analogue to the commissioning service (for gifts offered within the life of the church), the other side of the coin. So, now we also have Lent, I wonder what other services need a missional analogue.

    Comment by David Ferguson — September 29, 2014 @ 6:15 am

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