Saturday, February 14, 2015

from “they” to “we” in mission

This week I was asked to present some thoughts on a missiology of placements. Placements are the process by which the Uniting Church works with minister and congregations.

In preparation, I found myself reflecting on the Biblical narrative in Acts 16:6-10. It is the story of the gospel crossing cultures, taking root in Roman cultures. It becomes the story of the first church planted in Greece by Paul. Philippi is located on a boundary between two provinces. “This narrative is an important one for Luke because it shows the mission’s encounter with the Roman world.” (Witherington, The Acts of the Apostles : A Socio-Rhetorical Commentary, 499), Philippi is “Rome in a microcosm.” (Witherington, The Acts of the Apostles : A Socio-Rhetorical Commentary, 488).

A feature of the narrative is the way that the initiating action comes not from the missionaries, but from the local community. The call comes from a dream from the man from Macedonia (16:9) to come on over. In other words, the call begins in mission. At Philippi, Lydia is already praying by the river bank and Paul joins this already praying community. Lydia opens her home, and thus provides space, both physical and and social, for this new community. In terms of my topic – a missiology of placement – it is a reminder that placements of ministers begin in mission, initiated by the call of community.

Re-reading the Biblical text, I was struck by a further thought. The text has a fascinating change in language, from “they” to “we.” Paul and Timothy are “they” in 16:6, 7, 8. They are seeking direction, they are struggling to discern a way forward, they hear the call from the man from Macedonia.

And then in 16:10, 11, 12 and ongoing, we are leaving for Macedonia, we are sailing, we are church planting in Philippi. The usual explanation is that the writer of Acts, Luke, has joined the team and thus the language changes from they to we.

But I wonder if there’s more going on than simple grammar. I wonder if there’s something about the nature of mission, especially mission that crosses cultures. The invitation is to move from them and us, to interdependent we partnership.

This will become a feature of Paul’s ministry. Paul works tirelessly with these newly planted churches to express partnership and inter-connectedness (the famine collection in 2 Corinthians, a prime example). In other words, placements begin with mission Dei, and work towards we toward partnerships and interdependence.

This works against two traditional approaches to pioneer planting. The first, that the church is unable, because of Christendom and geographic parish mentalities, to respond to the mission call. Second, that this misison call is for solo operators, for new forms of church that separate themselves from what has gone before.

But the Acts 16 story, suggests that instead, the mission is always calling and that pioneers are always working toward the we. Thus a missiology of placements today will work toward ways to discern calls from outside the church, and the build expressions that are interdependent partnerships. These include relationships, supervision, wider church combined celebrations – that flows both wides.

Such is the “they” to “we” in mission placements.

Posted by steve at 12:03 PM

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