Opportunity in adversity

The lockdown period has been different for everyone. Even different for the same person on different days. How easy it is to know that the gospel should give us perspective in all of this. Yet how hard to bear that in mind when our world collapses in on itself and we feel stuck in a rut.

Some days I’ve felt capable to try new things, to imaginatively create new patterns of life and to grow in godliness. Other days one is satisfied if a half-day of work has been done and one is able to fall asleep trusting a sovereign God, looking forward to better days!

But there are opportunities to look outwards and upwards, that may help us as well as grieving what we have lost. The road ahead could be hard for churches – social distancing will make things hard, and even when we have social distancing, it still appears we may not be able to have congregational singing for a while, if our recommendations are anything like other nations. The volume of air projected out of us when singing is bound to be different to when we’re sitting quietly apart from each other. For those longing to get back to congregational singing, this will be a painful realisation.

Rarely have I been moved more than being up in the Scottish islands, listening to the songs of the Bible being sung by young and old alike – a truly moving experience.

But its been encouraging to hear of one church in Italy who are seeing opportunity in this adversity. An adversity, I must add, that is not unique to this season for the worldwide Church – many settings will not be able to belt out Christian anthems together, due to fear of being reported by Police (secret or otherwise).

Rather than campaign for us to be allowed our rights far quicker (which may be questionable health-wise), or having people focus on the vacuum that is left by not singing (or for that matter, disobeying potential guidelines and singing anyway), this church have decided to do something positive:

Learn a new language

What?! How is that replacing singing? And why on earth would one expect a whole congregation to learn a new language? Isn’t that a bit unrealistic?

Well, a church near Turin have decided that they can sing congregationally, if they use sign language! Perhaps “learning a new language” is a bit of an over-statement. I’m guessing it’s learning some basic words from a simple song or two, or perhaps a chorus that can be repeated. And before anyone tells us that they could never do that, let me suggest that we learn plenty of similarly big things as whole churches, without batting an eyelid. What a humbling thing that brings parent, child and single person onto an even footing as we learn things together – in fact, I would fancy the chances of the young ones being far better at this than we are! What joy!

Irish Sign Language

Here’s 3 other ways I think they’re on to something!

  1. We can raise awareness of some of the neediest communities in the world for the gospel. You see, although the Church is gradually awakening to the great needs of the gospel amongst Unengaged People Groups and God’s heart for the outsider – the least reached – the population of said groups is growing fast enough that it’s a hard task to ever make a dent into the numbers. And then in most of those people groups, one has subsets like deaf peoples, who sometimes (depending on culture) are dis-connected from the dominating culture of those around them (given they don’t share a common language). It means many like the Joshua Project, count them as separate peoples.

But what are the chances of them being reached? Well even if the main predominant culture within that demographic is eventually reached with the gospel (which we’re still far behind on), the chance of a small sub-section of that community (one that tends to be quite insular, for obvious reasons) being reached, in this different language, is hard to imagine in many places. So many of the deaf communities fall high up on the least reached lists. They may not be the most strategic numerically, but then again, when was Christ’s Kingdom ever primarily shaped by reaching the most people, as quick as possible? King Jesus has a very different outlook on life, which by many of our models, seems weak, ill-advised and utterly frustrating.

  1. What a great way to engage or to make ourselves aware of the deaf communities on our own doorstep too. Who are they? Where do they meet? Do any churches in the local area provide sign language interpretation or assistance? One small church in Carrigaline, County Cork has been giving their devotionals on Facebook with an intrepretation too (they’re uniquely equipped to do so, but have shaped lots of life round being able to serve the deaf community as well).
  1. In learning some basic words about the gospel in another language, you’ll often find yourself thinking afresh about the meaning of it, and how best to communicate such. Could we be brought to marvel at the gospel again, by being children and struggling to learn some basics in another language like this? For those that wouldn’t be keen on this taking place in service, I suggest we teach other new forms of language and communication to people already, in our services, and expect them to pick it up and learn. Taking it slowly shouldn’t disrupt the tone of the service.

But wherever you are, and whatever your congregation may be able to manage or not manage, can I encourage us to look outwards and upwards, and to perhaps in doing so, start to see opportunity, amidst the adversity and loss.

In the meantime, let’s not forget what we lose: it is massive.

May this international collective warm our hearts as we reflect:

PS: Thanks Kim for flying the Irish flag in Sydney!

Are Unreached People Groups Biblical?

It was the “Introduction to Mission” module at a local Bible College, and I was lecturing there for the first time. A bit out of my depth, in a room full of people who had far more experience of mission than I did, I sometimes (rightly or wrongly) resorted to my favourite topics, tangents or strong points, to fall back on familiar territory.

Nearing the end of day 2, I went off briefly on one of those excursions into a short bit about “Unreached People Groups” as I’ve written about here before. As I turned back round to the class, I noticed a blank face or two and a voice spoke up:

“But where is that in the Bible, Sir?”

And it was at this point, I admitted that indeed the exact definition and outworkings of Unreached People Groups, as defined by the Joshua Project, International Mission Board (of the Southern Baptists) or other major organisations, are not in the Bible. That’s why this was only a passing mention in a far fuller Biblical course. Something I hold lightly to, though perhaps for the number of times I mention it, you wouldn’t think so!

Yes, we’d seen aplenty that God’s heart was for all nations, right from Genesis onwards. Even as we read prophecies about the coming of the Lord Jesus, around Christmas, many of them have this “all nations” scope.

“His greatness will reach to the ends of the earth”

Micah 5:4
(speaking of what the eternal God would do, being born in “little” Bethlehem)

“My eyes have seen your salvation, which you have prepared in the sight of all people – a light for revelation to the Gentiles…” 

Luke 2:30-32
(Simeon realises the significance of this birth is far more than just for his own people)

And we could go on…(instead, why not get your hands on Chris Wright’s “Mission and the People of God” or Chester’s “Mission Matters”?)

But despite these constant mentions of the nations or all peoples, it still doesn’t help us define what that looks like. And that’s where this article on The Gospel Coalition (and this one too) strikes back at current tendencies in missiology.

And what the authors mention is certainly true. Three things struck me from 10 years taking trips to more unreached, unengaged parts of the world:

  1. The “Unengaged” world (as defined here) has comparatively few resources (it used to be around 1% of all evangelical mission giving), and few seem to care enough to shape their church mission policies and individual lives, to sacrificially prioritise these peoples. There are great needs that brought about the wave of thinking about “unreached people groups”, that still exist. Let’s not shy away from this area, thinking it is the “sexy” topic of the time.
  2. We cannot zap Jesus back by completing the great commission, as soon as the last tribe hears the last word of our good news presentation in their language. Mission is about far more than gospel presentations, Discipleship (Seeker) Bible Studies or responses. The great commission speaks of teaching people to obey all that Christ has commanded, and the New Testament develops the idea of God’s people – now, the Church.
  3. If we do not take a stronger emphasis on what the Bible emphasizes in discipleship (that discipleship is messy and growing Godly character is never quick), in local church (that a meeting of 3 people looking at the scriptures is not necessarily a church), in evangelism (that pragmatics of hunting “people of peace” and other such strategies cannot define us), then we will not have healthy churches that will survive long-term. We may have exciting stories of dozens of “church” plants. But we may simply be inoculating the culture against Christianity (by making them think they’re Christian), rather than seeing genuine conversion.

So let’s not take our foot off the gas/pedal. There are great needs. But may we steep ourselves first and foremost in the scriptures, to know what to grasp as first importance, and what human principles may be useful but not essential. May we tie our seminaries to our mission-fields and see that it is Godly, equipped people we are sending to plant sustainable, indigenous churches.

Facing a task unfinished: the road ahead

[We come to the final summary post in our series on travelling to Unreached/Unengaged peoples.  We’ve already looked at 5 practical reasons why I think many unengaged peoples remain unengaged.  Number one was largely informative.  Numbers two, three and four were all problems that I haven’t found discussed in many missiological circles.  And number five was a reflection on my own heart and the equal dangers of that.  Finally today we come to the underlying cause of all of them.]


What is it that makes the traveller, travel?

What is it that captures our hearts and makes us lust after more, even though we know we’ll never have our fill?

Something selective in our memory that has us day-dreaming about the ecstasy that has gone before, and forgetting all the dull moments that came with it along the way?

Something able to put aside all the problems of the world, and any connection to any other part of reality, and lose ourselves in the freedom of jumping from the mundane and messy realities, through the picture-perfect travel brochure scene that was lying on our kitchen table, into a Narnia-like fantasy, without loss to anything upon our return.

Desire!

But how then does this ever end?  Surely, with so much to explore, and so little at stake, we’d be forever adventurers together?

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At what moment does the thirty-something-year-old wake up and think “I don’t want to explore those far flung paradise shores” or “A day at the office seems like a wonderful idea” or even more incredibly “oh, how I would love to have some screaming, pooping little creatures running round my legs, creating havoc, while I try to make breakfast for them, wash their messy clothes, change their nappies and get ready for work all at once“!

But for most, it seems to happen.  Our desire to feel at home and connected somewhere eventually wins over.

Perhaps those moments where the loneliness of travel finally gives us its final blow.  The moment we really need someone by our side, and we turn round in one of the world’s most stunning places, to find no-one there to share it with.

Maybe those times when family or friends are suffering or growing old back home and we’ve missed special moments with them.

Or just the lack of connectedness.  You have friends and people you’ve met travelling in every corner of the globe, can speak into soo many cultures and languages to a small degree.  And yet ultimately, those friends who are there for you every day to laugh until you cry and enjoy wine into the small hours of the morning?

Even moreso when you suffer.  The real test of friendship.  The places where older, wiser heads who have suffered before us, can be phoned at 3am and just sit with us in silence.

They’re back in places where the WiFi automatically connects when you walk into their home.  It needn’t be “home” in one geographical place like in the old days, but still somewhere where your shoulders fall an inch as you relax with the familiar sights, sounds and smells of it, and where google maps can be firmly kept in your pocket.

Home.

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But the trouble is that neither travel or feeling at home will ultimately leave you happy.  They will both eat you, if ordered alone as your main course.

And the fires of desire in your heart won’t be put out by preaching a guilty message at yourself either. “I ought to really grow up and take some responsibility in life”.  Somehow your heart doesn’t quite buy it.  It sounds, well, unappetising and ugly.  Like pouring cold water on the embering beach fire when the warmth of the sun has already set.  It leaves you shivering, and exposed.

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Combined with the mundane, messy realities of home life, you come in a full circle, and wonder why you stopped travelling at all?  Was I insane?

And it’s why the opposite of desire isn’t responsibility.  And the answer to unreached peoples isn’t “to care more” or tell me over and over again to “stop making it your idol”.  Desire isn’t crushed primarily by cold commands, regardless of whether I agree with them or not.  We found that out with Odysseus not so long ago.

Surely what I need is contentment, regardless of whether I travel or not.  Contentment, whether I am going to unreached people groups personally or not.  Somehow feed me contentment from when I wake up, til when I go to sleep, and desire will not consume me.

But what then of ambition – crushed by this new joy of being content?  Won’t that give us tame lives that care nothing for travel?  If I was content to start with, I wouldn’t have left my front door!  It seems just as bad as responsibility, if not worse, as it seeks to trample on my desire, not just to take my energy away to other things!

Well, yes.  So let me clarify.  There is a contentment that will work, but it’s quite unique and fanciful.  If it were true, it would be quite the fairytale.

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A contentment because one realises that this world is an undeserved gift to us.  The fact you were born (most likely) in the first world.  The fact you were born into an area or class which gave you a chance to travel.  The fact that health and life gave you freedom to roam this planet.  The fact that none of this was your right.

A contentment also because you realise you have everything life has to offer.  The Maker of the universe calls you to come and live with Him, united with Him forever.  Free!  And you’ve said yes.  And you’ve realised that no matter what happens on this earth, no matter what He calls you to do, or where He calls you to go, you’re content.  Because ultimately you’ve got Him.  What good is having the gift, if you don’t know the giver?  How much better must the giver be to give such good gifts?  If the infinitely chaotic oceans rhythmically pounding on the golden beach shores satisfy us for weeks on end – how much more their maker?  If the diversity of such a funny species as humans are, baffles you and causes you to wonder – how much more our diverse yet united God?

A contentment ultimately because, although truly satisfied in Him, He gives us gifts connected to His very fabric.  A perfect New Heavens and a New Earth to enjoy one day, should we trust His (reliable) words and history’s patterns which have been building towards it.  A beautiful earthiness to explore, not just some harps on clouds in the sky.  A place where we’ll be forever content, yet always growing in perfection.

Content.

How does this not remove my desire?  Well it gives me perspective.  It gives me reason to enjoy His creation, yet reminds me there’s better to come.  It gives me desire to travel to unreached people groups but contentedness that it’s not the be all and end all of life.

It gives context to desire without stamping it out.

It allows the embers of the fire to be fanned into flame more on the beach, but not to ravage as a bushfire, harming all around.

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It lets us enjoy travel, and weep at Unreached People Groups for what they are: gifts that our Good Father allows us to partake of, with Him.  It fans into flame our love for both and increases our right desires about them.

It’s a fairytale that if true, speaks both to our minds and our hearts.  It warms them from our very core.  And it’s beautiful!  The fairytale with a very real “happily ever after” ending.  The reason why all other fairytales dreamed and echoed it.  Like shadows of the flame, flickering on the beach.  They’re there to show us that a real flame exists.

“because of the tender mercy of our God,
    by which the rising sun will come to us from heaven
79 to shine on those living in darkness
    and in the shadow of death,
to guide our feet into the path of peace.’”

(Luke eyewitness account of Jesus’ life, chapter one)

Warmth!  Contentment at last!  Christ!

Abandoning my first love…

[This is part 5 of a 5 part series on seeing God’s glory across the nations.]

“I’m ready to go to Somalia, whether that means death or anything that God has for me”

They were bold words from a young person, in their late twenties, sold on following Jesus.  Here was a person we’d dreamed of finding.  Someone who valued everything else as rubbish, for the sake of knowing Him and making Him known.  Someone who would care nothing for finding their ideal spouse, living in comfort, or travelling the world compared with the joys of being united to Jesus, sharing in His glory, and following Him.  Someone who’d been shaping their life around heading to unreached peoples, for years.

Not many young people reach such convictions at such an age.  And so here we were.

A tear welled up in my eye, as I turned to chat to their church leader.  They, as a church, had affirmed her calling and were willing to send her.  But first they suggested with all that she was to face in future, that she would need to be equipped theologically, or else she would struggle to survive long term out there.

“We recommend 2 years in Bible college before you go.”

The words hit like lead balloons.

Tears formed in her eyes.  She couldn’t do that, could she?  2 more years of cold ivory tower learning, while passing thousands in Somalia died every day and headed to a lost eternity.  Did these church leaders not care?  Do they not understand her heart for these people now?  I won’t be ruined by not having yet more theological study, she thought.  And so she refused, thinking that they’d see her logic with a bit more explanation.  But they didn’t budge:

“I’m afraid if you’re not willing to go with us on this one, we’d struggle to send you to Somalia.  Perhaps it’s best if we wait a few more years”

And so she stormed out, in a rage.

 

And so often my heart has done the same.  Weeping uncontrollably at passers by in the University of Nottingham, as they went to lectures.  Struggling to do what God had set in front of me first, and to honour Him in that.  Wanting to be the quick fix solution to a problem that I couldn’t ever solve by myself.  To some extents, a Messiah Complex.

It’s the trouble when Unengaged People Groups become our first love.  It’s a minor problem of great sites like Called Together which match people by calling.  What happens when God says dying to self looks different?  What happens when your church leaders and all those wiser than us think differently?  What happens when circumstance ruins the dream?

I’ve been in sad situations in Morocco where God has allowed a death of a husband (and father of four) to ruin someone’s Unengaged People dream.  I’ve been in others where longterm, life-debilitating illness has taken the dream from others.  And I’ve been in places where people’s church leaders have simply said “no, we don’t feel you are right to be sent.  Please stay at home and serve God here”.

It’s a common problem with us evangelists – we can slip into thinking it’s godly to sacrifice [insert thing] on the altar of mission.  Family.  Friends.  Church.  But disaster after disaster has unfolded.  Broken marriages, hurt families, kids rejecting all faith, individualism.  I’ve been in the sad place where even once, my non-Christian friends have noticed what I was doing and warned me.  “Peter, you’re obsessed.  If you want us to consider all this stuff, stop running around trying to know hundreds of people”.

You see, despite the fact that the people who go to the unengaged world are few and far between, God’s glory will not be shared with another.  His plans are bigger than ever needing any individual, much as he dearly loves every one of us.

And so my prayer for my own life, and for yours, is that we love Jesus, and let everything else click into place.  Simple I know.  But so very difficult.  May we never glory in Jesus’ words about unreached peoples, more than we glory in Him.

Otherwise you may as well be travelling the world for your own pleasures.

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“Some want to live within sound of church or chapel bell. I want to run a rescue shop, within a yard of hell”

[This is part 4 of a 5 part series on seeing God’s glory across the nations.]

“Some want to live within sound of church or chapel bell. I want to run a rescue shop, within a yard of hell”

These are the famous words of CT Studd, England cricketer, and missionary from Cambridge University off to China and then to Africa, pioneering mission in unreached and unengaged places.

These words have inspired thousands to live recklessly for Jesus’ sake, refusing the comfort of where there are many Christians, for the wilds of pioneering life, going where Christ is not know.

But sadly in the individualistic world we live in, quotations and mistakenly applying thinking like this, have also inspired one of the main reasons why unengaged peoples remain unengaged.

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Mulling over the nations from the hill by Loch Hyne (July ’17)

Because people love to distinguish between church (the building or the people) and us as those who go to unreached peoples.  In this quotation, many will be fed up with church (the people) and use it to justify lone-wolf evangelism, with an organisation that knows more about their mission or understands better their heart.  Instead, rightly reading Studd, would give us a heart to go (as the church) beyond our walls (of a building) to those who don’t have the gospel.

And so the world of mission can quite often be divided:

CHURCH (local) vs: MISSION ORGANISATION

The advantages of church based sending:

  • This is God’s means of working in the world (His wise means Eph. 3)
  • They should know us best (if not, why not?)
  • Churches plant churches (who else has Jesus given authority to?)
  • Others, who maybe don’t have your heart for mission, are brought with you in your journey, the more you keep them on board
  • They are better equipped to partner in encouraging and disciplining us
  • They would send unified teams theologically

The advantages of mission organisations:

  • They have vastly more experience and expertise in particular cultures/settings
  • They have a wider connection base to many round the world, that enables teams to form quickly, without waiting for small church groupings to send people
  • They are often there on the ground, far closer to the action that sending churches
  • They form teams which allow for great diversity and learning, yet keep the main thing, the main thing

And so often the local church will adopt an agency to partner with, to get the best of both worlds as churches are planted.  So far, so good.  What’s the problem?

Well the problem comes on the field.

If you’ve gone solely with a denominational church mission (eg. Mission to the World, a reformed and confessional organisation, I believe):

  • how that “unity” in theology works out in practice is rarely easy!  In fact, sometimes it’s harder to work out, because you come in with expectations that you all are on the same page!
  • it is hard enough getting anyone for the unengaged world, never mind those who are theologically on the same page as you and willing/able to go to the same setting.
  • there are so few Christians around that what will be your response be to other ex-pat Christians in that area?  Often such teams turn inward-looking and are a bizarre witness to new believers, who don’t see why you don’t live out a practical unity beyond reformed and confessional walls
  • How quickly do you really expect your new believers (from no background or prior knowledge of the scriptures at all) to be signing the confession, believing what you do about baptism, or seeing why such things are any way important at all?  I suggest you’ll be three generations before that is likely.  Do you have succession plans on church leadership, so you can pass on to like-minded people after you have to leave?  If not, why are you bothering to take a stand on it primarily?
  • Similar to the above point, how can you ensure that, in many settings where to see anyone professing faith is incredible, that you don’t prioritise secondary issues?
  • it takes great patience to keep your home denomination on board and decisions take far longer

If you’ve gone largely with a mission organisation team having authority on the field (eg: Pioneers):

  • who are your Biblical “elders” who you’re submitting to?  The mission team?  Your sending church?  Your international (overground) church elders locally?
  • If local people, how are you connecting and submitting to your sending church and seeing them grow in this partnership?  If sending church, how are you making decisions locally for things that can’t wait til the sending church understands the situation?
  • what are you going to do about secondary issues within your team?  Much as folk like to say they’re not important, you have to practice something!  Holding unresolved tensions can so often kill a team dynamic and make like hard.
  • what are you going to do about secondary issues among those who come to faith in the culture around you?  Leaving it to new local believers to decide for the future of that church, will always be a disaster, much as it’s a nice ideal!  You’ll need to lead by exampling something to them before they come to decisions themselves.

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Many will think that sitting on our own shores to answer such deep questions will never suffice.  The answers must come from an experience of the pressures of the cross-cultural settings.

And added problems have arisen in virtually every mission organisation recently, as they dictate theologically the direction of missions:

  • if your seminary and church denomination aren’t shaping the theologically mission direction of your team, then who is and who are they accountable to?
  • what are the procedures for not being led astray by pragmatism on the field, which so often result in experimental mission that teaches falsehood (by example) to thousands?
  • how can you close the gap between the “ivory towers” of seminaries and the evangelists on the field?
  • how can you hold such a high view of ecclesiology that you avoid breeding lone-wolf evangelist pr theologians who care little for the church at large and bringing the church with them (or being corrected by the church)?

I’ve already written of one such major problem on the field, that has supposedly led to thousands of “churches” being planted in rapid multiplication.  Yet, few of these “churches” have anything but a group of people who are starting to respond to Jesus’ words, like any evangelistic setting has.  To call them “churches” and essentially say there’s revival happening, is a big call to make.

And I could describe far more practices in other settings too.  Several missionaries in another major mission organisation have recently decided to leave the field because their organisation had asked them to speak to [x] number of people a day about Jesus or be fired.  Such pragmatism and unbiblical requirements end up making a mockery out of sound Biblical teaching, even when the motive is good.  And they in turn will teach the next generation of believer in that place, the same thing.

Down the line, you’ll not only have a warped church scene in many places, but you’ll have a bunch of disillusioned missionaries, feeling they need to work miracle-numbers in order to meet modern trends.  You’ll also have a bunch of disillusioned supporters of world mission, who were being enthralled by these latest methodologies until the lid was lifted and they see the reality beneath it.

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It’s easy to present a picture of dramatic things that says all is well.  (Picture: Inchydoney Beach, West Cork, July ’17)

Don’t get me wrong, new ways to contextualise are needed, and great things have been happening, including in some communities that have been pioneering some of these more controversial “techniques”.  But let us think longterm of the Church, before we usher in the next pragmatic program for church growth, at home or abroad.

May the gap between our sending churches and seminaries, and the mission field be an increasingly small one.  For the sake of unengaged peoples.

 

Good, better, best.

[This is part 3 of a 5 part series on seeing God’s glory across the nations.  Please bear with me on this one, as it’s thoughts in process – feedback welcome!]

Choice is paralysis.

They told me we were a fortunate generation to have the world as our oyster.  They told me we should be grateful for being able to re-train and learn any occupation in a few years and do what we love.  They told me that we’d be able to travel the world and find others with similar interests and passions.  They told me we’d be able to spend our lifetime exploring the rich diversity of personalities, cultures, countries and languages on this earth.  But they didn’t tell me this.

Choice is paralysis.

And I find myself part of a generation who have so much at their fingertips, we have nothing.  Because we can’t decide what we want.

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The green fields and castles of Munster, on a summer day in Ireland (copyright me)

We come back from our travels, and we’re so taken by dreaming of the next one, that we struggle to fit in.  And the freedom and exhilaration of new things, new cultures and new people, gnaw away at us when we’re back to brass tacks, sitting at the office desk, wondering when we can next escape.  Perhaps we’re in the wrong job?  Should we change again?  But the last one felt like chains too…and I thought this one was more “me”.  And so I’m left wondering whether the next pay cheque really needs to go on car insurance, or whether we can abandon the car in a bid to travel the road even further.

So many places.  So many experiences.  So much on the bucket list.  So little time.

Choice can be paralysing!

And for the Christian it often is no different.  Just because we have the Holy Spirit, doesn’t mean that life becomes easy or that the golden path is suddenly there.  The Bible doesn’t promise a soul-mate.  The Bible doesn’t promise to outline what country you should live in.  The Bible doesn’t even give a ranking list of professions either.  In fact, the Bible doesn’t even promise you an easy ride this side of eternity – far from it!

But what Jesus does do, is to let us know that He is Lord over everything, and that we can serve Him in the vast array of different giftings, cultures and personalities that we all have.  How freeing!

So no need to try and endlessly interpret whether one door is closing or opening.  No need to wait on someone to come along and confirm your life calling.  No need to wait til all the circumstances perfectly line up in your life for something.  No need to mysteriously open your Bible at a verse that matches the numbers on the car number plate that you’re following at the time.  That’s often more superstition than Jesus.

BUT…

There are certain things Jesus would say we should bear in mind: 

 

  1. Things the Church should do/be (eg. The bride of Christ…individuals cannot fulfil this role)
  2. Things individuals should do/be (eg. a part of the body)
  3. Things Christians with certain gifts can do/be (eg. Evangelists or speakers of tongues – neither are for everyone)
  4. Things mostly all Christians can do/be (eg. “be my witnesses” – we’re all called to this)

Infographic blog Mission

My work in progress – sorry to those who don’t think like this!

1+2+3+4: Many things, like putting our hope in God’s Word.

1+2: Sins of omission: Many things where the Church and individuals ought to do something or be something but don’t/aren’t

3 alone (eg: using tongues in private or chatting to lots of lonely people) or

4 alone (eg: wearing a cross at work or being kind to everyone) or

(3+4) : (eg: telling someone they ought to be kinder)

Some gifted people use their gifts outside of formal church context and outside of where they’re called specifically to use their gifts.  Consciously this happens for example, in the business world or anywhere we work.  Unconsciously, this happens ALOT, when people think they’re using gospel gifts, and are actually just acting culturally rather than Biblically.

1+3: eg. Go to unengaged peoples (this is a unique subset of certain gifts which individuals within the Church need to act on)

2+4: eg. Partner to help reach some of the unengaged peoples (this is what everyone else is required to do as individuals, to have God’s heart for unengaged peoples)

Why go to this length with an infographic (that is far from perfect)?

Well, what I think this shows us, is that everyone can sit back as individuals, in a highly individualised church scene, and confidently say that they don’t feel called to unengaged peoples.  And to some extents they may all be able to justify their decision making in highly logical, Biblically good and God glorifying ways.  And no-one would go.  Ever.  And this is what I would argue has happened for centuries of church history (with notable exceptions).

Who would be to blame?

Well, it’s hard to say, isn’t it?

No single individual could be held responsible.

No single church could be expected to guarantee folk to go to the unengaged world.

Even no single denomination necessarily should be held responsible Biblically speaking.

But the Church at large is not doing what it ought to do: making disciples of all nations, baptising them in the name of the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit and teaching them to obey all that Jesus has commanded us.

We’ll look at a collective response to this in due course, and what this means for churches.  But for now let me suggest one thing for us as individual Christians: that we cannot afford to give ourselves the luxury of thinking that others will go and that we are not the ones to go.

When I speak to most people with obvious gifts of evangelism in the church, they don’t think they have such a gift!  Because to acknowledge it would be daunting, and to them, it’s just God’s gracious provision in giving them opportunities to speak a word in season (in their weakness).  It doesn’t seem like it’s for them.

And similarly with going to the unengaged.  Please, please do not wait for an angel from Heaven to tell you to pursue opportunities to see whether you could go.  Jesus has already told the Church to pursue those opportunities.

Perhaps rather, I’d ask you to pray over, and be asking yourself this question:

Why should I not go to the unengaged world?

You’d be surprised like Moses in Exodus chapter 3, with how many reasons God can answer!

  • Feel too weak? Good, God is with you.
  • Feel too sinful? Good, God has a history of using such folk who realise their sin.
  • Feel you need to get married to someone who isn’t willing to ask the same questions? You could marry someone who would keep the possibility real, instead of closing doors unduly.
  • Feel you don’t have the right gifts? I’ve seen virtually every type of person on the field!
  • Feel you’re indispensable to the church at home? Perhaps God can show you, you’re not.
  • Feel like you’ve a great career ahead of you and don’t want to throw it away? Do something career related in your unengaged people, but primarily, weigh up in your heart what Christ is worth.
  • Don’t think you’re an evangelist? Good – teams need all sorts.
  • Don’t want the responsibility of intentionally giving years of your life to working towards the unengaged world? Christ is worth it!

And so I’ll pray this evening that you join me in praying that question, regardless of your age.  There are enough really genuine reasons that will stop you going without adding. any of the above to them!