It was 2006 and we were in full swing with Forge and some experimental church communities, working hard to poke and prod the missional imagination of the church and see if we could ignite some new thinking and practice around the core issue of mission. We had moved beyond simply being antagonists to being a voice worthy of a hearing, albeit a feisty voice. To be fair I’m not sure a tame voice would actually have been heard in an environment dominated by church growth thinking and where the biggest players still had the most credible voices. Now here we are 10 years later and what was once provocative is now mainstream – what was once disturbing is now acceptable.
This blog was born several years earlier when I realised my own identity was formed primarily by the missionary calling. Stepping into the Forge tribe in its early days was like coming home to a long lost family and those were great years as we mused, experimented and reflected on what a church shaped by mission would look like in Australia. A tough reality was that while the missional theory sounded good, the practice still came hard. Both churches and individuals were difficult to change.
Things are the way they are for a reason… (the path of least resistance) and significant change felt like a constant uphill battle.
In 2009 I finished up in any offical capacity with Forge and returned to a local church to lead and implement the things we had been speaking of. As we kicked off at QBC it was with the hope of growing a community of people committed to appropriate contextual expressions of mission and committed to being a church flexible enough to adapt to the environment. It was all the ‘Forge stuff’ that I hoped to get traction with among a local community.
A couple of years of plain hard slog followed while the church imploded and any outward energy got shunted to the backburner in deference to survival techniques. And then when we came out of that ‘ice age’ we were tired and weary, just needing to recoup and catch our breath. The dreams and ideals of the Forge era seemed like a distant memory and while I sometimes spoke about mission it was from a head that knew rather than a heart that was inspired. Raw information rarely moves people into action,with anywhere near the energy that comes from inspired information.
For a few years I felt myself simply rolling with the regular church agenda of doing Sunday church, running the usual programs and hoping that as we focused on simple discipleship people would find their way to a knowledge and experience of God and his church that they were happy to share. Interestingly the ‘results’ have been no more or less inspiring than when we were pushing hard into the missional ideas.
In the last 5 years some people have become Christians, some Christians have ditched discipleship, some folks have moved ahead in faith and some have dropped the ball or stagnated. It sounds like any church anywhere…
So a couple of months back we decided to focus again on the theme of mission and to lift the energy around our missionary practices as a church community. And the questions it raised for me were:
- 10 years on what do I believe and see as core to mission in a local church community?
- What would I see as essential for people to grasp and what am I prepared to let slide?’
- What and who would I encourage people to read?
- Who are we and what are our specific challenges in mission?
- And what would I reasonably hope for as tangible outcomes?
I have more books on the subject of mission than anyone could ever need. I have files and files of stuff that I have produced as well that I can draw on, but the question of what is needed for these people at this time is what I am pondering.
My church would be all but unaware of the missional conversation of the early 2000’s and most wouldn’t care. By and large they’d like to see people come to faith. They’d like the church to grow thru new converts and they’d like to know that what we are doing as a church is making a difference.
That probably sounds like almost any church anywhere – you’d hope… But if I were to consider who we are then we’d need to see:
- A large immigrant contingent with approx 50% of the church having lived in Australia for less than 7 years and most of them either South African or British.
- The larger South African group come from a highly Christian culture which is quite conservative and many are still adapting to the secular mission field that is Australia.
- Busy people often working long hours and many playing ‘financial catch up’.
- Suburban people often commuting and having the ‘dormitory’ experience of their local community
- People open to fresh ideas and experimentation – our church has repeatedly shown itself to be willing to ‘try things’.
- White middle aged and middle class – by and large this describes us so all of the aspirational baggage of middle class living needs to be processed as we consider mission and discipleship.
What I want to do in this series of posts is articulate how I would go about equipping this local church for mission in this local context. I imagine that if you are a church leader then what you may do with your people in your context might be quite different so this is not a ‘how to’ by any means. No doubt there will be common concepts and transferable ideas, but I’m really more allowing you into the machinations of my mind as I try to come to grips with the thought processes and practices that I hope will equip and inspire people to be effective both individually and corporately.
I’m not sure how many posts there will be or how often they will be added, but I imagine they will flow as the ideas flow…