We are at an interesting point in our journey where we wait to see what develops and where we head next. We are hopeful that good things will emerge from the current difficult situation, but whatever happens our own sense of calling hasn’t shifted one bit.
Both Danelle and I still feel deeply called to be missionaries to the western world and to lead other people on this journey also – to explore what it means to be the people of God in this place at this time and to be faithful to that.
A few friends have asked me why we would even consider re-enaging with an established church and try to help them on the missionary journey. And they would say that our recent experience at Quinns ought to serve as sufficient warning not to go back there.
Hmmm… Maybe I’m a masochist, but I don’t find myself deterred by people resisting what we are about, opposing or even getting downright ugly about it. Perhaps its just part of my nature, but the convictions that guide us are deep, so we aren’t about to be knocked off kilter by a handful of people who see things differently.
One of the things I have learnt thru our journey with Upstream is that most people are not all that adventurous. The majority of people are willing to be stretched (to varying degrees) but to jump right out of their comfort zones into something totally unfamiliar is more than they can manage – and if kids are involved then its considered a much bigger ‘risk’. After 7 years of leading our missionary team we discovered that we had shrunk in size and our inability to recruit new members was our major hurdle.
Interestingly none of those who moved on from our team did so because they disbelieved in what we were doing or had conflict with other team members. It was other external and unexpected factors that forced them to leave, but we have not been able to easily replace them and hence I have been doing some re-thinking of our approach.
I have said a number of times that on a scale of 1-10, if normal established church life is ‘1’ then we probably ‘jumped’ out to around an ‘8’, to a place of unfamiliarity and to an environment that made most Christians uncomfortable. (Its ok for overseas missionaries to jump to ‘8’ but not local ones!)
What we would hear from people we invited to consider joining us were questions or comments like:
– no kids or youth ministry? What will happen to my children?… This was by far the biggest obstacle. Ironically research shows that a significant majority of young people in evangelical churches (YFC estimate 80%) dump their faith upon hitting the university context so we surely have to try something new?…
– no ‘teaching’? – This one gives me the irrits because it such a narrow perspective and reflects a poor understanding of how we learn. Basically unless there was a monologue from a qualified person then ‘teaching’ hadn’t occurred.
– how do we get fed? – You pick up a spoon! What are you… a baby?! This one gives me bigger irrits than the one before although they are linked. I can’t believe the degree to which mature Christians (who have been devouring sermons since the date they were converted) are still unsure of their ability to ingest the Bible for themselves and to take responsibility for their own spiritual formation.
– no worship? – argh… well we don’t sing a heap, but does that mean we don’t worship?…
You have probably noticed that all of these are paradigm shifts, but even those who did ‘get’ things conceptually were still unwilling to make the leap from familiarity to foreign territory.
I have found that disturbing and discouraging. I don’t resonate well with that mindset. It’s like being on a sinking ship just within swimming distance of shore and some would rather go down with the ship than take a punt on making the swim, or building a raft out of the wreckage. (This metaphor has its problems so don’t extrapolate too far with it…)
I realize that my own apostolic nature leads me easily to swim, but some of the desire to go down with the ship is simply laziness, cowardice and selfishness. This always needs to be challenged.
Anyway… I feel like I am coming at this the long way…
Part of our willingness to go back to work with some form of established church is that we want to take people on the journey of missionary living, but we realize we haven’t been able to get them to come to us. So we are willing to experiment with ‘going back’ to them and journeying with them towards a different understanding of church and mission. We aren’t for a moment interested in heading back to a ‘meat and 3 veg’ affair and just doing all the stuff we did 10 years ago. We couldn’t do it. Our hearts wouldn’t be in it and it is not our calling.
But we are willing to ‘meet people half way’ and attempt to re-shape a local church into a missionary congregation. It means us being willing to do some things we haven’t had to do for quite a while and being willing to re-enter some environments that we haven’t had to be part of. But it also means a church consciously, willingly attempting to explore its identity outside of the established paradigm.
As an optimist I am hopeful that when people say they want to do things they actually do want to do them… I imagine wherever we find ourselves in 6 months time we will be there for this purpose and we will give it our all to help people on the journey.
It seems there has been a shift in the centre of gravity of many local churches towards a more missional ecclesiology (at least notionally) so it will be interesting to see if this will translate to a shift in praxis.
Should we discover that the church’s commitment was token and that people were not willing to move, I imagine we would simply seek to find another way to lead people on the journey. But for now I am hopeful and that is a good thing.
Perhaps we all need to ‘stretch’.