Friday, June 08, 2007

Mission: From Mars Bars to Missiles


Here is a theological reflection I did as part of the selection process:

I am here because someone gave me a chocolate bar. Of course, there have been many other factors that have brought me to this point in my journey of faith and calling, but a significant one was when a couple of smiley people approached me on the University of Birmingham campus and asked me if I wanted a free mars bar, no strings attached, as a small token of God’s love for me. This was my introduction both to the Vineyard movement, and to ‘servant evangelism’. Shortly afterwards, I joined South Birmingham Vineyard, the church which had sent out these ‘sweet’ apostles.

Servant evangelism is a method of outreach used in many Vineyard and other churches. It involves getting out in the community and giving away free gifts or offering to do simple acts of kindness for no other reason than to show people that God loves them unconditionally. It may be giving away ice cold bottles of water at a festival on a hot day, litter-picking in your local streets, gardening, car washing… the list goes on. The idea is to practically demonstrate the good news, rather than just proclaiming it. As St. Francis said, “preach the gospel wherever you go, and when necessary, use words”. It is simple, requiring little training, anyone can get involved and it’s great fun. What may at first glance seem like rather a trite publicity stunt actually has, I believe, more to it than that. It is possible to see these public acts of kindness, e.g. litter-picking as a kind of symbolic or prophetic act, an acted parable which causes on-lookers to ask ‘Why on earth are you doing that?’. Jesus often did something which made people ask questions, which then gave him an opportunity to share the gospel or teach.

Through the Vineyard I got involved in church-planting. In Coventry, we experimented with new ways of being church, meeting first in peoples homes then later in pubs, a coffee bar, and schools. One Sunday in every four was given over to ‘church on the streets’ where instead of gathering to worship church members got involved in community projects. Small groups were given a budget for ‘servant outreach’ and encouraged to be imaginative! In many Vineyard churches this is taken further and small groups are mission based, e.g. a group may be structured around working with young mums, homelessness projects, refugee work, etc.

When the ‘Mission shaped church’ report came out I was hugely encouraged to see ‘fresh expressions’ of church being encouraged within Anglican settings. I have since found myself in the fascinating situation of working for Professor John Hull, who is quite critical of the report, and has written a theological response to it. He believes it fails to deal adequately with issues of poverty, consumerism and our multi-faith society. Whilst I don’t agree with everything he says, I believe his critique is important and should be taken on board.

Of course, evangelism, ‘servant’ or otherwise, and church-planting are just one part of the mission of God, which is to reconcile and renew all of creation. In our anticipation of God’s new creation, which was begun and guaranteed in the resurrection of Jesus, we are called to work in hope for justice and peace in the power of the Spirit. Through my theological study, and especially though my work with Professor John Hull, I have come to see the vital importance of global issues such as trade justice, environmental concerns, and peace-work. In June, with John and other staff and students from the Queen’s Foundation I will be taking part in a service of worship and witness at the Faslane naval base in Scotland as part of a protest against the government’s policy to renew the Trident nuclear deterrent system. I see this too as mission work.

I feel called and committed to holistic mission, both disciple-making and working for social-justice. Of course, most Christians would say that they believe God’s mission involves both aspects, but in my experience it would appear many evangelicals are passionate about the former whilst paying lip-service to the latter and vice-versa for those of a more liberal persuasion. I refuse to choose one or the other and in my vocation would seek to encourage people in both. Whether it’s giving out chocolate or protesting against weapons of mass destruction, I believe all disciples are called to co-operate with God, playing their small part, albeit imperfectly, in His mission for the world.

3 comments:

Anonymous said...

Hi, Jon. If you get this comment, can you email me? We're coming to the UK...

Michael
www.michaelpahl.com

Lee Barnes said...

Very stimulating, could you let me know the name of the book by john hull - also any others you are aware of the critiqued mission-shaped in a opponent role or even quasi-opponent. cheersx

Jon said...

Hi Lee,

John Hull's little book is called 'Mission Shaped Church: A Theological Response'.
I can lend you a copy if you like.
I'm not aware of any other critiques of mission-shaped church.
There is D.A. Carson's book on emerging church, but I'm guessing that it's more American in context, and it's pants by all accounts.

thanks for the comment!