Ever since I became a Christian mission has played an important part of my Christian experience. Starting off in the early days of helping with Harrogate and district youth for Christ and then a mate and I set up a mission group that would work with local youth groups to inspire and challenge. I then studied at Cliff College, which has evangelism/mission at its heart. In my second year I wrote a dissertation on 'motivating the Methodist church into evangelism' I really enjoyed the process of reading, writing, and i got a decent mark to boot!
Eventually I joined the Rob Frost Seed Team program and had a year in Estonia teaching English and engaging young and old with the message of Jesus. I had a short spell in Bristol to help out with a team that was struggling. After this I moved to the North East where I have spent the last 16 years or so working for the church, as pastor, preacher, youth worker and recently as evangelism enabler and now as fresh expressions worker.
In all this time mission has remained important to me, but... and I mean but... in the last 10 years or so mission... or more specifically evangelism has been a tougher topic to work through. The traditional ways to engage people with the Christian message have become difficult to work with, and I have to say that I have struggled to know what to do with evangelism.
Its true to say that in recent years, some churches have moved away from traditional forms of mission/evangelism but have struggled to know what to put in its place. For many churches Alpha remains the way we engage, I like Alpha a lot and have led many courses over the years, but even Alpha for me has its problems (as do many other courses) as it feels like a process we take folk through, and i’m not sure that is the way we should operate.
Some of the things i loved about evangelism and mission back in the day was the opportunity to lead mission teams to places around the country, these opportunities have more or less stopped. But within the context of taking a mission team somewhere I think we have missed out on the opportunities it gives.
So over this last year or so the Newcastle Methodist District and its evangelism enabler have been working with a great team of people to launch something called ‘Together Mission’ which has just finished... and it’s been an amazing week! Elaine Lindridge has blogged about what we got up to and you can see that here. The interesting thing about this is that it seems we are trying to learn how to do mission again... not in an old way... but in a new way.
This was emphasised when I was in a devotional meeting visiting one of the teams and a good mate read the story in Acts 2, and this has been buzzing around in my mind ever since :-
2 When the day of Pentecost came, they were all together in one place. 2 Suddenly a sound like the blowing of a violent wind came from heaven and filled the whole house where they were sitting. 3 They saw what seemed to be tongues of fire that separated and came to rest on each of them. 4 All of them were filled with the Holy Spirit and began to speak in other tongues[a] as the Spirit enabled them.
5 Now there were staying in Jerusalem God-fearing Jews from every nation under heaven. 6 When they heard this sound, a crowd came together in bewilderment, because each one heard their own language being spoken. 7 Utterly amazed, they asked: “Aren’t all these who are speaking Galileans? 8 Then how is it that each of us hears them in our native language? 9 Parthians, Medes and Elamites; residents of Mesopotamia, Judea and Cappadocia, Pontus and Asia,[b] 10 Phrygia and Pamphylia, Egypt and the parts of Libya near Cyrene; visitors from Rome 11 (both Jews and converts to Judaism); Cretans and Arabs—we hear them declaring the wonders of God in our own tongues!” 12 Amazed and perplexed, they asked one another, “What does this mean?” 13 Some, however, made fun of them and said, “They have had too much wine.”
The part that struck me was verse 8. As I reflected on that verse I was struck that many of the teams were learning to speak a different missional language, i.e. the teams were in dialogue with people talking and sharing the gospel story... there was a sense of trying to listen and understand where folks were coming from whilst sharing elements of the Christian gospel.
It seems to me that we need to invest in several approaches in evangelism which I think we began to engage with this week through the ‘Together Mission’.
1. To listen to the story of the people
2. To speak the many languages of the people
3. To trust the Christian message
4. It’s ok ‘just’ to have fun
5. To be brave and take risks
6. To break out of churches and move into third spaces
This may not be rocket science, but to many traditional churches it could be a break through... lets pray it is.