Someone phoned me last week. A few years back he had written an article for a theological journal about the work that different people were involved in across the country; I was one of them. It was work that was described as ‘pioneering’. I am very uncomfortable with labels, particularly that label: it gives the impression of different classes of minister & there aren’t- we are all pretty much of a muchness. As Bruce Cockburn in ‘Lovers in a dangerous time’ sings:-
‘Got to kick at the darkness ’til it bleeds daylight’
…and we all try to do that.
I don’t know where the guy got my name from or why he thought that I might be useful; I have never considered what I do as ‘different’. I guess I might be in more situations where I am mixing with people outside of church congregations, but that is only because the church and the Methodist Circuit make it possible; anyone could do it Anyway, his chat with me was really helpful: where were things compared with a few years ago? I realised that a lot of my understandings had continued to shift and move: my continual jibes about Christian worship songs being written in the holy key of G are but the surface of a general feeling: better administration/organisation or even sing ‘Hallelujah’ louder may be some help, but they will never be salvation.
That is a rather long introduction to a blog post I happened upon last week from a guy in Australia whom I have often cited: now a part time pastor on top of being a full time garden designer/maintainer (I think I got that right: I don’t understand Australian), he gives some insights into planting churches/starting new things and being in your late 40s (which I can identify with). Full post at http://www.backyardmissionary.com/so-you-wanna-plant-a-church/
Its hard… not rocket science, but it was harder than we had ever thought. People get interested in spiritual issues when they are desperate, but as soon as life gets better or faith gets hard then its time to move on or let it go. Outside of those crisis moments, faith issues are rarely discussed in suburbia and its hard to engage in those subjects naturally with people for whom it is a whole foreign language.
In a mission team no one ‘buys in’ quite like you do… Even those who say they are with you, aren’t as deeply committed as you are. That’s just how it is so deal with it. No one will ‘run your business like you will’. Its a bit like that. I was disappointed that people didn’t seem to bleed mission like I thought I did, but I think it will always be that way.
I have found the normal distribution curve a really useful paradigm for explaining what goes on in church and discipleship. Some people soar and give and inspire. Some people suck. They drain you, lie and create problems. Most people are in the middle. Some bring energy and some don’t. But no one – no one – will own a project you are leading quite like you will. If that is going to be a disappointment to you then deal with it now.
People are busy… and the people in your team will be busy. Busy people doing mission amongst other busy people… That’s hardly a recipe for a strong community. Unless we address the question of busyness amongst ourselves then I think church planting is a waste of time. Seriously – all it amounts to is creating another Sunday church service, and like we need one of them… Yanchep now only has one church service on Sundays and it is a particular flavour, but do we need another flavour?… I’m not convinced that beginning a new church service equates in any way to planting a church. But for busy people this might be the only thing they can do. And I find myself reeling back at the thought of this being the central focus of a mission effort.
There is value in the familiar… not to contradict myself… but I see value in a regular Sunday gig. In our time with Upstream we noticed that the absence of a typical Sunday gig prevented us from having some good people join us. For some folks the leap from songs and sermon to house and food was just too huge. Part of the move back to QBC was a recognition that we had not been able to convince people to join us in our homes and that if we were going to build a mission team, then perhaps we needed to meet the Christians where they were at and lead them on that journey. So I imagine if we started again we would do something that resembled a Sunday gig in some form, but it would be a doorway in rather the focus of energy.
Need is endless… That said, in the absence of a Sunday gig to put your energy into what does a community do together? in Butler we did a number of backyard blitzes and the like. What was disturbing was the number of people we helped out were already part of churches, but their church hadn’t offered to help… I got pretty annoyed at that. And it seemed that everywhere you looked there were people in some level of need. And then I struggle with providing several thousand dollars to give someone a pretty backyard when others around the world die from lack of food. I am a little stuck with this one. I think there is a call on the church to bless and serve the community it in, but I am not sure quite how to do that in a way that is helpful to both the community and the church.
Friendship evangelism is a tricky business… because sooner or later you find yourself asking ‘is it friendship – or is it evangelism?’ Because if its friendship then there are only so many friends you can have in your life before you are maxed out. If its friendship evangelism then what does that mean if your friend clearly isn’t interested?… Are they still your friend? Or do you now seek new friends to evangelise? Ten years on I have a small handful of really good friends and none of them are non-Christians. I used to think that was a bad thing, but I’m not so convinced now. I’d like to have some more people in my life who do not share my faith, but I can’t force that and right now it just isn’t going there.
The experts don’t live in your suburb and lead your team… All the great ideas and books you read seem to make mission and church sound remarkably easy and just a case of getting a few key factors in place. I have read many many books on this subject and I know the theory very well, but while some of it is useful, its a bit like when I completed my teaching degree and had to actually go teach kids. All the educational theory makes sense in the classroom, but once you’re doing it you have to adapt and work with a bunch of kids who didn’t read those text books…
We need more missionaries in the west… Not just church attenders, but people who look and see the need and ask ‘God – what can I do?’ Right now my own sense of mission takes me into the workplace and that has been a good journey. Its hardly evangelism central when fixing sprinklers, but its like anything – the headspace you bring to the task affects how you do it and how you relate to people.