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Archive for the ‘mission’ Category

 

A talk given this morning to the Sussex Gospel Partnership:

Adopted into God’s Life-Giving Ministry2 Corinthians

POWERPOINT

SCRIPT

AUDIO

[audio http://www.christthetruth.org.uk/Mission2Corinthians.mp3]

CH SPURGEON: Do try, as far as you can, to make the very way in which you speak minister to the great end you have in view. Preach, for instance, as you would plead if you were standing before a judge, and begging for the life of a friend, or as if you were appealing to the Queen herself on behalf of someone very dear to you. Use such a tone in pleading with sinners as you would use if a gibbet were erected in this room, and you were to be hanged on it unless you could persuade the person in authority to release you. That is the sort of earnestness you need in pleading with men as ambassadors for God. (The Soul Winner)

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NoCompromiseLast week  someone asked me where I thought it would all end? All these adaptations the church seems to be making to culture. We used to get hung up on keeping Sunday special, but who is bothered anymore? It was only 20 years ago that the Church of England allowed women priests, but who can deny that women bishops will shortly follow? Right now, much ado is being made about gay marriage, but won’t that also seem like an outdated scruple in years to come. Isn’t the trend basically one of distinctives gradually eroded away?  And all those conservative Christians who have fought so hard, won’t they just watch their children accommodate themselves to the very compromises they so feared?

Trouble is… that predictive model is based on the very thing that is shifting most fundamentally. It’s based on the idea of ‘Christian Britain’ and a church that can expect (and demand!) the state to be at least Christian-ish.  But it seems plain to me that this is the one thing that’s really changing. Or rather, this is the reality that’s most obviously being revealed in all the other changes. The culture is not Christian-ish.  It’s not even Christian-ish-ish.  The church doesn’t have the political voice it wants to have. And shouting louder is not helping.  It’s basically communicating peripheral issues as our central message (that’s what’s being heard anyway).

But what if we extrapolate from the real change that’s occurring – the realization that the Christian vision of work/rest, men/women, sex and sexuality really isn’t the world’s?  What then?  Maybe then we’d see church as the place where true rest is enjoyed, true gender relations modeled and true  enjoyment of singleness and marriage nurtured. And we’ll see the world as a place that almost must find the way of Christ baffling and wrong.

If we follow that trajectory then, yes, we’ll have to accept persecution as part of the deal. But I’m pretty sure we all signed up to that at the outset, and, on the upside, it means that we’re not at all destined to ever-increasing compromise. Nor are we doomed to fight all our battles for peripheral issues like sex.  In fact we  might actually find our churches modelling a counter-culture more distinctive than ever.  Meanwhile, those who focus the battle on Westminster may find that they are being just as defined by the culture as ‘the compromisers’ (even if negatively).

I’m no kind of culture-vulture and I couldn’t spot a political trend if it tap-danced on my face. But it seems to me that whatever trajectory we’re on, it does not need to end in a loss of Christian distinctives. Instead in might be the birth of some real distinctives. What’s more it may help us re-assign resources to the true front line – the church – as we re-centre ourselves on our true mission – proclaiming Jesus.

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TEP-PodcastCover-1024x1024The church has been sent as God’s missionary organisation to the world. What does that mean for church? What does it mean for evangelism?

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Recently I was asked what I knew about evangelistic treasure hunts. Not much was the answer. I’d read a couple of blogs here and there, but for those completely new to it, here’s a short video of practitioners from the States:

Here’s what I like…

1. They want to “take it to the streets”.

2. They believe in the universal love of God and want to express it.

3. They see people as “treasure.”

4. They want to care for whole people, not just save souls.

5. They want to be sensitive to the Spirit’s work in mission.

I affirm all these values.  But for these very reasons I want to question the practice of treasure hunting- and I mean genuinely to “question” it. I’m a newcomer to this and in no position to dismiss it. But here are some initial thoughts that explore the foundations of the church’s mission.  If this starts a dialogue about it, then good and I’m more than willing to be educated about these things… But I wonder whether treasure hunting in practice ends up undermining all the positives listed above.

1. They want to “take it to the streets”.

I’m all for taking the gospel to the streets (see links at the bottom of this post). But that’s the issue: what exactly are we taking to the streets?  What is the mission of the church?  Put it another way: For what purpose is the church sent into the world?

(Notice that this question is different to “What are all the things the body of Christ gets up to, week by week?” The church is involved in many activities, but asking why it has been sent into the world is a significantly different question.)

My expanded thoughts on the church’s mission can be found here and here but for now let me draw your attention to 2 Corinthians 4 and 5 and especially…

We do not preach ourselves, but Jesus Christ as Lord, and ourselves as your servants for Jesus’ sake. (2 Cor 4:5)

Essentially, the mission of the church is not “service” in the abstract, with proclamation fitting underneath (see diagram).  And it’s not “service” on one hand and “proclamation” on the other (the context in 2 Cor. 4-5 makes that clear).  Mission is proclamation – setting forth the truth plainly (v2), with “service” fitting underneath.

Scrivener_what_is_our_mission-pic

Proclamation is the umbrella activity – everything else fits explicitly under the preaching of Christ as Lord.  If this is the case then the footing on which you engage the world matters.  And the footing ought to be proclamation.

In 1 Corinthians 1-2, Paul is adamant that preaching the weak-looking cross is the way forward. He contrasts it with the demands of the Greeks (for wisdom) and the Jews (for miracles) and he insists that preaching is how we engage.

In the past I’ve taken flak when arguing against “wisdom-first” mission (i.e. evidentialist apologetics).  Now, in the interests of offending all people equally, let me argue against “power-first” mission too.  As we’ll see, I’m not against wisdom or power in the cruciform sense – but I think there’s an explicit order and a context for these things…

2. They believe in the universal love of God and want to express it.

This is a brilliant value to hold.  The trouble is the practice of treasure hunting looks like it undermines that value. One of the distinctive features of treasure hunting is going after the few and passing by the many.  The beauty of open air is that it’s the one form of evangelism that seeks to be as indiscriminate as God’s own evangelistic purpose.  He has placed us where we are so that all people might find him (Acts 17:26-27). Therefore a way of evangelism (i.e. open air) that seeks to reach a locality as a locality is a wonderful reflection of God’s universal love.  If you want to reflect God’s universal love, I’d recommend open air over treasure hunting which is unnecessarily particular.

3. They see people as “treasure.”

This is nice, and a great reflection of the true meaning of Matthew 13:44-46 – we are the treasure and we need to be found.  Of course the other word – “hunt” – is not so nice.  But maybe the hunted don’t mind?

My reservation here is something that also applies to open air, but I think the whole set-up of treasure hunts amplifies the danger: non-Christians are not marks to hit, or scalps to win.  We’re not interested in “gaining converts” but in offering Christ.  If you ask me, the writing up of targets sets up the whole enterprise in a questionable way. Far better to speak from a fullness than to need responses.  It’s not about you achieving your witnessing goals, but about you emptying yourself for your hearers.  There seems a very great danger of commodifying your listeners with treasure hunts.

4. They want to care for whole people, not just save souls.

Full disclosure – I’m not from charismatic circles.  The churches I grew up in were as dogmatically anti-charismatic as they were anti-liberal.  For years I thought evangelicals were defined by what we didn’t believe in: we weren’t liberal and we weren’t charo’s. That’s my background.  And yet, very often when I’m doing open air evangelism I’ve ended up praying for someone in need – whether for physical or emotional healing or for God to come through in some situation or other.  I don’t consider myself “gifted” to heal in any charismatic sense, but I’ve prayed for it often enough. Everyone street evangelist I know ends up praying for people – for healings, for “breakthroughs” in personal situations, for whatever. You can’t offer Christ without talking to people in need, and you can’t be a Christian without wanting to help those people.

I love that treasure hunters pray for folks on the streets – I do it too.  But I have great reservations about encountering folk in order to tick off clues, and about leading with ‘power’, when Paul tells me to lead with the word of the cross (see points 1 and 5).

5. They want to be sensitive to the Spirit’s work in mission.

This is wonderful. The prayerful preparation involved in Treasure Hunting is great.  May we all learn from it.  Also cultivating a moment-by-moment dependence on the Spirit’s leading throughout our evangelism is priceless.  “Spirit, help me… Open his/her eyes” is my constant prayer in open air work.  But let’s ask: what is the work of the Spirit?

I fear that too often we make an equation between the Spirit and what Enlightenment people think of as “the supernatural“. Since modern people (Christians included it seems) have booted God “upstairs”, we consider this world as a “natural” realm of cause and effect. But then Christians come along and say “Yes, but there’s also another realm over and above called “the supernatural” and it’s all about un-natural, unexpected stuff happening.”   And so essentially Christians agree with the naturalists about the basic structure of reality, we just insist that cause and effect aint all there is – there’s also freaky stuff.

What will evangelism look like then?  Well, we’ll want to introduce unbelievers to this other realm.  And so “the miraculous” seems a perfectly appropriate way in. Trouble is, the Spirit is not so much the Spirit of “the supernatural”, He’s the Spirit of Christ.  The way the realm of the Spirit breaks into this world is in the Anointed One.  Heaven meets earth in Jesus and every meeting we try to arrange between unbelievers and God needs to reflect that.

In 1 Corinthians 1 Paul has rejected the tactic of giving “Jews” the “miraculous signs” they demand. He thinks that will undermine his message. Nonetheless in chapter 2 he says he wants his evangelism to demonstrate the Spirit’s power (v4).  Ok great. What form will that demonstration take?  It’s not in wise and persuasive words and it’s not in miraculous “powers”. It’s in preaching the cross (2:2).  There the Spirit shines His light with almighty power (1:18). There is the meeting of heaven and earth.  And Paul says, it’s very possible to distract non-Christians from that centre.  It’s very possible to empty the cross of its power (1:17).

Lest we ever do that, let’s determine to know nothing except Jesus Christ and Him crucified. He is the whole focus of the Spirit’s work.  Let us then, as Spirit-filled, Spirit-dependent witnesses, make  Christ and His work our focus.  That is truly Spirit-ual evangelism.

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Here are some older posts on how I try to share Christ publicly…

First Contact Evangelism Seminar

Open Air Preaching with Wesley and Whitefield

Open Air Preaching

Open Air Ideas

Open Air Doesn’t Have To Be Flashy

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I really very badly want to share this music. I want to share it with everyone who is willing to hear. And that is because I have fallen in love with this music.

She then describes a low time in which she encountered Handel’s piano music. It sparked her “personal state of wonder. It hit a really deep chord within me.”

“…So that’s how I got addicted to this music…”

Now the world must know! And no matter how foolish she feels, her passion carries her out to the world.

“I ended up with so many diverse reactions. It really made me happy because so many different responses to one and the same piece, to me that feels like it’s really great music.”

The most beautiful moment in performance art is when I can convey my state of wonder at exactly the same moment that you are open to hear it.

Then she plays. (Of course she plays, how perverse to merely talk about the music without offering it to us!).  And notice, it’s slow moving in a minor key, then an urgent recapitulation and then a glorious shift into the major key.  I wonder why that works?

“Next to the Word of God, the noble art of music is the greatest treasure in the world.” ― Martin Luther

What do we learn about evangelism from this?  Discuss.

 

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people together arrow

Catch-up:

Session 1

Session 2

Session 3

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321-GO!

Session 4: GOING WITH THE MISSIONARY GOD

Session 4 Handout

Session 4 Audio

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God is a Community on Mission… and so are we! John 20:21-23

Outgoing-ness not so much a decision or act – a way of life.

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Not Simply Sent… We Join Him In His Outgoing Life  Matthew 28:18-20; Heb 13:13

If God is outgoing, what does it mean to be godly?

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Mission is a community thing  John 13:34-35.

What kind of community reaches the world?
Why should this be so?

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We Help Each Other  1 Peter 2:9-12; 4:10-11

What does it mean for church to be a priesthood?

What is the significance of our different gifts within the priesthood?

Remember 1 Peter 3:15 – All are called to use words when the time is right!

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A Sentence Up Your Sleeve…

“That’s what I love about my church…”

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QUESTIONS

1. Sometimes it feels like God is up in heaven and wants us to go out and bring people in. How does this teaching challenge that thinking?

2. How does your community think of your church? (Do you want those thoughts to change?)
How does your church think of your community? (Do you want those thoughts to change?)

3. How can the life of church be more invitational? How can you be more invitational?

4. How would you complete that sentence “That’s what I love about my church…”? How might you naturally talk about your church family with friends?

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adam-eveAre you imagining it right now?

What was Adam’s work according to Genesis 2?

Well verse 15 says he was rested in the garden to serve it and keep it.  What’s that going to look like?

Well we’re all thinking of hoes and ploughs and honest labour and thank God for Genesis 2 and the Protestant work ethic etc, etc,.

Now clearly there’s a time and a place for all of that and certainly Adam is made a co-creator with the LORD, a co-gardener too (v5).  None of what follows should be read as anti-physical labour or anything of the sort.  But probably our picture of Adam’s garden work is massively distorted by the fall.

Just for starters, we probably imagined him clothed.  And we probably imagined him sweating.  (cf Gen 3:17-19).  It’s actually very hard to disentangle our thinking from the all-pervasive effects of the fall.  But let’s try to do it…

According to what we read in Genesis 2, what does Adam actually do in his pre-fallen state?  He preaches (v19-20).  He doesn’t just talk to the animals, he names them.  Not at a distance but all the animals are brought to him to find their true identity.  As head of the old creation, Adam graciously speaks their true Adam-determined identities into existence.  And in this pre-fallen state, they simply receive his verdict and are constituted as who they are by his powerful word.  By his effective speech-act he declares who they really are – he preaches to the whole creation (cf Mark 16:15).

You could even say that all Adam does in his pre-fall work is preach.  He preaches to all creation and then ‘dies’ for his bride!

Through his words in Genesis 2, creation is brought under his feet.  Through his silence in Genesis 3, creation unravels.

People often talk about God’s creation agenda in a way that divorces it from His redemptive agenda.  They talk of His cultural mandate in a way that divorces it from the great commission.  But right from the beginning proclamation is at the very heart of all God’s ways and works.

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