Category Archives: Mission

The Synergy of Generations

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“I am reminded of your sincere faith, which first lived in your grandmother Lois and in your mother Eunice and, I am persuaded, now lives in you also.” (2 Timothy 1:5 NIV)

It is good to know that we all have roots. We do not just appear out of nothing with no history or inheritance. Whether we know it or not we are part of a continuing purpose.

Paul thought it useful to encourage his young protegé Timothy to be fully aware of the divine plan that was being handed on to him. For the Jewish Paul, ancestry – traced through the mother’s line, was very important to maintain a valid witness. Accepting this cultural reality in the narrative, I would dare to say that we all need to be strengthened and encouraged by finding our spiritual history. Linking our purpose and prayers with those who have preceded us can create a powerful synergy to bring more of God’s ultimate plan and presence into our current exP1100423perience.

Honouring parents – recognising the contribution and foundations laid, is a strong Biblical principle guaranteeing success and sustainability.

“Honour your father and mother”—which is the first commandment with a promise— “so that it may go well with you and that you may enjoy long life on the earth.” (Ephesians 6:2, 3 NIV)

The prophet Joel’s words – also echoed by Peter at Pentecost, push to align the dream of the old man with the vision of the new generation.

“No, this is what was spoken by the prophet Joel: “ ‘In the last days, God says, I will pour out my Spirit on all people. Your sons and daughters will prophesy, your young men will see visions, your old men will dream dreams.” (Acts 2:16, 17 NIV)

Bridging the Old and New Testaments, the prophet Malachi (4:5-6) cries out for a reconciliation, a healing, of generations – the older Jewish root with the budding Gentile nations, a reconciliation which is taken up centuries later by the ministry of John the Baptist.

“And he will go on before the Lord, in the spirit and power of Elijah, to turn the hearts of the parents to their children and the disobedient to the wisdom of the righteous—to make ready a people prepared for the Lord.” (Luke 1:17 NIV)

Timothy, having a Greek Father, was a young man who incarnated the diversity of a new global season of God’s work which needed a new form but which also needed the substance of faith from the past. He represents each new generation having to struggle with the age-old equation of inventing new forms but maintaining the foundational substance of the past. Listen to what Dee Hock – the founder of Visa, has to say about this:

“Substance is enduring, form is ephemeral. Failure to distinguish clearly between the two is ruinous. Success follows those adept at preserving the substance of the past by clothing it in the forms of the future. Preserve substance; modify form; know the difference. The closest thing to a law of nature in business is that form has an affinity for expense, while substance has an affinity for income.”

Can you discern the essential difference between form and substance in the challenge to build mission in today’s world?

Indeed, Paul’s challenge to Timothy was to preserve the substance of faith, not throwing the baby out with the water of a changing world. He encourages Timothy to do at least three things:

1) Guard the good deposit.

“Guard the good deposit that was entrusted to you—guard it with the help of the Holy Spirit who lives in us.” (2 Timothy 1:14 NIV)

Partner with the inner conviction of the intelligent fire within to discern the essential substance of your life and mission and defend it as a good soldier against the onslaught of the enemy.

2) Fan into the flame the gift of such substance.

“For this reason I remind you to fan into flame the gift of God, which is in you through the laying on of my hands.” (2 Timothy 1:6 NIV)

I do not think that the laying on of Paul’s hands was just a charismatic transfer of power. It was more of an apostolic recognition of the synergy of generations that was coming to bear on the young man. He wanted Timothy to be energised by this recognition of his specific place in the history of God’s purpose. May we too “fan into flame” the inheritances that await to be discovered on our own faith journeys.

3) Be bold, loving and pure.

“For the Spirit God gave us does not make us timid, but gives us power, love and self-discipline.” (2 Timothy 1:7 NIV)

A great crowd of witnesses is looking on (Hebrews 11). Don’t let them down.God and kids

Recently I went back three generations into my own family history. I discovered an amazing deposit of faith handed down via a “Penny and a Prayer!” 

Why not try and find out what you might discover in your own synergy of generations?

I think the same principle might also work for the history of churches and missions? My own beloved mission is in its third generation, launching young Timothy’s out into an ever-changing world.

Not all of our inheritances are useful. We can sadly – and only too often, get bequeathed pain and curse rather than love and faith. Often, like the parable of the garden sown with both good and bad seed in Matthew 13:24-30, we struggle between the positive and negative of our pasts.

What do you do with such wounds?

This is indeed the subject of a whole new devotional, but, in a nutshell, we need to bring “such empty ways of life” into the eternal redemption of Christ.

“For you know that it was not with perishable things such as silver or gold that you were redeemed from the empty way of life handed down to you from your ancestors, but with the precious blood of Christ, a lamb without blemish or defect. He was chosen before the creation of the world, but was revealed in these last times for your sake.” (1 Peter 1:18-20 NIV)

We are still in these “last times” following Him who was from the beginning into the final frontiers of world history. Like Timothy, may we “preach the Word”, “endure hardship” and “fight the good fight.”

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Re think

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“Christendom has done away with Christianity without being quite aware of it”                 Soren Kierkegaard

Ever since the cross was painted on a shield – held about one yard from the heart, Christendom, in its Constantinian political power, began to lose its true identity modelled on the humble servant/king Jesus.

Money and power have never been far away from the cloistered chambers of prayer, and even today, when we survey the blighted history of the Church we come to the sad conclusion that we didn’t do a particularly brilliant job.  While many are hunting down the “speck” of homosexual marriage it seems that we might do well to take the great plank out of our own eyes first. Weeping is a good way to dissolve planks!

Of course, God is the master of history and, as the famous parable says, has allowed the good seed to grow with the weeds. There have always been the bright periods when pioneers, often perceived and persecuted as heretics, and missionaries opened their hearts and the Word of God to the world.

The fastest growing church in the world today is those who are leaving it!

I celebrate my thirty years as a missionary this month. I remember back to those inspiring moments when God called me to follow Him in “triumphal procession” amongst the nations and to share something of the perfume of Christ. It has to rate as life’s greatest privilege. However, I am still mindful of the pain that the word “mission” can conjure up for many. Let’s hear what Mark Twain had to say:

I bring you the stately matron named Christendom, returning bedraggled, besmirched, and dishonoured, from pirate raids in Kiaochow, Manchuria, South Africa, and the Philippines, with her soul full of meanness, her pocket full of boodle, and her mouth full of pious hypocrisies. Give her soap and towel, but hide the looking glass.” A Salutation from the 19th to the 20th Century,” December 31, 1900

In the wake of an often chequered colonial past, Western mission needs to heed the new voices. Lesslie Newbigin has long been such a prophet:

“We are forced to do something that the Western churches have never had to do since the days of their own birth – to discover the form and substance of a missionary church in terms that are valid in a world that has rejected the power and influence of the Western nations.  Missions will no longer work along the stream of expanding Western power.  They have to learn to go against the stream.”  The Open Secret: An Introduction to the Theology of Mission

So, mission needs to learn about going against prevailing currents.

We are going deeper and deeper into crisis it seems.

Listen to what Roman Catholic theologian José Camblin has to say:

“There has never, since the origins of Christianity, been such a radical change in the world as the one that is now taking place. For the church, this transformation is more radical than the transition from Israel to the Gentiles, more important than the establishment of the institutional church under Constantine or the Protestant Reformation: the present transformation forces it to a more radical reappraisal of itself and challenges many more aspects of it than have been challenged hitherto.” The Holy Spirit and Liberation

How will we face up to the challenge? We could avoid the difficult questions by retreating into self centred hedonistic spirituality and simply, like the good old British films of the past, “Carry on Singing”. Another approach might be to batten up the hatches, get into defensive mode, and preserve the dwindling flock with endless Bible study.

It is time to think…and hopefully do differently.

Building on the radical voice of Michael Frost’s teaching, let me offer three ways of renewing our intelligence at this time.

1.      It is time to think about God differently

For many, God is “up there”, hidden away in distant omnipotence. He seems to be a static God, carved into the rocks and doctrines of time, erecting static churches which need their roofs repairing.

There is nothing static about God! He is ever on the move breathing his creative life over chaotic waters and into human clay. He sent out the Lamb that was in His heart, sent passion and purpose into the world at Pentecost and sends us, his wounded, vulnerable church, into the dung and dough of this world.

“Peace be with you! As the Father has sent me, I am sending you.” And with that he breathed on them and said, “Receive the Holy Spirit.”   John 20:21-22

The very nature of God is to send and be creatively involved and committed. The key attribute of God is mission.

Theologians put it another way and in 1934, Karl Hartenstein, a German missiologist, coined the phrase “Missio Dei” (Latin for Mission of God) in response to Karl Barth and his emphasis on “Actio Dei” (Latin for “the action of God”).

According to David J. Bosch, “mission is not primarily an activity of the church, but an attribute of God. God is a missionary God.” Jurgen Moltmann says, “It is not the church that has a mission of salvation to fulfill in the world; it is the mission of the Son and the Spirit through the Father that includes the church.”

Mission was understood as being derived from the very nature of God. It was thus put in the context of the doctrine of the Trinity, not of ecclesiology or soteriology. The classical doctrine on the Missio Dei as God the Father sending the Son, and God the Father and the Son sending the Spirit was expanded to include yet another “movement”: The Father, Son and the Holy Spirit sending the church into the world.

We need to encounter the Missio Dei in a fresh wave of intimacy.

Jesus said that he could do nothing without the Father.

“I tell you the truth, the Son can do nothing by himself; he can do only what he sees his Father doing, because whatever the Father does the Son also does.”  John 5:19

Jesus worked by revelation rather than perspiration! No redundant, ambitious energy here. He took the time to “see”, and worked out of divine relationship with the Father. There was no forced tension or difficulty in this. Divine flowed into Divine.

Intimacy with the Father is the foundation for our collaboration with the Missio Dei.

There is a danger that the marvellous revelation of God’s Fatherhood to us may be perverted into some introspective Freudian passivity. This is so wrong! We have boxed the Father into a psychological, pastorally weighted paradigm instead of releasing Him into His transformational missional identity. Look again at the intimate words of Jesus in Chapter 5 of John and see what other word is associated with the revelation of “Father”:

“He who does not honour the Son does not honour the Father, who sent him.”

“…whoever hears my word and believes him who sent me.”

“I seek not to please myself but him who sent me.”

“For the very work that the Father has given me to finish, and which I am doing, testifies that the Father has sent me.”

“And the Father who sent me has himself testified concerning me.”

You cannot separate the Father from his “sending”!

Jesus is totally impregnated with the notion and character of a missionary Father – the closer you get to such a Father, the more “sent” you become. The intimacy of such a Fatherly revelation is not limited to your own personal “inner healing” but it spreads like a magnificent tree for the “healing of the nations.”

So think differently and get sent!

“The primary purpose of the “missions ecclesiae” can therefore not simply be the planting of churches or the saving of souls; rather, it has to be service to the missio dei, representing God in and over against the world, pointing to God, holding up the God-child before the eyes of the world in a ceaseless celebration of the Feast of the Epiphany…In its mission the Church witnesses to the fullness of the promise of God’s reign and participates in the ongoing struggle between that reign and the powers of darkness and evil…Thus, in its missionary activity, the church encounters a humanity and a world in which God’s salvation has been operative secretly, through the Spirit.” Vatican 11 Gaudium et Spes 26

2.      It is time to think about the Church differently

The church is not a building! It is a collection of relationships propelled out into the cultural context the Holy Spirit has prepared for us.

Your context is your mission field…and ongoing church.

Many know that the Greek word the bible uses for church is “ekklesia” – “called out ones” or “gathered ones”.

Paul in Acts 17:17 “…reasoned in the synagogue with the Jews and the God-fearing Greeks, as well as in the marketplace (agora) day by day with those who happened to be there.”

Both “synagogue” and “agora” also have the same notion of a gathering place. It seems that the thrust of Paul was to use any structure necessary get the word of God to as many folk as possible. He could cater for the “in crowd” Jews but also for “those who happened to be there”

I think that the Holy Spirit may be calling us to think more widely about the nature of church so that it can be available for those crowds around us who caused Jesus such compassion.

I sometimes wonder what Jesus was thinking about when he said in Matthew 16:18:

“And I tell you that you are Peter, and on this rock I will build my church, and the gates of Hades will not overcome it.”

He links church (good) with gates (bad). Now Jesus, with his Jewish background, would have known all about gates. It was the place of authority where the wise would sit and judge for the benefit of their community. When Jesus later talks about “keys”, (are they not for gates?), he is no doubt continuing the parallel of church (good gate) versus the Satanic kingdom (bad gate).

He would have known how Moses put blood on the doorposts to protect from the destroying angel, and would have cherished the memory of Nehemiah restoring the glory of Jerusalem by repairing the gates that were burnt with fire.

Perhaps he may have been thinking of the wife of value whose husband was “respected at the city gate where he takes his seat among the elders of the land” (Proverbs 31:23) or even thinking of the wonderful blessing Rebekah’s family prayed over the future bride:

“Our sister, may you increase to thousands; may your offspring possess the gates of their enemies.” Genesis 24:60

Where is your “gate”, the place of authority that the Lord wants you to serve in with wisdom and love? It may be family, or in society – business, education or government. Where is your “agora?”

We need to review the “attractional” paradigm of church, which sees everything drawn into it, and move to a more “incarnational” one which sees us sitting as servants within our society.

Can we begin to think about church as the “called out” wise ones, given as God’s gift to our villages, towns and neighbourhoods – salt and light bringing protection and restoration within the heart of our communities?

3.      It is time to make mission the organisational principle of Church

From a study of Acts 2:42-47, most people would conclude that there are four basic functions of Church.

Worship, Fellowship, Teaching & Mission.

Over the years it seems that worship has emerged as the dominant or organisational principle of most churches. There are many ways to worship and share the sacrament, but essentially people go to a building to take communion and sing. We would usually enjoy “something from the word,” biscuit and a cup of tea followed by a kind of guilty numbness about the “lost.” Passionate evangelists, or guest speakers try to give ease to the guilt with the occasional “outreach programme” which mobilizes the more noble amongst us.

While asking you to forgive my simplistic generalisations, can I also assure you that I think very highly of all these functions and do not want to dismiss any. However, I’m making a plea for mission to become the organising principle and not just the last resort.

Once people grasped a clear missional goal together the fellowship and teaching would get done “on the job”. Instead of teaching being like theoretical school homework it would become vital information for getting the job done. Instead of forced fellowship over a polite “How are you?” we would truly become a “Band of Brothers” on a mission.

The worship would go beyond the building and the singing (although I still think we need a gathering point for robust corporate celebration) and into the living sacrifice of lives laid down in service in the midst of a community. Such validation of worship would no doubt engender a deeper reality at the communion table – wherever that was held.

I’ll share a few quotations to help underpin the paradigm of mission as the organisational principle of church.

“The Church, wherever it is, is not only Christ’s witness to its own people and nation, but also the home base for a mission to the ends of the earth.” Lesslie Newbigin, A Word in Season.

“The Church exists in being sent and in building up itself for the sake of its mission.” Karl Barth, Church Dogmatics 4/IV/1.

“I think that the deepest motive for mission is simply the desire to be with Jesus where he is, on the frontier between the reign of God and the usurped dominion of the devil.”  Lesslie Newbigin, A Word in Season.

Mission may take us to the ends of the earth and an unreached tribe in northern India, but it may also take us into the world of business, entertainment or sport. While writing this article I have been involved in developing the concept and practise of Business as Mission. Hardly a new concept…and yet coming back to the centre stage of church life.

As well as encouraging you, like Newbiggin, to have a deeper “desire to be with Jesus where he is,” let me finish with a quotation from the matured wisdom of Kenneth Scott Latourette as he traces the role of the “ordinary man and woman” in the greatest adventure life has to offer – sharing the life of Jesus with the world!

“The chief agents in the expansion of Christianity appear not to have been those who made it a profession or a major part of their occupation, but men and women who earned their livelihood in some purely secular manner and spoke of their faith to those whom they met in this natural fashion. Thus when Celsus denounces a religion which spreads through workers in wool and leather and fullers and uneducated persons who get hold of children privately and of ignorant women and teach them, Origen does not deny that this occurs. [see Contra Cels., III, 55]  In the commerce and the travel which were so marked a feature of the Roman Empire, the faith must have made many new contacts through Christian merchants and tradesmen. …  Involuntary travelers such as slaves and Christians deported for their faith were also agents.”  Kenneth Scott Latourette, The First Five Centuries.

Be you a slave, a traveler, a merchant, tradesman, missionary or pastor…There’s a world to win…and the world awaits…

Pygmies, prayers and “papillons” – Central Africa 2001

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 Early man found himself in a beautiful garden with trees, fruit, steams and the perfect presence of God. ………………..Paradise.

Caught up in the heavenly songs of a hundred polyphonic Pygmy voices, a forest for our Cathedral, and dozens of multicoloured butterflies gliding on the wind of prayer, I heard an echo of that distant garden.

God gave an authority to early man to reign, and, in a realm way beyond human strategy and modern machinery, I discovered an ‘authority’ amongst the ‘early’ peoples of this Central African Republic. An ‘authority’ of life in harmony with earth, but as redemption works its purpose, an authority in prayer to usher in the chosen destiny of a nation. It is the pursuit of this ‘hidden’ destiny in the heart of Africa that has led our brave brothers in C.A.R. to give their all to this pioneer work amongst the Pygmy clans of Bobelé.

For those linked to ‘Nations’ the Chinese word for ‘New Beginnings’  – a buried seed with a long root beginning to sprout fresh green shoots above the ground – has been an inspiration. The pygmies also have a word for ‘New beginnings’ or ‘New thing’ : ‘To Yé’ (Tow-Yeah). It’s the word they use to describe God calling creation into place.  A new beginning.  A new thing.

  “See, I am doing a new thing ! Now it springs up; do you not perceive it…”

God is working a quiet miracle in the secret of the equatorial forest. Benjamin Lessy and his team have won over 100 of these ‘unreached’ peoples to the Lord over the last year and are involved in the delicate task of discipling them.

Total joy emanated from the evenings of worship, dancing in a circle around a huge fire sending myriad sparks up into the star filled african nights and bringing memories of God appearing in a flame to the shepherd Moses, or speaking of a multiplied family to nomadic Abram as he contemplated his own ‘African’ heaven.

It’s hard to evaluate the worth of a little basket weaved with wise dexterity at the hands of a young Pygmy girl and then carried with effortless grace on her head, or the greeting of a grey haired elder, honouring a visitor, his muscle bound frame and noble bare feet, speaking of years of dignified labour on the earth. Western clothes are not well adapted for the natural wear and tear of forest life, and maintaining a minimum of dignity with the coverings the forest provides, the more hidden clans teach a long lost secret about lack of shame and self consciousness.

Spending 2 hours a day ‘teaching’ these peoples has to rate as one of the deepest privileges… and challenges I have found over the years. You can throw away every  book and prop of Western thinking and theology! Whose teaching who ?

Leaning heavily on the crutch of grace, every step being a prayer for help, I discovered that mime, theatre and song were the means of communication rather than ‘preaching’ words (albeit though a translator) at them. The best times were ones of ‘group’ activity where everyone got a say in creating the ‘word’ God was giving. I was absolutely amazed to see that they could compose a ‘new song’ -usually the word in their dialect that the Lord was giving – within five to ten minutes and then sing it joyfully together for the next 15 minutes! We acted out their own ‘creation’ mythologies before going on to make a mime and song of the true creation story. My greatest joy came when I realised that they had grasped the ‘secret’ of prayer as I listened to the joyful ode they had composed from John 14.14.

“You may ask me for anything in my name and I will do it.”

I’m sure that part of Jesus’ “joy set before him”– even through  the sheer suffering of the cross, was to see the nations of the world owning his word in their cultures. Pygmies rejoice the heart of Jesus!

New beginnings are also the fruit of suffering and even the most hard hearted atheist would confess, along with the poem of Milton, that this world is now a “Paradise Lost”. One can also hear the echo of sin and suffering amongst the now “fallen forest”.

 The “little brothers” shared how some of their oppressors (nearly every other African tribe!) forced them to  sell their blood cheaply to them so they could then sell it on for profit to the hospitals! The grossly enlarged feet of elephantiasis, the swollen bellies of little children – the legacy of malaria, and horrendously infected wounds also testified to the curse of illness. People here die for lack of medicine costing a mere hamburger in the west!

The missionary team pulled a little girl back from the brink of death caring for her and sending her to hospital, at their own cost, in Bangui. She got well, bloomed under the care and I met her smile a number of times during my time. Amongst her early problems had been syphilis in her blood. Shocking, and yet the reality of the demonic infestation of paradise. Healing and redemption, a real possibility with some acts of selfless love… and yet. On return to the clan her family, not yet belonging to the Lord in the fullest, wanted her back in the ‘old ways’ and exposed again to the old dangers.

A number of different groups from other African tribes in Central African Republic made up the number for the ‘consultation’. We spent the whole time in a 24 hour prayer chain interrupted only by the teaching sessions!

I’m always amazed at the grip of ‘prayer’ and ‘prophetic’ statement that comes from these ‘forest’ consultations. At one session God seemed to be cleansing and healing the “conscience of the nation” as we prayed for 3 generations of leaders. The old, the now and the future ‘Joshua’ generation that will rise in pure intercession to lead Africa into its destiny.

At another session a ‘prophetic’ mud brick was laid and anointed as a sign of a ‘Joseph’ (missionary movement) being birthed in the forest. Anatole Banga (the leader of Nations en Marche) had been praying about basing his training in the forest, and the ‘brick’ may well be a sign of a 24 hour prayer house and ‘Centre for the Nations’ being established here in the future. I couldn’t think of a ‘better place’ for pioneer missionaries from around the world to be ‘trained’.

Four hours a day in Anatole’s ‘Polytechnic’ in Bangui finished off (or finished me off – 40° Centigrade in the shade !) the time in C.A.R. The students are ‘a new generation’ of self-help, praying african missionaries.

We ended the teaching sessions with a night of prayer. At about 2 in the morning an anointing came on the praying and I heard the ‘sound’ of ‘nations’ on the march! It is a new, non-western, energetic, vibrant, wild and powerful sound! It is the sound that lies in the hearts of this ‘new generation’ in the polytechnic and no doubt in the heats of multiplied thousands from the new missionary armies around the world.

“Each nation will bring its ‘sound’ to make up the redemptive harmony of a new world.”

“To Yé Bobelé!”