Thursday, October 06, 2011

Growing a Mission-Minded Church

I laughed more yesterday than I have in as long as I can remember. Just thought I would share that.

Cookie's days started on a wet winters day some years ago. My recent post about church planting, for reasons I can't quite fathom, has generated hundreds of hits and has also prompted a number of people to get in touch with me. Lucy Peppiat is one of them- a Church-planter from Bristol with her husband Nick. She has sent me a moving, beautifully written and profound piece she wrote called 'Growing a Mission-Minded Church'. It's long but do take some time to read it. It is the story of God working in unlikely, counter-cultural (at least to our 'church-success' evangelical world) and at times seemingly painful ways. It is a story about discipleship and it is about parenthood. It is also something of a commentary on the fear of failure that most of us, be us Christian or not, carry around most of the time.

"There are many issues related to the question of the ‘failure’ of missionary endeavours – too many to deal with here – but I just want to touch on a few. The first question is ‘How do we measure success?’ How do we actually know for sure whether something has been an unmitigated failure? This is a topic for a paper in its own right, but I have often felt that we have a wholly inadequate set of criteria for measuring the success or otherwise of church work.[4] The other principle which we should adopt in our churches is the idea that, unless we have a number of ‘failed’ initiatives behind us, we are certainly not trying hard enough! Failure is a concomitant part of creativity, of experiment, of pushing the boat out, etc. It is also a part of risk, so, if we are stepping out in faith all the time, sometimes we will fall flat on our faces. Peter was the one who was brave enough to walk on water – to walk on water! I sometimes think we lose sight of what an astonishing thing he actually did, because we have grown accustomed to the story. He would never have started to sink if he had not been in the middle of the lake walking on water in the first place. We must applaud courage and risk-taking. The parental aspect to it, however, is that we aim not to allow or to undertake foolish risks, in ourselves or in others.

"Mission is about obedience to the call to spread the gospel, not about waiting until we are sure we have a foolproof plan to build a mega-church; but we are to be as gentle as doves and as wise as serpents......If we become people who genuinely believe in the control of the Spirit, then successes and failures are not only ours, but are ultimately in God’s hands. If God really is in control by the power of the Spirit, and really able to redeem even our foolish mistakes, we are able to take a long-term view, and to allow failure in the interest of trying."

A while back, I went to a gathering of church-planters and at one point in the day they all lined up and told us their stories. One by one they reported on the souls won, ministries birthed, miracles witnessed and resources supplied. It was focussed very much on tales of success. They were and are all smashing and gifted men and women. But I'll be honest, I found it a wee bit daunting, even though it was well-intended and supposed to encourage me. Apart from one chappy, no one stood up and said "Do you know what, I am having a go but to be honest every day I wonder what the next thing in the queue is that I am going to make a complete pig's ear of." It's what Hybels Axioms (great book) calls 'Take a Flyer'.  I think it is easy to confuse the call to be 'fruitful' (John 15) with the call to be successful. Don't misunderstand me, I think we all need to be people who have a go, get on mission with faith and have an expectancy that lives will be transformed and the lost won through us. It just seems not to be that straight-forward. You can get a jazzy website, a sound system and a few Christians to gather but that's no certainty that you will be prolific at disciple-making.

The trouble is that there is no kit you can buy that makes that happen. It's very annoying when we pray earnestly for anointing and revival and God chooses to use the person in the church next door. I think that is why Lucy's preparedness to share her disappointments and learnings is so refreshing and hope-inducing in me. It's also a caution to me not to set myself up for a fall and to know even if I do fail and make a mess of things that's OK. Jesus died for me, rose for me and I am destined for heaven and that must surely be enough. Driscoll's talk about 'Who should lead a church plant' (well worth a listen-you may need to search for it) was a tremendous help to me on this issue. None of us need perform for Jesus but oh how very hard it is for us to truly believe this. I confess to being an infant at preaching the Gospel to myself. It was nice also to discover that Lucy, like me, thinks Christianity rediscovered is one of the most helpful books that any mission-minded person could ever happen upon.

One other thing. It's time to lay down the blog for a while and I'm doing this just when it's had its big break and is on a peak. It might have been up for winning one of those "Top 100 Blogs read by people from Kidderminster" awards and get a little badge in the top corner.  I write this blog to, I hope, encourage and resource others. However, any blog that quotes Tim Keller as much as I do needs to watch its idolatry-o-meter as it tries to apply a lesson or two from Counterfeit Gods. You see, I have to be so careful not to like the sound of my own voice more than I long for the sound of the Father's. I want to long for the Spirit more than the attention of others and I have noticed the two conflicting with each other slightly too much recently. To use Simon Walker's terminology in 'Leading out of who you are' -a bit too much front stage.

I am going to take some time out to read the book Eugene Peterson says is one of the most important he has ever encountered. It's called the 'Descent of the Dove' by Charles Williams (one of Lewis's pals who he supped warm ale with in the Eagle and Child). For all my, at times, strong opinions about the church that I love and the gospel I haplessly preach as best I can, I must remind myself anew that it is not about me and that the Holy Spirit is at work whatever I do or write. Maybe sometimes not always as I would like in the C of E, but to be honest what I think is of no consequence. What matters is what God thinks. The plan is that we each one of us love Jesus, try to stay humble (always a tricky one as our most humble moments can in fact be pride in disguise) and we need to remember afresh that we don't have to prove anything. Grace really is sufficient. The trouble is, recently, I have been talking a good game but I think I have forgotten that. Vincent Donovan's words from Lucy's story seem like a good place to end. 

I'll be back in a while.

"They too can learn to take steps necessary to becoming a missionary people, with their own heralds of the gospel, a people overcome with the consuming conviction of Paul that it will be “woe to them if they do not preach the gospel.” Step by painful step. And the last step the most painful of all, the step leading to the conclusion that the whole process is really out of one’s control after all; that there is a Spirit moving through the world and through Africa, and what control there is lies with that Spirit.[3]"  

1 comment:

Anita said...

Simon Ponsonby linked to it on FB; that must have generated some hits.
Enjoy your blog holiday; come back soon!

Saturday blog-sweep

 Some interesting books for pastors The State we're in Attack at dawn Joseph Scriven Joy comes with the morning When small is beautiful