Monday, June 01, 2009

mission: inspiration, concern, hope

It remains the most helpful mission concept I have encountered in the past twenty years.

"WOW - that's a big call, Paul."
But it is true ... and it is so simple.

Devised by the late Harold Turner (the Kiwi Newbigin), the suggestion is that for mission to be effective (under God's gracious hand, of course) it needs to advance at three levels in a concerted manner.

Level One focuses on the individual-personal, incorporating spoken evangelism with acts of compassionate service. Words and deeds by individuals.

Level Two focuses on the public-social world with communities as the centerpiece. The community we know as the church - the distinctive, alternative, and attractive people of God - building bridges and walking across them into the wider community. This is where home and workplace are honoured. This is where social and economic systems are challenged. This is where the Kingdom of God becomes visible.

Level Three focuses on the deeper-cultural world. If society is a tree, the concern here is for the roots. If society is a boat, the concern here is for the tide. Level Three recognises that it is the invisible which tends to be influential. It agrees with CS Lewis in asserting that "the critical ideas in society are not the ones being argued, but the ones being assumed." This is mission to worldview or, as Turner expressed it, this is "deep mission".

[Let's acknowledge that each Level is present in the mission strategy of Jesus and the apostles. Level One is everywhere! Level Two is seen explicitly in Acts 2 & 4 and implicitly in every New Testament letter. And Level Three? Well, the parables - just for starters - tend to operate at this level.]

So what about an assessment of mission in New Zealand in 2009? Three words come to mind.
Inspiration. Concern. Hope.

The inspiration comes from what is happening at Level Two. Over the past two decades I have had the privilege of being in dozens of local churches. I have loved it. I will miss it. Generally speaking, the mission focus in NZ has been about local churches creating places of belonging for their own people and then, from that base, multiplying the ministries which reach into the community. I'll always remember the day I heard that Spreydon Baptist had 56(?) community ministries. It was inspiring.

But we are kidding ourselves if we think effective mission is about this alone...

The concern comes from what is not happening at Level One. Where have all the evangelists gone? Have we allowed society to intimidate them into silence? Or have churches fumbled the gospel? How often have I heard people who should know better describe mission as something that can be word-less? How often have I been with church groups who seem content with their community ministries remaining as social service agencies and not much more? It starts there - but does it end there?! Why is there so often this reluctance to say a little word for Jesus - surely people expect that to happen in a church ministry?

Depending on your church's flavour there are effective programmes out there to assist with evangelism: Alpha, Two Ways to Live, Christianity Explored ... but where are the evangelists? The compelling grace-filled, truth-filled speakers who can direct conversations to the claims of Christ embedded in the biblical gospel ... and who can live with the consequences - probably more rejection than acceptance?

The hope comes from what is starting to happen at Level Three. While deeply committed to Level One & Two, God's particular call on my life has been to Level Three. And it is my conviction that Level Three is best advanced through a commitment to biblical preaching, to theological training, and to tertiary mission. On each of these fronts I find fresh hope pulsing through my veins:

recovering biblical preaching
I remain unconvinced that we have a heritage of biblical preaching in NZ. But the Towards a Kiwi-made Preaching forum in April demonstrated that something is happening in the church in NZ. The numbers from around the country who showed up, the vibrant buoyancy in the day, the mixing of veterans with a whole wave of younger people, the sheer indigeneity of it ... 'deep mission' is fuelled by biblical preaching and there seems to be a growing awareness of this fact.
[NB - 'Kiwi-made Preaching' will have an ongoing regionalised life in New Zealand. Things are simmering for a few months as we assess the next steps - and as we build the database of people who are interested. Please email me at paul.windsor@langhampartnership.org if that means you!]

renewing theological education
Like with biblical preaching, an evangelical* brand of degree-level theological education (particularly through our denominational colleges) is hardly what we are known for in NZ. The reputation is of a faith-destroying training, not a faith-deepening one. A whole layer of leaders in the church have a deeply ingrained suspicion of the value of theological training. Who can blame them? The degree-level evangelical option with its capacity to fuel 'deep mission' is less than 20 years old. Numerous countries in the Majority World had this option long before we did. Most English-speaking countries have had it for decades, even centuries ... but now look carefully at what is happening at Carey, at Laidlaw, and at Otago. I wrest my case. The cause of transformative theological training in NZ has never been better.

redeeming tertiary mission
The church in NZ has tended to scorn academia as impractical at best and irrelevant at worst. Too often our young people go there and lose their faith. Too often our academics go there and hide their faith. There has been so little engagement and so the universities keep winning the battle of ideas and go on to shape the nation in the next generation. We are such a heart-y and hand-y people, rather than a head-y one - and it shows! Shame on us. I am stunned by how often I hear Kiwi Christians downplay the significance of knowledge, understanding, the head, the mind... What Bible are these people reading? Because, as Harold Turner used to say, "ideas have legs" and "the most practical thing the church can do is to sit down and have a good think". But we'd really rather sing than think, we'd really rather find simple solutions than ask hard questions, and we'd really rather keep faith a warm private affair than a rugged public one. No wonder we are stuggling!

This is why I believe in Tertiary Students Christian Fellowship (TSCF - the NZ arm of the global InterVarsity work) - mired as it has been in a recession. Listen - it is impossible for mission in NZ to be effective without a strong campus presence which ensures that the worldviews of students are converted by 'deep mission' during their molten years. That the Christian dollar flows so readily to other NZ ministries and overlooks this one is an enduring mystery to me. But TSCF is bouncing back. Nowhere is this more evident than in this initiative known as Catalyst . It is just what the (mission) doctor ordered.

Inspiration. Concern. Hope
All three levels. All at once - in concert.
This is what we need.


nice chatting


Paul

* by 'evangelical' I mean an approach that is based on the Bible as the authoritative text and focused on the Christ revealed in its pages. It is possible to honour both Christ and the Bible!

6 comments:

Mark Maffey said...

Hi Paul

Another thought provoking post - I Understand your passion for level 3 mission, and agree with the fact that for many churches in New Zealand Level 2 is being done quite well, but for me the Level one issue you have raised is of great importance for the Western Church.

Any survey done in the corporate world in marketing will say the best way of attracting customers to your business is word of mouth. Any survey done on how people came to be involved in church and subsequently make a Christian Commitment will find that it overwhelming as a result of one to one contact. Word of mouth is key and the Words of our mouths, and the actions which accompany them are the greatest witness to Christ.

Evangelism is only part of the equation though, a weakness I see in many churches is that there is insufficent EVANGELISATION, too many weak foundlings disappear out church doors because they have failed to be moved past the milk stage. Encouraging people to learn more, and ultimately bringing people to a place where they move towards theological education whether it be correspondence certificates to full degree courses needs to be encouraged.

I like many others had my desire for further theological education piqued by Kiwi-made preaching.

One last though the first sermon summary you asked us in preaching class was from Matthew 9 vs. 35-38
Mine was simply this:

Christs
Urgency
Requires
Empowered
Saints

In other words Christs Urgency to see the lost saved, Requires us to be Empowered so that we can be Saints to those who need to be harvested. The more our churches know how to encourage and Empower their people towards evangelism

Matthew 9 vs. 35-38 – Jesus Has Compassion on the Crowd


Jesus went through all the towns and villages, teaching in their synagogues,
Preaching the good news of the kingdom and healing every disease and sickness
His teaching and preaching, accompanied by signs and wonders had the crowds agog
The good news of the kingdom shown by his healing of every disease and sickness
He was prepared to go to all places big and small and spoke in their synagogues
The Pharisees were threatened by his authority and to him had spiritual blindness
Cocooned by their interpretation of the laws and traditions they in their eyes had logs
Are we indifferent to his kingdom and his power to heal every disease and sickness?


When he saw the crowds, he had compassion on them,
Because they were harassed and helpless, like sheep without a shepherd
Do we see the crowds today and have compassion on them?
Do we need to cry out to him, give us your heart, your eyes to see the need?
A people lost, harassed, helpless without the Spirit in them
Unaware of the need to be in the flock, to be sheep who know the good shepherd


Then he said to his disciples, "The harvest is plentiful but the workers are few.
Ask the Lord of the harvest, therefore, to send out workers into his harvest field."
The time is coming and now is to stand on his word, and not just sit in a pew
To call out to God empower us to be your harvesters, to you we will come and yield
Our plans, our thoughts, for yours are much higher, greater, let us have your view
For you see the crowds, lost, helpless, harassed, past their veneers all is revealed
To your Spirit, you know all this is about them, may we have your insight and view
We are your sheep, may we hear your voice, step out and reach your harvest field

Mark Maffey, November 2008

(NIV)

Christina said...

Hi Paul,
How come I haven't heard about Harold Turner before? Where can I read his writing?

I wonder if part of the problem with our lack of 'evangelists' is that we have rejected previous models of what an evangelist should look like. For example the mass 'crusade' type evangelism clearly no longer resonates with this post-christendom, post modern culture we live in, and for kiwis can seem overly ostentatious. However we haven't spent the time and energy discussing what a kiwi post-modern evangelist looks like. Therefore we in the church fail to recognize and nurture them to grow in their gift.

Paul said...

Hi Christina

In terms of Harold Turner's material, a few suggestions:

(a) With your Laidlaw connections I'd track down either John Hitchen or Martin Sutherland - both of whom were part of this small ginger group that met in the early 90s. He had a whole lot of old handouts that opened these worlds up.

(b) In the very first New Vision New Zealand book (edited by Bruce Patrick) there is an article by Harold Turner. An easy read and uses Marxism as a helpful illustration when discussing 'deep mission'.

(c) At a Baptist Assembly about 8 years ago I coordinated a 90min presentation by the Carey staff on the 'three levels of mission'. I thought they did a brilliant job - but alas, I am not sure those who gathered 'got it' in any transformative sort of manner. I could dig up some of those notes...

As for the phrase 'postmodern evangelists' - dear, of dear do you really want to use that phrase with me, Christina? :) :) :) We've been here before.

I can get my head around the phrase 'postmodern mission' - but 'postmodern evangelism' appears more like an oxymoron to me?! I am not convinced that word-dependent, gospel-driven evangelism is something that the postmoderns have to offer the wider church. Their helpful offerings lie in other areas to my mind. On this matter I consider them to be part of the problem, not part of the solution. But I guess you will think otherwise :)

Christina said...

Oops, sorry Paul I should have been more careful with my phrasing!

Surprising though it is, I was actually (half) agreeing with you! I probably should have said an evangelist to post-modern kiwis, rather than a post-modern evangelist. I think the post-modern missional movement (or whatever we want to call it) has correctly challenged the idea of Billy Graham type crusade or tele-evangelists as being no longer effective. However all its(our) talk of evangelism now being a process of getting alongside people, discipling people into the kingdom etc.. while good and necessary has neglected the last step. We still need the people with the boldness needed to challenge people to make a decision as it is so easy to let people drift and listen carefully to their questions and then never challenge them. So I was trying to say that we haven't discussed that middle ground enough. So we no-longer need crusade evangelists. But we need a different type of gifted evangelist, that is gospel centered and does challenge people, but is also relationship focussed rather than mass crowd focussed. I'm not sure we recognize and nurture those people enough.

Paul said...

yep, couldn't agree with you more in the way you have expressed... except that I wouldn't rule out the crusade-thing completely. While the televangelist approach really is difficult to stomach I still reckon that God can do mighty things in the large gathering, but it is no longer the default setting for evangelism.

D said...

Hi Paul, this has nothing to do with your blog sorry, but just a question. I'm a youth pastor and I'm after a book on theology or the Bible that is simple enough to give to 14-17 year olds, as part of a discipleship things I'm doing with them. Finding this really hard to find.......any ideas you or others have would be great. thanks
dale@taupobaptist.org.nz