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Loitering with intent 

Jesus offers really only one strategy for mission.... and it is this, writes Michael Shaw 


I had a chat with the local Anglican Mission worker yesterday in his last week before moving into a new role. Ever since he arrived I've found him to be a kindred spirit. One of the things that united us was how we engaged with community, but what I call Incarnating the Gospel, he calls loitering with intent. Essentially it is intentionally being present in the community. Breathing the same air, walking the same streets, shopping in the same shops as the people around us.

Having just got over Christmas with its focus on the incarnation, it reminds me that Jesus offers really only one strategy for mission, and that is to incarnate the message. John’s gospel calls it dwelling (tabernacle), Tom Wright in his latest book prefers the word Embodying, and my Anglican friend calls it loitering with intent.

Sadly, we often see the incarnation as a means towards salvation, as an essential part of the process, and not the process itself. We tend to focus upon the few hours, days or weeks of Jesus’ life, and don’t see the incarnation as part of that process of salvation. But incarnation is more than just a means to an end, it is the end, it is what Jesus came to do. When Jesus is presented at the temple as a young baby, Simeon cries “my own eyes have seen the salvation”. The name Jesus means salvation; Jesus is embodied salvation.

The problem with incarnation, embodiment or loitering with intent, is that it is costly. It takes time, it is painful, it is slow. We live in an Amazon Prime world, where if we want something tomorrow we pay extra and we get it delivered tomorrow. We have no patience, and want immediate results. We devise programmes, create strategies and are desperate for the latest new idea or fad. We are constantly looking for the new silver bullet, whether it is the latest evangelism course, the latest strategy for engaging with people. We go to conferences, read books and blogs to get clues. When the Toronto blessing first became big pastors from across the UK flew to Canada to get the secret.

We are constantly searching for the latest quick fix, which avoids having to do hard, painful and slow process. We are constantly searching for the way to reach the 99 at the expense of the 1.

Yet Jesus only offers one model, which we often ignore. That model is loitering with intent, incarnation, embodiment or dwelling. That is the model he passed onto us. Maybe like other things it is too simple? Maybe the idea of just being present is not dynamic enough, or does not get the results we like quick enough, but that is the model we have.

Too often our mission is done to people. Incarnation is not about doing to, it is about becoming. It is not about us being the experts showing others the answer, but about us being the students. We like to be right, we like to be in control, but loitering with intent offers none of those things, and often leaves us as the powerless ones. We must learn to listen before we earn the right to speak. This is not the normal position of the church, but it is the natural one.  

So how can you loiter with intent in your community? It might mean changing church or job, it might mean disciplining yourself to listen before you speak. It might lead to us becoming more patient and less concerned by results or narrow models of growth. 

Picture: Gratisography

The Revd Michael Shaw is minister of Devonport Community Baptist Church, Plymouth

Baptist Times, 30/01/2017
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