Are we asking the wrong questions?
A reflection from missional listener Ben Lucas on the kind of questions we might want to be asking at this time
My dear friends at Threshold church in Lincolnshire have noticed the importance of cairns – signposts of where we have been on the journey, way markers for people to follow. I felt the stirring to revisit one of my important moments as I transitioned to missional listening, the moment when I realised I was asking all the wrong questions. See the blog here.
I, like many Christian leaders, have had countless opportunities to evaluate what the present crisis means for church. I often come out of these meetings feeling a deep sense of grief, as I wonder if we are all still asking the wrong questions. In most of the meetings, the real issues are noticed… the pain, the brokenness, the redundancy, the death (and that death is death that has not died well), the anxiety, the not knowing… You know it, you have felt it. It is well and good that we are noticing these things. But...
The sadness arises when we then talk about all that we are doing. And my word, the church is as it always is, incredibly busy. But it seems to me, observing from the outside of traditional church, that so much effort is going into keeping the old style of church going but online. So much effort going into weekly presentations, some ministers now preaching every day, not just one or twice a week. So much effort going into looking after each other. So much conversation on the rights and wrongs of sharing communion online. So much effort looking at how we will get our buildings open again, and how we will worship together. Now, I am not saying this is not all important, but it feels like everybody is knackered, just looking after those already in our church. What about all those outside the church walls that are feeling all the pain and despondency but are without hope?
Some people are noticing that there seems to be more people looking at our online services – statistics that I am rather sceptical of on the whole. This leads to the question – how do we keep these new ‘relationships’, and help them join us in church? The wrong questions I suggest?
I am also asking deep questions of what this crisis means for my family and the missional listening project. With resources so much lower, will there be funding for us?
The wrong question I suggest?
I wonder if the right questions are: how and where is God calling us to be present in our communities at this time? And when we are able to live free of the virus, how do we continue to be present with the people in this community? And may, as we are present, new Christian communities rise up out of the ashes?
I understand the importance of wanting to feed our church members so they can be filled and inspired to ‘be on the frontline’. I understand the premise that we gather in services to become boiling hot, and then we are sent as people of transformation. I understand the Alpha analogy in the session: what is the church? That when you stop going to church, it is like a red-hot coal being taken out of the fire – and what happens to that coal – it goes black and cold.
But my adventuring in missional listening has disproved this theory. As much as I miss occasionally some aspects of traditional church – I have found myself even more red hot living my faith in a new (but perhaps ancient) way. The fellowship that we meet with in our house, is the most beautiful I have ever been a part of. Lessening my voice so that others are heard, by being multi voiced, has led to so much discipleship, beautiful artistry, poems, songs, and testimonies. I am also able to bring my voice as one of many.
How my children are taking off in their faith journey as we do not rely on Sunday school, or children and youth workers, but instead involve them in our everyday lived discipleship. How letting go of control has led to more spiritual gifts being evident. How living faith out in the community, has led to learning so much more about God. How now I talk about God more than I have ever done before – as to often before I was talking about church! How the boundary between church and community is almost non-existent. Like, when we look at Thy Kingdom Come not as a church activity, but something for the whole community to join in with (thank you Owen Green and the Stowe). My experience is that I am even more red hot now than I ever was before.
So, what are the right questions? No idea... but these are some thoughts! I think I want to encourage something to do with our posture. That firstly, we come to God, with empty hands. Like the disciples on the boat when they are asked, ‘what have you caught’? We say with them, ‘nothing’, lead us… We will find we are already in the right place but now being directed by the Spirit, rather than asking God to bless our endeavours.
We come to our neighbours with empty hands. Not with loads to give and to bless, not as missional targets, but as friends, as those we are having missional conversations with… the result being a missional life that we can live out together. We notice that as we journey – they are discipling us and we sometimes find the privilege of discipling them. Other than these thoughts, I think the original questions in my first blog still stand:
What is the cry of the community?
What would it look like if the kingdom of God came here and now?
And what might community look like as we answer the two previous questions?
One last muttering. I have often been meditating on what evangelists look like today. Not the old-style preachers, declaring the narrow gospel, but I wonder if examples of evangelists today are the spiritual directors. Those who ask great questions, those who lead people into the presence of God and teach how to pray and encounter. Most of my friends and colleagues are so good at this, for many it is their jobs – but so often this does not reach our communities.
What if I was to say, that all the gifting was already in the room, already in the people reading this… they just need to find time and space to practise that gifting in our communities rather than in the constraints of those who already belong. So, another question: What gifts has God given you? And how might you practice that in the community?
With God as your partner, you are everything the community needs at this time, and they need so much at this painful time. Please find time to turn up, be present with open and empty hands. And when relationships begin, bring all God has made you and see his kingdom come. May this be received as encouragement, as we wrestle with what are the right and wrong questions at this time. Be blessed!
Image | Jon Tyson | Unsplash
Ben Lucas was the minister of a large Baptist church before moving to rural Dorset in 2017. He and is family are living incarnationally, engaged in missional listening. This reflection originally appeared on his blog and is republished with permission
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