Isn’t it wonderful, all the stories of the mission workers flung to all ends of the earth, with varieties of stories, tales and reflections of their experiences around the world. And the response – someone pray for them, or someone send the tin around, and thats about it, but actually in some ways thats all the learning that might be done in that situation. The person will head back in a few weeks, and the church will never see them again. Maybe in a few years they’ll end up writing of their experiences, or lecturing on them, and I learned so much from the experiences of Mission abroad, especially David Miller, Rory and Derek at ICC, all who invested their knowledge back into the church, via academia. Its invaluable.
But what of the learning from UK based mission work? – or maybe more pertinently missional Youth work over the last 40-50 years? Not to mention all the mission projects, street pastors, food banks for example where people are encountered and in conversation, usually ‘outside of the church’ . Then there’s the chaplains, in hospitals, schools, railways, night clubs, workplaces – all meeting people in their spaces. 1000’s of hours a week are spent meeting people, conversation, listening to people, understanding society & culture from day to day small acts of presence.
What opportunities are there for the church (both local/national) to learn, to adapt and to reflect upon all of these mission/social action/youthwork initiatives and learn about what is going on, and learning to accomodate spaces within church because of the mission work going on.
Sometimes it feels like church is the small bottle neck that only a few people survive in, yet Mission in most situations is inclusive, broad and adaptable. Church as a destination or outcome for mission might never be the case, if learning from the ongoing, and often undervalued mission going on in the community isnt accomodated as a practice that challenges and changes.
The church might learn that in the thin spaces of the world, that God is at work, might learn about what is actually going on spiritually with people in their locality ( and not just surveys from national samples), might realise that the distance between the person outside the church and the person inside is small, but that the institutional social norms, and behaviours act as barriers. If people doing mission have crossed the invisible fourth wall to be outside in the world, might the church reflect on the created walls and take them down, brick by traditional, boundary based brick.
Surely church shouldnt keep its UK missionaries at arms length, or more pertinently the learning, and their experiences.. Instead might the church develop learning to adapt to God in the world that missionaries are following and encountering, surely its better for the future of the church to start learning and journeying with mission. Where is the openness that theres a conversation in the church structures that it is learning from the mission activity? – yes learn from academia, other disciplines, sociology – but what might it learn from its current mission work in the UK? How might church change as a result – hopefully for the transformational better…
Might UK based mission lead the church out of its statistically researched slumber? (it might not need an evangelism explosion, just learn from its already doing)
Someone might ask me how this might happen? – yet good point. If you’re in a church, and you have paid/voluntary mission/community workers – then maybe it has to start locally. Actually, the best mission is local, it can only be.