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mission-shaped spiritualitythe transforming power of mission
By susan hope
Seabury BooksCopyright © 2010 Susan Hope
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Chapter OneFrom come to go
'He told them ... "Go!"' Luke 10.2,3
In 1999 Kerry died. She was just 18 and she had lived in nine different children's homes. She belonged nowhere and with no one. She had tried to kill herself several times in her young life. Her body was found in a wooded part of the hospital grounds. She had somehow managed to strangle herself with the laces from her trainers. A post-mortem revealed that she had also taken a large quantity of heroin.
On a bitterly cold night in 2003, just before Christmas, Adrian, a homeless youth, crawled into a council wheelie bin in Doncaster town centre and died of a combination of drugs and hypothermia.
Kerry and Adrian are only statistics to most of us—just two unknown youngsters who got lost along the way. But they are not statistics to God. Nor are the countless numbers of people in England who, for very different reasons and in very different circumstances, find themselves alone, or hungry, or restless, or empty, or without hope, or burdened with guilt, or trapped by compulsive drives, or just plain bored with money, leisure and celebrity culture. There are others among us who face serious and life-threatening illness, or the break-up of a marriage, the loss of a child, the struggle with sexual identity, and whole communities, clusters, people-groups—asylum seekers, schoolchildren, farmers, fishermen, wealthy suburbanites, teenage mums, young sophisticates, musicians, gamblers and sportspeople, health workers and students—all of whom have simply never heard the gospel of Jesus in ways that make sense to them. Many find themselves clinging, sometimes precariously, to a sense of identity quarried from snatches of community memory and shored up with a pastiche of half-remembered wisdom woven with contemporary advertising slogans, all packaged attractively in the designer dress and consumer culture of twenty-first-century Britain.
A defining word
To all these people, individuals and people-groups, at this point in our history, God requires his Church to go. Once, they came to us. For 1,500 years the Church in England has been a settled Church. The word 'come' could be said to have defined our mission as a Christian community 'Here we are. Come to us—we'll baptize your babies, marry you, bury your dead. And if you want to know a bit more, if you're interested in the Christian faith, why not come to a confirmation group?' And so for years they've come. Not in droves but in a steady trickle, enough to keep the Church of England at least feeling that it was fulfilling its mandate to be the Church of the nation.
Yet clearly, increasingly, they are not coming to us. The reasons are complex and multifaceted, and have been well explored elsewhere. As the report Mission-shaped Church makes patently clear: The reality is that mainstream culture no longer brings people to the church door ... Instead of "come to us", this new approach is to "go to them"." What is clear is that the defining word for the Church and its mission has changed from 'come' to 'go'. Moreover, this 'going' cannot be interpreted narrowly, in a geographical sense, as though geography were the prime interpreter of incarnation, but in the broader, deeper sense of going to be with people 'how' they are, 'connecting with people's culture, values, lifestyle and networks as well as with their location'.
What powers the mission?
But if we are to 'go' in mission, where is the energy to come from? What powers the mission? What kick-starts it? What massive impulse can propel us from being a settled community—a 'come to us' community—into being a community on the move? And what will keep us going when we find ourselves in for the long haul?
For here we are—British Christians at the start of the third millennium—with a message to pass on. It's a message that must be given in both word and action. Its just possible that nothing else matters as much as this one task The report Mission-shaped Church is helping us to re-evaluate our methodology, to find new shapes and patterns that can assist mission and evangelism in a post-modem, post-everything world. But the impetus, the passion, the desire to re-engage with evangelism in our culture and time, the longing to pass on this one message—to do the task that has been given to us—where is that to be found? Is there such a thing as a 'spirituality for mission', a spirituality that will engender and support mission—an apostolic spirituality? If so, what are its characteristics?
A question of confidence
Further, given the assault on Christian confidence, from within and without the Church, where is confidence for the task to be found? What does apostolic confidence look like in an age such as ours, an age of uncertainty? Does the question of confidence not sit uneasily in our present context, where extremism and confidence in matters of faith are so often confused in the public mind? Can apostolic spirituality find a shape that can hold to a confidence in the gospel without doing violence to the sensitivities of an age that is more trusting of a truth-seeking than a truth-claiming approach? And if there is a Christian confidence that can work for our age, how can the whole Church be infused with it, so that the apostolate of the laity, as well as that of the clergy, can be liberated to become an apostolic people?
Journeying off the edge of the map
It is with these questions in mind that this book has been written. It is not its intention, or claim, to try to be the definitive guide on what is a vast and —as yet, for many of us—uncharted water (Uncharted, because for the English Church, the idea of missionary endeavour to its own people is largely a thing of the long-distant past. Indeed, given that the main missionary movements towards the peoples of these isles were at the initiative of the Romans and the Celtic Irish, it could be argued that the English Church as a whole has never systematically and intentionally engaged in a missionary work to its own people.) Nor is this a book about the spirituality of unchurched people and the kinds of connections that we can make with them. That is an important issue, and some of what I've explored will have repercussions into that topic, but it is not the focus of this book.
What I've attempted to do is remind us of some of the underlying dynamics of the mission task and alert us to the kind of people that we may need to become in order to do the job. But the book is not only about this. It's also an attempt to say that going in mission may start us off on an adventure that is enormously and joyfully life-giving for the Church and for ourselves, too. The wholly new context in which we find ourselves provides us as a Church with, potentially, some of the most exhilarating explorations that we may ever encounter. For essentially the spirituality of the English Church—of whatever denomination or tradition—is that of a settled community. Its liturgies, its way of organizing itself, its buildings, its synods, its financial arrangements, its self-understanding, have been formed and shaped through a long time of settlement. Who knows what the journey of mission will do to the spirituality of the Church? Might it not be that as we move out, we'll find something happening to the Church itself? How might our faith, our priorities, our prayer, our way of living towards God be changed through the journey of mission?
Stories from the front
This book could have been written in a number of different ways. One way would have been to look back to great missionary movements and missionaries of the past in an attempt to track threads of missionary spirituality Another way would have been to work solely with the biblical witness. I've taken a different route. For Mission-shaped Church has highlighted some of the ways in which journeys of mission are being undertaken at present, and the Church of England and the Methodist Church are working together through the Fresh Expressions initiative to encourage and resource such journeys. What is emerging from these early journeys is stories: stories of attempting to interpret the signs, of trying to discern the leading of the Spirit, stories of grappling with inner uncertainty, of adventure and of joy, of blind alleys and cul-de-sacs, of the formidable rock faces of indifference and of resistance—in the culture and in the Church—stories of the long uphill climb, the steady commitment to the enterprise, and of sudden surprise views.
In making use of these stories, I wanted to try to look forward a bit from what is happening at present, and to ask if it is possible to discern, in the weave of these stories with some of the stories of the missionary journeys of the Early Church, the warp and woof of a fabric, the threads and shapes of an emerging pattern of apostolic spirituality. Is it possible, through these stones, to take note of markers, signs, pointers, which describe something of the formation of a missionary people? The stories themselves are, of course, fragmentary, small, partial. But they do offer us an opportunity to listen to tales from the front. Their random nature probably means that they are better described as 'soundings' rather than research. For all those whose stones have provided this book with its living content, I am grateful. And I'm most particularly grateful to my friends at the Sheffield Centre, who are doing serious research into current church planting and fresh expressions, and who have given me so much support, encouragement and friendship.
'Traditional church' and 'fresh expressions'
While much of the material in this book has been drawn from those who are working at fresh expressions of church, this is in no way to imply that 'traditional church' is not called to be missionary. I have also included, therefore, stories from the more traditional parish model of mission. It is vital that we do not allow a wedge to be driven between the two models: indeed, many newly planted churches and fresh expressions are directly the fruit of an acknowledged missionary heart within the traditional church. The advantage, however, of quarrying much of the research from 'fresh expressions', is that it is just that—fresh. There is a possibility that in the very rawness and unformed nature of some of these early experiences in mission, we may hear and see something more clearly. indeed, we may find that 'a word' is being spoken back from the front into the whole Church, a word that can bring life. It is the whole Church, in all its diverse forms, that is invited to become what it is—one, holy, catholic and apostolic. None of us is exempt from that call. Besides, who wants to be left out of such an adventure?
Chapter TwoCalled and sent
'When Jesus had called the Twelve together ... he sent them out ...' Luke 9.1,2
Back in 1999, I began to get restless. I was vicar of a steadily growing church in urban-suburban Sheffield. We had a sizeable staff team, including an administrator, a thriving parish centre, youth work, children's groups and home groups. Weddings and funerals kept us busy, as did pastoral visiting and church committees. Enquirers and fringe people were introduced to the basics of the faith through various nurture courses and by participating in the Christian communil was a small but steady trickle of people coming to faith. Things looked good, healthy, satisfying. Yet, for me personally, something was wrong. I found myself pacing about in my study, feeling increasingly trapped by the paperwork, by the demands of the computer, by the rut and the rhythm of being a vicar. It wasn't that I didn't enjoy it, or feel it was worthwhile. But something was missing. I'd lost something and I didn't know what it was. Over some weeks, I began to feel an inner impulse that grew steadily into a quietly burning fire of conviction—I had to 'go'. I had literally to 'go'. But where? And how?
I started to strike out days in my diary ahead, writing'go' across them. On the day in question, I would put on my dog collar and take a tram up to town. Once in town, I found myself walking around among the people in the city centre, and in particular dropping down to squat beside those who were begging. 'I've got half an hour—tell me your story. how did you get from being born to this pavement?' This went on for some months. I learned some important first lessons in 'going'. I heard some amazing stories. I gave away some Gospels, and spoke about Jesus to a few people. I bought some cups of tea for others. I tracked down the family of a girl who'd lost touch with them. And then I began to notice something—that on my journeys home I was bursting with joy. The thing I'd lost had been found. And with it had come a new energy for life and for ministry. It came through simply 'going'. I also began to notice something else—that the going didn't have to be 'successful' to bring joy—it just had to be done.
Uncovering the fire
In this chapter I want to highlight one key factor that is frequently involved in the recovery of vision and being re-energized for mission. Re-energize is an important word. For it is the perception of many church leaders, both clergy and lay, that the fire of mission, the DNA, the heart of concern for the 'outsider', is often submerged beneath the demands and duties of daily parochial life. For many of us, the fire is almost extinguished and we forget who we are and to what we are called. And through forgetting, we lose confidence, so that the task of mission, when we do look at it, seems overwhelming, impossible, out of our range. It can feel like just more hard work In fad, there is a particularly powerful inertia that operates among many churches with regard to the task of mission. From where we are, it looks well nigh impossible. It's as though we are seated in a comfortable armchair by the fire. It's a dark night. We've got to go out, but the more we think about it the less we want to do it and the better our excuses for not going.
No one ever really argues themselves out of inertia. There is only one way to deal with it and that is to exert a counter force—to push through it, to pull against it. As soon as we start doing that, the inertia begins to release its grip. My experience, small as it is, would seem to suggest that the fire of mission can re-ignite through the act of going. This is not to suggest that we are to rush out anxiously, as the latest fix for our common frustrations—that will lead only to exhaustion and disillusionment. But it is to say that going in obedience to our original call can assist in re-igniting what is at the heart of us: that fire of love, for God and the world, that is the driving power of apostolic spirituality—spirituality for mission.
Tackling the inertia is essentially practical. It is likely to mean, for clergy and laity alike, going and doing a piece of mission (perhaps a very small thing, like visiting someone who has been on the fringe of church for ages but who we don't really know) rather than spending yet another two hours at the computer, or tidying up the parish room. This will almost inevitably mean putting one thing down, neglecting it, even, in order to do something else. This can exert the kind of pressure on us that is suggested by Jesus' parable of 'the ninety-nine' and the one' (Luke 15.4). Talking about the issue of priorities as a PCC, being frank about feelings, and making concrete decisions about actions, can help to deal with the kind of guilt and uncertainty that leaving the ninety-nine can provoke in us.
Remembering what we are for and about
But how are we to know that 'mission' is our original call? Mission-shaped Church reminds us that 'it is ... of the essence (the DNA) of the Church to be a missionary community, because of God himself 'whose mission as creator ... is to bring into being, sustain and perfect the whole creation, and as redeemer ... to restore and reconcile the fallen creation'. We are called into a relationship with a sending God and the simple fact is that an encounter with the sending God seems to produce people who are sent. Moses alone in the desert, Isaiah burnt out before the throne of God, Simon after a night's unproductive fishing Mary grieving in the garden, Paul breathing out threats and murder on a journey ... each one meeting God, each one in some way healed or transformed, each one then sent to 'go and tell'. You could say that the meeting marks them for mission. They are branded, burnt, with the fire of God.
Excerpted from mission-shaped spirituality by susan hope Copyright © 2010 by Susan Hope. Excerpted by permission of Seabury Books. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
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Table of Contents
Series introduction vii
About the book xi
Chapter 1 From come to go 1
Chapter 2 Called and sent 6
Chapter 3 Living trustingly 14
Chapter 4 Seeing 22
Chapter 5 Take nothing for the journey 35
Chapter 6 Two by two 50
Chapter 7 Prayer, promise and struggle 61
Chapter 8 The message and the messengers 74
Chapter 9 Helping to heal the world's woe 83
Chapter 10 Learning, laughing and the long haul 96
Chapter 11 An apostolic adventure 108
Further information and reading 122