Mission Essentials Four: Prayer

I remember listening to a great talk by Dick Dowsett on prayer.  It would’ve been around 1997 ish in the big top at Skegness for Word Alive (part of Spring Harvest).  His talk was rooted in Ephesians 1 and I can still picture Dick bouncing on his heels as he exhorted us to make prayer an attitude.  This re-vitalised my view of prayer.  As a young Christian, I had a view of prayer as an activity.  I return to this message often and find it to be comforting and challenging, depending on what kind of day I am having.

Yes,  I engage in prayer as an activity, but I find it most helpful to see prayer as an orientation or an attitude.  The depth of prayer is found in my heart first, then in my words. The richness of prayer is given an outward vesture in my words and actions.  Am I a person of prayer? How does prayer play a part in my spiritual life?  And how can it form an essential part of our mission as churches?

131349989_1a79dcc0b9How easy is it for us to bluster on in mission without prayer?  We have the good idea, get the meetings going and find all the practical details are in place.  Are we guilty sometimes of forgetting to pray?  How should we pray for our mission?

Let’s take a look at Paul’s words in Ephesians 1, and see if they resonate with us today.  We will hopefully draw out some principles for churches and praying for mission and maybe also some ideas for us as individuals regarding prayer.

Why should we pray for mission?  

For this reason, because I have heard of your faith in the Lord Jesus and your love toward all the saints..  (Ephesians 1:15, ESV)

In the first part of this letter, Paul sets out the basis of the faith of the early church.  He writes of the ‘riches of his grace’, ‘redemption through his blood’ and being ‘sealed with the promised Holy Spirit’ – it is clear that Paul has been deeply affected by what God has done for him. It is for this reason that he then prays for the church in Ephesus.  God has done something amazing for him, through Jesus, and he wants this to spread throughout the region.  So… he prays.  That appears to be his starting point.  Everything Paul writes to, and does, in Ephesus is rooted and founded in prayer.  Maybe this tells us something. We should begin mission with prayer.  Our mission should find its origin in prayer.

How should we pray for mission?

I do not cease to give thanks for you, remembering you in my prayers..                     Ephesians 1:16, ESV

There are two simple things in this verse.  First, the fact that Paul never ceases in prayer. Secondly, he prays for the people he is writing to.  The people of Ephesus were learning about faith, but Paul tells them he is praying for them.  He is thinking of them.  His heart and mind are turned towards them, because of what God has done for him.  How do we do on these two aspects of our church’s life and mission? Are we ceaseless in prayer?  Or is it all to easy for things to stop us?  Are we guilty of ‘just getting on with it’ without realising that the whole activity of mission ought to be soaked in prayer.  Perhaps as churches, we could mutually encourage each other to let prayer be part of our mission – at the beginning, in the middle and at the end.

The second half of verse 16 guides us to pray for our communities.  If we are holding an event and expecting guests – let’s pray for them.  If we are not sure how many people are going to engage with something that we are doing – let’s pray that people will come.  Let us turn our thinking, planning or worrying about mission into prayer.  Pray for opportunities, pray for growth, pray for the people that we meet.

Prayer could become an attitude in our churches, not just an activity.  With this attitude before us, it could be that opportunities for mission become greater, it could also be that more people catch the vision and become involved in mission.

Eight simple tips on prayer and mission

  1. Find the pray-ers in your church!  – some people epecially love praying and will do it beautifully dutifully.  Find them and ask them to pray.  Praying is a gift and some people have it in greater measure than others.
  2. Get people to sign up to pray for events whilst they are going on – some people may not be able to help with Alpha or Messy Church, but they can pray!
  3. Write a special prayer for mission and growth – share it with your church leaders and encourage it to be put in your news sheet or included in your weekly intercessory prayer.
  4. Set up a monthly prayer group or meeting, specifically to pray for your community – so not praying just for churchy things, but for everything and everyone in your community.
  5. Start every planning meeting or conversation with a prayer – wherever it might be.
  6. Ask people you meet whether you can pray for them
  7. Pray for growth in church and in the daily office (if that’s your thing)
  8. Keep a prayer journal for the church – what did we pray for?  Encourage people to write down their prayers at home.
  9. When you walk in your community; pray – offer the community to God.

Mission Essentials Three: Stationery

Yes, I know.  This might not be a subject which immediately springs into your mind when you think about mission.  For me, though, stationery is beautiful and when used well, can greatly enhance our work in mission.  My daughter mocks me mercilessly for my love of stationery.  Sometimes I am guilty of over-extending my spending on stationery items.  I have a good collection of pens.  Different shades, different textures, different makes – all these things are important.  There’s nothing worse than ending up at a meeting, and realising that you are carrying an unsatisfactory pen.  (or maybe that’s just me)  And as for notebooks….

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I am sure you have your own stationery foibles.  Elements of your work set-up that may seem like minor details, but when they are off-kilter, you just can’t get comfortable or be as creative as you want to be.  I believe that stationery can take its part in Christian mission.  Please bear with me as I try to explain.  Also, people tell me that we should write about what we love, and I love stationery!

 

Post-it ® notes are great (other sticky notes are available).  They are portable and can help a large group of people be heard.  I expect that if Jesus took orders when he fed the 5000, he would’ve most likely taken them on sticky notes. Easy to distribute, brightly coloured and a wonderful method of gathering a lot of information, quickly, from a diverse group.  Maybe you are working on your Mission Action Plan in your church? Maybe you are brainstorming at your PCC or church council – get the sticky notes out and be creative.  Pass them out and make sure everybody fills one in with an idea or a question.  They can then be moved around and afterwards worked with by a follow-up group.  Stick at it and see what God does with your ideas.

Paper has been around for a long time.  Great truths have been written on paper or papyrus for centuries.  Keep records well and don’t forget to look back to what has gone before.  In our digital age, it could be that a lot of mission activity isn’t ever planned, written or delivered on paper anymore.  The mission of the church has been going for centuries; we are merely building on what has gone before.  Much of it recorded on paper, possibly gathering dust in a vicar’s study or church office.  Remember the heritage.  Build on the past.  Acknowledge what has gone before.

Writing has developed over the years.  In ancient times the sap from plants was mixed with animal blood to produce a dye that could be transferred on to the walls of caves or tablets of stone. Other materials used to write included charred bones, mercury ore and tannic acid. Quill pens came into use in the 8th Century (ish) and were used up until Victorian times, where more sophisticated inks began to be developed. How can we be sure that what we write will last? Can we be creative in what we write? Is there somebody in your community who could pen a poem to inspire you in mission? Will these words of inspiration be preserved.  Jesus famously once wrote in the dirt, when he was trying to teach the Pharisees about sin. We don’t know exactly what he wrote, but can assume that it was something piercingly profound. Things we write can convey meaning and can last forever.  Get creative people involved in your mission. Maybe write a prayer to inspire mission in your church. Write a short story.  Write and ask God’s Holy Spirit to inspire the words.

Diaries and calendars are important when it comes to mission.  Operating an accurate calendar can be deceptively tricky.  We have to work hard to co-ordinate things with our friends and colleagues.  We also nee d to be aware of wider community events; try to avoid clashes, but keep an eye out for what we can collaborate on.  Keep a journal, whether as an individual, or as a church.  What would you put in your journal?  People you pray for.  The priorities you have in your community.  Some aims you might have in mission.  Some answers to prayer.  Some successes.  It is heartening to look back on a journal or diary, which keeps a realistic record of faith and mission.

So, is stationery important?  Possibly not for you.  That’s OK, we will look at social media later in Mission Essentials… For some, though, thinking about stationery and having a good attitude to the details, can be a springboard for safe, creative and engaging Christian mission.

 

Mission Essentials One: A Good Idea

When was the last time you had a good idea?  Some people are good at ideas.  They think of a good idea every hour of the day.   Others might feel like their reservoir of ideas has run dry.  In our churches it might feel easy to have loads of good ideas; but are they simply that?  Do they just remain merely ideas?  Maybe they are never even given a voice, maybe they are left hanging in the air, maybe they are squashed by a louder voice. It is a real challenge to turn a good idea into something that actually happens.  How do we work out which ideas are the ones which will enthuse us?  How do we discern which ideas our community will love? How do we transform a good idea into something which leads to spiritual and numerical growth? Perhaps we all know the frustration of our fantastic theoretical idea never having the public exposure it deserves…

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a good idea

I’ve had some great ideas over the years. I have often thought it would be a fantastic idea to combine the function of a washing machine and a dishwasher into one unit…. I’ll probably sit on that idea for quite a while.  Equally silly is my idea of expanding the range of assistance animals for the deaf and blind – I think I’d choose a ‘guide chimpanzee’.   I realise that idea must stay where it is – in a Monty Python-esque parallel universe.

So, we can usually acknowledge when an idea is rubbish.  In fact, it could be true to say that most ideas stay on the shelf, never to be implemented.  It is very possible that this is because they are the bad ones… But, how do we uncover the gems?  How do we ensure that the good ideas stick?  How do we give life to a good and positive notion, concept or belief? Let us turn to our churches and explore how a good idea can be an essential in our mission and community interaction.

Whilst making the following comments, I am aware that the key good idea for mission, is to put God before everything we do.  We need to pray.  We need to tell people about Jesus. We want to show people that following God is OK.  God’s all-ecompassing forgiveness, love, grace and mercy, in and through what Jesus has done for us and the ongoing indwelling of the Holy Spirit in our lives is the key good idea.  I do get that, and in a way, this foundational good idea underpins everything we do as Christians in our mission and community work. That said, here is some (hopefully) pragmatic comment on how to develop good ideas to carry into our church life.

Who can provide a good idea ?  Very often, the best ideas for mission and outreach do not come from church leaders or vicar-types.

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maybe not a good idea..

It’s sometimes hard for those in such roles to admit this, but a sound theological and spiritual education doesn’t immediately confer an ability to relate effectively with the community they abide in.  A good idea can come from anywhere or from anyone.

So, what is the key point here for identifying where a good idea will come from? Let us listen to one another.  If you are a leader in a church – talk to those around you. Listen to them. Carefully. Ask the younger members of your church what they think is a good idea for mission. Listen to them. Carefully.  Ask the older people – their experience is vital!  In fact, ask everyone..  ask the local shopkeepers, ask your local headteachers, ask your local councillors, ask the staff in local businesses, ask the people in the street.

But what shall we ask them?  Here are some ideas of questions…  you might just get some good ideas in response…

  • What is the best thing in your community?
  • What are you passionate about?
  • What would you like the church to do in the community?
  • How do you spend your leisure time?
  • Is there anything missing from your local community?
  • What do you think is the most important area for growth in the church?

If you are able to ask questions, then don’t forget to collate the answers together and get a diverse group of people to look at them and work out what are the most prominent themes in the answers.  And don’t be surprised if the best answers come from unexpected places or people!

When do good ideas get implemented? When a list of good ideas (see Appendix One) is being discussed, how do we discern which ones to put into action?  This is the really tricky bit.  It is where many churches stall and become overwhelmed by the task at hand.  These are some of the traps we fall into as churches:

  • Trying all the ideas at once – this rarely works, and can often lead to exhaustion, negativity and a feeling that nothing can ever get done.  Trying to deliver on six good ideas, when resources are stretched can be counter-productive.  Why not spread six good ideas over a couple of years?  Or longer? Perhaps we sometimes need to wait.  To assess our resources, so that one or two good ideas can be done well.
  • Filing the ideas away – sometimes there are so many ideas generated, that we just roll up the big sheet of paper, tidy the post-its away, file the notes neatly in our study, because we cannot face the task of discernment and implementation.  If we have asked people for their opinion and their ideas, we must do our best to process them to the point of some kind of action.  So.. pray that somebody will volunteer to work through the ideas and collate the information, so it can be easily presented and seen.
  • Waiting for the right time – this sounds good in theory, but can lead to an endless procrastination..  Give the best idea a go! Find a completer-finisher and get them on board.  Talk to people, get them enthused and take some action!

‘I will never say the word procrastinate again, I’ll never see myself in the mirror with my eyes closed’  (Flansburgh and Linnell 1990)

How do we get good ideas that work?  It might sound straightforward, but the answer to this question is simple.  As churches we are guilty of over-complicating things. We have our foundational mission, we know what we are trying to achieve.  We might even have several good ideas to choose from.  We can have everything in place: a good idea, a good team, the perfect timing, sound finances and the Holy Spirit with us, yet sometimes it still doesn’t work!

In Christian mission our task is to keep praying, to keep in step with the Holy Spirit, to keep the message of Jesus at the front of all we do.  Everything else can just be a load of good ideas.  Let’s work together and pray that we will see our churches grow.  May we all find our role in the God’s mission in our communities and this week especially thank God for those who create the ideas that transform our church life together..

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Appendix One – A list of good ideas

  • Clear up the litter in your community
  • Start a regular, clean, family comedy night
  • Put some encouraging messages on your noticeboard
  • Hold a youth talent night
  • Have a regular team at your local pub’s quiz night
  • Hold a thank you/celebration event for your local shopkeepers
  • Dog-walking club
  • Organise a community recipe book

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Gently does it…

Gentleness is our penultimate fruit of the Holy Spirit.  That’s not to say that the fruit of the Holy Spirit ever come to an end, but you know what I mean.  Paul uses the word which can be translated as meekness (KJV) or gentleness (loads of other versions).  Being gentle is something that some of us find difficult.

‘Gentle Ben’ is a great story – the Alaskan brown bear befriends a young child in the original novel.  It is a fanciful story of a usually fierce and unpredictable creature being friendly, kind and careful with the humans he comes across.  But in a dramatic turn of events he is provoked and he retaliates dangerously, his claws are revealed and he protects his territory with violence.  The tale returns to a calmer version of Ben and the image is conveyed once more of a docile animal, who exudes great gentleness to all around.

Why should we bear gentleness as a fruit of the spirit?  What good will being gentle do us?  Especially in our mission as a church; shouldn’t we be being strident, forthright and incisive?  When we are preparing for a mission project or event, we often are encouraged to speak about boldness.  We are often sucked into thinking that if we use the loudest voice, or the loudest music, or the loudest clothes, or the loudest colours, then people will flock to us!  Our event will be a roaring success.  Sometimes, though, people can see through the loudness.  Sometimes we might just come across as a bit too keen. A bit too loud.

Where does gentleness fit in to our mission?  We have to be careful in mission, we have to be sensitive, we have to have respect.  Ultimately we have to listen.  Gentleness is a way of being, which leads us to a space where we listen to what is around us.  We listen to one another, we listen to our culture and we listen to God. St Peter writes in his letter:  “Always be prepared to give an answer to everyone who asks you to give the reason for the hope that you have. But do this with gentleness and respect..”  What a great way to sum up how we can include gentleness in our mission and evangelism.

Jesus also uses the same word, when he says “Blessed are the meek, for they shall inherit the earth”.  I don’t know about you, but this is a glowing endorsement of gentleness.  It is another fruit of the spirit that goes against the flow of our society.  Success is equated to power and power is in the hands of the strong, the loud and the over-confident.  Gentleness as a way of being is not fashionable in social, political and (sadly) religious life.  In scripture it carries echoes of humility and mildness.  Do we show humility towards others?  Do we show humility towards God?

Our mission is not about a grand show, telling the world how clever we are.  It is a real response to God in humility.  It is best to engage in mission after we have listened, which I believe is part of gentleness. We can go boldly and we go with a message of power, but we do it with the gentleness that the Holy Spirit gives us.

 

 

 

 

deliberate acts of kindness

I once sat and listened to a new headteacher in a county Secondary school speak of her commitment to kindness as being central to the ethos she wanted for her new school community.  The school wasn’t a church school, so her choice of words was meant in general terms.  At the point of the new headteacher taking questions on her presentation, a local vicar raised his hand.  He asked, with a smile, the following question:  “Were you aware that, according to scripture, kindness is a fruit of the Holy Spirit?” Some of us gathered cringed inwardly.  His question was earnestly meant, and even though it may have had a mixed reception, he had a point.  What does kindness mean in our cultural context today?  How can it enhance our mission?

kindness

Kindness might come easily to you.  That’s great if it is true.  Maybe you are one of those people who is blessed with a kind countenance and cheery disposition.  Perhaps you are always ready with an encouraging word or a forgiving gesture.  Or it could be that we find being kind one of the hardest things to do.  The busyness of the day overtakes us; we get pre-occupied and distracted.  Then perhaps we forget to say “excuse me” or don’t let someone turn before us at a junction.  There are small kindnesses that can be the happy punctuation of our day.  The kindness that Paul speaks about is greater than just being a nice bloke or having a cheerful way of being.  It, like all the fruits of the Spirit, has a richness to it that can bring colour and life to our lives and also to the life of our churches.  Let’s have a look at the word and it’s use.

“For my yoke is easy and my burden is light.” Matthew 11:30

The word Jesus uses for ‘easy’ in this quotation from the Bible, is the same root as Paul’s ‘kindness’ in Galatians 5:22.  It is also the same root as when Luke reports Jesus talking of the sweet quality of the old wine.  There is something here about freshness, sweetness, gentleness and ease.  Are they characteristics we associate with kindness?  Or do we see kindness more as a ‘quid pro quo’ arrangement?  If I’m kind, then others are more likely to be kind in return.  If I show kindness, then I might see it more.  That seems more cynical than sweet.  More futile than fresh.  More self-serving than Spirit-filled.

Paul encourages us to show kindness to one another.  To show gentleness, consideration and respect to those we live and work with.  Not to bolster our own well-being, but as a response to what God has done for us, through his Spirit.  It might take an effort.  It might be the last thing we want to be or to do.  It might take some sacrifice or other.  Let us start with ourselves.  We cannot force others to be kind to us.  We cannot control kindness in the wider world. But we can ask God to show us how to be kind.  We can then even practise it in our lives.  How could we show somebody kindness today?  Why don’t you see if you can be kinder to the people around you this week?

And what about our mission as a church?  Paul’s image of a body is helpful here.  If we are kind to our bodies in our diet, exercise and lifestyle, then it is more likely to stay fit, healthy and strong.  What a brilliant mission we would have, if the world saw how kind we were to each other!