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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faithfulness

IMG_9349.jpgWhen Paul writes of faithfulness in Galatians, what does he mean? It’s from the Greek pistis, which carries a sense of loyalty and being trustworthy when dealing with other people. How can we learn about being faithful people in spiritual terms?  It may make us feel uncomfortable, because the opposite human traits are not very appealing.

My dog is extremely loyal.  Her name is Cassie and she is pictured here.  Every time I return to her, she comes and sits in front of me, wags her tail and looks at me expectantly.  She is always there.  She relies on me for her nurture and wellbeing.  Interestingly, I also come to rely on her.  I faithfully walk her, feed her and ensure she is safe.  It is a mutual relationship, which we both benefit from.  I learn about faithfulness just by looking at her.  If only our human interaction was as straightforward!

Galatia, at the time of Paul’s letter, was a mixture of early Jewish Christians and another group of Christians, who had a Greco-Roman angle on their burgeoning faith.  Paul was seeking to give them a united message.  Who, or what, should they be faithful to?  Was it their cultural norms?  Was it their interpretation of the law?  Was it their teachers? Or was it the teachings of Christ?  In Galatians 3, Paul writes There is no longer Jew or Greek, there is no longer slave or free, there is no longer male and female; for all of you are one in Christ Jesus.”  He is quite clear that the person of Jesus was the key to understanding life.  Paul acknowledged that there was difference and was preaching a message of unity and mutual faithfulness.  In his list of the fruits of the Spirit, he gave the people of Galatia, and consequently to us, some ways to gauge how they were doing.

Faithfulness is a mindset which we show to all kinds of things.  Pets is an obvious example.  But we also show it to our favourite singers, we show it to our hobbies, we show it to each other at the pub, we show it to our families.  But how can we show it in our mission as a church?  We can show it by not giving up.  We can show it by keeping on keeping on.  We can meet it by being steadfast and always being there.

The opposite of faithfulness is a mindset we can sometimes be guilty of slipping into. We can be fickle and we can show disregard.  The church can be guilty of seemingly only appealing to people like us or people who will understand us.  This is an impoverished view of the faithfulness that God shows to us.  His lavish gift of unwavering faithfulness deserves more from us.

Faithfulness is something that we can all pray for.  It might be conveyed these days in terms of stickability or guts.  Faithfulness is the friend who is there whatever has happened.  Faithfulness is the brother or sister who still loves you. Faithfulness is in the ancient church door.  Faithfulness is in the face of Christ.  Faithfulness is in the bread and the wine.  Faithfulness is at the centre of our mission.  Faithfulness is what God shows to us.  Let’s do our bit and show it to each other and let it shine in our mission as a church.

 

‘all you need is just a little patience’

I have a confession to make.  I used to get home from school, and listen to this song.115483812  I might cringe now when I hear it.  It’s pretty awful. But teenage me must’ve found something meaningful in it.  The lyrics are rock n’ roll romance. (I think it was Axl Rose’s whistling intro which really caught my attention..)

The patience that Paul writes about in Galatians and in his other letters, is something more than the soppy sentiment of this song, or the equally slushy Take That hit of the same name.  Just like our previous posts, we will look at patience as part of our Christian mission and then see where it takes us.

What is patience? Is it just waiting for our turn to speak?  Is it those terminal minutes on hold at the utility company?  Is it a boring waste of our precious time? Or is it a gift from God; a fruit of The Holy Spirit, there for the edification and building up of the church?

We live in a culture that doesn’t do patience.  We like our food fast.  We like our TV now. We want the test results immediately.  We want to go the quickest way.  Getting lost isn’t an adventure.  We will half-listen to everything.  We like to multi-task.  We want a response.  We want it now.  We want the church full today.  We want it all to be sorted. Being patient is boring.  Nothing happens fast enough. Where are the results…?

The patience that Paul writes of in Galatians has the echoes of a different way. It carries ideas of deference, self-deprecation, waiting with confidence and endurance.  The KJV translation is long-suffering.  This puts into perspective our ‘now’ culture.  We don’t like any kind of suffering.  But we know that Paul encourages us to be long-suffering as a vital part of being a Christian (e.g. the end of Philippians 1).

Can we defer our Christian mission? Can we wait with confidence for our part in God’s mission to become clear.  Let’s encourage each other to endure.  Yes it might end up being the ninth revision of the mission plan, yes there might be people just getting in the way, yes we might be frustrated at the pure inaction of things.  But endurance is good for us.  If our hope and message is worth passing on to others in our community, and we believe it is, then it’s worth waiting for.  Waiting for the right time.  Waiting for an opportunity.  Waiting for the right team to make it happen.

Patience as a fruit of the spirit is unfashionable and possibly gets overlooked in Paul’s writings.   Mainly because it takes the onus away from us.  When we are waiting for something, we often have to surrender control to something or somebody else, we cannot control the bus, the postal service, the healthcare professionals or the prospective employer; however much we might want to! The same is true when we are waiting for something to happen in Christian mission.  The way patience will become a fruit that we taste in our Christian mission, is by deferring to God and his timing and his character.  If we allow that to be our mission, then our church’s mission might flourish.  All we need is just a little patience….

 

come on eiréné

‘There will be peace in the valley for me, oh Lord I pray’   (Thomas Dorsey 1937)

The peace of God is supposed to be beyond our understanding – well, that’s what Paul says in his note to the church at Philippi.  Maybe he should’ve said ‘if you want the peace that God gives, good luck trying to keep it…’  Does this peace, which Paul writes about, go not just beyond our understanding, but also beyond our reach?  Is it like that branch you couldn’t quite reach in the tree?  Is it the words you couldn’t find when faced with bad news?  Is it the time you needed the last time you were angry? How can peace form part of our Christian mission?

walk path

Paul loved to use the most common Biblical word for peace (eiréné) as part of a greeting or in the final flourish of his letters.  For Paul, greetings and endings were important. Perhaps the challenge for us as a church is to put this peace at the beginning and end of everything we do too.  With peace as our bookends, our mission will be more effective.  It will be more measured.  It will be more on target.  It will enrich our communities.  It will build up the church.  It will honour God as the focus of our mission.

How do we greet our mission opportunities?  Do we blunder in, blindfolded and bursting with excitement?  It’s good for us to be energised, but like a horse that needs to be broken, we need to allow God’s peace to be at the forefront of our opportunities.  That first conversation about mission should be focused and determined, but it should also be driven by the health and wholeness of the Holy Spirit.  Our mission begins with our desire to pass on what God first shows to us.  We ought to be a peace-giving presence in our community.  We need to listen.  We need to be sensitive.  We need to carry with us the peace that God gives to us.  Mission shouldn’t be divisive.  It shouldn’t cause our friends frustration.  It shouldn’t do more harm than good.

How do we end our mission opportunities?  Do we count people? Do we count money? Do we measure how tired we are?  Or rejoice in how happy it made us? Do we grasp at holy straws? Do we attempt to work out what exactly what we have done?  Often, at the end of a mission opportunity, whether it be a quick chat at the shops, or a long-planned event, we get busy.  We fill ourselves with the activity of working out how successful it was.  We write reports.  We have a debrief meeting. We start planning the next one.  How about we take a leaf from Paul’s book and try a bit of peaceful prayer?  We could rest a while and ask God to give us his peace.  We could wait and listen to what God has to say about our missional effort.  He might have something helpful for us.

How do we make sure that in our lives, and in our part in Christian mission, peace is at the greeting and ending of our efforts?  We do this by supporting each other.  By giving encouragement to one another. By praying that God will give us the resources we need to be people of peace in our mission. By building faith in the church.  Let us pause to send messages of God’s peace to one another; at the beginning of mission and at the end.