It is eight years since my focus moved away from New Zealand to embrace the peoples of the majority world. Back then voices reminded me of the need to be ‘resourcing mission with inspiring stories of relevance.’ Each of those words has been drawn now into a deeper, fuller conversation.
Resourcing - but what about partnership?
The resourcing mentality can create a sense that there are those with something to give and the rest, who have something to receive. The flow tends to be one way. Even with the best servant-hearted intentions, this often perpetuates a dependency.
And yet when we consider the images of the church in the New Testament - body, temple, building – it is interdependency that is so striking. Everyone has something to give. Everyone has something to receive. Everyone is indispensable – in the global church, as well as the local one. Expressing these truths is best done through partnerships.
Mission - but what about maturity?
In global terms, the mission challenge in NZ is difficult, very difficult. I have a special admiration for pastors who spend their entire careers battling this challenge. And yet, further afield, people are responding to Christ in huge numbers: there is growth - but it is growth without depth. The desperate need is for ministries which grow people deep into Christ through discipleship, biblical preaching, theological education, and mentoring.
It is this other mandate for the church in the New Testament – the maturity challenge – which surfaces so often for churches in the majority world.
Inspiration - but what about aspiration?
There is so much available to people in New Zealand, from events, to music, to conferences. The parrot on Inspector Clouseau’s shoulder in the Pink Panther movies comes to mind - constantly being pumped-up, but only to deflate again. Is there not a danger of being over-inspired?
What about those lives that whisper to us the words of Paul, “Be imitators of me, as I am of Christ” (1 Corinthians 11: 1)?
The genius of such ‘followship’ is that it plays on our aspirations. We want to be like that person who carries that whiff of Jesus. Those people wandered through my life back home – but now my life is awash with them.
Stories - but what about teaching?
The primacy of story in New Zealand is evident for all to see. In the majority world, with its oral cultures, story was set to grow in this ministry – and it is. But leaders over here are saying something else to us: “We’ve tried stories. Come train us how to teach the Bible. That is what we need.” In one country, they see such biblical teaching to be the way to secure their people against the threat of religious fundamentalism. In another country, this biblical teaching is seen to be the antidote to the prosperity gospel. In still another country, such biblical teaching is the helping hand by which the marginalised are drawn close and valued.
Relevance - but what about resistance?
In New Zealand, nothing kills an idea quite like describing it as irrelevant. But there is a problem. The pursuit of relevance - fitting in with the surrounding culture, flowing with its trends in order to gain an audience - is barely visible in the Bible. In one half of the Bible the people of God are “a light to the nations” (Isaiah 49: 6), while in the other they are the “light of the world” (Matthew 5: 14). That sounds more like contrast than it does fitting in; more about going upstream, resisting the flow, than about floating downstream, going with the flow.
‘Resourcing mission with inspiring stories of relevance’ won’t be going anywhere. But is it enough? What about building partnerships which target maturity through aspirational teaching which energises resistance? If we are willing to be patient, we might be surprised.
Story: Paul Windsor
Based in Bangalore (India), Paul is International Director of Langham Preaching. Previously, he was Principal of Carey Baptist College in Auckland, and has been blogging for more than ten years at paulwindsor.blogspot.co.nz.
Photo credit: inbetween/lightstock.com
Scripture: Unless otherwise specified, Scripture quotations are from New Revised Standard Version Bible, copyright © 1989 National Council of the Churches of Christ in the United States of America. Used by permission. All rights reserved.