Hope – Making Mission Meaningful

pexels-photo

In this season of Advent, the concept of hope comes to the fore; it is the incarnation, ‘God with us’, that gives each one of us, humanity as a whole and all of the created order, hope of reconciliation, renewal and restoration. Hope is also a critical element of mission; it is the Hope of ‘God with us’, that distinguishes the Christian concept from any other notion of hope, and provides the basis for God’s mission – a mission compelled by love.

Below is the text of my third and last in a series of 3 posts on mission:

In my two previous blog posts, Location, Location, Location and Empathic Leadership, I considered questions around ‘where we are’ and ‘who we are’. Our context and our character are key factors which help shape meaningful missional presence and the MA programme at ForMission College righty addresses these. The third element in this mini-series addresses the ‘why?’ and ‘what for?’ questions. Without a clear sense of purpose, we can completely miss the point of mission; to bear hope-filled ‘Good News’.

The result of the recent referendum, has brought our future, personally, nationally and globally into sharp focus. Depending on your political views, you may well sum up the current situation as one of hope, or despair; ‘Great Britain’ or ‘Broken Britain’, or more likely, as something in between! Our identity as a nation is under scrutiny and if we do not know where the journey is leading our hope for the future is critically affected. We live in times of great change and the resurrection narrative, which lies at the heart of the Gospel, orients us as a missional community to bring hope to share in this fast-changing context.

Tom Wright’s important book, Surprised by Hope, addresses the important issues of our destiny, the hope we have and how this impacts the way we live right now. Wright reminds us that our future home is a new heavens and a new earth and that this world is in the process of being refined and restored. We have a hope that is promised in Scripture, glimpsed through the pages of Isaiah and Revelation, and we have been entrusted to be co-participants with God in working that out.

So our hope is not just in the ‘yet to come’, but also in the ‘now’; this is the reality of God’s kingdom which has been ushered in and is active today. Working for the common good of the whole of God’s creation is demonstrated through pro-actively and faithfully beginning to live out this new reality ‘on earth as it is in heaven’. Tom Wright’s insight helps to deepen our understanding of this, and may well bring new revelation to some of us.

So then, the three dimensions of ‘context’, ‘empathy’ and ‘hope’, serve to equip and orientate the community of believers engaged in God’s mission, the missio dei. Shalom, the Old Testament Hebrew term to describe well-being, wholeness and the flourishing of all aspects of life (echoed by the New Testament writers in the word ‘peace’), is a valuable concept which helps focus our vision, and this will be developed in future blogs. God intimately loves His creation and worship of God demonstrates our love for God, the outworking of which forms the essence of missional community.

I finish with a quote from the first chapter of the book, Carnival Kingdom: biblical justice for global communities, referring to the vision of both the present and future hope that Wright describes:

…the Kingdom is described as an ‘upside down Kingdom’ – radically different to the status quo of earthly kingdoms where power and privilege coalesce in the hands of a few, often at the expense of the majority. At the heart of the vision of the reign of God is the belief that this reign will result in shalom; the delightful and convivial energy of a community at one and at peace with itself, in purposeful service to God and the greater good of the rest of creation (Carol Kingston-Smith, 2013, p.4)

The above blog post was originally published on ForMission College’s website at: http://formission.org.uk/hope-making-mission-meaningful/ on 18th October 2016.

Empathic Leadership – Getting in touch with our true selves

ma_empathic_wpMy last blog post considered the importance of context – connecting with the wisdom of understanding the place, culture, language, and the struggles and joys of relationships, which contribute to making each and every place unique and special.

Further wisdom dictates that our actions within any given context be rightly motivated and take account, wherever possible, of the impact they have on those who inhabit that context and their wider environment.

Whether consciously or not, our actions (and non-actions) do carry influence, and one of the key elements of the MA programme at ForMission college is the provision for students to reflect (inner and outer) on the influence they carry and how their interface with others is conditioned by their actions, attitudes, and those subtle, yet profound, motivations. Motivations are tell-tale signs of our character and our theology; what and who we truly value become evident.

Scripture frequently prefaces Jesus’ miracles with the words, ‘…he had compassion on him/her/them’. I suggest that an important element of right behaviour and good actions is the need to be ‘affected’ by others. In other words, to be able to imagine how ‘the other’ feels or thinks; to read the signs of distress or the needs (often silently communicated) that draw us to respond with compassion. Another way of articulating this is ‘empathy’; the essence of moving beyond ourselves to respond to those we are in contact with, and which compels us to engage with an appropriate action, or with wise words, or sometimes needing to simply listen attentively and re-assure.

The above inevitably requires leadership to be as much about connecting with and empowering others to move forward in their character-growth and fruitfulness as it is about directing and vision-casting ‘from the front’. There are many styles and approaches to leadership, of course, but a powerful Christ-like model is one where empathy is practised and valued. This is, I would also suggest, an increasingly-lost art, not least amongst us men. Our culture showers us with many voices and perspectives, yet that moment of reflection casting our own competitive desires to one side, enables us to tap into those empathic resources that are abundant within us.

Roman Krznaric’s stimulating book, Empathy – Why It Matters, And How To Get It should be a must-read for any course on leadership. His research leads him to assert that not only is empathy as much a male quality as a female one, but that it can and should constantly be cultivated and exercised. Responding to a need with true compassion, as Jesus did, is likely to make our actions not only more e/affective, but more Christ-like; getting in touch with our homo empathicus draws out our essence without the ego getting a say!

Krznaric talks about ‘outrospection’ as a mode of thinking that helps to keep us healthily-balanced, to move beyond our tendencies toward selfishness and develop our cognitive empathy towards others; this video illustrates it well.

As Jesus showed us, let’s drink deep from God’s well of wisdom, that our thinking and actions might be truly compassionate and of real benefit to others. Empathy is one of the greatest gifts of good leadership and a key ingredient for social transformation at both individual and corporate levels.

This post was originally published on ForMission’s website at http://formission.org.uk/empathic-leadership-getting-in-touch-with-our-true-selves/

Location, Location, Location…

loclocloc

This is the mantra, so we are told, that drives the intrinsic value of our homes. Whilst, we could debate the appropriateness of this, such an idea could be applied to theology too.

Recent decades have seen the rapid development of contextual theology(ies), thanks largely to the emergence of thinking from the Global South. This has attempted to root theological and missiological discussion in the local context, providing a helpful challenge to more theoretical expressions of classical Western theology. The tendency for objective ‘one-size fits all’ logic influenced by rational scientific thought since the Enlightenment has been gradually eroded as forms of Liberation theology (Peru/Brazil), Koyama’s water-buffalo theology (Japan) and Mbiti’s African theology have emerged, to name just a few. These new theologies have challenged not only the assumed supremacy of Western (European/North American) thinking, but sought to ‘earth’ understanding into the ‘here and now’ of the local context.

The MA programme at ForMission College gives credence to these developments through emphasis in studying local contexts and ‘reading’ the local before rushing to apply biblical principles. This bottom-up approach is a welcome antidote to the loftier, and, at times, unhelpful top-down construction that elements of classical theology have encouraged.

And what might some of these local issues be?

Contemporary immigration in the UK gives the church opportunity to show loving acceptance and warm welcome, as well as delegitimise cold and oppressive attitudes so often fostered by the media. Secondly, economic inequality in the UK’s cities is rampant and a recipe for social dislocation and conflict, so promoting simple and creative life-affirming lifestyles becomes part of the churches’ prophetic function. Thirdly, the Gospel of love and truth needs new forms of expression within the plethora of ideologies and worldviews we encounter today. Secularism, consumerism, pluralism and multiculturalism make for a lively context in which to live and breathe – our voice is one of many, but our actions can be unique.

As we consider a city such as Birmingham in April 2016, observation will demonstrate that effective missional engagement stimulated by contextually-aware expressions of black/Asian theology and regenerative ecologically—sustainable urban theology can reap positive rewards in helping connect the church with the communities around it.

So much like our own homes…missional theology today is very much about location, location, location!

location_social_media

This post is the first in a series briefly highlighting three key dimensions as to how the church might be better equipped to engage effectively in reaching 21st Century Britain. These three dimensions touch on, where we are (the contextual dimension), discussed above, who we are (the empathic dimension) to be explored next month, and where we are going (the hope dimension), to follow in June.

These dimensions are best understood within an overarching framework which is the biblical vision of shalom – or in other words, being sign-bearers of God’s reign ‘on earth as it is in heaven’.

This post was first published on ForMission’s website blog here

Book review – Economics of good and evil by Tomas Sedlacek

This book marks a fadownloadscinating departure from mainstream economic thought and provides the reader with a captivating smorgasbord of interactions across many diverse fields such as mathematics, psychology, theology, sociology and physics. Its essence is deeply philosophical and it seeks to synthesise a combination of narratives in a holistic manner that many contemporary postmodern readers should find deeply attractive.

Taking the earliest recorded writing, The Epic of Gilgamesh, as its starting point, and traversing a huge array of literature and thought, Sedlacek argues that at its core, economics is about wisdom and morality (i.e. emotional and spiritual intelligence); not the rather limited rational scientific game played out in spreadsheets and abstract mathematical calculations which has evolved from neo-liberal ‘principles’ characteristic of the last 40 years of global economic ‘development’. Not only has this latter approach been deeply problematic as the debt crisis of the last few years clearly demonstrates but our recent ‘take’ on economic life has marked a disturbing reductionist departure from human wisdom. This is the case where biblical truths about humanity, and its ills, have been wrongly divorced from daily economic activity. From a theological perspective then, this book is a welcome bridge in bringing ancient wisdoms and contemporary thought back into the key moral debates of our time.

Chapters 2 and 4 include a comprehensive analysis of biblical perspectives, sandwiching a revisit of Ancient Greek philosophical thought. Treatment of the content in the latter chapter reminds us that many modern conceptions of the market and exchange of goods find their genesis in the classical writings of Xenophon, Plato and Aristotle; it isn’t simply about Adam Smith and Enlightenment thinking only! The real nuggets are unearthed in Sedlacek’s discussion of the ills of our time in which he questions our insatiable ‘need’ for economic growth and our obsession with work which come at the exclusion of almost everything else.

Behaviour economics has welcome consideration in the discussion on animal spirits and the moral vacuum that contemporary economics appears to prefer and operate within. In essence, as the title suggests, Sedlacek’s book seeks to bring humanity back into economics. This won’t go down well with Wall Street, but it is a welcome re-engagement with those of us who are deeply concerned about the idols of our time; money as the bottom line by which everything else is defined and has its meaning, being chief of all (the concept of ‘financialisation’). This book is a tour de force of human development. Its trajectory clearly suggests that our ‘progress’ is not as enlightened as we often think. It is a rewarding if somewhat demanding read as it does jump around and is challenging for those not used to reading across so many fields with such diversity.

I was, however, a little disappointed with the lack of engagement with the ‘green agenda’ and contemporary environmental ethics. Dealing with today’s global ecological crises needs to be at the heart of any contemporary economic engagement. To conclude, the book doesn’t promise solutions but masterfully brings economics back within the human realm where it belongs…oikonomia truly regained! It is a highly recommended work.

Christmas cry: ‘come Lord Jesus’

hands (1)

On Sunday at my local church we sang the Noel Richards song, ‘Great is the darkness…come Lord Jesus…’. Whilst obviously not a Christmas carol, it struck me how apt it was for the season we are in. For most of us Christmas is a mixed time; of joy and celebration as well as sadness, and even grief. A few days ago I wrote about ‘Broken Britain’, and then the tragic events in Glasgow hit our screens. I read the heart-wrenching story of the Catholic Archbishop comforting a mother whose parents and daughter were killed in that accident…what an incredibly painful experience. I wondered, what message can we possibly share with those whose lives have been shattered in the blink of an eye? Sorrow and pain are very real for many as they gather this Christmas time without the loved ones they shared last Christmas with.

The first verse of the song reminds us of the context in which we live. We may not tangibly experience this level of darkness in our own community, or even nation, although many around our globe surely do:

‘Great is the darkness
That covers the earth
Oppression, injustice and pain
Nations are slipping
In hopeless despair
Though many have come in Your name
Watching while sanity dies
Touched by the madness and lies’

Of course, Christmas is also a time of great joy and hope. A 33 year journey lived a long time ago reminds us as Christians that our faith is based on the reality that God loved His creation so much (and felt the deep pain and injustice in it) that He intervened by sending His own son to be born amongst us; to live a life of sorrow and pain as well as great joy. This was a journey that took him to the cross, suffering the cruel death of a Roman execution. Jesus’ 33 year earthly journey did not end there, however. His resurrection gives us the hope to believe, trust and know that we too can share in that resurrection hope. Hope is the powerful transforming message that the church now bears. Verse 2 of the song exhorts the church to engage in God’s mission of saving love, which is the source for such hope:

‘May now Your church rise
With power and love
This glorious gospel proclaim
In every nation
Salvation will come
To those who believe in Your name
Help us bring light to this world
That we might speed Your return’

That saving love has already been set in motion. It is an unstoppable force that cannot be quenched, diminished or destroyed in any way. That saving power, manifest so humbly in the incarnation and demonstrated so powerfully in the resurrection, means that Christmas, like Easter (the two greatest events of human history marking the beginning and closing moments of Jesus’ life) is a season where our sorrow and despair can be transformed into hope-filled expectation of what is to come:

‘Great celebrations
On that final day
When out of the heavens You come
Darkness will vanish
All sorrow will end
And rulers will bow at Your throne
Our great commission complete
Then face to face we shall meet’

I trust and hope that amidst the mixed emotions you may be experiencing this Christmas time, your heartfelt cry will be one of longing for the presence of Jesus to be experienced in your own life, in the life of your family, and throughout your community, town, nation and in our world this very day!

So, let’s be reminded this Christmas time to invite Jesus to be present amongst us through the power of His Spirit, that our Christmas cry might be:

‘Come Lord Jesus, come Lord Jesus
Pour out Your spirit we pray
Come Lord Jesus, come Lord Jesus
Pour out Your spirit on us today’.

‘Broken Britain’: what do you think are three key issues for equipping the church for mission today?

Picture2

If you were asked for your three key issues for equipping the church for mission in contemporary Britain, what would you say? I would be interested to hear your views on what you consider to be three key ones.

Here is a short reflection on what I think; not necessarily the three most key ones (up to date research would need to be done) but ones that occur to me at this time.

I don’t propose to critique the contemporary meaning of some of the key words in this title; equipping, church, mission. Of course, the concepts of church and mission are in flux – dealing with that will not be my priority here. Rather, I simply wish to reflect briefly on a few key thoughts that seek to challenge the core of what being a disciple of Jesus means for us living in Britain today, so that the community of believers may be better equipped to engage in meaningful and authentic mission practice.

A contemporary snapshot…

We live in a world of insecurity, despair and hopelessness – that is the picture for a major part of humanity as we lurch through economic crisis, displacement of identity, war, conflict and a loss of confidence in truth and meaningful existence…this presents a significant opportunity for the global church to reflect the love of God in its mission. In the West, and in the Britain in particular, fresh challenges meet us – an angry constituency demands effective political leadership and greater economic justice, as food banks dole out provisions to more and more in need each week. Distrust in authority, the erosion of purpose and tiredness of existing brittle structures, leaves the community of Christ-followers standing on the threshold of an opportunity that has, perhaps, been rarely available in the recent past – people are looking for signs of hope amid the rubble of despair and lostness, as Leslie Newbiggin once discerned and articulated. Generous dialogue with ‘the other’ is imperative in our cultural milieu.

So, I wish to raise three key dimensions as to how the church might be better equipped to engage effectively in reaching 21st Century Britain. These three dimensions touch on; where we are (the contextual dimension), who we are (the empathic dimension) and where we are going (the hope dimension. These dimensions are to be understood within an overarching framework which is the biblical vision of shalom – or in other words, being sign-bearers of God’s reign ‘on earth as it is in heaven’.

Firstly…where we are

I suggest there are 3 key issues we need to fully engage with in contemporary Britain. Firstly, our community must be inclusive and welcoming. In Hebrew life the alien was given certain protections and the Old Testament is full of provisions which sought to include the outsider and welcome the alien amongst God’s people. Contemporary migration gives the church opportunity to show loving acceptance and warm welcome, as well as change cold and oppressive attitudes. Secondly, economic inequality is rampant and a recipe for social dislocation and conflict. Challenging unjust economic and financial structures, and promoting simpler and more creative life-affirming lifestyles is part of the churches’ prophetic function. Being bold, courageous and true disciples points the way that others may follow – becoming missional communities affords that possibility. Thirdly, the Gospel of love and truth needs new forms of expression within a plethora of ideologies and worldviews. We stand at the crossroads where our legitimacy and message is questioned and critiqued as never before. Postmodernity asserts that we no longer hold to a meta-narrative of the Truth, but that we must mutually tolerate each and everyone’s truths. Secularism, consumerism, pluralism and multiculturalism make for a lively context in which to live and breathe – our voice is one of many, but our actions can be unique. So, a long hard look at our context and awareness of these three key issues which face our nation today, is a good starting point for taking a reality-check and beginning the process of equipping the church for mission.

This is the first dimension for equipping the church for mission – contextual awareness

Secondly…who we are

Our brokenness and weakness make us ideal vessels to carry the love of God; a counter-cultural message which perhaps is foolishness to the ‘Greeks’, yet carries the only power to really change things. God’s enormous love for the whole of His cosmos, somehow is enabled and manifest in each and every one of us – a love to be shared out and poured out with kenotic extravagance. This is being the missional people of God; in love with God also means being in love with His world, a world which He declared to be good. This love requires us to share the pains as well as the joys of each other.

Do we live what we proclaim? Are we pretending to care when really our love has gone cold? Do we prefer ‘the other’ when we are told ‘the other’ has come to take our jobs and suck our welfare system dry? Do we really understand what incarnational living is, when this may require downward-mobility, the relinquishing of selfish individualism and other privileges we have enjoyed? These are tough questions that cut to the core of our identity. Perhaps the world judged the people of God for who they thought they were, rather than who they really were. We need to be authentic disciples of Christ, and by acknowledging our broken reality, and our utter dependence on God’s loving grace and each other, we may be on the path to fulfilling this second dimension for becoming an equipped community.

Acknowledging our weaknesses and failures gives us hope that we may be lights in the darkness, so I suggest a missing ingredient to be unearthed again in our contemporary society, is empathy; we must rediscover our empathic nature. This is the ability to see ‘the other’s needs, feel the other’s pain and be moved to respond lovingly and appropriately. Jesus was our prime example – moved to compassion, he acted. Loveless and cold duty ultimately serves no one; if it is not done in love we are merely clanging gongs, as 1 Corinthians 13 reminds us.

See this highly watchable video on the Empathic civilisation. In it bestselling author, political adviser and social and ethical prophet Jeremy Rifkin investigates the evolution of empathy and the profound ways that it has shaped our development and our society. See also Krznaric’s recent book, Empathy, for more on this subject.

This is the second dimension for equipping the church in mission – becoming an empathic people, who are moved with compassion to love the unloved.

Thirdly…where we are going

The journey of life leads to certain death, and yet the resurrection narrative gives us hope to share with our ‘broken Britain’. Whilst many of our leaders are trying to steer us to ‘business as usual’, we have a significant opportunity as a missional community to model another way. Our eschatology may require re-interpretation. Our future home is a new heavens and a new earth – this world of need and brokenness, destruction and decay, of which contemporary Britain serves as a microcosmic example, is going to be refined and made good. We have a hope that is promised in Scripture, glimpsed in the books of Isaiah and Revelation, and we have been entrusted to be co-participants with God in the working out of that. And yet our hope is not just in the ‘yet to come’, but also in the ‘now’ – this is the reality of God’s kingdom which has been ushered in, and is active today. Working for the common good of His creation is demonstrated through provocatively and pro-actively calling into being this new reality; that is a very hopeful place in which to be.

This is the third dimension for equipping the church for mission – walking the hope journey, founded on an integrated eschatological vision of the Kingdom of God.

The details of this, of course, have to be unpacked – that is for another time! For now these three dimensions of equipping the church for God’s mission, the missio dei, are framed within a vision of shalom – the biblical flourishing of all aspects of life. Our God is an imminent God, intimately in love with His creation, and desiring of our worship and connection, for His glory; that is the essence of being a missional community, and the three dimensions for equipping the church are part of the process of becoming that missional community. I finish with a quote from the book Carnival Kingdom:

‘…the Kingdom is described as an ‘upside down Kingdom’ – radically different to the status quo of earthly kingdoms where power and privilege coalesce in the hands of a few, often at the expense of the majority. At the heart of the vision of the reign of God is the belief that this reign will result in shalom; the delightful and convivial energy of a community at one and at peace with itself, in purposeful service to God and the greater good of the rest of creation’

In summary, we have considered context, empathy and hope. Today we stand only a few months away from the General Election; we need to vote intelligently and courageously…not just what we’ve always voted, nor playing tactical voting ‘games’, but voting for real policies and then holding our political leaders to account to see those promises delivered.

If we have the above dimensions in mind, and the issues raised within them, then our part in helping to equip the church for mission may just help see ‘broken Britain’ become ‘flourishing Britain’.

key issues for equipping the church for mission today – a short reflection (part 3)

In orderPicture2 to keep this short, I don’t propose to critique the contemporary meaning of some of the key words in this title; equipping, church, mission. Of course, the concepts of church and mission are in flux – dealing with that will not be my priority here. Rather, I simply wish to reflect briefly on a few key thoughts that seek to challenge the core of what being a disciple of Jesus means for us living in Britain today, so that the community of believers may be better equipped to engage in meaningful and authentic mission practice.

I very briefly raise three key dimensions as to how the church might be better equipped to engage effectively in reaching 21st Century Britain. These three dimensions touch on; where we are (the contextual dimension, part 1); who we are (the empathic dimension, part 2) and; where we are going (the hope dimension, part 3). These dimensions are to be understood within an overarching framework which is the biblical vision of shalom – or in other words, being sign-bearers of God’s reign ‘on earth as it is in heaven’.

Over the last 2 days I posted up part 1 reflecting on the first element, contextual awareness, and part 2 reflecting on the second element, becoming an empathic people, who are moved with compassion to love the unloved

Below is the third element, dealing with where we are going:

The journey of life leads to certain death, and yet the resurrection narrative gives us hope to share with our ‘broken Britain’. Whilst many of our leaders are trying to steer us to ‘business as usual’, we have a significant opportunity as a missional community to model another way. Our eschatology may require re-interpretation. Our future home is a new heavens and a new earth – this world of need and brokenness, destruction and decay, of which contemporary Britain serves as a microcosmic example, is going to be refined and made good. We have a hope that is promised in Scripture, glimpsed in the books of Isaiah and Revelation, and we have been entrusted to be co-participants with God in the working out of that. And yet our hope is not just in the ‘yet to come’, but also in the ‘now’ – this is the reality of God’s kingdom which has been ushered in, and is active today. Working for the common good of His creation is demonstrated through provocatively and pro-actively calling into being this new reality; that is a very hopeful place in which to be.

This is the third dimension for equipping the church for mission – walking the hope journey, founded on an integrated eschatological vision of the Kingdom of God.

The details of this, of course, have to be unpacked – that is for another time! For now these three dimensions of equipping the church for God’s mission, the missio dei, are framed within a vision of shalom – the biblical flourishing of all aspects of life. Our God is an imminent God, intimately in love with His creation, and desiring of our worship and connection, for His glory; that is the essence of being a missional community, and the three dimensions for equipping the church are part of the process of becoming that missional community. I finish with a quote from the book Carnival Kingdom:

‘…the Kingdom is described as an ‘upside down Kingdom’ – radically different to the status quo of earthly kingdoms where power and privilege coalesce in the hands of a few, often at tPicture1he expense of the majority. At the heart of the vision of the reign of God is the belief that this reign will result in shalom; the delightful and convivial energy of a community at one and at peace with itself, in purposeful service to God and the greater good of the rest of creation’

In summary, we have considered context, empathy and hope. If we have those dimensions in mind, and the issues raised within them, then our role in equipping the church for mission may be on the right path to help see ‘broken Britain’ become ‘flourishing Britain’.