Friday, January 21, 2005

From the mouths of babes and an atheist...

"I’m an atheist and even I know that is as far from the message of Jesus as you could probably get...!

Trevor used to come to our parent and toddler group with his two-year old – he popped in this week – his little girl has started school and he is bored so came by to say hello. Because he asked where Kate was (she was teaching mission studies at the SA training college) somehow a rather deep theological conversation developed as to what constituted authentic mission. The conversation built up to a crescendo which left me wondering if I’d offered too much information.

"So you are telling me that there are churches that only do parent and toddlers and other activities in the community in order to evangelise?".

I felt a little uncomfortable at his tirade "I’m afraid yes!".

"And are you telling me that there are churches who only offer services with a view of getting more people in on a Sunday?"

His glare is a little too intense I look away "er…well… yes!". I’ve hardly finished and he’s off again.

"That this so called act of love is really a means to an end...?" I draw breathe to answer but Trevor is on a roll

"Please don't tell me - there are Christians out there who only make friends with people and join clubs with the agenda of eyeing up potential targets to proselytise...",

"Trev... you see .... it’s kind of... well ... more of...." I sigh and mumble resignedly "yes...!"

Trevor looks down at his feet and up again. His voice drops to a whisper and with a glint in his eye says "I’m an atheist and even I know that is as far from the message of Jesus as you could probably get".

"Mission is more than evangelism. By 'evangelism' I mean that aspect of mission, which consciously extends (by presence or proclamation) an invitation to those outside the faith to share in the life of the kingdom of God, and seeks for a response.

Mission is broader and wider than evangelism. Nor has mission much to do with marquees and crooning choirs. Nor with getting people to come to church. It is much more about the Church taking its doors off their hinges so that something of God's saving, serving and liberating love can flow out. Clearly it is a good thing if people do want to come in. It is a good thing if more and more people want to join together in the worship of God. The vision of the kingdom of God's glory is of a community of people of all tribes and families and nations and languages sharing together in the worship of God.

There is an important 'coming in'. But the primary movement of mission is not getting people in, but being part of the love of God reaching out, and connecting the gospel of God's love with all the messy and muddled dimensions of our economic, social, political and personal lives. It is then that 'the Lord adds to the Church daily those who are being saved' (cf. Acts 2.47).

Mission is thus a broad and wide-ranging task. It is not the whole task of the Church, which is primarily to worship God and give ourselves and our work and our lives to him. Mission is offering ourselves and our work and our lives in the service of God's world and God's people. So worship and mission belong inseparably together."
Atkinson, D (1999) God so loved the world – towards a missionary theology. Lynx

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