Organised Chaos - Mission and Evangelism
Writing in the New Wine magazine, John Soper from Exeter Network Church writes on the subject of Evangelism and Mission.
John Soper says that working in co-operation with the Holy Spirit means being active, alert in prayer and maintaining a can-do attitude to to action. He goes on to say that when we do what we are able to do, God does in and through us what only His grace can do.
Sometimes a phrase so neatly encapsulates an idea it seems to have been around forever. ‘Faith is spelt R I S K’ from Vineyard founder John Wimber is one. ‘Football's not a matter of life or death, it's much more important than that’ from legendary football manager Bill Shankly is another. At Exeter Network Church (ENC) we regularly remind ourselves of the liberating slogan ‘Mission is seeing what God is doing and joining in’ from Archbishop of Canterbury Rowan Williams.
An exciting concept
I love this definition of mission for a number of reasons. First, it indicates that it is always God who takes the initiative in everything, from the time that he ‘so loved the world that he gave his one and only son’ (John 3:16), through to today when he is constantly at work making all things new (Rev 21:5).
Second, Williams’ phrase tells us that mission involves us using the gift of discernment, ‘seeing’ the mysterious action of the Holy Spirit in all kinds of everyday life and troubles. This implies that we are alert and ready to take hold of opportunities.
Third, it’s a great phrase because it implies action on our part and, in particular, our active co-operation with the Spirit. It’s not just up to God to make things happen, nor is it thankfully down to us alone. It’s more than the church coming up with some good ideas or programmes, it’s about us partnering with God, and it’s an adventure where anything can happen. Mission, like the character Aslan from the Chronicles of Narnia, is not necessarily safe, but it is good.
Free to experiment
In the six years of the life of our church, we have been trying to live up to this definition and to be truly shaped by God’s mission in the world around us. We encourage people to be aware of what God is stirring up in them to do, and to recognise and name what God is doing in and through their friends. We give people permission to experiment, to try out an activity or event to see what God is doing in a particular area or group of people.
Early on in ENC a couple decided to project the Alpha course DVDs on the wall of a local fish and chip shop during normal opening hours. It was unusual, creative, direct and fun. Inevitably, it was called ‘God and Chips’.
We celebrate diverse and creative ways of making an impact. To do this, we encourage people to form or join networks: groups of people with a name and a purpose to reach out to others. They celebrate all of life. A new network last year was the Exeter Network Cricket Club. The players were tempted to state their mission purpose as ‘win at all costs’, but eventually went for ‘share your faith, not your box’.
Some networks are centred on social action: visiting Dartmoor prison, for instance, or supporting clients of our debt advice service in partnership with Christians Against Poverty. These give people a chance to love, serve and pray for people they may not usually come into contact with.
Other networks reach out to particular age groups: young people and students in particular, but there is also a network called Women of a Certain Age. I’m not sure what happens in that one, but thankfully the Holy Spirit is not limited by my ignorance and fear. Other networks are sports teams, a book club, an after school club, parent and toddler group and social events. There is also a group called Parklife who are building community among residents who live around a park in Exeter. In time they aim to build a café there.
Activity and innovation
Networks can come and go, or operate on an ad hoc basis. There have been networks of salsa classes, surfers, walkers, businesswomen, a stall of free items at a car boot sale, open-mic evenings, even a poker bench. In an atmosphere of trying things out, some have a short life, but others gain traction, achieve momentum and grow.
“It sounds like organised chaos to me”, said one man after I had spent a while painting a picture of the life of our church. I decided to take it as a compliment, but I see the way we try to do church as more like a jazz band. What we are aiming to do is an improvisation around the theme of mission. From time to time one person will play a solo and the others will play around it, but it’s still recognisably the same tune. Like jazz, we want our network life to draw people into participating, to be varied, creative and have-a-go.
In among the activity, and often in spite of us, the Holy Spirit moves beautifully and powerfully to change people’s lives, bringing them into relationship with Jesus and giving them a new way of seeing the world.
Encounters with God
We’ve been seeing some wonderful physical healings recently. One man, who we met through our Christians Against Poverty debt counselling service, told his story like this: he’d had a very painful leg for 10 years after someone had knocked him off his motorbike and left him for dead. He allowed himself, with much scepticism, to be prayed for, although he said, “That’s the first time any blokes have put their hands on me for years and got away with it.” As he swung his legs out of bed the next morning, he was astounded to find that his leg was completely healed. He has moved from believing that Christianity is rubbish to believing in Jesus.
Another thing God’s been doing is stirring up in a number of people the need for prayer. As a church leader it can trip off my tongue to say that ‘everything here is undergirded by prayer’, even when it isn’t. We tried praying 24/7 recently and the experience for many of us was profound. Encountering God in long periods of silence and keeping watch through the night turned into amazing encounters with the living God, being affirmed by him and getting direction for life. I was amazed and excited by the number of people I spoke to who God affected in this way. We realised again that it is only in prayer, woven into everyday life, that we really see what God is doing. And when we see, then we can join in.
We’ve found that being co-operative with the Holy Spirit involves being active; alert in prayer and can-do in action. When we do what we are able to do, God does in and through us what only he in his grace can do. What an immense privilege it is that God allows us to see what he is up to, and then for us to be able to get involved.
This material appears copyright of New Wine Magazine and is used with kind permission.