Interesting Mission Interview

New Zealand is getting my attention not just because of the Lord of the Rings Movie Trilogy. Thanks to Prodigal Kiwi for sharing his Mission Interview with us! (for the links go to his site…)

Mission in New Zealand – An Interview

A couple of weeks ago a student asked if he could interview me about mission in my church context. I said “sure,” so over the next couple of days I’m going to post what I said in response to his questions. Are we on track? :

First Question

I. When did your church start a missionary program?

Several years ago, Murray Robertson (a pastor from Christchurch, New Zealand) gave an address at a national conference in which he said “New Zealand” is a mission field.” We (those at the conference) by and large hadn’t thought of it like that, or if we had we hadn’t really articulated it as succinctly as Murray had. Our focus had mostly been on “mission fields” elsewhere in the world. We hadn’t noticed that we were changing as a country. In 2001 (a census year) it was discovered that less that 10% of New Zealanders actually go to a Christian church. Running parallel with less people going to churches, more and more people were becoming interested in “spirituality.” Sadly however the institutional church (of which Bridges is very much a part) was bypassed. Church was experienced as having nothing meaningful or of value to contribute to this wider spiritual search.

Given the above (our context), intentional, practical mission is a tremendous challenge and opportunity for our church! From my perspective it’s less about “a missionary program” and more about embedding a missional identity at the core of who we are as a church. Mission needs to be core genetic material for us (along with our Godward and Communal / Pastoral dimensions, i.e. mission is one dimension of three which I believe need to be at the core of a balanced and healthy church). A very recent report, Mission-Shaped Church, produced by a working group of the Church of England’s Mission and Public Affairs Council, rightly noted that “the Church is called to be essentially, not incidentally, missionary in character…” Increasingly I’m coming to see that our identity and practice needs to derive from the missio dei – God’s mission in the midst of and on behalf of his creation. Does that make sense? If the church is not missionary it has significantly denied itself and it’s calling, for it has departed from the very nature of God (God who reaches out in and through Jesus Christ. God who is seeking to restore his original creation intent).

To help this renewed sense of identity and practice we might use programs (such as Ignition – a resource from Australian-based FORGE) but only to the degree that these are useful in helping us become a “missional church” (this expression needs to be further unpacked by us – What does it mean? What does it look like, feel like etc.? And what does a “missional church” do?). At this point I’d want to draw a subtle distinction between my sense of a “missional church” and a church that does mission. Of course we “do” mission (for me “mission” is both a noun and a verb), but mission needs to be at the heart of everything we are and everything we do. It needs to shape and influence every area of our church existence. From my perspective it can’t be an “add on” or about a small group within the church who have a heart for mission supporting mission (fund raising etc). It’s about who we all are. It needs to be very much a missional / ecclesiological question for us. Lesslie Newbigin has describes the church as the “hermeneutic of the gospel”. So, the question becomes, what forms and practices of church will best enable us to respond to what God by his Spirit is already doing in our local Cambridge context. American, Darrell Guder said it well when he wrote, “We have the responsibility and the capacity, through the Holy Spirit, to shape ourselves for faithful witness. Our purpose defines our organizational structures-which means that our mission challenges us to re-form our structures so that we can be faithful in our witness.”

This local focus doesn’t mean, I’m sure, that we’ll ignore overseas mission. It’s more a question of priority and holding the two foci in a helpful and creative tension.

Mission in our context – Aotearoa New Zealand – is about the Jesus-story being both embodied in and shared by our church community as it seeks to creatively inhabit the “ancient story” in the midst of our diverse and contemporary cultural contexts. This is something we need to learn to do. In many ways this is new ground particularly in Western nations such as New Zealand (the Church of England that has just published a paper entitled “Missional Shaped Church.” As we are in New Zealand, the Church of England is realising that England is, in its own right, a significant mission field). Helpful resources are being developed from within our Australasian context, and I’m benefiting from the research and writing of organisations such as the USA-based “Gospel and our Culture Network,” and recent visits by Canadian Alan Roxburgh to Australia are further addressing the challenges of mission that we face in our part of the world.

Mission, for me, includes evangelism but it is a whole lot more than just evangelism. “Evangelism” and “mission” are not similes, i.e. they do not mean the same thing.

New Zealand writer/theologian Mike Riddell has highlighted contextual issues that face the western church in particular, and also those we face here in New Zealand. His essays, Speaking the Lingo: Contextualisation as a Prerequisite of Mission to Pakeha Post-Christian New Zealand and Pine…or Pohutakawa wonderfully capture some of the missional challenges of our unique context, the tensions between imported expressions of the Christian faith and the need for indigenous (i.e. native to New Zealand) ways of expressing that same historic faith.

Other good resources which focus on a new Zealand Context are papers by Kevin Ward, here, here, here, and here

Work by Peter Lineham is also really useful.

Mission Interview – Part 2

II. What program was it and why did you choose this one?

As noted above, I see this issue as more than just a mission program. This really is new territory, one in which indigenous resources are being developed. I’m very much benefiting from the lessons that have been learned by overseas mission and development organisations / agencies. It’s good to have friends involved in these contexts.

III. How was the program implemented?

Again, this is not a straightforward question to answer. The issues are much more fundamental, much more ecclesiological than the implementation of a program.

Mission Interview – Final Section

V.What advice would you give a church that is working on a missions program?

1.Take your own cultural context very seriously. Mission, certainly in the West, is not so much about mission over there; it’s increasingly about how we are church in our diverse and local contexts. Make it a priority to listen to your own country’s theologian/practitioners, poets, artists, filmmakers, writers, activists, media, and musicians. Listen for the ways in which the gospel is “good news” in your context. Listen in order to translate and communicate the gospel in your particular context in such a way that witness to Jesus Christ takes place.

2.Start where you see God @ work in your own local context. Taking the missio dei seriously is to discover that God is already at work. God’s is an invitation to join in that work. Our big challenge comes around how we discern that activity. Again, there are lots of good resources that could help us get better at doing that- especially helpful in my view is: Danny Morris & Charles Olsen, Discerning God’s Will Together: A Spiritual Practice for the Church, Upper Room Books, 1998. The dedication says: “Dedicated to all who yearn and strive to shape a new kind of church in which knowing and doing God’s will are ultimate values…” Based upon my experience I think that is an extremely radical statement! Mission seems less about forumating a strategic plan/a business plan, and everything about taking the time to actually hear and see God, whose servant we are. Not many churches I’ve been a part of or known about actually know or practice the ‘discipline’ of corporate discernment.
3.Build networks with those engaging missionally / ecclesiologically within their own contexts. I’ve benefited greatly by developing friendships with young (and not so young) leaders who are developing new and organic expressions of (missional) church here in New Zealand, Australia, the UK, and the United States of America. We learn from one another. We share experiences. We honour, acknowledge, share and adapt each other’s resources. Andrew Jones has posted some introductory thoughts, today, about a creative “narrative missiology” course he wants to teach. Engage with this kind of creative thinking. Listen to the stories and lessons learnt, emerging from Darren Rowse, Phil and Danielle McCredden, Steve and Lynne Taylor etc.

4.Choose programs / resources that help stimulate and which insist upon Christian praxis, programs which take the Jesus-story seriously and encourage us to recognise that until we actually, and in very practical ways, live into and out of that story we don’t fully ‘get it.’ These programs move us beyond just “head” knowledge to a learning experience that is born out of doing and experimenting. Our “doing” will help to encourage us to keep coming back too and engaging with Scripture in new and very contextualised ways. These programs encourage an interpretative / hermeneutical cycle: cultural context, biblical story etc.
5.Find creative ways to help people understand what mission is, to catch a vision for “missional church,” to help them understand why it’s important and what it might mean for church structures and practices, e.g. host informal missional dinners (Steve and Lynne Taylor do these very very well – send them a nice e-mail and ask them how it works, what they’ve learnt as a result of hosting them) and conversation with practitioners, church planters etc. when they are in town or available. It’s helpful for congregations to hear “outside” perspectives. Help people gain short terms mission (not necessarily overseas) experiences.
6. Be creative in forming what Frost and Hirsch call “proximity spaces” – ways of being present in the midst of your community / city / town etc. Mission is about being a “sent people.” It’s less about inviting people to come to us on a Sunday morning!
7.Rowan Williams notion of “mixed economy churches” in a denominational context has a lot of merit at a local church level; a missional ecclesiology that values the benefits of a rich diversity. So, a local church may have cell groups, it may have an alt.worship group, it may have a base ecclesial community.

WHAT ELSE HAVE I MISSED IN TERMS OF PRACTICAL ADVICE?

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