What I am learning about participating in God’s mission, by Nigel Rooms, leader of Partnership for Missional Church in the UK.
I love hearing stories of people learning to participate in God’s mission – we pick these up a lot from the churches taking part in the Partnership for Missional Church process. Here is a recent one which helps me to understand why the philosopher Charles Taylor is right in his assessment of the contemporary western person whom he describes as a ‘buffered self’.
We, all of us, Christians or not find it hard to meet another stranger, there seems to be an invisible barrier between us – it is perhaps even terrifying for us to meet an ‘other’. No wonder we find evangelism tough.
So one of our churches in a fairly well-to-do area with a number of professional people within it decided, in the ‘experimenting’ phase of Partnership for Missional Church, to see if they could work with people in the most deprived area of their parish.
They knew it had always been there, they knew they had never done anything about it and they had always felt somewhat guilty about the situation. They didn’t know what the issues in that area would be but they knew they had to meet some of the people who lived and worked there to find out.
One of the members of the team tasked with the experiment told us how she had been given the name and phone number of a person in this area. She wrote out a script of what she wanted to say and then made the phone call.
When the call was answered she then described how she stumbled through her script, not being sure of herself at all and she could tell the person at the other end was getting more and more confused about what this was all about.
Eventually she got to the part where said she was from St X’s Church. Suddenly there was recognition on the other end of the line and the person responded “Oh, really! I’ve been waiting for you to ring for 20 years!” The conversation continued for another 40 minutes or so.
It turned out that this person had been running a community centre in the area for a long time and was coming up to retirement. She had always wanted a relationship with the church but had never felt able to ask. Now she really needed help as she didn’t know how the community centre was going to continue.
This is a tiny step in an ongoing journey and story, but I learn that it is in these small steps towards participating in what God is up to that our buffered self is overcome by courage, vulnerability and just giving it a go.