It's time to let go (Paul Bradbury)

Wednesday, 21 December, 2011

Paul BradburyPaul Bradbury asks whether it's time to let go.

This is what the kingdom of God is like. A man scatters seed on the ground. Night and day, whether he sleeps or gets up, the seed sprouts and grows, though he does not know how.

Mark 4.26-27

I am exploring a language to describe a mission and ministry that is organic. When I go back to the gospels in order to shape my approach to mission I find simple parables filled with organic metaphors. I do not find a Jesus driven by a strategic vision or a plethora of programmes. I find a humble nomad content to carry out his ministry at the edges, amongst the unwanted, and to give his full attention to individuals of little importance.

Tom Wright makes this observation on the organic parable of Mark 4 (verses above) - that the seed and the man are doing the same thing. Organic life starts with a seed. Organic ministry starts by doing the same thing as the seed, namely dying. Abraham, the archetypal missionary of God, dies when he is called to leave everything and venture into the unknown with the promise that God would show him where to go. The missionary people of God only really find their true selves when they willingly let go of the architecture of their own self-importance and look for God in places where they are not in control. True incarnational mission is therefore nomadic in nature. We have no home. We are not at the centre of anywhere. We are drawn by the Spirit of God into the unknown, the desert, the territory of strangers, because that is where God is.

The Mission-shaped Church report was originally titled 'Dying to Live'. Withdrawn for fear of possible headlines about the church's demise, 'Dying to Live' nevertheless does much better in getting to root of how to be a missional people of God. We have to begin by dying. We might worry less about the future of the church and focus instead on the mission of God and where we might be called to participate in it.

Alan Roxburgh talks of the 'ecclesiocentric trap', the myopic approach to mission that starts with church - doing it better, doing it differently, doing it like the churches that are doing it better than we are. Church will shape its mission more authentically when it dies to the church it has become, or the one it wants to be, and stops long enough to really listen to the gospel, to the community around it and to God's Spirit.

We have to begin by dying - we might worry less about the future of the church and focus instead on the mission of God and where we might be called to participate in it

Over the past two years, Reconnect, the missional community I am involved in, have found ourselves hosted in much of what we do by a small independent café. I have an office there. We have been meeting at the café, and lots of other groups and networks use it as a hub for relationship building. I was beginning to think this was our home. We could use it to run all sorts of stuff, and with a worshipping community using the place on Sundays, a strategy for church growth began to emerge in my imagination.

But the café recently went out of business... a small footnote in the story of economic recession and the globalised nature of our coffee culture. We are homeless it seems. All our plans seem to have been put on hold. Except that what we have invested in primarily is not a place, but a set of relationships and a set of values. These are highly portable; they can morph at will and find a new home. The morning after the news of the café's demise went out there was a knock at our door. A lady who comes to one of the groups we run offered to see if it could be housed in the communal lounge of the sheltered housing unit she lives in. Only that would mean we would have to make it open to all the residents there! So out of dying comes the potential for new relationships, new life.

About the author: 

Paul Bradbury is community leader of Reconnect and Pioneer Minister for Poole Town Centre and Hamworthy.


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