Have you ever been in one of those situations where, ticket in hand, security cleared and endless airport walkways successfully negotiated, you wait at the boarding gate; the flight is called, the door is opened, you follow the queue as it snakes out of the warm building; and then a hand on your shoulder tugs you out of place and you are requested to try your bag in one of those “If it fits” things just one more time?
And your heart sinks.
Because you immediately know that you have cannily maneuvered your way past several hurdles only to fall at this last one.
Because your bag is too big. You are carrying too much stuff. And the airline is prepared to embarrass you, steal your stuff and tear your ticket up at no-refund rather than let you proceed.
Daunting isn’t it?
And what happens next? Well, here an element of choice enters the scenario. It’s really up to you and how attached you are to your stuff. (And to the number of friends with empty-ish cases you have standing round, but that’s another story….)
It reminds a little of the familiar word of Jesus in Matthew 19:24 “Again I tell you, it is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for someone who is rich to enter the kingdom of God.’ The toughness of that saying is somewhat blunted by its familiarity, but, familiar or not, it is a hard word indeed for any follower of Jesus in the “Fat West”. Have you simply got too much stuff?
But there’s another call to simplicity of lifestyle in the words of Jesus which is slightly less well-known. Luke 9 begins with the story of the first evangelistic mission in these words: “When Jesus had called the Twelve together, he gave them power and authority to drive out all demons and to cure diseases, and he sent them out to proclaim the kingdom of God and to heal those who were ill. He told them: ‘Take nothing for the journey– no staff, no bag, no bread, no money, no extra shirt.”
A pretty severe baggage restriction, wouldn’t you say? (And it’s reiterated in Lk 10:4, if you think I’m exaggerating!).
What is Jesus saying to us? First off, there is a definite call to simplicity of lifestyle that we must acknowledge and from which we make our personal lifestyle choices.
But, remember the context of journey and mission. It is in that context that the baggage restrictions really come in. If I am to go on mission (and Matthew 28 insists that every believer is so called) then I must be very careful not to be cluttered up with extraneous stuff that just slows me down. According to these passages in Luke 9 and 10, the characteristics of mission can be boiled down into three words: Simple, mobile and urgent.
Now God has a heart for Ireland.
I just don’t think that the word “Church” expresses that heart very well in Ireland The church word is inextricably linked with Catholic Scandals and maybe even foreign oppression.
If God wanted to do something here –and he does- the church word may have to go.
One of the big projects in recent years in Ireland has been the housing boom of the last decade or so which has infested the entire nation with spreads of large glossy suburban villas in so-called “ghost estates” around the edges of almost every once-quaint village. These stand rather like uninvited guests at a wedding. Every one sees them but it’s a little embarrassing to ask what they are there for. They don’t quite belong. They are empty, badly equipped and almost useless.
Maybe big ideas have to go and be replaced by small ideas
What is God’s heart for Ireland?
It’s people centered, rather than project-centered.
It’s indigenous rather than foreign.
“I’d rather start very very small.” Steve Jobs said. “You start with an idea and let it run…” Something Jesus said “as small as a grain of mustard seed”…something that takes over in neglected corners with minimum supervision and maximum spread.
I am stirred by the idea of weeds growing in neglected corners. A simple idea on Facebook can criss-cross the globe in seconds. There are very powerful exponents of harmful lies who do this every single day.
But think viral. What if simple godly truth went viral? A truth like these truths: Grace is available for every situation! The resurrection of Jesus really happened and yuo are invited into it! God has the power to break your addiction!
Jesus’ parting shot was that we should “go and make followers from every nation” (Matt 28:19). We develop relationships and gain knowledge, but knowledge and relationships are ingredients. Basic ingredients, sure, but not the whole cake. A third ingredient –without which there is nothing much – is summed up as a “raising agent.” Someone put it quite succinctly the other day as the “What are we going to do about what we believe? factor. Love has to go into action.
Simply, urgently, flexibly.
We don’t need a business- level of organization that requires specialists. We need ordinary people who are in love with Jesus. Neil Cole, in Cultivating a Life for God, believes that simplicity is the key to fulfilling the Great Commission. He says, “The more complex the process, the greater the giftedness needed to keep it going.” Training is vital, of course. Trained teachers and disciplined, accountable leaders are vital, but the really good news is that, in a “Think Small” ethos, you can lay down the burdens of planning all that cluttering minutiae. Buildings, programmes, rotas, lists, fundraising…. All gone. Imagine that.
And that leaves time to pray. Anything we do has to be birthed in prayer. This has to be a God-idea, rather than a good idea. Gather a few like-minded people together and begin to pray so that you can understand God’s thinking about your town.
Taking time to pray gives God the opportunity to work in our hearts and purify our motives. This must not be a reaction to something we don’t like about what’s going on in the church down the street! If it was, it would be birthed in discord and criticism. It must begin with God’s leading and a desire to reach those who don’t know Jesus.
Jim Petersen, in his book Church Without Walls, clearly describes what can happen if a “migratory flock from neighbouring churches” invades a new group simply because they are curious:
“I have a friend who was a part of a team that set out to start a church. The congregation was divided into house churches, each of which was assigned an elder who helped shepherd the members of that house church. Centralized activities were kept at a minimum for the sake of keeping people free to minister to their families and unbelieving friends. The weekly meetings were dynamic. I will never forget the first one I visited. People of all sorts were there, from men in business suits to ponytails. Many were new believers. The Bible teaching was down to earth, aimed at people’s needs. I loved it. So did most everyone else who visited. The word got around and soon the migratory flock from neighboring churches came pouring in. Their needs consumed the energies of the leaders of this young church. Their wants gradually set the agenda. The inertia of the traditions of these migrants engulfed this very creative effort and shaped it accordingly.”
The original vision had been over-weighted with old baggage. And it simply couldn’t fly.
Our main target has to be pre-Christians and new believers,- and just a few efficient labourers—and “God will make things grow”.
Does size matter?
Well, fifty people in a living room is too many! Keep the number between 6 and 12. Less than 6 and there’s not enough buzz. too big and that wonderful sense of intimacy is diminished.
It is crucial that meeting together is an expression of the members’ desire to build community together—not just a religious-type duty to add to their already busy lives. If gathering together is done around food and for the purpose of fellowshipping, it is more natural. Choose times that are convenient for everyone involved and then make an effort to connect with the other members via Facebook, Skype or E-mail through the week. Just at present –and thinking here of rural Ireland- phone texts still work best. But use any means to develop relationship. Building a family is a big deal. It takes time and effort and committment.
But the ethos: the centralizing factor is the mission itself . We want to inculcate the idea of living in mission. Staying simple, urgent and flexible.
So, right now, we meet in a restaurant in CountyCavan. We meet in a farm in Offaly. We share weekends in a guesthouse in North Mayo, in a converted monastery on the Galway border, and we take a Wednesday in a private home in Roscommon .
Last Christmas Day we shared a meeting in a friend’s house in Co. Longford and realized that there were more Muslims there than Christians. Isn’t that interesting?
Some of our group hosts are very experienced –R_ and H_ have worked in mission in Mongolia and have a global vision, M_ used to run a Catholic Charismatic group for thirty years -and others are just willing –R_ and B_ are successful restauranteurs but happy to open their doors.
When we gather, a major directive is to attempt to look at the local community through the eyes of Jesus. As someone said, recently: “Find a cause. Meet needs. Share the gospel. Change the world!”
The Band of Brothers syndrome
I remember my father’s description of his wartime experiences as a young sergeant in the commandos. He described a connection to the other men in the unit that was unlike anything he experienced since. During basic training these men came from all over, with different religious backgrounds, different accents, different family traditions, and different political views. Often they disliked each other and even came to blows in early training. But when called into combat, all differences were left to one side. They saw fellow soldiers getting wounded and killed, and suddenly everything changed. Religion, politics, family background, and accents didn’t mean anything anymore. Those barriers were broken down to the point that they would risk their lives for one another.
What made the difference? They had a shared mission.
Which brings us back to Luke 9 and 10. Dare we take the gospel so seriously that we commit to it? That we “take nothing for the journey” and trust the Lord who called us to supply all we need?
Dare we do otherwise?
This is adapted from an article I did for VOX magazine at http://vox.ie
Ken and Val direct several missional communities across the midlands of Ireland.They work with Elim and Plumbline and have previously helped plant Riversmeeting in Carrick on Shannon (a Methodist church) and develop The Tithebarn Centre (a Baptist Church in West London). Ken’s books Evangelism in Acts and Evangelism as Encounter are available on Kindle Amazon at https://kindle.amazon.com/search/books?keywords=Dr+Ken+Baker&start=1