Thursday, January 10, 2013

Three Questions on Prioritising Mission in CU

These observations are drawing on the work of Tim Chester and Steve Timmis in Total Church, and Steve Tibbert & Val Taylor in Good to Grow. Two books I'd highly recommend. The latter is a particularly easy read and is full of leadership gems.

1. What's our primary focus as a CU? 
Hopefully for a CU (and a church) the answer is obviously mission... but is it in reality? Tibbert says: 
“The church exists to grow. Mission must take centre-stage, we must build mission-focused communities.” 
Jesus came into the world so that we could know him. Mission is about that. And as CU is a subset of the local churches in a particular town or city, mission first too. There's a room focus on numbers but bottom line: numbers are people, and Christ died for people. He continues:
“Prioritising mission requires sustained, focussed leadership otherwise we will drift towards a pastoral mode.” 
This drift is easy to observe in many CUs and local churches, in my life. Many default to an inward pastoral approach. This is good and cosy and supportive (and often how a CU is perceived) but flawed. We need always to be asking the mission question. What are we doing to provoke people to ask about the one that we love? What are we doing to capture the imagination? If we're on mission it'll be evident that we're besotted with Christ, persuaded of the gospel. I'm not calling for activism or for big programmes, but for ordinary life in pursuit of Christ. Timmis and Chester:  
“People often ask if they can come and see our ministry. But all there is to see is ordinary people doing ordinary things. The ordinary is a vehicle for Christian mission if there is gospel intentionality”    
How's the CU going?

2. What kinds of gifts and priorities are shaping the CU? 
Everyone is called to mission, to witness and to do the work of an evangelist. But, there are some people who are gifted in Evangelism. Steve Tibbert reflects: 
"I once thought I was an evangelist, until I bet one, but I have always been a leader with a passion for the lost..." 
Me too. Mission-mindedness needs to be nurtured. He continues:
“We need to ensure that we identify and train leaders to have mission focus and skills.” 
You might be pastorally minded, administratively minded, but mission should run through the blood of all of that. And Steve Tibbert observes:
“To build mission-focussed communities we must make space for the gift of the evangelist to shape us...” 
In CU the evangelists might not be in the leadership roles. Often pastorally and administratively minded people are the people who get the jobs. That's not all bad, though there are many gifts for leadership. Think of Cambridge CU 60 years ago. John Stott was a CU member. Best evangelist in the CU. Not chosen to lead to avoid burdening him with administration. But, that doesn't mean you don't give Stott a voice! The Stotts need to be listen to, invited to Forum, and have their stories told frequently. Speakers at Team Meetings should included evangelists. We need to be shaped by all kinds of different people - pastors, teachers, evangelists, prophets (and apostles!) who will equip us for front-line ministry serving other people.

3. Where are we allocating our resources? 
“What comes first when it comes to allocating resources? You need an agreed ‘philosophy of ministry’ in every area. Teams clash more over this than over personality, values or even doctrine” observes Tibbert.
Many CUs act like they're a local church and are dominated by the concerns that their pastors and elders carry, yet they're neither equipped or required to do such things. 

The philosophy of ministry of the Christian Union has to be 'for mission'. Mission trumps other concerns. It overrides the way I like things. An exception worth noting here is that mission isn't an excuse for being divisive because unity fuels mission -- but its easy for people to use unity to advance their own agenda at the expense of the decisions that mission requires. Equally, making mission primary doesn't mean doctrinal softness - substantial doctrine drives mission and shapes our persuasive proclamation. But Christ transforms us for mission.

Allocating resources is about where money goes, it's about where time goes. It's evidenced in where we build relationships and in the subject of our conversations. It'll show in the answer to the question:
What's the riskiest thing we've done in the name of mission this year? 
If mission isn't our driving philosophy of ministry then we probably wont have any answer to that question or at least nothing particularly risky. By risk I mean, the kinds of things that make no sense if we don't believe the gospel -- things in the same league as praying for healing and giving to your church (both of which are stupid if the gospel isn't true)... what would that be for you?

This doesn't mean we don't pour resources into training the leaders and members of the CU - in fact a sustained mission focussed makes us more likely to do just that. We want to be equipped, we need to be motivated. And mission focus doesn't mean no nourishing and feeding of the members with Christ from the Scriptures as often as possible. Quite the opposite, the more we want to pursue mission the more we'll want to look to Christ, and the more we look to Christ, the more we're moved to mission.

1. What's our primary focus as a CU? 
2. What kinds of gifts and priorities are shaping the CU? 
3. Where are we allocating our resources? 

All three questions are pointing in the same direction... all ask questions about what our philosophy of ministry is, all three look to set us back on track again.

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