Re Re:Call Revisited


Just a quick post to partially redress the balance regarding the retreat last week. I stand by all that I said about one strand of the event... It was appalling. But that happens sometimes... You book speakers with an international reputation, brief them appropriately, and they then don't come up with the goods... And there is absolutely nothing you can do about it, except take them off your list of recommendations for anyone else. As for the rest of the event, it was extremely well organised and worthwhile, although personally I think it is something that we should do every 3 years, rather than bi-annually as it has been recently... The speakers and seminars are an important element, but probably more important is just the time spent sharing with colleagues, especially now that our annual conference in June is shorter, more condensed and business-like.

But to refer to the other main speaker at the event, Bishop Graham Cray of Maidstone, as I said in a comment after my previous post, he was good but didn't get me fired up. His material was a good balance of broad research and practical experience, with a theological depth that the Bible Studies sadly lacked.

Not sure then whether it was an issue of presentation, or the fact that I was exhausted by the time I got to Sligo that meant I wasn't terribly taken by him (I actually fell asleep in one session... right in front of the poor man... but then I've got form on that front, regularly falling asleep in lectures at college and even at one poor guy's trial sermon when there were only about a dozen people in the church!).

However, like another colleague, I was taken by his second session, where he looked at the indisoluble connection between discipleship and mission... This spoke directly into our local situation where we too often fragment the work of the kingdom, into social outreach, evangelism and discipleship and so on, almost seeing them as steps, hopefully bringing people closer to God, his purposes for their lives and to the centre of the machine that is called the church...

For a number of years we were good at the outreach and evangelism side of things but appaling at the discipleship and pastoral care of people once they were "in"... More recently we've been more focused on the latter two, and whilst the community engagement is still strong, we haven't had an active evangelism programme operating in over a year... and in talking to one of our leaders he questioned whether we were ready to bring people in yet... I know what he means, but he is falling into the pair of traps that we are guilty of, and that I fall into with alarming regularity:
1) that evangelism is about bringing people in to the church, rather than allowing them to encounter Christ and his good news.
2) that authentic Christian community engagement, evangelism and discipleship can ever be teased apart into separate programmes.

In addressing this, Graham Cray was ticking all the boxes that I had begun to sort out in my own head on this matter, and I was actually feeling quite smug...

Until, in an almost throw-away comment he warned against getting so involved with those "out there" that we forget the needs, and the role that those inside the tent continue to have in God's mission... And that hit me in the face like a wet haddock... Especially when he described those who do that as "despising God's people."

Because I have done that... I have written off people, and indeed in one case an entire congregation, as having nothing left to contribute to God's mission in a particualr place... And my implicit, or explicit deal with them has been that I will continue to be their pastor or chaplain to the day they as an individual or congregation dies, BUT that I will look elsewhere for the ongoing mission of God in the world.

I suddenly realised that I had been effectively saying that those people were of no use to God... Be it because of their age, theological outlook, or mental or physical infirmity... How dare I double-guess God... Its his mission not mine...

So... he may not have fired me up... but he certainly made me realise that I haven't got it all sorted out... Yet despite my shortcomings, I believe God still uses me... So, if he uses me, why can he not use those whom I have written off...

I, genuinely look forward now to being proved wrong by God... Again...

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