“Living and sharing the gospel.” That’s our mission statement. And it’s a good one, capturing both the content and the approach to mission. The method and the message. And the method is vitally important. In fact not only should the method match the message, in many ways the method is the message.
Earlier this year, John Mclean GCI Australia's National Director attend a national conference entitled “Re: Thinking A Public Faith”. The key speaker was Yale Professor Miroslav Volf. Volf is a prolific author, teacher (he has had former British PM Tony Blair in his class), conference presenter and something of an acknowledged expert on international reconciliation. Other presenters included Tim Costello from World Vision Australia and the Vice-Chancellor of the University of Sydney, Dr Michael Spence.
Leaders from churches, charities, parachurch organisations and Christian Schools were included to “rethink” approaches to sharing the gospel – to mission – in our pluralistic societies. It was an incredibly stimulating and encouraging experience. I want to tell you how exciting it was to hear others from different streams of Christianity very much sharing similar perspectives that our journey, in the grace of God, has led us to when it comes to mission.
There was a time when the Christian church automatically had a say in the public debate. When, by and large, the churches were heard with respect and some degree of honour. Not anymore! That horse has long gone. Now, as Dr Keith Farmer put it at our GCI national conference, we have gone from a post-Christian culture to an anti-Christian culture. Christians are often dismissed as “boring, judgmental and hypocritical”. Or, as Richard Dawkins famously put it, “mad, bad and dangerous”.
We can spend a great deal of energy considering how things have got to this state. (And there should be some serious reflection and soul searching.) Yet the challenge remains, what do we do now?
The good news is that the answer is really quite simple. As individuals, and together as a fellowship, we need to keep doing what we are already doing. We need to continue to “live and share” the gospel. We can’t share it if we are not living it, and we can’t live it if we are not sharing it. We start with an incredible gratitude for who God is – who he has revealed himself to be in Christ. And this is entirely good news. God is for us, not against us. He sent his Son into the world not to condemn the world, but to save it (John 3:17).
Our fundamental response to this is gratitude. And this thankfulness overflows into every aspect of life, into all we do and say. It underpins our approach to mission.
The Golden Rule
Now, we can talk about this – and we should. More vitally, we can live this. We can take seriously Jesus words to “do to others what you would have them do to you” (Matthew 7: 12). This is not a matter of compromising our beliefs. Indeed, it is just the opposite. This “Golden Rule” isn’t a peripheral part of Christianity – it’s the centre, the substance of the revelation of God in Christ. As C. S. Lewis noted, it crosses all cultures, belief systems and philosophical frameworks. And you don’t need a degree or complex explanations to understand it. Paul, the ex-Pharisee, put it this way, “For everything about God’s word is summed up in a single sentence: love others as you love yourself” (Galatians 5:13, The Message). And it’s about what we do as much (or more) than what we say.
We are not Old Testament prophets, calling people back to a national covenant with God. (Although justice and mercy for the oppressed and marginalised remain important as expressions of this love of God). Nor are we frustrated pastors, demanding back-sliding, lapsed Christians stop being slack and get serious about religion. (Although we invite people to share our communion with God and one another.) We are sent into the world as the Father sent the Son in the Spirit, to demonstrate the love of God in the world. Right here, right now. To whomever we come in contact with.
It’s not so much about admonishing people to believe this or that, to do more, to try harder, so much as it is about being Christ to others. This isn’t a matter of grand strategy, expensive programs, guilt-fuelled exhortations. It’s a matter of sharing kindness, compassion and care with every human being we meet. A smile, a word of encouragement. Not condemnation, but grace. Not judgment, but acceptance and love. Asking questions more than having all the answers; listening more than talking.
It’s about always speaking graciously (Colossians 4:6; Ephesians 4:29; 1 Peter 3:15). By all means, be prepared to give an answer – but always with kindness and patience, gentleness, respect and grace. (And notice Peter’s observation that the questions are about the “hope” that you have, the “good news” of the gospel – not doctrinal minutiae.) It’s about treating everyone we come in contact with as a child of God, of value and significance. It is doing unto all others what you would have them do to you. And remembering that it’s the Holy Spirit who converts, not us.
From Admonition to Mission
Moving from admonition to mission involves understanding that “mission” is not just a part of life, it is all of life. Mission is not a sub-set of Christianity, it is living the good news every day in every circumstance. Sometimes an emphasis on missional terminology can actually be unhelpful if it makes out that mission is something complex or different from every day Christianity.
Tim Costello finished the conference by saying it is very much a matter of tone. How do we go about everything we do or say? With harsh judgement, hectoring others, or with grace and sensitivity. Guided by the Golden Rule, or the desire to win the argument? It’s sharing by living, connecting, contributing – not just telling (and much less shouting).
I really want to thank the office staff, all our pastors and our congregations for the marvellous way we have all moved into this space from admonition (a message of telling others what they should be doing, and offering judgment and correction) to active mission. This mission is personal, local, congregational, national and international. It starts with the person in front of us (often our family) and extends to everyone we meet, or God provides connections with.
This is the trend the conference concluded we needed to see in the Christian community in this country (and others). It’s a trend already well underway in our fellowship as God in his mercy and grace has guided and led us.
It’s a trend reflecting the words of God’s revelation to us in Jesus: “By this shall all men know you are my disciples, if you have love for one another” (John 13:34-35). All others. It’s the operation of Golden Rule – the substance, not the peripherals of the Christian faith – to do unto others as you would have them do unto you. As we participate in the love of the Father, Son and Spirit, we learn to love as Christ loves us. And as we do, we also participate in the Son’s mission from the Father to the world – to live and share the good news, to create and build communion.
Donate Now (GCI Mission)
Sometimes mission can seem complicated and/or challenging. Especially when we are small and without many resources. Yet mission is really another way of saying we share the life and love of God with all those we come in contact with.
Some principles to remember for Mission:
- Mission is always Spirit-led. It is about prayerfully and intentionally being open to the Spirit, rather than us deciding what we plan to do and asking God to bless it. God directs our efforts, and we seek his guidance in everything. It is participating in what Jesus is doing, not doing work for him as if he were absent.
- Mission is always about glorifying God, not individuals, groups or agendas.
- Missions always means that the method must match the message – the process and the means are important. That is, mission is incarnational, pointing people to Christ, and being Christ to all we meet. We do God’s work God’s way. Success is measured in terms of faithfulness, not worldly measures of success. This involves qualitative issues, not just quantitative issues.
GCI Missions include (we will add to these over time):
Grace Communion International has an Emergency Fund that is available for members to donate to. It is money that is set aside and provided to approved recipients both nationally and internationally in times of natural disasters and or events that have caused serious hardship for members of the church community.
Kalengule Kaoma (KK) in Africa has started a Pastor's Basket Project to help our volunteer pastors. KK said "Some are very poor, and their church are unable to pay them anything. So we give them a small amount of money to invest - some have invested it in growing vegetables, for example. As they draw an income from their investments projects, they the repay the money they were given and its passed on to others who need it."