Tag: church

Choluteca Bridge, Honduras
bibleleadership

Bridge on the River “Why?”

How willing are we to change – to let go of our structures, our plans and our methods, to respond to the times, and do something new?

Recently I was at GOFest 2017. The GOFest leadership have decided to change their approach completely.  Rather than an annual national conference they now hold their missions festival in a different region each year, and link with local churches there, to encourage them in mission and help them connect with each other.

I heard a striking analogy in one of the keynote addresses, given by John Risbridger, (minister of Above Bar Church, Southampton, and Chair of Keswick Ministries). He showed a picture of a beautiful wide suspension bridge, in the green tropical surroundings of Honduras. The bridge was expertly engineered to withstand any storm or bad weather. The next picture showed the same bridge a few years later. It was still standing, as elegant as ever – but now it was eerily alone: no road attached to it, there was just brown desert on either side; no river ran under it. The roads had been swept away by Hurricane Mitch, and the river course had been completely changed and flowed around the side of the bridge some distance away. The beautiful, expensive, carefully designed bridge was now a folly, with no use or purpose in the world.

Our churches, our mission agencies, our organisations, can be like that. We need to keep checking – is what we are doing still useful? Is there still any point in it? Is it reaching people where they are now? Is it contextual? We can all too easily spend time, money and energy trying to keep our beloved structures going, while everything around them has changed and they have become irrelevant.

Redcliffe College “moved their bridge” when we changed from being a residential, largely pre-field training college, to running mainly intensive MA programmes to offer continuing professional development style training to people already engaged in mission all over the world. The new pop-up hubs are also a way of being able to train people wherever they are.

We may dislike change, but God certainly doesn’t: the Bible is full of references to God doing new things, making new creations, pouring new wine into new wineskins… And see the example of Paul, who was willing to be flexible, who didn’t hold on to set methods or formulas, but adopted different approaches for the different people he went among.

So let’s be willing to look again at our churches, our mission agencies, our strategies and structures and ask the questions: are they still fit for purpose, are they still relevant, or are they carefully constructed, elegant bridges over empty river beds?

biblemissiology

Making our Bible Studies Missional

Let me ask you a question: how important has reading and studying the Bible with others been in your discipleship journey? If you’re anything like me you have sat together in a small group to study the Bible on numerous occasions, grappling with the text’s meaning and its implications for your lives.

Let me ask you another question: how overtly ‘missional’ have those studies been? What I mean by this is: how explicitly do we relate our engagement with the biblical text to mission, throughout the study and not just as an addition as part of the application at the end? How can we make our Bible Studies more missional at a fundamental level?

I suppose I am asking “what difference do the developments in our understanding of the missional nature of the Bible make to a mid-week Bible Study group?” This question was addressed by George Hunsberger in an article entitled, Missional Bible Study: Discerning and Following God’s Call.

In it, he declares that

“we will need to learn a new way of placing ourselves in front of the text. Bible study guides and methods that focus on each individual’s relationship to God will not be enough. We will need to learn to read the Bible together as a community that is called and sent by God.” (p.7, my emphasis)

I like the assumption of the ‘sentness’ of the Church in what he says. I also like his point about reading with others. Often we think of approaching the Bible as solely an individual exercise. Perhaps we also think of our involvement in mission as an individual exercise. We need a shift in our approach to studying the Bible that asks ‘us’ questions rather than ‘me’ questions. Otherwise, we are in danger of being a group of sent individuals rather than a sent community.

Asking good questions

The ability to ask good questions is a monumentally underrated skill. Consider the reflections of Isidor Rabi, a Nobel laureate in physics:

“My mother made me a scientist without ever intending it. Every other Jewish mother in Brooklyn would ask her child after school: ‘So? Did you learn anything today?’ But not my mother. She always asked me a different question. ‘Izzy,’ she would say, ‘did you ask a good question today?’ That difference – asking good questions – made me become a scientist!”

A good question is a beautiful and powerful thing. But what kind of questions could we ask in our ‘missional’ Bible Studies? Hunsberger suggests five:

Mission – How does this text send us and equip our witness?

Context – How does this text read us and our world?

Gospel – How does this text evangelise us with good news?

Change – How does this text convert us in personal and corporate life?

Future – How does this text orient us to the coming reign of God?

This isn’t a definitive list, but it is at least a beginning of a journey we could make to ensure that when we study the Bible together we are being more intentionally missional.

If Hunsberger’s five questions seem like a big step, how about this one:

‘In what ways does this passage make a claim for the rule of God in our lives, our churches, our communities and our world?’

Such a question recognises the reign of God (whether we frame it in terms of the Kingship of Yahweh or the Lordship of Christ) and asks us to consider what this reign means for us. It is not just a call to consider the extent to which our lives are aligned with that reign, though it certainly requires that. It is also a challenge to take our contexts seriously and to consider creatively how the reign of God can be discerned and embodied in the world, and how we might participate in that.

What questions would you ask to make your Bible Studies more missional? And which (if any) of the above suggestions might you try to pose the next time your group meets to study the Scriptures?

 


Tim is the Bible and Mission stream leader, on Redcliffe’s MA in Contemporary Missiology. This course is designed for you if you’re interested in reading the Bible as a missional ‘document’, and using it to transform your mission, ministry or day-to-day discipleship.

missiology

Four ‘Scripture Engagement’ questions every UK Church should be asking

I love to find ways of local and global expressions of mission fuelling each other.

As we in the UK church seek to share Jesus with people in our increasingly complex, multi-cultural communities, what can we learn from sisters and brothers around the world who have been communicating the Bible cross-culturally for decades?

The thing I want to highlight in this blog post is that if we (that is, UK churches) are to orient ourselves and our church activities and cultures to a more missional, outward-focused perspective, we’d be crazy not to draw on the rich insights of cross-cultural mission thinking and practice!

One such area is ‘Scripture Engagement’. Over the last couple of decades, more and more people in the global mission community have been discussing, researching and practising Scripture Engagement (SE), which according to one definition,

‘involves accessing, understanding and interacting meaningfully with the life-changing message of the Scriptures.’ (SIL)

Here I want to offer four questions that I am drawing from SE thinking to help local UK churches consider how we can help people to access, understand and interact meaningfully with the life-changing message of the Scriptures.

1. Are we taking biblical illiteracy, suspicion and hostility seriously?

It’s important to ask ourselves whether we are accounting enough for the lack of biblical literacy in UK society. We simply cannot assume anything of our hearers in terms of background knowledge. So, for example, if you are speaking on a psalm of David or an epistle of Paul, do you spend any time giving a brief overview of who these people were and how they fit into the Bible’s big picture? If you ask me this is a great excuse as well to show how that passage fits into the big story of God’s mission. This can be done concisely and creatively. If you are worried about whether this will be a turn off for those who have heard it before, encourage them to see it as a reminder of all those in the community for whom it is news. Doing this can help normalise bringing friends on a Sunday morning because it assumes an expectation that people will be intentional about this.

As well as a lack of background knowledge people may be listening with big questions about the Bible. Is it irrelevant? Does it condone violence? Is it misogynist? Is it incoherent and untrustworthy?

Find ways of listening to the questions and objections to the Bible that are being expressed in your community and face them honestly but confidently to show that the Bible is indeed good news.

2. Are we taking orality seriously?

One of the great strides taken in recent years has been an awareness of and engagement with the phenomenon of orality. Here is how International Orality Network defines oral learners:

Oral learners are people from all over the globe, from all walks of life and all levels of education who learn primarily or exclusively through oral, not textual means. Their lives are therefore more likely to be transformed through stories, songs, drama, proverbs and media.

While some oral communicators learn this way out of necessity because they cannot read or write with understanding, others simply prefer non-print forms of communication. (Link)

It is important to recognise this because (a) there may be people from oral preference learning communities in your congregation; (b) there will certainly be people in your congregation who tend towards a preference for oral communication means; and (c) the way we often communicate the Bible is framed in rather ‘literate’ ways. Oral learning process information differently to literate learners; are we accounting for this in how we preach and teach the Scriptures?

3. Are we taking the transformative power of Scripture seriously?

The whole premise of Scripture Engagement is based on the assumption that Scripture is life-transforming.

I wonder if we in the UK Church have had our confidence in this eroded over time. It is easy to feel confident in the Bible when it is generally accepted in society as an important cultural and moral resource. Have we become complacent, only now waking up with a crisis of nerve as we find ourselves in the minority and not able to confidently articulate and defend biblical perspectives?

SE work around the world reminds us that God’s Word does indeed have power. I wonder if being attentive to how God has used Scripture around the world would give us in the UK a much-needed injection of confidence in God’s powerful Word for us today. Perhaps it would give us confidence and expectancy to see lives changed?

4. Are we taking the consequences of a positive response seriously?

With that renewed confidence in God’s Word, and a re-energised, Bible-confident Church, we may expect to see more people responding positively to the call of faith in Jesus. Of course, everyone needs to ‘count the cost’ of this decision but, for many, a decision to follow Jesus may well have enormous social and familial repercussions. What will your church do, for example, if someone from another faith community comes to faith and is ostracised by their family? Will your church be ready to embrace and walk with them? Will they be prepared to become their family in a fuller sense than we often think about?

There is lots of talk about mission being ‘from everywhere to everywhere’, and the world being on our doorstep here in the UK. Now, more than ever, the thinking and practice of cross-cultural work is of urgent relevance to the UK Church. Will we ignore the decades of insights from those who have gone before us in our attempts to reinvent the wheel, or will we embrace the rich insights on offer from brothers and sisters. Traditionally, the UK Church has been good at sending; will we also be good at receiving?

 


This July, Tim will be teaching an intensive MA module on ‘Scripture Engagement: Approaches and Issues’ at our UK MA Summer School. You can participate in this as a stand-alone module, or as part of the MA in Contemporary Missiology programme.