And what really lights my pipe is the fact that these pioneers and missional entrepreneurs are most usually not the collared clerics nor the degreed theologians. Neither are they the ecclesial superstars that fill our pulpits, stages and bookstores. They’re ordinary people who simply believe God’s still active and that they are, each one of them, strategically positioned to make a difference in their world.
Will you take a bribe, minister?
Some years ago when I was a minister – before the missions bug bit me again and sent me on another pilgrimage – a very ordinary but lovely lady in our church invited a few neighbours to her home to learn some crafts, enjoy a cup of tea and have a short reflection from the Bible. Word spread and the group outgrew her living room, finding a new space in the church where I worked. In a few years the group had grown to 400 people learning 40 different crafts, filling the church building to capacity every Wednesday (even the cleaning closet was used) and creating a two year waiting list to join. I often had people on the streets recognise me as one of the ministers and ask me to bump their name higher on the list (and no, I didn’t take bribes). We added Thursday nights which I attended to give the 5 minute devotion called ‘Think Spot.’ The numbers only continued to climb.
Even my mother signed up to learn the art of painting, which soon became her profession, enabling her to make enough money to occasionally visit us overseas. But even more encouraging, my mother was deeply impacted by one of the Think Spots when I asked a craft teacher to give her testimony of how she found God. Not all of the teachers were Christians, but she’d recently decided to follow Jesus so I asked her to speak out of the freshness of her life transformation. This was a significant moment in my mother’s life. “Now I know that I am a Christian,” she told me later.
Pioneers who dare to dream with God
There’s so many stories I could tell of ordinary people who would most likely never be asked to lead a Bible study or give a sermon but who felt empowered to launch some tiny initiative that took root and blossomed into something that transformed lives and the local community. Here’s just a few examples:
Last week I met a lady who went to a food pantry at an Episcopalian church and was asked to lead it. She later came to faith and was baptised – which might be in the wrong order but it didn’t seem to matter too much. Today she still runs the Food Pantry for 450 families each week and has helped to start multiple food pantries in her city. And through her books, including a New York Times bestseller called Take This Bread, Sara Miles is sharing how food and faith are intrinsically connected.
Over the last month I’ve visited a few times with Timothy, the son of an Anglican Canon in Singapore who was told by his father not to enter ‘the ministry’ but instead pursue a career in business. So he became a banker. He and his banking friends launched a missional cafe that hosts Alpha groups. A few more missional cafes have already popped up in a few countries and the movement is just underway.
A new initiative by the Methodists seeks to start hundreds of tiny Kingdom initiatives by empowering ordinary people to give birth to the dream that smoulders in their hearts and minds. What I find interesting is that they expect most of them to fail. But what’s important to them is that God’s people are actively involved in launching tiny endeavours among the poor that bring hope and the living message that our Creative God is still active in bringing new things to life that will be conduits for his love and grace and gifts.
I wish I could tell you about the many other inspiring missional entrepreneurs I’ve encountered. Like the family in Portugal who teach struggling mothers each week to cook a meal for under 5 Euros. Or the retired businessman in Germany who visits a Syrian refugee camp three times a week to teach the German language. Then there’s the Silicon Valley entrepreneur who created an Artificial Intelligence based phone app for detecting depression and preventing suicide. Or the Catholic school teacher in The Gambia who’s starting libraries for children and permaculture projects to provide food during the rainy season.
These are just some examples of how ordinary people have found their place participating in the great mission of God. The beautiful thing is, there are simply no rules about what mission can and should look like – we need innovators willing to listen to God and creatively step out and try something new, even if it might fail. Every garden begins with a single seed and a step of faith. As church leaders equip and release their people to be the church in the world – to be grace-bearers and risk-takers – we’ll see the whole church begin to take the whole Gospel to the whole world.
Is God inviting you to ‘dream with him’ in a new way? What part of your life might he be pinpointing, what opportunity might he be opening up, what group of people might he be highlighting?
“If you try the same old thing you get the same old results.” What are some new things you and your group could try? (Why not brainstorm a number of ideas while asking God to give you creativity and boldness).
Exploring today's missional issues from a variety of angles, each edition of the Intermission magazine will equip you and your group to engage with God in your community and beyond. To signup to receive the Intermission in the post, email firstname.lastname@example.org. Intermission articles can also be found online at nzcms.org.nz/intermission.