When I applied for my current job at NZCMS (New Zealand Church Missionary Society) I had no idea of what the letters stood for or what the organisation did. That was pretty much my knowledge of missions as well. So as you might imagine I went on a bit of a learning curve.
The staff here include an ordained Anglican minister, one who spent 15 years in the mission field, another who in their spare time lectures at Laidlaw, a Pastors kid,and more recently we have been joined by a couple who have served on the mission field in the Pacific and Cambodia. At the time I started I was one of only two staff who had never been on a mission trip, had no theological training and no inclination to offer our lives in service in the mission field. Boy did I feel overwhelmed!
Over the years since I’ve gone on what I jokingly call my backwards journey into mission. I have been absorbing as much as I can to understand the incredible people who serve overseas, why they go, and the joy they bring in sharing the Good News about our Lord. This backwards journey has been accompanied by several underlying questions: Why are less Christians engaging in mission than in the past? And how do we engage churches and people in mission?
Mission isn’t limited to going overseas, it includes all Christians in New Zealand, many who are called to support those who serve as missionaries. My journey has immersed me in educational opportunities: The Samaritan Strategy to learn about “Seed Projects” (“Seed Projects” are small-scale, holistic outreach initiatives through which local churches demonstrate God’s love in practical ways to those in their community); studying Biblical Theology through Laidlaw; Kairos; learning about the Five Marks of Mission as decreed by the Anglican Church; “Friendship First” a course focused on making friends with our Muslim brothers and sisters; Care of Creation and a myriad DVD’s, books, articles and frequent musings over our coffee breaks.
These experiences started to influence how I viewed life in my local parish of St Augustine’s. Like most churches we have a small missions committee that prays regularly for mission, but in the wider congregation there is so much to prioritise. This includes worship teams, ministries, events, family, school, work and life in general. Amongst all this arose a quandary, how do we get others to consider overseas mission when many of us are struggling to be missional right here in our own backyard.
Recently I was introduced to a course called “Empowered to Influence.” It’s a four week course of two hours a week that brings about a paradigm shift in how we approach our faith on a daily basis. It’s founded by a Singaporean businessman who wanted to be a missionary but God placed him in the market place instead. A huge disappointment for him. However, after 20 years spent figuring out why, he has realised that God has placed him (and us!) right where we are now for a reason. We have been placed right here to be salt and light to the secular world around us. We can flourish in a non-Christian workplace. We do have the power to influence those we encounter. Some may be familiar with the terms Theology of Work or Monday Church, where church is not just sitting in a pew on Sunday but about the rest of the week—that Monday to Saturday we are living out our lives. In this course we were introduced to seven tangible paradigm shifts that can be implemented immediately, and without barely even realising it.
I ran the course in my home group where we found much to discuss. Ten thought provoking weeks later the results were clear. One man who works as a driver where every second word is non-printable realised that he could be missional right there in his work-place, resulting in increased job satisfaction. He gained the confidence to start conversations with some co-workers struggling with issues and even to pray with them. For a mum, there was the realisation that hosting foreign students isn’t just a great cultural experience, but also an opportunity to be salt and light in those student’s lives. Her desire being to make such an impact that they will be inspired take back to their native land with them. Another participant was so excited she insisted the course needed to be opened up to our whole parish.
After a couple of brief conversations, the course was booked and the promotion of it throughout our church organised with the parish office. As the driving force behind this new thing a doubt surfaced in my mind, ‘is this me forcing this on my church or is this really the will of God?’
The following Sunday rolled around quickly and the sermon was based on Mark, chapter 6, where Jesus is teaching his disciples how to do the work of ministry and giving them some important tools for that ministry. Our minister saw the promo video about the course for the first time at the early service. He was so excited by what he saw that he incorporated it into his sermon for the later service!
God’s way is to have all believers taking part in his mission, Missio Dei, and collectively we will influence the whole world for Him. One of the things holding many of us back is the feeling that we are not equipped. We are challenged on this course that we are all equipped, in fact we’re over equipped to such an extent we don’t know where to start. Too many programmes and too much teaching on the rights and wrongs. There is also the mind-set that it’s the ministers, missionaries, the volunteers, the retired, the lay people with whom the responsibility lies. But it’s actually us, the normal day to day Christians who step out into our communities who are best equipped and placed by God to be influencing others.
The course does not tell us to go out and ear-bash anyone. We do not stand on a corner with a Bible in our hands. It is actually quite the opposite. As Christians living in a secular society we will be judged in our workplace and communities as being those Christians. It is by getting alongside our secular colleagues and our friends that we can live out Kingdom values in front of them. They will see that there is something different about us.
Ken Chua the facilitator of this course says that 8 out of 10 people who join his work-place come to know Christ. To quote Dr Ravi Zacharias, "When the beauty of Christ is seen, He draws people unto Himself. Conversion is never an enforced thing. It is an attractive thing, the work of God... I say, live for Jesus and when people see the beauty of Christ in you, they will ask you questions and they will want the same results in their life."
And back to that underlying fear… ‘Is this my will or God’s?’ After the introduction evening, the room is a buzz and the future of this course is again moving into another realm as the participants brain storm the next step with comments such as “this course is wasted on just the 12 of us... this needs to go to the whole church,” “It’s good enough to replace a sermon…actually…could we run this each week instead of the sermon…?”—“Let’s give our vicar a rest….” All these responses are not of my making. Such is only possible when God’s will and the power of his Holy Spirit is at work.
It is hard to believe the time when I didn’t even consider mission was something I could participate in. Finding out I can do it as I am, where I am, has not only opened my own eyes to the possibility of God working through me but is changing our congregational outlook as well. I encourage you all to investigate it for yourself and be ready to see God at work.