Fresh off our trip to Europe, I still feel like I’m racing to get caught up on everything. We spent just over a week in England and then a week in France. We had such a great time and took tons of pictures. If I ever have time, I will be sharing them.
What brought us to Europe in the first place, was my doctoral class “Encountering New Ways of being Church.” The class is taught by John and Olive Drane, and also had substantial contributions by Ian and Gail Adams. The class was as study in the experimental ministry by the Anglican and Methodist churches in England known as Fresh Expressions. In addition to the Dranes and Adams, we were also given the opportunity to interact with Jonny Baker, Andrew Roberts, and we attended a gathering of Stillpoint, a Fresh Expressions gathering at a pub in Oxford (I think it was Stillpoint 🙂 Obviously, I’ve got quite a lot to reflect on, and it will be awhile for me to process the wonderful experiences of the past couple of weeks. I thought I’d begin by sharing where I’ve been an what I have been up to the past few weeks, and share what I think is the overarching theme that’s held these experiences together for me.
Over the past two years or so, the most significant development to my theology has come through my introduction to the term “missio dei.” In reality, it’s an idea I’ve been flirting with for better than a decade – ever since I read Lesslie Newbigin’s The Gospel in a Pluralist Society, but it has become more enfleshed as I’ve read more specifically about missio dei.
Theologically, a grant shift has been taking place over the past two decades as practitioners have humbled themselves in realizing that God’s presence and mission is in place before they arrive in a particular context. It seems almost obvious now, but in reality, this is a fairly recent development (with ancient roots, not doubt). For many years, Christians were trained to think that they needed to “bring Christ to the nations.” While this perspective serves as a great motivator, it also places a great amount of pressure on each Christian – after all, if we are to bring Christ to the nations – if we don’t go, we truncate the mission of God to those people.
In moving from a “we have something you need” mentality to a “you are experiencing something common to us that we are attempting to better understand – can we join you?” is a significant shift in perspective. It is more humble. It is more contextual. It is more honest. And . . . in the end . . . it’s actually easier!
This leads us to ask the question, “What is God doing in this neighborhood and how can we be a part of it?” instead of “What do we need to do to show these people to Jesus?” In reality, God is already working in their lives. He is already present in their neighborhoods. The church is not the full realization of the kingdom. While the church may be absent in a particular community, God’s kingdom, his larger reality in the world, is alive and at work. Biblically, this is exactly what happens in Acts 17 while Paul is in Athens. He looks around at what God has already been doing in that community.
This perspective is a driving force for the Fresh Expressions experiment (for lack of a better word) in the UK. I appreciated the perspectives I was exposed to, and, although it required a good deal of translation for my context (the most pressing questions for me revolve around the denominational support that Fresh Expressions relies on relating to issues of sustainability), their impulse and devotion was encouraging. There seem to be alot of people talking about these kinds of things, but few churches (especially in the United States) actually incorporating them into actual practices). I certainly came away with many more questions than answers, but am determined to be an active part of God’s missio dei rather than some bystander serving only to commentate on what others are doing.