'Christ-Centred Mission'

An Imaginary Conversation

William Loader

No, no, no, no, no.. yes, but better: people-centred mission!

But mustn't be Christ-centred, God-centred? Jesus is Lord!

Of course, that's true, but the trouble is that speaking about Christ-centred mission sounds like Christ is self-centred. It's like mission is to increase the Jesus fan club, the Jesus enterprise. It's like a big ego trip. John, you wouldn't want someone to set up a John centred-mission would you?

I see what you mean. That makes it sound like a commercial enterprise, where people want you to buy their product and aren't really interested in anyone but themselves. That's not how I think about Jesus.

No, Jesus said the sabbath was made for people not people for the sabbath (Mark 2:27). He also said he didn't come to be served, but to serve and give his life (Mark 10:45). When I say Christ-centred, I mean being centred on Jesus and his way. It's like when I join hands with him he doesn't drag me away from people to God; he leads me with God to people; he leads me to love the way he did, to walk with him.

Yes, that makes sense to me, too. So the mission thing is the Jesus thing; it's joining Jesus in what he is doing. I'm still a bit uneasy about it, though, because sometimes I feel people have a loyalty to Jesus first and foremost and they don't really love others because they want to, they do it because he says so. It doesn't ring true.

To get brownie points!

Exactly! I want people to care for me because they really care for me, not because I'm just an opportunity for them to ingratiate themselves with God.

OK. God's not like that, anyway. God was self giving right from the beginning, choosing not to take up all the space and things like that, making room for others.

But for too many people God is not like that at all, but like the father who says: 'Do it because I say so or I'll belt you!' Actually that's how many people understood evangelism: 'Tell them God will burn them in hell unless they believe!'

Yes, God's like the father of the prodigal son who ran down the road to meet his son and was filled with compassion.

True; and that kind of loving isn't past confronting what is destructive in people; it's not the kind of approach that goes along with everything.

So, what you're saying is: Christ-centred mission is about compassion, but also about confrontation of injustice.

Yes, look, it's got lots to it. When you care about people it's about everything: individuals, relationships, families, societies, and it includes the world around us and how we treat it.

I think it has to start with getting right with God. That's what holds all the other things together. That's why evangelism is so important.

'Evangelism!' 'Are you saved, brother?'

OK, evangelism is another one of those things which have given the gospel a bad name, but it's still true that caring for people that amounts to anything has to care about how they relate to God. That is central. It's about coming to terms with yourself, facing up to reality, getting in touch with the one who is the source of life and love.

But don't you think half our problem is that people have been turned off the church and we keep meeting damaged and turned off people who keep thinking we are still pushing the old barrows or trying to fill the same old pews?

It's an uphill struggle, but don't forget there's a lot of people out there now who have never had any such contact with the church and there's going to be more of them.

Then how are we going to make them feel we're on about something worthwhile? The sound of the old organ, the memory of Sunday School, going back to mum and dad's religion when the kids come along - none of that will work with them.

Friendship is a key, genuine openness, being welcoming, including people.

But you can be like that and what do you? Invite them to come to the local church and get bored out of their minds!? Unless they get a buzz out of organ music and dowdy hymns!

Including people doesn't have to mean taking them to church, though I think that's the showcase of what we're on about. People can meet in homes. It doesn't have to be hyped up and pressured, like you're trying to make a sale. You're not trying to make a sale; you're trying to make a friend and if that's not what you're doing, then forget it!

OK, but let's get back to church, I mean, the gathering of the people, the congregation. I always think there are some pluses about being in the bigger group; you can be more anonymous as a newcomer. You don't feel quite as exposed as when you go to house group.

People are different. What suits one person won't suit another. But let's take the church gathering, the church service; there's no reason why it can't be friendly. But it needs to have atmosphere. People need to feel that God is there somehow.

Who? The minister?! No, but, seriously, has anyone done any research on what might attract people to come to such gatherings?

It would certainly be worthwhile, but I would guess the answers would be almost as different as people are different.

So, it would be a matter of trying to assess what kind of person is likely to want to come in the first place. Isn't that difficult, because most people who already come do what they want and are really only likely to attract people like them and if they are a dying breed, goodbye church?!

Well, that is certainly one of the greatest problems we face. I think the best services are the ones where a range of tastes are catered for, but you can't match everyone's tastes.

But that makes it all sound like a matter of taste. Isn't it a bit more than that? Aren't people attracted by passion and a sense of mission, a feeling that the group is going somewhere, stands up for something? Otherwise it might be just as satisfying to go for a bush walk, turn on a CD, watch TV or go surfing - in catering for people's tastes there's a much richer smorgasbord out there than the church can offer.

Of course, tastes are secondary. It's not a taste-centred mission, but a Christ centred one and for me that means being challenged. Challenged about my relationship with God, challenged about my world, challenged with others about change in our community. Challenged by God's word in Christ!

'Challenged by God's Word'! I can just see it, black leather covered, gilt paged Bible held aloft by the preacher denouncing all the sins of the world, telling us what we must believe, all that mumbo jumbo, leave your mind behind, like the game we used to play as kids: Simon says, 'Do this!', though that, of course, was making fun of the pope.

You don't have to wave the Bible around like that to find God speaking through it. It has been an inspiration to people down through the ages. You don't have to accept everything. Some people find miracles a bit far fetched. Sure, there are bits which belong to another age. Values have changed about people, about women, about children.

Yes, they have. I wish the church would catch up. I still hear God spoken about as if he heads up a medieval kingdom surrounded by people who bow and scrape and all he wants is adulation. And then we wonder why some people behave like that in real life - men especially!

But you know, right at the heart of this precious collection is a very different story. Who gets crowned a king? Jesus who lived a life of compassion! He came not to be served but to serve. That's how he lived. That's what God is like. That feeds my spirit; that changes me.

Then we need to have people who can help us find our way through all these things. We need people to show us where the water is. Otherwise it's a bit of a jungle.

Well, I think we can do one better: we can offer bread; we can offer wine. When I eat the bread and drink the wine it's like I am drinking his life into mine.

That's very sensual; I like it. But how do you help other people find their way to the bread and wine? Isn't it usually too much of a ceremony, a bit very odd for someone coming in off the street.

It doesn't have to be ceremonious and it doesn't have to be distanced and formal, but, yes, it is a ceremony. People love ceremonies! The way you do things at football, how you set the table, what you put on when you go out for special occasions. We are inviting people to join in our ancient ceremonies. It doesn't have to be all mumbo jumbo!

I can buy that. It does worry me when some people think mission means taking the mystery out of everything. It would be really awful if we reduced everything to what can be explained, nicely reduced to a sales pitch, packaged for today's consumer!

People love mystery. And surely, God is mystery, a mystery we know and don't know!

But do you really think people want to share it? Come and join us because we don't have all the answers!

We just know Jesus who helps us ask the questions.