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Are we there yet?

At the Rural Ministries online prayer time this past week, we reflected on being ‘wayfinders’ - those who help locate and discover a route through the continually shifting ‘seascapes’ of culture. ‘Wayfinders are those who go first, looking for clues about the direction God is leading, discerning the hints of the Spirit and identifying pathways others can follow.


Jon Timms asked us three helpful questions: Where are we now? Where do we want to go? How are we going to get there? Profound in their simplicity, these questions enable us to be honest with ourselves, one another and with God regarding our current context. Occasionally, people can answer the first question by describing how they would like things to be rather than how things are. Still, we were all honest and open about the opportunities and challenges of our current context, which helped us begin to dream of a better future.

 

In sharing the challenges, I heard that fewer people are taking on more and more as our volunteer base gets smaller, and those we encounter as church are invariably more needy and come with ‘baggage.’ The latter I celebrate; for too long, the Church has been perceived as a place for ‘nice’ people who have all the answers. These answers offered habitually are ‘Jesus’ without necessarily listening to the questions. Offering spiritual platitudes without deep listening can be insensitive at best and manipulative at worst. Jesus seemed to spend a lot of time hanging out with messy, marginal people and addressing the root of their problems; he fed them, healed them, accepted and befriended them, included them, and ultimately died for them.

 

I wonder if the challenge of fewer and fewer volunteers taking on the multiple ministries and services of ‘the Church’ results from our focus on programmes rather than presence. We seem to have embraced many of Christendom's customs and traditions and lost sight of our calling to be Christ’s representatives. Our efforts are in ‘keeping the show on the road’ rather than carefully, prayerfully seeking how we might each be Christ in a world desperately needing a Saviour.

 

As wayfinders seeking to locate a path through these troubling times, I believe God is calling us to three disciplines: slowing, growing and knowing. The first, slowing, means deliberately reducing the frenetic pace we are attempting to maintain in our churches; we are simply trying to do too much with fewer able-bodied volunteers. There is nothing that the enemy likes more than a busy church, as busy churches are far less likely to spend time listening and discerning the call of God. I find a helpful question: “In light of who we are and where we are, what is God calling us to do and be?”

 

The second discipline is growing in Christ. Is our pace and lifestyle consistent with being a representative of Jesus today? Do we sacrifice times of quiet and prayer because we are just so busy? The Christian message is so counter-cultural that it needs to be demonstrated in a living community for it to make sense. People need to be able to see and experience the grace, love and hospitality that is at the heart of the message that they hear. If we spend all our time running programmes and events, do we have the space needed to be a non-anxious presence of Jesus in our communities?

 

The third discipline is knowing. It is only as we slow down and grow in Christ that we can begin to know how we might truly become wayfinders. It is discerning together as a community, in community, making time to look for the clues that are so often around us, giving space to explore and try out different paths, and having the humility and grace to retrace our steps and try a different route.

 

Anyone who has travelled with children (and some adults) will be familiar with the question, “Are we there yet?” Clearly, we are not; however, many are encouragingly starting journeys of discovery and exploration as they create time by having a ‘not to do’ list. Countless people are finding new strength and purpose as they grow in Christ and become recognised as people of peace, hope and love where they dwell. Promisingly, at Rural Ministries, we are encountering fellow wayfinders who are finding paths into a more hopeful future for the Church, albeit a Church that might differ from that we inherited.

 

“Remember not the former things,

nor consider the things of old.

Behold, I am doing a new thing;

now it springs forth, do you not perceive it?

I will make a way in the wilderness

and rivers in the desert.”

Isaiah 43:18-19 (ESV)


Simon Mattholie CEO, Rural Ministries

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