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Spirit, what are you saying...

...and how can we join in with your plans?

As I’m in a new role, missional listening is currently at the front and centre of my church ministry, but it’s not easy to maintain a posture of listening when there’s so much to do. The Church here are doing a wonderful job, but there’s always more to do, isn’t there. Something for youth, something for children and families, care for the lonely and vulnerable in the community, something genuinely joyful and fun focus around Jesus, deeper discipleship and prayer… the list could go on, which I’m sure many of you understand. We are not called to be busy and overworked, we are called to be disciples of Jesus. So, I am actively choosing to do very little extra at the moment, prayerfully walking slowly and listening. As I listen to the community the question is always, Spirit what are you saying and how can we join in with your plans?

Jesus’ mission was both contextual and counter-cultural; he spent 33 years in an Israeli Jewish family understanding Israeli Jewish culture, and he challenged that very culture through his ministry to the outcast in his society. Kim writes “The Holy Spirit does not just affirm and encourage what is good in human culture; the Spirit also transforms culture and liberates it from what is bad.”[1] Missional listening involves noticing where God’s goodness has been hidden, and joining in with God’s missional impulse to walk in the messiness and the pain, and to bring God’s light into darkness. Missional listening is not following the zeitgeist – the spirits of our day – but it’s genuine discernment and wisdom in a specific context, understanding the Spirit’s plans for a particular time, place and people.

One of the traps we can fall into is joining in with ‘good things’ that are going on in the community that aren’t necessarily ‘God things’. It’s wonderfully easy to find great initiatives being run by people of faith (or none) across the length and breadth of the country, such as food banks, clubs for the lonely, rewilding schemes etc. Whilst these are all excellent, Godly, and worthwhile, and I myself am involved in similar initiatives, when we engage in missional listening, we need to be careful, deliberate, and patient. We need to remain wary of jumping onto the first good idea or worthy cause, taking the time to discern God’s initiatives in our communities. This may lead us to food banks, clubs for the lonely and rewilding schemes, but we need the prayerful underpinning that keeps us centred on God’s plans.

There is an added problem when we end up attributing anything that is good in culture as being from God. Kirsteen Kim writes “the danger in such an approach is that the Church fails to discriminate and allies itself too closely with movements or religions which do not share the Spirit of Christ. What the church has to offer to the world is not the endorsement of other movements but its own unique life which is centred upon Christ.”[2] I don’t think that means that we should be denouncing all non-overtly Christian social action, this world needs the upside-down kingdom of God. Rather, we should be wary of investing our precious resources in activities that God isn’t calling us to at this moment. Are we listening to culture, or are we discerning where God is at work in it and what he has called us to join in with? As such, in missional listening we must always ask ourselves the question who are we listening to?

So, let’s organise our time and our days around the Spirit’s work and keep asking the question, Spirit what are you saying and how can we join in with your plans?

Jo Allen

Director: South West

[1] Kirsteen Kim, Joining in with the Spirit, (London: Epworth Press, 2009), P.45

[2] Kirsteen Kim, P.35


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