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01 September 2010

The Basics: Rejoice in the spread of the Gospel

The Basics: Rejoice in the spread of the Gospel

In our series relating the Alliance's Practical Resolutions to the task of mission, Marijke Hoek looks at the final resolution...

"We rejoice in the spread of the Gospel across the world and urge all Christians to commit themselves to this task, avoiding unnecessary competition and co-operating, wherever possible, in the completion of Christ's kingdom of peace, justice and holiness, to the glory of the one God - Father, Son and Holy Spirit."

In 2005, I invited charity leaders who were helping the homeless in Manchester to lunch. It appeared that some of these faithful workers weren't aware of their colleagues, maybe due to the fact that they were out on different nights of the week or working in a different area. At the same time, our audit of the Christian provision in the city found 11 pregnancy crisis counselling services, while very little was happening in terms of help for drug addicts. All in all, it was a pretty disjointed picture.

"Surely it is fitting to ask big questions that fit the big picture"

One year later, the Shaftesbury Society's Challenging Church report critiqued the Church for its culture of individualism. Though the Church is the largest voluntary organisation, the report identified the lack of cooperation and strategic planning as a key reason why we are failing to make a radical, prophetic and sustainable impact in our communities. Some key consequences of duplication and competition are the inefficient use of resources, the lack of funds to respond to new opportunities or plan strategically, and the erosion of relationships with the wider community. Our disunity dishonours God.

And as the Government launches its "Big Society" initiative, more of us will need to be involved in voluntary work, so a joined-up agenda will be increasingly vital. 

Is something wrong?

At a Forum for Change conference in 2006, Michael Hastings poignantly asked whether something is wrong with the way we have organised ourselves: "If you could do it all again... and you took your combined economic resources... would you really do it this way? If I gave you £100m and said, 'Go and shake the nation,' would you spend it this way?" Surely it is fitting to ask big questions that fit the big picture.

There is much to be celebrated as far as a joined-up way of working is concerned in cities, regions and on national and international levels. And yet it bugs me that an urban grassroots organisation cannot find £5,000 to employ someone for a day a week while several suburban churches have multimillionpound building plans. It bothers me that we put many resources into political engagement while the investment in artistic expression is minimal. It irritates me that ownership has such a stranglehold on innovation and efficiency; unless our name is on it we refuse to be in it.

"Transforming society has everything to do with right relationships"

We need generous, self-effacing leadership. We follow a Lord who emptied Himself. In Philippians 2.5-11, Paul tells the story of Jesus, who made Himself nothing, taking the nature of a servant. He actively rejected status or reputation, dealt with its temptation and served without aiming for position, privilege or reputational capital. Being the firstborn of the new creation, His path of self-emptying inspires the character of our discipleship and mission.

Paul urges us not to act out of selfish ambition or personal vanity, but in humility to prefer others and look to their interests (2.3ff). We need to be honest about vested interests that hinder us at times to work together or prefer one another. These cause us to be competitive and non-cooperative.

Our influence is not determined by the size of our powerbase or market share, but by our intimacy with the Father and submission to His will and ways.

Seeking harmony

The nature of Jesus' authority is that He poured himself out for others. He is the living embodiment of the new kingdom, the vision of which is summarised by the concept of shalom: just and harmonious relationships with each other, our environment and God.

Our dysfunctional practices, be they fragmentation or competition, are incapable of establishing any effective ministry. Taking our cue from Him, the sacrificial, self-effacing, compassionate investment of ourselves will be the most precious contribution we make.

Do we invest in a long-term view or are we focused on quick wins? Is it about the next project or the next generation? Jeremiah inspires the people to build, plant and invest in view of future generations (Jeremiah 29.4-14). The investment does not require an immediate return for it to be considered fruitful. Working together on a joint project next year is one thing. Knowing how the big picture shapes our current way of working is quite another.

The big picture is long-term and worldwide. It is about justice for the nations, a never-failing stream of righteousness. In Walking With the Poor, Bryant Meyers writes, "Poverty is the result of relationships that do not work, that are not just, that are not for life, that are not harmonious or enjoyable. Poverty is the absence of shalom in all its meaning. Hence, there is also a poverty in the non-poor."

Significantly, the efficient allocation of our resources flows from the quality of our relationships and character. Transforming society has everything to do with right relationships.

In the mission of building peace, justice and holiness, God has given various gifts that, when working harmoniously, represent Christ faithfully. So if we have any encouragement from being united with Christ, if any comfort from His love, if any fellowship with the Spirit, if any tenderness and compassion, then let's make Christian joy complete by being likeminded, having the same love and being one in spirit and purpose.Marijke Hoek

Marijke Hoek is the Alliance's Forum for Change co-ordinator

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