This past week I've had two encouraging moments as a missionary that I wanted to share.
I love Jesus and I love his church, and I really want to help make it easier for non-churched, non-Jesus loving people to fall in love them as well. For a long time in church we have been committed to the vision of 'every member ministry' (priesthood of all believers) but what I want churchfolk to see and be reminded of is that we also believe just as passionately in 'every member missionary' - as in Jesus' words in Acts 1 '...you will be my witnesses'.
For a while now we've stressed the words that come immediately before that statement of Jesus' 'when the Holy Spirit comes on you, you will be my witnesses.' but not part about being witnesses. The trouble is that by doing so we have inadvertently created a 'wait until you experience a rushing-of-power-and-boldness-upon-you, and then go and be my witnesses' mentality. That may be a little unfair, but it may not be. A lot of them time it's meant that we remain immobilised believing that there's another experience to be had before we're fully trained to be effective witnesses.
Here's the two stories I've been encouraged by:
1) Community engagement.
I moved to Seaford 18 months ago and have slowly been trying to get to know unchurched people. I've attended sports clubs, I run a pub quiz at my local and I've befriended my neighbours, even establishing a regular chess night with one of them (I know, I'm wild). But recently I've leafleted the area I live in (with the help of one of my unchurched neighbours) and invited the area to join us each Sunday afternoon for volleyball and family games on the rec. I did it as a neighbour, not a as a christian, and not as a church leader.
Last Sunday we had our first gathering and it went really well. Plenty of people came out (around 40) for games. It was great to see the field buzzing with life. All we did was befriend and play sport but it was brilliant - I loved it. I spoke to more non-believers in an afternoon than I had done in a month and several of them thanked me for putting it on, they appreciated the chance to meet people.
I'm a missionary, so that's what I think I should do. I care about the place I live, the people I live around and I pray - how can I gain a footing into their lives to befriend them, share life with them and where possible share Jesus with them.
A few days after that Amy was with one of our neighbours who came. The lady was very open about church (she brought it up), saying that she'd really like to come along some time... I was encouraged to hear that.
2) Prophetic engagement.
This is fresh. Yesterday on training with some gap year students we walked into town with the express purpose of finding people to pray and share Jesus with. This isn't my natural sphere of mission and I was nervous, I was hanging back as we walked in and I was ever so slightly hoping that no one would notice if I slipped off into a coffee shop.
Before going in to town I asked God to give me some ideas of who I should be looking for. I wrote down 'man with black baseball cap reversed, limp, hedge and wire fence' along with another more random clue. I walked through the town looking for someone who matched that description but didn't find anyone. Ever so slightly disappointed and if I'm honest, more than a little relieved, we headed home. Walking back we passed a skatepark. Having stopped there the group leader gave the invitation 'why doesn't someone preach a mini sermon to the skaters and then we'll chat to them?' No one volunteered. Some bright spark then announced 'Jez will do it!' to which I promptly replied 'no I won't... but I'll go and speak them.'
I sat down with a group of skaters, told them I was a Christian and offered to pray for any sicknesses. No one was sick so instead we just had a conversation about faith, and their reasons for not having any. After a while I said to the guy I was speaking to 'are you sure you don't have anything I can pray for?' and he told me he had a bad knee, a problem he'd had all his life. It was then that it dawned on me. He had a black baseball cap turned backwards, a bad leg (limp?), and when I looked up saw that he was sitting in front of a hedge with a wire fence behind it. Not a little encouraged I prayed for him and then I told him about the 'clues' I'd written down before coming out. He and the whole group with him reacted with huge surprise and plenty of 'no way!'s. They reacted like something off a magic show on TV, I felt like David Blaine. 'And for my next trick...'
I then told him that 'if nothing else, know this - God loves you and knows your name, he cares about you.'
We left the park with him saying 'if this works (my prayer), I'm going to come find you...'
Maybe he will, or maybe he'll just give God another chance, or perhaps visit a local church for the first time.
God loves people and is looking for followers who'll love them too. These two stories are green shoots of encouragement for me and I hope they encourage you too. Tom Wright gave some good advice on what being a missionary looks like in a video I saw recently. He told us to:
"Soak yourself in the scriptures much more than you're doing... soak yourself in prayer and listen hard to the cries of pain that are coming, whether from your neighbours or from people living on the other side of the world."
Love God, love people and live like a missionary whether in your home, your place of work, your school or your sports club. Every member of Jesus' church is a witness to the resurrection and a missionary sent into the world, not just the specialists.