Posts Tagged ‘mission’

kingDavid_lgBauckham’s next strand of ‘particular to universal’ relates to Israel’s King and his throne in Zion. For OT believers,  Zion is the seat of God’s universal rule, the temple being an earthly version office heavenly throne. The Davidic kings also were supposed to be the earthly version of God’s heavenly rule. However the reality fell far short of this ideal. Not only were they unfaithful, they didn’t rule over the whole world as Yahweh does. Kingship was an ambiguous symbol for Israel, full of tensions.

These tensions were to be resolved in the Messiah. His reign would be universal, his solidarity with humans total. The specificity of Jerusalem as centre is lost in the NT, but the particularity of the King is not: both throne and rule are located in Jesus of Nazareth.


Bauckham then draws conclusions from his analysis of these three strands: worldwide blessing through Abraham/Israel revealing God to the world/God’s universal rule established through the King.

He comments that while none of these equals mission, yet together they make the church’s mission intelligible within the biblical metanarrative. They establish directions in which later the church’s mission can flow. The NT gospel is not novel in its universal view-point. Election was always God singling out some for the sake of others.

Ultimately all these particularities come together in the election of the man Jesus before they can become truly universal. And the church of Jesus Christ is therefore caught up in this movement out.


This conclusion is where big B brings home the bacon. This was the problem he started with: a loss of confidence and clarity about mission in our post-modern context. And he has shown how the Scripture story, rightly understood, gives us back a reason for mission. Bauckham’s key word here is ‘intelligible’: he has shown us that, in spite of a century of uncertainty, mission still makes sense.

That’s worth its weight in gold.

I love it that instead of wrangling with postmodern critiques in the abstract and trying to construct a defense of mission, RB just goes to Scripture and retells the story. And when he’s told it, he can just say, “The church is caught up in that. Deal with it.” So he stays on the front foot throughout. He tackles it through theology, rather than through politics or general philosophy or ethics. Nice.

2. Outlines of a hermeneutic for the kingdom of God515gxgjcZSL._SY344_BO1,204,203,200_

Bauckham explains that he is not doing a biblical theology of mission. Rather he aims to outline an approach to reading Scripture that ‘takes seriously its missionary direction’. The Bible story is about ‘a project aimed at the kingdom of God’, i.e. the arrival of God’s universal purpose for the creation. However it always starts off with particulars, with individuals and communities. This movement out from the particular to the universal is …mission.

This hermetic will need to view the bible as a whole story, or metanarrative, with an awareness of the powerful potential such a story will have on our lives. It will focus on the way this story moves from the particular to the universal. This movement corresponds to God’s identity as the one who is God of Israel so that he may be Lord of all creation.

This outward movement has three dimensions:

The temporal movement from the old and particular into the new and universal future of God.  From Jesus’ sending by his Father, to his return in God’s kingdom.

The spatial/geographical movement from one place to every place, from Jerusalem to the ends of the earth.

The social/numerical movement from the one to the many, from Abraham to many nations, from Jesus to all people.

God’s people are caught up in each of these movements, and this means mission.

The Bible’s story is full of instances of movement of these three kinds. Each story is unique and yet orientated towards the ‘universal horizon’ of God’s coming kingdom. I.e. they all fit into the big story. Jesus describes the final goal of the metanarrative using various narrative imagery: the seed that grows by itself (temporal movement), the mustard seed (spatial), the catch of fish (social/numerical). Each these stories is about mysterious growth – for the church’s mission is not something she can achieve herself. Nor is it a continuous movement. Rather mission is a collection of stories each one starting from the particular and growing outwards and into the future.


In this section Bauckham lays the groundwork for his project in the whole book: he wants to show us how to read the Bible in a way that exposes its missional dimensions, so often overlooked. And he does this at the broadest possible level: he’s talking narrative deep-structure and everything above it, here. This little section does a lot of work: it provides us with a powerful analytic framework for grasping how mission functions in the Bible’s story. It’s not just Matthew 28! I reckon readers equipped with this 3-fold movement model are going to be reading in a much deeper and more sophisticated way than they were before. And therefore thinking mission in a much more thorough-going way too. Once again, Bauckham comes up with the goods!

I like it that this is Biblical theology he’s doing. It often bothers me how much theological discussion goes on without much reference to Scripture. Bauckham brings us back to the biblical narratives again and again, supremely to the gospel narrative of Jesus. His use of the parables and stories of Jesus is particularly enjoyable and insightful. So nice to be able to read Scripture along with a great exegete/interpreter like RB.

As I’ve mentioned, this would have been better as its own chapter, rather than a section in a larger one. It’s a big shift of gears from the previous section. And it’s enough for my little brain to chew on in one bite!

In summary: GOLD!

Stop running events!

Posted: October 22, 2013 by J in Church, Mission, Theology
Tags: , ,

At my church we just ran a big community event. Big for us: a few hundred local people came along. 

So it might seem strange for me to be saying this: but here in Sydney one of our biggest problems in trying to do mission is ‘events’.

For many people, when you say ‘mission’ or ‘outreach’ they think ‘event’. It’s just assumed that that’s what you’re talking about.

In my beloved Sydney Anglican diocese, some of our senior figures have been planning a new outreach campaign. It’s called Jesus Brings. I haven’t heard the details of it, but I’ll bet you anything you like that it’ll revolve around – you guessed it – events.

And as such – I’m going to make a prediction here – it will be just as ineffective as the last Sydney campaign was – which also revolved around events.

My team means well. We really do care about reaching Sydney. But we just haven’t got the foggiest about how to do it. So we simply keep on doing what we’ve always done: more events. Never mind if they’ve never worked!

A few moments’ thought will suggest a whole bunch of problems with relying on events as your main approach to outreach.

1. They’re not relational. Most of the huge amounts of time and energy involved in running an event are spent doing non-relational organising. On the day, if new people come, there’s limited chance to get to know them. They haven’t come expecting to make friends anyway. Unless you have pretty sophisticated follow-up, you’ll end the day with no new connections.

2. They’re often anti-relational. When we do evangelistic events, we expect visitors to listen to what we have to say before we have listened to them or got to know them. In fact, we make them listen instead  of us listening at all. They go home having experienced one-directional communication: they got talked at. That’s quite off-putting, sends a negative message about how much we value them as people. To put it bluntly, in any other setting we would think that behaviour rude. Yet we inflict this on our neighbours again and again.

3. Our events don’t feel like a service to the community. Mostly our events are about achieving an agenda of ours. Nobody out there is asking for them. We go out and try to get people to come onto our turf to join in what we’re doing. The end result is, we have not improved our reputation in the community, or gained any credibility ‘out there’. No one feels more positive towards us or towards Jesus in the end.

4. Events distract us from real outreach.  Real outreach starts with living alongside people and giving yourself to them in costly loving relationship. It’s about being a servant to your neighbours. Finding out what it means to be a blessing and then being that. It means taking the risk of real friendship with people different from you, on their terms, on their turf. Real outreach is day-to-day, week-to-week. It’s about having an open home and a welcoming lifestyle. Hospitality. Neighbourliness.

While we’re doing our big events, we’re not thinking about any of those things. And anyway, we’re too busy to do them. After the big event, we feel, ‘Job done. We’ve done our outreach for this term. We can go back to normal.’ And so we don’t bother with real outreach then either.

Our people don’t feel like they need to take the trouble to make relationships, because they can just put a flyer in a stranger’s letterbox instead. It’s so much safer and easier! And we can feel like we’ve ‘done’ outreach! The event gets us all off the hook.

5. Events on their own are bad theology. They don’t point to the gospel of Jesus, but rather away from it. The message entrusted to us is not about a god who drops in for a visit, makes a big impression, and then leaves again. It’s about the God who has come among us as one of us forevermore, who lived in our streets and ate at our table, who stood with us all the way to the grave. And who is still one of us, present among us.

Events have the wrong shape to help people understand the gospel. They are the wrong sort of thing. Unless they happen in a context of real, local, lifestyle outreach.


Cancel them all for five years. We need to radically repent of this silly, unhelpful behaviour, and give ourselves the space to learn about real mission. It’s not easy to give up an addiction – cold turkey is probably the only way to do it. We need our people to have the chance to ask the question, what are we doing about outreach? – so we can start giving some proper answers, and putting out some real challenges to ourselves. Let’s clear out the clutter of events so we can make room for new patterns that promote healthy connections with our communities.

We will never reach Sydney until we stop running events.

Then later on, if we must have events again, they can at least happen in the context of a lifestyle-outreach church community. And by then we might have more of a feel for which sort of event will help, and not hinder the mission.

Enjoying People

Posted: April 9, 2013 by J in Mission, Theology
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I want to confess to you an obstacle to mission here in Canterbury that I’ve found in myself. I don’t find it easy making friends with non-Christian people.

It’s not just that I have less in common with them, or that I can’t tell them my favourite joke about Pentecostals. It’s also that when I do get friendly with someone who doesn’t know Jesus, I start to feel a bit guilty.

It’s like this: as I get to know people, I find myself liking  them. Even enjoying them. But I know from my evangelical theology that God basically disapproves of them. So if God disapproves of them, who am I to go enjoying them? Won’t that send the wrong message to my neighbours? How are they going to learn that God disapproves of them, if the main Christian dude they know actually likes them?

So I feel kind of bad about it. I feel like it would be more faithful for me to be pointing out their sins, and kind of distancing myself from these people, so they’d know they’re not ok the way they are. I see other Christians doing this all the time, what’s wrong with me that I don’t do it? It’s true that many of these Christians don’t seem to have actual friendships with non-Christian people. But at least everyone is clear about where they stand, right?

In fact, as I think about it, isn’t liking and enjoying really an intrinsic part of being a friend? So now I’m wondering, is it a good idea to befriend non-Christian people at all? Because if I as a Christian express pleasure in knowing a non-christian person, doesn’t that sort of imply that my God also takes some pleasure in them? I can’t see how they can avoid the conclusion that God feels friendly toward them, if people like me are friendly in Jesus’ name.

Wouldn’t it be a better witness to avoid the whole friendship thing, if it is intrinsically misleading? Wouldn’t that better express God’s disapproval, help them to realise that they cannot be accepted the way they are?

Which makes me wonder about this whole ‘Jesus, friend of sinners’ thing. I mean, was that really wise? Had Jesus thought through the implications, what message he was sending about God’s heart? I know that Pharisees and co. were the bad guys, but you can kind of see where they were coming from with their concerns about Jesus’ behaviour. He’s just confusing everything. What happens to the holiness of God if people like Jesus or you and me make friends with sinners?

Imagine if after all our efforts in local mission, our neighbours ended up with the idea that God might get close to them, and be a friend – the way they are? What a disaster. No, I need to rethink this mission thing, it’s all a bit problematic.

Does anyone have a copy of the Pharisees’ Mission Handbook I can borrow?

Quite a few local people have started attending our Sunday gatherings. We haven’t actually invited any of them. Here’s why.

1. It’s too easy for us and too difficult for them. We set up a meeting that we feel totally comfortable and happy with, which is chock-full of our ‘church’ culture, but which is quite foreign and unfamiliar to our neighbours: a church service. Why would we make that meeting the thing we invite new friends to? There’s a lot of work to be done building bridges to our local communities.  But if people would just come to church, we wouldn’t have to build them! We dream of establishing a connection with people on our terms, from the start, not on theirs. It’s not kind or thoughtful.

2. We too easily use it as a shallow substitute for sacrificial, loving friendship. Entering into people’s lives, getting to know them on their own turf, meeting them where they are, serving them – all of this is costly. Time consuming. Messy. Exhausting, even. Much easier if we can just get them to come to our meeting. Not much self-giving involved in that. We impose our agenda on the friendship, instead of learning about their agenda. That’s not true friendship.

3. It tends to short-circuit or trample on the work of the Spirit. God is at work in our neighbours, drawing them to Jesus. Often he is doing this through us, through the Christians they know. But there is a pace to this. People’s hearts are changing bit by bit. Their thinking about Jesus, about themselves, is in transition. This calls for patience and sensitivity. Where is this person at now? What change has happened? What are they ready to engage with? What do they need from us at this point? Instead of asking these questions, we apply a one-size-fits-all treatment to them: ‘Come to church!’ As though God was not at work here, and we could do what we liked.

4. We’re trying to dispel the impression that church is an event, that being a Christian is about showing up there. That’s a bad impression which people already have: a version of Christian discipleship that’s essentially non-relational. We want people to learn that being a Christian is about trusting Jesus and joining his new community. The Sunday gathering is only one (important) expression of that, and it certainly doesn’t have to be the first one. So we invite them to all kinds of community stuff, whatever is going to work for them, where they are at the time. We give them plenty of ways to get to know us, give people a taste of Christian community.

5. Most people bring themselves along to church – when they are ready. A bunch of our neighbours have begun to attend our Sunday gatherings over the past two years. None, to my knowledge, have come because we’ve invited them. They’ve invited themselves. That really helps, when they eventually do come. They aren’t there to please us, or because they want our friendship. They already have that! They’re not feeling pushed. They’re there because they wanted to come – and they know it. That really makes a difference in how people experience our Sunday gathering once they come. People tend to love it, because they’ve come with such a positive mindset.

6. We actually do invite people to church, just not usually to our Sunday service. We’re always inviting people to our church – maybe to our home, in a hospitality setting. Maybe to the park. Or to our playgroup. Or wherever. They get to meet our people and see us sharing our lives together in real ways, they get to join in with that, they see us pray together, they hear people chatting about Jesus, they learn about our plans to bless our neighbourhood in practical ways, maybe they get involved in that, and experience serving alongside us. As they show interest, we get someone to open the bible with them, talk and pray with them, whatever they are receptive to. By the time people come to our Sunday gathering, they are generally pretty much part of the church community already.

(To clarify, we don’t have any rule against inviting people to our Sunday gathering – it’s just we don’t find it a helpful or effective way to reach people, in most cases).