It’s all change in the Brighton household this year. Not least because, after 11 years as Senior Minister of Poynton Baptist Church, Neil is stepping down.
By September both our children will (we hope) be studying at University and we (Lori and Neil) will become mission volunteers with BMS: world mission. For the next two years we are going to assist the work that BMS are involved with in Iquitos and Nauta, Peru.
A large part of the work we are going to do is connected with the Nauta training centre which Neil has been involved with since it’s inception. We are really looking forward to working with others from Peru as we develop the training course and building links with other mission personnel in Nauta and the rivers.
Our plan is to spend two thirds of our time in Nauta. Some of the rest of the time will be in the UK, both to support our children but also to work on training materials for the centre. And the rest of the time? Who knows, we are open to whatever doors God might open, though we will need to give some time to raising funds for our work in Peru.
There are lots of things to sort out over these next few months as we aim to ‘leave well’ our roles in Poynton Baptist, to organise somewhere to live both in the UK and in Nauta and keep trying to work on our Spanish.
To help us do this we've moved the blog to a new platform and given it a makeover. So to keep up with our news please go over to the new blog at distinctreflections.net
Checked in online- hold luggage still overweight; yes, I’m off to Iquitos again. However, this time I’m bringing a small team from the church in Poynton. Whilst most of my time will be spend preaching and teaching they are going to be involved with children and youth work, basic hygiene and generally getting stuck into serving the people there.
On Sunday I’m preaching at Antioquia Baptist Church in Iquitos before we head up to Nauta. Nauta is a small town about 100kms from Iquitos (the two are joined by the only road in the region as Iquitos is not accessible to the outside world except by boat or air) and is the launch point for a number of river boats. Nauta is also where the BMS supported training centre is based.
From Nauta we are then spending a few days up river, visiting villages around Santa Rita where we are sharing about the work of the training centre. I’m really pleased to be involved in this: it comes from a partnership between the training centre and JungleMasters, a US based mission, whereby they are encouraging (and paying for) the leaders of the churches they have been working with to train with us in Nauta. Historically there hasn’t always been much cooperation between church groups (nor foreign missions) in the region so it is great to see relationships being formed.
The second week will be based at the training centre in Nauta. Most of my teaching is based on Mark’s gospel, but also includes Revelation and Christian Ethics. The challenge is helping pastors who have little formal education, and no access to books, get to grips with the Biblical text and think how to apply their knowledge in preaching and leadership. Each time I go I think we’ve not yet got the mix right. Each time the balance of people on the course changes; their home community (the city like Iquitos or a river community like Santa Rita) affects their experience of education and their training needs. However, the feedback from those who come each time is positive and they keep coming back for more so we are clearly being of some help.
Taking a team is, for me, a new experience. The main thing being the sense of responsibility for their preparation and welfare. I’ve just got used to getting on a plane and going with the flow so it is a good discipline having to answer questions and see what assumptions people have. The fun part will be that whatever plans we may have the reality will be different. Last year saw me baptise 6 people in the river - an unexpected priviledge. Who knows what this visit may bring?
Internet in Nauta is limited so updates will probably have to wait for my return.
Rattling around in my mind for the last few months have been the questions, “what are mission agencies for” and “do we really need them”?
I have some nagging worries.
The first is theological. Mission is about us (the church) joining in with the mission of God. Going and sending so that others might become disciples of Jesus and be gathered in church communities. There are many dimensions to this but ecclesiology matters and is an integral part of this. My concern is that pan evangelical agencies downplay ecclesiology (because it divides evangelicals) which ultimately harms the mission of God.
The second is the viability of organisations with decreasing numbers of long (5 years plus) and mid-term (1-5 years) term missionaries, an ageing supporter base and a financial reliance on legacies.
The third is whether mission agencies are able to help us face the challenges of tomorrow rather than give us the solutions of yesterday.
The backdrop to this is the world and church are changing.
Globalisation and the rapid spread of technology have transformed life on every continent. In Europe we are seeing huge migrations of people, as the result of war, poverty and instability in the Middle East and Africa; with millions now living as refugees. The threat of terrorism grows, particularly connected with ISIS, Al Qaeda, Boko Haram and others. And the centre of Christianity has shifted from the north to the ‘global south’ changing the church landscape as well.
Increasingly it is the northern countries, particularly in Europe which need re-evangelising. Yet as the number of Christians declines (with consequences for the financial health of churches and Christian organisations) the churches which are growing understand themselves to be part of a missional movement. Denominational structures are becoming more flexible and new networks are emerging to encourage mission and discipleship.
So what of the mission agency? Are they to be consigned to history; relics from the 19th century whose role of taking the gospel from Europe to foreign lands is now over; well-meaning societies from the 20th Century who either never quite got to grips with the rise of Pentecostalism and impact of charismatic renewal or whose roots in youth ministry valued excitement over transformation?
The positive thing is there is good work being done. I’ve seen first-hand some excellent mission activity and I’ve met people, on the field and in organisational leadership, who are godly women and men with a commitment to the cause of Christ and the kingdom of God. I’ve benefited from their wisdom, experience and advice. Nevertheless there are issues of mobilisation, funding and reciprocal mission which need to be addressed. From the perspective of local church ministry, I think there are three questions which need to be considered if we are to build strong links between churches and mission agencies.
With whom and for whom does the agency work? I expect almost everyone to answer, we work for the kingdom of God, but my point is more about the people the agencies work with, both in the UK and overseas, and what they are seeking to do by working with them. The answer reveals the ethos and culture of the agency as well as how they handle issues of privilege, power and paternalism (either yours or theirs). Churches need agencies who embody best practice, who connect Churches into world mission in its myriad forms and who enable us to see with a global perspective not just a western one.
What does the agency do for / with those people who go with them? As a church we’ve had a policy for a decade or so that we only support people who go with a mission agency, because we believe that those going overseas need a structure of support and accountability, they need to be part of a network of people with skills and experience in similar situations to those they face. But my experience is that while some are really good at all this, there are others where, frankly, we would have done a better job overseeing the missionaries ourselves.
How does the agency work with the local church? Do they form partnerships or are they just fishing to build links with keen individuals who might become regular givers? Do they want to help churches engage in global mission or do they want the churches to support the agency in the work it does? In my experience partnering with churches overseas, working with the mission agency adds a layer of complexity and, for all the benefits, can be hard work: it is much easier to default to a ‘let’s support the agency to do mission on our behalf’ mode or engage in mission without using a mission agency.
At the risk of being a bit provocative (and filling the comments which show up gaps in my knowledge and understanding) I think the mission agencies of the future will be:
Facilitators not organisers. That is to say they help the global church engage in mission which is ‘from everywhere to everywhere’, but where the agency acts as networker rather than organiser: connecting churches, people and openings.
Mobilisers not recruiters. Working with churches to help them engage in mission (which might mean helping bring missionaries to UK to help here) where the emphasis is on engaging God’s people in God’s mission and not recruiting people to our agency.
Prophetic visionaries and advocates. Who open people’s eyes to what God is doing, to the needs around the world and who call us to respond to the challenges; avoiding the temptation to focus their communications on ‘good news stories’ to encourage their core supporters. Sometimes this will require a wide view of justice, environment and poverty; at other times it will be the challenge to focus on those areas least reached, to be strategic and committed to the long haul.
Specialist advisors and supporters. Using their experience and expertise to help churches and missionary partnerships to flourish; to equip UK churches to respond to the opportunities here and work with missionaries to the UK. There will also be a role for some specialist agencies who provide support to world missions and who bring together people with technical skills to benefit long term opportunities (for example Bible Translation).
What do you think? If you work for a mission agency do you think I’m being unfair about what you do now, or what I think the future will be?
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