We are shaped by mission! This is a bold statement that has set me thinking bringing with it a litany of questions including:
– Are we really shaped by mission?
– Are we shaped by particular types of mission?
– What happens if we are not being missional?
I recently read a book where it describes mission as a two-way conversion process. Sometimes when we carry out mission, we expect to go out with our message of good news, encounter those in material or spiritual poverty, and expect them to be ‘converted’ and then walk away ourselves unchanged. The premise of this book, however is that as we encounter those that we are reaching, both parties walk away changed.
For the last 17 years, I have been involved in mission work on a full-time basis (although not always working for Christian organisations), primarily in the UK and each one of those encounters have changed me. With each role I have learned new things, but more importantly every person I have encountered has made an impact on my very identity.
As a church-based youth worker, I can name many young people (some of which are in their thirties now!) who impacted upon who I am. Two of them are Gareth and Reece, two brothers who lived in a council estate just outside Glasgow suffering absolute poverty. Both parents were addicts and life for them was a constant struggle to bring order into the chaotic lives of their parents. As we carried out healthy cookery courses with them, they learned how to provide meals for their families, whereas I learned so much about resilience and the need to listen to those whose lives were much harsher than my own.
Working in Restorative Justice (victim-offender mediation), I had the opportunity to enter into the lives of many young people who had come to the attention of the legal system. For some of these young people, it was apparent that they had resorted to offending because of damaged relationships. For others, the offence itself damaged the relationship. I clearly remember one particular day when a teenage Indian girl was meeting with myself and the manager of a local shop, from which she had stolen some make-up. The meeting itself was somewhat unremarkable and was typical of a meeting involving a ‘corporate victim’, such as a retail chain.
At the end of the meeting, the girl’s father, who had not been part of the mediation, arrived and wanted to have a word with me. In that small room, with just two of us, he weeped. It is not often that I have sat with someone in their fifties, from a completely different cultural background, as they wept tears of mourning for their daughter who was in the next room.
This father owned a shop. The means of provision for his family was through his shop. This father had tried to instil values in his daughter about how livelihoods depended on shops. For that father, stealing cosmetics was not just theft, it was the daughter turning her back on their family values and all that was important to them. That day I carried out a second mediation, between father and daughter. The father opened up to his daughter for the first time and the daughter experienced the raw emotional response that her otherwise proud father had.
Even as a supposedly impartial mediator, I was changed that day. I learned something incredible about being a vulnerable father and the importance of communicating with those closest to us. Likewise, I learned something about the pain that our creator must have every time we treat others wrongly or are unjust in our actions.
For the last 12 years or so, I have been called to the unusual mission field of a Christian college. In a college, you are not in the business of the conversion of non-believers, but rather believers. This conversion is not about convincing them of the existence of God, but rather about trying to enable them to see God for who God really is, rather than our own perception of God. My particular calling has also been to enable students to understand what mission is within the Scottish context and how this can be done in an empowering, humanising and God-honouring way. As I have carried out this role, I have been changed by my encounters with staff, students, young people in placements, and many others.
When I arrived at ICC in 2004, originally taking on a part-time post supporting students on placement, I was a very different person from who I am in 2017. I started as a very naïve Christian with virtually no understanding of theology and having a piecemeal understanding of what a theology of mission is. Leaving in 2017, I certainly have a more rounded understanding of who God is and his purposes and a passion for the Bible and what we can learn about ourselves and God through it.
I have thoroughly enjoyed my time at the college and have learned a great deal. I also hope that I have had an impact in enabling students, staff and supporters to think through how think theologically about youth work and community development. However I believe that I am now called to a new mission field in which I will both have an impact and be impacted.
In March, I will be taking on a new role as the Head of Church Development (Scotland) with Tearfund. Those who know me well will know that I have been a supporter of Tearfund for the last 7 years or so and been involved in many levels, whether this be as a volunteer speaker, community fundraiser or on their Scottish Advisory Group. In this role, I am hoping to continue to inspire the local Church to be missional, whether this be at a local or international level.
In this new role, I believe that I am called to listen. Called to listen to the local Church in Scotland and respond to what is important to them in mission. Likewise I believe I am called to listen to the Church beyond Scotland, and particularly in the global south, to learn lessons from them on mission and development that can be shared with the Church in Scotland.
Please pray for me as I step into this new role and as I continue to be changed by mission that as I continue to be transformed by mission, that that transformation will have an impact on the wider Church.
God who sets us on a journey
to discover, dream and grow,
lead us as you led your people
in the desert long ago;
journey inward, journey outward,
stir the spirit, stretch the mind,
love for God and self and neighbour
marks the way that Christ defined.
Exploration brings new insights,
changes, choices we must face;
give us wisdom in deciding,
mindful always of your grace;
should we stumble, lose our bearings,
find it hard to know what’s right,
we regain our true direction
focused on the Jesus light.
End our longing for the old days,
grant the vision that we lack –
once we’ve started on this journey
there can be no turning back;
let us travel light, discarding
excess baggage from our past,
cherish only what’s essential,
choosing treasure that will last.
When we set up camp and settle
to avoid love’s risk and pain,
you disturb complacent comfort,
pull the tent pegs up again;
keep us travelling in the knowledge
you are always at our side;
give us courage for the journey,
Christ our goal and Christ our guide.
 Collier, J & Esteban, 1998, From Complicity to Encounter: The Church and the Culture of Economism, Harrisburg, PA: Trinity Publishing
 “Through this encounter [as mission] others are invited to share in the Christian faith experience in such a way that their religious and cultural past is reformed around that experience. At the same time, this encounter challenges the cultural presuppositions of the missionaries themselves. The model of conversion implied by this understanding of mission therefore implies both a symmetry and mutuality” (p83) – I am still processing to what extent I would hold to the radical claims of these authors, but I do think that we are at least changed in mission.
 All the names mentioned in this blog are pseudonyms other than my own.