Kinda funky embedding, google.
So last week we were at 'Transform' - a church camp with the theme “Taking New Ground…..Mission, Miracles and Multiplication”. If you visit the page, those are our friends Vic and Owen caught unawares last year in the video still.
When we saw the title we both groaned out loud - Mission.
Mission has felt like being part of a group of lemmings, rushing toward a cliff that we can feel coming and going harder because of it. Churches have been shrinking as people melt away - often those who were once quite committed rather than fringers - and for us at least, there has been a combined sense of being under pressure to find people to bring to stuff, along with a feeling of failure for not bringing people along to stuff, together with a feeling of holding on with slipping fingertips. The more mission, the seeming faster the shrink*. Talking with some of the other guys there during the week, it seems we've not been alone in feeling that.
And last year was a bit poo for us anyway.
Opening speaker on Saturday night was Grace Wheeler, evangelist for Youth For Christ. Her message was one carefully judged to demonstrate God was at work, she was ordinary and could still be used, scattered with examples of the things she was seeing happening. Standard fare for someone doing the kind of work she does when speaking to people who don't do the kind of work she does - the lass was good, but too many more of those and we were going to be exploring the nearby Malvern hills while other people sat & listened. We escaped feeling moderately guilty/failed & went back to our accommodation wondering how much more of this there would be.
Somewhere in the first day we were there, we heard about a couple we knew who were leading a small church not far away, who were planning to move to lead another congregation. There was a question about their replacement and something inside said "you could do that". Humm. After our church experiences of the last 8 years I've been actually wanting to walk away from church completely.
Sunday morning came & Chris had a migraine, so we missed the meeting where it was explained how various leaders & groups had fallen out over the last 3 years, but it was all sorted out now. We didn't know that was going to be the subject, of course, but it partly explains the last few lines of my blogpost from 2 years ago, when in retrospect I realised there had been an atmosphere that wasn't healthy.
The next few days are slightly hazy in terms of ways to express the content, and I don't want to do a blow-by-blow account of the content.
Basically the 2 key speakers, Paul Manwaring and Malcolm Duncan did not drum in the message about mission, miracles and multiplication, but instead brought teaching, guidance, encouragement, insight and hope. On one occasion Malcolm Duncan started slowly, as though trying to hear where what he was saying should be going instead of launching into program teaching. It's felt like a long time since I had a sense of the Holy Spirit at work in something like this, and I'm grateful that I was able to respond instead of staying in the trench I'd dug to help preserve some sanity. So I have a sense of what's next, possibly, and hopefully also a bit of freedom from things of the past. Both speakers had aspects to them that made me think "I'm not at all sure that scripture means that" or made me feel quite uncomfy with celtic stuff, but they both seemed to bring what I think God had given them, and for that I'm really grateful.
I've not mentioned worship so far. That's because it a) was not significant and b) is something I'm finding very difficult right now. The band was tight, the mix was the best I've ever heard there, right from the first night, and it was loud enough for door stewards to give out ear plugs to anyone who seemed to be walking out because of noise. Our old friend Mr Smoke Machine was hard at work, but at least the lights were kept shining on-stage only, so thumbs up to Dave Knott for getting that sorted.
Where does this leave us?
Y'know - I'm still me. Still Toni who is wary of people, wants to do things his way, has a bunch of un-healed scars, who still struggles with the idea that God is good & doesn't let us down, and in many ways would STILL like to walk away from church. Chris says she'll follow me where ever I go, and I think she would, trusting I'd not screw both our lives up. But change is around the corner, and will be here before too long, at least a bit.
*Talking with a good friend who IS missional by inclination, he agreed that when we had a real sense of the presence of God powerfully at work among us then we were much more inclined to reach out to people outside the church, and to do it with faith and expectation. It's not that we want to feed Christians so they become fat, but that we want to see God at work in the church so that we can see God at work outside the church.