Mission without strings

Published in Movement magazine issue 119 January 2005

I've been thinking a lot about mission lately. It's a slippery word. Mostly it's used to mean 'events that showcase Christianity with an eye to evangelism', although really it encompasses all the things Christians do that make a difference in the world. Mission always gets defined as active [pushy, hyping]. In a world full of sales pitches I wonder if that's a good way forward.

I've got two quite different lines of thought on the subject:

One is inspired by sitting in a cafe looking at all the stuff on the walls. The cards for spiritual advisors and artists, creches and decorators and entertainments. The art itself, by local artists. And we've been thinking about putting flyers for our alt worship services in this and similar cafes for a while. But I'm thinking:

This stuff in the cafe is not selling an event to which you need to go. It's selling a worldview. If you want it, you take it. It goes with you.

We need to have more than a church service to offer.
We need not to be selling a church service.

What if we take the content out of the church service and just sell that? What does it become? Art? Words? How does it stand up outside the church service frame?

We've tried putting out bits of content in order to get people to come to our service. But what if we reverse the emphasis and use the service as a means to develop the content to put out?

And my second line of thought goes:

We need spiritual spaces, quiet spaces, places of rest for the stressed. Somewhere to go for half an hour after a morning of lectures or meetings. Somewhere to recharge our batteries in a different frame of values [apart from the Students' Union bar]. I envisage soft furnishings, the chance to lie on the floor, ambient music or silence, warmth, soft lighting. Free entry, unobstrusive assistance, unlimited time [OK, it is the Students' Union bar!].

Such places need not be churches as such. What matters is that they achieve certain levels of ambience and facility, are not dirty or uncomfortable or cold. There could be a system of certification or branding, with unannounced visits by the spiritual version of restaurant critics. There could be maps and guides. If a transport map is a 'busy' map of a city, you could have a 'rest' map of a city.

This too would be a form of mission, a showcase for a certain set of beliefs if you like - but one that is just there all the time rather than an event. A spiritual space that lets people come - and go. Christians are good at welcoming people who come, but bad at letting people go. So people don't come because they're scared we won't let them go. Maybe we should practice. The question, always, is: what are you modelling? What kind of person will I become, if I am a Christian? Mr. Pushy or Mr. Peaceful?

You will say to me, church is always 'just there' and that's the trouble. Yes, but it's the wrong kind of 'just there'. You wouldn't shop for God here. Finding the right kind of 'just there' is one of the biggest challenges [and opportunities] facing the Church.

So, two divergent lines of thought. Except they have two things in common. They both abandon the church service as the sales point for Christianity. They both have no strings of commitment attached.