Paul’s letter

I don’t know about you but there are some words that are frequently used in church circles that I tend to shy away from.

One of those words is ‘mission’. I say this because people tend to use it as if its meaning is obvious, believing that everyone will understand it in the same way – but it isn’t, and they don’t. This word means different things to different people and, if we use it without explaining what we mean by it, without defining our terms, we risk talking past one another. So, some questions, ‘When you hear or see the word ‘mission’ in the context of church, what does it make you think of? How would you best define it? When you next hear someone use this word, would you be willing to ask them to say what they mean by it?

Another word that I tend to avoid using is ‘evangelism’. Unlike ‘mission’, ‘evangelism’ is a word that I struggle to articulate my disquiet about. I suspect it has something to do with the perception that those who would seek to evangelise others simply know more than those to whom they speak, that they possess “the truth” that others need to listen to and receive. There’s a power dynamic at play here that leaves me feeling uncomfortable. So, another question, ‘What feelings does the word ‘evangelism’ evoke in you?’

Whether we can readily embrace such words or not, it is, I’d suggest, impossible to read the gospels and not conclude that there’s a job to do, a story to tell, a life to be embodied by all those who would seek to follow Jesus. How can we receive good news and not want to share it?

Knowing that we have good news to be shared doesn’t necessarily mean, however, that we will feel able to share it. Maybe it has always been thus. The story of Easter reminds us that even Jesus’ closest friends continued to live with doubts and fears, even after having encountered him risen and alive. These friends had experienced the good news at first hand and yet still struggled to know what to do next. One of the gospel accounts seems to suggest that some of those friends had given up on Jesus’ work and had gone back to fishing.

But just as the Easter story can reassure us that we are not alone if we find it difficult to speak with others of the good news that we have found in Jesus, so too might it offer us a blueprint for the next steps that we might take. When the risen Jesus appeared to his friends – in the garden, on the road, in the house and by the sea – he spoke gently; walked alongside; offered messages of peace and reassurance; broke bread; said, ‘Come and have breakfast’, each one seemingly inviting a response.

So, a final question, ‘If mission and evangelism looked something like that, would we feel so uncomfortable?’

With every blessing,

Paul