Paul Bradbury asks what the true language of incarnational mission is.
This is what the kingdom of God is like. A man scatters seed on the ground. Night and day, whether he sleeps or gets up, the seed sprouts and grows, though he does not know how.
Three years into a pioneer post in Poole, Dorset, I get asked a lot: 'How's it going?' I hate this question. I haven't really worked out how to answer it. We've made progress, built some good relationships, seen people start to explore faith. But the questions behind the question seem to be: 'How big are you now?'; 'Have you seen much growth?'; 'Are people becoming Christians?' The answer should be in the form of a number. A big one would be nice. But somehow, even though I could, I don't want to answer that question in that kind of way.
It's not that I'm not interested in people becoming Christians – I am, passionately. It's just that the kind of culture and approach that those sort of questions and assumptions are associated with does not do justice to the mission I am engaged in. These questions, this hunger for results, numbers, growth, etc, seems to belie an impatience, a belief that God, who we rightly believe to be capable of extraordinary things, is somehow in a hurry.
Our culture is saturated with hurry and urgency, with growth and with graphs that head ever upwards and to the right. At times we import this culture, its assumptions and techniques into our mission, and in the most part it is in danger of killing us.
I am trying then to explore and give voice to a different language to describe mission and its progress. The roots of that language are in the gospels and in the parables of the kingdom. They are in the trajectory of the gospel story which climaxes in an event that is about as far from growth language as you can imagine. The cross was an utter failure to those disciples who witnessed it. A hopeful, fruitful ministry had come to an end. Three years of building momentum, with a growing following, seemed to be about to climax with a major PR launch in the nation's capital. But it didn't work out that way. It was shattering.
'How's it going, Jesus?' After three years, not very well perhaps. But Jesus was working to a different beat. The disciples were in a hurry too. The completion of the project was surely round the corner when Jesus came triumphantly into Jerusalem. Yet Jesus had laid down enough clues to suggest that that was not the scenario they should have expected. The parables speak a different language, one of organic, slow, patient transformation. A process that starts with the death of a seed. The burying of a small insignificant grain of matter. The humble, vulnerable downward movement into darkness and hiddenness of something that holds great hope.
Kingdom mission, mission in the wake of Jesus, is organic. Not mechanistic. It beats to a different drum. It speaks a different language. It will not fit the sort of charts we dream in our minds. It will not bend to our logic and our demands. It is paradoxical and out of our control. Our call is to partner with it, not manage it for our own schemes. And it requires a spirituality and life that is downwardly mobile, able to walk humbly in step with it.
I've been invited to explore this theme in a series of pieces on the Share blog. What does an organic approach to mission and ministry look like? What does it require of us? How can we be faithful to the pace and rhythm of God's Spirit and his kingdom? We need to tell an authentic story of incarnational mission in a language that is true.