Ditching The Bone China

Do read this challenging article, ‘Derivatives With A Twist‘, by Alan Roxburgh. It contains a powerful story of a Victorian expedition that sought to find the north west passage around the Arctic. All the sailors died, but they set out not with the appropriate provisions and equipment for a trip to frozen wastelands. Rather, they packed the ship with artefacts of their home culture , such as bone china, a library of books and an organ.

There are shattering parallels for the missionary intentions of many churches. We want ‘them’ to come to ‘us’ but we expect them to enter our world. It’s rather like when my sister spent three months working in Rwanda with a mission agency at a hospital. Sunday morning church might not have featured bells to call people to worship, there were drums. But the service? Pure Church of England Book of Common Prayer, direct from 1662 England.

And I suggest many of us are no better. We’re right that people who find faith need incorporation into the family of God. But we assume we’re ‘it’. How necessary it is to journey into the culture we are seeking to reach and incarnate the Gospel there.

The Roxburgh article features an interview with an Australian Christian, Simon Carey Holt, who tells a shocking story of his time living in Los Angeles. A multiple drive-by murder, made more horrific by the mistaken identity involved, happened outside his house. The local community gathered there two days later and held an informal, unstructured vigil. Down the road was a megachurch. Their regular attendance was 9000 and they had 100 pastors on staff. Not one of those people attended the vigil. Why? None of them lived in the neighbourhood and therefore none of them knew about the atrocity. If they knew, they would have cared. But they commuted into church and drove back to their own communities. An opportunity to show Christian love was missed.

So what bone china do we carry that we should ditch? How might we be in the neighbourhood rather than caught up in our own culture?


  1. Dave, this article (not to mention the video!!) really rocks the boat, and gives me a lot to think about. I hope readers of this who have positions of authority in mainline churches over here in the west can handle it…..this is revolutionary stuff.

    I find it a very sad commentary that the founders of that church, whoever they were, obviously had no problem parking their massive church in this neighbourhood, yet still nobody thought the neighbourhood was good enough for them to actually live in, be in, be involved in. And obviously they weren’t interested in ministering to that neighbourhood – if none of the attendees lived there, then the leadership of that church were aiming at a whole different demographic.

    Thanks for this….I’m meeting with my pastor next week to discuss ideas and direction for our website, and I’ll be bringing up these thoughts with him.


    1. Thanks, Owen, this seems to be ab0ut fundamental missionary principles to me. Alan Roxburgh very much follows the thinking of a now-deceased English missionary and theologian called Lesslie Newbigin whose basic question after returning to the UK after years of service in India was, “What would a missionary engagement with western culture look like?”

      I’ve been trying to track down Simon Carey Holt’s book, but it doesn’t seem to be available in the UK. I think I’ll have to import it from Australia or Canada (that last thought will please you!).


  2. Dave, I’m on my ship at the moment and unable to watch the video, but I just want you to know that I agree with your assessment 100%. I have made this mistake myself countless times, asking people to do what I want them to do in order to see the Gospel as I see it, not as God has it for them. Thank you for the humbling opportunity! I’ll watch the video when I return home.


  3. I hear you Dave……..I think what I have on the brain currently is our “local mission” right here. It just really struck me how that mega-church was not engaging the western culture that they were right in the middle of!

    I’ve found that book for sale on several different sites, I can send you links if you’d like.


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