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?