Monday, 11 February 2013

Identifying The Frontline

Last Thursday I attended a day conference looking at discipleship in the church, and thinking about how we can reach the UK with the Gospel of Jesus.

At this conference they talked about some of the problems we face as a church, including the great divide between the sacred and the secular.  On the sacred divide we have church, prayer meetings, social action, evangelism, etc., and on the secular side we have music, arts, sport, food, sleep, work, hobbies, etc.  We separate our lives between the sacred and the secular, and don’t allow the two to mix.

The following story illustrates how this sacred and secular divide has shaped the way we see and do things within church.  A women in a church in Liverpool was commissioned by the church for her new role as a children’s Sunday group leader, a job which took up a couple of hours each week.  And yet never once had this church prayed for her role as a teacher in a local school, where she spent over 40 hours a week working with a children, most of whom had no experience of church.  What was the most important job?  Being a Sunday school teacher, or her job in the school? 

Other symptoms of this sacred/secular divide is that 50% of Christians say they have never heard a sermon on work.  Why are so few of our contemporary worship songs about the nitty-gritty of daily life and mission in the world?  Why is it that we pray for missionaries who work on the other side of the world, but don’t pray for the people in our congregations who work?  Why is it that Street Pastors have to undergo 50 hours of training, but we don’t train people in church on how to be good husbands or wives, parents, carers, employers or employees? 

We will never reach the UK until we create authentic, learning and praying communities that are focused on making whole-life disciples who can live and share the Gospel wherever they relate to people in their daily lives.  Eugene Peterson said “Jesus’ metaphor, the kingdom of God, defines the world in which we live.  We live in a world where Christ is King.  If Christ is King, every thing, quite literally everything and everyone has to be re-imagined, re-configured, re-oreineted to a way of life that consists in an obedient following of Jesus…

A man completed study at a Bible college, and came up to his tutor and said “I’ve decided I don’t want to go back into secular work, I want to do full time Christian work.”  But we need to recognise that we are called to full time Christian work whoever we are.  Christian work and service isn’t just about what you do in church, it’s about every aspect of your lives.  Christian ministry isn’t the job of a select few, but each one of us.

This is made clear in our Gospel reading today, when Jesus sends out the twelve disciples, to carry on the work that he started.  Jesus came to equip and train his disciples to do the work he began, because in this way far more lives could be touched and transformed. 

At the conference they talked about the frontline.  What is your frontline?  Where is it that you spend most of your time – at home, at work, caring for family or friends, involved in clubs and organisations?  Your frontline is your mission field.  This is where God has placed you to reach out to others, to show them the love of God through words and actions. 

Brother Lawrence worked in the kitchen of a Carmelite monastery in France in the 17th Century. Although his job was menial, cooking meals, scrubbing pots, and cleaning the floor, he was known for his intimacy and closeness with God, because everything he did, he did for God.  For Brother Lawrence, "common business," no matter how mundane or routine, could be a medium of God's love. He said "We can do little things for God; I turn the cake that is frying on the pan for love of him, and that done, if there is nothing else to call me, I prostrate myself in worship before him, who has given me grace to work; afterwards I rise happier than a king. It is enough for me to pick up but a straw from the ground for the love of God."
It is important we recognise our frontlines, and pray that God helps us to use the opportunities He gives us.  Because if our mission strategy is based just on what we do here in this building, we are only going to reach a small number of people.  But if each one of us recognises our front lines, as the place where God has called us to reach others, then it will transform how we see our lives, and the world.  Because there should be no sacred secular divide, we are all called to full time Christian work.  We need to discover what whole life discipleship means for each one of us, whoever we are.

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