It was a sad moment last week when The Wickham Festival finally had to surrender to the current situation and cancel. Wickham is a great little festival attracting some top names in the folk (ish) world. I’m not a massive music fan myself but Wickham always has a bunch of stuff I like and this year was due to feature a musician I’ve wanted to see live for almost 40 years.
The Festival is also the tent pole for my role as missioner. We take the Elemental Tent there each year for the duration of the festival. My role is about encouraging mission and this is a great way of introducing people to mission (sharing the Gospel) in an environment where the so many have some form of spirituality and are wonderfully open to respectful conversations on the subject. For me mission, in a modern context, is about conversation. Its about sitting down over coffee, listening to someone’s troubles and offering to pray for them. Mission, in my personal definition, is like being a Gardner. You want to encourage something to grow and have roots. Evangelists are builders, looking to put down a foundation and build on it speedily. Both approaches are valid but, to me, speak of different approaches to Christianity and suggest why historically mission has been closer to my definition of evangelism.
John Stott suggested that mission should be viewed as everything the church is meant to do. He saw it as a combination of evangelism, preaching the word of God to non-believers, and living the word of God, standing for social justice, whatever that looks like. This more modern approach to mission reflects the early Church. Spending time with people, doing life with them, supporting them in the face of injustice, offering them an insight into another world and being willing to be their guide through it. The early Church lived in the midst of communities, when it was able, sharing, supporting and helping. The Elemental Tent worked on that basis. The tent was part of the festival from start of day to end of day, welcoming visitors, giving an oasis of peace with no expectation of even listening to our Christian faith. People ask though, why are you doing this? Why is it free? What’s it about?
Conversation is where mission starts in this context. It’s not about “turn or burn”, it’s not about “have you accepted Jesus as your personal saviour”. Most people are okay with the person of Jesus, it’s Christians they have a problem with. The first job of mission like this is for Christians to show they are flawed human beings who try not to judge and don’t have everything sorted. It’s about presenting a true picture of who we are because people won’t talk to you about more than the weather if you are not authentic.
Social justice is a much misunderstood term in my opinion. It has been tagged as this left wing, hippy, often violent objection to something society has been happy doing and ignoring the consequences. Social Justice Warrior is flung around like an insult. I have to wonder why anyone would be against social justice, particularly people of faith. Social justice can, however, be as simple as being the first person to actually listen to another’s complaint. Social justice can be sitting with someone in their moment of grief rather than let them sit alone. It’s about our reactions and the actions that follow on.
So that’s The Elemental Tent approach to mission, serve, listen and share when when you can.