We have all heard the phrase ‘build back better’ many times in recent days as everyone seeks to establish what a new normal will look like.
For the church of our Lord Jesus Christ the pandemic has given all of us an opportunity to review much of our activity and to ask serious questions, as we emerge from the various restrictions, as to how we can recalibrate and refocus on the centrality of the good news of the gospel.
Gathering and preparing
Many churches across the UK and Ireland are gathering and preparing for a united month of mission leading up to April 2022, journeying together under the united banner of ‘A Passion for Life’. APFL longs to see the gospel of Christ proclaimed to every generation across the UK and Ireland by:
• Building confidence in Bible-centred, Christ-proclaiming evangelism
• Inspiring, encouraging and resourcing all-year-round evangelism
• Stimulating earnest and united prayer for the advance of the gospel
• Coming together for times of nationwide mission in March/April 2022
• Stirring up our churches to an ever-increasing passion to be used of God to bring people to new life in Christ.
The momentum is gathering pace and the delivery team is seeking to put an arm around local church leaders by supporting them in strengthening the mission culture of the local church, through: webinars; podcasts and helpful materials; in providing a bespoke suite of personal evangelism training resources for church leaders to use; and in collating an array of mission ideas and practical guides for effective engagement in our communities.
Over the past few months, church leaders have been gathering online in webinar format to pray with one another and to reflect upon the health and strength of the mission culture within the churches they serve. Of course, every church has a culture of mission or evangelism, but the health of that culture varies greatly, and a central aim of the gatherings has been to partner together to strengthen, encourage and mutually equip.
The apostle Paul, writing in one of his lockdown epistles to the church at Philippi, speaks of a partnership in grace, a partnership in prayer, a partnership in giving and a partnership in the gospel; and this is a helpful summary of the way in which local church leaders are working together in this initiative.
Three of the reflections on how we can strengthen the culture of mission in our local churches have been:
1. The importance of leaders find-ing space to be a model
This is not a call to the catwalk, but instead an encouragement to ‘what you have learned and received and heard and seen in me – practice these things’ (Phil.4:9). Our Lord Jesus Christ demonstrated for His disciples how to live, how to pray, how to use Scripture and how to win the lost. He himself did not ask them to do something He was not doing, and one of the great joys of observing His practice is how real, how practical and how natural His approach is.
As church leaders it is so important to teach the gospel, to give people a clear understanding of it, for evangelistic living will flow naturally from being well taught. This is also true of what we sing, what we celebrate and how we bring a gospel focus to the sacraments. However, it has been exciting to witness church leaders wrestling with how, amid all the pressures of the pastoral ministry, they can make space in their diary to model for others what everyday evangelistic living looks like.
The power of that example and its influence and impact upon the culture of mission in the local church is significant. Some have been reading the Bible one-to-one evangelistically with non-believers, others have been at the forefront of bringing unbelieving friends to evangelistic courses or events, while others have been intentionally making space in their calendars to be an active member of a local community group with a view to being salt and light. Importantly, they have been sharing this with others, not as a boast, but as an encouragement and an example.
2. Identifying, training and equipping everyday believers
In any attempt to strengthen the mission culture of our church it is important to identify the early adopters, those who get the importance of it almost intuitively. Three characteristics to look for are:
• A love for God demonstrated in the words people use, the actions they perform, and the priorities they establish for themselves.
• A love for the lost – which can be ascertained as you listen to people’s prayers and the burden of their conversation.
• A love for doing what the word of God says – the emphasis being upon not simply hearing God’s word but knowing the blessing that flows from doing it.
Although in the church it is Jesus who is our ultimate leader, and pastor-teachers have particular leadership roles under Him, every believer is a leader in some way shape or form. We all have to show leadership, firstly of ourselves, and then in other areas of our lives – for example work, parenting, sport, etc. In this context, it becomes easier to strengthen the mission culture of our church when we equip people to own mission, to grow in their roles within it and to fall in love with making Jesus known.
This is done best when leaders learn to inspire others with simplicity, and clarity, and by providing real opportunities to participate. Leaders have an opportunity every time they meet people to help them grow in this important area of discipleship and every gathering can be an opportunity to affirm, correct, encourage or celebrate with them.
One story was of a local pastor who in conducting baptismal services not only invites the person being baptised to give a testimony, but also asks for a testimony from the person that God used in bringing the person to faith. It’s simple, it’s clear, and it is very inspiring for others to realise that while it is always God who gives faith, He delights to use everyday believers in the process.
3. The power of partnership
As leaders have met other leaders from across the UK and Ireland, many of them jaded by navigating the waters of recent times, it has been a privilege to witness the encouragement that flows out of their cooperation, their shared creativity, and their generous giving spirit. Tragically, the church has at times been a breeding ground for enlarged egos, divisive silos, and a competitive spirit. However, the emphasis on journeying together in strengthening the mission culture of the church nationally is producing healthy fruit.
Unsurprisingly, the more people pray together the more willing they are to share people, share gifting, and share resources. The partnership is laser-focused on gospel truths, knowing the gospel, loving the gospel, and sharing the gospel. As a result, it is aiming for gospel fruit and all of that cannot but magnify Jesus and serve as a wonderful display of the glory of God.
A wonderful spirit of humility, interdependence and cooperation is being fostered, and it has been a joy to hear the reports of church leaders in each nation offering up prayers for the strengthening of local churches – in far-flung geographical places from themselves – and of prayer being answered throughout the UK and Ireland.
As APFL gathers more momentum, the production stage for a suite of personal evangelism training resources is moving into the editing phase and every church that registers their interest on our website – www. apassionforlife.org.uk – will have access to them. We are planning to run a feature on these resources in a future edition, but would encourage you to have a look at what’s on offer in A Passion for Life.
Currently in our nation when, due to the pandemic, we have never been closer to our neighbours, or so conscious of our own mortality, the APFL strapline – ‘A month of mission, a lifetime of evangelism, a passion for life’ – seems like a word in season to the church.
John MacKinnon is part of the APFL ‘delivery team’ in charge of training and training resources.