Sunday, 31 October 2010

The Minister As Missionary 5

3. The Missionary-Minister As Host.  Mission as Hospitality

In a rapidly changing, rootless society, mission is also about generating communities of hospitality, providing for strangers a nourishing and wholesome place to be while they decide if they would like to belong. 

This is not unrelated to my previous point.  One of the things that is essential for true hospitality is knowing who we are, being comfortable in our own corporate skin.  It really isn’t about being on our best behaviour, nervously minding our P’s and Q’s lest we offend.   Too many attempts at hospitality fail because they are uptight.  Good hospitality is about unashamedly being who we are while creating space for others to be with us, without them feeling that they have to be anything other than who they are.  It's about the standing invitation to all and sundry to enter into our domestic life, to be at home in our home.   It's not about offering a formal seat in the parlour, it's about keeping a place by the fire in the kitchen.

This, I fear, is where the seeker-centred approach to church and evangelism led us down a blind alley.  It really isn't helpful to gather up all that is peculiar about the Christian way of being and hide it behind the sofa for fear that guests might find it off-putting.   Let's face the facts, we are unquestionably odd.  But as society becomes more and more pluralistic so is everyone else.  It's normal to be odd.  Being embarrassed about our oddity just makes everyone nervous.

Becoming hospitable also requires us to embrace the invitational dimension of Christian mission.  Yes, we must attend to the rightfully insistent voices reminding us that mission is about going.  Yes, The Field of Dreams approach to mission (“If you build it they will come”) is indeed inadequate.  Inadequate, but not entirely misguided.  The debate between centripetal and centrifugal approaches to mission is ultimately sterile.  We need both.

Even as ministers work to grow churches that are eager to go, we must also be home-makers, nurturing communities to which it is worth returning.  Missionary-ministers will give themselves to fostering a community ethos that is generous towards those who lodge with us, at ease with visitors, appropriately, curious about newcomers and always ready with a patient explanation should anyone enquire about our peculiar ways.

And no, once again, I am not saying that fostering such an ethos is the sole responsibility of the minister.  Of course it isn't.  But ministers ought not to be blind to the influence they have for good or ill on the feel of the communities they lead.  Let's deploy that influence intentionally.  Let's seek to be home-makers and home-sharers.  Let's recover, practice and promote the lost art of hospitality.

Back in May I gave the Baptist Ministers' Fellowship annual lecture at the Baptist Assembly in Plymouth.  This month a version of the talk was published in the Baptist Minsters' Journal.  With the kind permission of the editorial board I will be reproducing a slightly modified version of the BMJ article here.  To keep things down to regular post length I'm going to stick it up in a series of bite size chunks.

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