OK, here’s my next report from the Brighton Together on a Mission conference. Dave Devenish was speaker at session 7 on Thursday morning. His text was Rom 1:1-15; 15:17-24; and 16:25-27. You can read what Adrian Warnock made of this session here.
He wanted to focus on the way Paul begins and ends the letter of Romans – parts that can get missed as there is so much good stuff in the middle. The key verse he picked out is Rom 1:5 –
through whom we have received grace and apostleship to bring about the obedience of faith for the sake of his name among all the nations.
The Gospel of the Kingdom
Through his apostolic ministry, Paul wanted to bring the gospel of grace to every nation – bringing people to the obedience of faith. Dave had clearly been reading some N T Wright, as he contrasted Christ’s kingdom with that of Caesar’s. Our King is claiming the whole world – but his kingdom is brought in not by brute force, but by grace and apostleship. All this is done for the glory of Christ – which according to Stott is the highest missionary motivation.
He then went on to list some enemies of this vision, which result when we preach a gospel that is not truly the gospel of the kingdom. For example, where Christ is promoted as an alternative therapy for felt needs. Or the western consumerist gospel plus a private ambition of going to heaven when I die. Other examples include churches in Africa where tribalism and sexual immorality is not renounced despite claiming to be Christian.
Where Christ is not Preached
Dave then spoke of Paul’s desire to preach where Christ was not known. Even though the areas already evangelised were by no means Christianised, Paul had left reproducing churches behind. They could be entrusted to plant more churches. Paul’s own ministry was pioneering, and others were called to fill in behind him. He wanted to reach “Greeks and barbarians” – he was not limited to those who were culturally reachable. Dave then gave some space to giving examples of unreached people groups – defined as peoples without an indiginous, witnessing (i.e. reproducing) church.
Why are we involved in this mission to the unreached?
1) Prophetic Promise
2) Apostolic Passion
3) Eschatological Necessity (Matt 24:14)
4) Contemporary Urgency
What is stopping us reaching them?
1) Non-missional churches. We need everyone involved, not just the keen few.
2) Culture-bound instead of culture-challenging churches
3) The Muslim identification of Christianity with the west. The only way this is overcome is by planting small communities of believers who demonstrate that Christianity is something different.
4) Cultural and linguistic challenges
We need to keep preaching this message of reaching the nations, and give practical help to those going – more than giving money, this includes strategic support. Pray continually and give generously. Encourage people to go and support them.
I thought this was an excellent message, and underscores some of what I feel is best about newfrontiers. There is a real desire to bring the gospel to the nations, and work to build cross-cultural churches in our own cities. It would be easy for a group of churches like newfrontiers to settle for just having some large churches in major UK cities that thrive simply on Christians moving in from other churches, but here a strong commitment reaching the unreached was articulated passionately.
I am glad for the emphasis on the gospel of the kingdom. It is clear that Tom Wright has been influencing many of the newfrontiers leadership team, and informing their understanding of the proclamation of Jesus as King as politically subversive.
I think it is also interesting that the word missional is being liberally used this year (I suspect in a few cases by those who aren’t quite sure what it means). Missional is a buzz-word at the moment, speaking of a church that doesn’t see the church service as the main connecting point with unbelievers, rather we meet people within their culture by expressing the gospel through the way we live. It is about living out a Christian counter-culture and not retreating from the culture around us, but bringing the gospel to it in a way that is contextual.
I personally welcome newfrontiers embracing the concept of being missional. However, I am not too sure that many churches are entirely thinking along the same lines as those who write about being “missional”. In particular, I think the “church growth model” has also been widely embraced, which is often-times at odds with a missional approach (see my posts on the principled missional church and the results driven church). Sunday services especially focus less and less on equiping Christians to live out the kingdom lifestyle and try instead to be enjoyable for unbelievers. I know there were some other seminars at the conference that included the word “missional” in their blurb, so hopefully I will get a chance to listen to them and see if there is any more clarity on exactly what is understood in newfrontiers by the word “missional”.