These words were constantly repeated by God in our prayer meetings during the days of the River church plant in Lancaster. “Don’t forget the big picture”. But what is the big picture?
Well, I knew what the little picture was: it was our little church plant that was like a tiny broken down vehicle in an ecclesiastical cul-de-sac. When our leader left the city and the church plant, I continued to be gripped with a sense that the big picture was something bigger than our ‘local’ church plant – now disbanded. I went to church leaders in Lancaster and let them know that my wife and I wanted to submit to a city eldership.
I suppose their reply was gracious:
They said, “We’re not going to talk to you unless you join one of the local churches.”
We joined Christians Alive, which was a church that was probably closest to my home church in Guyana, but ‘don’t forget the big picture’ was still ringing in my ears.
Whilst in Lancaster city we were involved with the wider church in the city until the Lord clearly indicated that it was time for us to focus on Morecambe. At the time Morecambe was in a parlous state when it came to churches working together, and the Lord had his willing servant Debbie Peatman, who recently went home to be with the Lord, play a crucial role in helping the ‘local’ churches in the wards break out of a ‘little fishing village’ mentality, where Bare and Torrisholme, Poulton and Hesk Bank all kept to themselves, and didn’t see the need to talk to anyone else. Since then the churches together in the wider Morecambe area have become very active in collaborating around social projects, which is a huge step forward for the area.
Recently I got a word for cities in the UK, travelled to London for a meeting with a small group of ministries from about four cities, then realised that I didn’t have the language to talk to cities.
So, for the past five months, I’ve been trying to learn the language that you need to use in order to speak to cities.
The word I had to share was in fact a template for city mission, and I’m now realizing just how different it is from the traditions of City Mission in the UK (and the world) which started in Glasgow in 1826. David Nasmith had a vision for a pioneering method of Christian care where he would meet people’s physical, emotional and spiritual needs. Nasmith went on to start City Missions throughout the UK, and from this model, the City Mission movement spread around the world. Even today, in the UK and elsewhere, people are rebranding and rediscovering social action as a brand new, and pioneering form of mission and in this I recognize the UK church’s continued leadership. No missionary person from anywhere is going to teach the UK church how to build bridges to the community.
What cities in the UK are facing, however, is the fact that what is now traditional social action based mission is not as effective as it was before. Britain is now multi-cultural and multi-religious and in this I am including humanism and scientism alongside major UK alternative religions like Islam and Sikhism. Rather like in the days of Jesus, where the Jewish religion provided for the poor and Jesus’ disciples automatically did the same, we have to take note of the respect that Jesus gave to the practice of providing for the poor. Notwithstanding his respect for traditional alms giving, Jesus eventually came up with his own initiatives for the poor which were a fruit of revival, and these initiatives in no way replaced or devalued more traditional social action. Peter and John encountered a situation where tradition would have expected them to provide money for a lame man at the Gate Beautiful, and they were found to be deficient in not being able to do so. The revival that was going on, however, delivered a different, kingdom of heaven, type of social action, which carried a powerful missionary impact, and was of the same type as the social action which Jesus modelled, and which was prophesied in Isaiah 61.
This brings me back to the Big Picture. Having been drawn powerfully to look at Jesus’ approach to mission, I am reminded that Jesus had the Big Picture in mind when he provided the missionary model for the church. In fact, city mission is a bigger picture than city church. The big picture as far as Jesus was concerned, and the mission he has called us to represent Him in is: “Thy Kingdom come, Thy will be done on earth as it is in heaven”. The church is the instrument of government that Jesus put in place to ensure that kingdom expansion continues until “he sees of the travail of his soul and is satisfied”, So what is the model for mission that Jesus put in place?
Jesus made it clear that two things are required for mission:
Discipleship (jhe focussed on this for 3 years) and Revival (he said don’t attempt mission without it). It is clear when he commissioned the church that Jesus had invasion of the kingdom of darkness in mind. Every sub-culture in our cities is to be invaded under the power of revival and discipleship working together. In every city there will be a specific strategy and the apostolic ministry(s) operating.within that city church will have specific strategies for revival and discipleship, but whatever the specific strategy is in that city, revival will follow prayer, the preaching of the Gospel and humility, and our cities will need a co-ordinated discipleship strategy in place with a vision to penetrate any sub-culture within our cities. Such a discipleship strategy will, for instance, complement whatever social programme the city has and turn it into a potent city mission in multi-cultural Britain.