Matthew 10:1-14 & 11:28-30 – An Ancient and New Thing
A Reflection and an Idea by Dan Spragg
Jesus sends his disciples out to go and do what he had been doing. I’ve mentioned the idea of apprenticeships recently. That’s essentially what being a Christian is meant to be. An apprenticeship to Jesus, and apprentices always at some point, are sent out to go and do the ‘thing’. In this case, those early apprentices – the disciples – were to take the good news of the way of God drawing near to places who haven’t yet heard it in this new form. Jesus himself was a traveler – walking many different places to go and see and share his message. And his message has been traveling ever since – in those early days with the expansion of the gospel into the surrounding nations and beyond as history went on. The message of God’s way, embodied in Jesus and now in the church of Jesus, was and is meant to be a dynamic thing that’s on the move.
Interestingly, as the Christian message became embedded and wedded to a large degree into Western culture our impulse as the church in the West, has become largely that we are to stay and expect people to come to us. Most likely, the beginnings of this started when Christianity became the religion of Rome. Cathedrals were built and it became the ‘thing one did’ – attend a church service on a particular day at a particular time. Understandably so when society is largely Christian, and a good proportion just show up each week to services, there isn’t the urgency to have a mindset of getting out there to share what people are missing out on! At our moment in history generally in NZ as churches, we have become what’s being called ‘attractional’. That is, we want to attract people. Now, it is dangerous of course to make generalisations, but there is always truth in generalisations. Our impulses and our imaginations are so easily shaped by trying to do things to attract people to join us and our congregation. It is actually really hard, especially when you like what you’ve got going on, to maintain an attitude that what we do on Sundays is not the goal but rather a tool to help us do what we are called to do. It’s hard and sadly many congregations have lost their ‘missional’ edge completely. Now they exist largely only for themselves and for how many people they can get each time they run a service. This is the whole point behind smoke machines and lights and flashy celebrity pastors – to attract as many people as one can in order to build the thing. And within that, if there is community outreach, it is so that people will come along on Sundays.
In Matthew 16:18 Jesus says, “…on this rock, I will build my church…” Jesus said he’d build his church, but, it’s very easy to think that we have to build the church. Certainly, it’s an easy trap to get into as a minister, that ‘I’ have to build the church. But it’s actually not my job, nor is it any of our job to build the church. Jesus said that’s what he would do. So, our work must be something else.
Typically church planting in our living memory has been about planting a congregation and growing a congregation. Quite often the point was to meet a need in a growing area – in other words, something that served those who were already churchgoers. This site we’re on today here in Bryndwr is a classic example. In the 1950’s this was a new housing development with a growing population and so a church was built on the edge of the development because (Presbyterian) people needed somewhere close by to go to church. The old saying, ‘build it and they will come’, was actually true for a short period in our history. It was built and they came.
Recently, I’ve been reminded of a slightly different approach which I think is useful because we are certainly not in an era of ‘build it and they will come,’ and, I don’t believe that is how Jesus wants his apprentices to think either.
Beginning with St Patrick’s mission to Ireland around the year 400 (CE), the Celtic Christians embodied a highly mission-oriented existence. They set out not to plant congregations as we would, but rather they would set up kind of ‘mission stations’ and schools and hospitals, as a way to integrate into the town, to be present in useful ways. A small group of them would make their home in the town and sustain themselves with regular rhythms of prayer, worship, study, and work. They would get to know and live amongst the locals, making friends and sharing in the way they were the message of Jesus and inviting people into conversations and prayer as they became part of the town. There’s a whole lot about the Celtic Christians that we could talk about but for the sake of today, there were two major emphases in the way they did things that I’d like to talk about. The first was that they got out and about and were amongst the community. They were present and visible. They embedded themselves in the town. The second was hospitality – nothing was more important than serving those around them. If they were fasting and a friend or visitor turned up they would break their fast to eat together. They invited new friends and they invited visitors into their community’s rhythms of work, rest, prayer, meals, and mission. Because of these two emphases, their worship services and congregation, and its building were not so front and centre. In contrast, life in the community, on a mission together, was the centre. Worship and teaching and prayer together were important but it was not the goal, it was part of what helped them in their goal of sharing the gospel of Jesus. The Celtic Christians were immensely influential as Christianity moved into the Western world. The way Rome had done and was doing it up until then resonates quite a bit with the approaches we see in our world today.
We seem to have gone back to a previous way of doing things which is, “We explain the gospel, they accept Christ, and we welcome them into the church. Presentation, decision, assimilation…” But here’s the contrast we see in the way the Celtic Christians did it: “(1) Establish community with people… (2) within fellowship engage in conversation, ministry, prayer, and worship; and (3) in time, as they discover that they now believe, invite them to commit.” It is a very contrasting process of fellowship, ministry and conversation, belief, and then finally an invitation to commitment. It is belonging and then believing, not the other way around. It is primarily about being present, loving and serving your community, and exploring openly with them what it means to follow Jesus. It is a mission emphasis, not an attraction emphasis. It’s not about us and our needs and getting people to come to our things. I don’t think it’s a stretch to say that we have resonance with the way of those Celtic Christians. There is something about the way they did things that we nod our heads instinctively to.
The Celtic Christians took the ‘sending’ call of Jesus very seriously. They went and traveled and put down roots in many many places. And, I think they took another familiar verse from Matthew seriously too. Matthew 11:28-30,
28 “Come to me, all you who are weary and are carrying heavy burdens, and I will give you rest. 29 Take my yoke upon you, and learn from me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. 30 For my yoke is easy, and my burden is light.”
In what I see in the Celtic Christian story there is both a sense of being sent and of embodying the invitation of Jesus wherever they landed. If we took one thing from this quick example, I think it should be that we are sent, always, by Jesus to go into communities to both embody and share the gospel with those who we get to know. For the Celtic Christians, the gospel was for openly sharing, both in their presence and in their place. It was about the mission, not attraction. They didn’t want to build their thing. The goal was to share the gospel and introduce people to Jesus.
A New Ministry and Mission in The Village
Today I’m going to share a proposal of the Parish Council to start a new ministry and mission in The Village – to start another ‘mission station’, if you like, in our midst. We already have some places. One of those is our site in Papanui. This idea is about growing a presence. This idea is focused on the idea of expanding on the long history of The Creative Nest by opening up this space 4-5 mornings per week as a drop-in kind of space. This idea is about creating a space where we can be on a mission together and follow the lead of those ancient Celts. ‘(1) Establish community with people… (2) within fellowship engage in conversation, ministry, prayer, and worship; and (3) in time, as they discover that they now believe, invite them to commit.’
The genesis of this idea came while I was reading a book in which the main character had quite the hobby of collecting books. And they’d amassed a large collection which they were running out of room to store at their house. While looking for a place to store their collection, they came across a second-hand bookshop that was for sale – too tempting not to purchase this because not only did it provide space to store their collection but it also came with the entire bookshop full of books! In the evenings and weekends, they started organising and making space and cleaning this old store. In her mind, even though this space was a bookshop she didn’t ever intend to open it up to sell books. Her sole thought was this was a great place to store books, not get rid of them!
Anyway, one by one people started coming into the shop when she was in there – they simply assumed it was open for business – they would start browsing and then asking her how much the books were or asking her if she had a particular book etc… This went on for quite a while and eventually, she gave in, due to demand, and opened the shop, as a shop. She hired an assistant to work when she couldn’t be there, and so this book storage project became an operational bookshop. Now there’s nothing special about this yet apart from it being an interesting story. However, fast forward a couple of years and the bookshop had become somewhat of a community hub. People would come not to browse for books but just to sit and read them. The main character became a sort of person to be confided in for people who didn’t feel comfortable in other parts of the community and so more and more people came in just for a chat. These people were offered a coffee (or a bourbon if it was needed) while they had a chat. Books were talked about. Life was talked about. It became a refuge for women who were in abusive relationships. Book groups started meeting there on weekends. She eventually quit her day job and became a full-time shopkeeper / listening ear /shoulder to cry on / advocate against violence towards women/advice giver. So, we see this bookshop became not so much about being a bookshop and more about its place in the community and the presence that inhabited it. It became something quite special.
Now, we’re not going to open a book store despite having a number of book enthusiasts in our midst. But there’s something about what this little accidental bookshop became for the community and there’s something in the good it was able to do for those who interacted with it that sparked this idea for me.
I got thinking. We could, in The Nest space, have trustworthy and friendly people present regularly that got to know locals and were able to offer friendship and conversation. And, while we probably can’t offer bourbon, we can offer good coffee. There can be opportunities to explore creativity in a variety of ways, there could be books and space for reading, space to play a game or do a jigsaw, or space simply to come and chat. We can create a space where people know it’s there and trust the people who run it. We can create a space that offers hospitality, friendship, a safe space, and a community hub of sorts for locals. We could do that, and that would enable the gospel of Jesus to be lived and shared with people who at the moment we don’t have any contact with.
To me, that sounds like an inspiring idea but there are also a few things happening at the moment at Papanui with which it would be good to catch the energy.
- Great energy and vibrancy in the music moments on Monday mornings.
- The Monday morning art group is growing – word of mouth from a Music Moments mum has been key to this.
- Midweek service is growing with close to half of those present not attending Sunday worship and are new to our community.
- Great synergy in the Nest space with the children’s art classes with Sharon Song – these happen in the afternoons.
The other interesting thing is, if you have a walk around, or if you live in the area, you will see a quite densely populated little area of mixed residential in the triangle bounded by Grants Road, Grassmere St, and Papanui/Main North Rd. What’s also interesting is that we have very few connections with the majority of people who live in this space. We also have little connections with the shops and the Hotel that we are neighbours with along Papanui Road.
What would it look like for us to participate in this area more? To be present more intentionally? The aim, in this new season, would be to enable a consistent presence, to be present, to form a team of people who would be friends to those who we came across. To offer hospitality. To create a space of welcome and usefulness in the community. To share the gospel of Jesus and invite people to give it a go for themselves.
It also seems like a no-brainer that we have an amazing, warm, open, light space that people enjoy being in, and so we should look to maximise the energy that is emerging around this space.
To really make this thing hum we believe we need to create a new ministry position to provide leadership in the initiative. We do not create this role to load this person up with the responsibility of growing a thing! And, this is not an attempt to recreate a ministry that used to be on this site. This is a new thing and so the person would be responsible for crafting the new environment, leading the culture of fellowship and mission, and gathering a team. This new role has been set at 0.7 FTE (full-time equivalent) with the intention of calling an ordained person for an initial period of 3 years. The reasoning for this is:
- This allows for time to be present in the community, build relationships, and gradually look to form a team.
- This allows for additional capacity to be added for ministry in The Village in general.
- 0.7 is a far more attractive role than 0.5 or less.
- To seek an ordained minister for this role makes sense given the nature of the role and the wider ability to operate in this capacity throughout the village.
- Full time could be considered but it is also a bit more cash.
- 3 years allows the initiative time to get established and a good crack at the beginning to see what is emerging – these things, new mission initiatives always take longer than we think to find their best rhythms.
As you can imagine this isn’t going to be a cheap exercise! And, we don’t have the spare cash lying around for this, so, our hope in the first instance is that we get permission to utilise some of our capital funds as seed money to kickstart this initiative. We need start-up capital for this to get off the ground. As of the end of April 2023, we have $841,444 in capital funds held with the Church Property Trustees. The CPT has allowances for an application to be made to utilise capital funds for Mission Projects – and we believe we have a strong case for this with this new initiative. So we hope that to be our first port of call. The Parish Council will be bringing a recommendation to you at the congregational meeting on 2nd July to this effect.
We estimate costs for the initiative for the initial 3-year period to be around $223,000 plus other costs such as administration support etc. It could be up to around $300,000 for the 3 years.
I firmly believe this is an idea that is worth pursuing. And so, can I ask that over the next week as we head towards our meeting that you would pray about this, that we would hear and see where God might be leading us?
 George G Hunter III, The Celtic Way of Evangelism, (10th anniversary edition), p43.