I think after four years in the role, I’ve finally worked out what pioneering is. Or at least I can articulate it a bit better.
I think we’re all called to make friends, to share our lives, and as we do to naturally share our faith. Not that the agenda is to share our faith, the agenda is to make friends and to share our life. The faith bit should simply be a natural outworking of that. I really do think our calling is as simple as that. If we’re to love our neighbour as we love ourselves, then we really do need to befriend our neighbour. Our neighbour isn’t a project, a mission, or a potential convert. They are someone who we can begin to bless by offering our friendship and begin to open up our lives to.
Even when we might feel called to engage with issues at a community level, I still think friendship should be underpinning it. It seems to me, for example, that Paul tackled slavery by relationally undermining it. He did this most notably when he said to the slaver master Philemon of his slave Onesimus ‘He is no longer like a slave to you. He is more than a slave, for he is a beloved brother.’ Paul didn’t feel the need to publically attack slavery (and if he had he would no doubt have had his head chopped off a lot sooner). Instead he sought to transform the relationship between master and slave.
The trouble with this view of ‘mission’ is that we tend to make friends with people who are the same as us. This is why churches tend to be quite homogenous places. Consequently there are people and whole subcultures that have no connection with a follower of Jesus. That’s where the pioneer can come in. A pioneer has the ability to jump into a subculture that is not their own, and make relational connections.
For me, this has meant making connections with New Agers, Pagans and more recently people from Muslim backgrounds. Most of these people have encountered something of ‘Christianity’ before, but I quickly realized they hadn’t encountered Jesus before. So I gently began to share something of my faith journey, and my struggle with ‘Christianity’ but ongoing interest in Jesus (it’s amazing how many people can relate to that, even people from other faiths!).
Through these friendships we’ve shared our spiritual practices and experiences, as we’ve reflected together on the person of Jesus. Some of these people have come along to the community I’m part of, most haven’t. But it doesn’t matter, as my only agenda is to make genuine friendships, and to share something of my life and my faith journey.
Think about it, how did Jesus spend his time? He ate meals with people, he told stories and prayed for the sick. That was pretty much it. Not the strategy I’d have come up with if I were tasked with changing the world in three years. But it’s a pretty good strategy if you are tasked with making deep friendship connections with people. Maybe I’m being naïve, but perhaps that was Jesus’s strategy for transforming the world, ‘Go and make friends…’.