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Five reflections on CU Mission Weeks

I've just come out of speaking at two CU mission weeks. My second and third as the main speaker.I feel like a novice, I've felt out of my depth, weak, feeble, socially awkward, but loving it. I've known a fresh sense of the love of God for me, and of love for people, and a growing inquistiveness about others.
My reflections on eight days on the front-line?

1. The gospel is really good news. It's possible to tell it like it isn't, but it's beautiful when we manage to tell it well. I love trying to persuasively speak of the love of God. I love being able to warmly invite people to come and know God with me. Our gospel is so expansive and inviting. He's not a god with a gun to my head to enslave me, his love wins my heart to love. His love burns with jealousy for us. His love burns against evil. His love cleans the stains of sin.

2. If you put on a good event in a good location with good food and good publicity three groups of people will come and all can benefit. Christians. Friends of Christians who aren't Christians. People no one in the Christian Union knew before. Best training for a Christian is to think hard about Christianity in public with real questions. Serving and listening in CU missions with Nigel Lee, Roger Carswell, Michael Ramsden, Ian Marlow, Krish Kandiah, Richard Cunningham, John Risbridger and others shaped me richly. Hoping to do the same for students today.
(Picture - our main lunchtime venue at the centre of campus)

3. People ask great questions when you give them the opportunity to do so. Sometimes they ask them genuinely, sometimes to trap you. I've tried not to be a smartass but instead to honour the questions and love the questioner. I'm convinced my manner matters as much as the words I say. The most common questions were:
  • Why would God let me be an atheist? And other questions around whether God forces us to believe or should force us to believe. Lots of questions which are about the nature of God, his revelation and how people come into relationship with God. I'm struck that for many people their questions assume a picture of god who isn't the God of Christianity. Michael Ramsden on Logical fallacy helped me a lot. As has Mike Reeves on God.
  • Am I going to hell? And other questions around whether there is a hell and what it is. Never going to be easy to speak about this. We think the alternative is mean and petty, but we've not even begun to figure the horror of hell and sin. If we don't have 'eternal life' clear then it'll be even harder to see clearly. Eternal life is physical and personal - to know God and to be in his renewed creation. I don't want to quickly tell someone they're going to hell when they've not even got categories for who God is. Questions need unpacking.
  • What about Elizabeth Fritzl? And other evil and suffering in the world and why God doesn't stop it and what would happen if he did. We have some answers, some hope of justice and cleansing, and of God's comfort and compassion for people. And I find myself saying 'I don't know' quite a bit, because I don't.
  • What about the way the Bible clashes with our culture? What about the Bible being old and so too far off to speak to us and to communicate clearly. Many questions around sexuality.  Tim Keller on Literalism helped me a lot with this. Lots of issues raised that have been taken from Dawkins books.
4. You can pull of something decent at fairly short notice, but a bit more attention to detail can really improve things. The best way to get detail right is to plan several months ahead - and that's more than possible! Advance planning is also the gateway to creativity - because once you get the basics nailed you get to play more...
5. Students are great. They're able and ambitious and pull off great exploits. I love the students of Cardiff and Bath Spa Uni CU's who got stuck into the mission our God has given them.

There is not much that is more encouraging than a Christian who risked his relationships by bringing four of his mates to an event asking when I can come back and speak to them again. Encouragement is underrated and so needed. I can definitely speak better than I did but I'm trusting I spoke well, I feel some sense of progress from the mission week I did last year, and a longing to step up again even though its scary.

We didn't see anyone become a Christian during these two weeks (that I'm aware of), several said they'll visit church, others said they'll come again to similar events, others wanted to meet with people to chat further. A mission week is only ever part of a bigger picture.


  1. What a tremendously rich post Bish. Really enjoyed reading it.

    "Encouragement is underrated and so needed."

    Couldn't agree more. I'm thinking about this a great deal at the moment. We've adopted a new more intentional and deliberate encouragement based model this year. In fact we're reducing critique of talks in groups in public. The thought is this: if you are not sensitive enough to the reality of EQ for this kind of criticism to negatively affect you, then are you sensitive enough to reality and EQ to do effective and fruitful talks?

    We should be enthusiastically building each other up - not in a dishonest way, but in a seeing the best way.

  2. Emotional depth is vital isn't it, and without it we probably contract our gospel into some sort of formula to recite and lack the compassion to offer Christ to people.

    And then when critique does come, in the context of passionate encouragement it's beneficial.

    There's an ocean's width of difference between being able to spot a weakness and the person who comes alongside to offer help to overcome weakness. Critique in the first category is easy to do but cold and impersonal, critique in the second is love and it'll feel like love and it'll give life.

  3. Yes, yes, yes!

    It's confusing to me because I've definitely felt in the past something like this, "I'm getting some great feedback here. There is real challenge and love in this feedback. What a loving person to express their feedback so honestly to me. What they have said is biblical and probably completely true. How kind of them to help me."

    But, here is the important bit. The result is, that over the next few days you can go through quite a deep experience of low mood, and the next time that you stand up to speak, you don't show it, but something is different - you're not quite as sparky or open to other people - until you have time away to reconstitute and pray and receive encouragement. Why is that?

    The feedback was true, biblical but delivered in a discouraging way. Perhaps too much was said, or whatever was intended, it ended up being destructive. If I'm totally honest I would put the majority of feedback that I received in this category.

    So this is the key for me now: I judge the value of feedback with a longer lens fitted. Looking further ahead. If only I had figured out how to judge the value of feedback on how it left me two weeks afterwards, rather than mistaking the feeling of being cut to the bone as being automatically valuable - out of some kind of sense of humility, or something.

    People might think that this is a bit wimpy, or feeble, but I can always explain to them how I've actually changed my view based on fruitfullnes, rather than weakness. And its hard to argue with that - the evidence is too hard to deny. Warm, gentle, non-offensive people are harvesting, cold people are not doing so well.

  4. It definitely looks softer, but if the point of feedback and crit is for you to be able to speak of Christ better next time then it has to be a strengthening kind of support - and there's more to that than just sharper exegesis or sharper argument (though that's important!).

    Has to be faith building. Hard to see how a mean-smarmy-clinical-evangelist represents the evangel. Though it's all to easy to become exactly that kind of person, and I need a community around me who will help me forward.

    I've blown so many opportunities in the past to represent Christ well, and to give people beneficial feedback. So easy to be a destroyer.

  5. Gentleness, rather than hardness is the virtue isn't it :)

    Invariably, when this kind of destructive criticism is delivered the person delivering it thinks that they ARE doing it in a loving way, and that everything that we have just said applies to someone else.

    It's partly a personality thing, and its partly a cultural thing. But whatever the cause I see this problem as one of the top 3 barriers facing non-denominational evangelical co-working for the gospel. It's a really big problem. Some people talk about it in terms of a critical spirit, or others talk about a lack of relationality, or a lack of warmth etc. It's all the same issue.


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