Saturday, August 20, 2016

Mission as prophetic dialogue


Some interesting observations on Christian mission from Roman Catholic priest Stephan Bevans' paper Mission as prophetic dialogue. Not my general 'go to' for insight, but I enjoy reading widely, learning from the differences, learning from what's good even if sometimes there are bones to spit.

Bevans, with Roger Schrader, begin with God:
That mission is dialogical is rooted in the reality that God... is dialogue. God is not a lonely monad but a communion of persons, distinct from one another and yet one in identity and purpose... This communion of giving and receiving Love overflows into the entire cosmos that God created out of sheer grace, and calls it into communion with Godself. This is what we mean by God’s mission, the Missio Dei.
Union with Christ brings us into the life of God.
Through Baptism, Christians share the very life and of the Trinity, and so they are enjoined to carry out God’s mission in the same dialogical way. Concretely, this means that Christians who engage in mission need to make real efforts to “bond” with the people among whom they minister.
Mission that is shaped by being friends and good neighbours fits with the God of the Christian gospel. A different gospel might validate a different kind of posture - there are plenty of deities you could imagine that would fit with a distant and detached approach - but Trinitarian religion is dialogical, friendly, loving and about moving nearer to people where they are.

Citing, V.S. Azariah in 1910:
“...the Indian Church will rise up in gratitude to attest the heroism and self-denying labours of the missionary body. You have given your goods to feed the poor. You have given your bodies to be burned. We also ask for love. Give us FRIENDS.” Mission as dialogue is ultimately about ministering out of real relationships, about making friends.
Or, as Jon Tyson puts it - 'love people and be available'. 

Churches can run ministries and events and programmes to connect with others, but the nature of the God who knows us and who we know and proclaim leads us toward favouring a relational and personal posture - to the slow work of making friends.

In approaching the task of such missional friendship, Bevans counsels...
...the missionary always recognizes that she or he is a stranger and guest. As a stranger he or she needs to realize how little he or she knows, and how much she or he needs to rely on the local people for knowledge in that place. And as a good guest, missionaries should not presume too much. Even presuming to help out by doing the dishes or something like that could be an insult to the hosts. The missionary needs to look and listen long and hard so as not to abuse the privilege of being hosted by the people of a certain place. One does not enter another’s garden lightly. One enters first of all to gaze and admire, to enjoy the beauty of what is there. Maybe after getting the trust of the gardener the visitor might be able to give advice about planting or watering or arranging—but even then it should probably be done gingerly.
We may be very keen to invite others into our garden, to meet us on our turf, to enter the places in which we feel safe, but we go first to theirs, tentative, careful, teachable and aware of our capacity to blunder and offend. Developing that kind of sensitivity might help us to make our own garden more accessible.
[Paul] writes, “we were gentle among you, like a nurse tenderly caring for her own children. So deeply do we care for you that we are determined to share with you not only the gospel of God but also our very selves, because you have become very dear to us” (1Thess 2:7-8). If the gospel is to be brought to people effectively, it must be presented worthily—it must be lived. A dialogical spirit is not simply a prerequisite for preaching the gospel, in other words. Even less is it merely a means to attract. It is an integral part of the Good News itself: the God of the gospel is a God who really cares, who is really involved in this world, is a God who respects human freedom. Our gentleness and self-gift in mission are sacraments of the gentleness and self-giving of God as such.
Mission implies real involvement 'in this world', the long yards of being a stranger and a guest, looking and listening long and hard, and making friends. A posture like that creates space in which to speak worthily and compellingly. As Donnie Griggs advises: Let integrity, generosity and compassion be something the whole town cannot escape when they are around you or the folks in your church. 

See also - Tanya Marlow - For every wannabe missionary: Assimilate or go home.

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