Over the past few months we have truly been blessed by visitors across the world at St Michael’s; our visitors from the link diocese of Thika in Kenya, my missionary friend working in Asia, pastor Paul from India. All of them face many challenges and operate in very different situations. Yet it seems to me that some common themes have come up again and again in conversation with them, and certainly these themes have challenged me:
- At the heart of their church’s life is a deep, deep commitment to Jesus as Lord and Saviour which affects everything that they do. Now I guess we would say that such a commitment also lies at the heart of our church life, so why is it then we seem to spend so much time talking about matters which really are secondary to the gospel? When we spend so much time talking about buildings and procedures, are we really focusing on Jesus Christ and His plans and purposes for us as His people?
- We also found an impressive commitment to attending church week by week and small groups during the week. For our visitors from Thika, missing church on a Sunday was not an option as there was a real sense they might miss out on what the Lord is doing. Yes, they had really busy lives Monday to Saturday with work and family responsibilities, but church was the first item on the calendar each Sunday. One reason why the church in this country seems so weak by comparison is, I suggest, that we have lost this sense of expectation, and an eager anticipation of what the Lord is going to do when we meet together. Of course this also assumes that our church services convey a sense of excitement – and by this I don’t mean a superficial playing to emotions, but a deep sense that we have gathered to do business with the Lord, the maker of heaven and earth.
- During our conversations it became clear that every church member is equipped and expected to reach out with the good news of Jesus Christ. Yes, of course the Lord does give to some the specific gift of evangelism, however in these cultures mission and outreach are seen as the priority for everyone, and not just the work of a few. So these churches lay great stress on whole-life discipleship; every aspect of a believer’s life is seen as an outworking of their faith and there is a clear expectation that the Lord will use ordinary people to grow His church and glorify His name. Do we, I wonder, have a similar expectation?
- Finally, and most significantly, all these churches know the real cost of following Jesus. It was moving to hear of pastor Paul sharing how Hindus and Muslims who came to Christ knew that they were laying down their lives, or our visitors from Kenya talking about the gunmen from Somalia who targeted only those who professed the name of Jesus. I cannot name who my friend is or where he works because he is being watched by the country’s security forces but that does not stop him returning year by year. By contrast I know so often I can make excuses for not following Jesus as I ought, and I get upset by the mildest criticism of my faith.
This does not mean we ought to romanticise the situations that our fellow believers face, or somehow see them as more authentic believers than ourselves. Every church wrestles with issues and can be blind to its own faults and failings. Yet what struck me again and again was the passion and the commitment to the Lord Jesus Christ above anything or anyone else. What could the Lord do through us if we all had a similar passion and commitment to glorify His name above all others? That seems to me a question we all could and should reflect on as we seek to develop our mission as a church in the next few months.