By Les Henson.
Many people within the church think of mission as that which is done overseas by those people called missionaries. Those special people called to the task of taking the Gospel to the ends of the earth. Yet this is a false view of mission for, in reality, all God's people are called to mission. The only difference is that we at home are called to a different place, context and culture.
Likewise, many church people have given the topic of mission little or no thought. If they have, they tend to conceive of mission in terms of the 50s or 60s style evangelism. It is perceived in terms of door-knocking, street preaching or confronting people on the street and in shopping centres. But the world has moved on since the 50s and 60s. Today only a small proportion of the population attend church regularly, and what worked then rarely works today, except perhaps among certain migrant groups. However, today, such approaches are not only ill-conceived but also generally damaging to the life and witness of the church within the local community it inhabits. The archetypical Australian, if there is such a thing, sees such approaches as Bible-bashing, and to be honest, they are not impressed.
So how are we to engage in mission in our local situation and the networks to which we belong? Let me suggest that we are called to communicate the Gospel in word, deed and through our lives. But in doing so, we should begin by forming meaningful relationships within the variety of context we inhabit throughout the week. The focus should not be on converting the people we encounter, because if it is, we are more likely to alienate them. People know when you are out to get them. Instead, we should seek to build genuine friendships with them, regardless of whether they come to faith or not. Anything else is to prostitute the Gospel. I say this because in the late 70s and throughout the 80s friendship evangelism became popular, particularly in campus ministry. However, at times the method behind this approach was abused. This happened because the focus was on gaining converts instead of building authentic friendships. Consequently, after some time when the potential convert showed no signs of being converted, the evangelist, for want of a better term, dropped the friendship and moved on to someone else. For me, this is a negation of the Gospel; if we are to build friendships with those who are not yet followers of Christ, those friendships must be genuine and lasting.
Likewise, mission is not something we add on to our daily activities, but rather it is a lifestyle. It is to be part of everything we do and everywhere we go within the framework of our everyday lives. It involves building meaningful relationships with our neighbours, our colleagues at work, fellow students at University, people at the bowling club and the hairdressers, etc. Mission should be woven into the very fabric of our daily lives. However, in getting involved in people's lives and in building meaningful relationships with them, we must allow them to be in control as to when they are ready to ask questions, listen to your story or to talk through issues of life and faith. When such opportunities arise, it is wise to say less than could be said, allowing them to continue the conversation or change it as they desire. In doing so, they will learn to trust us, and they will know we are a safe person and worthy of their friendship. The reality is that it takes this current generation about three to five years and nearly twenty meaningful encounters to come to faith. Yet the one thing you can do in journeying with them is to continually pray for them on their journey towards faith in Christ. I would suggest that, by committing ourselves to a missional lifestyle and trusting the Holy Spirit to work both in and through us, we will get many opportunities to share the Gospel in ways that are meaningful to those we befriend.