Neighbourhood Missionaries

At first sight 1 Corinthians 16 looks like a permanent record of Paul’s travel itinerary. That would be of some historical interest. But it’s so much more than that. In his words, Paul reveals how his decisions about what to do and where to go were shaped by the eternal Kingdom of God.

5After I go through Macedonia, I will come to you—for I will be going through Macedonia. 6Perhaps I will stay with you awhile, or even spend the winter, so that you can help me on my journey, wherever I go. 7I do not want to see you now and make only a passing visit; I hope to spend some time with you, if the Lord permits. 8But I will stay on at Ephesus until Pentecost, 9because a great door for effective work has opened to me, and there are many who oppose me.

Paul was very keen to see the Corinthians. They had so many issues. He was desperate to get to them, spend some time with them and sort them out. But something else trumped that legitimate godly desire. He made something else a priority. He said no to a good thing in order to do a better thing. And the better thing was staying put. He knew that he couldn’t move on from Ephesus whilst there was work to do. God had opened up a wonderful opportunity and he wasn’t going to look a gift horse in the mouth! But staying put would be costly. He was being opposed. And so it would involve some personal sacrifice to remain where he was and work hard for the gospel. But he considered that a cost worth bearing for the sake of the gospel work in Ephesus.

That’s what the godly apostle did.

But what about us?

If we’re a follower of Jesus Christ then we all have Christian work to do. It comes with the territory. We’re all involved in building the family business with the varied gifts that God has given to us. We all have Christian ministries. But are we willing to let the reality of the future eternal Kingdom of God shape our decisions? Is personal preference, long cherished dreams or middle class sin the driving force. I’m just asking.

What might this mean for us?

Many people in inner city suburbs like Balham decide that it’s inevitable that they’ll move on at some stage. Of course, very few people stay in the same place for all of their adult life. I get that. But I’m talking about the phenomenon of so-called ‘middle class white flight’. It’s worth asking why moving has become the non-negotiable expectation? For the most part the trajectory is move to Balham, settle in church, flat share, meet partner, marriage, kids and then move to the suburbs or the regions. It’s the pattern of things, in general. Out where there’s space we’ll get more for our money. This might mean an extra bedroom, a garden, room and a garage. A garage – think of all the things that I could store there! It’s an attractive plan and please don’t be naïve and think that somehow I’m immune to the temptation of moving out of London. But what’s driving that decision? Is it the eternal Kingdom of God? Sure we can get involved in a church once we’re there. But let’s not pretend that this is the reason that we’re going. Finding a church is incidental to the motive for going. Central is usually some other driving reason.

We must examine our motives for continuing on our trajectory out of London. And because our hearts are deceitful, we must allow others to ask what’s driving our decision to leave. It could well be that leaving is the right thing to do. There’ll be good reasons for some to leave the gospel work here so that we can be involved in another one somewhere else. We’ve just lost one family to Madagascar. They had a great reason to leave. But it needn’t only be missionary work that takes us away from building the gospel work in Balham. It may be elderly parents who need our support, it may be marriage or it may be that work is simply unavailable in London. But God is building his church here and we need workers to help him build it. We need people to stay and contribute what they can. If everyone goes, the construction works stops. Or it slows. It’s like the house at the end of our road. It used to be a work in progress but now it’s boarded up. The work there has ground to a halt. If all our church construction workers leave, they’ll be no one left to build the church.

This is a sensitive issue. Though it’s worth asking why we’re so sensitve about it. Might it be that someone is threatening to take away our oh so precisou middle class idol? We tend to respond disproportionately strongly if something we value is being denied to us. If you find yourself strangely irritated by this blog post might I suggest soemthing? Could it be that, like me, the kingdom concerns modelled by the apostle Paul are more peripheral than central than God would like them to be?

My intention is not to stir up trouble but to stimulate us to godly kingdom living. It just seems an obvious implication of Paul’s words in 1 Corinthians. For some of us it will be the right decision to leave. But we must never think that it’s inevitable. The work of the gospel must be the driving motive for our decisions.

7 thoughts on “Neighbourhood Missionaries

  1. Phil C June 23, 2010 / 9:04 am

    Perks, how do we compare the worth of kingdom work in one place over another?

    It seems to me that if I moved to another city for a job, I could find a good church where I could serve the kingdom fruitfully. So to move “for the job” wouldn’t be a bad thing, would it?

  2. theurbanpastor June 23, 2010 / 9:18 am

    Sure there are gospel works up and down the country that would benefit from extra gospel workers. I’m not suggesting that the kingdom is limited to south London!
    But i’m not sure a comparison is hugely helpful or productive. Of course there are people all over the country that need to hear the gospel. Discusions about the strategic worth of cities over villages is sensitive. But for my money, because of the cultural influence of cities (like London for example) we need strong gospel works in those places.
    I think it’s more productive to develop a residential inertia for the sake of the kingdom. We need a ‘let’s stay put for the benefit of this church family of which I’m a part’ mentality rather than a ‘which exciting place can I go to next with my job?’ approach. We’re a church family with a community life and commitments to one another. We’re all trying to build something for God, if people leave that leaves fewer of us to do the work; that’s hard to cope with relationally because we lose our family members and it’s hard to cope with physically because we get knackered.
    But the big point is when I go, whether I’m going for the kingdom or not and whether that features in my prayerful consideration. Only you (and God) would know the real reason for going; what’s the true motivation behind the decision to move for a job.
    It’s true that lots of our peers will move away but we’re Christians and we think differently. What our church will need is people committed to staying long term; to be the next senior elders, to be the parents of teenagers who can offer advice and wisdom to those faced with pre-school children’s sleep issues, to be those who’ve nursed their parents through their last days on this earth. We need the maturity of a few old oaks who’ve done the hard yards of living for Christ, living in the city, planting churches and so on. We won’t have that if people move without asking some revealing questions; namely what’s the real reason that I’m going.

    • Phil C June 24, 2010 / 9:19 am

      Thanks perks, that’s really helpful.

      • theurbanpastor June 24, 2010 / 9:23 am

        Really? You’re not just being gentle!

      • Phil C June 24, 2010 / 10:01 am

        No, really! Your original post was more about examining our motives for going, but didn’t say so much about the reasons for staying. I love the vision of a church of all types of people with all types of experience, who can help each other to live and grow more like Jesus.

  3. Lauri Moyle June 23, 2010 / 7:54 pm

    Perks, I think this is very helpful for us. In a sence I would like to see a local church of all ages. I say that because I think that we need people older than us, but also younger than us, not necessarily in age but in wisdom (of all ages). I know that younger people can be wise about some things that older people might not be wise about because of where and who they are, and equally and (surely) more usually, older people are needed for their wisdom to help younger people, single or together (in some way) to learn the ropes. My wish, ideally, would be for all churches, as communities (communion) to reflect that, though I know that can be ‘ideal’ sometimes. We open up out blinder (not blind most of the time) spots, when we can have people who are not like us, around us. Perhaps that is the value of commitment to a placieness. The echo of your words about individual calling should be implicit in what I am saying here, BUT and that’s a big but, the values that drive us should be the values of God.

    • theurbanpastor June 24, 2010 / 9:27 am

      thanks Lauri
      i think it could take us time to become multi-generational – some of our elders need to wait 20 years before they retire! Because we don’t look establishment, either, we won’t attract the passing traffic like, say, a traditional C of E church might. It means we need to work hard at befriending people of all ages as God gives us opportunity.
      We may be fiove years off a teenagers work, as well. Rufus will be 13 then and, who knows, we may be able to start something then.

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