Saturday, 29 September 2007

Dodging suffering

It's rather obvious from any cursory reading of Acts and church history that outreach and mission involves suffering and self-sacrifice. More than that, it seems that churches cannot be planted nor the church significantly grow without, at some point, our suffering for the name of Jesus. Taking up the cross is not an option for particularly zealous disciples, but is the model for all evangelism.

Given that fact , it's surprising that we speak so little within this paradigm. It may well be because we live in a society where you can dodge suffering. No police are knocking on our door because we're having a Bible study and no-one's confiscating our Bibles from us. No-one's been sent to jail - and the very thought that one of us might fills us with shock and horror. Because suffering is not forced upon us we settle for a comfortable life. And, in a sense, who can blame us because no-one wants to suffer!! Yet, surely, forced suffering is not the only kind of suffering the gospel calls us to.

How will London or the UK be reached for Christ? It is not simply through strategic planning or even Bible teaching. It is through the self-sacrifice and willing suffering of the people of God. For example, how can churches be planted into the inner cities or ethnic minority areas without self-sacrifice? You can't reach these areas without living there and sending your kids to the local schools and involving yourself in their problems. How can these ministries be funded apart from tremendous self-sacrifice from wealthy givers? How about the thousands of villages and small little towns where there's no real gospel witness? And I haven't even mentioned the 10-40 window and the muslim world. I guess the kind of suffering involved here is: 1. making where you live a gospel issue and not a comfort issue 2. willingly taking a cut in your standard of living 3. giving away loads of money and resources. All this comes from letting my joy and comfort come from Jesus and my eternal home with him rather than my home here. When I'm interested in really getting my joy from Him and His glory these other things seem less necessary. “Oh, the awful emptiness of a full life when Christ stands yet without.” (Jim Elliot)

I say yes to all the skills of ministry such as relevant preaching, strategy, church planting etc. Yet, if all this comes in a package that doesn't call me to take up my cross and suffer for the Lord Jesus then it is shallow and ultimately ineffective.