In the last issue the journal proposed that we 'change the conversation' from its preoccupation with church into a readiness to participate with God's activity within neighbourhoods. In the current issue we wrestle with some implications of this journey. There is an invitation to seek the common good of neighbourhood communities: 'Seek the welfare of the city to which I am sending you' (Jeremiah 29:7). We will explore what seeking the common good might mean, why it is so important in terms of Christian life and how it intersects with such things as mission and evangelism.
The Journal of Missional Practice was born out of a common interest in the work of Lesslie Newbigin, the attempt of the Gospel and Our Culture programme to produce a wider debate about mission in the West, and the subsequent development of what has become known as ‘the missional conversation’. To help the Journal frame those concerns the principle participants have been joined each year by some additional friends and colleagues who together form an editorial Think Tank that offers both a critical and a constructive edge…
In the early 1900s Pastor Howe, a new graduate from Spurgeons Bible College stumbled upon a tiny slum estate attached to the gas works in London’s East End. He chose to move in to Bonny Downs and set up a mission in the midst of that poverty. One of the new Christians on that estate was a young girl called Rose Tribley whose grandchildren and great grandchildren are still there, leading a remarkable missional community in an area which still suffers deprivation. Rose Tribley’s granddaughters Angie Allgood and Sally Mann tell their story of ‘staying’ in two video interviews with Martin Robinson.
Invitation to participate
After an extended period of difficulty and internal conflict, the Churches of Christ Queensland council was uncertain. There were seventy affiliated local churches in 2009, but half were very small, involving under fifty members. Overall congregation numbers were declining. Conversely Churches of Christ Care, a separately governed agency, was thriving but was disconnected from the Church. There was a view that the Queensland Church of Christ council was irrelevant. Significant distrust and organizational silos were everywhere. It was wryly quipped that the mission department were so poor that they ‘reused the teabags’...
My family moved to our neighbourhood three years ago and began the work of connecting and making our home here. It has been a slow and humbling time. I have been confronted with my own agendas and baggage - a need to be someone who comes to help, start something, improve life and offer my own ‘awesomeness’ to the street. I have had to (and continue to) learn to slow down in order to show up, let myself be seen, let go of my agendas and be open and ready to participate in the common good as it is named by my neighbours. Following Jesus in my neighbourhood has me on a strange and disorienting journey in which I believe I am called to be a supporting cast member.
The challenge to plant a church can lead us into some surprising places. When Viv Prescott was recruited to plant a church in the Forest of Dean, flexibility and listening was always part of the approach. Those who know anything about the area quickly realize that it combines astonishing natural beauty with demoralizing rural poverty. It is a poverty that saps strength and imagination, it depresses, damages self esteem and tends to encourage those with significant ability to leave the area and not return. That background has become part of the landscape that has shaped the way in which the small Christian community, sponsored by the Salvation Army, has taken shape in that place.
An understanding that all of creation is God’s shapes Scripture. There is a deep, fundamental covenant that human beings hold the creation as a gift for all and ensure that every human being is cared for with dignity and honor. This is about the common good. As stated in the Jeremiah passage, it is part of the vocation of God’s people to seek the welfare of the city in which we abide. Connected to this basic framing of Christian vocation is the critical question of how it can be practiced. At one level the challenges confronting Western societies are immense...
In a hopeful conversation on video Alan and Tim describe their impression of a widespread desire in western culture for a healing of our common life. Our communities are not thriving but there is a generative movement which is quite new. Alan and Tim name two great challenges for this good concern...
Anna Rowlands is a political theologian at Durham University and a community organizer with Citizens UK. Anna explains the concept of ‘the common good’ which has its origins in Catholic Social Teaching. She indicates how its principles may help reconcile differing views of the common good. Her example is the current political challenge of mass migration but it is possible to see how these principles could help as we seek to find a 'common good' with our neighbours in our localities.
The opening question posed by Martin revolved around the simple observation that communities, societies and even nations are having difficulty in finding ways to hold the centre ground. There seems to be a fracturing and a dividing of communities, people groups, ethnicities, cultures and identities as fear of the “other” grows. So, in those circumstances how does the centre hold and how do we create ways of living together that speak of creative connections as compared with fearful withdrawal?
Church planter Dan White has an appreciation for the ways in which Euro-tribal, evangelical churches and their leaders remain deeply enmeshed in rationalisms, techniques, notions of success and power that so deeply infect Christian life on this continent. In the early chapters he dives into these issues. He travels a road many of us have taken by pointing out these captivities in order to show their inadequacy. The hope is that readers will see this and, in so doing, want to travel with him...
For Alan this is a time of ‘unraveling”, an invitation to shift our focus, to listen, discern and join God's presence in our neighborhoods In Alan’s words, the Spirit is going ahead of us into our neighborhoods. So often churches seek to either defend or accommodate as quickly as possible when faced with massive cultural shifts. Think about how different things could be if pastors and church leaders learned to see the cultural shifts as God at work opening spaces to listen and discern a new engagement for the gospel. This is the gift of Roxburgh. The answer to the church’s struggles is not more flashy promotions but a new and deeper discipleship and a community present to what God is doing in the places we live.
Reading An Other Kingdom takes me back to Augustine’s task. In its pages we read an important attempt to name the maladies of our time when faced with the ending of a certain Western narrative and the desperate need for an alternative imagination. In this sense it is an important book written with urgency. Like a tract it deconstructs the malaise of our time and offers an imagination for the reconstitution of social and cultural life in the West. It is to be applauded. Its proposals are important; they need to be taken seriously by any Christian desiring to faithfully live out the Gospel in these times; however, it misses the essential imagination that framed Augustine’s project and directed his desires.
Elaine Graham presents a high view of ‘public theology’ as studying and communicating the relevance of Christian thought and practice for public life and the common good. Public theology, she suggests, negotiates between the apparently immovable ‘rock’ of religious resurgence and the irresistible ‘hard place’ of secularism and institutional decline, or between faithfulness to Christian tradition and openness to diverse and critical conversation in the public domain. Graham’s portrayal of apologetics is refreshingly recast to include not primarily rational argument for the veracity of propositional claims, but an appeal to live well and act justly for the common good of society.