It is always clear and pressing that the strategy of Christian ministry in our Anglican schools is to preach the Bible and the forgiveness of sins, to pray in the power and promise of the Holy Spirit, and to love people in the name and example of Christ.
But the prevailing popular worldview has so altered the way we must relate and engage with our communities, that if we do not deeply consider the details of that change, we cannot be as rigorous or effective in sharing the gospel as both our hearts and God’s word requires.
If there is any point about our work now which convicts me, it is this – we need consider ourselves as missionaries in foreign culture.
The missiologist David Williams summarises the ideological issue as this,
“We are seeing the demise of guilt-innocence as the dominant worldview in Western cultures. I suggest that guilt-innocence is a fading paradigm. I think we are moving from being a guilt-innocence culture to becoming a pain-pleasure culture.”
Our culture has changed. The new way of being in the world means all the following propositions and more. ‘I exist to pursue pleasure by becoming my true uninhibited self which can be anything I want it to be. Pleasure is good and therefore anything that limits or threatens my pleasure is bad. Pain is bad and anything that causes it is therefore also bad and should be avoided or even punished. If my pursuit is challenged, if it causes anxiety, if it is not working, I need therapy not correction.’ You could keep going because you have been working in this culture. Occasionally you have been discombobulated by it, other times tempted to go along to get along, and once or twice you have been punished for challenging the paradigm.
Each of you will have pastoral experiences with this change. You will have formulated tactics, perhaps even unknowingly, so that when you talk with your students, when the necessity of pain and suffering is introduced, it is done so with particular care, compassion, and biblical foregrounding, because of just how sensitive a theme it has become. But when we speak the gospel we must speak of pain and its necessity. Otherwise, how can anyone understand Christ’s personal mission? Where is the passion in the passion without suffering? And how can anyone follow Jesus without the painful confession of sin and repentance and the taking up of the daily cross to follow Jesus?
Our situation is not bleak though! It is precisely in the problem understood that we find the way forward. Where modern culture does away with that pain, they also believe they, more than any, understand pleasure – which to them is a type of personal freedom from mores, conventional wisdom, and those laws which have been written in our hearts. But, and this will not surprise, in relinquishing the notion of moral law, there has not been any disappearance of notions of justice, fairness, personal accountability, or judgement. They have been poorly defined but not lost. The pain-pleasure adherents are surely just as strident as ever. Judgement continues to be handed out by the unbeliever, to themselves by their conscience, just as much as they judge others – and they still possess and espouse notions of rectitude and piety – even as they criticise the possibility in others who hinder their progress.
Therefore, when we consider how to pursue loving evangelism in a community that increasingly ignores or even hates the existence of God, and especially so when we speak of the basics of Christ’s teaching about sin and repentance, confession and faith, judgment, and the call to worship – we must remind ourselves that all the categories of redemption are present in the lives of our young people and they wrestle with them every day. They know enough about love to at least be curious about a testimony of hope and love that believes, ‘hope does not put us to shame, because God’s love has been poured out into our hearts through the Holy Spirit, who has been given to us.’
Our communities need us to be intentional missionaries. To continue to immerse ourselves in the life of our communities as servants, listening carefully to the stories of the culture and contextualising them, learning about them and knowing the individuals deeply – know the names and stories of your students and identify the categories of redemption in their story! Doing so, have the confidence to reflect the narratives of Christ that are understandable, immediately relevant, and which call for hope and a Jesus revolution. Focus on Jesus the person not the proposition, in all his fulness and complexity, not being afraid to say, “I don’t know, but Jesus said or did…”
We must be dual story tellers. Telling the stories of the pain-pleasure world in the light of Christ and casting stories of Christ into that world, the stories of how God has worked in the world through His word, in full confidence that the same “word of God is alive and active. Sharper than any double-edged sword, it penetrates even to dividing soul and spirit, joints and marrow; it judges the thoughts and attitudes of the heart. Nothing in all creation is hidden from God’s sight. Everything is uncovered and laid bare before the eyes of him to whom we must give account.”
The ironic consequence of living in a culture more and more disenchanted with God, is that the values which only derive from Him, of genuine, sacrificial love, the necessity of forgiveness, of compassion and service freely given, have become fresh and distinct; they more clearly belong to God, and when the Holy Spirit moves in the lives of seekers, it strikes those in our communities who see it. The pain-pleasure worldview is painful infection that pulses with a need for repentance and faith, for a God who is holy and merciful, and yes, the divine therapist who says, ‘Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest.Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy and my burden is light.’