I just got back from a week of mission in Llandudno. It went pretty well, thanks for asking. In no particular order, here are some reflections from my week on mission.
Grateful to have been
I hope I’m not reprimanded by those who (rightly) want to encourage more people to go on missions but, I am going to admit as plainly as a I dare, I rarely look forward to going on beach mission. There are plenty of things I could be doing in my own church, there is the relentless schedule and the awkwardness of getting to know a new set of people with whom you will live and work for a week. Beyond all this, I neither feel well equipped for this form of evangelism nor enjoy interrupting people’s holidays to offer them gospel leaflets and share with them, apropos of nothing, why the Lord Jesus matters for them. Not many of us are likely to make major life decisions based on a random stranger approaching us in the street simply because they felt compelled to talk to us. There is no denying it is odd behaviour which, for obvious reasons, doesn’t come naturally to me.
Yet, I am always grateful to have been. For one, it never fails to increase my faith. Why would I go out doing this highly unnerving form of evangelism if I didn’t really believe in the reality of eternal life, the truth about Jesus Christ and the claims of the Bible. The fact that I go proves I really believe what I say back in the comfort of my own church. It is also so easy to settle into the routine of weekly church life. Going on a week for an intensive mission takes me away from the normal routine and focuses me on the gospel afresh. Best of all, despite the inherent weirdness of what we happen to be doing, many are genuinely happy to talk and consider matters they have never confronted before. Not only that, some are convinced of what we share. There is nothing more thrilling than being used by God to bring people to Christ.
Though I rarely look forward to going, I am always glad I have gone.
Everyone is needed
The particular team I led was only small. There were four people aged 15-25, three aged 30-45 and four who were over 65. Our oldest team member was 80 and our youngest 16. Each made a real and welcome contribution to the mission.
Somebody came to cook for the team. Some were preachers who gave clear gospel messages in the open air. Others were excellent personal workers able to strike up conversation with those in the town. All had experiences that could speak to someone and all had a story to tell of the saving work of Jesus Christ in their own lives. If all were fresh-faced students, many of the OAPs in Llandudno would not have paid much heed to the gospel that week. If all were pensioners, who would connect with the teenagers? If all were preachers, who would speak to the crowds listening in? Everybody played a vital part on the week and each made a valuable contribution.
The world is unchurched
Twenty years ago, we could have counted on a bit of old-fashioned cultural religiosity to guarantee a reasonable number at our open air meetings. Singing a few hymns and sharing some testimonies would have pulled in a sizeable crowd. It has been some while since anybody could rely on such tactics. This is no bad thing of itself. Fewer people are fooled into thinking themselves alright with God because of their church attendance because fewer people now attend church.
The point is that mission outside the relative comfort of the four walls of our church buildings is increasingly important. We may preach the gospel passionately inside our churches but if there are no unbelievers there to hear it, can we really call this mission? Unless we are going out with the gospel, we cannot expect the world to come to Christ. The world simply does not come to the church any more.
At some point, the gospel needs to be proclaimed
Some folk took gospel literature and walked on. Others stood at an open air meeting and listened to a 10 minute talk before going. Others still engaged in lengthy conversations about the claims of Christ and how they apply to their life. Nonetheless, of those who responded in any way to the gospel message – whether it was the young lad who professed faith in Jesus one evening or the lady who simply said “you’ve given me a lot to think about” – at some point the gospel had to be shared.
It is no good going out and offering a series of kind gestures and hoping that people might think believers are nice people. Nobody will repent of their sin and come in faith to Christ because they think I’m a kind chap. At best, they’ll go home and say, ‘remember those guys on the beach? They were nice’. Lovely as that is for our self-esteem, it doesn’t do anything for their eternal soul.
Whilst there are various approaches to sharing the gospel, unless the actual gospel message is at some point made clear, we cannot expect people to come to Christ. It brings into sharp relief many of our efforts that pass for mission these days. There is clearly nothing wrong with ‘fun days’ and events, handing out gifts and seeking to befriend, but unless our efforts at some point include the gospel – the message that all are sinners facing a lost eternity who need God’s forgiveness which is found only in Jesus Christ – what have we really done for the advance of God’s kingdom?
There was one common feature among those who appeared to show interest, move in their understanding of Christianity or who ultimately professed faith in Christ: we actually shared the gospel message and applied it to those speaking to us. Unless the gospel is clearly present in our work, does our work really serve the cause of Christ?