The end of the beginning

me in Ireland
Yesterday I graduated from CMS’s Pioneer Mission Leadership Training Course. For those of you not able to be there, here is what I said…

I want to begin with a load of thank yous. Firstly, my Mum and Dad. Thank you for the vision of the Kingdom you demonstrated and inspired me with from the off. Thank you to John Buckeridge and Jacky Bone from Surbiton Community Church. You saw something in me, in terms of leadership, that you thought was worth investing in. Thank you Richard James, you were the first to call me a pioneer. Thank you Colin Brice you kept me engaging in mission to spiritual seekers when everyone was doubting, including me! Thank you David, Daniel and Nathan. I love you so much. You have been amazingly patient and willingly carried the additional burden so I could do the mental and emotional work, study and mission has entailed. Thank you to those in my missional community for trusting me and journeying with me when I didn’t even know where we were going! And lastly, thank you Jonny for really listening and allowing me the privilege of shaping what’s evolved. You reflect back to me an image of myself I’m actually beginning to like!

Just before I started the course, I had a dream. I dreamt I needed to get to a cashpoint and in front of me was a path to the bank. The problem was, it was still under construction. There was a man sitting at the start, trowel in hand, cementing in loose paving stones. He turned to me and said, “It’s not finished, but you can still use it.” So when I handed in my last assignment, I sent Jonny a text which simply said, “It is finished!” It was Easter, so it seemed appropriate on a number of levels. Although, to be honest, I don’t think the pioneer training at CMS will ever be finished because there’ll always be new things to add, new challenges and opportunities to address. That’s the trouble with us pioneers, we’re never content with the way things are!

However, today is still a remarkable day on the road to completion. As I reflected on what I might say, the biblical passage that came to mind was John 21:2-6, “Simon Peter, Thomas (known as Didymus), Nathanael from Cana in Galilee, the sons of Zebedee, and two other disciples, were all together. Simon Peter spoke up. “I’m going fishing,” he said. “We’ll go with you,” they replied. So they went off and got into the boats; but that night they caught nothing. As dawn was breaking, Jesus stood beside the seashore, but the disciples didn’t know it was Jesus. “Children,” Jesus said to them, “haven’t you caught anything worth eating?” “No!” They replied. “Cast the net on the right side of the boat,” he said, “And you’ll find something.” So they cast the net; and now they couldn’t draw it in because of the weight of the fish.”

This is often quoted in relation to mission and for many of us students this is exactly what we’re engaged in, casting the net again in uncharted waters. However, I was thinking this is also true of the theological education that CMS has created. Training for leadership in Christian ministry has been done a certain way for a long time and yet Jesus says, “Cast the net on the right side of the boat and you’ll find something.” CMS has indeed found something – something good and something valuable. I hope I’ll be the first of many who’ll be equipped and moulded by the pioneer team at CMS, and that a heap of those will also go on to become CMS pioneers who’ll do their bit to renew the church in the UK.

But I want to make another couple of points about the benefits of our course from this passage. The new thing Jesus asked his disciples to do was not a departure from who they were, but a fulfillment. We strongly believe that mission which is authentic and Christ-centred will flow out of who God has made us to be. This course is as much about becoming more sure of our unique personhood, as learning to do mission and church differently.

Also, they didn’t do it alone. The disciples were caught in that place between grief and newness. They’d watched Jesus die in agony and shame on the cross. Their hopes and dreams for the future were destroyed, and while they’d had an encounter of the resurrected Lord, he’d told them to wait for empowerment from above before stepping out into the work he had for them. I’m an activist, I hate waiting. I’m a prophet and I hate the wilderness. Yet both are essential in order to begin to perceive God’s new reality. That doesn’t mean it isn’t intensely painful or lonely. It is. That’s why we need each other in this learning community. So we don’t lose heart in the liminal space between the end of false expectations and the birth of new previously unimaginable visions for the future.

To conclude then, the course has given me many things, greater confidence in the ministry God has gifted me for, as well as theoretical frameworks to hang my missional activity on, but what I am most grateful for are the friends and co-conspirators that have brought me comfort and encouragement as I’ve wrestled with my shadow self and my destiny. It is because of you that I am standing here today. It’s not just my achievement, it is truly our achievement.