It's been one of those weeks where the weather has had quite an influence on my diary! Mostly because I was due to play in a gras court tennis tournament, but the rain washed out the first two days and I decided that time had run out and I needed to withdraw.The decision was helped by having commitments later in the week and the likely probability that the courts are so wet that I'm not sure they'll dry out much before the weekend anyway.
Fortunately the weekend wasn't so bad. In fact Sunday morning was really nice and rather interesting. I"d been asked if I'd coach the child of one of the adults who plays on a Saturday morning in our little social tennis group that's come together at the local recreation ground. In the process of preparing I met another parent with their daughter who was interested in joining and then two more and finally another parent came to me to ask if I would consider coaching their son. Now until they sign up and pay the money it's just a possibility, and by next weekend it might all have come to nothing, but you never know.
Just around three years ago we were in the final throes of our time as local church leaders. Things were pretty clear that how we wanted to pursue ministry didn't fit with the model the local church wanted. To be honest, we knew right from the start that it was going to be tough, but it turned out to so much harder than even I imagined. Anyway, that situation precipitated our buying a home of own and a change of direction. After two and a bit years in our new community we've begun to see signs of things opening. Working with the community, learning to be in the community, we're taking small steps through sport to engage with people.
Over the last couple of years we've often been asked how the new church is going, have we got a building yet, what have we been doing? Many of these questions presuppose a particular expression of mission and ministry that produces some gathered group in a building somewhere on a Sunday morning as a sign that we're succeeding in mission. For good or ill we've fought against that. Not that meeting together is unimportant or that gathering a group for worship and discipleship is irrelevant. It's just that we didn't want to be be defined by a model too soon, and we didn't want simply to reproduce what many others are already doing in our community.
So, instead of describing what church is and then trying to fit that into what we are doing, or worse still trying to fit what we are doing into a prescribed definition of church, we're simply trying to see what God is up to and how we can be part of that, building relationships as we go. We've talked about what else we can do if the Sunday morning coaching grows. About how we could open up the Pavilion for tea and coffee during the colder months, maybe have the Sunday papers out.
The pattern is simple, it is about responding to what we see around us, the opportunities that arise from just being amongst ordinary people doing ordinary things. We haven't cracked it by any means, and we're not celebrating some sort of breakthrough in mission. It may all come to very little. It may all disappear as quickly as it appeared. The council might ban us! Who knows.
What is exciting is that we don't know. There are no predictable outcomes, no established measures. When I was training as a therapist we were constantly told that we must learn to see through our sense of touch. We even spent one training session working with blindfolds on. Living a missional life is, in many ways, a process of learning to see without using your church-conditioned eyes. It's about setting aside the filters through which we always used to see things.
Measuring missional success is a tricky business. For some, the measure will always remain pretty much as it was in the legacy model of church. For others the measure may drift too far from the intentional outcomes of the kingdom. When I get worried about outcomes I remind myself of something I tell myself constantly while I play tennis. Process not outcome. Between points, especial when I mess up a shot or make an error, I flick my wristband and say to myself, "Process, not outcome." It's a simple reminder that if I focus on the process, the outcome will take of itself. On the other hand, if I focus solely on the outcome, the process invariably gets messed up.
When it comes to the kingdom, God does the saving, he takes care of the outcome because that's his job not mine. If I pay attention to the process, the being there for people, making relationships, forming friendships, sharing stories and hearing stories, then I believe the outcome will take care of itself because it's in God's hands and not mine. This, I believe, is being intentional without being gladiatorial in mission.