Repositioned for Mission

Guest post by Jason Shiels, pastor of Liberty church in Cookstown.

The Call to Missional Church in Ireland

Our story in mission has centred around being at the heart of three church plants. The first on support staff in North India, and the next two in Dublin and now Cookstown in Mid-Ulster as founding pioneers and pastoring along with my amazing wife Ali and family.

On return ‘home’ to Northern Ireland I was acutely aware that I was returning to what Chris Wright states, ‘has to be one of the most ‘evangelized’ small patches on the globe.’ However, in his book The Mission of God Wright laments that this ‘certainly did not produce a society transformed by the values of the Kingdom of God.

Similar prophetic understanding and Biblical worldview have been central to our teaching and equipping ministry at Liberty Church in Cookstown and the practical mission of our church. Wright’s hard-hitting but honest appraisal as a ‘son of Northern Ireland’ is further illustrated by saying:

It was (and still is) possible to hear all the language of evangelistic zeal and all the language of hatred, bigotry, and violence coming from the same mouths.

Christopher Wright, The Mission of God.

Compassion and Justice

Wright points to the source of the dichotomy as being a need for Christians to ‘understand the wholeness of what the Bible so emphatically shows to be God’s mission for his people‘ (Wright, p.321). In Northern Ireland, as Evangelicals, we have typically believed that evangelism by itself will result in social change.

We have banged the drum hard for ‘personal salvation’ and getting people to heaven (vital!) but sadly with much less of the accompanying rhythm of being discipled in Word and Spirit, seeking first the Kingdom and the vital posture of compassion and justice to a damaged world.

Thankfully I see that many Christians on our island are awakening to the breadth and depth of the missional heart of God revealed in Scripture (which of course includes evangelism as a vital component of mission). The way we read our Bible and how we understand mission needs to be definitively built on a Biblical worldview, not sub-cultural norms.

Being a Missional Church During Lockdown

One aspect of this worldview, God’s justice and compassion, has been pivotal to how we have operated during the Coronavirus lockdown. Compassion and mission are inseparable. Alan Scott in his book Scattered Servants says:

We certainly don’t need more people embarking on the Great Commission without great compassion.

Alan Scott, Scattered Servants, p.182.

If that was true before Covid-19 then it’s even more true now!

Shortly after lockdown, God opened doors for us at Liberty church to receive food donations from our local supermarkets as well as other donations and we quickly repurposed our premises in the heart of Cookstown to accommodate our own foodbank. We have seen a new team of volunteers thrown in at the deep end and thriving in their role to bring hope, help and support to many people in need at this most challenging of times.

Partnering Together to Bless the Community

We have done this with the Spirit’s prompting and the mandate to love our neighbour as ourselves. As a church we are determined to ‘wash the feet’ of our community and have seen new partnerships with several agencies and stakeholders develop as we have reached out to them. As a result, we are building relationships and receiving referrals from other key workers.

Just last week, out of the blue, I received news too from a local agency that they wanted to give our Foodbank a grant to help out. The amazing thing was that we hadn’t even applied for this funding! Vision attracts God’s provision.

In addition to Foodbank we have done leafleting of estates to inform people of what services we offer the community. I have been humbled as our church volunteers have handed out hundreds and hundreds of leaflets even amid the Coronavirus risk. This has not been a time for churches to shut down, this has been a time for churches to respond to the need of their community.

Caring for the Vulnerable

We have been able to help some very vulnerable people because our volunteers have cared enough to trudge the streets and go to where the people are, rather than just expecting the people to come to us. One of the calls from this leaflet drop was from an elderly lady living alone who was desperately lonely and had no table or cooker.

Thankfully she now has both a table and a cooker in addition to our ongoing support. This happened through the initiative of one of our ministry team who organised the whole thing almost single-handedly. This is just one of many acts of kindness and generosity.

Serving Wherever There is Need

We also have responded to the increasing need for counselling with our trained therapists. There is a sense in which this unfolding mental health crisis will be bigger than any of us can ever have imagined or can cope with alone. I believe that as churches we can be part of the solution, either directly through counsellors or in other ways through befriending type ministry or social hubs such as our mums and tots, ladies or community events.

We also have vision for those with entrepreneurial skill and experience to rise up and use it for the sake of the community (see Proverbs 11:10). Such vision for the marketplace is also happening in other ways, like with one of our ladies at Liberty who works as a health worker with mums and babies, but is also working with younger or single mums in the community outside of work as a compassionate friend who also runs a Kingdom rich support group.

Our Kairos Moment

As churches seek to go back into gathered church services, we must not miss this Kairos moment and seek to cling to old and tired models out of a craving for familiarity. Too many churches have been all about the Sunday, reminiscent of an OT ‘temple’ model whereas the Lord has been busy repositioning his church in lockdown to be more de-centralised and engaged with the community around us. Let’s not miss the repositioning.

There has surely been more of God in this lockdown than we realised?

Jason Shiels

Jason Shiels is pastor of Liberty church in Cookstown. Jason loves building relational and Spirit-connected partnerships for the Kingdom around Northern Ireland/Ireland and beyond.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *