How willing are we to change – to let go of our structures, our plans and our methods, to respond to the times, and do something new?
Recently I was at GOFest 2017. The GOFest leadership have decided to change their approach completely. Rather than an annual national conference they now hold their missions festival in a different region each year, and link with local churches there, to encourage them in mission and help them connect with each other.
I heard a striking analogy in one of the keynote addresses, given by John Risbridger, (minister of Above Bar Church, Southampton, and Chair of Keswick Ministries). He showed a picture of a beautiful wide suspension bridge, in the green tropical surroundings of Honduras. The bridge was expertly engineered to withstand any storm or bad weather. The next picture showed the same bridge a few years later. It was still standing, as elegant as ever – but now it was eerily alone: no road attached to it, there was just brown desert on either side; no river ran under it. The roads had been swept away by Hurricane Mitch, and the river course had been completely changed and flowed around the side of the bridge some distance away. The beautiful, expensive, carefully designed bridge was now a folly, with no use or purpose in the world.
Our churches, our mission agencies, our organisations, can be like that. We need to keep checking – is what we are doing still useful? Is there still any point in it? Is it reaching people where they are now? Is it contextual? We can all too easily spend time, money and energy trying to keep our beloved structures going, while everything around them has changed and they have become irrelevant.
Redcliffe College “moved their bridge” when we changed from being a residential, largely pre-field training college, to running mainly intensive MA programmes to offer continuing professional development style training to people already engaged in mission all over the world. The new pop-up hubs are also a way of being able to train people wherever they are.
We may dislike change, but God certainly doesn’t: the Bible is full of references to God doing new things, making new creations, pouring new wine into new wineskins… And see the example of Paul, who was willing to be flexible, who didn’t hold on to set methods or formulas, but adopted different approaches for the different people he went among.
So let’s be willing to look again at our churches, our mission agencies, our strategies and structures and ask the questions: are they still fit for purpose, are they still relevant, or are they carefully constructed, elegant bridges over empty river beds?