Leap Over the Wall or Perish
Inspired by the missiologist John V Taylor, Cathy Ross, co-author with Jonny Baker of Imagining Mission with John V. Taylor, imagines three pictures of what church could look like.
John Taylor was certainly the master of a pithy phrase or a fascinating word picture. Jonny and I loved discovering these as we delved into his travel diaries and CMS Newsletters from back in the 1960s and 70s! We really felt like we were unearthing hidden treasure. So who was John Taylor and why were we so excited? He had been a mission partner in Uganda in the 1940s and 50s before becoming General Secretary of the Church Missionary Society (CMS) from 1963-74. We discovered that his insights into mission were fresh and radical and that he drew on imagination for engaging in mission in ways that were creative and generative. And this was part of our history, our story as we are part of CMS. We felt like we were owning part of our history and that it was coming alive for us. Taylor’s posture of humble listening, attentive curiosity and lively interest in the world around him captivated us. We couldn’t believe how pertinent and contemporary his ideas still are for our context today. For example, having taught theology in Uganda, in the local language, this forced him to think in concrete terms. He asserted that theology is living and emerges out of a dynamic encounter with the world. In fact he later claimed that there is no such thing as safe theology – we loved that!
These were the kind of ideas that excited and emboldened us to write this book and to dream about how we could be not only more creative, but also bolder and more innovative in our mission and theology. The book is framed around three sections – Church, Mission and Society. Inspired by Taylor, we imagined and dreamed what church could look like in our era, what mission might mean for us and we addressed interfaith and environmental issues, both of which Taylor wrote on presciently and prophetically. At the end of each section there are creative exercises to help you stretch your imagination and be bold and imaginative in mission.
So here are three word pictures to whet your appetite:
Cherish the weakness of limited means
I love this! One of CMS’ founding principles is “put money in second place.” I think the global pandemic has revealed and unmasked how limited our means are if we only think in certain ways. But let’s flip this and cherish this as weakness, as the apostle Paul did. Let’s celebrate and cherish the small, the weak, the ordinary and let’s be content with that. There is much that can be celebrated and ‘achieved’ without large resources and funding. Simple neighbourly relationships, human connection and sharing lives only need vulnerability, openness and courage.
Get off your high horse and muck in
We have seen some of this in the pandemic, especially in the community with thousands volunteering and helping out in creative ways. This is a message for the church in our time. As one friend put it to me rather poignantly, “this is a great opportunity for us to get church out of the church.” She was sad and frustrated at how insular the church has been – arguing over how to administer communion, when can we get back into our buildings – rather in-house discussions in the context of a global pandemic!
Leap Over the Wall or Perish
We think this is a prophetic word for the church. Get church out of church. Get out there and get stuck in. Mission is not about getting people in. It is about being out and about. Whatever the wall is for you – whether it is in your head, in your PCC, in your community or context, or a literal wall as in the picture, leap over it into God’s big wide world, God’s amazing, diverse, wonderful world. As Taylor said (and here is a fourth insight), “the world is the church’s milieu.”
Cathy Ross is Head of Pioneer Mission Leadership Training, CMS, Oxford.