..or, refocusing the core identity of the church
I recently attended a session entitled ‘Ministry on the Edge’, although I wasn’t sure what ‘on the edge’ meant. Was it working in ‘edgy’ roles, ministering to people ‘on the edge’ of the church or engaging with those on the margins of society?
I was reminded of a time I had accompanied an ex-offender to his first appointments on release from prison. I was a community chaplain at the prison, and it was my job to meet him at the gate. During the forty minute bus journey to get to his home town, we talked.
He told about his family life. His mother was a heroin addict. His father had left when he was three. He had been in and out of care throughout his childhood, and his oldest brother was a well-known local drug dealer. Not visiting his brother was a condition of his release, due to the likelihood of him getting mixed up in criminal behaviour and re-offending. Instead he was given a place in a hostel on the edge of town. When I saw it I was shocked. I wouldn’t have placed my worst enemy there, let alone someone struggling to go straight after a life of crime. I knew he wouldn’t stay there, and I would be seeing him back at the prison in the very near future.
That piece of ministry might have been in an ‘edgy’ role with a person ‘on the margins of society’ and certainly on the fringes of the church; but, to him, that day was a pivotal moment in his life, and I was there alongside him.
One of the things I love about Christian ministry and service, in all its different forms, is the way God calls the unlikeliest of people to place those who might be considered ‘on the edge’ at the centre of their concern. The media might represent the church as an institution preoccupied with processional activities and doctrinal wrangles, but in reality, day by day, people, motivated by their faith in Christ, are visiting the sick and lonely, feeding the hungry, supporting those who want to turn their backs on a life of crime; and bringing hope to the hopeless.
What might be considered ministry ‘on the edge’ is, in reality, ministry ‘in the thick of it’ – ‘being’ the hands of Christ. All around the world, both within and outside the bounds of church, Christians evidence their faithfulness through faithful action.
The Spirit of the Lord is on me,
because he has anointed me
to proclaim good news to the poor.
He has sent me to proclaim freedom for the prisoners
and recovery of sight for the blind,
to set the oppressed free,
to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favour. (Luke 4.18-19)
That’s what churches do. That’s what Church is. While processional activities and doctrinal wrangles are both part of the rich fabric of the church, that’s not what Jesus claimed it to be about. It is by locating its core right in the thick of it, alongside the impoverished, the imprisoned, those who suffer inequality and the oppressed, that I believe the church can best fulfil its calling. In that way, we will get a better glimpse of God’s future – and the future of the church.
For more on relocating the focus of the church, click here.