New Ways to do Mission?
There are three desks in my large study at Cliff College: one is a table that supports my large computer, phone and printer; the second was a gift from my first circuit and has a brass plaque with my name on; and the mahogany desk I’m using now is historic. A young Howard Mellor sat at it, before him Malcolm Pears, Herbert Silverwood and other great Methodist evangelists. What an inspiring desk to write from!
The legacy of the past is both an inspiration and a problem! Take Cliff missions as an example. After meetings I’ve conducted in different parts of the country, often men and women come up to me with phrases like ‘I became a Christian at a Cliff mission’. I’ve even had people who’ve told me they were converted by the Trekkers before the war! I always find those conversations inspiring. People who found faith on a Cliff mission and have gone on with the Lord in the challenging life of discipleship, still there years later, part of the worshiping community. These are the hallmark of Cliff’s evangelistic ministry and are motivational to us today.
However, the problem is that people still think Cliff missions are just the same as when they were converted. Recently someone asked a Cliff evangelist (actually during a mission!) ‘Do you still do missions?’ Our passion for seeing people coming to faith in Christ is still the same. The college as a community of prayer with a burden for the lost is still the same. The keen enthusiasm of our students to see lives changed is still the same. But … our methods have changed – we don’t have ‘Sunshine Corner’ any more!
Take the pre-Easter mission I was involved in this year. For ten days myself and a small team worked in Harworth in the Doncaster Circuit. We worked amongst the community, giving a different twist on the regular activities rather than holding ‘special’ meetings. We worked with young people and the three nursing homes in the village. Linking in with the local minister, one-off house groups were set up - one on the theme of ‘The Spirituality of your Child’. This was an attempt to reach the parents of babies baptised in that church who are never seen in church. We also held a ‘Bereavement Group’ to link in with the many funerals taking place at the churches. A first for me was the use of drama as an evangelistic tool; a drama club was held three times during the mission week - one of the students who has a background in drama and dance ran it with the local kids and teenagers, building up to a performance based around the passion of Jesus. The Sunday evening congregation witnessed this powerful production and a number of the youngsters came to faith through this. One of the lads said ‘Acting as a Roman soldier really brought the story alive for me’.
During an ecumenical mission in Dronfield, Derbyshire we worked as partners with Share Jesus International. There one of the teams held a ‘Ladies Night’; two women were plucked out from those buying tickets to have a ‘makeover’. The local hairdresser, manicurist, dress shop and even dentist donated time and goods to an uproarious evening which was interjected by local Christian women saying something of the ‘makeover’ God had given them. Another ran an environmental project; they transformed a grubby valley with a river running through it. The river, littered with old bicycles, bedsteads and rubbish, became a beautiful place. The RSB sponsored the team to put up bat/bird boxes; they filled two skips of junk, and built a whole new pathway through the area – the local press found this rather than my Sunday morning sermon the headline news!
In October we are doing something new for Cliff: taking the entire college across to the Isle of Man and working with the Methodist District for an island-wide mission with five mission stations. Cliff tutors will be conducting teaching sessions in the mornings to look at ‘New Ways of being Church’ and we will be involved in appropriate mission work in each place. The Villa Marina in Douglas has been booked for a final District Celebration. A couple of other large circuits in the Methodist connexion are now showing interest in doing a similar thing in the future.
For Pre-Easter 2007 we are going to run special 5-day missions that could be linked in with a local school where the team could be involved in assemblies, lessons and after-school outreach activities at either primary or secondary level. The cost based on a team of 4-6 people would be in the region of £515 - please get in touch if you would be interested in using a team. Because of new freedoms to use District and Circuit Advance Funds for mission, obtaining grants isn’t the problem it once was.
The demand for missions has been so great recently that the Evangelism team I head is about to expand. The department currently includes myself, and three full time members of staff: Helen Edwards who deals with missions and placements, Sue Peat who heads the GAP year programme and Eva Walker, the European Evangelism Enabler. Our part-time secretary is Alison Woodgate, a local preacher in the Chesterfield Circuit. In September we are starting the new role of Student Evangelist who will live and eat in the college and receive £30 per week pocket money. They will be mentored by me and take an active role in leading missions and discovering all about the prayer, finance, and careful planning that a mission needs. This scheme has come about in a marvellous way: at the end of the last college year some students commented that they would like to have worked as volunteers our department; this seed idea developed into us putting out a limited financial appeal at Christmas - with astonishing results! We had the £4,000 needed by the Cliff committee meeting on 26th January. One church which had not received a leaflet but heard about the scheme sent £1,000; I preached at a circuit rally and they sent the collection to us; many faithful people sent us gifts between £5 and £250; and most astonishingly the Sunday before the committee meeting when we needed a final £1,000 I spoke at a church and very briefly mentioned the fund – but not how much we needed. The superintendent gave us £100, and as I was leaving a chap called me over and handed me a wad of £20 notes, wanting to be anonymous. I’d have loved his name and address to write and thank him. He didn’t say how much there was, but when I arrived home and asked my youngest daughter to count it, there was £900!
So at this desk where men of faith have sat in the past, I sit - my knees knocking at the challenges ahead. Like them, I too trust in the living God.
Steve Wild is the Director of Evangelism for the Methodist Church based in Cliff College.
Headline, Summer 2006, pp.19-20