Book: Not so secret: Being contemporary agents for mission
Graham Orr has worked for a number of years in Japan in urban Tokyo and this book exploring the task of being mission agents in normal life has been a really helpful and informative read for me. Although much of the experience is based on observations from Japan, Orr has thoughtfully related this to the similar challenges which face the church across the UK.
Challenge to the worldview
Firstly, Orr helpfully shows throughout this book that there is the need for the standard “Christendom” worldview to be challenged. Many churches across the UK face great difficulties; of that there is no doubt. However seeking to regain what many seem to believe has been lost is not the answer and it will not return. In a winsome way we are encouraged to look up and look out at what is around us now.
This is incredibly helpful to remember that our worldview always needs to be challenged. When it does not we become comfortable and dare I even say lazy about the whole area of evangelism and discipleship. Churches could get away with this in “Christendom”. But the new day which churches in the UK face means that such a laissez faire attitude will only lead to further demise and increased irrelevance.
Encouragements to rethink practice
Having spent many years working in Tokyo, the largest urban gathering of people in the history of the world, Orr has clearly had to think through how to communicate the gospel in this cross cultural scenario. And one of the best things that he asks the reader to consider during the course of his book is what authentic Christianity looks like and how it should be put into practice. Reflecting on this issue from the context of the increased busyness of contemporary urban life he writes; “We need to free ourselves from structures that are no longer helpful and capture a fresh dynamic of open community.” (p.110)
Working life is taking up much of the time that people have in any given week. And usually, but not always, that is not through the choice of the individual. For UK churches the challenge is adaptation and as Orr puts it, “We all need to think through the unintended consequences of how we do church and how we spend time on Sundays” (p.110)
Encouragements to rethink action
The Japanese context helps greatly in shaping this observation. In a uniform culture seeing others who step out and provide community and practical love and care is a huge thing in showing the distinctive difference of the kingdom of God. And should that not be something which the church in the UK is known for? Especially those who hold to evangelical orthodoxy?
The great challenge that came to the early church was to be doers of the word not just hearers (James 1:22). We may know the truth, but has that truth actually set us free to live in such a way that we point people to Jesus in word and action?
And, very helpfully, Orr draws our attention to this aspect. He takes note of the need to genuinely care for others. He states, “the verbal need for proclamation is paramount. But without showing full-blooded care, we strip ourselves of any authentic base from which to pass on the the unique message of hope that Jesus brings.” (p.95)
This is both a good read and an enjoyable read helping us to consider how we can become more like Jesus and take up the task of being effective agents of God’s mission.