“It’s all about following the missionary Spirit”
Ben Aldous shares on mission & evangelism
Rev Ben Aldous recently took on the role of Principal Officer for Evangelism and Mission here at CTE, following the retirement of Jim Currin.
Four months in, Ben has had the chance to settle in, begin to meet with people from across the CTE family and get to know his colleagues a little better. Here he offers some thoughts on what he sees as our priorities at CTE with regards to mission and evangelism, and also shares a little of his background in the process…
1. It’s all about following the missionary Spirit
Much of my life over the past 20 years has been a somewhat messy, haphazard attempt at following the missionary Spirit.
In 1972, John V. Taylor wrote a wonderful book entitled The go-between God. In it he reminded the English church that the chief actor in the enterprise of mission is the Holy Spirit. In trying to follow the Spirit of God, I have often been surprised, overjoyed and, at times, dismayed about where God has led me and to whom. Whether leading a small congregation meeting in bamboo hut besides the Mekong river in Cambodia or praying for people outside the municipal courts in Cape Town, all was a response to discerning what the missionary Spirit was already doing.
Our mission and evangelism all find their meaning and shape as we respond to the missio Dei. In that sense we are not, as churches, doing anything new. We are doing something old – as old as the prophets, apostles and saints throughout history, in listening to God at work in the world and responding in bold humility.
In 2017, CTE asked Theos to undertake research exploring the current state of ecumenism in England. Out of the findings of this report, we at CTE want to walk the fine line of both serving the English churches in mission and taking the lead on occasion. Part of our role in leading will be facilitating a gathering in March 2020 at High Leigh, bringing together churches, theological colleges, Bodies in Association and others to discuss and learn together what it means to be missionary disciples in an age of anxiety.
2. Join us at the table
I love food. The best meals are with lots of friends and family sharing good food – preferably Korean, Japanese and Thai.
When I lived in Cape Town, one of my favourite events in the church calendar was FEAST. In partnership with local Methodists, Vineyards, Presbyterians and a Shona-speaking African-Initiated Church (AIC), we met to share a gigantic meal together, inviting anyone and everyone from the local community. It was amazing to see local police officers sitting and eating with street people, and well-off business-men sharing a spot with asylum seekers.
Food is a great leveller. Everyone gets hungry and thirsty. Our role at CTE, as the national ecumenical instrument, is to remind our brothers and sisters of the churches in England that we need to make room at the table for everyone. We need to practice being companions together on a pilgrimage towards Christ Jesus. This is especially important when we live in a world of increasing polarisation – what Antje Jackelén has described as the ‘dangerous cocktail of polarisation, populism, protectionism, post-truth and patriarchy’ (The Ecumenical Review 71:1-2, 2019).
Who we eat with says much about our priorities. I want our table to be more diverse. The landscape of English churches has changed in the last 30 years since the Swanwick Declaration. We are more complex and diverse. How can we learn what mission and evangelism means from our brothers and sisters from the Serbian Orthodox Church or the Redeemed Christian Church of God? Moreover, can we meaningfully partner with each other in sharing the story of Jesus’ life, death and resurrection? Not just blessing each other’s endeavours, but truly sharing our resources.
One of my favourite Asian theologians Kosuke Koyama asked whether the church would be willing to crucify its resources. Are we willing to move from the centre to the periphery, and truly share together our resources?
3. Are we willing to learn a new language, grammar and syntax?
If we are to do the above, we need to be open to learn. When I lived in Cambodia between 2004 and 2009, before I could do anything very useful I had to learn a new language. Those of you who have had that opportunity will know it’s both wonderful and frustrating. Khmer, the Cambodian language, has 23 vowels and a completely different script to English, based on ancient Pali and Sanskrit.
Being able to speak to my Cambodian brothers and sisters required the discipline to listen and learn. In ecumenical mission, I wonder how much we are willing to learn each other’s ways of thinking and doing? With such a rich diversity of theologies and understandings of mission and evangelism, can we listen to and speak with one another, or is it often lost in translation? If our ecumenical conversations are going to involve only chatting with those we understand or agree with, it will not encompass the whole church nor the whole world. Who are the ecumenical conversations dominated by, and how can we make sure we have a richer conversation?
2020 looks like being a year of renewed commitment to evangelism. Advance 2020 is an evangelist movement that exists to promote and stir up the gift of the evangelist, building towards a huge year of outreach throughout the UK next year. Linked to this is Amplify which seeks to train the emerging Gen Z (11-18 year olds). The Anglican church are also looking to identify, train, release and mentor 1,000 evangelists, and are hoping to produce resources with the Methodist Church and others which will be freely available for the wider church in England.
In all these endeavours we need to be truly open to the Spirit who draws men and women, boys and girls, young and old into relationship with the living Jesus. We can be a gift to the nation if we learn to work together more fully.
Ben can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org