B.E.L.L.S. without whistles for mission

Surprise the World: The Five Habits of…

Reviewed by Ted Witham

Under $10 online. $6.95 from Christ’s Church, Anglican Parish of Mandurah. Digital version at Exponential (free)

ISBN 9781631465161

Michael Frost, Surprise the World: the five habits of missional people, Colorado Springs: NavPress, 2016.

Insanity, they say, is doing the same thing over and over and expecting a different result. We Christians at the beginning of the 21st Century should recognise that kind of insanity: if we expect our usual patterns of worship, however contemporary and relevant,  to continue to draw people into Christ, then we shall continue to be disappointed by the Church.

There is a place for ministry to Baby Boomers using traditional worship, but every member of the congregation is aware that the mean age of our fellow church-goers is increasing. In other words, Baby Boomers are aging, dying and not being replaced by younger people. Older people in their eighties continue trying to keep up the level of Christian activity that had when younger, and are experiencing burnout and disillusionment.

Photo courtesy St John the Divine Anglican Church, 
Courtneay, British Columbia 

The answer is not more of the same. The Anglican pattern of gathering everyone for the Sunday Eucharist is only 60 years old, going back to the Parish and People Movement of the 1950s. We can dare to envisage new ways of being church.

Bunbury’s new Bishop, Ian Coutts, has been circulating copies of Surprise the World! as he visits parishes in his diocese. Bishop Ian states that responding to the Good News of Christ is pretty simple, really. Loving each other so that we want to reach out and love others.

He has chosen a book that all Anglicans can use and act on. The book is about “shar[ing] your faith in surprisingly simple ways.”
Australian evangelist Michael Frost, Co-founder of the Forge Mission Training Network, encourages us to follow his model of B.E.L.L.S.: “We BLESS people, both inside and outside the church.  We EAT together, sharing meals with believers and non-believers alike.  We LISTEN to the … Holy Spirit. We intimately LEARN CHRIST, … [and] we see ourselves as SENT by God to everywhere life takes us.”

The strength of this model is that it does not assume that every Christian is a gifted evangelist. Few Christians are: most of us are to live our lives so that they provoke questions, “living a questionable life”, and answer them simply and directly as they arise out of our mixing with nonbelievers.

Frost emphasises that the B.E.L.L.S. model is not a one-off program, but the cultivation of life-long habits that will feed this evangelistic lifestyle. The model as described is not difficult or complicated, and it sounds fun, social justice will be practised and beauty will be encountered.

I am impressed by this little book. As a Franciscan tertiary, my first aim is to “make Christ known and loved everywhere”. These habits will speed my steps to opening doors to conversations about the Good News.

I am also in ongoing pain, a misfiring of my nervous system. Pain is closely related to depression: if you have pain, the pain will eventually make you depressed. Two spiritual strategies to defeat the depression, and so modulate the pain, are to reach out to others in need and put yourself out in the community (and not hide away in dangerous isolation). B.E.L.L.S. gives me means to do that (BLESSing and EATing) and also shows how to nurture these activities through prayer and Bible study (LISTENing and LEARNing Christ).

There are questions for discussion for each chapter of Surprise the World! These will help readers take in what they have discovered and put the five habits into practise.

I am delighted that Bishop Ian recommended the book to me, and that he is encouraging others to discover B.E.L.L.S. and whistles (no whistles actually!) I read the book in three hours. Now I want to find three people to meet with, discuss the book, and get busy. Hopefully, B.E.L.L.S. will lead away from insanity!

Matching Abilities to the Tasks of God’s People

Sermon 6 November 2011

St Mary’s Busselton

Shaped 2011: A (Abilities)
Exodus 35:30 – 36:3
Psalm 18:30-37
I Corinthians 3:5-15

The Holy Gospel of our Lord Jesus Christ according to St Matthew, the eleventh chapter, beginning at verse 28:
Glory to you, Lord Jesus Christ.
28 Come to me, all who labour and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest. 29 Take my yoke upon you, and learn from me, for I am gentle and lowly in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. 30 For my yoke is easy, and my burden is light.”
For the Gospel of the Lord:
Praise to you, Lord Jesus Christ.

At different times in the history of God’s people, there has been a task. For the people of Israel settling in the city of Jerusalem, the task was to build a temple. Before that, in the civil war that tore Israel apart for many years, the task was for David to survive and to defeat Saul. In the years after the death and resurrection of Jesus the task for God’s people was to spread the Good News that Jesus rising from the dead had made a difference.

Each of the tasks required God’s people to get on board, to offer themselves for the task, to work to implement God’s will. God invites us to share in the work that God is doing. Many of the tasks set for God’s people, perhaps most of the tasks, are beyond the capacity of human beings. But the story of God’s people shows us again and again that God equips God’s people to carry out these tasks.

Expert jewellers and fine craftsman were required to finish off the Temple. They were called, empowered by the Holy Spirit, and commissioned for the task. The final product – the first Temple of Solomon – was extraordinary. Bishop Gregory of Tours listed it as one of the Seven Wonders of the Ancient World. Bezalel and Oholiab and the other craftsmen evidently did their job well!

Solomon's Temple

Before there could be a capital city for David, there had to be a peace settlement. David rebelled against King Saul, and spent twenty years waging guerrilla war against Saul. I find East Timor an intriguing parallel, because José Ramos Horta and Xanana Gusmao, who both started out as theological students, compared their guerrilla war with that of David against Saul. Gusmao modelled himself directly on David, describing himself as a poet-warrior like his hero.

Xanana Gusmao

For guerrilla war, you need warriors, and not just any warriors but warriors equipped for a dirty war in the harsh terrain of Palestine: warriors with the agility of mountain goats and deer; warriors trained to wait on a higher rock and pounce from above on their enemy; warriors who could handle the crossbow, the most high-tech weapon of the time; warriors who could outrun their enemies with sure footing on slippery, winding paths.

I’m not sorry that God’s people don’t need warriors now. The idea is repugnant to our era. But they needed them then, and God, through David, called them, equipped them and used them.

Paul knew that God’s message of risen love needed messengers to tell it, and we can pick this attitude out from the messy controversy that Apollos seems to have caused. You don’t need to take sides: I’m with Paul; I’m with Apollos. What you do need are more messengers. And although we now don’t know the whole context, Paul is calling for specialisation. If he has built the foundation, they now needed some messengers to consolidate those foundations, others to build on them, others to take them further afield.

These are just some of the Biblical accounts of how God’s people challenged with a task found that God raised up and equipped people with the right abilities.

You know that I am a fan of St Francis of Assisi. St Francis was born into a Europe that was changing. Trade was bringing into existence the first Eurozone. As a boy, Francis travelled with his father on trips from Assisi in central Italy across the Alps into France to buy cloth. In Francis’ time, cash money – coins – was just becoming the currency of choice. St Francis noted, for example, that the wealthy held onto the first-rate coins and the poor tended to have the poorly minted coins which lost their value. The rich could become richer, and the poor even more destitute.

St Francis marries Lady Poverty

The task for God’s people was to challenge this greed, and St Francis, with his radical message of voluntary poverty had the particular abilities needed for this task. I think if St Francis were alive today he would have been occupying Wall Street. He would have understood how greed distorted the money system and unjust men could rip off others. But notice a crucial difference: the means by which the bankers have been ripping off the poor in America is by sub-prime lending. St Francis would probably not be the man to confront today’s task of calling out greed; someone else whose abilities are related to today’s injustices is being called and equipped and commissioned for the task of God’s people. No doubt St Francis would be a great inspiration for that person.

During World War II, God’s people were called on to resist Nazism. This task split the Lutheran church and caused great tensions in the Roman Catholic Church, which are still there today. Was Pope Pius XII hero or collaborator?

The Lutheran theologian Dietrich Bonhoeffer found himself with the abilities needed to resist Hitler. He first challenged the myth of the superior Aryan by nurturing a non-violent community in his underground theological seminary at Finkenwalde. He was involved in two plots to kill Hitler, and we might debate whether he was morally right to go down this path. He was imprisoned and hanged a month before the capitulation of the Nazis.

What can’t be debated is the mix of skills and background that Bonhoeffer brought to the task. He was a fine theologian; his family were the cream of Berlin society with all the connections that implied; he was articulate in person and in writing and a man of courage.

Pastor Bonhoeffer

In the series of SHAPED 2011, we are today at the letter ‘A’ for ‘Abilities’. You remember that we started two weeks ago with ‘S’ for ‘Spiritual Gifts’. The foundational fact is that we are loved by God. This is the most basic spiritual gift. Being loved means we know that we are worthwhile, that God can use us to work with him. Being loved enlarges our capacity in turn to love others. We are given a heart for God’s work. Last week’s word was ‘H’ for ‘Heart’ or ‘Passion’.

David, St Paul, St Francis of Assisi and Dietrich Bonhoeffer are all mighty examples of people who knew how deeply God loved them, and who responded with heart and passion to that love. We will see next week under the letter ‘P’ for ‘Personality’ that God used people’s unique personality to set about his plans. Each of us has a unique combination of talents and potentials. No one is like you, and it is precisely your uniqueness that God uses.

For this week, however, our focus on ‘A’ for ‘Abilities’ is an encouragement that God provides the abilities needed for the tasks of God’s people. All the talent this congregation needs to perform the tasks God asks of us is here.

Some questions for you to ruminate on then: what are the tasks of mission God is calling St Mary’s Busselton to? What talents, skills, platform – abilities – are needed to carry out these tasks? Do some of these abilities seem too hard for the people God has on hand? And what are the talents you bring? What are the abilities God will find in you to foster and encourage and use for God’s glory?

Let us pray:
Loving God, you give to those ask the ability to carry out the tasks that you have set your people: Give us insight, we pray, to know what mission you are calling this parish to.
Show us the abilities needed to fulfil this mission.
Stir our hearts to ask you for the abilities we need,
and give us the courage and confidence to use those abilities in your service,
through Jesus Christ our Lord.