This is what we are about…

This is what we are about:

we plant the seeds that will one day grow;

we water seeds already planted, knowing that they hold promise;

we lay foundations that will need further development;

we provide yeast that produces effects far beyond our own capabilities.

We cannot do everything, and there is a sense of liberation in realizing that.  This enables us to do something, and to do it well.  It may be incomplete, but it is a beginning, a step along the way, and opportunity for the Lord’s grace to enter and do the rest.

We may never see the results, but that is the difference between the master builder and the worker.  We are workers, not master builders; ministers not messiahs.  We are prophets of a future not our own.

Shane Claiborne and Jonathan Wilson-Hartgrove, Common Prayer – A Liturgy for Ordinary Radicals

Seeing beyond the picture frame

Seeing beyond the picture frame

In our day to day lives, it can be a struggle to look beyond the picture that we see. There’s a framework of life we live within; often defined by our routine, job, commitments, ministries. This keeps us occupied and consumed; it’s what we see and know and experience. This framework is the same one in which we are tempted to box God into, and even then we often don’t see what he’s doing when it’s right in our very midst. Our view is narrow, partial, incomplete, limited by our eyesight and perspective.

While taking a walk at Killerton House, Devon, I came across this beautiful frame that had been positioned to capture the landscape ahead. It was strange how this frame didn’t obstruct or interrupt the view, but rather made it more striking, forcing me to take note of that which was within the frame, and that which was beyond it. The frame also had no influence on squashing or restricting the landscape beyond – it couldn’t contain the whole picture. This frame only tells part of the story.

The photograph above is equally inadequate at demonstrating the vastness of the surroundings. There is still so much beauty spilling out that doesn’t make it into the frame, or even the edges of the photo, and so much stretching further still beyond the horizon, faded by the cloud cover, and transcending beyond the reach of the human eye.

This prompted me to reflect on how God is always at work beyond what we see. In Ephesians 3:20, we read of how God is able to do ‘immeasurably more that we can ask or imagine’ (NIV) – ‘superabundantly’ (AMP). There are no limits to God’s power, goodness, and grace at work. He isn’t confined by a frame, there is no horizon, because there is no ending! There is always a ‘beyond’ that we can’t comprehend.

As the heavens are higher than the earth, so are my ways higher than your ways and my thoughts than your thoughts.”

Isaiah 55:9

This is a humbling scripture to read – because it reminds us that we haven’t got much of a clue when it comes to God’s ways and thoughts – and the extent of our cluelessness is measured by how much higher the heavens are than the earth! And yet it is also deeply encouraging; we can rest in certainty that while we cannot see the whole picture, it is held in the hands of a God of unfathomable goodness, justice, mercy. A creator who breathes life, and has redeemed our lives.

This view gives us just a glimpse of his beauty and splendour, and we can rejoice in knowing that he is intimately part of the small picture that we see, yet his majesty and hand at work extends so far beyond this. This encourages us to rest in him and trust that he knows what he’s doing with our lives and with this world, both of which can overwhelm us at times. He’s at work in the seen and the unseen. For now, we know in part, but one day we will know in full. (1 Corinthians 12:13)

 

Chelsea – what can they teach us about teamwork?

Soccer fans the world over will know that Chelsea recently won the prestigious European Champions League, albeit after a penalty shootout against Bayern Munich.  At last an English team finally beat some Germans on penalties! But then again, for a long time we’ve all known that Chelsea aren’t really an English team. They just play in England.

They have a Russian owner, an Italian manager, and a multi-national team. The starting line up for the match against Bayern featured players from seven different countries in three continents. Like most top-flight English clubs, they care more about the quality of their players than their nationality. So how can Chelsea create an effective multi-cultural team when many mission agencies can’t?

If we can overlook the fact that unlike us Chelsea have billions of pounds available to attract and motivate some of the world’s best players, what can we learn from them so that we can up our game and be effective in global mission?

First, an effective team needs a team vision. Vision supersedes individual cultural preferences, personality types, and preferred working styles. We might think that a salary of £50,000 a week is enough to motivate anybody, but the fact is that it is not. Research shows that for nearly everybody the money they receive is not a motivating factor in their work. Professional footballers are driven by the need to win, to get medals, trophies and cups.  Yet even the most egocentric prima donnas can’t win on their own.  They all have to put the needs of their team above their own glory. You might think that the top goal scorers get there by being selfish – hogging the ball so that they can score the most goals. Yet some of the world’s most notable scorers – Didier Drogba, Steven Gerrard and Cristiano Ronaldo (yes, that Ronaldo) are also among those who make the greatest number of assists: passing the ball to another striker who then scores.

Which begs two questions: how much do we want our team to win, and how much effort do we put into helping our colleagues succeed? Every ministry has its visions, mission statements and values, and some of us are able even to quote them, but do we really buy into the team’s success?  Are we really team players, or are we more concerned about our own ministry?  Yes, we are all under pressure to perform personally, and are accountable to our churches and supporters for what we are doing, but how many of us are prepared to answer the call of our agency and put our own ministries on the back burner if we are asked to? Sadly I am more likely to hear statements such as ‘that’s not  what I came here to do’ or ‘it’s not my calling’ than ‘if that’s what the team needs, we’ll do it’.

And how good are we at being team players? Are we aware of where other players are being marked, and do we run in to relieve them? Do we stay in position or are we the ones who are off side? Do we notice when a colleague is flagging, and change our play to help take up the workload? One of the things that impressed me most about David Beckham on the field was not so much his skill at set pieces but his workrate. He popped up on the wing, in the centre, forward and back, helping others out, covering gaps. He covered weaknesses in defence and created opportunities for attack. It takes fitness to do that.

And are we really match-fit? What does that mean in our hectic world of stress, conflicting demands and running from crisis to crisis? Professional footballers spend more time training than they do competing. They understand that their on-field performance depends on their off-field performance. They exercise, practise set pieces together and even have dieticians and physios to make sure they’re in peak physical condition. What are the equivalents for us? Bible study, meditation and Ignatian prayer?  Team away days for teambuilding, scenario planning and role play? It will vary for each of us and our respective teams, but if we are going to be champions, we need to have the mental attitude of champions towards both our professional skills development and our continuing spiritual development.

When God is handing out the trophies after the ultimate final, are you going to be on the winning team? And what has it taken to get your team there?