Do all Christians have a responsibility for mission? If so, what does mission involve? Must we all tell the gospel, or are acts of mercy appropriately missional? Furthermore, how should we think about mission in a time of global pandemic? Is the mission of Jesus on hiatus? In this episode, Chase Kuhn talks with Simon Gillham, head of the Department of Mission at Moore College and former missionary in Namibia, about how we should think about mission in the Christian life in times such as these.
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Runtime: 43:41 min.
CK: Mission is a common buzzword in church life. But many people are unclear about what it actually means. In particular, people are confused about what mission means for them in their life and circumstances. And in the current context of a global pandemic of coronavirus, even more confusion about mission exists as people come to terms with what it means to be an ambassador for Christ in lockdown. Today we consider whose responsibility mission is and how it can be carried forward faithfully in times such at these.
Chase Kuhn: Hello, my name is Chase Kuhn. I’m the Director of the Centre for Christian Living here at Moore Theological College in Sydney, Australia. And today, my guest is Simon Gillham, who is the Director of our Mission Department here at Moore College—who teaches Mission and Ministry here at the college, and has served ’round the world in various contexts as a missionary and as a pastor, and he’s also a very good friend of mine. Simon, welcome!
Simon Gillham: Thanks, Chase! Great to be here!
CK: Today we’re talking about the subject of mission—in particular, mission in times like these—that is, we’re living in the context of a pandemic: coronavirus, which has effectively shut us down here in Australia, as well as many other parts of the world, and the question that I have for you, Simon, broadly, is how we think about being faithful to what we’ve been called to in days like these?
Before we launch into that topic specifically, I’d love to just ask you what do we mean by “Christian mission” as we—as we think about that categorically?
SG: Yeah, well the language of mission comes from the words for sending. And so—particularly in John’s Gospel, the idea that Jesus is the sent one, but his disciples, the followers of Jesus, are sent. So he says in three different places, he talks about how just as the Father sent him, so he sends his disciples. And that—that’s where the—the whole idea from mission comes from.
There a couple of broad themes that are wrapped up in the descriptions of Jesus being sent. The overwhelming one in the Gospels is that Jesus is sent as the unique saving Son of God—the Messiah. So we’re not sent like that. That’s not how—that’s not what we are.
CK: Thank goodness!
SG: Thank goodness, yeah. That—that’s job been filled. But there—there are another two senses which—in which we are very much sent as Jesus was sent. The first is in obedience to his Father. And so the disciples of the Lord Jesus are called to obedience. And the last category is in terms of being speakers of God’s word or teachers of God’s word. And so, all of his followers are sent to speak. And so, at its heart, that’s what being sent is—is about: living lives of obedience and speaking the Word of God.
CK: That’s great. And—and in terms of thinking about those two categories—lives of obedience, speaking the words of God—who’s that for? I mean, you were sent specifically as a missionary at one point in time, with a mission agency. But who should we be thinking about as “on mission” in the Christian life?
SG: Yeah, I mean the—there is a reasonable sense in which you’d say, “Look, somebody we’re packing up and sending halfway around the world, that’s kind of a different category than somebody’s who’s staying in the suburb they grew up in.” And so, yeah, there is a kind of a category where it’s useful to say that person’s a missionary. But in terms of being a sent one—in terms of being one that’s sent from—a follower of the Lord Jesus who’s been sent, we’re all in that category. Mission is for everyone. And so, every believer actually has—has this wonderful opportunity—this wonderful calling—to both live lives of—of obedience, but also to speak words of truth and hope.
CK: Do we think that obedience actually means speaking? So, in other words, if we actually want to say that we are obedient to the master, we therefore must speak?
SG: Well, this is wrapped up in the Great Commission. I mean, that’s a—there—this classic “This is what mission is all about”—this classic verse, where Jesus says that he has called us to be obedient—the—we—we’re to be taught to obey all that he has commanded. But the last thing that he actually commanded was that you would go and make disciples. So you can’t live a life of obedience unless you go and make disciples. That was the very last thing Jesus commanded his disciples to do before he said, “Make sure everybody obeys what I say.”
CK: Yep. So all of us, then, have a mandate: make disciples. That’s something that should be part of our core business as Christians.
CK: And in what context do you think that plays out for each and every man and woman in the Christian faith? I mean, is this in the broader community? Is this in the church? Is this in the home? Is this overseas? What—what’s kind of the outlook that we’re supposed to be maintaining?
SG: Yeah, well there is certainly a ministry within families. And so, part of this making disciples is how we raise our children—is how we treat brothers and sisters—and those families you expand that out—that certainly happens in the church—that part of disciple-making is with our brothers and sisters in church and with serving other people’s children and looking up to those above us—there’s—there’s that aspect. But it’s beyond that: the—disciple-making begins at the very first mention of the name of the Lord Jesus, right through to growing people to maturity. And so, all of us have a part to play. We’re not all gifted evangelists. We’re not all going to be preachers. But we are all speakers. And to the extent that we are speakers, we are to speak of the wonder of the Lord Jesus.
CK: So it’s not necessarily, then, being able to articulate in some sermonic form the gospel or to stand on a—a pedestal or a podium or behind a pulpit and declare these truths. But it’s actually more inherent in the way that we’re living life and—and naturally sort of articulating the truths that we—
CK: —live by.
SG: Oh, absolutely! The—you know, the standing up and speaking one to a large crowd is such a small part of what evangelism is. Most of evangelism—I mean, I’d be making numbers up to give you a percentage, but you know, 99.9—most of evangelism is in relationship with people we know—is in the day-to-day conversations we have. It’s the 1 Peter idea: we live such good lives among the pagans that even though they want to accuse us of doing wrong, they can’t: there’s nothing to say, and they will glorify God on the last day. And that living a life commends the gospel in front of people—will give opportunity to where they will ask a reason for the hope that we have. I think that’s the shape that most evangelism takes: it’s little conversations.
CK: That’s helpful. And that brings me to something I’ve been wanting to ask you about: one of the classic divides, I think, in a lot of conversations about mission around the world revolve around whether or not mission is about acts of mercy—that is, social justice or kind of classic reaching out and helping out kind of ideas—or about exclusively thinking about telling of the gospel—that is, directly evangelising people. How—how do we think about these things? Is there—is there quite a polarisation in the way that we should think about mission? Is it one or the other? Is it both and? How—how should we be thinking of these things?
SG: Yeah, I mean historically there has been a real polarisation around this, and even today, different mission agencies will take very different views on this. It’s one of the things, if you’re looking into supporting mission, to really ask around—how does this agency see Christian living lives of obedience—whether it’s called social justice or acts of mercy—how do they see those things tied up with the life of proclamation?
I think one of the trends to be mindful of is that there’s a lot that goes under the label of “holistic mission”, which is a—a, you know, a really good attempt to say, “These things belong together”. But disappointingly, a lot that goes under the label of “holistic mission” really sidelines proclamation. And I think to the extent that you sideline proclamation, the moment you decide to do that, whatever you’re doing, it may be great, but it’s not going to be mission. If we think back to what I was saying from John’s Gospel, obedience and speaking the Word, they go together. If they don’t go together, then whatever you’re doing, it’s not truly Christian mission.
CK: So is there a proclamation without the obedience part?
SG: Can’t be! Can’t be a proclamation without the obedience part. But the obedience part also is not the proclamation. So I don’t—I can’t proclaim the gospel by the life that I live. In that sense, I can’t live the gospel. I can proclaim the gospel, but I can’t live the gospel. I can commend the gospel in the way that I live. But that’s not the same thing as doing evangelism. Evangelism is a speaking thing. And so, in mission, the person who speaks but does not live a life of obedience is simply a hypocrite, and they have no credibility—no authenticity—and in the eyes of the world, they will be dismissed and rightly so. But it’s a life of obedience and then speaking the words of truth.
CK: Yeah, and I guess, so many things that you’ve been saying remind me of different excuses that I’ve heard from people—of ways they would like to situate themselves. So you—you mention before that not everybody has a gift for evangelism. Some people would say they have a real heart for the marginalised or the poor, and so therefore people often want to find themselves in either “I’m just committed to mercy and justice” or sometimes people would say, “I don’t really have the means; I can only proclaim the gospel”. How do you help people when they’re trying to grapple with these things, to keep these things together?
SG: Yeah. Yeah. Look, there’s a lot of really good things that are done by Christian people in all kinds of ways. If it doesn’t involve the proclamation—the speaking about Jesus—if it doesn’t involve the proclamation of the gospel, I think we need to not use the word “mission” for those things. Which doesn’t mean you therefore stop doing it. It could be the right thing to do, and we need to do the right thing, whether they give us an opportunity to speak or not. So doing the right thing is always the right thing to do. And helping people with medicine and education and clean running water and stuff—if you’ve got engineering skills that help you to find clean water or to purify water, what a wonderful thing to do! And as a Christian person, that’s a tremendous thing to do. And if, in the course of doing that, you’re also speaking of the Lord Jesus—actively looking for those opportunities—that’s mission. And whether you’re doing that in a city in the western world or in the middle of Africa, it’s still mission, because it—that’s what your heart is in it for.
But if you have a separation of those things—so I go to work, and I do my engineering work, but I never speak, and then in another part of my life where I’m not an engineer, I’m just a member of church or I’m with my neighbour, I speak, that’s troubling where you’ve got a real dichotomy in your life—a separation. And I think you don’t want that for individuals and you certainly don’t want that for mission agencies. Doing the right thing, obeying the Father and speaking the words of the truth go together.
CK: There’s something about honesty and integrity in that, I think—in terms of character. So we really want to have integrity in who we are, and be true to who we are, and so, as disciples of Christ, then, we’re actually thinking about living under his lordship in every area of life, which, I think, comes back to the obedience element, but also means that we have to tell the truth about who we are and who we serve.
CK: And—and therefore, we have to speak in some capacity, don’t we.
SG: Yeah, absolutely. I think it is about integrity or authenticity. It’s about—you know, there’s not a switch that I flick where—where sometimes I’m a speaker and sometimes I’m not. Certainly there are times to speak and times to be quiet, but I don’t routinely enter into fragments of my life where I compartmentalise away my Christianity. That’s a problem. That’s a real problem.
CK: And that actually does damage to the gospel in the long-run, doesn’t it?
SG: Well, I think the integrity of the person who says they’re a follower of the Lord Jesus, but never mentions his name—I remember a friend of mine, long time ago, I was in the police force, and I resigned to come to Bible college to be a minister, and there were a couple of people that I’d been actively evangelising. But there were a lot of really hardcore guys at the station that, frankly, I was afraid of saying anything. And one of them caught me a couple of years later and he’d become a Christian and I had no idea, and he said to me, “You hung around me for years and you never mentioned Jesus to me!”
SG: And I felt massively rebuked.
CK: Yeah, wow.
CK: And pastorally, I mean, how do you help people get beyond that? I mean, there’s actually power in the testimony you just shared with us—I mean, your own risk of humiliation and—and learning from your own shame in the past helps us—
SG: Yeah, yeah!
CK: —to think differently about our own context, reflecting. But how do you pastorally help somebody to kind of get over that hurdle of maybe feeling ashamed about their faith in the public life?
SG: Yeah. I think the interesting thing about that shame is, it lessens every time you do it. And so, in prospect—in the—just the thought of it is overwhelming, and you think—you think the worst about how everybody’s going to respond. Every time I speak the words of the gospel to somebody else, I’m more confident about speaking the words of the gospel the next time. And so I think it—it’s helping one another to say the first thing and then to rejoice in whatever the response is, to say, “That was the right thing to do at the moment”. That was the right thing to do. And so, to just encourage one another to keep speaking the truth, I think, that’s the nature of Christian fellowship.
CK: And in a day where authenticity seems to be quite appreciated—I mean, bill—being true to yourself and true to who you are—how do you think that’s actually really received by the broader public?
SG: I think generally hypocrites are hated. Certainly in Australia, hypocrites are hated. And so, if you say you’re a Christian but don’t live that way, that’s the worst of all possible worlds. If you never mention why you live a particular way, nobody’s going to guess that it’s because of Jesus. So they’re—they’re not ever going to come to—they’re not going to guess on their own until you speak that this is about following Jesus. There’s no integrity in trying to be silent in a context where we’re actually able to speak. In other parts of the world, that may not be true. But it’s definitely true where we are: we are able to speak; we’re just afraid to speak.
CK: Well, let’s just think about speaking for a moment. In what ways do we do damage in the ways that we do speak? So we—we try to have a go—we try to—
CK: —we try to speak the gospel, but actually we do maybe more harm than good. Personally, I confess to you that I find certain efforts cringey and I get worried about being like that, where I make people cringe, which actually probably drives me personally away from speaking at times when I probably should, because of my fear of perception. So I—I do want to be aware of ways that—when we make people cringe. What do you think are unhelpful efforts and ways that we can hone in what we’re doing?
SG: Yeah. Look, I think the most unhelpful efforts are the tone deaf efforts. It’s the effort where you’ve got something pre-prepared that you want to deliver your package, and you turn up and it really doesn’t matter who you’ve turned up in front of; you’ve got your package and you’re just going to bowl on through it. Nobody responds well to that kind of communication. That’s the telemarketer that rings you up at dinner time when you’re trying to cook and they’re—they’ve got their script to get through and nobody wants to listen to that. And I think in our enthusiasm to train one another in evangelism, sometimes we’re so scripted, that actually it’s the very scriptedness of our speech that is off-putting.
So my number one tip is if you want to be a good speaker, you’ve got to be a good listener. So the more time we spend asking other people what they believe—what makes them tick—what’s important to you—the more you do that, the more just out of sheer politeness they’re going to one day ask you, “Well, you tell me: what do you believe?” That’s a very different conversation than the one where I’m thrusting into a space I’ve not being invited. I think that’s often what’s really cringeworthy for me, where—where people are shouting a script out and they haven’t—there’s no relational context where this is an appropriate way in which to communicate in this space.
CK: Yeah, and of course, the script, I mean, is a measure of confidence for people. So they’re insecure, they’re worried about what to say, so they lean into the script, which is something that is already there for them to recite. But it does often just ride right over the top of whoever they’re speaking to. It pushes right through them and really doesn’t communicate a lot of care for them. So I guess, in my—in my past and in the pastoral work that I’ve done, I’ve tried to get people to be really confident in the sort of ABCs of the gospel—the real building blocks. So that way, when they are listening out, they can find angles to work. But that’s a practised skill that takes a lot of time and a lot of—of trying, I guess, to get good at. And I’m still trying and—and working to get good at it myself.
But how—how do we do that better? I mean, when we’re listening out, what do we—what do we listen for and what kind of cues do we use to engage?
SG: Yeah. Look, I think you’re right, Chase: the longer you’re at it, the more you’re thinking about it, the better we’ll get. But we’re all a work in progress. I think you—you want to listen out for the kinds of things that signal depth for the other person. What really deep for them? What is—what’s making them tick? The more we listen out for that, and as I’m listening out, I’m listening out with all of my background knowledge of the word of God and what Jesus has done for me around. So I’m listening out for points of connection.
And often those points of connection will be around big heavy weighty things—like shame, guilt, like isolation or loneliness. Or estrangement. And when you hear those things, you can think, “Okay: people who are worried about their guilt, we’ve—we’ve got a message of righteousness. People who are worried about their shame, we’ve got a message of Jesus’ restoring us to a place of honour. People who are worried about feeling isolated and alone, we are reconciled to the living God through Jesus. So it’s—it’s listening out for the points of connection where the deepest longings that they are aware of or conscious of at that moment—if I can work out what part of the gospel it is that answers that need, then we’re really cooking.
CK: Yeah. I—I like to call those “fault lines”.
CK: And we’re watching for the fault lines, right? And usually it takes sometimes a crisis, which breaks into somebody’s normal routine—their normal way of coping in life—to expose that deeper longing or that yearning or that fear or anxiety—and that’s an opportunity to speak truth and words of truth and words of comfort and hope into that circumstance. And I guess that leads really nicely, actually, into the—the reason why we’re meeting today is to think about mission in days like this. I mean, here is a major cultural fault line: the whole world is a very unsettled place at the moment right now: people are—
CK: —are isolated, they’re not allowed to go to their normal places of—of gathering, they’re unsure about the future, some people are living in real fear and anxiety about what may come upon them—
CK: —what virus they may contract and what that will mean for their health. It seems like there is ample opportunity for mission today. And yet we’re lacking so many of those normal places where we would run into people—
CK: —in life. I know you’ve had to think a lot about this lately, Simon—partly because you’re coordinating a mission for our college where we’re going to be sending hundreds of students—or, I should say, we were going to be sending hundreds of students around.
CK: Now, you’ve been adamant that mission is not cancelled this year.
SG: That’s right.
CK: But we’re actually taking new measures to tell it well about Christ. How can we think about mission in a day where we are socially estranged from people? I—I know it’s a very big issue. Maybe we can un—unpack it—
SG: Yeah, yeah.
CK: —together. But—but where do we begin?
SG: Well, let me attack it from two ends. So firstly, the particulars of the pandemic—the crisis, I think do open fault lines in a secular worldview, and I’ve got to say, even just over the last week, a whole lot of my unbelieving friends have made contact with me and have tuned in online to listen a sermon that I’ve preached—things like that—people that I would have years have had no meaningful gospel conversation with. But they’re retouching base with me at this point, because significant bits of a secular worldview are under threat.
I mean, how do you maintain a radical individualism when you have a pandemic that sweeps everybody—that actually the—the points of connection between us around the world are act—are highlighted—more than every before? How do you maintain an idea that it’s only the imminent frame—the kind of what’s—just what’s around me that I can see and touch, which is real—when this tiny little thing that I can’t see or can’t touch is killing thousands around the world and threatening people all around us? How do I maintain the sense that there is no transcendent reality when actually there is a transcendence that is pressing in on us, and in the grief in that—that yearning—that longing that people have to know that life is meaningful, at this point, you hear public leaders who maybe have expressed no faith at all—at any point before—suddenly talking about praying again, because, well, there must be something bigger than this. Or refuse to believe that there’s not something bigger than this.
And so I think there are wonderful gospel opportunities opening up, and as people face the reality of their own mortality, in the context where perhaps the worldview that they’ve just slowly taken on themselves, maybe without ever making a decision—slowly taking it on, but now it crumbles quickly before them. And they’re faced at the same time with their own mortality. There are a lot of people asking big questions right now. So that’s the context of mission.
Multiplied with that is the fact that people are actually dying. So for a whole lot of people, the end of this life may be coming much sooner than they would have otherwise expected. And so there’s an urgency to the—to the age, which we—we mustn’t ignore either. You know, if I think of the people of my parents’ generation, and there are fewer and fewer of them anyway, but those I know, I best be talking to them this week or next week, hadn’t I? But there’s an urgency to that that’s—that hasn’t been around or is often not around, because we—we don’t like to think of death, and so we put it aside. But now it’s front and centre.
So that’s the context. That—well, that’s part of the context. Wonderful gospel opportunities.
CK: Well, we take just a brief break from our conversation on mission. I’d like to tell you about a great resource that’s available to you online from Moore College. It’s called the Preliminary Theological Certificate or PTC for short. This course has been run for more than 75 years. It has more than 18 subjects online that you can engage with—either—either as an individual or in a group—and it aims to build your understanding and appreciation of the biblical theological and historical foundations of the Christian faith. You can sign up to an individual unit, where you can learn things like the introduction to the Bible and see how the whole Bible fits together into one storyline. Or you could study more specific texts like the Book of Ephesians. And what you can do is you can either take a course unit by unit, or you can subscribe to all of the units all at once, and I think the annual fee’s about $50 a year.
I would really encourage you to check this out as you’re home and you’re isolated in your home, and thinking about ways to engage your mind and study the Bible. This would be a great use of your time and resources, and maybe something you’d want to engage in even in online group with people in your church. You can find more information at distance.moore.edu.au. Again, the Preliminary Theological Certificate. Check it out.
Now back to our program.
CK: So there’s a—there’s a particular vulnerability that is universal, all of a sudden. I mean, we’ve all—we’ve got our own vulnerabilities, but we always feel it individually. But I mean right now, the whole world feels vulnerable and quite uncertain.
But that actually then opens up potential for relationships that we may not have been keeping up with and people that really would perhaps venture into a conversation they wouldn’t have otherwise. I mean, they’re going really be willing to talk about the big things of life at this point in time, when everybody’s got similar kinds of questions. So a great opportunity in our context, that’s very helpful.
SG: Yeah, absolutely. The second thing about the context is that most of the ways in which we’ve traditionally done evangelistic missions are just not possible at the moment. And so, as you mentioned, we’ve planned these 14 different evangelistic missions that are going out overseas, interstate—going out to different areas. In every case, people were going out to invite people to large gatherings: come and hear! In other cases, we’re going to go and meet people on public transport systems. You know, go out and shake as many hands as we possibly could. We’re going to invite people around for meals, and try and get as many people into different spaces as possible to hear. So all of these evangelistic strategies, which have served us so well over many many years in lots of ways—all of a sudden, the legs are cut out for underneath all of those methods.
CK: That’s right: you can’t go, you can’t touch and you can’t gather.
CK: That’s right.
SG: So once you take that way, what we’ve got to do now is to think again from first principles, why were we doing that? Why were we trying to invite people? Why were we going out to meet strangers? Why—is there another way of doing the thing—is there something else we can do which achieves the same kind of goals that those methods would have achieved, but now in a new context? So for us, it’s about what are the ways that we can now create opportunities for communication? And how can we communicate with people that won’t ordinarily go to church? How do we make contact with a wider world? And in large part, for—for most of—most of Australian society, at least, that’s now facilitated through the internet. So we have lots of op—online opportunities to do things that we wouldn’t have otherwise thought to invest time in.
CK: I imagine some of our listenership as well in other places in the developed world would be doing much the same. I know I’ve heard of people in the UK—people in North America—that are also really thinking about delivering information virtually.
CK: So this is a new realm for us. It’s always been available to us, really—I don’t mean “always” in terms of just the last few years, at least, there’s been opportunities for it we haven’t capitalised on partly on principle.
CK: But now here we are without any other options, and—and how can we think about that responsibly?
SG: Yeah. Yeah. Look, I think there’s many many different levels. So as I’ve tried to stay in touch in the last couple of weeks with things that are going on with churches, so much effort goes into thinking, “How can we basically put what we were doing on a Sunday morning on somebody’s screen?” Now, great project, that’s excellent. And yeah, I was involved in that myself, and I think with fruit. And that’s wonderful.
But as we were saying, the—the whole thing of being a missionary—being a sent one—the one person speaking to many—is such a small fraction of what we do. So what I’m trying to do with—with the mission is encourage those other opportunities that are more low-level and individual. How do we encourage and spur those ones on and give some examples of how to do that?
CK: What kinds of things are you thinking through, then—those lower level opportunities?
SG: Well, one of the things is we all have a story to tell. If you’re a believer, you’ve got a story to tell. But if you can’t bump into someone in the railway station and tell them your story, how are you going to tell them your story? We actually have through these online means lots of different storytelling opportunities. Facebook is a storytelling opportunity. We’re always telling stories about our lives there. Is there a way that I can—in a way that’s—that fits well with that medium—how do I say, “This is the difference that Jesus makes for me right now?” In a really hyper-anxious world, what can I say that says, “Yep, I get the anxiety. I feel the fear. I’m under threat just like you are. But I’ve got a hope that lasts beyond the grave.” How do I say that in three or four lines in a Facebook page?
One of the things we’re going to be encouraging every student to do is to do a video recording of their own testimony. Now, if you put that up on Facebook, your friends will click it. What are you going to tell them in two or three minutes before they move onto the next thing? What could you say? Now, every believer could do that kind of thing. Be wonderful to think in the course of ordinary everyday opportunities, we’d have those conversations ’round the fridge at work or the water cooler—whatever it is. But now it has to be done a different way. So the—the sharing of testimonies like that is one thing.
Memes: why haven’t we thought about doing gospel memes before? I love a lot of the work that the Babylon Bee crew do, and other people—that are just massively thought-provoking. It’s a picture and maybe half a dozen words. But if it drives me to ask a good question, or to know where to go look for an answer, well that’s really time well spent. So there’d be people working on that.
There—there are so many online communities. You know, I really—it grates against me to say that, but it’s just true: there—there are communities that are not embodied in the way that we’d normally have grown to think about those things. So how do you make a really valuable contribution as a Christian to an online community? And whether that’s part of your online gaming experience—this is not me; this is my kids’ generation, but the people who are into online gaming and having avatars and the avatars speak and interact with one another. Why isn’t the avatar doing the—the gospel presentation? So we’ve got a group of people thinking about how do you do that.
CK: I’d love to ask you what your avatar would be like if you had one, but we’ll have to wait for another time, maybe.
SG: Yeah, I think, you know, something along the lines of Conan the Barbarian/Arnold Schwarzenegger!
CK: Yeah, yeah!
SG: No, for the people out there who can’t see me, that’s more or less how I like to think of myself! [Laughter] That’s right!
CK: I’ve been thinking really interestingly—we’ve had so much discussion about online engagement, but I went home today, my kids are home from school today for the first time, and one of the things my wife’s doing is—as they’re now being taught at home—is having them write old-fashioned letters to people.
CK: And they’re writing it on paper with a pencil.
SG: Yeah! Cool.
CK: And I thought, “Isn’t this great!” And one of the things I watch was, you know, a family that I have connecting in other ways with others that would not be connected—even playing, like—I think they were playing Yahtzee online last night. Which I know is—is online, but—but there are people that would otherwise fall outside of our kind of regular frame that we can connect with through simple letter or somebody that would otherwise be kind of in our orbit, but we’re not intentionally reaching out to them. We could actually pick up a phone—
CK: —and actually just have a conversation with—especially when they’re feeling lonely. And I’m thinking about family members that are widows, or I’m thinking about people in our church that I know are particularly vulnerable, and maybe quite isolated—just having a phone call would be a massive impact on them. What other kinds of ways are you thinking about beyond even an online world? Is there any other suggestions you have?
SG: Yeah. I mean, I think one of the really helpful things that I’ve seen go around is the idea of dropping the postcard into all of the neighbours houses and saying, “Hey, let’s look after one another. If you need somebody—if you’re in isolation and you need somebody to give you groceries, here’s my number. Drop me a message and I’ll—I’ll do that for you.” I think that’s a way of making a really positive contact with those who physically live near you, but because of the way we—we’ve grown to live generally, those who live in physical proximity to us, we often ignore. But now we’ve got a good reason for being in touch with those in our street or in our apartment block or whatever it is. I think that’s a great opportunity as well.
CK: That’s fantastic. I think—one of the things that I’ve heard is a recurring theme today is being active. I mean, you just being actively aware of opportunities around you—being very intentional. You’re living intentionally for the Lord Jesus.
CK: That is, you’re seeking opportunities to demonstrate obedience and to tell the truth—
SG: Yeah. Yeah.
CK: —in love.
CK: And that seems pretty remarkable. Just for the record, then, mission’s not on hiatus.
SG: No, absolutely not. So instead of sending 14 teams of people to different places, we’ve got about 250 people who will all stay at home, but they’re going to be involved in 24 different projects. And all of those projects—for none of those projects will people actually ever need to be physically in the same space to do, although small groups of people will be collaborating on childrens ministry ideas and youth ministry ideas. Some people are making YouTube clips where others can just do quiet time with them. You know, particularly for those who struggle with reading and writing, how do you do your daily Bible reading? What would that look like?
So I think one of the other things of this context is a whole bunch of us are not as busy as we were last week. A whole lot of the busy-ness of life is stripped away. So how do we encourage one another to make the most of this extra time that we’ve got? And I—I love what you’re saying about the—the extra time that you can spend with your own family—own relationships. And—and, yeah, I think being—being wise and creative about how we spend that time is really a good idea.
CK: And for the average people at home, whether that be a stay-at-home mum that’s now suddenly looking after school-age children or whether that be the worker who has to work from a home desk or their kitchen table—or whether that be the person that’s unemployed or the elderly person that may be completely estranged from people now, because their family’s not able to visit them, you know, what kinds of words would you offer to them in this season now?
SG: Yeah. So I think most of us are going to feel a sense of isolation that we haven’t felt before. It—in a way, I think, one of the things we’ve got to do is grieve that well. That is really sad, isn’t it. It’s really sad that we don’t have opportunities to have physical contact with people to—to just be in the same rooms as people. We ought to feel the weight of that sadness. And then for all of us, we need to find opportunities of reconnecting or of connecting with other people in new ways.
So I think, one of the things we were talking just before, Chase, that before I went to be a missionary in Africa—so we were eight years in Namibia—before we went, we spent six months doing cross-cultural mission training. And during that training, we learnt a heap of things. But one of the big things we learnt was about adjusting to a new culture and the idea of culture shock. And you get culture shock because you’re in a world in a place that is so different to what you’re used to. And that difference is exhausting and it’s off-putting, and I used to know where everything was and now I don’t know where things are, and I used to know how to shop, and now I’m not sure how … and—and there are different languages and different greetings and different ways of communicating … and every single one of us is now living that experience.
So we’ve all entered a new culture, but with no training! And I think one of the things I’d like to say to everybody is if you’re feeling exhausted by this, yep: that’s about normal. You’ve got to expect that this is exhausting. There’s a whole lot of grief tied up in it. So I’m grieving the things that I used to know how to do, but now I don’t know how to do. I mean, even just think of going to the shops: I used to be able to go there anytime and I’d be able to pick up exactly the brand of thing that I wanted and pay my money and get back in the car, and it was—it was a simple thing. And now it’s not. And I used to be able to go out whenever I wanted—to meet up with people whenever I—and I can’t. So there’s a whole lot of grief. People have planned weddings—have planned big parties—there’s anniversaries—graduations. Cancelled. And all of those things bring grief and that grief with my new incompetence is exhausting.
So most missionaries, what—we’re told when we go overseas, to expect that you’ll only work at about 60 per cent of your capacity. Okay, is—is that what you’re feeling at the moment? And if you are, I want to say, be encouraged: that’s normal. It’s really hard, but it’s normal. So hang in there.
And I think there—there’s a couple of things we can do for one another, really—just to—to help get through this. One is to—to be realistic about the expectations. We have to do that. So I don’t ex—I expect that I’ll be more tired and I don’t expect that I’m going to get through all the work that I used to get through. And that’s okay. And we need to expect that the other people we’re dealing with are also struggling, and so I’ve got to give them a bit more space as well.
I also need to know that this is not going to go on forever. You know? It’s not going to go on forever. Every disaster will come to an end. And this too will pass. It may last for a very long time. This may last not just for months—maybe a year, maybe two. But it will come to an end. And we have a world to look ahead to—to look forward to.
And if you’re a Christian, you have a hope that lasts beyond the grave. And lifting your eyes to that hope is really really important. So easy to get trapped into the newsfeed and just cycle through and cycle through, and it becomes more and more anxiety-producing. And I want to say, “Lift your eyes. There is a hope. It won’t last forever.”
Patterns are really good. So—particularly, you know, if you’re working from home or if you now find yourself unemployed, I’d encourage you to keep up a healthy pattern. Get up in the morning. Get dressed. Get ready. Have a space, if you’re working, where you work, and then stop so that work doesn’t consume everything. Don’t just flick on the TV and leave it on and just have your whole day just kind of merge together. Good patterns for meals—good patterns for exercise. That will help you to get through it.
And it’s—it’s really important that we encourage one another too—to not just—not just focus on the urgent and the depressing and the overwhelming nature of the things around us. In the middle of all of this, even with the pain and grief we’re going to go through, there are still things to be thankful for and to rejoice in. And it’s really important that we take the time to do that. So I do have a lot more time in my diary than I did two weeks ago. And that’s a good thing. And I—I’ve now got choices to make with the extra time that I’ve got. But I—I ought to just stop and pause and say, “Hey, we’re so used to telling one another just how busy we are and now we’re not so busy.” We can thank God for that. When somebody does call you and that cheers you up, we got to be thankful for that—thankful for the relationships that we have. Taking time to be thankful is really important in developing a resiliency through what is likely to be a prolonged, difficult time.
CK: And as we’re prayerfully thankful to God, that gives us opportunity to be rejoicing in our circumstances. And there’s the promise that God gives us peace, which surpasses understanding, as we bring our request to him with gratitude.
CK: And so, it’s a good thing for us to be praying for people—especially with the new time that we’ve been afforded. Maybe that’s the place that we go immediately, actually—
CK: —for refuge and rest, is to go to our knees and say, “Father, thank you. Father, please help.”
CK: “Father, bring comfort and care. Father, please bring the truth to this person that I know is so lost and needy.” So there’s a great opportunity for us there.
Simon, I’m really grateful for all that you’ve shared with us today. I—I just as a takeaway, I want to say, we could use this time well for mission. We could be realistic, which I’m really grateful for your wisdom there, about how to be realistic. And we can remember that Jesus Christ has authority over everything, and he is with us: that’s his promise for mission. And that’s a great encouragement to me. And maybe realistically, if we set a goal for people that are listening, I mean, what if you pursued one conversation with somebody this week? Just one? What if all of us took the opportunity to phone one person that we knew that was alone and maybe really lost, without hope, and we try to have an intentional conversation with them about the Lord Jesus. Wouldn’t that be wonderful!
SG: Wouldn’t that be a great thing! Yeah.
CK: Yeah. Thanks for sharing with us, brother! We really appreciate it.
SG: Yeah, it’s a pleasure, Chase. Great to be here.
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As always, I’d like to thank Moore College for making the ministry of the Centre for Christian Living possible, and to extend thanks to my assistant, Karen Beilharz, for audio editing and transcribing. Music has been provided by Slow Nomad.