Friday, September 12, 2008

Mission - Families and/or Marginalised

It seems that I am having many conversations at the moment around some decisions we have made in my work/faith community context about our mission focus being families and children (and therefore our buildings being focused on families and children). The issues in the questions are complex - and to be frank, while it's tiring, it's raising the kind of conversations, questions and issues that we ought to be having more frequently!!!

Some of the conversations remind me of the first year or so of our faith community in 2000/2001 when I was doing Forge and also when myself and many peers really were thinking alot around issues of "priority for the poor". Our faith community at the time met in a strongly upper middle class area of Melbourne and I remember numerous supervision conversations around "what does incarnational ministry look like in upper middle class Melbourne"? Should we be doing it? Does God call us to have a priority for the poor? Given where I was in those conversations, I find it ironic (but very like God!) that I'm one of the main advocates that we should be basing our mission focus and therefore buildings on the main growing demographic of our area - families who materially are doing quite well. I've grown strongly in the direction of seeing it as important to "become all things to all people in order that we might save some" , or in my words - doing whatever it takes to connect with a people group in order that they might see the invitation to participate in the kingdom of God and join in on that. And we find ourselves in an area where a main growing demographic are families who are materially doing quite well. Alongside that, those of us who are committed to mission on the ground in a day-to-day way long term have a heart for those people, as well as abilities to connect with them and offer things that are needed for this group. We also find ourselves having a sense that this is the group who God has invited us to focus our efforts towards as we seek to be his followers in this place at this time.

Those of us doing this process have thought long and hard about this and wrestled with it, praying and fasting and spending much time thinking and discussing it. Not only is the question the general "priority for the poor" question but also currently our building is a space that much of the week a handful of local very marginalised people spend alot of time and where we are heading this will not be possible. There is another faith community that does a great job connecting with those marginalised people but they do it in a more "program" way rather than the "open space" way we have been doing. However, in reality it is 6 or so people and all of us who work on the ground regularly see clearly that these people cannot be in a space that families are going to be safe in without much supervision (and that's if the families are comfortable being around them - which certainly several local families have strongly indicated they are not).

So it's a bit of a predicament really and we have felt called to move ahead strongly with the single focus on the site we are talking about but haven't felt free to leave aside the question of how we continue relationship with those we currently have connection with and also I haven't felt free to assume that what we are currently doing will definately conclude (though thinking it will on the current site we are talking about).

Several of the wider community around these decisions (people from the faith communities who gather in the space) are currently questioning this focus. Some of it is from their personal perspective: where do I fit in this? I like the wide range of people currently at gatherings - will that continue if the site and building are focused on families and children? Absolutely fair enough questions. Another range of questions centre around: difference is a key of the gospel and also a key of our community, this goes against that. Yet another range of questions centre around: how can we not be focusing on the marginaised, especially how can we be creating a space where at least much of the time they would not be welcome, especially as a people of faith how can we do that. An extension of those questions centre around our responsibilities to those we currently have relationship with and who currently find themselves "at home" in the space we are discussing.
Great questions - I love that they are being asked and discussed and not easily left.

It's also an interesting journey for me personally - I find myself owning that I am more gifted than most in my abilities to minister with the marginalised, I find my passion for ministry with families and children coming to the fore once again, I find myself more strongly than ever believing in incarnational ministry - thinking that it's important to "become like" the people we are seeking to connect with, I find myself facing the realities of time, space, money and energy more than ever, I understand more than ever the need to make hard decisions, I find myself thinking it's important for us to stay in the struggle of what we think theologically, what the missiological needs and questions are and what we feel God's saying - and what it means to help others stay in the struggle.

And while spending hours thinking, discussing, praying and writing about those issues, I have been planning the next stage of the space becoming a "Family Wellbeing Centre" which starts on 1st October and planning timelines and project plans into next year.

And while doing that, doing the many things that our current and future ministry in this area requires. One of the things I love about things currently is the excitement that some staff have around what we are doing and being part of the vision - it's great to have such people working for us (I did semi hunt them down as people with the missiological ethos we need in the space at this time!!!!) I also love the stories daily of connections we have with people of all kinds, in the space and in the suburb; I love being part of the rhythms and relationships of this local community.

Great excitement and focus in the midst of struggle and questioning, that would be the title of my week!

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