The butterflies of mission
Christian discipleship could use some chaos, says Graham Adams
It’s my eighth year of teaching mission studies and religious diversity at Northern College. It’s a great environment and a varied role, with good colleagues and students who keep it lively.
While teaching mission, I’ve found myself drawn to two different sorts of approach. On the one hand, I love a good framework. For example, a focus on the mission of God, the missional God working towards the kingdom, leads to a framework for understanding the Church’s role as a sign, foretaste and agent of God’s kingdom.
As a sign, the Church is called to discern and declare the kingdom. As a foretaste, it’s called to give a flavour of the kingdom in its shared life, while recognising that it’s only part of the whole meal. And as an agent, the Church is called to work actively for the kingdom, in partnership with others. Such frameworks, among others, can help us reflect on our assumptions and practices.
On the other hand, it’s also important to mess with frameworks, allowing the ambiguities and surprises of life and faith to shake our pre-existing assumptions. So our neat mission frameworks are never the whole story. It’s about holding a good degree of order in tension with some healthy chaos. Having seen my desk, students would tell you I’m quite positive towards chaos.
I recognise that chaos makes many people anxious, and at its worst, it can even be dangerous and damaging. But order can also hurt, when bureaucracies, programmes or systems have no room for those who don’t fit, treat people as numbers or objects, or justify exploitation in the service of good order. So, sometimes chaos is necessary – to shake up a damaging order. Sometimes God brings chaos…
Graham Adams is Tutor in Mission and World Faiths at Northern College, Manchester
This is an extract from an article that was published in the April 2020 edition of Reform