The Antioch Factor*

4 12 2007

Sometimes I think it might be a recurring dream…but it definitely happens when I’m awake. I’ll be having a casual chat with someone I don’t know very well. We’ll cover the bases of normal Northern Ireland conversational etiquette: the weather, a foray into some personal details, and then back to the safe territory of weather again. Suddenly Peru will come up, and the person (who is a fellow Christian) will say with an air of bringing fresh revelation: ‘And you’re leaving the Church in Armagh. There will soon be no Pastors left in this country!’. The last sentence has a number of different permutations (ie. ‘They’ll soon have more Pastors in Peru than they have here’, or ‘I suppose you’d better get it out of your system when you’re young’), but the sentiment is always the same: I, along with other ministers, am jumping ship in a quite unaaceptable fashion.

I never know quite how to respond. Should I apologise?? If so, what for? If I defend and explain the soul searching behind our following God’s call to mission it will sound like a defence. If I emphasise the pain entailed in leaving a ministry situation amongst people we love it will sound like uncertainty. If I sound too certain it may come across as escapism and relief to be out of pastoral work.

In reality, there’s only one response available: I start talking about the weather again!

Whilst all of this is harmless enough, it betrays something very deep about how we polarize local and global ministry. For some (perhaps many) folks there is a great gulf fixed between those who work in a local church as ‘the minister’, and those who go to ‘the mission field’. They are two different animals in many people’s eyes. The sad side of this is that, for many people whom I speak with, a move to the missionfield seems to represent a demotion – as though being a pastor is to reach the top of some kind of career ladder.

Such an experience can be a little bewildering/disheartening, but it shouldn’t be surprising. As with most prejudices, such an attitude springs from lack of thought or perhaps lack of teaching. While moving away from a settled local pastorate is strange and exotic to the ears of many in our generation, the face of church history proves that is by no means unique or unusual. Since the beginning of the Christian church there has been a recurring pattern of people leaving local church work for global mission: a lineage which is exciting and encouraging to read of. Over the next while I’ll be posting an occasional series entitled ‘The Antioch Factor’, seeking to give a scant survey of some folks who have made the same decisions as we have, and the blessings which have accrued to them as a result. It’s my hope that it will challenge those who read these posts to see how ‘normal’ it is for ministers to go into mission, and how such a move ought to impact the church in our home setting.

The Antioch Factor has implications for those individuals who follow it, but it also has ramifications for the local church in terms of identity and ministry. I hope to prove that it is ultimately to the benefit of the local church to privilege the global and release her workers to the world…

*Having already decided on the title for this short series I realised that there is a book available entitled ‘The Antioch Factor’. I haven’t read it, and don’t use any of the material from it here.

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