Every year I receive a pile of invitations (usually phrased as ‘offers’ or ‘opportunities’) to take a stand to a Christian event to tell people about Wycliffe Bible Translators and what we do around the world. To decide whether it’s worth going or not I’ll look at the programme to see what’s happening as part of the main event and see how geared it is towards mission.
So, I’ve just done a very quick survey of the speakers booked for some of the bigger Christian festivals due to take place in 2012. Here’s what I found out from their websites.
- New Word Alive – six main speakers over one week. All white, mostly male, from either the UK or US.
- Spring Harvest – Four speakers, all from churches in England.
- Keswick Convention – One main speaker for each of the three weeks. All male, from Australia, England and Scotland. Although, listed under ‘Other Speakers’ is Calisto Odede from Kenya.
I tried to find out about Soul Survivor, but they haven’t released their 2012 programme and I couldn’t easily find anything from 2011.
Maybe I could make a special mention of Greenbelt. Whose lineup at least includes a smattering of people from ethnic minorities and non western educated. But then, artists are better at not conforming.
After looking at the list of speakers I did a quick search for the part that world mission plays in these events.
New Word Alive
Their vision and values statement says…
With a huge variety of gifts from preaching to personal relationships, or childrens work to world mission, we will open up possibilities, provide examples and encouragement and seek to motivate and equip Gods people to serve him and his world.
If you type ‘mission’ into the search box the top 13 results are a product from their shop, then there’s a link to their vision and values before giving a link to how an organisation can exhibit.
SH state in the header to their Beliefs page,
Within our stated aim to ‘equip the church for action’ we seek to encourage Christians to think about their faith, to be transformed through the renewing of our minds and to engage in the mission of God in the world.
Their website shows that they give money to support good causes. With the exception of Bible translation that was supported as part of Biblefresh in 2011, there’s nothing that has a primary aim of sharing the gospel.
Mission is mentioned, intertwined with the theme of ‘the Church‘ for 2012. There’s also the prospect of something multicultural on the last day.
Day 5 – God’s brilliant idea: ‘Make them one!’
The church the New Testament foresees is multicultural, multi-national and multi-lingual. The name given to this people in the Bible is the Bride of Christ – beautiful, sparkling and deeply loved by God. We will explore the joy of our diversity; embracing the call of God to reach every tribe and culture and escaping cultural captivity to express love for the ‘other’.
But, I wonder how that gets dealt with when there’s only speakers from the UK.
It was less easy to find out about Keswick’s approach to mission because their website isn’t as searchable as the others. I know that they have a fund to support those involved in mission who want to come along to Keswick, but like most other events, the main place for a mission profile is in the exhibition space.
Maybe I’m being overly simplistic, but I do believe that actions speak as loudly as words (even if we aren’t as conscious of the message when it’s delivered in non-verbal ways). So, I could read into these events that…
- Senior Christian figures are usually white, male and from the west.
- Music and sung worship is the most important part of your faith after the main speakers – just have a look and see how important ‘worship leaders’ are to selling events.
- Mission is about improving the physical condition of those living in poverty or those that are abused and is mostly supported by giving money.
- Mission exists in the exhibition space, where organisations pay a great deal of money for a small plot, travel to and from the event and accommodation for one or two staff. It does not play a part in the main event.
What me? Maybe… but honestly, I’m more than a little tired of being told about a ‘great opportunity’ from the organisers of one event or another, who want mission agencies to come along and exhibit so that they can tick a box and say they’ve ‘done mission’. If world mission was important it would get more than a drafty tent hidden somewhere in the vicinity of the main hall.
Look, I am aware that these events do a lot of good. There are great speakers and leaders who are white and male and deserve to have a platform. I know how great it is to sing praise songs with a good band who’ve prepared in advance and can stay in tune. I also believe that it’s important for Christians and the church to lead the way in bringing people out of poverty and give them hope. And, believe it or not, I understand business well enough to know that great events cost money and you have to bow (just a little) to public pressure and give the audience a bit of what they want to get bums on seats.
However, I think there’s a danger that events like these can become so focussed on breaking even that doing what’s right comes further down the agenda. We feed people what they want to hear, rather than the truth and we allow people to consume what’s safe and fun. Maybe that’s also symptomatic of western Christianity… and maybe that rant is best left for another blog post.
Simon Cozens has also written on a similar vein on his blog (HT Kouya)