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At the end of April Soul Action’s co-founder, Phil Bowyer, had the opportunity to spend four days in the UK – not to go to WIll and Kate’s very Royal Wedding – but to meet 25 people from Australia, Burundi, Brazil, Dominican Republic, Honduras, Philippines, USA, Thailand, and the UK, at a retreat about Integral Mission organised by Tearfund.
The group may have only gathered for four days, but Phil came away feeling as though he could write a book on what God’s doing across the world in terms of Integral Mission, i.e. mission that addresses people’s spiritual, physical, mental, emotional and social needs. Whilst he would like to tell you about the breakthroughs and challenges people are seeing, or how receptive the world church is to Integral Mission, its people’s stories that impacted Phil most.
Claude, from Burundi, shared a story of visiting a church built on a rubbish dump and preached about God’s creation. When he returned some months later the rubbish had been cleared and a garden was growing around the church instead.
Carolyn, a church consultant from Australia, shared how out of all the advice she offers to church leaders, most of them only remember that 97 people have keys to her front door.
David shared a story of a UK pastor who felt like his job involved putting on the ‘Sunday show’, until he asked himself, “What if worship isn’t our highest calling? What if the church is here to do something else?” After asking his congregation, “If the Kingdom of God came to [where you live], what would it look like?” they felt the kids from chaotic households would have a place to go after school to do their schoolwork in peace. So that’s what they did, and now the church has more discipleship than ever, prays more, worships more, and builds community more.
Stories like these, and more, caused the group to think about the following key questions:
- What signs of the kingdom were they seeing?
- What is the Spirit of God saying to the Church?
They spent the whole of day four responding to these questions, the feed back was profoundly inspiring and challenging. They also talked about the type of criticism people, projects and churches involved in Integral Mission activity sometimes hear from the wider church, things like:
- Where are the conversions?
Reflecting on all the very real signs of the kingdom that he’d just heard people share Phil couldn’t help thinking whether the best way to respond to such a question was in the way that Jesus would…with a question, namely:
- What do you mean by ‘conversion’?
By conversion are we talking about every aspect of a persons life – inwardly and outwardly – changing as they learn to trust the Holy Spirit, grow in wisdom, stature and favour with God and others in some of the ways that Jesus did (Lk 2:52)? Phil concluded:
From what I heard during those four days, people all over the world are taking Jesus at his word, realising their God given potential, and beginning to live fuller whole lives (cf. Jn 10:10). All of this sounds a lot like conversion to me!