Our Work is in the Stadium of Life
There was not a cloud in the sky as almost 150, sweaty north-easterners gathered for a day indoors. We were there to cheer on our regional ministers and their guest signing, John Boyers (pictured). Was it worth it? Definitely.
John Boyers (or "Rev" if you happen to play for Man Utd) is a natural raconteur and entertainer and a great evangeliser for Christianity and for Baptists.
Amongst the anecdotes and stories of chaplaincy life at Old Trafford, laced with comments about what the various faith representatives will be doing at the forthcoming Olympics, was a simple message: we in our churches can learn from what chaplains do.
Church is good for equipping, training and brushing up our skills but, if we want to get people onside, our work is not in the church building but outside, in the stadium of life. The old stuff, Billy Graham style, simply doesn't communicate any more.
Our mission is not based on giving people, who know about Christianity, a jolt into action. Rather it is about starting from scratch in a world that doesn't know anything about Jesus. So, four headlines for us from John, reflecting the way he works as a chaplain:
Pray - absolutely foundational. We can't do too much of it.
Build relationships - which takes time (sometimes a long time), as people move from knowing us, via understanding, accepting, trusting, including, using and recommending, before they finally arrive at affirming us.
Accept that someone's spiritual journey is a process; as with building relationships, it takes time. Don't expect anything like a sudden conversion.
Cultivate the fringe - which is the most fertile ground. But, as the fringe commits, be aware of the need to create a new fringe. Look to new contact activities, so as to make fresh, fringe contacts.
And (is this a fifth one?) never forget that God's mission for us is down our street. We need to befriend the elderly lady next door, encourage the family opposite where the breadwinner has been made redundant and offer to help the single parent mum round the corner whose partner had left her.
If we do these things in our local mission field, what a big impact for Christ we will make.
Euphoric stuff but, inevitably, the whole day could not be spent in the penalty area. We had to offer to Caesar what is due to Caesar, in the shape of the AGM formalities.
But what faith we showed in our Association Treasurer as, having looked at the annual accounts for at least 10 seconds, we waved our orange cards in unanimous acceptance. And how encouraging that South Hylton IM Church has joined our Association.
Of course, life isn't perfect. I could bleat about the karaoke style songs and hymns, rather than live music; it didn't ring true and I found it annoying when each song faded out like a 1960s single. And I particularly missed a concluding communion, sensing we were the poorer without it.
But enough of the bleating. There was plenty to cheer about. Well done to the coaching team. Great shooting, Rev. Now it is our turn to score some goals for Jesus.
David Rose is the church secretary at Grange Road Baptist Church, Darlington
Baptist minister the Revd John Boyers is the international director of Sport Chaplaincy UK and is chaplain to Manchester United.