A review of Mission-With: Something Out of the Ordinary, by Paul Keeble
- Choosing to live in a deprived, inner-city community
- Raising three children there
- Sending them to local schools
- Staying there long-term
- Joining with others in the community to tackle community issues
- Responding to gang violence through the Carisma initiative.
- Getting the lift mended in a block of flats.
- Improving a run-down local park.
- Being part of a campaign for Residents’ Parking.
- Helping to make a Community garden.
How can any of these be described as ‘Gospel’ activity?
Paul Keeble has written “Mission With: Something Out of the Ordinary” to make the case that they most certainly are…
Because I know Paul, have lived nearby and worked with him and have pastored a church in the Ardwick area of Manchester I am acutely aware of the authenticity and lived experience that undergirds the ‘way of life’ mission that he shares in this book.
I am also aware of the struggles and the cost of living this way, and of the reasons that many Christians prefer not to take the incarnational step of ‘moving into the neighbourhood. Church-based evangelism and social action are so much safer, but, I believe, will be much less significant in spreading Good News in the future than in Christians choosing to live in places…especially the difficult places… as part of the Kingdom of God, sharing community life, being concerned for the things God is concerned about, loving God and neighbour, provoking questions by their lifestyle and earning the right to speak into long-term relationships.
These are some of the things I have carried away from this book, and some of the things that make it vitally timely. I believe that it is not only a book for Christians; others who have a concern for the day-to-day wellbeing and quality of life of a local community, whether they have a faith or not, will learn valuable lessons from the experiences and approach outlined in the book.
The book begins by setting the scene, focusing on the ‘where’ and ‘what’ and explores the challenges of being ‘Christian incomers’ before moving on to define certain terms which ‘explain’ the ‘mission with’ model and it’s underpinning missiology. He examines two contrasting missiologies and locates ‘mission-with within a broad definition of mission, perhaps expressed best as ‘Christians participating in, and continuing the work of God as practiced by Jesus.’
All of this is the result of what Paul calls ‘theological backfill’, where experience is reviewed in the light of scripture and reflection leads to refined and modified action (a process not unlike the Hermeneutical circle of Liberation Theology). He introduces ‘mission-with’ as a complementary way of being and sharing good news alongside the more traditional kinds of church based evangelism (‘mission-to’) and social action (‘mission-for).
Parts two and three are more detailed theological reflections on the ‘where’ and ‘what’, arising out of the component parts of ‘mission-with’: ’presence-among’ (where) and opportunities for what he calls ‘project-praxis’ (what).
He tells the story of how he and his wife, Judith came to settle and raise their children in the community, and how the experience of staying, settling in and being one of the neighbours led to opportunities to work alongside others in the community, on a more equal footing and to respond to situations that were of common concern. Examples are given of the kind of ‘projects’ that arose and relationships that were built.
Part four, which for me is a major reason to own the book, is one of the clearest expositions of an incarnational method of sharing Good News and being agents of the Kingdom of God bringing the shalom (another vital term in Paul’s theological understanding) of God for all people, that I have read. He suggests that this happens by ‘communicating gospel-infused values and lifestyle, through attitude, demeanour and responses.’
He also asks if it’s even right to speak of the ‘success’ of such a way of living, in a church culture that is often results-driven (I might write another post on this, from a different angle).
There is a very helpful section where a number of other projects and methods are compared and contrasted with ‘Mission-With’. The book offers non-judgemental appraisals…many of the approaches have been fruitful. Paul simply uses them to clarify the model that he is writing about.
Finally he writes a helpful conclusion, drawing together the various strands and suggesting why ‘mission-with’ might be effective. He looks at potential strengths, weaknesses and pitfalls of the approach as a model that others may choose to adopt. He also suggests how mission-with principles might be adopted in areas that are very different to the deprived inner-city community where he has lived and worked them out.
Paul’s experience may have challenged his ‘middle-class evangelicalism, with its methodology, cultural assumptions and clear-cut definitions’, but he took the trouble to reflect, learn and change as a result, rather than fleeing back into what was comfortable and familiar.
Hopefully the book will motivate us to do the same, and to consider carefully our calling to be committed long-term to the place of God’s choosing before making choices relating to employment, education and lifestyle…and before I happily wrote that last sentence I had to ask myself if that was true for me at this stage in my life!
A brief review like this cannot possibly do justice to the many layers of practice and principle in a book like this. You really do need to read it for yourself!
“Mission With: Something Out of the Ordinary”, by Paul Keeble, published by Instant Apostle.
Get your copy straight from the author , or from any good bookseller.