Can I ask a bit of a naughty question? Did you have a negative reaction to articles about mission and evangelism during this pandemic? Maybe they irritated or depressed you? Maybe you just felt flat and uninspired and their earnest, enthusiastic tone grated a bit like those slightly unhinged, caffeine-tinged charity muggers with their battering clipboards and backpacker accents.
There are lots of possible reasons for this: you feel overwhelmed already and mission seems like just another burden, or it feels a bit mercenary to be taking advantage of people in a crisis like this, or maybe it’s that evangelism always seems like a painful obligation which is now even more difficult during social distancing.
Perhaps you feel this way even though you know that instead of a burden the gospel of Jesus brings rest and relief for burdened souls (Matt 11:28), instead of an annoying spam mail, it is news that liberates, soothes and comforts pain and sadness (Rom 8:23), and instead of tedious compulsion the gospel spices and lights up lives (Matt 5:13-16).
French university have a saying, “je suis à plat”, I’m feeling flat. I like the “pl” sound; it makes me think of a face-plant into porridge.
You might know all that intellectually but it still feels like someone is saying “happy, happy, Christian words, all will be well”. I work in France with university students and they have a saying, “je suis à plat”, I’m feeling flat. I like the “pl” sound; it makes me think of a face-plant into porridge. Hard to think about mission when you’re inhaling stodgy, mushy goo.
Maybe Asterix can help. Albert Uderzo, illustrator and author of the famous Asterix comic book series, died on March 24 during the coronavirus pandemic here in France. Asterix was a small indomitable warrior living in the last village in Gaul (modern day France) capable of holding out against the mighty Roman Empire. They did this thanks to a magic potion made by the druid Getafix that gave them superhuman strength. Any time they are threatened, Asterix drinks some and immediately Biffs, Bops and Bams his way through any number of Roman soldiers.
Asterix’s doughty but doughy friend Obelix fell into a cauldron of magic potion when he was a baby, which produced a permanent effect on him; he’s enduringly superhuman.
If there’s a parallel with the magic potion and the gospel of Jesus, it’s that we’re lost without it, and indomitable with it, or rather, with him. But is the effect of the Jesus magic potion permanent like Obelix or punctual like Asterix?
Both. That is, we are both Asterix and Obelix. We are like Obelix in that coming to Jesus has lasting effects on us; we’re adopted forever into our Father God’s family, permanently united with Christ and His Spirit resides in us eternally. (And now all pro-infant-baptists can shift to using cauldrons) That’s our union we have with God, which is all His work. But we’re also like Asterix in that we need to continually turn to God, to his magic potion he gave us in Jesus, admit our weakness, confess our sin, dunk our heads in the cauldron of his forgiveness, douse our doubts, drink up our desires for joy, forgiveness, comfort, freedom, meaning, satisfaction, security and then go and beat up all those Roman soldiers assailing us (Worrius Futurus, Superannuas Depletus, Painful Redundancus, Isolationus Lonelinus). That’s our communion with God in which we play a really important role.
This distinction between our union and communion with God is one that comes from Tim Chester’s book, Enjoying God. I can’t recommend it more highly, every page is helping me love God and his gospel more and reduce my “à plat-ness”.
But still, the idea of mission or evangelism during this pandemic for many of us seems and is pretty difficult. I think what it reveals for some of us (or at least for me) is our lack of deep relationships with those who don’t know Jesus. Perhaps we have a number of relationships that are “under construction” but they are all stuck in the “getting a permit to go further” phase. Life is so frenetic and busy that without conscious purposeful thought and action, any number of relationships can stay frozen in that stage; promising but not progressing.
In this phase of deconfinement (as the French have called it), we are and will be faced with choices about what to do with our time. As our lives and timetables change or restart, before we stuff them full again with our usual, non-stop, contemplation-crushing, dearth-defying activities, maybe we could think about which relationships we have with people who don’t know Jesus and prioritise inviting them into something we do? Not adding anything into our schedules, but simply tweaking our activities to connect with others more.
As our lives and timetables change or restart, maybe we could think about which relationships we have with people who don’t know Jesus.
I’m talking simple ideas like eating with others, working in public places, being a regular at your local pub or café, doing what you love with others, serving neighbours, walking in your neighbourhood, or hanging out with work colleagues. I’ve already spoken with one of our neighbours about going to a mountain near us and showing his kids the cabins people build out of sticks that our kids delight in modifying with shelves, doors and other eye-poking additions. I spoke with another neighbour about inviting them to our Friday pizza-movie night. Now I’ve got to follow through!
Rico Tice speaks about celebrating people (looking for God’s common grace in their lives and personalities), serving them (food, random acts of kindness, food, etc.), before eventually crossing the pain line and asking a question about spiritual things.
Opening up your life again after COVID-19 is an opportunity. What relationships do you already have? Where are they at? What do you want do with someone now so that if another wave of isolation kicks in, you have slightly deeper relationships that might endure and even develop during a time like that?
 All the names refer obliquely to the personality or job of each character, a fact not apparent to some readers until revealed much later in embarrassing conversations with their friends
 see https://www.vergenetwork.org/2011/10/04/tim-chester-10-simple-ways-to-be-missional/