The Mission of Cafechurch

It’s important to start thinking about Cafechurch’s mission from Scripture, so here is a good place to start.

Jesus said to them again ‘Peace be with you. As the Father has sent me, so I send you.’ When he had said this, he breathed on them and said to them, ‘Receive the Holy Spirit.’ John 20:21-22

The important thing to note here is that, just as the Father sends Jesus, so Jesus in turn sends us. This leads us to an important theological starting point: the fundamentally missional nature of God. That is, the God who raised Jesus Christ from the dead is the God who sends. However, it is not enough to say merely that God sends. What is the sort of sending is going on? What is Jesus sent to do?

Jesus is sent to reconcile and redeem humanity with God. As Mike Moynagh puts it, quoting John Flett:

‘in his act of creation, reconciling, and redeeming, God gives himself entirely to humanity’[1]

This self-giving is completely characteristic of the one who “did not regard equality with God
as something to be exploited, but emptied himself, taking the form of a slave, being born in human likeness.” (Philippians 2:6-7)

What God gives, fundamentally, is Godself, God’s own presence amongst us, through the Holy Spirit. This, in turn, brings forth the church

“the church, as communal life with Jesus, is one of God’s gifts to the world, and that it is in the nature of this gift to be passed on”[2]

So it is correct to say that God’s mission has a church, rather than God’s church has a mission. This mission includes all of us. The church has a particular role, reflecting the nature of God’s own self.

The crisis of contemporary life is that of meaninglessness. Faced with Frankl’s tragic triad of suffering, guilt, and death,[3] humanity is faced with an “existential vacuum.”[4] We are as evanescent as flowers, microscopic in the universal sweep of things. How can we feel as though we matter?

One way the gospel impacts onto our contemporary culture is through the mission of God. God’s three-personed dance draws us, and all creation, into the redemptive action and self-giving, mutual love of God.

This mission also is a gift – the joy and privilege of participating in the divine extravagance that creates the kingdom. The church, too, is a gift – not only to believers, but to the world because it announces the kingdom, contributes to it and provides a foretaste of it[5]

The Church thus has a central role in God’s mission. Our small stories as people, and as congregations, is thus tied into God’s big story. The purpose and meaning of our lives is found in allowing ourselves to be brought into the three-personed life of God, receiving and giving the love that constitutes God’s life. This brings us to action, and to contemplation and worship. We seek to be “contemplatives in action.”

This sharing in God’s mission manifests itself not only at a practical, congregational level, but also sends deep roots down into our soul – the gradual work of theosis. It is not enough to think about theology: we need to drink deep from the wellspring of faith. How can we allow ourselves to be transformed?

There are three ways in which Cafechurch expresses this.

  1. Communally
  2. Personally
  3. Missionally

As a community, Cafechurch understands itself as “an open, welcoming Christian community in Melbourne; an emerging church, a safe space for those deconstructing and reconstructing faith.”[6] We actively practice community. Practically, this is seen in the way we eat together at our Tuesday evenings – either before the session, in the pub, or after Caravan. We express it through the four values that express something of our life together.

  1. Everything is spiritual: This is why we can meet in a pub – God can be found, and is at work, outside the four walls of the church. We seek God in all things.
  2. Openness, inclusivity, acceptance: We strive to be a spiritual home for those who have not found a home elsewhere, often because of their awkward questions. We welcome the stranger.
  3. Authenticity: We don’t pretend to be other than what we are. We don’t have to pretend to believe things we don’t believe, we don’t have to pretend to. We open ourselves to meaningfulness together.
  4. We’re all in it together: Otherwise known as “the priesthood of all believers”, we don’t think that ministry is the job of spiritual virtuosi. We share leadership together

 

Corporately, this works out in two ways. The first way is through conversation. Three days a week, we meet in a pub and talk. This might be a Bible study, or it might be a theological conversation resourced by one of us. Or it might be something else. Either way, we practice our four values by the quality of our engagement together.

The second way is the contemplative. If theology is “faith seeking understanding”, as St Anselm of Canterbury said, then it is essential to drink deep at the wellspring of faith. Three nights a month, we talk a lot. The fourth, we engage in communal contemplative practices, prayer, singing, and eat and drink the body and blood of Christ, poured out for us, food for the journey. We still have dinner though. Some things are sacred.

We seek to foster people’s spiritual growth through personal spiritual practices. We have a paid member of staff (“Pastor, Missional Spirituality”) whose role it is to develop this, our leading edge. Some of us have found great value in the Ignatian way of Spirituality, and particularly value two features of it. Firstly, we value the way that the practice of imaginative contemplation of gospel scenes opens us to moments of transformational encounter with God through Jesus. This is best expressed through the Spiritual Exercises of St Ignatius. Secondly, we have found value in the practice of the daily Examen, which calls us to consciously examine our day through the lens of collaboration with God’s mission. Our deepest desire is for God, and we value practices that help us to order our disordered desires to increase our awareness of that fundamental desire.

 

Our mission stretches beyond the pub dining room. We seek ways in which we can make a difference, bringing something of what it is to belong to Cafechurch to the wider world. This isn’t so much in actions of practical help, but, rather, putting what we are learning about spiritual practices at the disposal of the world. This is the rationale for Spiritus et Locus, the online photography exhibition which we have run as part of the Melbourne International Fringe festival since 2013. Go to our website – www.spiritusetlocus.org – to learn how we practice contemplative photography, and see the most recent exhibition.

 

In a world where lots of people talk about helping the poor and marginalised, and not a lot of people are talking about God, we are doing our best to take our deepest desire for fellowship with God and with one another and express it in our life together. We do our best to express our share of God’s mission by being the best community we can be, welcoming the stranger, and being, as far as we can, both sign and foretaste of God’s coming kingdom.

Alister Pate, 287/8/2018

 

[1] Michael Moynagh. Church in Life . SCM Press. Kindle Edition, Location 3035quoting John Flett

[2] Moynagh Church in Life Location. 3018.

[3] Victor Frankl Man’s Search for Ultimate Meaning (2000, Basic Books, Cambridge MA) p.123

[4] Victor Frankl Man’s Search for Ultimate Meaning p.139.

[5] Moynagh Church in Life Location. 3074.

[6] From the website – www.cafechurch.org accessed 15/8/2018

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