For years, I’ve passed by that sign on the edge of Blackrock that declares Blackrock: we’ve got it all. So naturally I’ve tested this bold declaration to see if it’s true. My research shows it’s not.
Don’t get me wrong: Blackrock has some cool stuff: two shopping centres, both recently refurbished, the wonderful Blackrock Park, a really handy DART station, and a whole bunch of little shoppy-shops I mostly walk by instead of walking in. It’s a nifty place where I lived for several years and I like it. Blackrock has some stuff but we’ve got it all? No way.
Does Blackrock have a bowling alley? A cinema? An IKEA or an amusement park with a roller coaster? A 50,000 seat stadium, or a water skiing school? I think not. A more accurate, but admittedly less catchy, motto for Blackrock would be Blackrock: we’ve got some stuff. Truth in advertising.
There’s one thing Blackrock has that is actually rare in this country, and that is UJ/Ignite (or something very like UJ/Ignite). I suppose you could call UJ a gospel amenity. It’s a community of people who gather to worship and fellowship, but not only that. It’s an outward-looking expression of the church in the local community. Those who have been around a long time can recall, no doubt, the names of people who have met Jesus – really met Him – as a result of the actions of Urban Junction and the people involved there. I’ve heard stories of the teen disco, of homework clubs, and various other clubs designed for local youth. And the Overs (where in the world did that name come from?), the Men’s Shed and no doubt countless other events of which I’m unaware. All these group activities are designed to engage local folks and somehow provide a witness to the power the message of Jesus.
In missiological terms this is called gospel access. Missiologists, who study the availability and spread of the gospel in a certain locale, ask this basic question: is the gospel – the message of living, breathing and dynamic, life-changing good news in the person of Jesus – available in an easily-accessed way in this particular region? That doesn’t simply mean there’s a church service or a church building present (neither of those guarantees anything regarding gospel access); and as good as those things may be the fact is that in modern Ireland the vast majority of the population aren’t remotely interested in a church service. There are just too many historic and cultural barriers. So how else is the gospel made available to those with little or no access?
Here’s the secret: we go to them.
You read that right folks: we cross whatever barriers are necessary to be where they are. Literally. Instead of waiting for those with little/no access to come to our activities we instead join their activities. We go to their gyms, join their clubs and put ourselves right in the middle of their neighbourhoods. We who know Jesus make Jesus unavoidable by carrying Him with us everywhere we go, and into every relationship and activity. It sounds simple but it’s actually too rarely practiced. We christians seem to be better at putting on an activity and waiting for people to attend it (even if they don’t actually show up), than we are at stepping outside our own comfort zone and into the world of those with little or no gospel access.
Luke 15 is a chapter all about lostness. Read it for yourself. Jesus tells three stories in this chapter about lostness: the lost sheep, the lost coin and the lost son. In two of those stories the lost item is pursued relentlessly by the person who lost it. I think the point Jesus was trying to make – a parable always has a main point – is that the lost deserve to be sought out and it’s up to us to do the seeking out.. In the Irish context, I suispect that happens best through relationships and shared interests.
Who are your neighbours? Where do you shop? What clubs or gyms or community activities are you involved in? Each of these activities will be populated by people, most of whom have never met Jesus and have little/no access. You could be the gospel access that’s missing among your neighbours and friends! Yes, you.