Big Hearted Stories
I don’t get to write many forewords for other people’s books, so it’s a particular privilege for me to be commending this one here. The topic that Chris and Simon tackle is one that has been close to the heart of my ministry for the best part of thirty years, as I’ve engaged in grass-roots missional activities as well as national and international strategic conversations with Christians of diverse persuasions and in many different countries. Yet for a lot of Christians, faith sharing has a bad image. It’s something you wouldn’t do to your dog, let alone someone whose friendship you valued. Chris and Simon tackle both the urgency and the reticence by starting in exactly the right place: with God. If God is the sort of angry tyrant that some seem to think, whose sole ambition is to put people down – even waging war against them – then it’s hardly surprising that most people would find it hard to recognize that as any sort of good news. Thankfully, the model given to us by the life and teaching of Jesus (who for the Christian was and is the most authentic image of God) is rather different. Admittedly, he did get a bit steamed up now and again, but it’s worth noting that the only people he ever got angry with were self-righteous religious types who thought they knew better than him. They were both irritated and surprised by Jesus’ insistence that God is best understood not as an angry monster but as the shepherd who goes in search of the lost sheep, or the parent who cares deeply for a wayward child.
Not only does that challenge some commonly held images of God, but it also changes our understanding of mission. Too often, mission has been regarded as a good turn that reluctant Christians need to be persuaded to do to assist an otherwise helpless deity. But the reality is that God is already deeply involved in mission (that’s what the incarnation is all about), and the true calling of the disciple is to recognize what God is doing and to get alongside that. The trouble is that God keeps doing things that some Christians are inclined to disapprove of – and so (in one of the many stories in this book) Chris and Simon find themselves in places like Greggs the bakers at a time on Sunday mornings when others think they should have been in church.
Stories like that highlight the big challenge facing Christians in today’s world. At one time it would have been possible to invite people into church services, and they would have come. A few still do, but the majority would never dream of it, not because they’re not spiritually concerned but, as it’s been put to me many times “if we wanted to follow Jesus, we wouldn’t do it that way”. And “that way” is all too often the very things that we think will actually make our churches more attractive to outsiders. If we took more seriously the concerns of those who are searching for meaning in our increasingly fragmented culture, we might be surprised at how few of them appreciate the soft rock music that now seems to define the nature of worship, and how many of them are longing for meaningful prayer and other traditional forms of Christian devotion that have been marginalized in the effort to make churches seem trendy.
If instead of starting with the preferences of Christians, we were to start with what God is already doing in the world, I suspect we would come up with something rather different than what we have now, whether that be worship, ministry, or mission. It would be radical in the fundamental sense of the word (going back to the roots) but for that very reason would be more deeply connected to the ancient traditions of Christian spirituality and lifestyle. Seventy years ago, Archbishop William Temple said something about the church needing to be for the benefit of those who are not yet a part of it, and that is still the case today: we need to think less of the church and more about people, which is another way of saying with Jesus that we should be thinking more about others and less of ourselves. One reason that mission has become an optional extra for enthusiasts who are interested in that sort of thing is that many good and faithful believers spend all their energy servicing the institution and have no time left to connect with the rest of the world. Not that we can do without institutions. You would imagine that people in independent congregations would have more freedom to experiment, but paradoxically they can end up with less opportunity for creative missional engagement precisely because they lack the infrastructure of a well run institution, that can offer support as well as inspirational trans-local leadership.
These themes, and more, all surface in different ways here, which makes this quite a challenging book for some – though its combination of Biblical commonsense and personal stories will also be encouraging for others. The reality is that things not only are changing, but they have changed – in all churches of all theological and ecclesial shapes and sizes. The real question for us today is not whether our churches will change, but whether in the midst of the change that is already happening we are prepared to be the agents of intentional transformation. If we fail to take the initiative then we can be sure that we will be overtaken by changes that are random and unplanned, and will reflect whatever ideas happen to be trendy at any given moment. On the other hand, if we actively work for change (and a willingness to change is, after all, at the heart of the message of Jesus), then we can work to ensure that what happens next is in tune with what God is already doing. This book will be an invaluable inspiration in that endeavour – though for church life as it now is, it needs to carry a health warning!
This book is for anyone whose heart longs to share Jesus with others, but whose head has warned ‘don’t’. Chris and Simon show us how we can have a creative partnership with God, using the gifts we have already, to be effective big-hearted missionaries right where we are.
Chris writes with great passion about our loving heavenly Father, reminding us of what a big-hearted God He really is. As you read this book, you will travel to the place Jesus want you to be, doing, sharing, loving, involving and living the good news of the Gospels, all together in His very inclusive Kingdom.
Big Hearted challenges the reader to stop simply talking about it, to stop running away from it… and to just get on with the evangelistic task of making Jesus known! Chris & Simon do this in a warm-hearted, accessible way, with good humour and passionate conviction. Buy it for your leadership team and decide to act!
This book is enormous fun to read. But don't be deceived, the content of the message is about as profound as anything you will come across. The generous love of the God who ‘did not withold his own Son but gave him up for us all' needs to be reflected by an equally generous church. Most of the Christians I have met get somewhere near this but just occasionally I meet those who if they have been baptised at all seem to have been baptised in lemon-juice! This book will do us all good and will push us in the right direction.
The apparently simple approach Chris has to making God's love real is of course deceptively deep. It reaches way into our humanity, touching parts of us we'd long forgotten were there. This book is, in the very best sense, a treasury of encouragement and love.
In these days of 3D movies Chris and Simon give us a vision of a 3D Christian and a 3D church. To be Big Hearted is to be someone who is living and sharing the Christian faith in full 3D.
Chris and Simon write from their everyday experiences of what God can do and how he does it through very ordinary people. Evangelism is not a popular word today but these writers will help you look at what it means to be involved in Gods mission to his world. This book will impact not simply your head but also your heart and your actions. If you want to be involved in Gods adventure of faith make sure you read this and then get going.
Refreshing, Exciting, Stretching, Terrifying, Arresting, Revealing, Inspiring, and so much more... what Chris and Simon have tapped into is, I believe, a fresh breath of the Spirit of God releasing to the church not just creative but vibrantly beautiful expressions of the Father's heart. This is a book for the moment and also one that should inspire generations to follow in their wake. You won't be able to think about evangelism in the same way after you've read it - there, I did try and warn you!
Congratulations, Chris Duffett and Simon Goddard, for your creativity in giving a title to the book. Yes, it caught my attention right away, but I must confess that it did not ring a bell that I would be reading about Evangelism.