Lal Dhillon asks us to find what Jesus is doing amongst communities where the Church is not present. He leads ‘Project Wanderlust’, a missional project seeking to see a greater realization of the Kingdom of God in gaming culture. He is also a student at the Scottish Baptist College and a graduate of the Forge Pioneer course.
The other day, I had a really interesting conversation about pioneer ministry with a fellow student who I have great respect for. We discussed the need for new missional initiatives, and we also talked about what it looked like to be properly discipled in a missional context. At one point, my friend made a comment about leading and following. If I’m honest, I can’t remember the exact phrase he used, but it went along these lines: ‘if I want to lead people into a place of ministry, then I first need to be led there myself. I can’t lead people into a place that I myself have not gone.’
Ever since that conversation, I’ve been turning this problem round and round in my head, trying to make sense of what it means for me as a missional leader. I came to do the Forge program two years ago with a call on my heart to do mission within the gaming community of Glasgow. All of my life, gaming has shaped the communities that I’ve been a part of and the friendships that I have built, and it was my deep desire to see these people encounter the love of Jesus. And yet, wherever I looked, I struggled to find Churches who were engaging with this community, or even Churches who understood that it existed at all. It begs the question: how do we find people to lead us into the spaces where the Church is no longer active?
I remember talking about this problem repeatedly throughout the Forge Pioneer course. Our tutors repeatedly emphasised to us the idea that ‘where we’re going, there are no maps’. The very phrase ‘pioneer ministry’ implies this tension. How do we learn to do Church in spaces where the Church has no real presence? How do we find the right paths in places where there are no maps?
The Pioneer mission course was particularly helpful in this regard, in large part because it taught us as a team to start asking the right questions about our faith and our community. As a team, we were taught to ground our team in a set of shared values, things that we believed about Jesus and about our community. One of the questions that we asked, and that we still ask today is this: ‘what does the good news of Jesus Christ look like to the gaming community?’. It sounds simple, but asking this question continually as we prayed and sought the heart of God together began to open our eyes to the places where God was already at work within our culture.
There’s a significant theology behind this approach, which in my experience has often been underrealized in Church outreach. Pioneer ministry can often feel intimidating, like a great big step off the edge into a place that we don’t really recognise. A place where the church traditions we’ve assembled over the years fail to express the fullness of God in His glory to the community. And yet, though the Church doesn’t have much of a presence in the gaming community, Jesus was there long before we were. In Colossians 1:16-17, Paul talks about the place of Jesus in creation, writing:
‘For in him all things were created: things in heaven and on earth, visible and invisible, whether thrones or powers or rulers or authorities; all things have been created through him and for him. 17 He is before all things, and in him all things hold together.’ (NIV).
To me, this passage is so important for pioneer mission, as it shows us that Jesus is already active within the communities we seek to engage with, sustaining and holding together that which He has created.
Finding Cultural Waypoints
Of all of the activities we’ve engaged with as a team, the most significant by far has been prayer. We pray for our community, for healing and reconciliation. We pray for greater realization of the love of God in the gaming community. But we also pray through the community, by which I mean we pray as we engage in the activities that define the gaming community. We pray as we play card games together, as we hear and tell stories, as we explore and journey and create. As we’re doing this, we’re learning to listen out for the echoes of the voice of Jesus the creator and sustainer, who is already at work within gaming culture.
What we’ve found as we’ve done this has continually surprised us. Gaming culture is rich with stories of good and evil, with values of justice and community, and with a longing for something more than this world has to offer. We believe that these are the signs of Jesus, bringing about his kingdom in the midst of our community. More and more, the invitation to pioneer feels less like a command to go out and build something where there was nothing, and more like an invitation to come and join Jesus in the work which He has already begun. We may not have maps, but Jesus has built roads for us to walk on.