They say you can’t steer a stationary ship, and those words took a deeper significance for me about 3 1/2 years ago while sitting astride my old Yamaha motorcycle. I grew up around motorbikes in one way or another, both my parents and my sister had bikes at different stages, but for one reason or another I didn’t get round to taking my test until I was well into my 20s.
I’m the kind of person that rarely takes a course of action without a specific intention or goal, and I considered that God may have some scheme at work in getting me on a bike – something which I sort of drifted into.
It wasn’t many months after having those thoughts when I first met up with the UK South Chapter of God’s Squad. We met at the famous Ace Cafe in London, and that day felt like some kind of spiritual homecoming for me.
Now, a few years and many thousands of miles later, it is interesting to reflect on my experiences journeying with the club, the roots and history of it, and the methodology of this endeavour. Since starting my degree in Theology, Mission and Ministry last year I’ve heard concepts of missiology discussed like incarnation, inculturation, contextualisation, prophetic dialog etc. The thing is, although I didn’t know the academic words for it, I have seen these principles embodied in this strange beast we know as God’s Squad, they are such a part of its DNA that to give them name almost seems perverse.
Some Christians struggle will this rag-tag bunch of Jesus-loving, bike-riding ragamuffins, but I have the feeling that Jesus and his 12 best mates were mis-understood in a similar way. “Friend of sinners” they called him, as if the messy lives of those he associated with somehow made him unclean. I dearly love The Message’s translation of John 1:14 – “The Word became flesh, and moved into the neighbourhood”. Essentially, from what I have experienced so far, that is what God’s Squad tries to achieve.
“Jesus hung out with the wrong side of town, and that’s one of the reasons he was crucified”
Although the ‘outlaw biker fraternity’ might seem like an uncomfortable place for Christians to hang out, I get the feeling that Jesus was known for spending much of his time in similar haunts. As Rev. Dr. John Smith once said, “Jesus hung out with the wrong side of town, and that’s one of the reasons he was crucified”. The Gospel of Jesus Christ has particular relevance for those on the fringes of mainstream society, those who are hated and rejected, and for those who resonate with the idea that “He who is forgiven much, will love much”.
In reality, the work of contextualising the Gospel into this kind of environment requires little effort. Our friends in the scene can easily relate to the Bible’s oh-so-honest tales of power-struggle, oppression, governmental injustice, violence, betrayal and the need for restoration. And into this bloody history, the saviour was born, and instead of a Military Dictator, another flood, or an army of angels, God sends a helpless child.
Something of our sending into the places where our friends congregate can feel like this. Despite the outward appearance of some of my brothers, we can feel like Daniel in the lion’s den at times. But we are sent not by an institution but a person, the person of God. And as I have learned from another one of our concepts of missiology, Missio Dei, we are journeying in the footsteps of God, who is at work way ahead of us. This is not an idealistic situation, we have received from the same hands acts of unfathomable welcome and kindness, and acts of brutal violence and rejection.
But as we journey with our friends in the scene, hearing their stories, sharing in some of their pain, we are daily reminded of the goodness of God. And more than that, that this is God’s World, and we are all God’s Children. It is such a privilege to engage in such a rich culture and with such vibrant and special people.
Something of my journey so far with God’s Squad has changed my outlook on mission. Any zealots looking for ‘notches on their Bible’ will not last long on this journey. But those with a humble heart and a deep love for all of God’s children have the opportunity to be a part of something truly remarkable, in all its broken, mistake-ridden, glory. The single biggest thing this journey, and the beginning of a journey in studying missiology has taught me, is that one of the biggest needs is the posture of wider Christian mission to change. Something of the old colonial mindset lingers. Do we want to see people encounter Christ and journey with him down their own path of transformation, or do we want people to don a suit and tie, get a university education and be more like us? (I say this not currently owning a tie or having a university education, but the metaphor is still relevant).
“Mission means getting your hands dirty”
In Paul’s exhortation to be “like-minded” with Christ in Philippians 2, and take the form of a servant, there is a glorious pattern for God’s mission, the pain, the shame and the smells of humanity are things we much engage with in order to follow God’s example. As my dear friend Sean Stillman once said, “Mission means getting your hands dirty”. Or, to take a slightly different angle, as Thomas Edison put it, “Opportunity is missed by most people because it is dressed in overalls and looks like work”.
My deepest hope as my journey with God’s Squad continues, is that we, as a missional community, will continue to seek the face of Jesus. And that just a bit of the glorious love and redemption we experience can be reflected to those we meet. And maybe we might see something of the image of our box-breaking God in the friends we meet along the Way.