Ice Axes, Pastel Colours and a Queue Around the Corner

Oli Higham

Greater Glasgow August 07, 2017

One of the challenges with pioneering is thinking about first impressions. For many people their first experience will be of our “shopfronts” whether that is a physical building or an online presence. What do those first moments say about us?

The homepage of our church website starts with a simple sentence, “The adventure starts here.” You may think that’s an odd sentence to start with. Many church websites have adopted the phrase, “welcome home.” I love it. And yet, I don’t love it. It reeks of cosyness.

Now, don’t get me wrong. I’m not saying there’s anything wrong with it. As I said I love it (granted I then said I didn’t love it). I think there is a beautiful truth in the middle of it. Jesus tells three short stories in a row at one point. Actually he told one story in three different ways. A lost coin that is returned back to where it was meant to be. A lost sheep returned back to where it was meant to be. A lost son returned back to where he was meant to be. In each story, a return. In each story, a joyous celebration. The last of the three stories finish with the father saying “my son was lost and now he is found.” But maybe found doesn’t do the story justice. It’s not like something we just find on the street, a single glove or a discarded two pence piece. It is something we’ve lost ourselves, something which isn’t where it’s meant to be…and now it is reconnected, returned, resurrected. Now it is home. Perhaps the opposite of lost is not found, perhaps it is home.

So on one level ‘welcome home’ is the perfect invitation to those who are lost.

And yet we don’t choose to use the phrase “welcome home.”

Because the welcome home is at the same time an invitation to be part of something much grander.

The opposite of lost isn’t just home

We choose “the adventure starts here” as the first words you see on our website.

Someone recently asked my why we have that on our website. Why adventure? Churches aren’t about adventure. Outdoor wear catalogues are about adventure. Ice axes, crampons, waterproofs are about adventure.

Church is about cosyness and home. Isn’t it? Church is about coffee mornings and pastel colours. Isn’t it? Church is about pews and committee meetings. Isn’t it?

Isn’t it?

As I read the stories of the New Testament, I’m not convinced by a cosy church. I read the stories of Jesus and his followers and the stories of the early church and cosy doesn’t make sense. It looks anything except cosy.

It looks dangerous.

It looks wild.

It looks costly.

It looks like dead men being raised. It looks like demons being cast out of people. It looks like sacrificing the comforts of stability for the sake of sharing the story of Jesus. It looks like restoration. It looks like addicts and prisoners finding freedom. It looks like relationships being fixed. It looks like outcasts being embraced. It looks like shipwrecks and ruin. It looks like being stoned to death for declaring the good news of a God who would love us. It looks anything but cosy.

It looks dangerous.

It looks wild.

It looks costly.

Care can still happen – it’s just not the end game.

Now it’s easy to look at the adventure that lays before us and think that we’re saying we don’t care about care and compassion. But, instead let me say we need to recognize that we don’t adventure alone, but that we do this all as community. We do this together as our individual churches. But as individual churches we do it as part of the church universal, the single bride of Christ. We don’t ignore the call for care and compassion when we engage the call to adventure. The reality is that that call becomes deeper and louder. The need to pray for one another becomes more evident. The need for vulnerability and authenticity becomes strong. The need to stand with the hurting and broken is more desperate than ever.

And in fact this is the adventure we step into. The metanarrative of scripture, the big story of the Bible, the adventure we are commissioned in to, is the renewal of all things. The call home of every aspect of the cosmos. The restoration, resurrection and renewal of every facet of the cosmos, back into how God ordained them to be. This is the good news of Jesus. This is the gospel. To borrow words from the end of the bible…

Then I saw “a new heaven and a new earth,” for the first heaven and the first earth had passed away, and there was no longer any sea. I saw the Holy City, the new Jerusalem, coming down out of heaven from God, prepared as a bride beautifully dressed for her husband. And I heard a loud voice from the throne saying, “Look! God’s dwelling place is now among the people, and he will dwell with them. They will be his people, and God himself will be with them and be their God. ‘He will wipe every tear from their eyes. There will be no more death’ or mourning or crying or pain, for the old order of things has passed away.” He who was seated on the throne said, “I am making everything new!” Then he said, “Write this down, for these words are trustworthy and true.” He said to me: “It is done. I am the Alpha and the Omega, the Beginning and the End. To the thirsty I will give water without cost from the spring of the water of life. Those who are victorious will inherit all this, and I will be their God and they will be my children. But the cowardly, the unbelieving, the vile, the murderers, the sexually immoral, those who practice magic arts, the idolaters and all liars—they will be consigned to the fiery lake of burning sulfur. This is the second death.” (Rev. 21:1-8)

Now I don’t think I can be the only one who reads a passage like that and goes from the overflowing joy and excitement of the start of this passage to the stillness and seriousness of those final few verses.

The promise of what coming home looks like. And the consequence of remaining lost.

And whatever words we give to this adventure, evangelism, missional living, incarnational relationships, contextualized outreach, these verses are the stark reminder to the heights of the promise and the depths of the consequences. And we can’t ignore the statistics here. For us at Rock Community Church in Dumbarton, we are confronted with the reality that 93.8% of West Dunbartonshire don’t go to church. And it’s never as black and white as to say none of them know the good news. But let’s presume some of them don’t. Let’s presume a high percentage of them don’t. They don’t knew the offer on the table and they don’t know the consequence of not taking the offer.

And this is the adventure we are called into.

To become gospellers. To become modern day Matthews, Marks, Lukes and Johns. To tell the good news story. To tell the story of Jesus.

This is the adventure we are invited to be part of.

It is not cosy. It is not pastel colours and coffee mornings. It is an invitation to step into the adventure of a lifetime. But it’s an invitation.

I don’t think we can be followers of Christ without taking up the invitation.

But it’s there on the table.

We can accept it. Or we can leave it.

Let me change the subject briefly.

Journey to the South Pole

I hated history at school. Just never found it interesting. My dad taught me higher history the day before my exam because I’d done no work all year. That still goes down as one of my least enjoyable days.

But there’s one historical story that really resonates with me. Now while writing this article I read some articles which say it may not have been true. But others that claim it did happen. It doesn’t really matter if it’s true or not. It tells a story.

Ernest Shackleton needed a crew for an adventure to the South Pole, so, he put out this advert:

“Men wanted for hazardous journey. Low wages, bitter cold, long hours of complete darkness. Safe return doubtful. Honour and recognition in event of success.”

I don’t know if you’ve looked at a job and thought that’s not for me.

Low wages. Hazardous. Bitter cold. Complete darkness. High chance of death.

Who looks at that and says “yeah that sounds like a good job”? 5000 men queued around the corner to apply for the job. That looks like an untouchable job. And yet the call of adventure is strong.

And there’s something in that. There’s something in our nature that longs for the adventure.

Jesus says take up your cross and follow me. Christianity is anything but easy. So we start our website with the words “welcome to the adventure.” A simple phrase. A phrase which says…If you want the easy life, we should stay away from Jesus. But if your hearts burn for meaning, purpose and the wind in your sails…then welcome home. The adventure starts here.

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Oli Higham

Oli Higham

Oli is the pastor at Rock Community Church. Born in Brighton but long term resident of Dumbarton with his wife, Aliona, and kids, Sofia and Theo. He is really into Jesus and to a lesser extent comic books, spoken word poetry, street art, Arsenal FC, rugby, cooking and coffee.