Have you ever heard of Beetlejuice?
As much as it pains me to admit, I'm getting older and so in picking a cultural reference for an ALOVE blog for young people I've landed on a film that was released in a year when a lot of you weren't even born but stick with me it should all make sense...hopefully.
Beetlejuice was a film about a couple who head off to their new home in the country and then both die (honestly stick with me, there might be a prize at the end). As they get used to the idea of being dead they're introduced to Beetlejuice who is a ghost who can be called upon to help them get rid of the people who bought their house and are now ruining it. If you haven't seen it (and are over 15) it's worth a watch. If you're under 15 and are feeling left out there's also a cartoon series which you can check out. Anyway, the point of mentioning it is because to meet Beetlejuice you have to contact him and there's only one way to do it - you say his name three times. If you don't say it three times he won't appear. It's like at Christmas when you're at the carol service and you want Santa to come in and throw Smarties at you so you all sing Jingle Bells but inevitably you don't sing it loud enough so you have to do it louder or Santa won't come in.
A few years back I got a job in Starbucks. I had been a DYO (Divisional Youth Officer) for a number of years and then had moved into radio. When I gave up my radio job I needed something else both to earn money and to spend my time on. So I applied at my local Starbucks and got a part-time job there. What struck me was how people reacted to this. There were two common responses I encountered.
The first was sympathy. People would tilt their heads, furrow their eyebrows and say things like "I'm sure something better will come along soon" or "oh well, we all have to do things we don't enjoy". I never really understood this as I wasn't sad to be working there. I'd never expressed sorrow or pain at being in this job and yet somehow it became a source of sympathy, like I'd lost my house keys or my pet Hamster had contracted the plague. It was a very strange response and one that I'm sure I'm not alone in experiencing. Some of you reading this might be working in coffee shops, supermarkets, fast food restaurants or shops and you've had the same response. These jobs matter, they're important and so if you've got one of them I hope you love it.
The second response was equally baffling. People would lean in really close and say "so what's the plan here then?" I'd try not to look too confused but I'm sure my face gave me away when I replied "What!?!?" Sometimes they'd add in a cheeky wink like we were both in on the masterplan, "say no more" they'd respond, and that was fortunate because I literally had nothing else to say. When I did press further I usually found people believed there was some grandiose scheme behind my working there. As if I had some daring plan to evangelise the whole country from the starting point of imbedding myself as a part-time barista in a small coffee shop kiosk in a town in Essex. It would be quite something...but it wasn't why I was there.
I spent a year in that coffee shop and I loved it. Since those days I've done some great things, met some brilliant people and had some incredible jobs but if I'm really honest I think Starbucks is still one of, if not the, best job I've ever had. There was no masterplan, no missional objectives, no secret scheme at work. I needed a job and they gave me one. I worked with great people who taught me loads about life, community and service. I met customers who shared their stories with me and listened to mine. Who took an interest in who I was and who let me take an interest in who they were. To this day I see people in my community who still say hello, or ask me how I am and I do the same to them. My church family now meets weekly in Starbucks for an early morning prayer meeting and every year hold a Christmas singalong for the customers and staff. A few weeks ago I met my old manager now working in a different place and we reminisced, laughed and shared tales of our time there. I thanked her for her support and patience with me and assured her how important that time had been in my life - because it really was.
When ALOVE attempted to define mission a few years ago they landed on the phrase "to go into the world to find and point out Jesus". It's a great phrase and one that perhaps flies in the face of the way we've thought about mission over the years. I remember well-meaning people telling me to make sure I'd packed my pencil case, lunchbox and Jesus when I went to school. It was meant as an encouragement to help me understand my responsibility as a young Christian and it may have said to you over the years as well. The sentiment is, of course, well intended but the reality is that Jesus is already at work in your school, university or workplace. He's already present in those places and doesn't need us to take him there. We can't on the flip side decide not to bring him on a Tuesday "because it's PE day and I lose my temper on the pitch" or leave him at home on a night out "because he wouldn't like what I get up to". When it came to Starbucks I couldn't take Jesus there because he was already there and when I looked I saw his fingerprints were all over the conversations, relationships and lives of the people who worked and drank there. I realised the Kingdom of God was at work in that place and I got to join in.
Some people will want examples or stats, they'll need me to justify my time as a missional activity and so here they are. During my time at Starbucks I didn't preach any sermons. On not one occasion did someone ask me to pray over their latte or turn a comfy armchair into a mercy seat so they could be led to Christ. I can't tell you how many times I even mentioned God. For some this will mean that my time there was, in missional terms, pretty useless. For these people mission only happens when God is mentioned or spoken about. Mission begins when you tell some about Jesus...and that brings me back to Beetlejuice
You see, the reason I love the definition of mission from ALOVE is because it reminds me that mission isn't about me or what I do. Mission doesn't start or end with me and it isn't mine. God is at work in the world and he invites us to join him, to find and point him out. It's not about saying his name three times so he magically appears. It's about getting stuck into our world and finding him already present. It frees me from worrying about twisting conversations, from making sure I say the "magic words", from feeling like God's work only begins when I say his name. Don't get me wrong, when those times come and you get to share your faith, your passion, your love of God, they're great! But sometimes they don't come and that's okay. Sometimes good advice, a listening ear, an act of kindness or simply being present are all that we can do and all that is needed.
And so if the mission is to find and point out Jesus, then what are we waiting for? He's there at work in coffee shops, schools, streets, homes, supermarkets, butchers, parks, theatres, pubs, clubs, swimming pools, football matches, universities, factories, hospitals and anywhere else we find ourselves. He's not waiting on us to pack him in our luggage or carry him in our pocket. He's not patiently listening out to hear his name mentioned like a 1980's ghost or man in a red suit in the foyer. He's already there, already at work and calling on us to join him, point him out and jump into his mission.
Written by Matt White
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