What is the gospel we believe?

Posted on September 10, 2014 by Amy Tolmie

At Imagine this year, one of the groups considered the question, “What is the gospel we believe?†If we are bearers of the good news (gospel), what do we believe this is and how should we live this out in schools? It can be the perennial challenge of Christians working in school settings that the good news is often understood differently by people in churches and by those in education. But what does it mean to those of us working in this field, serving and supporting schools, their pupils and staff?

You might like to discuss this question with colleagues. What follows is the fruit of a very unfinished conversation but we hope that something here informs or stimulates your discussions about how your schools work may be a living example of the good news...

To start with, we asked what stories or examples from our work might be indicators of 'good news'. Among the stories shared were examples of:

- Service... Serving the school, meeting their needs and doing it well. We heard examples from a broad range of schools work activities.
- Offering a service without expecting anything in return
- Longevity, consistency and building relationships over time
- Involving the church community in ways that support pupils and the school
- Not preaching, converting or doing overtly 'Christian stuff' is, slightly paradoxically, good news to a school, especially if they've had a bad experience of inappropriate approaches by Christian visitors previously.
- Getting the balance between word and deed of the gospel. There was some discussion about the balance between proclamation (speaking the good news) and presence (being good news). Lessons and assemblies (proclamation) are still entirely valid and appropriate expressions of the good news where they are serving the expressed needs of the school.
- You're there for the school, the school is not there for you.

We recognised that in communicating with churches or management bodies there can sometimes be pressure to talk about numbers, but you can't always or easily quantify the 'results' of your work. Speaking about 'outputs' (numbers of students seen, how many lessons you've done) can produce easy numbers but the meaningful impact is in the outcomes, what happened as a result of the work you have done. Telling these stories (in appropriate ways that respect any confidentialities) will give a much better picture of what your schools work is achieving.

One key indicator of the good news making a difference is transformation. The good news transforms, brings change, to individuals' lives.
When Jesus called to him and went to his house for tea, Zacchaeus' was transformed. Perhaps it would help a church to hear about stories of change, for example in a students' behaviour, as a way of showing transformation is taking place. When John the Baptist sent messengers to ask Jesus if he was the one they were expecting or whether they should wait for someone else, Jesus doesn't say “Yesâ€, he says “Go back and report to John what you hear and seeâ€. (Matt 11) The evidence of transformation is the evidence of the good news.

During her morning Keynote talk Jill Rowe referred to Jesus mandate from Isaiah 61, quoted in Luke 4:18-19 ““The Spirit of the Lord is on me, because he has anointed me to proclaim good news to the poor. He has sent me to proclaim freedom for the prisoners and recovery of sight for the blind, to set the oppressed free, to proclaim the year of the Lord's favour.â€
The good news embodies both spiritual and physical transformation. When Jesus fed the 5000 he met the needs of physical hunger as well as spiritual hunger.

These events in the ministry of Jesus were signs of the Kingdom of God breaking through. When we pray, “Your kingdom come, your will be done, on earth as it is in heaven.†what do we think that will look like? In our conversation many people had examples of how their work, clearly understood to be from a Christian individual or organisation, was received as good news by the school.

One question we pondered was if we only did good deeds would we count it as mission?

At the heart of the mission of God is incarnation, Jesus becomes flesh and blood, he in turn fills us with the Holy Spirit to continue his work. There are many very skilled and lovely people doing amazing work in schools and it is our privilege to work alongside them, learn from them and support them. But if we are gospel people that means we are also full of God, the Holy Spirit, and that should, and often does, bring a whole new dimension to what we offer schools.

Tim Abbott. With thanks to Nicola Davey and Eileen Saunders for their excellent notes and all those who contributed to a stimulating conversation.