One Thing: Being Authentic

One thing that I wish I knew before I started to share my faith (and to be honest I wish I could keep being reminded of because I so easily forget!) is to be authentically myself with those I’m sharing my faith with.

Perhaps you’re thinking that is rather obvious! But it’s something I’ve had to learn, and continually re-learn, over many years of ministry and mission. God calls people, he equips them, and everyone has a part to play. But we so easily slip into thinking we’re not the right person for the job because we don’t have the right skills or the ability to engage easily with the context in which we find ourselves.

I’ve always felt called into mission – passionate about reaching people that others may overlook. For many years I spent every summer travelling to various African countries to take part in projects and serve different organisations. Just over 10 years ago my husband and I packed up our lives in the UK and moved out to Kenya in an attempt to realise this calling more fully. After a year we felt that God was calling us to return to the UK and weeks after that we joined the Eden Network and began to lead a team of urban missionaries on a council estate in South Manchester.

As overseas missionaries we had received a lot of cross-cultural training. I learned about the culture, customs and social norms of my host culture. I expected that there were things I wouldn’t understand about the people and place that I was serving and so I did what I could to prepare myself for this. I adapted my behaviour, dress and language in order to help bridge the gap between myself and those I was trying to reach. But it was still hard, there were many times I felt ill equipped for the task.

I didn’t realise that I would need the same level (if not more) of orientation moving less than a mile up the road onto our estate. It only took a short time before I realised how wrong I had been! Within months I was helping one neighbour fight to regain custody of her children and another to navigate our complex asylum system. I had no personal experience of either of these situations and again wondered if I was the best person to help them out. Surely there was someone else better placed, with more experience, insight and skill…What could a middle class, white, country girl really bring into these complex situations? Maybe the barriers between us really were too big?

It’s been 10 years since we joined Eden and I’ve asked this question many more times since. And every time I need to remind myself that God has called me into this place, that he is passionate about my community and that my role is to continue to pray and share as and when the opportunities present themselves.

In Romans 12:1-2 we read these familiar words:

Therefore, I urge you, brothers and sisters, in view of God’s mercy, to offer your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and pleasing to God—this is your true and proper worship. Do not conform to the pattern of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind. Then you will be able to test and approve what God’s will is—his good, pleasing and perfect will.

Whatever our backstory, our skills and our weaknesses God calls us all to lay it down in service of him, to cease to conform to worldly patterns of thinking and to be transformed. We are not to be transformed into the likeness of those we wish to reach, or into the likeness of those we aspire to be like – rather we are to be transformed into the likeness of God. This passage reminds us that we follow a holy and merciful God, that we are called to a higher standard than that which the world offers, and that transformation comes through daily sacrifice.

One of the biggest blessings of a decade of service to one community is that there are people who I have shared my faith with, who I have shared my life with, who have come to know and love Jesus too. Our shared faith has brought us together and they have become guides and teachers offering me greater insight into their world. We are now being transformed together – the one from inside and the one from outside – sharpening each other up for the task ahead.

1. Who has God made you to be? Read Psalm 139: 1-4 – God made you and he knows everything about you. Make a list of your passions and also of your fears. Where have you seen God working in these two areas of your life? Pray to God and ask him to align your passions with his and replace your fear with his peace.
2. Where is God sending you? Each of us are ‘sent ones’ with a mandate to share the gospel. Spend some time in prayer asking God where he wants you to be. What is the community that you are called to?
3. Who are you working alongside? Who is sharpening you and who are you sharpening? God brings the most unlikely people together to shape one another, who are you shaping and also who are you humbly allowing to shape you in order that you become more like Jesus?

Sarah is Head of Eden, and passionate about urban mission and equipping the church to reach out. She has spent the past nine years living as part of an Eden team in Manchester, planting churches, raising up local leaders and juggling family life too.