The fifth annual Tilsley Lecture was delivered on the evening of 26th November 2019 at the Tilsley Auditorium in Motherwell. About 70 persons gathered in the venue while many others joined us online from across the world to listen to Dr David Henry deliver this year’s lecture. The focus of this public lecture was “Taking the Gospel to our Streets: Lessons on Urban Mission in Hard Places”.
Drawing on his vast experience as pastor of Swallowfield Chapel in Kingston, Jamaica, as well as previous practice as an Attorney-at-law, Dr Henry ably laid out the foundations of a biblical worldview that supports the urgent need for us to engage meaningfully with the brokenness of many urban societies that surround us. His persuasive argument that we are called to such action was rooted in the missio dei (mission of God) who himself is committed to loving and sustaining the world that he made. Skillfully, Dr Henry reminded us that our societies ought to be shaped by: 1. A Religion of Relationship; 2. A Politics of Justice; and 3. Economics of Equality and each of these concepts was built upon the Old Testament Offices of Priest, Prophet and King respectively. Pointing us back to God’s ideal of the Shalom Community was a powerful indicator of the purposes God has in the long run to to bring in his kingdom, which is ‘at hand’ – not yet here in its fulness, but ‘breaking in’ as the people of God – called out and set apart – live in the world under the rule of King Jesus. Indeed, he is our primary model, who sends us into that world, just as the Father had sent him (John 20.21).
Dr. Henry then set out some of the ways in which Swallowfield Chapel have been trying by God’s grace to implement this worldview in their communities that are often characterised by gangs, guns, drugs and danger.
Examples included the Liberty Academy for under-privileged children unable to access education; the Youth Reaching Youth programme for 16-21year olds which develops life skills, presentation abilities, arts, and spiritual formation so that students might reach their peers with the Gospel. Vocational skills and training in building construction disciplines, Boys & Girls clubs, Mellow Men’s ministry, Prison ministry, soup kitchens, community services and prayer walks, were among a range of practical ways in which this church were getting out of their own walls and into their own streets with the good news of Jesus.
Dr. Henry closed his talk with a strong reminder that Jesus’ return was imminent – he will return and we know not the moment – but we must work until that day. We must be found among those who are faithfully serving his kingdom purposes. We must learn the lessons of urban mission – the ‘successes’ as well as the ‘disappointments’ of the hard places. We must not shrink back from taking the gospel to our streets.
Allan McKinnon, Principal of Tilsley College