Looking Beyond the Horizon – Mike Hill
Looking Beyond the Horizon
Some years ago, I was invited to speak at a church in Stockholm. I have no idea how I came to be invited. One Friday afternoon in early Spring I arrived at Stockholm’s Arlanda Airport. It suddenly occurred to me that I had no idea what the name of the church was or who my contact was for the pick-up. I came through the airport formalities and stepped out into the airport. Several people were there to meet flights. I hung around as people drifted away. Finally, there was a very old clergyman in a shabby raincoat. My contact.
It turned out that this was the Minister of St Clara’s Lutheran church in the centre of Stockholm. We went through to the car airport park. It was virtually empty. There was a nice shiny Mercedes limo and a really old Toyota Previa. I guessed which vehicle would be mine for the journey into the city. I remember two things about the journey. Firstly, as the vehicle sped along the motorway, I could see the road flashing beneath my feet through the holes in the floor. Second, after about thirty minutes I discovered that there were two men hiding in the back of the vehicle. It transpired these were two asylum seekers and the Minister was looking after them. I started to feel a bit anxious as to what accommodation I might have to endure for the long weekend.
The church of St Clara stands very near the Central Station in Stockholm. The area around it is the ‘red light’ and drug dealing part of the city. I had no idea I was on the cusp of being exposed to one of the most amazing churches I have ever been privileged to visit.
The Sunday ministry was unspectacular. Decent congregations, many of whom travelled to support the ministry of the church. The worship was formal and clearly very attached to the denomination. The only visible clue to what I was about to discover came when I stepped into the capacious and very high pulpit to speak. The church had a balcony that had no people in it, but there seemed to be piles of mattresses up there.
Monday was a breakthrough. I was told to be there for the 8am prayer meeting. My mind went back to my local church days. Staff plus an occasional few hangers on might arrive. This prayer meeting was packed. The gifts of the Spirit were exercised in an orderly way. There was testimony. The midweek ‘congregation’ were people of the streets. Prostitutes, addicts, homeless and ill people flocked in. The prayers seemed passionate even though I couldn’t understand them.
Every night the church turned into a massive dormitory for scores of people. Breakfast was fed to them. Many of the converts would then work on the streets seeking to save other desperate people. I was in awe of what was being achieved. There was nothing slick, nothing polished about their work, but it was mighty effective. A timely reminder to me of what kind of people Jesus spent time with.
I doubt the elderly Minister had ever gone to any leadership seminars. Nevertheless, he seemed very surefooted in the way he supplied sacrificial effort and a deep understanding of God and the people he sought to serve. Somewhere he had learnt that to be full of faith and the Holy Spirit was task-critical to his calling.
So, is there anything to learn from this dear man?
The Vision Thing
I think he was a seer. That old English word implies someone who sees things. I think he had the ability to see beyond the horizon of denominational expectation to what might be possible by faith and sacrifice. At GLN, we think that helping equip leaders to look over the horizon is a good thing. The igniting of godly imagination needs to be in plentiful supply, not least in a world such as we live in today.
Plentiful and Practical Compassion
Secondly, caring for some of these very vulnerable people, he was extremely concerned that they should be looked after well. Compassion was in plentiful and practical supply, but it was aligned to high standards. “Imagine how you might like to live if you had been through what they have been through.”
Counting the Cost
Thirdly, he understood that sacrifice is a critical aspect of Gospel ministry. I don’t think he was worried about many of the preoccupations of modern ministry – large staff teams (most of his people were volunteers who had not very good jobs to ‘see them by’), eye-watering budgets and a plethora of activity. He is one of the few men I have met who counted the cost and then carried on anyway!
At the top of this article, I noted Acts 2:42–end. If you look you will glean similar points from the text. You might like to note for your next message that in a pre-Christian culture, good works led to good favour with the people, as a platform for Good News.
This Swedish experience all took place a while ago now. I have no idea what goes on there today. I only know that, for a long weekend, I rubbed noses with something that felt holy and it was utterly compelling.
CEO, GLN UK & Ireland