With the big picture in hand, God sent me out to answer the second key question: What was he already doing?
Listen as Danny describes two final questions he needed to answer to discover God's why for his ministry...
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This resulted in a year-long process of connecting with and interviewing the ministry movers and shapers across the city and region. It was not about selling my vision to them, but about adopting a posture of listening, discerning, and affirming. I set an 80/20 goal: listen 80% and talk no more than 20% (which, if you know me, would be a feat in itself). I met with everyone from local vicars, to the leaders of student ministries, to charities serving the poor and marginalized, and asked them where they saw a need, how they were addressing the problem, and who was making a difference.
I was after answers to a central question: Where was God at work? That is, what was the Spirit already doing in Oxford? And what role might God be asking us to play?
As an organization, we’ve learned the importance of asking this question. It’s all too easy to arrive in a new location, guns blazing, and expect that what we have to offer is what is needed. It can set a team back by years if they push their agenda before determining where God is already at work, and what their contribution might be.
This learning posture helped me to acquire invaluable insights about the spiritual history and current state of the city: that Oxford graduates had spawned countless movements of the gospel on every continent (think Wesley and Methodism); that it currently attracts some of the brightest and most influential young leaders from across the globes; that it is a hotspot for launching national and international non-profits. Clearly, this was and is a highly strategic city. If we could reach Oxford with the Gospel, the ramifications for the UK and the European continent could be tremendous!
At the same time, I learned that not all is well in Oxford: that on any given Sunday less than 5% of its residents attend a church, that 2017 saw an all-time high in mental health issues and suicides, and the most recent outreach week that had hosted international speakers like John Lennox and Ravi Zacharias and had involved the majority of Christian students in Oxford had only resulted in a total of three baptisms.
I began to formulate a second, more immediate answer to the question why. It was becoming clear that God had placed us in this strategic location because it had lost its Kingdom mojo. About 95% of people were essentially unreached in this influential city, and the presence of miscellaneous ministries and churches didn't seem to be making any tangible difference. God’s plan was for us to model effective disciple making in Oxford both to spawn a Gospel movement in the city and to create a model for future European hubs.
Now, how to pull it off? I was painfully aware that I lacked the skills and experience to pull this off single-handedly. Four and a half years of ministry ups and downs in London had taught me that I am not a hotshot, cowboy missionary rainmaker in any shape or form.
It was clear that God was leading me to ask a third, equally paramount question: With whom am I meant to partner? In other words, who has a calling, whether they know it or not, to see the kind of Kingdom impact we are praying for?
As I sat with God, I sensed some specific words coming to mind. It was like God was downloading a set of characteristics I was meant to be looking for. I wanted someone who exhibited “holy discontent” with the status quo because we’re all about reaching the unreached by pioneering new forms of church planting. I wanted someone who had a “learning posture” because I need teachable, pliable co-laborers. And I needed someone who was “hungry” for a harvest because it’s what would get them out of bed when things got tough.
Not long after I began praying for partners, I met Chris. An Oxford graduate, he had for some time been feeling a strong desire to see students come to Christ. At the same time, he was disillusioned with the local church’s model for reaching students: Get them in the door, take them through a course and have them pray the prayer, fold them into Thursday night’s student gathering. Invite, convert, involve, repeat. It wasn’t working, and he had heard me speak about the effectiveness of Discovery Bible Studies a few weeks before.
As we chatted over a cup of coffee, I began to get the sense that this meeting had been divinely orchestrated. The more we spoke, the clearer it became that God was in the process of providing me with my first co-laborer. Not only did he exhibit all the characteristics I had been praying for, but he had access to a slew of other high capacity leaders waiting to join a vision larger than themselves. God was beginning to align His why with His who’s!
Since then, Chris has joined staff and gone on to reach more students in six months than I ever reached in my first year and a half. He has begun to train key leaders, and we’ve recently launched Discovery Bible Studies in every one of Oxford’s 38 colleges (we’re currently at 55 DBS’s). Through him, I’ve gained access to many passionate young Oxford leaders desperate to see their fellow students reached for Jesus. And as the fruit of his ministry grows, he’s beginning to dream bigger than he ever thought was possible. There is no doubt in my mind that God has great plans for this young man’s life.
I’ll end with the original question:
“Why do we need another American missionary in Oxford?”
The answer is that Oxford is full of Chris-es who are waiting to be challenged, to align themselves with a why that is greater than themselves, who are passionate about the lost, ready, willing, and able to delve into a harvest that God has prepared for the taking. Until we move far beyond 5% church attendance in Oxford, until we see an expression of church in every community throughout Europe, until we see the Chris-es of this generation discover and live into their calling, our role as missionaries will be to discern God’s heart, to discover what he is already doing, and to partner with those called to join us. Oxford, Britain, Europe desperately needs to rediscover God’s why along with the people to accomplish this vision, and it is our prayer that God would use us, among many others, to see this vision realized within our lifetime.
Danny Aanderud and his wife Christy live in Oxford, England, with their three children. They serve with CRM’s pioneering and cross-cultural division, Ethne.