Here is a book I wish I had written. Like me, the author is passionate about helping mission partners (or 'message bearers' as he prefers to call them) develop their inner lives in order to thrive personally and be more effective in their task. He states, 'The Great Commission is a spiritual work, not merely a strategic one. It's effectively served through spiritual people, full of the Holy Spirit, obedient to Jesus, consistently tending the garden of their inner life (p14).' I could not agree more.
What is interesting is that Shaw writes as someone who is clearly an activist yet who appreciates the need for inwardness. He is a fourth generation 'message bearer' who has travelled to more than 50 countries and lived and worked in several of them. He is a mission leader and mobiliser, focussed on the task, yet keen to remind us that to be effective in mission requires us to develop and maintain 'a solid, spiritual, inner life' (p21), something which he asserts is often sadly neglected.
How will this come about? By seeking to develop ten inner life characteristics (each of which affect our actions, choices and behaviours), identified in the book as 'spiritual keys', traits which are commonly found in the lives of those who most effectively engage in mission. Shaw gives a chapter to each of these, explaining and illustrating their significance through Bible passages, missionary biographies and his own experience. His emphasis is clear: 'The message bearers who produce great fruit are those who are determined to cultivate their inner lives (p22).'
What then are his ten key characteristics? They are these: (1) being saturated with the powerful presence of God, (2) embracing humility, (3) hungering and thirsting for God, (4)being clothed with God's Word, (5) discerning God's guidance and revelation, (6) pursuing a lifestyle of prayer, (7) cooperating with God's twofold purpose - for holiness and mission, (8) understanding the seasons and the times, (9) persevering with steadfastness and stability and (10) pursuing a focussed life.
When most mission writing focusses on externals (predictably on strategy, the skills of cross-cultural living, mobilisation tools or ways to reach different people groups), it is refreshing to read something that takes us inwards and gets at the heart of the personal life of the messenger. But this is not an easy read. It is challenging rather than encouraging as Shaw holds before us the highest standards of discipleship and calls us to a continuing, wholehearted pursuit of God. As a 'veteran' disciple I have been stirred afresh as I have read each chapter, awakened in my desire to be the best that I can be for God, and reminded not to slacken in my own hunger for intimacy with him.
This is a great book for anyone involved in mission, from those newly setting out in training, to those with many years of service behind them. It will become essential reading for anyone in mission leadership or member care, and an inspiration to sending churches and supporters. Indeed anyone interested in being an authentic disciple could benefit from its pages.
If there is one weakness with the book it is the absence of reflective questions with each chapter or a Study Guide at the end. The temptation will be to read the sections too quickly rather than to meditate on them and properly digest the material found there. Spiritual reading that transforms has to be taken slowly, and personal reflection or group interaction are the best ways to facilitate such life change. Still, enterprising readers could easily come up with questions and a Study Guide for themselves and add to their enjoyment of the book as they do so.
I look forward to seeing how this book impacts the missions community. If its message is taken to heart it could revitalise individual and organisational lives.