You could mistake him for Gandalf, with his long grey beard and priestly robes. And you will very likely see him mixing with magicians, wizards, seers, fortune tellers and spiritual seekers in Body Mind Spirit fairs and festivals.
But Ole Skjerbæk Madsen is actually a Lutheran priest serving in the downtown Bethlehem Church in Copenhagen, Denmark. For twenty years, he has been heading a ministry called In the Master’s Light (IML) building bridges of friendship and understanding and creating fellowships of Jesus-disciples among spiritual seekers.
In my view, Ole is a prophet and a pioneer. He is exploring one of the ripest fields for mission in Europe today–yet a field where too few dare to follow.
This weekend I was privileged to speak in Ole’s church and participate in the anniversary of IML which he started in 1995, after a spiritual crisis through which he saw how fruitless and counterproductive his approach to those involved in new spiritualities (NS) had been.
With a negative image of the NS, he used to warn others against being tricked by demons through association with the new religious and spiritual practices. Then he began to see that the new religious movements mirrored the shortcomings of the Church–lack of spiritual guidance, intimate fellowship, spiritual practices and healing ministry.
In 1985 the New Age movement held the first Body Mind Spirit fair in Copenhagen. Some 15,000 were drawn to the booths presenting expressions of an alternative life style and spirituality including reflexology, acupuncture, alternative medicine and healing, yoga, eastern meditation, neo-theosophy, re-incarnation therapy, crystals, channelling and clairvoyance.
The atmosphere of revival was everywhere, Ole recalls, yet without Jesus Christ in the centre. As he describes it, it terrified him to think about how many more people would be spiritually misled or psychologically hurt.
Yet the question that haunted him the most was: why was not the Church there at the marketplace, as St Paul was at Areopagos?
Ole and other Lutherans got permission the following year to hold a booth presenting Jesus as the conveyer of the new age and the new life.
“But we were at the fair as propagandists and thus we had confrontation instead of dialogue,” he explains. “Most of the discussions centred around the question of reincarnation versus resurrection. No one came to know Jesus that way. I was engaged in proving the falsity of New Age. But as Jesus showed me his concern for these spiritual seekers and his acknowledgement of the sincerity and dedication of their quest, I started meeting the practitioners and seekers in the neo-spiritual milieus as potential disciples of Jesus and as friends.”
Ole and his colleagues learned not to present themselves in opposition to the other exhibitioners, but just to be themselves, presenting their own spiritual practice. They invited guests to participate in various forms of devotion, such as reading of scripture followed by a short reflection and prayer, a time of charismatic praise songs, a midday prayer sung in Gregorian chant, or an introduction to the Eastern Orthodox prayer of Jesus.
People flocked to the booth, even blocking the aisles. The prayer ministry became such a success also with the co-exhibitioners that it took all of their time with deep conversations, confessions and the beginnings of spiritual direction.
Since 1995, IML has developed into a broader ministry with the aim of being a fellowship of Jesus’ disciples in the new spiritual milieu. Every year IML is present at several alternative fairs, praying with about 1500 guests or co-exhibitioners. Through prayer many have received a personal understanding of God seeing him with the face of Jesus, instead of just as an impersonal energetic concept. IML is accepted as a part of the milieu at these fairs, but their specific Christian character is recognized and respected. Following the same co-exhibitioners from fair to fair enables Ole and his workers to offer them true soul care.
The seminars, workshops and devotional meetings, even Communion services, at fairs are generally well received–especially those on Tarot, Kabbalah and Christian spirituality or mysticism.
Mention of Tarot cards is guaranteed to raise eyebrows. Yet Ole has developed guided meditations teaching biblical truths through the symbols of the Tarot Deck and the Cabbalistic Tree of Life. He and his team sometimes hold two-hour long tarot meditation concerts, where participants draw cards and musicians play related music, while Ole explains truths about God, Jesus, man and salvation from the cards.
Ole is a member of a Lausanne Movement working group on new religious movements and contributed to a significant paper advocating a shift from confrontational to incarnational ministry.
I am personally grateful for Ole’s groundbreaking work and have been blessed engaging with him in Basel, Budapest, Sheffield, Amsterdam and Copenhagen.
Europe needs many more to follow the trail he has blazed.
Till next week,