Following up on my last post…
I hate the word “missional.” I also hate the words “attractional, invitational, and incarnational.” Alright. I don’t hate them. I just think they are unnecessary. It’s like a bunch of Christians got in a room together and said “Ending words with ‘-ism’ is so passé. Let’s change it up a bit and use something that sounds more hip. How about we create buzzwords with “-al” at the end?” I apologize for being facetious. But I do find the jargon bandwagon a little cramped these days. So, how about I don’t get on.
I had coffee with a friend last week and we were talking about Christians finding practical ways to serve their communities. Buzzwords ( ending in “-al”) make little impact. Sharing with and serving others is difficult for church people. We often lack the faith required to put action to our beliefs. So, we find convenient ways to serve or give or love. Because we are obsessed with materialism, we usually throw money at a problem…in the form of an offering or a purchased item that seems to be lacking in someone’s life. In our economy, giving money to a problem (whether it’s abroad or in our backyard) is not as easy as it used to be. But it is still fairly easy. So, when we raise money to build a building in another country we are honestly doing the least mount of work. And if we send a group to do international missions, we are still leaving behind the majority of people in our churches who feel they have done their work by dropping a small offering in the offering plate. Don’t get me wrong – I’m a fan of mission trips (we have some excellent missions work going on right now at our church)…but it only involves a few people. It rarely involves the whole church. I place the blame for this at the feet of ministers just like me. We tell people what to support, what to publicize, and what ideas to champion. When we do, we create a bunch of bobble-heads with wallets…
I believe there’s a missing element to faith in our churches today. That element is creativity. When thinking of ways to impact the world around them, people no longer think for themselves. That’s why I believe creativity is the largest barrier to faith. Rather than being led by the Holy Spirit to find unique ways to further the kingdom of God, we fall back on conventional methods of programming that impact many but often involve few. The most creative ways Christians are living out their faith usually involve little money and are extremely simple ideas. But these ideas are their own. Things get complex when we create programs to do what people who love God do naturally: meet each other’s needs in simple, effective, and inexpensive ways.
The church doesn’t need more money or publicity. It needs to free people to be creative in how they express their faith to others. Creativity creates ownership and a sense of purpose. People are already “missional.” We need to spend less time convincing them of that and more time creating a culture where no idea is off limits regardless of how small, inexpensive, or insignificant it may seem. It’s in those small details that that church will continue to grow. Mustard seeds grow into something much larger.
I’m still thinking through all of this. What do you think about it?
I’ve been thinking about the idea of the “supernatural” in the Christian life. For a couple of months, I’ve been reading a steady diet of Watchman Nee, Malcolm Smith, and Norman Grubb. And they often speak of something much deeper than your average Christian sermon ever introduces to a congregation today. Those readings have reminded me of things I’ve read by preachers associated with the Keswick “Higher Life” movement like F.B. Meyer, A.B. Simpson, and Hudson Taylor.
There are a couple of themes that keep coming back to me in all of their writings. First, most have done extensive missionary work, often times writing some of their most poignant spiritual thoughts down far removed from the paradigm of the “Western church.” Second, they all write about something called the “exchanged life”: that the basic premise of the Christian walk is not found in appropriating a particular task or objective (“don’t do that, make sure you do this”) but rather to allow the Holy Spirit to work in and through you. In other words, we are not to “keep” the Ten Commandments – we are to lean into the transformation Jesus brings to us and he will keep the Ten Commandments through us by pouring his love into our hearts (Jer. 31:33-34, Rom. 5:5, Rom. 13:8-10, Gal. 5:13-18).
But what stands out to me most in their writings is their understanding of what it means to live a supernatural life. Many in the world today believe for something “supernatural” that we often take for granted – simply because they have no other choice. When I think “supernatural,” I usually think of some sort of miracle - something far beyond my own abilities or expectations. But after talking with a number of friends over the past month, believing for a miracle is relatively easy compared to believing God for the “supernatural” in other ways. For example (at the risk of sounding crude), if I pray for someone to receive healing for a terminal disease their recovery has little to do with me or my family. Or I can pray for someone to rise from the dead and if it doesn’t happen, the dead person is no worse off for it. It doesn’t affect my livelihood.
I’m finding that it’s much more difficult to be “supernatural” about the ordinary needs of life. The purchase of a home. Paying for new tires on a car. Relocation and job changes. Choosing a school system for our children. Walking through a divorce with grace and dignity. In any of these or thousands of other scenarios, the stakes are much higher. My family, finances, relationships, and well-being could suffer drastically. And if I choose to not believe in God’s “supernatural” ability to be involved in the details of my life, the result may be disastrous. Plus, there’s only one person to blame for those repercussions: me. I need (we all need) the same guidance in the personal details of our lives that I would need when praying for a miracle. That’s been my focus recently. I pray God gives you the same sense of spiritual “weight” to your decisions.
Every Christian is taught in church about the importance of mission work, evangelism, and “sharing” their faith with others. We teach classes on the topic, take up missions offerings at VBS, and a whole host of assorted religious activities surround the idea of activism. For the record, I think we do it wrong. Quite wrong actually, particularly in light of how Jesus reached out to others. Let me explain.
Most Christian mission work throughout history has been by those with resources attempting to “enlighten” those without. The intentions have generally been good – people want to give to others, after all – we want to provide for those who have need. But the gifts tend to be conditional. People accept the gifts we give knowing that we will then attempt to convert them to Christianity. It’s a business contract in a way…and an unbalanced one at that. Why? It places someone with power in relationship with someone who doesn’t have the means to “negotiate terms” – in this case, the terms are conversion. Kinda ugly when you put it that way, huh?
Jesus did something very different. He placed himself in positions of helplessness throughout his ministry. And it was in those moments of “leverage” that he made significant strides with those considering a life of faith. In John 4, we find Jesus waiting at the well without his leather water bucket – each traveler is responsible for carrying his own. Jesus sent his with the disciples as they went into town, but still remained at the well – the place he would have needed it the most. When the Samaritan woman approached, he basically said, “Help me. I have no way to drink water.” He asked her to compensate for his weakness. Only after he establishes her dignity by giving her the chance to help him does he engage her. He does the same with Peter in Luke 5 – Jesus requests his help by asking to use his boat as a speaking platform. Only after that does he approach Peter about his spiritual life. Jesus’ personal abasement reaps spiritual conversion. He taught the disciples to do the same: in Mark 6, Jesus sends out the disciples and tells them to take nothing with them they might need on the journey. In essence, Jesus said, “If you need something, ask for it.” Leaning on the natural hospitality of others, the disciples could interact with others on a personal level. The entry-point to dialogue was not power or resources or influence. It was helplessness. Weakness.
Why does this idea make us uncomfortable? Well, mostly because Christians are supposed to have it together. We can witness because Christianity brings success rather than failure. Riches not poverty. Notoriety not obscurity. But Jesus did the opposite. He ministered out of humility. While many ministers today are busy building a platform, Jesus had to ask for one. In all of those stories, power is involved - words of knowledge, healing, provision, etc. – but only after the “playing field” has been levelled and God alone receives the glory for that power. This is the way D.T. Niles puts it: “To serve from a position of power is not true service but beneficence…The only way to build love between two people or two groups of people is to be so related to each other as to stand in need of each other.“
There’s much talk about the “weakness of God” in religious and philosophical circles today. Personally, I welcome it. It moves our understanding of a stern and dictatorial God towards the One that dies for those who barely understand why. And that revelation captured in Jesus’ “theology of mission” wounds my pride and self-sufficiency. And I’m deeply thankful for it.
I have a unique opportunity to share with you during the upcoming Advent season…
A few years ago, TFUMC (as part of the Advent Conspiracy movement) launched something called Advent Revolution. We asked our congregation to spend $50 less on Christmas gifts per person and give that money to an international cause. We chose World Help - an organization that helps fight poverty, disease, and lack of education in over 40 countries. We have raised roughly $25,000 each year to build homes for orphans and families affected by the Rwandan genocide. It’s been one of the most rewarding events our church has ever undertaken. Along with our yearly Advent Revolution ministry, we have sent groups of missionaries to help build the homes and minister to the locals on a personal level.
The most rewarding part of the process is the personal connections we’ve made with the people of Rwanda. We’re no longer giving money to an idea or concept or even images on a brochure cover. We’re now giving to people with names and faces who know us as well. For example, recently a church member gave money to help a former prostitute named Diana finish her university education. Since Diana’s personal conversion, she has also led several women out of that same bondage. Our team met Diana on our last mission trip and heard her testimony of receiving Christ. She brought a friend with her that day and the team prayed with him to receive Christ as well.
We’ve managed to cause a stir in the process. The United Methodist periodical The Interpreter is featuring Advent Revolution in this month’s issue. We’re excited about the exposure the ministry will gain – but more importantly, we hope other church (Methodist and otherwise) will join in. Visit our website www.adventrevolution.com for more details on the movement and how it’s impacted our church in such a significant way.