Disclaimer: If you ever see a footnote on the bottom of a post, it’s likely to become a follow up post at some point. This post originated here.
There is a giant market in Christianity in the West for all things “missional.” In fact it’s so large, we’ve started naming things missional that aren’t. And much of the missional conversation has begun to center around doing good works for our neighbor–caring for the sick, empowering the poor, advocating for those at the margins.
All of this must include sharing the gospel. The missional movement will go completely off track if it abandons the story of Jesus as the way to the Father and the only answer for the human condition. In fact, while good works are important and cannot be ignored, sharing the good news must take priority in our lives. I say this as someone who has taken in people without homes and cared for the fatherless. Only the Gospel of Jesus ultimately saves people.
Our model for all of this should be Jesus Himself. He sets the terms and conditions for how Christianity should be lived out and demonstrated on the Earth. We should be surprised, then, to find that much of the missional movement not participating in the power of the Holy Spirit and advocating for a display of His power, because Jesus regularly relied on the Holy Spirit to sustain His mission.
Hear me on this: I’m sure Jesus would welcome us caring for the poor. I’m sure Jesus would encourage us for extending love to those who seem outside of the social norm. I’m sure Jesus would encourage us to care for the sick. I just see Him do it in the Gospels in a radically different manner than the missional church in the West.
A few examples of this:
After being tempted in the wilderness for 40 days by the devil, Jesus returns to Nazareth and preaches in a synagogue. He teaches from Isaiah 62, proclaiming His intent to bring good news to the poor, proclaim release to captives, open the eyes of the blind, and loose the oppressed. After being chased out of the hometown for not doing many miracles, he moves on to Capernaum where He sets a captive free by casting a demon out of a demonized man (Luke 4:14-37). There aren’t many in the missional movement I hear practicing freeing people in this way.
Jesus frequently emphasized caring for the sick. But we don’t see Jesus establishing hospitals*. What we do see is Jesus healing Peter’s mother-in-law (Matthew 8:14-17), a paralyzed man (Mark 2:1-12), and a man born blind (John 9:1-6). These are just some of many healing miracles that were the method Jesus used to “care for the sick,” (John 21:25). I hear many advocating for better healthcare in the missional movement, but very few people praying for healing.
Jesus also did a number of other miracles for the benefit of others. He fed those without food. He did this twice through miracles of multiplication (Matthew 14:13-21, Matthew 15:32-39). This is rarely how I hear missional people speak of feeding the hungry. And I hear very few answers from the missional crowd about how to deal with demonized men who live as outcasts that no one knows how to deal with. But Jesus ends both the oppression and the isolation by rebuking the demonic presence and freeing the man (Mark 5:1-20).
Jesus did all of these signs as proof that He was truly the embodiment of God’s Kingdom (John 2:23, John 6:2, John 15:24). And He did these miracles, not because He was God incarnate, but because He relied on the power of the Holy Spirit (see perhaps my favorite missional verses of all time, Phillipians 2:6-8, and John 5:19 & Matthew 12:28).
Not only did Jesus rely on the power of the Holy Spirit to be on mission Himself, He told us to do the same. He said that those who believed in Him would do not only the works He did, but greater works (John 14:12). And he commanded the apostles not to begin attempting the mission until the Holy Spirit came and gave them power to do the mission, too (Luke 24:49, Acts 1:4-5). Once this happened, they embarked on a very similar story as Jesus did.
My point in bringing all this up is that we often try to carry out the commands of Jesus in the power of the flesh. And while I’m sure there are true and real times Jesus has asked us to bandage a wound, be a friend to the lonely, and be an advocate for the poor, I want us to remember that the Jesus of the Bible had a radical, powerful trust in the Holy Spirit to deal with the true ills of society, not just manage the side affects. He brought the resources of Heaven to bare on the problems of Earth, not just the efforts of men.
The only mission we are called to is the one Jesus started. We aren’t to bring just our resources to bear on the world’s problems. We’re to draw on the Holy Spirit to truly heal the evil around us. If we want to engage in the true mission of Jesus, I think we need that same radical, powerful trust in the Holy Spirit Jesus had.
But the choice is ours: Will we do mission our way, or Jesus’?
*This is not a critique on hospitals nor me advocating not going to doctors. It’s purely a statement of fact.
Part of coming to Christ is the conviction that there is no righteousness in ourselves at all. Don’t get me wrong, there are people out there who do good things. They help others and sacrifice of themselves. But compared to a blameless, Holy God, there is no one who is truly righteous. Jesus himself said there was only one who was truly good–God (Matthew 19:7).
But a funny thing happens when we give our lives to Christ and join the church. Often, we begin to feel the burden to become the kind of people the New Testament describes. And many take this burden and turn it inward. They try to become the people the New Testament describes through sheer will power. Some call it holiness. Some call it Christ-likeness. Others call it maturity.
And all of these things are virtues that the New Testament encourages. But, what happens is believers learn to live from their human willpower. They become good through their own striving. And they learn to accomplish living out the Christian life in the flesh–through the means that our human soul can make happen.
This works only until we get tired and then everything comes crashing down.
But there is another way.
The same Holy Spirit that softened your heart so you would accept Christ in the first place is the same Holy Spirit that wants to transform you from the inside. He actually is more willing to transform you from the inside than you want to be transformed. He wants to make you willingly–dare I say–happily holy.
Sometimes this is hard to believe because our growth seems to be moving so slowly. But it’s in these times that we must trust that God is doing more than we can understand. Sometimes He moves powerfully and visibly. Other times He is working in the background, setting up events to transform you that you couldn’t possibly imagine.
And it’s in these places that we have to content ourselves with the fact that He is God and we are not. He is the potter and we are the clay. We partner with Him in prayer and abiding. We remind God that there is work to be done in us. But we don’t approach God like we’re orphans. We have the trust of sons and daughters in a Father who has been faithful.
He will transform us. We don’t have to strive. We just have to give our attention to Him and He will change who we are.
So stop striving, loved son or daughter. Trust that the Father is good and has good plans for you. Remember:
If we die with him,
we will also live with him.
If we endure hardship,
we will reign with him.
If we deny him,
he will deny us.
If we are unfaithful,
he remains faithful,
for he cannot deny who he is.
2 Timothy 2:11-13
Lately being “missional” has become the new buzzword in Christianity in the West. We have missional church, missional community, missional bible studies, and even missional worship services.
I love everything that being missional is about. I probably use the term more than most people. But when we use the word missional so much that it can mean anything we want it to mean, I think we start to create confusion that is unhelpful. In some camps, missional has come to mean anything that is new, trendy, or designed to reach a younger crowd. And while missional is new, trendy, and does reach a younger crowd, not everything that does these things is missional.
We get the word “missional” from the Latin phrase “missio Dei” or “mission of God.” The idea behind the phrase is that God has a mission that He has been pursuing from the beginning of time to reclaim humans who have wondered away from Him. God, who is the ultimate missionary, has been coming to humanity to turn them back toward Himself.
God’s mission then, takes its ultimate form when Jesus left Heaven and came to Earth to announce and embody the Kingdom of God and suffer, die, and rise again to purchase our entrance into that Kingdom. Jesus’ leaving the Father’s side and embarking on mission is our key to understanding what “missional” really is.
Missional means we leave where we are to spread the good news of the Kingdom where people are.
The truth is we cannot be missional if we don’t leave and go to people. Missio Dei is also where get the word missionary from. So we shouldn’t be surprised that missional embraces the idea of leaving our home or place of comfort behind. It means crossing boundaries, whether those are our neighbors of another race across the street or they are national boundaries as you enter a foreign land.
But another truth about being missional is that we have to speak and spread the Good news. Certainly Jesus did good works. He healed the sick (supernaturally). He cast out demons. He welcomed the poor and the outcast. All of these were displays of the missional God’s heart of love. But all of these signs pointed to a God who wanted a relationship with humans. Jesus came to proclaim the good news that God’s Kingdom was near.
And so being missional means leaving where we are and going to the lost. It means doing works that point to the Kingdom* and declaring the nearness of God’s Kingdom that people can enter into. It’s both.
But your church isn’t missional if it’s not going to where lost people are. Missional is not waiting for lost people to come to you. It’s going to them. Your community isn’t missional if it’s not talking to lost people about the nearness of the Kingdom, no matter how often you hang out at the bar or the local coffee shop. Your Bible study is only missional to the degree that your group goes and shares Jesus with people far away from him. The other things you add the word “missional” to?
Well…you get the idea.
I’m not arguing you stop being missional if you use the word. Instead, let’s direct our effort to doing the things that are truly going out to where lost people are and doing and speaking the words of Jesus.
That is truly missional.
*I would argue that one component that the “missional movement” typically misses is doing the works of Jesus that way that Jesus did them. Healing the sick typically becomes taking care of their physical needs. Jesus laid hands on blind people and they saw. In my mind, this is truly missional.
Sometimes in our pursuit of Jesus and the mission of spreading the Gospel, we come to forks in the road where we have make decisions. The hard part about these forks in the road is that they seem rather small, but sometimes have serious implications.
This past weekend I was with a bi-vocational pastor who buys, renovates, and sells homes. We were laughing about a time about 3 years ago when he had a house for sale that was just outside of the mission field God had called me and my wife to. The house was literally across the street.
What was the problem with a house across the street? In many ways, nothing. Except the fact that everyone in my mission field believes that the people who live on that side of that street can’t possibly understand what life on this side of the street is like. In my eyes, that made me a worse missionary to my mission field, so I turned the house down.
This is just one example of several things we’ve intentionally chosen to do for the sake of the mission God has called us to. We’ve had to decide whether to send our kids to a school in our neighborhood or somewhere else. We’ve had to only consider houses with living rooms and dining rooms big enough for a church to meet in. We’ve had to say no to opportunities that have taken us away from our mission field, like board opportunities and ministry trips.
My point is that a life of mission will mean making some very natural choices intentionally. You won’t have to make the same choices we’ve made, but the choices you make will impact the mission you are on. Don’t believe the everyday or supposedly “non-spiritual” choices you make don’t affect the mission. They absolutely do. Make choices in your life by lining up your natural decisions with the call of Jesus on your life. This is what the Bible calls faithfulness.
For those of you who are new readers, I talk once and awhile about my adventures at McDonald’s and how we are now part of the show. A week ago, my buddy and I were sitting there doing our thing when the manager sat down and started talking with us.
After a minute she began discussing with us the struggles she’s having with her teenage son. As a single mom who is working two jobs to raise two teen boys with no dad involved, there were plenty of things she struggled with. But the conversation took an unexpected turn when she started talking about how she had tried to send them to church to change some of their behavior. She expressed frustration at the church that she was sending them to and talked about sending them to a different church.
And this was where I had to interrupt because I’ve seen this happen so many times before. So many well-meaning parents, struggling with the action of their kids try to get their kids to a youth group…a church service…to hang around with other fiery young adults…youth retreats…even Bible colleges in the hopes of the program or the person changing their kid.
So I stopped my manager friend and explained to her the difference between going to a church meeting and following Jesus. I made sure to emphasize that Jesus is the power that God gives us to live good lives and that until her son had Jesus inside of him, changing him from the inside, no program would help him.
I bring this story up not because it’s unique. I bring this story up because as Christians we often subtly convince ourselves and the lost that the power of transformation is somehow found in our programs. It starts as small as trying to get people to our programs so they can meet Jesus. But why not just share Jesus from the get-go? Why bring them somewhere to meet Jesus? And then from there, we often send them to a program to get discipled, instead of teaching them how to follow Christ apart from the program. And soon all our “disciples” know is programs.
Now we like programs because they are easy to create. They make us feel effective. We can do more of them and get different results. It’s easy to get people to a certain place for a promised activity. And no one likes surprises, so a program that goes smoothly makes everyone feel comfortable.
But it’s not our programs that save or change people; It’s Jesus. To the degree that those programs have been effective, it’s because somewhere, somehow in the midst of our programs Jesus has shown up and encountered a human heart. This is a miracle and we should always treat it as such.
What being part of an organic church has helped me see over the years is how deeply we rely on programs to change people. As a house church, we don’t have any programs. And the dangerous gamble when we started was will people still be changed if all we have is Jesus and a group of people who love each other? Jesus has showed up despite our lack of programs and has continued to meet people, change them, and grow them up into mature believers, so I know it can be done.
Now, while admittedly I’d love it if you started a house church, I know some of you aren’t there yet. But, can we at least lay down our dependency on what we can program and control and get back to the simplicity of Jesus changing people from the inside out? Can we stop burning ourselves out doing things that don’t generate much change? Can we get back to waiting on the Lord and doing what He says?
Much of it comes down to what we actually believe is the agent of change in our lives: Jesus or our programs?
This past Wednesday was my buddy Aaron’s birthday and he invited us to this EXTREMELY out of the way steak restaurant to celebrate his big day. Twelve guys joined us on an hour long caravan to talk, laugh, and have some of the best steak we’ve ever eaten.
Towards the end we each took time around the table to share a blessing with Aaron: something we loved about him, a prayer, or just a funny story. But as we were going around the table blessing Aaron, I realized what an extremely unique thing this was for so many men to be on a spiritual journey together and to feel like brothers.
I say unique, not because it’s impossible for men to be spiritual and like each other, but because statistics and experience tell us that men typically are disengaged from the church. For what it’s worth, church attendance nationally is 39% male and 61% female. My wife regularly tells me about women she talks to outside of our fellowships who wish that their husbands were friends with other men. There are even whole books written about why men hate church.
In our house churches, though, this has never been an issue. We have done absolutely nothing to attract or retain the men in our midst, but despite that fact most of our men our engaged and have their deepest relationships inside the church. What causes that? I have some thoughts:
- Men love risk. For the most part, church as we know it is typical and unpredictable. Everything for the most part continues to happen as it always has. Most church services are clean, tidy, and require very little from them. We, on the other hand, are messy. No meeting is exactly the same as the last one. In fact, a meeting we have one Sunday will be completely different from the meeting we have a year from now. I tell people who are thinking of coming to one of our house churches that fist fights have been real possibilities a couple of times in our history. The ladies (especially my wife) hates it when I tell that story…but every once in awhile when I tell it to a guy, I see his eyes light up. Men don’t want a meeting, they want the real Jesus and communitas. They are looking for a band of brothers who will go with them into battle.
- Men are active, not passive. Deep down, even the most passive, sedentary man truly wants to make a difference. They were made for more than just sitting around and listening to someone else talk. The same reason boys and young men have trouble in school is the same reason men struggle with traditional church. Men want to do something. They aren’t anti-learning, they’re anti-sitting. I often tell people that when two guys go and set out to do something, they call it a “mandate” because men build intimacy through doing things together. Men want to do something significant. It’s written on their hearts by God. And the minute we tell them to sit down and shut up, we lose them. What we’ve done, instead is encourage men to play an active part in our churches: “Teach. Serve. Evangelize. Grow. Lead. Plant a church. We need you.”
- Men actually want relationships, just not fake ones. Frankly, that’s most of what we do around here. For at least seven of our last ten years, most of our house churches have been a part of small, same gender discipleship groups we call 2’s & 3’s. Part of the purpose of 2’s & 3’s is confessing our sins to one another and praying for each other in the areas where we are weak. And while this discipline is just in general good for everyone spiritually, it has actually enabled men to build relationships around Jesus without the pretense of being perfect or all put together. This is a key to true brotherhood that often gets forgotten when we are part of churches that want us to look all put together.
Friends, we need the whole body of Christ at the table to pull off the kind of harvest the Lord has in store for us at the end of the age. This includes men and we simply cannot be content with only 39% of them.
Now, I’m not so naïve to think that these things can’t be done in a traditional church. They absolutely can. And to the degree you can add these elements into whatever type of church you’re part of, I would encourage you to do so. But our current structure is designed to give us the kind of results we are already getting. Don’t be afraid to make a change.
God designed the church to be a place where women AND men can be engaged and fulfilled. To the degree that we allow risk, activity, and true relationships flourish in our churches, I think we’ll see a resurgence of men becoming what God has called them to be.
The choice is ours: will we be the kind of church where men can engage, or are we content to go on without them?
Christian culture can make us comfortable and affect our ability to reach people who don’t know Christ. And often we have to be willing to leave our comfortable subculture behind to share the gospel with the people who need it the most. But the good news is we don’t have to go there alone. There is someone there who has gone before us and made the sacrifices we’re talking about. His name is Jesus.
If you think about it, Jesus had the best set up in existence. Before becoming a human He existed in communion with the Father in a way no man since Adam had ever tasted. There was no pain there. No difficulty. Perfect fellowship. There was peace and joy and goodness constantly surrounding him.
But He loved us.
And because He loved us and because it was the Father’s will Jesus left Heaven and endured a world that undoubtedly was harder than the one He left. Pain was there. Heartache ran rampant. He would hunger for the first time. He would be tempted for the first time. He would become the only just man who had to endure suffering. Most important of all, He would leave the immediate fellowship with the Father and submit to living life like we do.
Though he was God,
he did not think of equality with God
as something to cling to.
Instead, he gave up his divine privileges;
he took the humble position of a slave
and was born as a human being.
When he appeared in human form,
he humbled himself in obedience to God
and died a criminal’s death on a cross.
and John, speaking about Jesus coming to Earth says:
The Word became flesh and blood, and moved into the neighborhood.
John 1:14, The Message
And He did it all out of love.
But Paul (and I’m sure John) tells us these details about Jesus’ life for a reason. Just before Paul begins to tell the Philippians about Jesus renouncing His privileges, he says this:
You must have the same attitude that Christ Jesus had.
Paul’s point in telling the story is that we’re supposed to be inspired to do what Jesus did. He left aside the privilege of fellowship with God. He laid aside all the rights of Godhead. He didn’t count equality with God as something to be held onto at the expense of us. Instead He became obedient unto death, even death on a cross.
And we’re supposed to do the same. Out of great love and humility and servant-heartedness, we will need to lay down some of the “joys” we have as Christians in order to participate with the mission of God. Just like Jesus had to leave the comforts of home to win the hearts of people who didn’t know their need, so do we. He has gone before us, has been the example to encourage us, and now calls us to join Him outside the camp.
Will it be easy?
Is it always fun?
But Scripture tells us to fix our eyes on Jesus so that we don’t grow weary and give up. And if leaving the comfort of the Christian circle you’ve found yourself in is hard, then fix your eyes on Jesus who did it first. He is both our motivation and example.
Will you join Him there?