Jesus frequently warned that following Him would cost us everything we have. In fact, he told His disciples that if they wanted to follow Him, they would have to deny themselves, pick up their cross, and follow Him. What that meant to first century Jews and most of the Roman world was that following Christ was a death sentence. You were welcome to do it if you wanted, but you knew it would cost you your life.
The apostles would regularly say similar things. Paul told the early disciples in the churches he planted (after being stoned–possibly to death–in the previous city) that they “must suffer many hardships in order to enter the Kingdom of God,” (Acts 14:22). Paul would go on to tell his apostolic son that “everyone who wants to live a godly life in Christ Jesus will suffer persecution,” (2 Timothy 3:12). Peter would tell the churches he served not to be “surprised at the fiery trials you are going through, as if something strange were happening to you,” (1 Peter 4:12). Clearly the apostles understood that experiencing danger was part of following Jesus.
Yet so often the church cautions us to be safe. Under the disguise of “being wise” they caution us not to do daring things. And while some of the young and naive may have been kept from doing something foolish through this “wisdom,” the ultimate message is “don’t loose your life for the gospel.” In doing so, the church can end up on the wrong side of the Gospel.
Jesus calls us to lose our life for Him. That doesn’t always mean we die. But of the original twelve disciples/apostles that followed Jesus, eleven lost their lives sharing their faith. The Romans attempted to boil the twelfth disciple/apostle in burning oil, but he miraculously survived at least long enough to pen the book of Revelation. Paul was beheaded. Stephen was stoned. Jesus–our example– was brutally murdered. My point is, while Jesus has the power to heal our bodies and even provide for us, He doesn’t create a safe space for his disciples.
Why would we follow Jesus if this is the kind of life He promised us? Who would sign up for something like this? Only people who have come to believe that Jesus’ love is the answer to life. Only people whose hearts have been transformed by His forgiveness. Only people who are convinced that there is more to life than just today or tomorrow. Only people who believe He is their great reward.
There is a danger in signing up for the Gospel. We shouldn’t hide it. In fact, we should call people to lay down their lives for the sake of Jesus and the Gospel. Anything else is a gospel that is too small and worldly to be called the Gospel of the Kingdom of God.
Jesus promised his disciples three things—that they would be completely fearless, absurdly happy, and in constant trouble.
Recently I wrote about how we meet with existing believers when they express interest in joining our house church. Today I want to talk about one other conversation that we have in that process. We also ask existing believers to count the cost of joining a house church.
The immediate question is why would we do that?
Well, the best answer is always because Jesus asked us to count the cost of following Him, especially in regards to the cost of following Him on His mission (see Luke 14:28-30). This isn’t only a requirement for joining a house church, or our house churches, this is something Jesus asks all of us to do.
However, I’ve found it wise to invite believers to consider the cost of joining our house churches. Part of the reason is the cost of living on mission in our house churches can be higher than you would expect in a traditional church. I tell them stories about the lost people who have damaged things in our homes. I talk to them about the different times we’ve served friends in high crime areas where the potential to be harmed is real. I talk to them about the scary moments when fights have almost broke out at some of our gatherings. Certainly we try to be wise with what we do, but there’s a measure of mission that can never be controlled. So we ask folks to count the cost.
But there is another type cost that I invite existing believers to consider. It’s the cost of laying down a controlled church environment. I try to let them know that being part of an organic church means that everyone is responsible to bring what the Lord has given them, but sometimes that doesn’t work out and a meeting is bad. I share about the fact that we allow the kids to participate in a meeting with us and that means a lot more interrupted everything. I share about how community won’t just happen in a meeting, but will require us to rearrange our schedule to make time for the kind of relationships house churches have the potential to provide. Everyone says they want real community, but some like the rich young ruler have found the cost too high and walked away.
Is all of this worth it? Of course! Jesus is amazing and just knowing Him is worth all of the cost described above and more. Add on top of that the ability to get to be part of His body and stand side by side with brothers and sisters who love you and are committed to you? That’s easily worth any price we have to pay. But Jesus still asks us to consider it.
And so when we meet with believers who are interested, I invite them to think about the cost. Not because they’ve never considered the cost of following Jesus before, but because I want them to consider the cost of doing it a different way than they may have done before. All of this is done out of a heart to help, mind you. I don’t want to scare anyone away or needlessly critique someone. Over the years, this just seems to be the best way to help outsiders into the life we’ve found. It’s not for everyone, but it’s worked for us.
So, I’ll leave you with this. Regardless of where you are or what type of church you are part of, there is a cost to following Christ. Are you counting it? And are you helping others to join Jesus on His mission regardless of the cost they may have to pay? It’s worth considering.
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.
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.
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?