MISSIONLaurence SHAPED LIVING J. Barber
Churches send missionaries to distant lands and distinct cultures. We send resources, we send our children, and upward we send our prayers. We do not have to go ourselves. Yet, if we do not â€˜goâ€™ to nearer neighbours and hide in our buildings behind programs on our own turf, our churches will die. We must bear Gospel witness as we go into our communities, our world, each day. To discern what God is doing in our neighbourhood, we must join him there, for God has called us together for His purposes and for the sake of our world.
‘The Word became flesh and blood and came to live in our neighbourhood.’ John 1:14 The Message
We Show Up
Perhaps 90% of mission lies simply in our showing up, just as did Emmanuel, God-with-us. He descended to earth’s lowest places, to be with us and to lift us to God’s best for us, to restore us again into our full humanity, to renew all of Creation. As Jesus was embedded in Jewish culture for thirty years before beginning His public ministry, so we also are immersed daily in particular settings where we are to join God’s mission. As in former times, Jesus says: ‘Tell my disciples I’m going ahead to Galilee; there they will find me.’ God is always ahead of us in God’s mission. Ministry involves presence, and often intimacy, compassion and active care. The Church, Jesus’ present (and presence) Body, joins in this God-work of blessing and reclamation. We flesh out God’s plans for all of life: where we live, work, play and work-out. We seek to raise the spiritual temperature where we are and as we go.
Join God’s Mission
With faithful Abraham, Jesus’ followers are privileged to bless and to be blessed through doing the things that anticipate God’s restoration of creation. Through our study, assessment, prayer and work we enter into ministry and mission that anticipates and reveals the Reign of God that is promised by Christ’s Victory. This Good News is deep and wide and for all of God’s creatures. All truth is God’s and all areas of creation are good and beautiful, to be received and used with thankful minds and stewardly care. Disciples, ‘new creatures in Christ’, can now walk by faith and enter already into the eternal and present realities of God’s planned New Creation. Each person and every unique culture is a wonderful gift to the whole world. No one is more or less special. The nation of Israel, through God’s electing love, was called first to know and serve God, to join in what God was doing. As the first-fruits of God’s reclamation and release, they were to be a Light to all the nations.
Today, God is restoring people, places and things through His Church. As all peoples, cultures and nations are brought into God’s purposes in Christ, through faith and obedience in Him, they are grafted into the original stock of Israel as God’s People, becoming part of God’s Family joining together in this wonderful Story.
Be Sent and Sending
As they go, disciples are to make more disciples. After a profound and burning encounter with God like that of Moses, disciples find themselves called to help set people free. They awaken to the resources at hand that God will animate for the task. Sometimes, as was Abraham, mission-shaped apprentices are called to journey from home and first-culture to another place of God’s appointment. The Journey includes that of our inner life with God, but also is one that takes us literally next door, or to another street or house in our community - and beyond. As in Isaiah’s encounter with the Holy One in Israel’s Temple, and following a necessary cleansing from sin, disciples today may hear the challenging query: ‘Who will go for God?’ - and, like the prophet, respond with heart and life, “Here I am, Lord send me!”
Dedicated disciples heed Christâ€™s command and follow. Daily, they enter into lifeâ€™s contexts and rhythms becoming present to love and serve their neighbours.
Be Aware of Cultural Differences
Creation exhibits differences of shape, aroma and colour. Orchestras play one song at a time but with the concerted participation of various distinct instruments. Each part contributes uniquely to the whole. So also, every culture or people-group on earth has its unique part to play as each is reclaimed through the Gospel in order to bring its unique gifts and contribution towards the whole of God’s intent. One Day, people of every tribe and nation will stream into God’s City, in fully redeemed cultural splendour. So, missioners interact with the cultural realities they find, appreciatively seeking those aspects that will serve as bridges while being aware that other aspects must be sensitively challenged as inconsistent with the Gospel. Missioners, while combating their own cultural preferences and prejudices, must ascertain which aspects of the culture are unhelpful, plainly evil, or just ‘different.’
Seeking missional advance, ancient churches carried not only the Gospel but also expressions and developments of their home culture. Roman missioners, not content that only in Rome people should do as the Romans, exported Roman customs: language, architecture, vestments and liturgy, imposing a merely religious-overlay to local expressions of worship and lifestyle. In colonial times, similarly misguided initiatives led to cultural genocide; well-meaning missioners forbade the speaking of native languages, forced young people to have their long hair cut short, and sought to eradicate other aspects of tribal culture. In inviting others to Christ and to a mission-shaped life with Him, we must curb our ethnocentric tendency to impose our own culture and seek, rather, to discern what is the Good we are to bring from the Churchâ€™s rich inheritance, while remaining aware of our own cultural preferences and prejudices. We seek to affirm the good in the â€˜otherâ€™ culture, and also to recognize, celebrate and nurture every expressions of life in Christ.
Influence the Influencers
Missioners seek individuals with hearts that God opens to help them bridge the Gospel to and within the new setting, who will help the missioner learn the new language and get established there. Though people are similar in many ways, missioners will also discover many differences. They will need interpreters who will assist their entrance and understanding.
The Gospel narrative reveals unusual as well as ordinary individuals. Humble shepherds fit into the story as do far-away wisemen and a despotic ruler named Herod. Godâ€™s grace also enters, through the little and the few and the powerless.
Though having a Story of redemption and release, as missioners we do not come with all the answers and resources, or from a superior culture. We will find there much to appreciate and to celebrate as rich contributions to Godâ€™s world and purposes. We will find rich history and tradition. We may find deep spirituality. We will discover that that even those who are extremely poor may have deep reservoirs of hope, joy, dignity and resolve.
Aware of their own cultural strengths and weaknesses, missioners seek to introduce others to a biblical way of living which happens best in the context of Christian Community, as disciples are formed together through worship, work and witness. If other-culture churches become mere copies of Western culture churches, something is wrong. Missioners seek to discover the unique strengths and limitations of the indigenous culture and how God wills that the Gospel find new expression in that context. What does Jesus look like in a Somali (or Tibetan or Bolivian) manger scene? How will the Word of the Gospel find fresh expression and become newly incarnate in this place?
Find Doors of Entry
At home and abroad, Jesus’ followers seek to enter, intentionally but sensitively, into the lives of others. They move in to care where people and places are ill-used and broken, where life is less than God’s intent for human flourishing and creation’s intent. God’s Spirit will open many kinds of doors through which a missioner may enter with actions and words that reveal the help, hope and healing inherent in the Gospel. The goal is companionship with Christ, joining with Him in God’s mission and Kingdom Revelation, as we live more fully into the Gospel Story. Overseas missioners work not only to build local churches, though this may be a key result. They know they are to love, serve and bless others in any number of fitting ways, trusting that as they do, Jesus will build His Church so that together His people may reveal God’s Reign
With nearer neighbours, too, ‘home missioners’ seek to reflect God’s Presence and Reign, entering already into the Life that Jesus called ‘abundant.’ Through creative, sensitive and caring welcome and involvement, we build bridges to new cultures and neighbours now living in our communities. Christians engage with individuals, whole peoplegroups and cultures by finding points of contact for engagement in caring action. Overseas, ‘global field staff’ initiate a wide variety of missional enterprises. They dig wells, they become involved in civic projects, they serve on hospital boards and advocate for agricultural reform. They may bring AIDS-prevention awareness, care for orphans and other life-affirming teaching and actions. So also ‘at home,’ in essence or in very similar pursuits, Christians are to serve as they too pursue mission-shaped living. They minister to their own culture, as well as in the contexts of new-Canadian cultures and sub-cultures, becoming immersed and engaged in all of the deep-and-wide spheres of creation and in all aspects of life in God’s world.
Set Up Sign Posts to God’s Presence
Believers live and serve missionally as the local Body and each member prays ‘down’ into this world, and lives out the many already-present aspects of God’s Reign. Our witness points to the fully restored creation that will be revealed and established when Christ returns. As God’s Spirit moves to convict those who are otherwise oblivious to God, they will be drawn to the new GodReign-Life that is already making its appearance in and through our lives. Missioners differentiate between ‘the world’ - as all of humanity that is still opposed and in rebellion against God’s Reign, and that ‘world’ which though marred, remains God’s ‘good’ Creation.
Missioners are mindful that already they have become ‘new creatures’ in Christ and that their lives are to show evidence of the renewal of creation and of persons that is happening already on planet earth. In every sphere of daily work and vocation, our lives are to witness to that Day when God will fully bring the wholeness, beauty, justice and truth for which all humanity and creation longs. God’s People can be involved daily in holistic vocational pursuits within the various rooms of God’s creation, in all areas of creaturely-life on this planet. Christ-followers do not bring into the world and to human living the fullness of God’s Kingdom; however, we are called upon and spiritually enabled to set up signs to its coming and to the various aspects of Christ’s present kingly Reign.
Assess the Situation
Knowing the task is essential to mission-shaped life and ministry. To what, to whom are we called? What are we to do? God appeared to Moses: “Go to Pharaoh; tell him to set my people free.” God called Jonah: “Go to Nineveh; tell them to repent or I will destroy the city.” Jesus commanded the apostles: ‘As you go into all the world, make disciples of every creature.’ As we discern God’s call and will for us, moved by love and obedience we move to the people and places where God sends us. We show and tell the Message given us for the people, in this particular place and time. Desiring to serve God and act for their betterment, we look for doors of entry and for significant ways of building bridges to their world. We move into the space of the host culture; we live on ‘their’ turf and learn ‘their’ language and about ‘their’ culture even as, inevitably, we share our own.
Taking time to discern Godâ€™s direction helps us enter into Godinspired involvements rather than doing unhelpful things that stem from our over-active and even misguided imaginations. Though imagination may help us see what God desires, discernment through Scripture and prayer is essential, as is humility in all that we seek to do. It is sometimes only through extended prayer and fasting that the necessary knife-edge discernment of evil and good will come. Assessment is also a product of hard work which surfaces from immersion in Scripture, language, vocational preparation, and the study of people-groups and cultures in specific contexts.
Live the Adventure
“You will find a great adventure, or a great adventure will find you!” --J.R.R. Tolkein
God’s Story includes adversity and danger as well as blessing, It reveals a Hope that is sometimes found even in the midst of great challenge. The Gospels reveal that Christ-followers also carry crosses, motivated like Jesus by the Joy ahead. Missioners are vulnerable; their lives not cocooned or sheltered. Risky, faith-filled life and ministry is part of the missioner’s obedient lot, in companionship with Christ in the service of God. Everyone and each faith-community is called to this Adventure of discovering what it means to experience and express God’s Presence, to enter the Story of Jesus and to discover in His Presence what is truly worth living and dying for.
Missioners sacrifice in leaving behind family, friends and the comforts of home. In entering new circumstances, they may well experience confusion, loneliness, overt hostility or mere indifference. They will experience that clash of ‘otherness’ called ‘culture-shock.’ God’s people not only host ‘foreigners’ newly arrived; they also go to and among strangers, seeking entrance and welcome into their homes, to be on ‘their turf’ where they are to bring words of peace and actions of blessing that reveal the nearness and potential of God’s full bounty and shalom. When the ‘peace’ is not received, missioners may well move on, for God’s plans, timing and directions are sometimes shown in whether the Message is received with a ‘no’ or a ‘yes.’
Serve With Love
When investing in global mission, we send, we sacrifice and we give away. Similarly at home, we want to reach out intentionally to ‘nearer neighbours.’ Here too, we will make necessary risks, doing what it takes, investing generously. We must ‘keep score’ differently, from how we have measured results at home, church, work and ministry. Locally, as we work, we trust we will see the fruit of the harvest, that of changed lives and communities. However, it may not be quickly achieved or obvious. Locally, too, as we think and act like missioners, we must invest, serve and give-away even where there is neither promise nor guarantee of swelling congregations or many baptisms, or assurance that budgets will be met, or that we’ll always have just-in-case reserves for a leaking roof or furnace repair. God’s People ‘cast their bread on the water’ - they invest, they give away and faithfully await the returns, in God’s time.
One by-product of our blessing others is that we too will be blessed. Perhaps it will not come immediately nor as direct cause and effect. We are simply and profoundly constrained to serve our Lord and others, with deep commitment and sacrifice regardless of reward, not merely for self (or local church) preservation, and again, without any guarantee of â€˜success.â€™ Such individual and communal investment flows from a life of witness and work that shows we belong to God. It will draw others to the Saviour, into our Fellowship and into the joy of mission-shaped life and ministry. May these guidelines help us to make more disciples of Jesus. Above all else, as we go . . .
... let us serve with love.
Created by: Laurence Barber Production Assistant: Carol Gouveia A CBOQ Resource: www.baptist.ca For personal and small group use of this booklet see: www.baptist.ca/mission