Okay, so here’s the first post….
Aaaand the second one….
I closed out the previous post with a question: How can each of us make the transition into what I call “agenda-free” mission? Once we recognize how much unnecessary (and often damaging) baggage we have attached to mission by our institutional thinking, how do we change our thinking to participate in the mission of Christ in a more organic way, without worrying about what we might have to gain from it?
I think there’s one word in that last sentence that is a key to understanding this issue: gain. The idea of what we stand to gain from what we do in mission and ministry has to come to a place of balance.
Here’s what I mean. I think that while we all have our own crap to deal with, most Christians–and indeed, most people in general–genuinely want to do the right thing. For most of us believers, that translates into “we want to make God happy.” We want to please God. Nothing wrong with that desire at all; in fact, I think our desire to please Him, pleases Him–if you know what I mean. 🙂
But then there is that age-old tension between works and grace, and so often we fall into the works part of it–working to please God. Being “good children.” And when we do good things, we begin inadvertently doing them to earn the Father’s affirmation (which if you understand the gospel, is impossible–you can’t earn what you already have). At its most extreme form, this works mentality turns mission into simply “doing our chores” like good little children. We’re not showing kindness to people because we actually love them; we’re doing it to score points, to gain approval.
When you add an institutional church mentality into the equation, it gets even more muddled. Now pleasing God gets equated with building up our church, or worse–pleasing our pastor. NOW there are many more points out there for us to score, more for us to live up to, and many more ulterior motives that we take on. When you are an institutional leader, it gets worse still–because you now have the presumed “success” of the ministry riding on your shoulders, financial and otherwise.
Can you see what happens to us? What started out as a pure approach to mission is now utterly confused, because we have been sidetracked by what we have to gain. Gaining approval. Gaining prestige. Gaining a “successful” ministry. Gaining even financially, in some cases.
But let’s go back again to Jesus, the One Whose mission we are supposed to be partaking in. What was HIS motive? Why did He come to us?
Yes, He wanted to please God. But there was more.
He came because He loves us.
You see, the two greatest commands of Scripture–love God, and love your neighbor–are not mutually exclusive. When we keep one, we inherently keep the other. The problem is, through our works mentality, we start trying to “love God” by our actions without a genuine love for our neighbor at the heart of it.
I said I believe most people want to do the right thing. Here’s something else I believe about most people; I think most people can detect when something is being done out of genuine love, or out of selfish motives. If we don’t truly love the people we are reaching out to in the name of Christ, they can tell. That’s why they begin to feel like targets, or to see us as hypocrites. They can tell we aren’t really loving them–we’re just trying to satisfy the demands of our religion.
And that’s where I think the root change needs to take place with us. To find that place of agenda-free mission in our own hearts, we need to go back to the heart of Jesus’ mission. We need to discover, or re-discover, unconditional love. And we need to learn to practice it.
It’s not an easy task. It seems to me that most of us really struggle with the concept of love without condition–both receiving it and giving it. I can’t tell you what that should look like for you, but what it is looking like for me is that when I stripped away all the institutional thinking, I found I was free to do good unto people just because I love them. I found that the love was there the whole time–it was just clouded up and confused by all the other junk. It is making the idea of mission less of a burden, and more of a joy.
I close this rambling by saying that I honestly think “agenda-free mission” is a misnomer–it’s just the best way to put it, but I don’t know if mission can ever truly be “agenda-free.” I think the concept of gain will always be part of the picture–the Bible indicates that even Jesus had something to gain (i.e., US) when He came to redeem us, and knowing the “joy set before Him” is what enabled Him to take up the cross. That’s why I said earlier that our concept of gain needs to find a balance–not necessarily go away completely. But I think what will bring that balance is recovering the heart of mission, which is love. I think this verse of Scripture puts it beautifully:
“Let love be without hypocrisy. Abhor what is evil; cling to what is good.” -Romans 12:9