First of all…Happy Mothers Day to all the mothers. 🙂
In my previous post, I began rambling about my re-thinking of what mission is, and what it really can look like in the Biblical sense. I talked about how I think we need to get back to the basics with this idea, stripping off the ulterior motives and getting back to something closer to what Jesus modeled for us. (If you need more detail, read the last post to get caught up.)
When you consider that Jesus’ mission was not to build an organization, or establish a new religion, but simply to redeem–it opens up a whole range of ideas (at least for me) of what mission can look like. There are a lot of good things we can do that are redemptive in scope that have little or nothing to do with putting warm bodies in our pews.
This idea really appeals to me because I’ve become really turned off with the agendas we attach to our evangelism efforts. It is truly distasteful to me when I see pastors, ministers and even some zealous church members doing “good” things in the community, and knowing that their primary motive for doing so is ultimately to get more people to come into their Sunday services. It may or may not be overtly stated, but you can feel it. Non-believers can tell when they have been targeted. It isn’t that it’s “bad” for new people to come to Sunday services–it’s just that we have too much personally riding on that result. The way we have our institutions set up, we have too much to gain by it, and frankly, it makes it difficult for many ministers to keep pure motives.
But what if that weren’t a factor? What if we could get back to the idea of doing things that are redemptive and Christlike, regardless of what personal satisfaction or benefit we could gain from doing them?
I am really pondering this idea of what I’ll call “agenda-free mission.” Of course, any mission has a goal, or a desired outcome, but by “agenda” I mean ulterior motive. I’m coming from the perspective that as Jesus said, “God sends rain on the just and the unjust.” In other words, everyone is a candidate for the love and mercy of God, regardless of whether they accept it or believe in Him. When I talk about doing things that are redemptive, I am talking about doing lifegiving things in our communities without worrying about how many converts or churchgoers come from it–doing redemptive things because they are redemptive, and for no other reason. Acts of kindness, acts of mercy, acts of giving, just because they are the things Jesus would be doing if He were here in the flesh. No strings attached.
So what does that mean? What can mission look like when no strings are attached?
It could be as simple as giving to the poor without preaching to them.
It could be as simple as encouraging people who are discouraged, or helping people reach their personal goals.
It could be as simple as being present with someone in a time of crisis.
For me and my family–our heart is particularly drawn to looking for ways to build up and enable the creative/artistic community–to find creative and constructive ways to encourage and enable artists, musicians and the like to thrive, flourish and pursue their dreams. This goes for believers and non-believers alike.
Redemption can take many forms, as long as the “agenda” is simply love without condition, the way Jesus loves us all.
Does that mean the good news should not be proclaimed? No, of course the good news should be told. But first of all, with the exception of a few people groups in third-world nations, most people in our culture have now already heard a version of the gospel at least once. The issue isn’t that people haven’t heard; it’s that we have been doing a lot more talking than we have been doing–and there is a difference between living the truth of the gospel and simply employing tactics to gather an unsuspecting audience so we can preach to them. The goal shouldn’t be to sell the message, but to live it in such a manner that the message of God’s love for mankind sells itself.
So what about getting people “saved?” What about getting people to come to Christ on a personal level? Isn’t that critical to mission?
Yes, it is. But we have made a critical error, I believe, in our approach to it. It starts with a simple question: “Who is the Savior of the world?”
Obvious answer: Jesus is.
If Jesus is the Savior…then I am not. Period. I might be able in my own strength to sweet-talk someone into praying a prayer with me, but that doesn’t mean I’ve won them to Christ. The truth is, I am completely incapable of converting anyone. Only God can draw people to Himself. The best any of us can hope for is to help out, and hopefully not get in His way.
Our problem is, as the church, we have inadvertently placed ourselves in the position of savior. We have taken the responsibility of conversion completely on our shoulders, and assumed our job was to talk people into it at all costs. Jesus made Himself the bridge to the Father, the mediator between God and man; but somehow we’ve fancied ourselves the keeper of the gate, and as a result, we’ve inserted ourself into that redemption pathway, sometimes even getting in the way between man and God without even realizing. As a result, so many of the “good” things we do in this world get tinged with this self-imposed mandate to get people to make a commitment, when only God really knows when each person is ready to do that.
As I’ve pondered the mission of Christ, I’ve really come to see that this is His mission, and anything I do is simply part of something I didn’t initiate. Jesus is with any person I encounter before I get there, and He will be with that person after I leave. I am only playing a part in an ongoing redemptive mission, and the end result is up to Jesus. Meanwhile, to whatever extent I can make that person’s life better while I am in contact with them, to whatever extent I can show love to that person without condition–I think that is a vital part of mission.
So thinking more about this…how can each of us make that transition into agenda-free mission? I’ll have some thoughts about that in the next post.