Missional Living

Doing Mission or Joining Mission? When Subtlety Matters

Question: Do you typically view mission as something given for you to do or as something you are invited into? This may seem like an obscure question, but its answer is important. Let me put it another way: do you typically view the “Great Commission” given in Matthew 28 as a work handed over to the church or as a work that is an extension of what God himself is already doing?  Is mission something we are to do or is it something we are to join?

The question(s) certainly beg another question: what is the difference? Parsing out the nuance between “doing mission” and “joining mission” may seem like scholarly subtlety. However, I raise this question because the answer can have a tremendous impact on how we view our lives on mission.

Consider the example of a father who is a gifted furniture maker instructing his son to build a cabinet. One the one hand, he could say, “Son, I want you to first watch me make this beautiful cabinet, and after I’m finished, I am commissioning you to make one yourself.” In this scenario, the son watches his father closely: observing the ins and outs of his technique and approach as well as noting which tool works best for each step.  After his father finishes, the son begins his commission by imitating his father the best he can.

At first, the son experiences a combination of fear and confidence. He thinks he paid attention well enough to understand his father’s technique, but at the same time, he knows he doesn’t have his father’s skill. Nonetheless, he pushes forward. And to his surprise, he experiences some level of success: parts of the cabinet start to look just like the cabinet the father made! However, after a certain point, he notices his cabinet is starting to look less and less like his father’s. Even when he tries his best to imitate the father’s technique, the results are just not the same. What’s worse, he begins to feel a sense of detachment from his father and his father’s teaching.

As frustration sets in deeper, the son, wanting to see results, begins to improvise and develop his own techniques. Having a measure of success with these new, self-generated techniques, the son gives up imitating his father and relies more on his own methods. When he is finished, the son takes a step back and observes the work of his hands. For the most part, he is pleased with what he has created. While he experienced a level of frustration, he put in a lot of sweat and effort, as well as a lot of thought, in order to complete his commission.

However, when he displays what he has completed, he is startled at how he feels a sense of distance from his father, as if the father’s work and his work were completely separate. He also experiences a strange mix of pride and loss: pride in how he devised his own methods and loss of the sense of joy in completing the commission his father gave him.

Now consider another scenario. Instead of the father simply handing his son a commission to build a cabinet, he says “Son, I’m going to create this beautiful cabinet, and I want you to help me.” Here the father is the initiator and director of both his work and his son’s work. The father’s hand and skill are what control the shape of the cabinet, but he also guides his son in shaping the cabinet as well. He has invited his son into his own work. The father teaches his son, not by telling him to imitate his technique in a separate work, but by having him contribute to the father’s work. The son doesn’t watch at a distance nor does he imitate apart from his father; no, now these things are done with his father by his side. The son still experiences frustration, and he makes plenty of mistakes, but he does not abandon what his father is showing him because he is so excited that the father’s work is his work. There is a unity of effort and purpose, and he knows that his father’s hand is over the entire project. The son does not need to rely on his own ingenuity or ability to improvise, because he knows, no matter how many mistakes he makes, his father is in control of the project.

What’s more, the father not only trains his son to imitate him but he also begins to use his son’s unique gifts to contribute to the cabinet. While the son is rooted and grounded in the technique of his father, the father also teaches him to adapt and create. The cabinet will no doubt display the work of the father, but now it will also carry in it signs of the son’s gifts. And there is joy in this for the son, because instead of having to figure out how to use his gifts on his own, his father works through him and shows him how his gifts perfectly contribute to their project.

Now when the cabinet is complete, the son experiences joy both in what the father did and what the father did through him. The son loves and adores his father, and joining him in his work causes him to love and adore his father even more. Not only has work has been completed, but also a relationship has been built.

This is why the answer to the question is so important. Next week we will take a closer look at this idea in Scripture.

Gospel Intentionality in the Gospel of Matthew

When talking about integrating community and mission and living “ordinary life with gospel intentionality,” I sometimes ask myself if I am just trying to sell the latest and greatest evangelism method. Now, don’t get me wrong, I am a big proponent of wise methods and strategies, and there are a lot of really good ones out there. But what I am not a fan of are fads and “schticks,” which are nothing more than trendy attempts to employ methods that end up becoming as dated and fleeting as the latest advertising strategy.

What I want are methods that work to apply timeless biblical truths and principles. While contexts and practical strategies will change, the principles behind our practices need to be timeless. That is why we must always be going back to Scripture. And what has me absolutely convinced of the principle of living “ordinary life with gospel intentionality” is that we see this driving the life of Christ.

In Matthew 9:10-26, we see Jesus combining the ministry of building and caring for community with his ministry of evangelism. And what’s more, he does it in the context of a very ordinary life event. In verses 10-12, we read of Jesus reclining at a table not only with his disciples but also tax collectors and sinners. To the Pharisees, such association and community mixing were unthinkable (see verse 11), but to Jesus, this was the heart of his mission, to call sinners!

While also at the party, Jesus does some theological discipleship with the followers of John the Baptist. They had some questions about fasting, specifically, why Jesus’ disciples didn’t do it. Interestingly, behind the theological question was a lifestyle question as well: it was not only theology the followers of John were after but also the application of theology. Sound like any conversations you have had?

Finally, we see a man burst into the house to implore Jesus to resurrect his dead daughter (what a bold request!). Jesus leaves the party with the disciples to attend to the little girl (on the way he heals a woman who suffered from a “discharge of blood” for twelve years), and in an amazing picture of the resurrection that is in Christ, he takes the girl by the hand and raises her to life.

Evangelism. Discipleship. Mercy. All done together and all done in the context of ordinary life.

So I encourage you, look through the Gospels and see how much of Christ’s ministry took place in the ordinary: while eating in people’s homes, while walking down the road, while stopping at a well for water. Also see how he did not compartmentalize evangelizing those who needed him, discipling those who followed him, and caring for those in pain. He did these things together because they were all part of his mission to save sinners and make disciples.

May our passion to live with gospel intentionality be driven neither by our belief we have found the “latest and greatest” method that promises fast and quick returns nor by an appeal to our tastes. No, let our passion for living with gospel intentionality be driven by our passion to imitate our Savior and King: to live as he lived, to love as he loved, and to enter into people’s lives as he did. From his example, let us learn to integrate our evangelism of the lost with our discipleship of each other and with our mercy for all.

Of Moments Leading to a Moment

Question. Do you think of evangelism as a moment or as moments? For most of my Christian life, I think I fell into the first category, thinking evangelism was all about that singular moment where I actually shared the gospel, and anything short of that moment wasn’t really evangelism.

Of course, it is that singular moment we are hoping for, right? That point in time where we tell a person about how Christ came as a man; how he stepped into our sinful world and lived a perfect life; how in his great love he died a sacrificial death to redeem rebellious sinners; how he was raised on the third day in victory; how through faith in him we are forgiven and are made righteous.

Yet, while this is the goal, this is not where evangelism begins and ends. Rather than a singular moment, evangelism is a series of moments that take place over an extended period of time. These moments are usually spent engaging people in friendship and discussion or in service. They can also be spent reading Scripture with a person or bringing them to church. But we need to see all of these moments, when lived with gospel intentionality, as evangelism!

Tim Keller has a helpful way of thinking through this. Listed below are ten tips he has for engaging people evangelistically:

  1. Let people around you know you are a Christian (in a natural, unforced way)
  2. Ask friends about their faith – and just listen!
  3. Listen to your friends problems – maybe offer to pray for them
  4. Share your problems with others – testify to how your faith helps you
  5. Give them a book to read
  6. Share your story
  7. Answer objections and questions
  8. Invite them to a church event
  9. Offer to read the Bible with them
  10. Take them to an explore course

What he goes on to advise is that we see these methods as part of one process. Keller suggests that we (generally) start with 1-4. As we develop friendships and trust with people, and as they show interest, we then move on to 5-7. If those we have befriended continue to show interest, we can then move to 8-10. Sometimes people will be ready and open to go right to 8-10. But more often, people will need time to think and discuss things in a non-pressured way. And here is the important point: as Keller notes, “we often think that only stages 8-10 count and invest all our energy there. But to get people to stages 8,9,10 you have to put the work in at 1-4. Sometimes you’ll have to keep going round the loop multiple times.”

Of course this is not a magical, hard and fast formula. Evangelism is rarely a linear process, but it is a process! And usually it takes a lot of time. This is why we need to see evangelism not as just another task we do but as something we live.

Life, as they say, is lived in moments. Let our moments be evangelistic. And let us pray that our moments will lead to that one moment where we see sinners turn from their sin and put their trust in our glorious King and Savior, Jesus Christ!

P.S. Next week we are going to look in the Gospels and see how Christ combined community and mission

Another Use of Your Table

I still remember the day we bought our dining room table. Newly married and living off of wedding gift money and a Christian school teacher salary, Mindy and I settled for the “best looking” table we could find at WalMart. We had little expectation or hope for that table; we figured we’d just throw a table cloth over it and get by until we could upgrade. Funny how things work out… 5 ½ years later, we are using that same WalMart table, and it is still going strong.

And like most people, we have used our dining room table for far more than just eating. At multiple times, it has been used as a desk for studying and writing grad school papers, an arts and crafts table, storage for mail and other loose papers with nowhere else to go; the chairs have doubled as coat racks. It has served as a work bench, keeping tools and screws in one place as we built book shelves, end tables, and hutches. In all of these uses, that little $100 WalMart table has excelled.

But there is another use of our table that we probably never expected…evangelism. For all its effectiveness in those other uses, nothing could compare to the time we held a dinner party for a number of friends that do not know Christ. The conversation was great. The food was excellent. And while we didn’t share the gospel that night, the relationships we developed have led to more conversations and more opportunities. I’ll never forget what several of them said as they were leaving: they felt served. It never occurred to me just how far inviting people into your home and serving them good food and providing warm hospitality will go.

In fact, it never occurred to me just how important our table will be in evangelism. In a post on the Desiring God website, David Mathis writes:

In a progressively post-Christian society, the importance of hospitality as an evangelistic asset is growing rapidly. Increasingly, the most strategic turf on which to engage the unbelieving with the good news of Jesus may be the turf of our own homes.

When people don’t gather in droves for stadium crusades, or tarry long enough on the sidewalk to hear your gospel spiel, what will you do? Where will you interact with the unbelieving about the things that matter most?

Invite them to dinner.

The post goes on to say that Christians need to view hospitalityas something we extend not only to believers but also to those who do not know Christ. In a culture that is increasingly hostile and cynical toward Christianity, this may be our greatest evangelism strategy.

So whether your table is a WalMart special, a model of IKEAingenuity, a beautiful piece from Restoration Hardware, or a slab of plywood propped up by storage boxes, put your table to use. You have 90 meals a month, so start by committing just one of those to inviting non-Christians into your home. As your faith grows (and it will!), commit to two per month, then three.

But host people! Develop friendships. Have great conversations. Serve them good food and wine. Love them through your hospitality. And be continually prayerful and ready to share with them the hope that you have through Jesus Christ.

P.S. Tim Chester wrote a great book on this topic. You can find ithere.

  • Page 2 of 2
  • 1
  • 2