Anyone who takes seriously their role as a sacred agent – a representative of God’s Kingdom in the here and now – will know the feeling of being outnumbered and overwhelmed. The media, the government, local institutions seem to show very little regard for Christ. Compounding the pressure, we see friends, neighbours, even close family members ignoring or rejecting outright their need for Jesus.
The trap for us, who feel these pressures very acutely, is to become defensive. When we feel threatened, whether by Islam or Oprah or Dawkins, an instinct can be for us to recoil into a stance that is not Christ-like and works against our very own mission. We can be fooled into fight (pushy debating and lobbying and power plays) or flight (retreating from the world into our own little safe corner) and each of these can be to shoot ourselves in our beautiful feet that our meant to bring good news.
Fight and flight postures each keep us from being in that peaceful, joyful zone where we are open to God’s Spirit and ready for opportunities to engage creatively with the world around us in the name of Jesus. Think of Jesus himself when his opponents were actively setting traps for him. Neither fight nor flight, but brilliant thirds ways that were wonderful demonstrations of God’s kingdom.
For me, a key thought I choose to bring to mind when the world looms large is that Jesus will certainly triumph in the end. As bad as the scoreboard seems now, we know how this game ends. Like the masked man in The Princess Bride backed up in a sword fight to the edge of the cliff, we can still smile to ourselves and indeed to the world. We know a secret. We know we are perfectly safe and nothing at all can separate us from Christ’s love.
The world will give us all sorts of trouble, but we must actively take heart – Christ has overcome the world. Let’s neither pull our heads in nor thrust our chins out. Let’s walk taller – not with an arrogant swagger, but with the noble gait of those who will turn the other cheek, wash feet, and with Christ be overcomers.
What’s the role of an evangelist? What do they look like and how do they fit in to the church? These are some of the most pressing questions facing us. To the last one, some say “They don’t!”
Evangelism is a vital part – but only a part – of the mission entrusted to us. With the demise of the (usually evangelistic) Sunday evening service many sacred agents are relatively unpractised in corporate mission – mission where the whole church works together.
God has shaped us to play like a band. Some are guitarists, some are better at keyboards. The tone-deaf can be drummers, the shy can be roadies, the nerds can work the mixing desk.
Now a few are lead singers. These are the evangelists. They bring the words to the music. They don’t mind being up front, and they have knack to interact with the audience and lead them along.
For too long, however, we have sent the evangelists out like solo artists and expected them to play all the roles – one man bands. Some do OK, but it’s just not the set-up you see in the New Testament. Jesus never sent out individuals on mission, and nor did the early church.
What would it mean in your context to get the band back together? To identify an evangelist and integrate their words with the music (deeds) of the rest of the church? The band might need some practise, but what a show it has to put on!
There seems to be a painful divide between the actions-without-words mission and words-without-actions mission. It’s true that actions speak louder than words. But words speak clearer than actions. When you put the two together you can be heard loud and clear.
How about it Elroy? Let’s get the band back together. We’re on a mission from God. And if mission is the work of the whole church, then I need you, you, you…
They say that we all need heroes, and I suppose that’s true. But in many ways we seem also to be motivated by anti-heroes – people we definitely don’t want to be like. I think this might be especially true for Australians.
In the gospels, we have a true hero – Jesus. And we have several anti-heroes, particularly the Pharisees. Now as long as we keep our theology childish and not just child-like, it’s easy to place Jesus in the blue corner, and the Pharisees in the red corner. It’s Jesus versus the Pharisees! And then it follows that if we are as unlike the Pharisees as possible, then we must be like Jesus. Right? Right? Terribly wrong!
Here’s the thing: It’s easier to flee than follow. If you’re fleeing something, you can run down any street, run in any direction, run wherever. But following – following takes discipline and attention. It’s constraining.
If representing Christ means just being “non-pharisaical” then there are just a few things to “not be”: Judgemental, preachy, proud. Flee these and chances are people will consider you a good Christian. But I fear that the Christian life doesn’t mean fleeing the Pharisees, it means following Jesus. Easy enough to be non-pharisaical. Hard to be Christlike.
Jesus didn’t tell the Pharisees to abandon their diligent study of the Scripture, or their attention to detail, or their passion for obedience to God’s reign. He told them to also practice justice, mercy and the love of God without neglecting the rest. He didn’t tell them to leave everyone else alone. He told them to deal with the plank in their own eyes so they would be able to see clearly to remove the speck from others’ eyes.
They are two huge challenges for sacred agents. Dealing with our own plank AND being those who still dare to meddle with other people’s lives. That’s a narrow path to carefully and prayerfully tread. What happens, you see, when following Jesus requires us to be just a little bit preachy?
I want to tell you about something God told me directly. Now, I’m not normally one to sprout “God told me this” and “God told me that”. Mainly I hear from Him through Scripture and through people filled with His Spirit. But I’ll tell you the story, and you can make up your own mind.
I was walking in my local neighbourhood several years ago, and vaguely praying. I looked at street after street and house after house and they all seemed so private and closed off and unreachable. So I prayed, “God, how can our little church even come close to connecting with these people? How can they possibly ever be won to you?” (Read into that my great faith!)
Immediately six words zapped straight into my mind, so clear and stark and, well, zany, that I knew that the thought was not my own. These were the words: “Plan it like a major robbery.”
Well, God knows how to speak to each of his children in a way they can get it, and this totally appealed to my manstinct for action and adventure. But the main point is that it got me thinking more deeply and indeed Biblically about the practice of local mission:
- The people we are sent to are not merely “disinterested”, they are bound and blinded. Jesus spoke of his ministry as “search and rescue” and indeed as plundering the house of a strong man (Lk 19:10, Lk 11:14-23), and we are entrusted with the continuance of that same ministry.
- To bring the people of the neighbourhood into the light is not something that I can do casually, easily, or alone. To plan it like a major robbery requires gathering an “Ocean’s Eleven” team of like-minded adventurers who will each contribute their unique abilities.
Those six simple words have stuck with me and remind me of the sacred agent’s need to be intentional, patient, daring, and most of all, aware of the incredible value of the people God longs to see returned to their rightful owner. There’s no heist movie that compares to the one we’re really in!
Last century many Baptist churches offered two services each week – usually Sunday morning and Sunday night. The morning service was weighted towards nurturing believers (of all ages), and the evening service weighted towards evangelism (especially of youth). It balanced churches’ priorities: Get fed on Sunday morning, bring your friends Sunday night.
But with the demise of the second service the choice of nearly every church has been to retain ‘feeding the flock’ as a corporate practice, leaving evangelism as an individual one (perhaps with the exception of occasional courses such as Alpha). What would it look like if a church chose the other way?
The building up of believers would need to utilize mid-week meetings of big and/or small groups and individual spiritual disciplines to a greater extent. Believers wouldn’t be able to use Sunday services as a weekly Quiet Time!
But the big difference might be the opportunity for the church to witness corporately, bringing the whole combination of spiritual gifts of the body to the task. Jesus said “By this will everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you love one another.”(John 13:35 NIV) If this is such a key aspect of our witness, why do we gather in relative privacy, and do our public witness individually? Are we hiding our lamp under a bowl?
What might it look like to open our weekly meetings to the neighbourhood and send strong signals that visitors, seekers, doubters, explorers, everyone is invited, indeed expected? On the inside this might mean more testimonies and less in-house notices, more preaching to the back row and less preaching to the choir. On the outside it might mean flags, banners, A-frame signs and the like to say “We’re here, we’re on, we’re open and we’re expecting you.” You only need to look at businesses and other public buildings to see how that is standard signalling in our culture.
There’s so much to be said for corporate witness, and churches could do worse than to experiment with this by at least designating some Sundays or a season of Sundays as evangelistic. (Although regular, ongoing witness has many advantages over the one-hit event.) It takes time for a church to learn to do it well, and for the neighbourhood to notice, but might it not strike a better balance?
I need to exercise. Power walking, riding, exercises, weights, even (gasp!) running. Nearly all of us need to take time for exercise – and it’s become a huge industry. The most recent City to Bay Fun Run was entered by no less than 30,000 people. Have you ever wondered why our grandparents and great-great-grandparents didn’t do that sort of thing? No, it’s not because they’re really, really old.
It’s because they worked. Physical work. Standing up work. At least, a lot more than we do today. I need exercise because I spend so much of my time doing what I’m doing right now – sitting in front of a screen. I have machines to do hard labour for me. But exercise isn’t real work. It’s simulated work. It’s play-work.
I read with fascination an interview last year with Adelaide Crows fitness coach, Stephen Schwerdt. He attributed a plummet in the Crows’ injuries that season to a new approach to training. They spent less time isolating certain muscles on fitness machines and more time in general wrestling and boxing, to become more rounded athletes and more closely simulate their match-day work. In other words, they got real.
It got me thinking about churches. And mission. How much of what we do is real gospel work, and how much is exercise? Do we talk (and blog/read – look, right now you and I are equally guilty) about evangelism so much because we do it so little? Don’t get me wrong, there’s a place for planning, training, reading and debating. But it needs to be real. It has to be connected to real doing.
It’s one thing to be keen on fishing, to read fishing magazines, to buy fishing equipment, even to go fishing. It’s perhaps another thing to get good at getting fish. This may be true not just of evangelism, but also of our worship, our fellowship, our discipleship. Are we fit and strong for the real thing, and from the real thing, or just buff from exercises? Do we have the burns and scars from real-world mission, or just a spray-on tan from talking about it? Is play-working a way towards real work for us, or a way out of it?