It’s been 4 years since Kevin Rudd dropped the phrase “detailed programmatic specificity” to bamboozled translators in Berlin. But I still can’t get it out of my head – such an wonderfully incoherent call for clarity.
Many a sacred agent could really use some… …let’s just say DPS. The mission of God is such a vast, vast adventure that anyone who tries to narrow it down sounds like a heretic. God loves all people, everywhere, all the time. But we can’t. We’re not called to. So narrowing down is a must. Although a captain in a war does not understand the global strategy, still s/he is responsible to get a clear sense of local orders and tactics and be able to report of specific progress. This is my mission. This is what I’ve attempted. This is how it’s going. This is what needs to change. This is what’s needed going forward.
I’ve attended many church meetings in my years and barely ever has there failed to be a finance report. It’s unacceptable for a treasurer to stand up and say “Our finances are OK. They’d be better if we all gave more and spent less.” No. We want the details – printed reports detailed to the last cent are standard. But to what extent do we report on our mission as a church? And if so, do we ever get past generalized motherhood statements about us all needing to pray more and to shine the love of Jesus everywhere?
A sub-conscious avoidance of accountability is often behind a lack of specificity. If we don’t clearly define any goals, or report on any particular activity, we can’t be seen as failures. Just try that in the world of finance or in the army! Yet we sacred agents are entrusted with a mission that far outweighs that of bankers or soldiers.
Might we not learn to communicate as specifically as possible our sense of calling – “particularly to these 1500 people”, our current endeavours – “this year we have been trying this” and to be open and frank with one another about our success or otherwise? Or in fairness could we relieve our treasurers from counting cents if we won’t count souls?
The highly recommend Outreach Magazine has just announced its 2013 Resources of the Year. Here are the category winners:
Telling the Gospel Through Story: Evangelism That Keeps Hearers Wanting More By Christine Dillon (IVP)
A Shot of Faith to the Head: Be a Confident Believer in an Age of Cranky Atheists By Mitch Stokes (Thomas Nelson)
Missional Preaching: Engage * Embrace * Transform By Al Tizon (Judson Press)
Center Church: Doing Balanced, Gospel-Centered Ministry in Your City By Timothy Keller (Zondervan)
Church Transfusion: Changing Your Church Organically From the Inside Out By Neil Cole and Phil Helfer (Jossey-Bass)
A New Evangelical Manifesto: A Kingdom Vision for the Common Good Edited by David P. Gushee (Chalice)
Everyday Church: Gospel Communities on Mission By Tim Chester and Steve Timmis (Crossway)
The Permanent Revolution: Apostolic Imagination and Practice for the 21st Century Church By Alan Hirsch and Tim Catchim (Jossey-Bass)
The Post-Black & Post-White Church: Becoming the Beloved Community in a Multi-ethnic World By Efrem Smith (Jossey-Bass)
The Future of the Global Church: History, Trends and Possibilities By Patrick Johnstone (IVP)
Compassion and Justice
Compassionate Justice: An Interdisciplinary Dialogue With Two Gospel Parables on Law, Crime, and Restorative Justice By Christopher D. Marshall (Cascade Books)
The Global Orphan Crisis: Be the Solution—Change Your World By Diane Lynn Elliot (Moody)
The Art of Neighboring: Building Genuine Relationships Right Outside Your Door By Jay Pathak and Dave Runyon (Baker)
In the Land of Blue Burqas By Kate McCord, a protective pseudonym (Moody)
Small Group Curricula
It’s Not Too Late: How God Uses Less Than Perfect People By Tony Evans (LifeWay)
Undaunted: Daring to Do What God Calls You to Do By Christine Caine (Zondervan)
Empty Promises: The Truth About You, Your Desires, and the Lies You’re Believing By Pete Wilson (Thomas Nelson)
The Action Bible Devotional By Jeremy V. Jones and Sergio Cariello (David C Cook)
Just a Minute: In the Heart of a Child, One Moment … Can Last Forever By Wess Stafford with Dean Merrill (Moody)
MEGA Sports Camp: Beyond the Gold By Gospel Publishing
The Jesus Survey: What Christian Teens Really Believe and Why By Mike Nappa (Baker)
Life in 6 Words: The GOSPEL Explored By Dare 2 Share
If you’re a preacher or a regular afflictee of sermons, you’ll know what exegesis is. It’s the practice of very careful reading of the text, so as to truly hear what it actually says. Not what we want it to say, not what we’ve always assumed it says, but to receive it as it is actually given to us. Good exegesis yields remarkable insights, but it takes time. You can’t skim read a text deeply.
Effective sacred agents do this well, always coming back to the gospel, looking over and into it, constantly exploring its depths. It almost goes without saying – a messenger needs to know the message well.
Experts in mission also talk about cultural exegesis - the need for sacred agents to immerse themselves in the culture where God has placed them, to understand its rhythm and language and how it ticks. That’s good mission but it takes time. And like Biblical exegesis, it’s a skill that you acquire and sharpen. You learn how to look.
So sacred agents are messengers, ambassadors, priests. We need to know the message well and the recipients well to be able to convey the message effectively.
But let’s take this even further. As sacred agents we are sent not just to a culture, but to individual people. If we know a person’s culture well but don’t take the time to know them individually we will make assumptions of what they are probably like, and quite probably miss the mark in reaching them personally. So let’s practice personal exegesis. We might be familiar with a person, but do we really know them? As biblical exegetes know, familiarity leads to skim reading.
What might result in our making a deliberate choice to take time to really read the individuals we are sent to and familiar with? To take time to ask better, deeper questions and to learn how to pay attention to their answers? To learn how to really observe? And in doing so, to constantly consider ‘What is God’s message to this particular person?’
It takes time. And it takes lots of us. With a microphone we can speak to 10,000 people at a time. But we can still only listen to one at a time.
I remember learning this song in primary school choir, do you know it?
O soldier, soldier, won’t you marry me
With your musket fife and drum?
O no sweet maid I cannot marry you
For I have no coat to put on.
So up she went to her grandfather’s chest
And she got him a coat of the very, very best
And the soldier put it on.
The next three verses are the same, but it’s hat, gloves and boots instead of coat. Then comes the final verse…
O soldier, soldier, won’t you marry me
With your musket fife and drum?
O no sweet maid I cannot marry you…
…For I have for I have a wife of my own!
I’ve no idea why that song has stuck with me as opposed to more important parts of my education. But it keeps coming back to me as I reflect on our mission as sacred agents. What a sucker that sweet maid is! And what a cad the soldier!
It reminds me of a danger of what I call ‘generosity evangelism’. We lavish people with favour/s wanting to demonstrate the grace of God. And people are happy to receive them. Churches that stretch their resources to offer community programmes see it all the time. People are very happy to receive what’s offered, and often come back regularly, but don’t, at the end of the day, come to join the church and the One who loves them the most. You see, they are already wedded to someone else.
In the Soldier song, the sweet maid clearly hadn’t had a rather necessary talk with the soldier. At least, she hadn’t drawn out much of his story, had she? She just hoped that gifts would say and do it all. She’s left not only heart-broken, but empty-handed!
I wonder whether our tendency to attempt evangelism predominantly without words (the famous but mythical quote of Francis of Assisi comes to mind) leads us up the same naïve path? Discuss!
Some Christians have been thrown to the lions. Some disciples have been burned at the stake. Some sacred agents have been imprisoned unjustly for years. And some … some have had it suggested to them that their small group might multiply.
Why is it that multiplying small groups causes so much division? I’ve had some great conversations with leaders about this recently and many find the process long, hard, and very painful. Is it really worth the agony?
Yes! If you’re a mature believer there’s approximately 100% chance that a significant part of your spiritual formation has developed through participation in small groups. I think I’m yet to meet a strong believer for whom this isn’t true. So here’s my question: If small groups are absolutely essential for making disciples, how can we possibly multiply disciples if we don’t multiply small groups? That’s right, we can’t. We either put more believers into existing groups, making them no longer small, or we must multiply the groups.
Why is smallness important? It can, I think, be boiled down to this: With a microphone, you can speak to 10,000 people at a time. But we don’t have the technology to listen to 10,000 people at a time. We can only listen to one at a time. It’s a key part of disciple-making and can readily be seen in the practices of Jesus himself. He too had a small group … that multiplied.
What can we do, then, to ease the pain? Well, a fair bit of the grief, pain and resistance is necessary. Group multiplication is a key occasion for stretching and growing, and that hurts a bit. But what we can do better is to normalise the process so that it comes as less of a shock and that groups become less entrenched in the first place. Keep reminding small groups that fruitfulness (literally) means reproduction and that the pain of reproduction is worth it. Prepare groups earlier – from their start if possible – for multiplication. Don’t wait for groups to hit ‘full’ before having ‘the talk’. And finally, it’s a myth that groups divide perfectly in two. More often it works best when the leader hands over leadership and takes just a few others to go and commence a new group.
What’s your experience been? Easy? Painful? Worth it?
The mission of God is, wonderfully, a team sport. Jesus is never recorded as sending out his disciples individually. And yet somehow so many sacred agents feel like they are going it alone. What have we forgotten?
Mission is the work of the whole body. Our mission, to multiply disciples of Jesus, is something that the whole church is called to, together. Each of us is endowed by God’s Spirit with different gifts and capacities; none of us are equipped to continue the ministry of Jesus solo. There’s an enormous amount of stress felt by agents who want to be missionaries but feel unable to live up to the mythical image of the lone ranger evangelist. Yet the work of the evangelist is just one (vital) part of mission. Only some are gifted for it, and they – desperately – need everyone else to be playing their part in turn.
In an army only a minority hold guns and work on the front line. Behind them are a host of cooks, drivers, nurses, even librarians. But crucially, all see themselves as being part of the army and part of the campaign; all are trained for basic front line service if needed; and the rear serves and resources the front, not just itself.
Teamwork is itself a witness. Jesus said “By this will all people know that you are my agents – if you love one another.” When we do mission individually, we give people no chance to observe Christian community in operation. We work at expressing love for the people of our context, and of course that’s essential, but Jesus said that our love for one another would have profound influence in the world. What opportunities do the people you’re sent to have to see rich Christian fellowship in practice?
Teammates keep you on track. A group of like-minded friends is essential to sustain persevering, fruitful mission. Mission teams make time to rest, pray, plan, reflect, celebrate, and train. Members of great mission teams have the strength and grace to speak the truth to one another in love, enabling constant sharpening and deepening.
How can we drop the lone ranger myth and find ways to build and strengthen effective missional communities?