When we think about what the gospel is, quite often we get fixated on the details of how people can be saved. How to get into the kingdom. The trouble is, there’s no point in telling people how to enter a place they don’t want to go. What’s the point in hailing down cars telling them how to get to the airport, when they don’t want to go there?
The how is important – it’s worth knowing and getting right. But we could, I think, swing more of our efforts to telling people the WHO and the WHAT of God’s kingdom – and they may well then ask us how to enter.
Many people seem to have the idea that God’s big dream is that everyone would behave themselves and attend church – a club, they think, where everyone is very careful to conform and pretend to be good, a club where the rules are explained over and over and the game is never played. Have we contributed to that impression? Do we continue to in ways?
God is so much more than a cosmic referee with whistle in mouth looking for people who are breaking the rules. His dream is not that people would stop sinning, but that they would be explosively transformed. Not merely that thieves would “stop thieving” – but become givers! Not merely that cursers would “stop cursing” – but become encouragers (Eph 3:28-29)! Our message is not merely that empty people can come and “be filled” – but come and be turned into fountains (John 7:38)! It’s a message of radical and good transformation! (Yes, for those fixated on how, not by our own efforts but by God’s grace and empowering).
Our message is not merely “Come follow Jesus” but also “…and he will make you fishers for people. He will enlist you in his incredible re-creative plot. He will transform you, and through you, the world!” Now that’s explosive.
The gospel of behavioural conformity has its roots as much in new-world-settler-western-imperialism as it does in Scripture. It’s an emasculating message that defuses people down to worker-bees. The biblical gospel, on the other hand, is explosive in releasing people as carriers of a viral goodness that will supplant the empires. One saps, the other inspires – which one are we conveying?
A remarkable thing happens when a grandchild arrives. The house needs to be “baby-proofed”. It’s been quite comfortable for adults for years, even decades, but suddenly it needs to be looked at with a different set of eyes altogether! Parts that have been comfortable and convenient for adults are realized to be hazardous or inappropriate for a little person.
A house that on one level is “perfectly adequate” gets a necessary transformation, all determined by the weakest, smallest family member – who perhaps hasn’t even arrived yet! It might be bemusing, even bewildering. It might be frustrating, too – oh, the things we suddenly need to fuss about! But deep down we know it’s right and good and also exciting.
Our churches need to be regularly “baby-proofed” for spiritual children – even those we haven’t yet seen. Many churches are predominantly filled with those who have been Christians for decades. And until we deliberately look – even seeking outside advice – we can be quite blind to how ill prepared we are for new believers.
From time to time I hear people say they would “never” invite an unbelieving friend to their church. I always press them to think specifically about just what it is that would be unhelpful to an enquirer. Sometimes it’s one big thing, sometimes it’s fifty little things. But they need to be named, and they need to be attended to.
A great (and brave) question for leaders to ask congregations is this: “Is there anything we’re doing, or not doing, that keeps you from inviting a friend?” These little ones – immature, messy, noisy, demanding ones – perhaps ones we’ve not even met yet – these are the VIPs of God’s extended family. Not only must we ask “What hazards need to be removed?” but then also “How could we make this place wonderfully welcoming for children?”
It takes a village to raise a child, it’s said. Nowhere is this more true than in the task of spiritual parenting – of making disciples. Christians grow through exposure to the whole body of Christ. It’s not realistic to raise children in isolation until they are ready for the village. The village must get ready for them. How ready is yours?
I had a rude awakening last week. It was the height of the December rush, work was incredibly busy, the kid’s end-of-school week was just done and renovations were underway at our house. Read: stress.
It was just as I was grappling with a kitchen installation that I saw through the window a young man striding up our driveway, clipboard under this arm.
My heart sank. I hate doorknockers. My single thought as I approached the door was “How quickly can I get rid of this guy?” And sure enough, before his opening sentence offering re-roofing was complete, I’d packed him on his way. I was firm and kind – though probably not in equal proportion.
Actually I was fuming. Who buys a roof that way?! I screamed inwardly. If I want a new roof then when I am good and ready, I will research companies on the net and in my own good time I will make the call.
And right then came an Advent moment – I realised that Jesus is a doorknocker. He comes when he is ready. He breaks into our world in his own way in his own time. (And he will again.)
Boy can he be inconvenient! When he called his first disciples on the beach, they could have said “Look mate, can’t you see we’re in the middle of a shift here?” But instead they drop their nets, and some good fish rot, and some good customers are lost – because the kingdom of God has come by.
Jesus doesn’t just come to town, he comes through town and some people drop everything and follow while others – people like me? – just can’t fit him into their schedule and agenda. Jesus never fits into anyone’s agenda. You can’t fit him into your life. But you are invited to fit into his.
“Here I am, I stand at the door and knock,” he says in Revelation 3. Will we truly receive him or send him packing? But furthermore, what does this say about our roles as sacred agents – ‘doorknockers’ on his behalf? Are we prepared to risk the irritation and ire of those who aren’t ready?
PS Doorknocker, quite possibly angel, I’m sorry! I skipped the reroof but got the reproof.
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?