Category Archives: Leadership
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
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!
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?
The life of a sacred agent isn’t like the movies. It’s a lot slower. (And more expensive.) Great Christians and great churches take a lot more time to form than it takes to read the books written about them. Our biblical heroes too, lived many a quiet, unrecorded, year.
So this one’s for all the sacred agents out there who are frustrated that nothing seems to be happening. You’re not seeing results. Your church doesn’t seem to be growing, and your unbelieving friends seem no closer to faith.
Now it’s possible that this is because you’re lazy, disobedient, low on faith and untalented. But it’s also quite possible that it’s not. What are we to make of the times when nothing’s happening?
Our theology reminds us that nothing happening is an illusion. God is always at work, though we might not see it. A farmer sows seed and it looks like she is litterally throwing away her wealth. In the dirt. There’s nothing to show for it – yet. Under the ground, out of sight, much is happening.
That’s all well and good, but what are we to do when nothing’s happening? Here are some suggestions:
(1) Rest. As in farming, the harvest season is very busy and there are other seasons where it’s wise to go at less than 110%, so as to be well refreshed for when the rush comes.
(2) Prepare. Those who are wise know that “it doesn’t rain, it pours.” It can all happen at once. The worst time for flood management is during a flood. Arks are best built before them.
(3) Pray. Not just for “things to happen” but for your own preparation for “things”. You might not be seeing fruit because you’re not mature enough yet to bear much. People think that crises form character, but it’s more true to say that crises reveal character – the character that is formed in the quiet, unspectacular, everyday grind.
(4) Think. Your mission may be barely developing, but it could be on an exponential growth curve. Just the flat, early bit. But that’s where the curve is formed, by wise decisions at the beginning. Twitter recently reported that it processes 1 billion tweets every week. But the first billion tweets took 3 years, 2 months and 1 day. And yet they were the crucial years when the platform was developed.
What’s worse that being a fired-up sacred agent when nothing’s happening? The realisation, when it all suddenly happens, that you were completely unprepared.
This Sunday our church will commission our dear friends John & Amanda Bethell, with their family, to plant a church in Port Augusta. We’re excited, nervous, heart-broken, and thrilled. Who can say how it will all turn out?
But they have a great plan. I’ll let you in on some top secret, cutting edge, world’s best practice church planting strategy: They are moving there.
If, as Woody Allen said, ninety percent of success is just showing up, then by the time you read this they will be High Distinction church planters. It sounds so incredibly obvious, but let’s not take it for granted.
Actually, physically, personally, getting out there and among the people is what separates missionaries from the missionally-aspirational. Reading missional church books and discussing mission doesn’t make me missional. Subscribing to (or even writing) the Sacred Agents blog doesn’t make me such an agent – unless I go to those to whom I am sent.
I come across many people who wonder why their community doesn’t join their church, when their church has never really joined the community. How many in the church are members of a local sporting club or other community organization?
I remember one rural church telling me wistfully of a time when they were the centre of the community. I asked them, “What’s the centre now?” and with one voice they said “The football club”. “What connection does your church have to the club?” I asked. “Any players? Umpires? Volunteers? Could the church become a sponsor?”
They won’t come to you if you won’t go to them. That’s the very essence of mission. Missiologists call it the incarnational principle. Jesus calls it leaving the 99 and going after the 1. Woody Allen calls it showing up.
A church wanting to turn its missional aspirations into mission could do worse than to draw a map of just where, how, and with whom the church is actually connected. As for the Bethells, they’ll both be working as doctors in Port Augusta. What a great place to start work on the other 10% of success.