Measuring Mission

I meet a lot of down-hearted Christian leaders – passionate for Jesus and his kingdom, diligent in sharing the gospel message, but saddened and bewildered by “hardly any response”. Let’s talk about evaluating gospel ministry, for their sakes and for those to whom they’re accountable.

It’s hard to measure mission, but we must try anyway. Hard, because of time-lag between sowing and harvest, and because it’s not in the power of missionaries to generate responsive hearts. We must nevertheless try, because stubborn, unreflective, unaccountable ministry wastes so much time, energy and resources.

So how to measure mission? Here’s one suggestion: Look for the potency of response, not just the amount of it.

The NT – the whole Bible – makes it clear that there’s a whole range of responses to God. Rarely do you see a message shared, and 100% of the hearers respond appropriately. If you feel like you’re speaking, but hardly anyone is listening – well, welcome to Jesus’ world. Welcome to the world of the prophets. Jesus sums it up in the Parable of the Sower, but also elsewhere where he speaks of the kingdom working like yeast through dough.

God’s kingdom transforms a family – a neighbourhood, a city, a nation – not usually though instant, en masse responses, but through a small-but-power-filled minority: the yeast. If just 2% of the farmer’s seed falls on good soil and produces “30, 60, 100 times what was sown” then the farmer will be in profit!

If you only reach one person for Christ, and they turn out to be a Mother Theresa or Billy Graham, isn’t that better than getting a thousand empty ‘decisions’ or ‘Jesus likes’? So before getting too downhearted, or indeed uphearted, perhaps let’s ask some better questions: If only a few are interested, Who are they? How can we water what IS growing? What is their potent-ial? Who are they, in turn, connected to? And also ask Is there a reason why the message connected with them and not others, apart from simple heart-responsiveness?

It’s all part of discerning wisely What is God doing here? Believe me, it’s never nothing!

Detonator Touching

Sacred agents need to be alert and ready for action. This is the fifth and last in a series on having our senses heightened by God’s Spirit. So far we’ve discussed Peripheral Vision, Eavesdropping, Iocane Tasting and Rat Smelling.

As the episode comes to a dramatic close, we’re grateful for the thoughtfulness of the villain in putting a handy digital count-down display on the bomb. But which wire to cut? The red, the yellow, the green or the blue?

Whilst I’m not a professional electrician, I’ve seen enough TV to know the answer. You just wait until the display falls below 5 seconds, and then cut any wire at all. At least, no one’s ever told me that this advice didn’t work for them.

God’s kingdom is down-to-earth and Jesus is a hands-on Messiah. It’s a worthwhile exercise to follow his hands and list all the things he touches in the gospels. And as the episode comes towards a dramatic end … Pilate washes his hands and steps back while Jesus steps forward and grabs the cross.

Sacred agents are called to the same kind of courage and character. Lord Jesus, give us the mettle to grasp nettles, handle hot potatoes and defuse tensions in your name. Give us the grace to be hands-on in serving the sick, the troubled, the poor, the weak, all in absolute purity. Renew in us the power to lay on hands for the filling with your Spirit, that your kingdom may tangibly come.

Let’s repent of the whole Christianity-as-mere-philosophy thing and keep asking the Lord how we can be his holey hands and feet right here today. Are there situations in your coming week where you can be less Pilate and more Jesus?

Rat Smelling

Sacred agents need to be alert and ready for action. This is the fourth in a series on having our senses heightened by God’s Spirit. So far we’ve discussed Peripheral Vision, Eavesdropping and Iocane Tasting. Stay tuned for Detonator-Touching still to come…

There’s a lot more going on than meets the eye. Sacred agents, more than anyone, need to be alert to the fishy business that happens everywhere behind the scenes.

We’ve all seen movie scenes when a character takes a phone call and says everything’s fine, trying to keep their voice level and casual while a kidnapper actually has a gun pointed at them. Will the friend on the other end of the line smell a rat?

Nothing smells rattier than the phrase “Fine, fine, everything’s fine”, don’t you think?

If we only engage with people on a surface level, we can quickly get the impression that most people are “fine, fine” and not interested in God. We then attribute that straight to their character – they should be interested in God, and, well, I guess it’s their loss if they’re not. But t hey seem to be going along OK, so, well, shrug.

Don’t we smell a rat?

God’s rescue mission is not so simple and straightforward. People are not so free as they pretend to be. Powerful hidden forces are in play – ‘principalities and powers’ as Paul puts it; ideologies and paradigms too are in play that bind and blind the people God is seeking to set free.

So when our surface-level witness (let’s not give that up) seems to come to nothing, let’s not shrug and move on. Instead, what if we moved in closer and took a good whiff, asking the Lord to show us what’s happening behind the scenes and how he’s wanting to rescue that hostage?

Iocane Tasting

Sacred agents need to be alert and ready for action. This is the third in a series on having our senses heightened by God’s Spirit. So far we’ve discussed Peripheral Vision and Eavesdropping. Stay tuned for Rat-Smelling and Detonator-Touching still to come…

If you haven’t seen The Princess Bride, then you must immediately, not least for the classic Battle of Wits scene between Vizzini and the Man in Black. It’s a challenge: To the death! For the princess! Which of the two goblets of wine has been poisoned with Iocane Powder? (It’s odourless, tasteless, deadly, and apparently an Australian export.) *Spoiler alert* Our hero in Black prevails only because he has built up immunity to Iocane over several years.

I don’t have to remind you sacred agents that there’s a lot of poison going round. On your journey of rescue you’ll face many battles-of-wits, where the binary options of fight and flight look equally unpalatable. Do you keep your head down and avoid the hostility? That doesn’t seem like Jesus. But nor does weighing in with hostility of your own. That’s where we need to be alert enough to see and select a third option Jesus offers us.

This is the option of engaging with hostile people with radical love that turns the other cheek and goes the extra mile. It’s a lot easier for me to type this than practice it, because cheek-blows and pack-carrying are both quite painful. But it’s the only thing that will really progress our journey of rescue and redemption. It’s God’s chosen way to change the world.

If following Jesus means getting up close and personal with a fair bit of poison, then we need to build up our immunity to it. Our first battle-of-wits is unlikely to be face to face with IS terrorists or the panel of The Project (not to compare them). It’s in the small barbs we’ll face each day from those we live and work with that we can practice Jesus’ redemptive presence and gradually build up our immunity to evil. It’s as we take to God in prayer the insults and pressures we face that we’ll build the capacity to absorb more.

Every day we can build our cross-carrying muscles, and thus stay in the adventure to rescue the princess and see True Love prevail.

Eavesdropping

Sacred agents need to be alert and ready for action. This is the second in a series on having our senses heightened by God’s Spirit. Last month we discussed Peripheral Vision. Stay tuned for Iocane-Tasting, Rat-Smelling and Detonator-Touching…

My teenage daughter has a black belt in eavesdropping. She won’t come down for dinner when we yell for her, but lower our voices in the kitchen for an adult-to-adult conversation, and suddenly she’s hovering just nearby.

Our brains have a way of filtering out so much information, of excluding lots of sounds and voices. But it’s amazing what you can hear if you tune in rather than tune out. God, in his wisdom, seems often to speak in such a way that only those who really want to listen can hear. Sacred agents certainly need to practice this. Are we leaning in to God to the detriment of other voices, or is it the other way around?

But we also can learn – must learn – how to really lean in and listen to the people to whom God has sent us. What are they saying? And what are they really saying? People usually speak with more than one voice. There’s their clear, audible voice, of course. But sometimes they say something else with their body language, or with their actions – but do we hear it? Are we tuned in?

This is especially important because in our culture it is very difficult to speak directly about spiritual matters. You can talk about the weather, about sport, about TV, about politics even, but not about God. This doesn’t mean that if your friend or workmate or family member never mentions or asks about God, that He is the furthest thing from their mind. So often people are thirsting and all-but crying out for a God they do not know – but the cry comes in different forms and in other words. Even when a person says they don’t believe in God, what God don’t they believe in? If it’s an aloof or capricious or impersonal ‘force out there’, well, we don’t believe in that either.

This doesn’t mean we should twist or reinterpret people’s words in any way that suits us. But perhaps we can ask better questions and listen more carefully to understand the hearts and underlying stories of those we’re sent to. You hear me?

Peripheral Vision

Sacred agents need to be alert and ready for action. This is the first post in a series on having our senses heightened by God’s Spirit. Stay tuned for Eavesdropping, Iocane-Tasting, Rat-Smelling and Detonator-Touching…

Effective sacred agents need to have great vision, more than anyone else. Racing drivers? Meh. Heart surgeons? It’s right there under lights, the pumpy thing. Sports stars? Don Bradman had lousy eyesight. But sacred agents need constantly to know what’s going on around them. We need clarity of focus, and we especially need peripheral vision.

In the movies, an agent can be surrounded by eight thugs and yet win the fight because only one thug attacks at a time while the others usefully dance around looking aggressive. Real life isn’t like that. Agents have a lot going on all around them. And novices fall for the old look-over-here-while-I-attack-from-over-there trick.

We need peripheral vision to avoid such hits. We can get lured down the alley-way of debating what’s right and wrong, and suddenly realise we’ve been duped into Pharisaism. We can dive into serving the poor and only later realise we’ve unwittingly reinforced a cycle of dependence.

But we need peripheral vision in a positive way, too. Sometimes we wonder why God doesn’t seem to be doing much, but it’s just that he’s not moving where we’re looking (ahem TV & Facebook). God’s always up to something, but so often on the margins, among people we don’t even see and in ways we don’t even notice.

We need better peripheral vision to see and respond to opportunities and dangers all around us. Holy Spirit, heighten our senses! Prepare us for action!

Stop for a moment and think: Where are you looking? What are you focused on? What has taken up most of your attention this week? And then ask: Is there something else going on?

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