Stealing Your Identity Back
The value of identity of course is that so often it comes with purpose – Richard R. Grant*
Every church wants to be more missional. But how to go about it? Too often I think we try to approach it at the levels of teaching and action. Teaching – through more sermons about how God loves the lost, and action – by just getting people ‘out there’ and hoping they’ll catch the bug. I’m not against either of those, but I know many pastors who try them both and don’t see lasting change. To attempt missional transition, we’re dealing with a thorough-going systemic issue – one that can’t merely be dealt with at the surface. For lasting change we need to challenge paradigms, And this means dealing right down at the level of identity. We need to talk about ‘calling’ – literally learning to call ourselves what God calls us.
At the core of the discipleship process is the discovery of a new identity we are given in Christ. Without a deep awareness of this, change in our behaviour goes no further than social conformity (learning how to speak and act churchian). The biblical characters (Abraham, Israel, Peter, Paul) who had their very names changed upon encounter with God were onto a good thing. Some Christian communities across history have picked up this practice, (a recent example being the Church Army). We have become a chosen people, a royal priesthood, a holy nation. Christians could refer to each other as “Prince” and “Princess” – because we are given a nobility that precedes and makes sense of the call to noble action. But the practice of calling each other ‘brother’ or ‘sister’ – let alone prince or princess – has become rare.
Most Westerners have their identity tightly bound to their occupation. That’s identity-theft. A person says “I am a hairdresser.” She might consider herself a “Christian hairdresser”, but the noun “hairdresser” remains the defining element. How might things change if believers considered themselves “a Christian” or “a missionary” first and foremost? Instead of being a Christian hairdresser, one becomes a hairdressing Christian? Representing Christ becomes core. Hairdressing becomes the way I serve Him at the moment.
As a pastor I often saw people transfer into and away from our city, as their employers moved them around the globe. The comment “Wherever my work takes me, I’ll find a church” sounds pious, but once again betrays the core of one’s identity. I’d rather hear “Wherever the Lord sends me, I’ll find a job.” We must recover the radical new identity to which the gospel invites us.
I remember struggling to get through to a group of teenagers that God’s plan for them was much more than to become neatly-dressed, clean-speaking church attenders. In frustration I blurted out “It’s much more like being a secret agent!” And from there, the label “Sacred Agent” has stuck with me and hence the name of this blog. Hairdressing is at best our cover. We have another story, a very exciting one. We are a part of a very big plot. And it doesn’t need to be secret.
For a church to become a ‘missional’ church, the only real way is for the majority of its members to see themselves as missionaries. Sacred agents. Ambassadors. Right from the start Jesus called his followers ‘fishers for people’ and ‘apostles’ (sent ones). When people reclaim this identity, their mission then comes from their very core, and their full creativity is brought into play. Without this, church members might ‘do mission’ – but only as another way of ‘helping out the church’, rather than being the church.
What do you call yourself? What did you put down as your occupation in the recent census?
*Useful quote, but does anyone know who Richard R. Grant is?!