For fourteen years Margaret from Accounts had admired Geoff from HR but felt unworthy. For the same fourteen years he felt she was out of his league. What a waste of a decade and a half! It was nothing to do with lack of attraction and everything to do with personal shame.
There’s a phrase I’ve heard a few times from people in my neighbourhood, about my church: “Oh, you wouldn’t want someone like me.” At first I took it as a polite way of turning down an invitation. Then I began reading into it, and got defensive, thinking: “What – do you think we’re a bunch of superior Pharisees looking down on everyone?”
Then finally, having heard it several times, I began to wonder about taking it at face value. What if it’s an expression of shame? What if shame is a major reason for people to avoid church and decline invitations? Then a big question: What if we hear the declining of the invitation and it brings out our own shame? Are our events not good enough? Is our music not musical enough? Is our teaching boring, our morning tea too mundane, our people too ordinary?
We redouble our efforts to put on an even better event next year, and the invitation is knocked back again. It’s frustrating. We stare across the sparsely-filled car park at the neighbourhood and silently wish we could somehow be good enough for our neighbours … who may be staring right back from behind their lace curtains, a bit bitter at the church that would surely reject them.
Where this dynamic is true, we have a different challenge in our outreach. Not to persuade people of Jesus’ magnificence or the church’s excellence, but of the enormous value of each person and how deeply wanted they are by God and us.
I remember receiving the business card of a Korean pastor. His contact details were small, but in large letters across the front was this simple sentence: “You are very important to God.” To those who say or think “You wouldn’t want someone like me” we need to find a way to respond with “Oh, if only you knew!” What a strange moment when Margaret from Accounts and Geoff from HR finally connected and discovered what had truly been going on all that time. The spiral of shame robs us all, but Christ has overcome it. As his agents, perhaps it’s time for us to be a little more shameless in reaching out? And more sensitive to the shame of others.
I love a good roster. There, I’ve said it.
I know many Christians disagree, seeing them as a necessary evil, a secret shame. “Rosters seem so artificial. Why have some people ‘on duty’ and others ‘off duty’ at a gathering? Shouldn’t it be more natural and organic? Can’t we all just follow the inner voice of the Spirit and be prompted into ministry in the moment? Isn’t ‘organised religion’ what puts people off the most, and what Jesus himself fought against?”
If you think organised religion is ugly, have a look at disorganised religion. Everyone simply following the ‘inner voice’ of the Spirit sounds great but fails on two fronts: Firstly, we’re not good at distinguishing between the inner voice of the Spirit and the inner voice of ourselves. We can find ourselves only drawn to ministries and situations that we enjoy the most. We can confuse the way of Christ with the path of least resistance. Secondly, the Spirit also has an ‘outer voice’ – when He speaks to us through others. This is a massive way in which God works, but time and again we miss it because we think it’s just Helen asking us to help out.
A good roster helps us to be the body of Christ – all different parts, well co-ordinated under the Head. It reminds us to work together in harmony, to submit to one another, to take turns stepping up or resting while the whole body moves on. All of this can itself be a witness – by this will everyone know that you are my disciples, if you love one another.
So a good roster requires a lot of love, and not just from the coordinator. It’s a spiritual discipline to communicate promptly, clearly and humbly with the poor soul putting it together. Signalling flexibility, willingness for others to have turns at your favourite roles, and willingness to fill in other roles if needed; are just as important as making clear when you’re unavailable and the limits of your sustainable service.
Jesus wasn’t fighting against organisation and coordination, so that everyone might be free to simply be themselves and do whatever they want. That’s not the Spirit of Jesus, that’s the spirit of the age. One of the most radical things a sacredagent can do is to commit to a local Christian community and ask “What needs doing? How can I help?”
For discussion: (1) What was Jesus fighting against? (2) When some says they don’t like organised religion, what might they really be saying?
“In the unlikely event of an emergency, oxygen masks will fall from the ceiling.” If you’ve flown before, you know the drill. And the next part of the safety message: “Be sure to fit your own mask correctly before assisting others.” It makes sense, doesn’t it? The faster you get yourself sorted, the sooner you’ll be able to help others.
But it doesn’t seem to make sense to many of us sacred agents. When we share the gospel, we often forget that part. Calling people to a response – to ‘hurry up and get themselves sorted’ with God – seems a bit pushy to us. Aussies don’t like to be pushed. And Jesus isn’t pushy, is he? Is he?
Actually, the urgency of being reconciled to God is all through his teaching. “Reconcile quickly with your adversary, even on the way to the judge.” Won’t a king facing a stronger king “send a delegation while the other is still a long way off and ask for terms of peace”? And all those parables about being ready because we never know when we’ll face the Master.
Our news is not merely that God loves everyone. If our message can be met with “that’s good to know” or “that’s lovely to think about” then it’s much less than the gospel. Imagine Fred proposing to Helen over and over and getting that response … and then Helen’s agony when she sees Fred finally marry Susan instead! Jesus is not just the pilot announcing “It’s all going to be OK, go back to what you were doing.” He calls people to action – to come and belong to him and join his mission.
The people who do so – who emphatically and publicly say “Yes” to Christ in baptism,getting themselves quickly sorted with God – these are the ones who (masks fitted and breathing in the Spirit) will go on to help others also find life in Christ. For responsibility begins with a response.
“All this is from God, who reconciled us to himself in Christ and gave us the ministry of reconciliation … We are therefore Christ’s ambassadors, as though God were making his appeal through us. We implore you on Christ’s behalf: Be reconciled to God.” (2 Corinthians 5)
There’s two words you don’t see together very much: Justice and Evangelism.
Each of them is a buzz-word, a shibboleth (a word from the Book of Judges that helps you know who to kill and who not to). If you go around using the “E Word” you’re this kind of Christian, and if you go around using the “J Word” you’re that kind of Christian. But sacred agents need to be savvy enough to rise above that false dichotomy.
Because the two are deeply, indeed perfectly, connected.
If you have plenty of water, and a neighbour is thirsty, is it justice to not give them some? (We get that, don’t we?) But if you know the source of plenty of water, the location of a Spring – is it justice if you don’t tell thirsty people where to get it? So with the Living Water we know comes only from Christ.
Justice calls us to evangelism. When we sit on the explosively great news we have, we’re not only doing the wrong thing by Jesus (who said “Whoever is ashamed of me and my words, the Son of Man will be ashamed of them when he comes in his glory”), we’re doing the wrong thing by our neighbours and the wrong thing by the world, which will never thrive whilst estranged from God.
And as justice calls us to evangelism, so our evangelism calls people everywhere to true Justice. Like Paul’s message to the Athenians, ours points people to a coming Judge, and therefore to a real repentance and new life that goes far beyond sitting around with our friends in delightful echo chambers. It calls people to follow Jesus and join his ministry among the poor, the marginalised, the oppressed and the overlooked.
No one wants change more than Jesus does. But He shows us that the world is not improved through nagging, shaming and propaganda. These things perpetuate the ‘fight’ and bring a self-satisfying sense of struggle, but they don’t result in the lasting just-peace people claim to be fighting for. Real, lasting transformation, from selfish to responsible living, comes when people meet Jesus, find peace with God, and have their hearts and minds transformed by the Spirit. Have we not known this for some time?
So if you love Jesus, or if you are concerned for this dying planet and its suffering inhabitants, or maybe possibly even both, then live by the Spirit and give as freely as you have received: openly point others to the Source of life and Key to lasting change.
I’m a frustrated commuter. In Adelaide it seems that around every corner is a new set of road works, and the dreaded signs telling you to slow down to 40 (by displaying the number 25*). Sometimes it feels like you just can’t get anywhere. Traffic jams can reach back for miles and run thousands of people late.
Why all these slow-downs? Because we’re making our roads faster. Why is it so hard to get anywhere? Because we’re making it easier to get places.
It’s counter-intuitive. What would happen if we stopped doing roadworks? It would be wonderful … for a few months. But after that, increasingly disastrous. So I’ve been using stuck-in-traffic time to do some theological reflection.
Sacred agents can be the most idealistic of people. We have a vision for God’s kingdom and we want to see it now. But there are the road-works of disciple-making. The frustration of ministry development. We dream of having a church entirely made up of mature Christians. Wouldn’t it be heavenly … for a few months.
But God is choosing to pave the road to his fulfilled kingdom with future generations of sacred agents and given us the glorious job of being his road-workers. Churches need to be training centres and not just teaching centres. We should ask pastors to be star-players less and coaches more. And whilst it’s counter-intuitive, more responsibility needs to be given to those who aren’t quite ready for it.
But this will only pay off if we’re intentional about it. The most frustrating driving of all is when you slow down for road works and find that there’s no actual work taking place. Fines now apply for road crews who do that. And if we just delegate ministry without deliberately and efficiently building up others, we too should be fined rather than rewarded.
So next time you’re stuck in a roadworks jam, bless a road-worker. And prayerfully consider the wisdom in a slower ministry that intentionally prepares a holy highway for many others.
*That was a joke. Sacred Agents should never speed.
Just the word ‘evangelist’ seems to spook so many people. We can handle some people being called pastors, elders, deacons, worship leaders and administrators … but the role descriptor evangelist seems especially loaded. It’s in sore need of some demystification.
Scripture calls God’s people the body of Christ. The ministry of Jesus, the mission of God, continues by the Holy Spirit through us collectively. We have each been entrusted by God with a unique role to play and contribution to make to the whole, which is why I’m constantly emphasising that there are no lone sacred agents.
It’s good for us to have the words to describe the different kinds of ministries and ministers of the body in order for us to operate together well. The evangelist, in simple terms, is the mouth. Evangelists are the spokespeople of the church to the world. They tell the good news. Again, I emphasise that the whole body is on mission, that we all are called to be missionaries together. We’re all called to demonstrate God’s kingdom, but we’re not all called to articulate it.
So how do you know who is? Here’s a simple test: If your church was having an Open Day and inviting the whole neighbourhood to come for a look-see, who among you would you choose to say a few words of explanation of what your church is on about? For such a day you have a sense for who is better to be positioned behind the scenes (equally essential) and who is better out in front. Good evangelists have a knack for speaking to those with little knowledge of God, using words and ideas that they can relate to.
Evangelists come in many shapes and sizes. Our Queen is one of the world’s foremost evangelists. But closer to home, take my test and jot down some names. Who would you ask to say a few words explaining what your church is on about? Do they need some encouragement, support and development? And do they need to be released from other duties to grow more in evangelism?