Every Believer On Mission

I’m not a handyman. In fact, I’m not even close to being handy around the house. There’s a running joke that my wife is more of a handyman (or woman) than I am. I have often expressed my gratitude for being in vocational ministry for it places me around people that can often lend a helping hand, show me what needs to be done, or be hired for the project.

Here’s an observation that I’ve made regarding our culture. We live in a culture of specialists. In the previous generation, like my dad and father-in-law (who both are in their 60s), they were generalists. On top of their day job, they could change oil, replace spark plugs, lay flooring, fix minor plumbing issues, install crown molding, etc. And I’m sure that I could learn many of those things and more—by just watching YouTube—but the problem is that I don’t want to take the time to learn. I simply know there are professionals that can do it and can do it much better than me.

The notion that we live in a culture of specialists—or professionals—has infiltrated the church to the degree that many don’t see mission as their job. Mission, as many see it, is the duty of those who have been “called” or hired.  

But specialization not only hinders everyone from seeing their call to mission, but the idea of compartmentalization does as well. The tendency of our culture to categorize everything, leads to an unintended consequence of the fragmentation of life. In other words, when we don’t have one overall arching purpose that connects each category of life, we tend to see that category stand all by itself. Therefore, mission gets placed into a category. For many churches they see mission as a “program” of the church or something that believers go and do. Mission for some, isn’t seen as something that’s part of the very fabric and DNA of each individual. 

The Bible has a very different view or vision of mission.

Mission is for everyone, everywhere, all the time and to all places (peoples).

This vision of mission can be traced back to the Old Testament. In Exodus 19, while Moses is on Mt. Sinai, God speaks to him and at one point says, “…you will be my own possession out of all the peoples…and you will be my kingdom of priests and my holy nation” (Ex 19:5–6). 

Why is mission for everyone? Because God is on mission to create a people for Himself to reflect His glory—His rule and reign—throughout the created order. We see that idea in Exodus 19 when God expresses, “you will be my own possession….” If God is on mission, and God has created a people for Himself, then those who are part of His people have been grafted into His mission. Therefore, if God is on mission then all His people are born into and on that mission as well.

How is mission everywhere? If God is on mission to create a people for Himself to reflect His glory, He is going to do that through holy formation. Holy formation would involve all of life. Christopher Wright suggests, “The strong ethical demand of holiness in Old Testament Israel meant living lives of integrity, justice and compassion in every area—including personal, family, social, economic and national life” (The Mission of God’s People, 124).

This is why discipleship for New Testament believers should not be divorced from mission. Discipleship is the collision of the imago Deiand the missio Dei—as it is the process of learning what it means to be human after the likeness and image of Jesus. Being thus formed in Jesus, we are having the character of God forged in us that we might be a [holy] light to the world. As a result, how we live in all spheres of life matters missionally. 

If everything is mission, nothing really is mission…right? I disagree. I’ve heard people argue that if everything is mission then mission is watered-down to the point that nothing is mission. Given my broad understanding of mission, I don’t buy it. Why you ask? God tells Moses that His people will be a kingdom of priests. What do priests do? Mediate between God and others. Therefore, God saved a people for Himself forming and forging them into His identity and nature that they might live in a priestly, mediatorial, state between Him and the nations.

Similar language can also be found in the New Testament describing the people of God, a.k.a, the Church. Peter writes, “But you are a chosen race, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a people for his possession…” (1 Pt 2:9). 

Such would lead me to conclude that everything that I do (in all spheres of life) matters to God—as what He is doing in me, He wants to leverage through me. In other words, how I live my life, how I relate to my family, how I treat my neighbor, how I engage the oppressed and marginalized, how I approach work, how I view and use my money, even how I leverage my social media account (and more), all are missional levers that display what God has and is doing in me through the gospel in the power of the Holy Spirit.  

In closing, our vision of mission should be more comprehensive—everyone, every sphere of life, and all the time—and not specialized for professionals or compartmentalized as just a branch or department of the church.

But there’s one more thing that fully completes this vision of mission and that is the posture or direction that it takes. While such a vision of mission should first and foremost have a vertical direction—the glory of our King—it most definitely should have a horizontal direction as we direct our lives towards all ta ethne as we declare God’s glory among the nations (Ps 96:3) and proclaim the praises of the one who called us out of darkness into His marvelous light (1 Pt 2:9b). It is to this vision of mission everyone is called!

Maranatha and Mission: Hearing the Gentle Whisper to Stay on Mission

This article originally appeared on The Exchange with Ed Stetzer. You can find it here.

Over the course of the last year, I have been training for triathlons. When I have a long training session or I’m in a race, there are two moments where I feel like giving up. First, I think about quitting when I experience a shortness of breath due to the physical activity. Second, there are times I want to throw in the towel when I feel the physical pain in my legs, calves, and shins.

In those moments, when my mind and body are telling me to stop, I hear this faint whisper: “Keep going; just put one foot in front of the other; you got this.” In other words, this faint whisper—in the sea of physical pain and emotional stress—exhorts me to stay on mission.

Maranatha moments, for me, are filled with the physical pain and emotional stress of life. All I want to do is cry out to Jesus…please come! And while he is more than likely not going to come back physically at that moment to make all things new and to right every wrong, I do believe he answers that cry and prayer in another way. He sends the Spirit to fill us as he lovingly whispers, “I’m here with you, I will never leave you nor forsake you; stay focused and stay on mission.”

It is the Spirit of God that brings comfort and peace in Maranatha moments. Not only does he bring peace and comfort, but he reminds, refocuses, and refreshes us to stay on mission.

What I’ve found in my own life, and what I suggest to you, is that Maranatha moments can serve as a catalyst for mission.

Here’s how.

First, Maranatha moments remind us that this world is not our home; we are sojourners between this broken and dark world and a world fully mended by the blood of Jesus and effusively lit by the glory of our King.

As John writes towards the very end of Revelation,

He will wipe away every tear from their eyes. Death will be no more, grief, crying, and pain will be no more, because the previous things have passed away. Then the one seated on the throne said, Look, I am making everything new. (John 21:4–5)

While Maranatha moments might give us pause in this world, they do not paralyze us from courageously and boldly moving forward towards the next in the power of the Spirit.

Second, Maranatha moments refocus us, as believers, on the primary mission to share and show the good news of Jesus.

It seems that much of Christianity today—particularly in the West, and specifically in North America—revolves around squabbles of secondary and tertiary importance. My observation in contemporary evangelicalism is that we occupy our time by vehemently debating matters such as the role of the church in American politics and the role of the church in culture.

While these issues are important—and there is a time and place to have such discussions—the time, energy, and sometimes visceral, prideful, and declarative tone eclipse the primary issue of making Jesus known. It comes across as if we are trying to make our stance known.

Some believers reason that the role of the church in American politics is more critical and crucial than ever. Believing such, Christians will exert their energy calling out the other side in militaristic language. They’ll go after brothers and sisters who are on different sides of political policies. [Note that I said policies, not doctrine. For while one may hold a particular doctrine, that doesn’t mean he or she will necessarily hold to the same policy.] Some will even opine that a fight for conservatism is a fight for Christianity in America.

I’m not saying that we shouldn’t engage in the political realm; what I am saying is that Maranatha moments should refocus us to engage in our primary calling of making Jesus known through both word and deed. As we beg and cry out for Jesus to come, we are reminded that it isn’t about an elephant or a donkey, but the Lion of the tribe of Judah.

Another issue that tends to eclipse the primary call of mission is engagement with and in culture. This is close to the previous point, but still unique by itself.

Here’s the million-dollar question: How are we called as Christians to engage a pluralistic, pagan land—even one that was founded in part by Judeo-Christian principles?

In reality, it’s only been in recent times where the church in America has had to wrestle with answering it. And because many Christians—both in leadership and followership—have not seriously wrestled with the theological and missiological understanding and application with such a question, we find ourselves reacting to the cultural typhoon we call secularism, pluralism, and rugged individualism.

As a result, we may find ourselves sounding like a clanging gong, expressing our position and point without doing so in love or humility.

Maranatha moments re-attune our hearts on the primary mission of making Jesus known instead of on transforming the world into our preference. We are reminded when we pray “Come, Lord Jesus” that he is bringing a new city adorned as a bride prepared for her husband.

Therefore, we don’t have the primary call and pressure of transforming this world. We can work, serve, and love the culture faithfully as we faithfully share and show Jesus’ love.

We can partner, in a spirit of common grace, with the culture working towards its flourishing. We can commit ourselves to a local faith community that seeks to embody and enact the coming Kingdom of God in our midst—thereby serving as a preview of the new city to come.

Third, Maranatha moments refresh our lives to give us the breath to breathe into others.

Maranatha moments arise when we are spent, exhausted, hurt, or in pain. Maranatha moments come when we are depleted and feel hopeless and helpless. The weight of life has become too much. However, while we are vociferously crying out “Maranatha!” because the struggle of life is too real, the Spirit is gently reminding us about mission because the need of the world is too great.

Here’s what we all know: Everyone has Maranatha moments. That doesn’t mean everyone is crying out for Jesus to come. Those who don’t know Jesus may be crying out for relief. They may be crying out, “Enough! Make it stop.”

They may be yelling curses to God. Maybe they are dealing with loss.

Maybe they are battling depression. Maybe they are struggling with an illness. Maybe they are in a crisis of identity.

Whatever it may be, our Maranatha moments can be leveraged to refresh our lives so that we can be aware of the needs around us that we might breath gospel life into their weary souls.

In closing, this is the tension we believers live with on a daily, weekly, and yearly basis. We are pelted constantly with the darkness and horrors of life in a fallen world. Such onslaughts leave us wailing, demanding, and even beating our chests, calling on Jesus to come quickly.

But on the other hand—amidst the train horn of brokenness, rawness, and vulnerability, Jesus sends his Spirit who speaks with a a still small voice, whispering, “Stay on mission.” Don’t lose sight of your planted purpose on planet earth—to demonstrate good news living and to declare the good news life.

As Peter quipped, “The Lord…is patient toward you, not wishing that any should perish, but that all should reach repentance” (2 Peter 3:9). Therefore, while we wait, we work. While we somberly mourn, we stay on mission.

Redeeming Rural

This article originally appeared on The Exchange with Ed Stetzer. You can click here for the original link.

A couple weeks ago the Laxton house couldn’t agree on a movie for family movie night, so my wife clicks on Hoosiers. Now, a movie as old as Hoosiers certainly raised my children’s eyebrows—and even complaints—since they weren’t born in the century that churned the movie. 

If you’ve seen the movie, you know the storyline of the 50-year old Coach Norman Dale (Gene Hackman) who moves to rural Hickory, IN to coach the Hickory Huskers. Through a battled journey, Dale victoriously leads the Huskers to the echelon of Indiana High School basketball—the State Championship.

Underneath the grand storyline (main plot) is a subplot. And this subplot has stuck with me as I continue to think, dream, and plan for rural ministry through the Rural Matters Instituteat the Billy Graham Center. What’s the subplot you ask? Redeeming Rural

In this post, I want to outline three redeeming (wrongs made right) elements seen in the subplot and exhort the church today to enact a similar redeeming quality in their mentality, ministry, and mission to rural areas. 

Redeeming the Rural Mentality

Early in the movie, Myra, a teacher at Hickory High, engages Norman Dale describing the rural-nessof Hickory. She vociferously notes that Hickory doesn’t appear on most state maps and that the only thing that comes through Hickory is a train. She goes on to explain that people—especially 50-year-old men—don’t move to Hickory for good reasons. 

I think Myra’s understanding of Hickory has been (and to some degree continues to be) a realistic understanding of many today—even those in the church. For decades the church has promoted ministry and mission in the urban (and suburbia) areas, as these centers continue to experience upticks in population. 

When figure heads of evangelicalism call young leaders to give their lives in strategic areas like cities, and when large denominations have church planting initiatives that focus their resources and efforts on cities, it’s no wonder why there has been a vacuum of leadership, resources, and ministry-aid for rural areas. And if someone does move in or stay rooted in rural areas to do ministry, they probably face the Myra’s of the world thinking they had no better opportunity or offer elsewhere. 

It’s important for the church to reverse engineer such a negative mindset towards rural areas. Rural places do not need to be seen as places of inopportunity but prime locations for opportunities. The problem Hickory faced and that many rural areas today face is that fewer are willing to mine and leverage the potentiality of resources of small towns to [figuratively speaking] “put” them on the map. 

Jesus had to overcome the stigma of what comes out of small towns. Nathanael, prior to following Jesus, is quoted as saying, “Can anything good come out of Nazareth?”

The church must redeem the mentality towards rural areas by seeing them as places of great potential.

Redeeming Rural Ministry

Hoosiers depicts a great deal of brokenness—a town inhospitable to outsiders, a teenager who had suffered great loss, a town drunk living in shame and isolation, and a failed basketball coach in need of a second chance. Who knew rural towns had so many problems? [When I think of small towns, my mind typically goes to Mayberry—a quaint little town with very little problems.] 

The reality is, rural areas aren’t immune to the depravity of humanity. Whether it’s an area with a sparse population of 26 or a small town of 26,000 every single person is in great need of redemption. Every area, regardless of how small has wrongs that need to be made right. 

Residing in rural communities are cold hearts of pride and racism that need to be melted. There are tears of grief being shed that need a shoulder to rest. There are frustrated addicts that need faithful advocates. There fractured marriages in need of healing counsel. There are orphans that need a family. There is the unemployed searching for meaningful employment. There are failures in life longing for dealers of hope. There are prisoners in need of visitors. And there are searchers for purpose in need of people of direction. 

In order to redeem rural ministry, the church must focus on the needs of people rather than the number of people in the area. 

Redeeming Rural Mission

When thinking and discussing rural, almost everybody wants to focus on size. For many, size dictates importance. That’s exactly what some thought about Hickory, IN. This concept of the importance of size has creeped into the church’s understanding and impetus of mission, which has deterred many away from focusing on and going to rural areas.   

Today, more than ever, there is a need to redeem rural mission. To do so we must understand a few things. 

First, the size of the place has no bearings on the scope of God’s mission. God has called the church to go into all the world! A Christ-centered mission will have a church moving for and towards the whole world regardless of location.

Second, the purity of God’s mission isn’t the call to scale or multiply, but to faithfully make disciples.

Redeeming rural mission will require the church to decommercialize God’s mission. Instead of going where we will get the biggest bang for our gospel-buck, we will go where the Spirit prompts. 

Third, the size of the place does not affect the size of the impact. In fact, mission to rural areas has the potential of seeing greater community impact. If you did a cannon-ball in the middle of Lake Michigan, few will see and experience the impact; if you did a cannon-ball in a swimming pool, everyone around (and in) the pool sees and experiences the impact. Rural areas are the swimming pools the church can do gospel cannon-balls that can be felt and experienced by many in the community. 

In closing, after overcoming the less than 21st—Century cinematic affects, the Laxton children sat through the entire movie. They were captivated by the overall storyline of defeat, struggle, redemption, and celebration that captivated their imagination, spoke to their hearts, and inspired their lives. 

While my kids were into the overall drama of the movie, my mind raced to how basketball transformed a small rural town in Indiana. And to know that the church has something so much greater than basketball! 

My prayer is that the church will not neglect its responsibility to take the gospel into the rural areas of the world. To do so will require the church to redeem rural by seeing such areas as places for opportunity, people in need of ministry, and platforms for mission. As the church does this, there will be a glorious subplot of the gospel redeeming rural communities for the glory of God and the good of the world! 

We’re Not from Here

This post originally appeared on The Exchange with Ed Stetzer.

When people ask me where I’m from, I think to myself, That it’s a tricky question. Do I answer where I currently live, where I currently moved from, or where I was born? In all honesty, I think they are trying to locate the accent they hear from the words coming out of my mouth. So, I answer, “Memphis, Tennessee.”

Truthfully, I’m not from Memphis. I’m actually from Munford, Tennessee. But most people wouldn’t have a clue where Munford is located. It is a town about 30 miles north of Memphis.

Munford was a small town. Growing up, there was no McDonalds, Walmart, or BP Gas Station. Everything was mom and pop. It wasn’t until years later, after I had moved, that Munford began to commercialize. Munford was your typical small southern town—simple, conservative, religious, connected, and friendly (still to this day I tell my wife about the “index finger” wave). This was the cultural environment in which I was raised and in which I became a Christian.

At the age of 15, I sensed a call to vocational ministry and began to lay out my future plans; I planned to attend college, then seminary, and finally land at a church serving God in some capacity. Participating in several overseas mission trips as a teenager gave me a perspective of the world that was bigger than Tipton County. Thus, I never thought I would stay local.

At least my 40,000-foot plans panned out. I attended Union University, graduating with a degree in Biblical Studies. Prior to graduating, I met my wife. As newlyweds, we embarked on seminary at Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary.

Full disclosure, I was your typical Bible College, young seminarian. I was consuming so much Bible, theology, and Greek—in addition, serving in local churches—that I was overweight with pride.

Shedding pride 

But there were two practical things that happened that help shed some of that overweight pride. I was part of a church planting team in urban Atlanta and a few years later—upon completing my MDiv—I entered a PhD program in Missiology.

Remember, I’m from Munford, TN—population under 5,000. I found myself on a small church planting team in urban Atlanta where there were 5,000 people in a few blocks. No building, no budget, no people.

How in the world do you reach people—without borrowing members from other churches—with no church building, no members, and no money? Maybe I was a bad student, but from my perspective, neither college nor seminary had prepared me for this environment under these conditions.

There, I learned the precious principles of proximity and presence. It was great that college and seminary had built a theological foundation. But that theological foundation would be useless unless first, I knew the people living around me and, second, I knew how to contextualize the gospel and church in their heart language.

The second practical thing that led me to shed some of my pride weight was my PhD studies in Missiology. In that program, it occurred to me that I’m not as smart as I thought. In addition, it taught me that if the church is going to reach a changing culture, we must change our perspective and our paradigms. Both lessons require a posture of humility.

I remember reading a statement by Ed Stetzer (at the time, one of my professors, now my boss), that if the 1950s came roaring back, there would be so many churches ready to engage. That’s so true of many established churches.

But then, one of the problems with Western Christianity is that it is a copy-cat culture. We copy what we perceive is working.

The church growth and seeker church movement captivated so many young leaders 20 years ago, and since then, such churches have popped up all around the U.S. to the point that they’ve saturated many of the suburban and urban markets.

Why do I say, “saturated the markets”? Because there are those like Aubrey Malphurs and Rick Richardson that accentuate, based upon research, that only a fraction (10 percent or less) of church growth is from conversion growth. In other words, the church is having a difficult time engaging an ever-changing culture with the good news of King Jesus.

Navigating the unfamilar…

I woke up to the realization that I was no longer in quaint, conservative, religious, down-to-earth Munford years ago. I had to wake up from my presuppositional stupor if I was going to be evangelistically effective.

The lessons I’ve learned over the years remind me of the Wizard of Oz. Dorothy woke up realizing she was no longer in Kansas on Uncle Henry and Aunt Em’s farm. She was in Oz. Oz was a strange, unfamiliar land. Oz was a place of witches, lollipop guilds, lions, scarecrows, tin mans, and flying monkeys. Dorothy had to learn how to navigate Oz if she wanted to get back home.

Navigating unfamiliar, strange, and even hostile territory was something the people of God in Jeremiah 29 had to do. Could you imagine being a captive, taken from your homeland? You find yourself stunned, marginalized, uncomfortable, oppressed, and even despised.

Wondering what to do, God tells them to settle down—for they will be there 70 years! He proceeds to tell them to get back to the basics of family raising, field planting, and community building. In addition, he tells them to seek the peace and prosperity of the city of Babylon.

In short, God tells His people to enact Promised Land life in Babylonian captivity and to engage the Babylonians with grace and mercy.

Talk about a tall order for a marginalized, oppressed people!

Also, in God’s directives, you won’t find instructions to retreat, to become sub-cultural hermits. They weren’t to sit and sulk—longing for the good ol’ days back in the Promised Land. They weren’t to become mean-spirit, violent, and intolerant. They were to navigate the new, strange, unfamiliar, even uncomfortable land with grace and grit.

Truthfully, the Western Church today is like Dorothy in Oz and the Israelites in Babylon. Foreign and unfamiliar describe their environment.

In such environments, there’s a natural inclination to long for home. And that we do. But, I’m not talking about a home in which we go back to. And it’s not a home that is three-clicks-of-the-heel away. Our home is a future City—The New Jerusalem.

While we wait for home, let us as the church of the Living God, the Bride of Christ, live for the peace and prosperity of the unfamiliar, the strange, the one different than us. Doing so will require a posture of humility, a heart of grace, and a mind of understanding. And this is the essence of our podcast, Living in the Land of Oz.

Dangerous Church

dan·ger·ous (ˈdānj(ə)rəs/)

Dangerous is an adjective which means, “able or likely to cause harm or injury.” It can also mean, “likely to cause problems or to have adverse consequences.”

Typically, when Americans think of the word “dangerous” they tend to think of a weapon, an object in the house, a kind of animal, a kind of person or group, an area of town, or a region of the world.

Those things that we think of as dangerous have the potentiality of causing an effect on us and our lives. When something is dangerous it yields a certain kind of power and authority towards those who consider it dangerous. In other words, when someone thinks something or someone is dangerous, there’s a respect and honor—even a fear—towards that something or someone.

If I had to guess, I don’t think people today (particularly in America or throughout much of the world) believe the church is dangerous. Sure, they may think that radical religious groups like the Westboro Baptist tribe is emotionally dangerous and/or a cultural nuisance. Yet, they don’t view the church, in and of itself, dangerous. In fact, many do see the church, by in large, as a menace and nuisance to society—not to mention irrelevant.

However, when it comes to the book of Acts, the church was dangerous. Now, before I go any further, let me clarify what I mean. Did the church cause bodily harm to people? No! In fact, they brought healing to people. Did they cause problems for religious people and their institutions? Yes. Did they cause problems in cities throughout the known world as people turned their life over to Christ proclaiming Him as King and God, not Caesar nor their pantheon of gods? Yes.

The harm induced by the church—the problems caused by the church—throughout the world in the first century, had to do with the kind of change and transformation the gospel brought into the lives of people, and thus, in the spaces they occupied. Isn’t this ultimately why the Jews and Romans killed Jesus? He was dangerous. He was a threat. He was causing harm and causing problems within their spheres of influence. He was disrupting their way of life, their religious system.

In this short post, I want to provide the “how” and “what” of becoming a dangerous church.

First, how do churches become dangerous? Jesus exclaims, “If anyone wishes to come after me he must deny himself, take up his cross daily, and follow me” (Luke 9:23). So, just what does it mean to die to oneself? To help understand what it means to die to self, I use the acronym D.I.E. (Deny yourself; Intend to be crucified to the world; and Emulate Jesus. In sum, to follow Jesus—and to access and download His life for us—we must D.I.E. daily. To state it in another way, to download the latest version of His life for us, we must kill the oldest version of us.

To download the latest version of Christ’s life for us we must die to the oldest version of us.

So just imagine what our churches would be like comprised of people who D.I.E. to themselves daily.  Imagine the impact these churches would have in and on their communities and cities.

Those who D.I.E. become dangerous to those around them and the places and spaces they occupy.

Second, what does becoming a dangerous church look like? In other words, what are some of the characteristics displayed in churches that are dangerous? Based upon Acts 5:1–32, I believe there are at least five characteristics exhibited by a church that is dangerous.

  • They realize they serve a dangerous God. Early in this chapter, God takes out Ananias and Sapphira because of their lie and deception. They lied to church, and ultimately to God, about the amount for which they sold their property. A dangerous church has a dangerous God working in and among them to fulfill His mission. I find it interesting that in the same chapter, religious people are trying to protect their institutions and way of life through violence and threats. Dangerous churches never have to resort to violence and vehement threats to those who endanger their way of life and mission. Why? Because they serve a dangerous God who ultimately protects His people, His church. This doesn’t mean that we don’t shepherd, watching out for wolves in sheep’s clothing or ravenous lions looking to devour weak prey. It simply means we don’t have to fight fire with fire—violence with violence, nastiness with nastiness. We can trust in a sovereign, omnipresence, omniscience, and omnipotent God who work in and through us to accomplish His will for His good pleasure.
  • They stand in awe of God. A couple of times in this chapter Luke tells the reader, “And great fear came upon” those who heard of what God had done—particularly with Ananias and Sapphira. The idea of “fear” invokes awe. There’s this healthy reverence and fear the church has towards God. When a church stands in awe of who God is and what He has done, is doing, and will do, they posture themselves submissively to God offering their bodies as living sacrifices, holy and pleasing to Him.
  • They embody unity and togetherness. In the early days of the church, while God did many signs and wonders in their midst, they gathered consistently in Solomon’s Portico, a large outer-court where large numbers of people could gather. We also see in other places, whether it is in the Upper Room (Acts 1), devoting themselves to the apostles’ teaching and to one another (Acts 2), or believing they were of one heart and soul (Acts 4), the early church wasn’t about individuals coming to a location to consume a religious experience but about individuals coming together to form a body (Jesus’ body) to live on mission. One person can make a difference, but a group (a body comprised of many) can alter history. Think about it. The only reason why Jesus altered history as we know it, was because He empowered His body to go into all the world. A dangerous church can only become dangerous when it is unified, moving and operating together in the power of the Spirit.
  • They buy into Jesus’ comprehensive mission. Not only did they preach the gospel, they served the hurting, the needy, the broken, and the sick. They were serving and meeting the needs of so many people that it went out on Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram to the point that people from the surrounding towns and villages started bringing the sick and afflicted to Jerusalem. As they physically met needs they spiritually pointed to Jesus—the hope and King of the world—who had come, lived, died, and rose again to make all things new.
  • They are willing to die. After being arrested, the apostles’ lives were threatened once again in Acts 5. They were told they had been warned and charged not to teach in the name of Jesus, yet they continue to do so. Peter, along with the other apostles, respond, “We must obey God rather than men.” And they go on to proclaim the gospel once more to these, already irritated, men. In the face of an angry religious mob, Jesus’ devoted apostles declare, “Kill us if you must, but we cannot disobey the command of our King.” This mentality makes the church extremely dangerous. And it is this kind of attitude that becomes the seedbed and fertilizer of God’s movement in the world. Church father, Tertullian, put it this way, “The blood of the martyrs is the seed of the church.” The world cannot stop people willing to die for what they believe in!

In closing, are you dangerous? Is your church dangerous?

May it be said in our generation, from cities and communities throughout our land, “These men (and women) who have turned the world upside down have come here also” (Acts 17:6).

Living in the Land of OZ: Three Ways for the Church to Posture Herself in a Foreign Land

The influence of Christianity upon Western society seemingly has become a past experiment. As the Enlightenment experience failed—failing to eliminate all societal ills and bring about a human utopia—so too has the “Christian Nation” or Christendom failed. As a result, the church has struggled with this shift—and now find herself, in many ways, confused as to her role and posture in a pluralistic, secular, post-Christian, and skeptical environment. In other words, the church in North America has finally realized they are no longer in Kansas but in the land of OZ (or biblically speaking, in Babylon). And now believers and churches across the denominational spectrum are asking the question, “What do we do?” 

Believers and churches across the denominational spectrum are asking the question, What do we do?

In many ways, the North American church in the twenty-first century finds many similarities with the people of God in Jeremiah 29. [The dissimilarity that I must point out is that God was in a covenant relationship with the nation of Israel, whereas America is not.] Jerusalem had fallen. No longer did Israel experience cultural and national hegemony. Now in captivity, Israel experienced life as a sojourner, alien, and minority. They were marginalized. Obviously, many saw their newfound position as difficult, demoralizing, and depressing.

In response to their newfound foreign environment, they had a few options with regards to how they would posture themselves towards the larger culture. First, they could have just faded off as a sub-cultural hermit—sitting and longing for the ‘good ole days’ as they faded into irrelevancy. Second, they could have taken a more antagonistic, resentful, and angry approach, one that was mean-spirited, violent, and intolerant. Second, they could have bashed the Babylonians over the head with the Torah. Third, they could have accommodated the Babylonians—thinking “if we can’t beat ‘em’, join ‘em’.” Or, they had a fourth option—God’s option. They could seek the peace of the city.

Embedded within this Spirit breathed option, there are at least three particular ways the people of God were (and are) called to seek the peace of the pagan land.

1) Live here as if you were living there. We are to live everyday normal lives as if we were living in the homeland. God informs His dazed and confused people to, “Build houses and live in them; plant gardens and eat their produce. Take wives and have sons and daughters; take wives for your sons and give your daughters in marriage, that they may bear sons and daughters; multiply there, and do not decrease” (Jer 29:5-6). In other words, God tells them to live here as if they were living there (back at home)—faithfully tilling and cultivating both land and family while they multiplied in the land. Seeking the peace of the foreign land begins by living faithfully as if we are in the homeland. [Keep in mind that for believers today, our “homeland” is the new city where Jesus will have made all things new (Revelation 21).] 

God tells them to live here as if they were living there.

2) Live to bless, not curse. God expresses that His people take up the task of blessing the pagan nation. This is quite remarkable! The people of God were to live as a blessing, praying to the Lord on behalf of the nation as they seek the flourishing of the pagan city. For in the city’s flourishing, God’s people will flourish. While the scope of this article does not permit me the time to dive into the notion of “blessing,” this vision, nevertheless, harkens back to both Genesis 1 where God blesses humanity (Gen 1:28) as well as the prophetic promise God made to Abram, “through you all the families of the earth will be blessed” (Gen 12:3). Blessing a pluralistic and pagan city means believers will work for and towards the common good in a way to bring flourishing and functionality to every sphere of life.

Blessing a pluralistic and pagan city means believers will work for and towards the common good in a way to bring flourishing and functionality to every sphere of life.

3) Live faithfully, not forcefully. We are to strive for faithfulness, rather than striving for world change. In this passage, there is nothing about seeking the transformation of the city. God doesn’t ask them to work towards transforming Babylon into a theocentric (Jewish) nation. God doesn’t ask them to transform the Babylonian culture and cultural practices to those that more align with the Torah. While change may very well take place, God’s call to His resident aliens was a missional posture of faithfulness—faithfulness in all areas of their life, as they seek God and the welfare of the pagan city. 

God’s call to His resident aliens was a missional posture of faithfulness—faithfulness in all areas of their life.

In applying this notion to the cultural context of the church today, please don’t misunderstand what I’m saying. I completely agree that the gospel is transformative; the gospel changes individuals, families, cities, and even nations. To a certain degree God did bring change in Babylon through the faithfulness of people like Daniel, Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego. My point is that the goal for the people of God is faithfulness to God and to His call, work, and mission in the world.

In neither Testament does God ever assign the task to His people of world change or city transformation—forcing people to believe and behave like the people of God. 

The mission of the church is to witness and make disciples. We witness and make disciples by working as ambassadors for the kingdom of God, serving as agents of blessing for the city, and inviting people to follow Jesus as their King who is in the construction process of making all things new. In sum, we simply share and show the gospel of King Jesus!

The mission of the church is to witness and make disciples.

In closing, may the church today—in finding herself in this foreign land like Dorothy found herself in the land of OZ—seek to live faithful lives reflecting the characteristics, attributes, and signs of God’s kingdom life in our homes, vocations, relationships, and ethics. May churches seek the “welfare” of the foreign city, living as agents of blessing rather than antagonistic, mean-spirited, angry, resentful and defensive agents. And finally, may we take the posture of faithfulness—faithfully calling people to follow Jesus.