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!

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. 

Movemental Christianity

After attending our church’s Men’s Retreat this past November, a group of men and I stayed to play paintball. This happened to be the first time I had ever played paintball. I thought that paintball would be similar to going outside with nerf guns. But, oh boy was I wrong. Nerf bullets don’t hurt; paintballs coming your way at over 150mph—HURT.

As I experienced my first-ever paintball match, I have to admit I didn’t move much. I didn’t want to get hit, and thus out. I wanted to stay clean (devoid of any paint of my clothes) and in the game. The problem with such a strategy, it’s hard to advance something when you’re not moving forward. In paintball, it seemed like the team that had a system and a strategy to move forward, to gain ground, to cut off the opposing team, went on to win.

In both my pastoral experience and my research, it seems that many churches today take the posture I did in my first-ever paintball match—they sit in one place. In other words, they play-it-safe and thereby experience very little movement. The only problem with such a posture is that Jesus didn’t call the church to a play-it-safe kind of posture. Quite the opposite. The missional call of Jesus positions the church in advance mode towards the gates of Hell as they aim to make disciples of all nations. Such a posture is what I, as well as others (like Ed Stetzer and Alan Hirsch), call Movemental Christianity.

There are many characteristics to Movemental Christianity, but in this short post, I want to share with you three.

  1. Movemental Christianity BEGINS with PRAYER. Through the New Testament, we know that such a missional call—to make disciples of all nations—involves the church praying for at least three things. First, it involves the church praying for the power. Thus, believers and churches should have part of their prayers directed towards asking the Spirit of God to fill them—empowering them for kingdom living and kingdom advancement. Second, it involves praying for laborers. As Jesus taught the disciples, “Pray to the Lord of the harvest to send out workers into his harvest.” Third, it involves praying for those far from God. Paul encourages Timothy to prayer for everyone—even those in authority—for God desires everyone to be saved and to come to the knowledge of the truth (1 Timothy 2:1–4).
  2. Movemental Christianity POSTURES itself TO and FOR the WORLD. Those believers and churches that do not posture themselves TO and FOR the world, not only fail to become a movement, they end up becoming monuments. Monuments are erected to commemorate the past and what was, not advance anything in the future. The mission Jesus gave the church wasn’t to erect another religious institutional system (monument), but proclaim a relational transformational Savior (movement) who was on mission to create a people for Himself—where He would be their God/King and they would be His people. Such a posture will leave us feeling like Frodo (and Samwise Gamgee) on their way to Mordor to destroy the ring. It will be terrifying, risky, and adventurous.
  3. Movemental Christianity STRUCTURES itself with MULTIPLICATION in MIND. Many churches make decisions that help them manage and maintain what they have. Jesus wants the church to make decisions that gives them the ability to scale and multiple what they have. If Jesus called the church to make disciples, then we have to shift from a mindset of creating structures that maintain to creating ones that multiply. Therefore, churches have to think about how they are going to multiply the following: disciples, volunteers (aka at SCC as Towel-Holders), leaders, small groups (in every ministry area), campuses, and even churches. Such thinking and planning allows churches to create structures with multiplication in mind.

Movemental Christianity is meant to remind believers and churches of their God-given direction. Jesus has called the Church forward, not backward; to advancement, not retreat; to movement, not maintenance; to the future, not the past. For I truly believe, Jesus planted believers and local churches not to play-it-safe (as I did in paintball) but to risk it all for the sake of His glory and the world’s good.

God and Giving

Giving is discussed quite frequently in Christian circles. Christians are encouraged to emulate God in their giving. But where do we learn about God and giving? One of the clearest passages that teach us about God and giving is found in John 3:16.

John 3:16 states,

For God so loved the world, that he gave his only Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life.

In this passage we see, why God gives, how God gives, and to whom God gives.

Why God Gives? God gives because he loves. He loves both himself and his creation, the world. God created the world, and we know that Psalm 19 tells us that the “heavens declare the glory of God.” But also, we know that humanity was created in the image of God to reflect God’s glory to the created order. Sin damaged man’s ability to properly and correctly reflect God’s glory—his kingdom, characteristics, attributes, and nature. Thus, in his deep love for himself, and in his deep love for his creation (namely mankind), God generously gave.

Divine generosity originates in love—the love of God’s glory and the love of mankind and alleviating mankind from their plight. Generosity doesn’t originate from law or obligation, but a deep seeded love. God did not give because he needed something from us, or for himself, he gave because he loved. Love is truly rooted in the very nature of God (1 John 4:8).

For God, generosity is missional! He gives to fulfill his mission of creating a people (a kingdom) for himself from all peoples who will reflect his glory in every area of their life throughout the created order.

How God Gives? God gives generously, which is demonstrated by his free, extravagant, and sacrificial gift of His Son. In addition, Jesus gave Himself willingly and joyfully (Heb 12:1–4). God the Father and God the Son gave generously in a way that leveraged who they were in order to raise the status of man from sinner to saint, rebel to child.

According to Andreas Köstenberger, “While the Greek introductory construction (houtos gar, for thus) stresses the intensity of God’s love, the result clause, speaking of the giving of God’s [Son] (monogenes huios, one-of-a-kind Son), stresses the greatness of that gift.” Köstenberger goes on to notes how the term “‘gave’…draws attention to the sacrifice involved for God the Father in sending his Son to save the world.”[1]

Another scholar notes how “only begotten” denotes how special and beloved the Son was. In Jewish literature, it was often applied to Isaac, to emphasize the greatness of Abraham’s sacrifice.[2]

Therefore, John stresses the manner, or way, in which God gives—God generously and sacrificially gives His best!

To Whom God Gives? God gives generously to all! However, it is the “whosoever”—those who believe in Christ—who realize the extravagant, sacrificial, and joyful generosity of God. Notice who he gave to? Sinners! Rebels! God gave generously towards those who had committed treason against His sovereignty.

John Calvin describes the target of God’s love incomprehensible to the human mind. Calvin notes,

It is a wonderful goodness of God, and incomprehensible to the human mind, that he was benevolent to people he could not but hate and removed the cause of the hatred so that there might be nothing in the way of his love.[3]

As God’s people, we are to emulate his love.

Thus, if we are going to give like God, we must: emulate WHY He gives; emulate HOW He gives; and emulate to WHOM He gives. [Keep in mind that generosity doesn’t have to be narrowly defined as in the amount of money, or treasure, one gives. It can also be broadened to include time and talents one uses towards the well-being of others.]

  1. To Be Generous like God, we must give for His glory and others’ good. This is important, for as fallen, broken, and sinful vessels, our tendency is to make an idol out of money.

Jesus strongly asserts, “No servant can serve two masters for either he will hate the one and love the other, or he will be devoted to the one and despise the other. You cannot serve God and money” (Luke 16:13). Tim Keller, regarding this passage, notes, “Just as we serve earthly kings and magistrates, so we ‘sell our souls’ to our idols. . . . When Jesus says that we ‘serve’ money, he uses a word that means the solemn, covenantal service rendered to a king. If you live for money you are a slave. If, however, God becomes the center of your life, that dethrones and demotes money. If your identity and security is in God, it can’t control you through worry and desire. It is one or the other.”[4]

Is it is wrong to have money? To be wealthy? To have nice things? No. Money isn’t the problem, but as the Apostle Paul asserts,

the love of money is the root of all kinds of evil (1 Tim 6:10).

So, the problem is idolatry. Thus, if we are going to give like God gives, our giving must revolve around his glory and be directed in a way for others’ good.

As stated above, giving should be tied to God’s mission. God loves Himself, which is why he directs his love to his creation—especially his prized creation, man. The way we view and give of our time, talents, and treasures should be done in accordance with fulfilling God’s mission. (Acts 2:45; 2 Cor 8,9; Phil 4:15).

  1. To Be Generous like God, we must give extravagantly, cheerfully, joyfully, and sacrificially. Paul shares in 2 Corinthians that “Each one must give as he has decided in his heart, not reluctantly or under compulsion, for God loves a cheerful giver” (2 Cor 9:7).

The gospel doesn’t force one to give, but frees one up to give—to give willingly, joyfully, and sacrificially. The gospel changes one’s perception from I “have to give” from I “get to give.

In addition, does our giving require anything from us? In other words, what are we sacrificing in our effort to give generously? For God, He gave his Son? For Jesus, He gave his life? What does our giving costs us? Paul writes in 2 Cor 12:15, “I will most gladly spend and be spent for your souls. . . .”

  1. To Be Generous like God, we must give without impartiality and prejudice.There are many times we want to make sure that what we give to, or whom we give to, will not squander our money? In other words, we want to make sure that it is a wise investment. We want to make sure that the person we are taking time to serve and minister to is “worth” it. Or, maybe we want to make sure the church is spending the money the way we want it to be spent; if not, then we may withhold our giving.

While there is an element of wisdom and calculation to generosity,

gospel generosity doesn’t base giving on whether or not one seems to be “worth” it or a good investment, but bases giving on radical obedience that trusts God will use the investment for his glory and others’ good.

In early Christian history the church was seen giving to both those inside and outside the church. Paul writes to the churches in Galatia, “So then, as we have opportunity, let us do good to everyone, and especially to those who are of the household of faith” (Gal 6:10). In addition, history records Emperor Julian, circa 362A.D. writing to a high priest in Galatian, complaining that the pagans needed to match the generosity of the Christians. In another letter, Emperor Julian, penned, “I think that when the poor happened to be neglected and overlooked by the priests, the impious Galileans observed this and devoted themselves to benevolence. . . . The impious Galileans support not only their poor, but ours as well, everyone can see that our people lack aid from us.”[5]

Here are some questions to ponder:

  • Am I grateful for the generous love that God has shown me?
  • Am I demonstrating his generous love towards others?

[1] Andreas Köstenberger, Baker Exegetical Commentary on the New Testament: John, 129.

[2] Craig S. Keener, The IVP Bible Background Commentary: New Testament, 270.

[3] John Calvin, John (Alister McGrath and J.I. Packer, eds., The Crossway Classic Commentary Series; Wheaton, IL: Crossway Books, 1994), 403.

[4] Tim Keller, Counterfeit Gods, 57.

[5] Take from, Rodney Stark, The Rise of Christianity (Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 1996), 83–84.

The Nature and Identity of the Church

This morning I was thinking about the nature of the church. I believe it is important for leaders as well as believers to know and understand who we are as the church, the people of God. As a pastor it is important for me to lead the church to embrace their nature as God’s people so that we can be who he desires us to be, which will lead us to do what he desires us to do.

In brief, here are three ways to describe the nature of the church.

1)   The Church is Missional

A few years ago I read a statement that had a deep and lasting impact in my life. Christopher Wright, author of The Mission of God, wrote, “It is not that God’s church has a mission, but that God’s mission has a church.” This is one of my favorite statements in regards to understanding the mission of God. When it comes to understanding God’s mission and how the church is missional there are two important concepts.

First, it is important to understand that God has been on mission ever since the fall. Therefore, mission is not created with the birth of the church. Mission existed long before the church—granted that mission is much more defined and clearer within the church. Because God is on mission, his people participate in that mission, which means they are missional—they are participants, conduits, vehicles, by which God is advancing his mission in the world.

Second, we must understand what the mission of God is in the world. This is a hotly debated topic today. While I do not have the time this morning to dive into the deep waters of this hotly debated topic, suffice it to say that I believe that the mission of God is to redeem, restore, and rescue man from their sin, while at the same time beginning the reversal of the curse of sin in both man and the world—which has caused and causes brokenness, damage, distortion, and suffering—by inaugurating his kingdom through the death, burial, and resurrection of Christ and promising to consummate his kingdom at the return of Christ. At Christ’s second return, when he comes to consummate the kingdom, God’s mission would be complete, for he will have fully redeemed, restored, and renewed his creation by fully reversing the curse and effects of sin.

Understanding that the church is missional prevents it from becoming a spiritual institution, country club, and dispenser of spiritual consumption. It is a body that is advancing King Jesus’ mission in the world. Thus, we are active not passive; focused not confused; moving not stifled; a missional body not a religious gathering.

2)   The Church is Communal

In his book, When the Church was a Family, Joseph Hellerman has a chapter titled, “Salvation as a Community-Creating Event.” I love that title because I believe it gets at the heart of what the Gospel does—it creates a community, a people. One is not saved outside the church, but saved into the church. When one comes to faith in Christ, they are birthed into a new family. As Cyprian of Carthage penned, “You cannot have God for your Father unless you have the church for your Mother.”

Church isn’t about a bunch of individual “saved” people gathering together singing some songs and hearing a sermonette and dispersing back into suburbia-land only to wait until the next week to come and sing some songs and get a sermonic fix. If this is how people view church, as a place one goes to sing some songs and hear a sermon, they have missed the boat in regards to the true nature of the church. Attending a weekly corporate worship gathering where songs are sang, prayers are offered, tithes are collected, sacraments are administered, and the word is preached is part of what we do as the church, it is not the complete picture.

The church is not some fan-base for Jesus—like some sports team’s fan base—where they show up on Sundays, cheer for Jesus with one another and then go to their respective homes never to encounter another fan during the week. This is where uber-individualism many times prevents the church from being the church. As a community (a family), the believers submit to each other for accountability, mutually encourage one another, care for one another, love on one another, and meet the needs of one another. As a community, the believers call one another, Facebook one another, go to dinner with one another, discuss with one another, cry with one another, laugh with one another, pray with one another, talk theology with one another, and share struggles with one another.

The enemies of the communal essence of the church are individualism, busyness, the virtual world (television and internet), and self-absorption. It is important for believers to understand that the nature of community moves from me to we, and from we to HE. As Paul writes in 1 Corinthians 12:

 For just as the body is one and has many members, and all the members of the body, though many, are one body, so it is  with Christ…. For the body does not consists of one member but of many. If the foot should say, ‘Because I am not a hand, I do not belong to the body,’ that would not make it any less a part of the body. And if the ear should say, ‘Because I am not an eye, I do not belong to the body,’ that would not make it any less a part of the body…. If all were a single member, where would the body be? As it is, there are many parts, yet one body…. Now you are the body of Christ and individually members of it (1 Cor 12:12,14,15,16,19,20,27).

3)   The Church is Formational

Last, but not least, the third essence is formation. The notion of formation can be traced all the way back to Genesis 2 where God forms man from the dust. In addition, it can be found in the creation of God’s people, Israel, and how he desired to form them into his people so that they may be a light to the nations. Therefore, when it comes to the Church in the New Testament, the church should be driven by formation, not necessarily information. Please do not misunderstand what I am advocating. I am not saying we should not teach the Bible, have Bible studies, read devotionally, etc. What I am saying is that we should not be driven by information, but by formation.

If you look over the last fifty years or so of Christianity in North America we have had a lot of teaching and dispensing of information. However, this has not necessarily led to the church being formed into the image of Jesus. Therefore, we must understand that part of our nature is to allow God to shape, mold, conform, and form us into the image of Jesus so that we might be the people he has called us to be—people who live for his glory, under his rule and reign, for the good of the world.

This idea of formation should change the way we teach. We no longer teach for the sole purpose of content and dispensing information, but taking the information and truth we study and moving it to form us and shape us into the image of Jesus. The litmus test to whether or not one is being formed is if they are being more like Jesus, which also includes them being missional and communal.

Let us not forget as believers, as those part of the church, that our nature, identity and essence is wrapped up in Jesus. And if our identity and nature is wrapped up in Jesus we will be missional, communal, and formational.

Preparing the Church for Offense

Jesus, in one of his only two references to the “ekklesia” (church), verbalizes, “And I tell you Peter, and on this rock I will build my church, and the gates of hell shall not prevail against it” (Matt 16:18). At the core, the church exists as an offense of God, carrying out his mission in the world. In fact as some scholar note, it was God’s mission that gave birth to the church. As the church carries out the mission of God it acts as an offensive measure by which the gates of hell will not be able to thwart, or stop it. Think about various offensive scenarios and what is required when a body of people takes the offensive position.

What kind of preparation is there when a military body gears up to invade a territory? Now keep in mind, I am no military expert, but I would assume (given that I have watched my fair share of military movies J) they gather intel (intelligence) on the land, the people, the structures, and the other military—their numbers, weapons, and capabilities. They then strategically outline a plan of attack.

What kind of preparation is there when a football team gears up to face off against another team? Even at the pee-wee level (the only level where I played football) preparation exists, which includes understanding what the other team will do. And when it comes to winning a football game, a good defense is needed, but more importantly a good offense is needed if the team wants to win. You cannot win if you do not score. Therefore, before every offensive play (whether in the huddle or on the line) a play is called with the intention of beating the defense and advancing the ball towards the goal.

Just like in a military campaign or a football game, so does the church prepare herself for gospel advancement. Let’s not confuse preparation with accomplishment. Proverbs denotes, “The horse is made ready for the day of battle, but the victory belongs to the Lord” (Prov 21:31).  In addition, Jesus specifically says in the Matthew 16 passage, “he will build his church.” Thus we need to understand our preparation is solely an exercise of faithfulness that positions us in a place for God to accomplish his mission. So, the question is how do we prepare ourselves in a way that positions us in a place by which God carries out his mission? There can be at least three ways we and our churches can prepare ourselves in a way that positions us in a place for God to carry out his mission.

1)   We must keep at the center of our lives the glory of Christ and the advancement of his good news. This is the ultimate purpose of our lives and of our churches. It will be near impossible for either individuals or churches to fulfill God’s purpose and mission in this world without having the glory of King Jesus and his purpose for us as the center of our lives. This means that in every area of our live, in every area of our church we seek to please and honor him—thereby reflecting his radiant glory through our lives. In order to do so, everyday we must preach the gospel to ourselves, surrendering and sacrificing our lives and churches at the altar of his glory and his purpose.

2)   We must beware of the deceptive attacks of the enemy. The enemy will try and thwart the ultimate purpose of our lives and of our churches. Thus we must prepare ourselves against the incoming attacks. The attacks of the enemy are against our hearts, our allegiance to Christ, by which we replace Christ as the center of our lives and of our churches with idols. Growing in our faith, in our relationship with God and with other believers helps ward off the attacks of the enemy as we are used by God to advance the gospel. Think of it this way, as we advance God’s mission in the world, it is important that we do not get in front of the Holy Spirit, but instead walk by him so that we may not gratify the desires of our sinful flesh.)

3)   We must seek to understand the territory or context we are invading in order to clearly demonstrate and share the good news. If we are going to be used by God to be the offensive tool by which God advances his mission in the world, we must understand the context he has placed us or called us. This includes contextualizing the host area in order to “be” and to explain the good news of Jesus and his kingdom.

When a church creates a strategy in order to lead their people to keep Jesus at the center, to grow in their faith (their relationship with the Lord and other believers), and to be the missional people in their area and the world, they are in essence preparing themselves to be in a position by which God uses them to advance his mission in the world. Therefore, in my opinion there is nothing wrong with a church creating a mission, a vision, a structure, or a strategy; or in other words preparing themselves for God to move. However, the only caveat to this would be, the church should not begin to rely on their strategy, creativity, and ingenuity to accomplish (or advance) the mission. In other words, if a church places more emphasis on their preparation and strategy, and comes to rely on their strategy, creativity, ingenuity, and preparation to fulfill the mission rather than the power of God, they have essentially erected an idol in their midst. They have succumbed to worshipping (trusting) the created not the Creator. We cannot fulfill God’s mission in this world apart from his power that powerfully works within us. As Paul writes, “Now to him who is able to do far more abundantly than all that we ask or think, according to the power at work within us, to him be glory in the church and in Christ Jesus throughout all generations, forever and ever. Amen” (Eph 3:20-21).

In closing, I believe there is nothing wrong with a church preparing herself as the offensive tool of God. In fact, I believe we should prepare ourselves in a way that positions us for God to move powerfully. We must remember, our preparation does not accomplish God’s mission, it simply only positions us to be an offensive weapon by which God advances his cause in the world. As I stated earlier in this post, preparation is solely an exercise of faithfulness that positions us in a place for God to accomplish his mission.

The Church and Mister Rogers

I can remember growing up hearing Mister Rogers singing, “Want you be my neighbor.” If you are familiar with his show, you may remember a quiet, compassionate, gentile, and loving older man who sought to invest himself into the lives of young children. Interestingly Mister Rogers (Fred Rogers) was educated as a Presbyterian minister, thus probably one reason why he is known for his compassion, patience, and morality and his passion to change children’s television. Nevertheless, I cannot help but hear the simple words, “Want you be my neighbor,” and think of the parable of the Good Samaritan.

The parable of the Good Samaritan was provoked as a lawyer stood up to test Jesus saying, “What should he do to inherit eternal life?” Jesus responding, tells him that “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your strength and with your mind, and your neighbor as yourself.” The lawyer looks at Jesus and says “Who is my neighbor?” Replying to the man, Jesus embarks on a parabolic journey. In this parable, a Jewish man heading towards Jericho fell victim to a robbery where he was robbed, beat, and left for dead. Both a priest and a Levite, who saw the man, passed by him “on the other side” (keeping their distance). I could imagine the poor beaten-down Jewish man in a loud-whisper, while grasping for breath, saying to those passing by, “Want you be my neighbor?” While his own countrymen and religious leaders passed him by, along came a Samaritan man. I also could imagine that the wounded Jewish man wouldn’t even have wasted his dying breath on the Samaritan—given the tensions between the two races. And Jesus preceded to tell the lawyer that the Samaritan man saw the wounded Jewish man and had compassion on him. In addition, Jesus says that the Samaritan “went to him and bound up his wounds, pouring on oil and wine. Then he set him on his own animal and brought him to an inn and took care of him.” And if those things were not enough, the Samaritan gave the innkeeper more money saying, “Take care of him, and whatever more you spend, I will repay you when I come back.” The parable of the Good Samaritan was a radical story when Jesus told it, and it still proves to have the same radical nature two thousand years later.

When one loves God and accepts the mercy and grace that he offers, becoming his child, they cannot help but love others—others being their neighbor. There are those out there crying out in a high whispering voice, “Want you be my neighbor?” In other words, there are those around us crying out for help, for love, for attention, for answers, for a friend, for a family, for healing, or for peace. Essentially they are those crying out for mercy.

One of the goals of churches should be to so embed themselves in the community that they hear the high whispers of the community crying for a neighbor. The reason being is that when the Gospel is allowed to breath, it not only breathes new spiritual life to an individual and their reconciliation towards God, but also breathes new redemptive life in all facets and areas of life. Therefore, when a church embeds itself in a community and allows the Gospel to breath and take root in their midst, they will be a neighbor that: seeks racial, ethnic, and class reconciliation, expresses concern for the poor, widow, and orphan, aids the hurting and broken, and works to bring peace and shalom in tangible ways. In other words, they will answer the call to be a neighbor to the community. I think the default setting to many churches is to become an island within the community, inviting people to get in a boat and come over and join them. And what happens is that churches easily turn into the Levite and the priest, walking on the other side, and thinking to themselves, “I hope that poor boy is alright, and when he gets alright I would love for him to visit the synagogue. In the meantime I will pray for him.” The tangible outpouring of the proclaimed Gospel (that Jesus is king and invites people into his kingdom) works itself out in the public demonstration of his reconciling love, mercy, and grace towards others.

An objection to this mercy ministry is that these actions will soon trump the action of proclaiming the gospel and inviting people to respond to the gospel. While this is a valid question, I would respond and say that one cannot truly do mercy neighborly ministry without pointing to the Great Samaritan—King Jesus. The Bible expresses that God demonstrated his love for us at the expense of his only Son. When we understand that we all are victims of sin and death, which left us on the side of the road broken, damaged, distorted, and grasping for life; and that the Great Samaritan (Jesus) walked on our side, cleaned up our wounds, put us on his shoulders, carried us to safety, and gave us a new redeemed restored life—we cannot help but show and tell that to others. In short, loving others, loving neighbors, is not solely a verbal proclamation but a demonstrable expression.

Think about this, the church should be a community of people seeking to be a good neighbor in the name of their redemptive, healing, and restorative King. Scripture teaches that the community, or people, of God should “let [their] light shine before others, so that they may see [their] good works and give glory to [their] Father who is in heaven” (Matt 5:16). Elsewhere Scripture expresses that the people of God are to “Keep [their] conduct among the Gentiles honorable, so that when they speak against [them] as evildoers, they may see [their] good deeds and glorify God on the day of visitation” (1 Pet 2:12). Therefore, as God’s people seek to be a community that exhibits what a good neighbor is, they point to Jesus’ redemptive kingdom and should invite others to join their community where Jesus is Lord and King.

Here are three questions to consider in closing: (1) Do we see ourselves as the wounded Jewish man who was incapable of saving himself and that the Great Samaritan, Jesus Christ, came to our rescue showing us mercy? (2) Will we have the ears and eyes of our Great Samaritan? Will we hear the loud whispering cries of our neighbors, and rather than walking on the other side, will we go to where they are and demonstrate the redemptive nature of being a gospel neighbor? (3) What are some of the cries we should be listening for? Cries of the poor, the homeless, the abused; cries of the single parent, the widow, the orphan; cries of the addicted, the broken, the jobless, the oppressed; and cries of racial, ethnic, socio-economic segregation.

As Mister Rogers invited people to be his neighbor, will we be like our great God and be a merciful neighbor to those around us? There are those around us whispering loudly, “Want you be my neighbor?” May we have the ears to hear, eyes to see, and the hands to do what our Great Neighbor did!

* This positing was inspired by Tim Keller’s book, Generous Justice—particularly chapter four.