Mission life: Between hazard and alternative The trade
If anything has shown us in the past few weeks, we all live in an era of the river (to say the least). Change is just around the corner and its full effects are still amorphous.
We live in a time that is being written about in history and that has led to a global crisis of epic proportions in which more needs to unfold. The response of the Church in general at this time of crisis has been commendable. We have seen that churches respond generously to their community through loving kindness.
We are experiencing the frenzy of churches shifting their services online to connect with their congregations. We see a flood of online devotions and live online gatherings continue to escalate. Our pastoral strategies have also been dramatically influenced.
With all of this, I wonder whether we miss something or leave something behind. Ed Stetzer is right where he says the crisis won't bring your church online. The crisis is not when the church becomes "normal" again.
This crisis has led to a paradigm shift, and if our response does not take this new reality into account, we will suffer from the law of falling returns.
If there is anything that has taught me the events of the past few weeks, it has been that we have to think missionarily about the times in which we live. We cannot assume that it is "business as usual". We are called to remain faithful to the biblical text and shaped according to the contours of our cultural narrative.
Missionary Christians are in tune with the ever-changing contexts in which we find ourselves and are also aware of their calling from God. When I was a seminary student at the Baptist Theological College in southern Africa in Johannesburg in the early 2000s, we had to read Frederick Buechner's works. One of his quotes about the intention to create and the calling of the faithful is always remembered: "The place where God calls you is the place where your deep joy and the deep hunger of the world meet."
What does that mean for us to live in such challenging times? Here are three thoughts to consider at this critical cultural hub.
First, we should live out our identity (2 Cor 5; 1 Pet 2: 9).
Our Christian identity is more than the box that we check in a demographic survey. Instead, it forms the basis of our life and interaction with others.
In Here and Now: Life in the Spirit, Henri J. M. Nouwen sums up this concept well: “Jesus announced to us that an identity based on success, popularity and power is a false identity – an illusion! He says loudly and clearly: “You are not what the world makes you; but you are a child of God. "
Our Christian identity starts from new life in Christ (2 Corinthians 5:17) and includes qualities, gifts and abilities that were normally not part of our existence before we immersed our identity in Christ.
One of my favorite passages in Scripture is 2 Corinthians 5, where Paul argues that reconciliation with God changes everything for those who identify with Christ. Paul makes a powerful statement in verses 15 and 16: “… and he died for all, so that those who live should no longer live for themselves, but for those who died for them and were raised. From now on we don't know anyone from a worldly perspective. "
Paul clearly argues that our Christian identity gives up our worldly insistence on itself, which is an important biblical truth that we must keep in mind during the following pandemic when we see that God uses our lives to promote what is possible when Jesus changes our heart. “We are ambassadors for Christ because God appeals through us” (2 Cor 5.20).
Second, we must accept our calling (Eph. 4: 1).
The COVID-19 pandemic has exposed our culture's deep fear and affection for sneak idols.
All over the world, millions of people have cleared grocery stores from the hustle and bustle of panic buying that a grocery store near you continues to plague. What does it mean to accept Paul’s opening request in Ephesians 4: 1?
These words have a disproportionately greater meaning for many who now live in restricted conditions. "Therefore, I ask the prisoners in the Lord to live worthy of the calling that you have received." What does it mean for us to accept our Christian identity and call during the block (in “prison” / in self-isolation)?
In their book The Church as Movement, JR Woodward and Dan White Jr. talk about God's calling and remind us that
An appointment is not primarily about increasing our earning potential or gaining a prestigious role or title. A call refers to the fact that God created us with certain passions and abilities and embedded certain theogenetic codes in us. If we want to work with him to bring more heaven to earth, this world needs us and we serve to fulfill the calling that has been given to us.
Ephesians 4: 7 reminds us of an important aspect of our Christian identity and calling; God's grace: "Now each of us has been given grace according to the gift of Christ." The rest of Ephesians 4 is devoted to the essential characteristics of the embrace of our Christian calling and builds on the climatic instructions of Paul in Ephesians 5: 1: “Therefore, be imitators of God as beloved children 2 and walk in love, just as Christ loved us and gave himself a sacrifice and fragrance sacrifice for God. "
Third, we should serve others in our areas of talent (Rom 12; Eph 4; 1 Cor 12).
It seems somewhat irresponsible to serve others in this period of isolation and standstill, but this time we have a significant opportunity to serve others in a meaningful way without endangering ourselves.
Paul's statement that God gave every believer a gift is one of the most undervalued Christian realities. Perhaps this time is a helpful reminder for Christians who feel exiled in this time of isolation and closure that excessive trust in buildings, paid staff and programs paralyzes the economy of God's grace in his church.
Imagine a world where Christians enjoyed the favor of all kinds of people in their communities because they lived their bold generosity in the service of others rather than prioritizing their own needs and desires.
This world is not far-fetched and is clearly reflected in the birth of the Church in Acts 2: “They ate their food with a joyful and sincere heart, praised God and enjoyed the favor of everyone. Every day the Lord added to their numbers those who were saved ”(Acts 2: 46–47).
In addition, Peter instructs us how to live in the light of eternity: just as everyone has received a gift, use it to serve others as good stewards of God's diverse grace. If someone speaks, it should be someone who speaks God's words. If someone is serving, let it be of the power that God provides so that God can be glorified in everything through Jesus Christ. May the glory and strength be forever and ever. Amen. (1 Pet. 4: 10-12)
May Christians appear in this crisis as those defined by love and grace, may we find creative ways to encourage our neighbors to show hospitality and to be generous and self-sacrificing.
In my role at the Luis Palau Association, I was amazed at the many opportunities that we were offered this time. I believe that this time of crisis is used amazingly by the Lord. We are called to accept our calling from God and to live our purpose by living our Christian identity for the good of the world.
Like the early Church, we are called to be a blessing to those around us and to be aware of how we serve others in our culture. We should serve so that unbelievers are thankful for our presence in the community. Here is a link to the Next Generation Alliance page with a number of resources that you can currently consider.
City Gospel Movements has also compiled a curated list of learning opportunities and innovative ideas to encourage your leadership in this critical time. May our missionary focus at this time of danger and opportunity be an important waypoint on our journey through this crisis.
Desmond Henry is the Global Network of Evangelist Director of the Luis Palau Association.