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Missional Leadership Apprenticeship
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Events & Gatherings

FJ2: The Starting Point
Written by soulster   
Wednesday, 15 August 2007

This article is the second in a multi-part series called “Following Jesus”.

let us throw off everything that hinders and the sin that so easily entangles, and let us run with perseverance the race marked out for us…. [HEB 21:1 NIV]

Starting LineWhen running races, perhaps the most important thing is showing up at the correct starting line. It seems to me, that despite the decline in Christianity’s influence and effectiveness in recent times, the amount of effort put into “doing” our religion is still pretty high. It’s not that we’ve quit doing things, even many things we might categorize more-or-less under the title “following Jesus”. But the results (or lack thereof) of this busyness, as I mentioned before in FJ1: The 500 Pound Gorilla, are a little disturbing. It would seem we are running, in fact very hard, but could it be we’re in altogether the wrong event? (As if we’ve signed up for the sprint to glory instead of the marathon of transcendence.)

Let me start with one of my most recent personal conversions. In a back room meeting at a conference for ministers, two underground, edgy troublemakers shared something simple with a handful of domestic missionaries, myself included. On the white-board they wrote:

Christology > Missiology > Ecclesiology

This is what they meant: Because most of us are church-people we assume church. Church is what we are, it’s what we do, it’s where we live. For ministers, it’s who pays the bills. For a lot of church members, it’s most of our friends. So when we’ve thought about missions in the past, we usually start with an idea about what church is and does (ecclesiology), and think what methods can we use to develop new churches in new places and bigger churches where they already are (missiology), and then we think how we can get these church visitors and new church-people to know about Jesus (christology). Basically, according to these guys, we think:

Ecclesiology > Missiology > Christology

Could it be that this is backwards? It is conspicuous that Jesus hardly mentions “church” in the Gospels. Theologically, I don’t think we could say Jesus doesn’t care about church. Instead, it seems that he knew church would form naturally if his disciples knew him (Christology) in the context of bringing God’s reality into the human experience (missiology).

What if we started with knowing Jesus for who he is and what he does, then do the things that naturally flow from knowing him, establishing communities united for this purpose along the way. This would be consistent with the Christ we know from the Gospels, with the process he used and still uses to grow disciples, and with the biblical view of church as a missional family. Too frequently we proclaim radical reformation for our Lord’s sake and end up just tweaking church because of the tremendous grip Christendom and its dominant expressions of church have had on us. Our imaginations are so captive we can hardly say “following Jesus” without meaning “going to church”, “getting involved at church”, “loving church”, “growing the church”, “behaving like respectable church folk”, etc.

Even among the most “missional” people, church has remained our central concern. You can find hundreds, if not thousands, of books about reaching the “un-churched”. But this in-vogue term is kind of misdirecting. Is the world’s greatest problem that people don’t go to church? Maybe from the perspective of church leaders who want full buildings. But theologically isn’t the problem that the world is “un-Jesus-ed”? Wouldn’t it be more accurate to be concerned with the “un-discipled”. After all, many churches with full pews are startlingly empty of sold-out Jesus-followers.

There’s a parable that Jesus told that I think is very enlightening:

1 Then Jesus told his disciples a parable to show them that they should always pray and not give up. 2 He said: “In a certain town there was a judge who neither feared God nor cared about men. 3 And there was a widow in that town who kept coming to him with the plea, ‘Grant me justice against my adversary.’ 4 “For some time he refused. But finally he said to himself, ‘Even though I don’t fear God or care about men, 5 yet because this widow keeps bothering me, I will see that she gets justice, so that she won’t eventually wear me out with her coming!’” 6 And the Lord said, “Listen to what the unjust judge says. 7 And will not God bring about justice for his chosen ones, who cry out to him day and night? Will he keep putting them off? 8 I tell you, he will see that they get justice, and quickly. However, when the Son of Man comes, will he find faith on the earth?” [John 18:1-8 NIV]

Now, I’ve heard this parable used to encourage persistence in asking God for things. While Jesus told this parable to teach the disciples to pray always, the context is not asking for things. It’s about asking for justice. In the context of the persecution that the disciples faced with Jesus, and would soon face as they were launched out one mission, the most pressing issue on their lives would be justice for themselves and the new-born church against their adversaries.

In the same way, we are the widow today, hard pressed by a unbelieving and often hostile culture. Our churches by-and-large are shrinking, our cultural influence is diminishing, our children are disappearing from our faith communities, our spiritual siblings are distracted and messed. This should naturally cause us to cry out to God for action on our behalves.

But notice how this parable ends. Sure, Jesus assures us, God wants to act for us. But the question is not will the disciples survive or will the church continue or will our subculture increase. The question is “will Jesus find faith on the earth upon his return?” His focus is on the world which he loves and whether they will find faith to connect to him. Any objective other than this is not the mission of God.

In order to understand anything else I say in this series “Following Jesus”, you will have to shut off the filter of church, or at least attempt to lay it aside for a while. You will have to move from assuming church to assuming Jesus and letting church become an implication and consequence of your encounter with him. Otherwise, everything I say will be translated to conform to the experience of church and religion as we have known it or think we have known it. I encourage you to hear the call of Christ to worry about the destiny of the world for a moment and allow the fears and worries and “to do list” of church to fall away. Just focus on Jesus as he turns among the anxious crowds, dirty and beautiful, and calls you to join him there.

More soon…


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Last Updated ( Monday, 20 August 2007 )
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