Be Missionaries Cleverly Disguised as Good Neighbors
One of the primary roles of pastors is to develop a mindset in the people God has entrusted to them to be missionaries cleverly disguised as good neighbors.
When I think about the word incarnation, I remember back to learning about chile con carne in ninth-grade Spanish class—chili with meat. The incarnation was God con carne, when the God of the Universe wrapped himself in human flesh to be among us, as Emmanuel. “The Word became flesh and blood, and moved into the neighborhood” (John 1:14 The Message). And Jesus gives his followers the Holy Spirit and tells us to go be “little Christs”—Jesus con carne—out in the neighborhood.
In order to do this, as pastors we must grow to see ourselves as shepherds not simply of the people who attend our churches, but of our whole zip codes. It was John Wesley who said, “I look on all the world as my parish.” If we embody an incarnational ministry posture, we begin to develop missionaries cleverly disguised as plumbers, attorneys, delivery-truck drivers, small-business owners, teachers, social workers, stay-at-home moms and union electricians—each with his or her own unique mission field and missionary context.
(The only context where we discourage a missionary mindset is in dating situations.)
God is inviting us to join his mission. Thus, we have to ask a different set of questions. It’s easy to ask, “How many people were there on Sunday?” But a missional mindset requires asking: “How are we blessing the neighborhood in the name of Jesus?” John Quick points out that we’ve missed the point if we can recite a thousand Bible verses but cannot recite our neighbors’ names.
How would our kingdom imaginations be different if followers of Jesus only used the word church as a verb and Christian as a noun? Oftentimes we ask this question in our church, “If we were not allowed to meet together on Sunday mornings, what would be left of our church?” And, “If our church had to shut its doors, would anybody mourn? Would anybody care? Or would anybody even notice?” These difficult but necessary questions are the types of questions that we keep in the forefront of our minds in order to think and act like missionaries.
When we were starting our church, we made a commitment that if we did not see evident kingdom activity Monday through Saturday first, then we would not launch a Sunday gathering. We believed gathering weekly for corporate worship was important, but we knew that the inertia of planning services week after week would force us inward if we did not make a commitment to be outward-focused all seven days a week first.
While this was extremely difficult for some in the short term, we made it clear from the start that this was an important part of our identity as missionaries in our context. We were not simply hoping to attract people to a highly excellent Sunday morning gathering in order to impress them or give them opportunities to spectate at a religious event. J. D. Greear writes that of the forty miracles recorded in the book of Acts, thirty-nine of them happened outside the walls of a religious building. Let that sink in. See Sunday mornings as the pep rally at which to form, equip, inspire, educate and challenge people to live in the places that God has called them to embody Christ in the world—in the work room, in the playroom, in the boardroom or in the lunchroom.
These are difficult trade-offs. Many people come to a church expecting to receive goods and services. They expect the spiritual “paid professionals” (pastors) to do all the work for them in exchange for their dues (offerings). The temptations to pastors are present to be and do it all for those who attend. But these shortcuts now will eventually catch up to us later, when we would be creating a culture of religious consumerism.
We must resist the temptation to do it all; instead, we invest our lives in others in order to equip God’s people for good works, as Paul wrote in Ephesians 4. Home Depot’s old mantra works for churches, too: “You can do it. We can help.” The church of Jesus Christ moves forward, as pastors and elders equip the congregation, while simultaneously refusing to do all the work for them. Eugene Peterson mused that a local church is a congregation of embarrassingly ordinary people in and through whom God chooses to be present in the world. When people—all people—are equipped to use their gifts, passions, skills, abilities and callings for God’s purposes, they begin to live like missionaries in various mission fields all over the region. When God’s people—even the embarrassingly ordinary ones—are committed to God’s mission for God’s glory seven days a week, you’ve got a church full of missionaries.
Taken from Ministry Mantras by J.R. Briggs and Bob Hyatt. Copyright (c) 2016 by James R. Briggs and Robert W. Hyatt. Used by permission of InterVarsity Press, P.O. Box 1400, Downers Grove, IL 60515-1426. www.ivpress.com