The end of John contains an image I continue to reflect on as I work on my dissertation in Missional Spirituality and pastoring a church. Jesus looks at Peter and says,
“Very truly, I tell you, when you were younger, you used to fasten your own belt and to go wherever you wished. But when you grow old, you will stretch out your hands, and someone else will fasten a belt around you and take you where you do not wish to go.” (John 21:18).
I find these statements a bit cryptic, but they touch an issue with which I continue to wrestle. I find that I want to go where I want to go and I want to do what I want to do. Perhaps Peter was that way too. In fact, Jesus said when Peter was younger he would fasten his own belt and go where he wanted to. However, when he grows old someone else will fasten his belt and take him where he does not wish to go. I’m not sure I really like that.
Yet, in trying to allow God’s missional imagination to take hold of me I find places where I don’t really want to be. Being missional, at its core, is allowing God’s life to put on flesh and blood. For years I’ve heard that I am the hands and feet of Jesus. Far too often that statement becomes some type of Christian cliche. We say it, but we really don’t allow it to be a reality.
What I find is that God is leads me to where I do not want to go. I want to be honest in that. Following Jesus doesn’t mean that life is going to go the way I want it to go, or that I will be where I want to be. It means that I will seek God’s will and allow his will to be done in my life.
Jesus is the model. In the garden, it was evident the cross was not where he was wanting to go (see also John 12:22-28). One of the things I am beginning to learn is that it is okay to go where you do not want to go. I think it is even okay to say that. The reason why is because you are trying your best to follow Jesus whatever that means. Of course, it might be where you want to go, but then it might not be either.
Allowing Jesus to lead me to where I don’t want to go is a challenge in my life. It is also a challenge in the church. I do not think our churches can be missional until we deal with our reluctance to be led by Jesus to wherever Jesus is calling us to go. One of the requirements of being missional is following Jesus in God’s mission.
Right now I’m reading Michael Slaughter’s new book Change The World. So far it is a great book and I really admire Slaughter for changing gears when he senses that God is moving in a different direction. At one point he writes,
“It is not acceptable to make doctrine and church meetings a substitute for sacrificial service.”
When I read that I found myself reflecting on the term “sacrificial service.” I don’t find our culture interested in much sacrifice. While we celebrate those who do sacrifice for others it seems like most of our lives are about avoiding sacrifice. To sacrifice means we are giving up things that we might not want to; things we care for, things we need, things we want. To sacrifice means we give them up, usually, for greater purposes.
That is not the message I get from culture, or many times, from the church. The message I continue to hear goes something like this: Jesus sacrificed, so you don’t have to. The message basically goes: Because Jesus gave himself up for us (which he did), we can have a good life with all of our dreams and desires. In fact, I just saw a video the other day where the tag line was, “What can God do for you?” Catchy? yes. I don’t think it is good theology though.
God is not our servant. We are his however. I believe Slaughter is right. If we are serious about our faith, our relationship with God, and being faithful to the gospel, there will be sacrificial service. It means we might be driving our cars a few more years so we can give the amount we are saving from car payments to God’s purposes. It might mean we take less expensive vacations, or put less in our 401Ks. It might mean we spend less time watching tv or entertaining ourselves so we can be available to God’s purposes. Whatever the case, it will mean we are giving up (sacrificing) something that we believe is important.
Culture tells us that it is okay to give to God’s purposes what we think we can afford. For most of us after we give to God we are still able to live at a very high level. In fact, we give to God only those things we believe we can live without. That is not sacrifice.
I wonder how the world would be different if those of us in the church began sacrificing more.
I have started my dissertation project which is a good thing. Trying to explain it though is kind of difficult. The reason I have such difficult explaining it is because the project address cultural issues and the church’s response.
I have read that there is an old Chinese proverb that says, “If you want to know about water, don’t ask a fish.” For me, that explains the problem I have with explaining my project. I’m sure if I asked a fish, it wouldn’t even know it was swimming in water. It is the same with our culture. Culture is so pervasive that we don’t even know much about it. Our culture is just “how things are.”
My project has to do with the church’s response to culture. Not just the culture we live in, but any culture. In order to respond, we must first take a look at the culture and see how and where it flows against the gospel. This is difficult to do because for most of us, culture is simply “the way things are” and we don’t think too much about it. In fact, throughout our lives we merge the gospel with culture in which we live. The result is we believe that some aspects of our culture are actually biblical even when they are not. This is a difficult thing to discover.
The most biblical response I have found is offered by Missional Ecclesiology (a fancy way to say “thoughts about the church”). A Missional approach to church basically says that we have been sent by God into the world to be an agent, instrument, sign, and foretaste of God’s kingdom. The church (or rather people making up the church) is to understand the differences between the current “kingdoms” (cultures) and God’s kingdom and work to put God’s will and way into practice.
The question that my dissertation attempts to answer is, How can this happen in the life of an individual? In other words, how do we get from where we are (children of our culture…or fish in water) to where we are working and living by God’s will and way?
I hope to be able to explain it better as I work on the project more, but for now, that about sums things up.