Recovering the Missional Passion of the Church
We have turned to a God we can use rather than a God we must obey; we have turned to a God who will fulfill our need rather than a God before whom we must surrender our rights to ourselves. He is a God for us, for our satisfaction– not because we have learned to think of him in this way through Christ but because we have learned to think of him this way through the marketplace. Everything is for us, for our pleasure, for our satisfaction, and we have come to assume that it must be so in the church as well.We have shrunk God down to our size. We have limited the scope of his mission in our minds. We have unwittingly bought into the idea that progress is more important than redemption.
And this is chiefly why our zeal for evangelism and the gospel has been undermined– not because we don’t care, not because we don’t know what to do. We have simply replaced God’s purpose for the world with our own purpose for the world. Even when we serve and help and give and share, we too often do it from a sense of obligation or a desire to impress. We have become a church steered by many different motivations but all too rarely by a singular desire to glorify God. Wells is right: “We will not be able to recover the vision and understanding of God’s grandeur until we recover an understanding of ourselves as creatures who have been made to know such grandeur.”
The message that emanates from the life and work of the apostle Paul, who was without argument the most productive missionary in the history of the church, is that we cannot hope to be either faithful or effective in kingdom service while being overly concerned about our own needs.
On two occasions he called himself an “ambassador.” That’s a pretty important job. Where I grew up in New York, those were the people who didn’t have to pay parking tickets. They mattered. And Paul said, “We are ambassadors for Christ” (2 Cor. 5:20). Yet the only other time we read him referring to himself by that title, he said he was an “ambassador in chains” (Eph. 6:20). Yes, he was an ambassador– just as we are– yet that ambassadorial role, representing King Jesus, did not mean Paul was without hardship.
No one survives the harsh, abusive treatment he endured without living for something bigger than himself. We might assume, then, Paul was simply that devoted to the people he was called to serve. His compassion for them, his selfless interest in them, his desire that they experience the fruit of the gospel– all of these must have come together to make him an unstoppable force.
Well, yes, Paul was devoted to the churches and the people who comprised them. He possessed an uncommon zeal to see others convinced of gospel truth and redeemed through God’s eternal mercy and grace. But it wasn’t concern for his neighbors that ultimately motivated Paul to such extremes of spiritual exertion and sacrifice. It was Jesus’ love that “compelled” him (2 Cor. 5:14). “To live is Christ,” he said (Phil. 1:21).
And we, too– if we wish to be faithful to our calling– must live supremely for the glory of God and what he is doing through his Son in our world.
If we are not on this mission, then we must ask ourselves what we’re doing here. Are we just working to make the church a more acceptable place to our friends and neighbors? Are we looking for a nice place to socialize on Wednesday nights? Are we turning spiritual cranks and pulleys because we think the church is supposed to do those things, because we feel better about ourselves when we do them?
The only thing that really matters is this: our God has a mission. That’s why he sent Jesus here on subversive terms. And that’s why he established the church– churches like yours and churches like mine– to join him on mission to reestablish his glory over all creation.
This is why God has given his church the “keys of the kingdom of heaven,” so that “whatever you bind on earth is already bound in heaven, and whatever you loose on earth is already loosed in heaven” (Matt. 16:19). To people in the world who live chained to the notion that their desired ambitions can be achieved on earth, the church possesses their liberating answer. They are no longer forced to exist in the bondage of living from experience to experience. For some this “bondage” takes the form of workout gyms, corner offices, organic food stores, and all the apparent trappings of success. But for others it means gambling losses, broken relationships, wasted opportunities, prescription drug abuse. For many it’s a roller-coaster mix between the two, a frantic navigation of highs and lows. And for all it’s a life that leads away from ultimate purpose and permanence.
Through the gospel those individuals who are “bound” in spiritual darkness can be “loosed” from what has held them captive– redeemed from their slavery. God’s plan for overthrowing the devil’s dominion, freeing its hostages, and advancing Christ’s kingdom is for the church to proclaim the good news of Jesus Christ in both word and deed. That’s how he pursues his plan of bringing all creation under his authority and deriving glory for himself in the process.
May this be the purpose behind all our subversion.
When we grasp the enormity of this calling and our role within it, we will begin trusting the Spirit to empower us to engage the lost, serve the hurting, and live “sent lives” as Christian believers united in kingdom purpose. We will live out the difference that Jesus makes in our hearts not because people expect it but because it shows what our God can accomplish. We will talk with others about the power of the gospel not just because they’re lost but because our Lord and King is glorified in finding them.
Begin your plan of action there, and get ready to see what happens around you when God starts making progress.
Adapted from Subversive Kingdom (2012, B&H Publishing Group)