Every day when I come into the Ministry Centre, I walk past a print of a short, elderly man standing on a wharf talking earnestly to a man who is about to be rowed out, with others, to a sea-going ship. It’s clear from the artist’s interpretation that the conversation is serious and indeed it was!
What we have hanging on the wall is a print of Kenneth Wyatt’s rendering of John Wesley saying final farewells to Thomas Coke, as he sends Coke off from Bristol, England to America to ordain Francis Asbury. Wyatt entitled the painting, “Offer them Christ.”
It’s a good picture to have hanging in a prominent place in the national Ministry Centre of a movement that is intentionally seeking to recover its missional passion and orientation. It’s a picture of people committed to God’s mission. It’s a picture about being “sent out.” It’s a picture that implies risk and challenges associated with engaging the culture of a new frontier. And I love the title. It says what they (and we) are to be doing, “Offer them Christ”!
When you think about it, it is quite a remarkable thing that God (Father, Son and Holy Spirit) would invite us to be involved in His mission to bring wholeness to the world’s brokenness.
In this edition of the Mosaic, we are reporting on and reflecting on the importance—no, let me push it a little bit further, the necessity of the church understanding issues related to culture as we seek to offer Christ. It’s a big topic, but let me offer several essentials for every movement (and person) who seeks to be missional.
First, the mission is to be done in partnership with God and in the power of His Holy Spirit. In John 15, Jesus explained it to the disciples (and through John’s writing, to us) that just as a branch broken off from a grapevine cannot produce grapes, we cannot do anything apart from Him. We need to receive the Spirit’s presence in our lives to assure us that we are indeed adopted into Christ (Romans 8:16). But we need to understand from the get-go that we are spiritually reborn to participate in God’s mission in the world.
In addition to the vine and branch analogy, I hear this clearly in the intimate, locked room conversation that Jesus shared with the disciples as they were still scrambling to comprehend that he had indeed risen from the dead. He showed them his hands and his side and said to them, “Peace be with you! As the Father has sent me, I am sending you.” ….and “He breathed on them and said to them, ‘Receive the Holy Spirit.’” (John 20:21-22)
In that moment, they received the witness of the Holy Spirit to assure them of their relationship with the Lord Jesus, but also because they were being sent to participate in God’s redemptive mission to bring wholeness (shalom) to all of His creation.
In the second place, Jesus makes clear on one occasion that His followers must be motivated by love – love alone! Someone wanted Him to outline a list of the things one should do (or not do) to prove their spirituality and devotion to God. Jesus took the Old Testament laws and narrowed them down to what we know as the Great Commandment: “Love the Lord your God with all of your heart, with all of your soul, and with all of your mind. This is the first and greatest commandment. And the second is like it: Love your neighbor as yourself. All the law and commandments hang on these two commandments” (Matthew 22:37-40).
Jesus’ questioner was trying to embarrass him on another occasion when he asked, “And who is my neighbour?” In reply, Jesus told a story that is popularly known as “The Good Samaritan.” If you read it wearing cultural lenses, you will see that God’s intention is to demonstrate His love to all people – even people who very foolishly travel alone on a dangerous road regularly inhabited by thieves. In Jesus’ story, the abused and beat up Jewish victim is bypassed by representatives of the religious culture, and to his Jewish audience’s surprise, it is a person that they regarded as cultural scum who cares for him. Clearly, God is serious when He says He loves “the whole world”. And surprisingly, it seems that He will involve anyone in His mission – even a despised Samaritan.
Not very many verses after Jesus quotes the Great Commandment, He describes the lives of those whose hearts have been transformed by God’s love to see the world as He sees it. He fast forwards to His second return and explains the He will separate people one from another as a shepherd separates the sheep from the goats. Those that He puts on His right hand, He will commend with abundant blessing because, motivated by love, they fed the hungry, gave a drink to the thirsty, welcomed the stranger, clothed those who were in rags, and visited the sick and imprisoned. (Matt. 25:31-46)
A third aspect of the mission of God is to see Christ formed within people so that they represent Him well in the world. Just before He ascended, Jesus said to the disciples, “Therefore, go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit, teaching them to obey everything that I have commanded you; and surely I will be with you always, to the very end of the age.” (Matthew 28:19-20). There it is again! In this mission to which He commissions all disciples, He promises His presence and implies a partnership with Him.
In the language of the New Testament, the focus of the above verses is on making disciples. And they are to come from all nations! In our going, we are to make disciples. In our baptizing, we are to make disciples. And in our teaching, we are to make disciples. In other words, we are to continue to “offer them Christ” until they grow into the full stature of Christ (Ephesians 4:13).
It’s a great mission to which we have been commissioned, but let me break it down into a simple (but not simplistic) understanding by telling you a true story that I have been observing for about 40 years. Being missional is fundamentally about ever expanding redemptive relationships
When I was about 17 years old, I became good friends with another teen who shared my interest in cross-country running and gymnastics. We were both on the high school team. Eventually, I summoned my courage and invited him to come to youth group. As I remember it now, there wasn’t a lot of “sizzle” to our youth group; we were pretty human and very normal teenagers.
One night as we drove home after youth group, I asked him if he had ever thought about opening his life to the Lord Jesus. It was a conversation that went on for several hours (my parents later told me they wondered whether I had been in a car accident), but in the early morning hours, we prayed together and he received Christ. Today, he is still a growing Christian and part of a Free Methodist congregation.
But that’s not the end of the story. He came from a large family and several of his brothers came to know Christ. Today, they are solid, committed Christians; and one of his nephews is presently a ministerial candidate.
From living inside this story, I would like to make a couple of observations. First, if someone (me or someone else) had not offered him Christ in some way, he would not be a Christ-follower today. Secondly, my friend and his brothers and their families all continue to walk with the Lord these days because they were introduced into a community of faith that continues to offer them Christ and encourages them to continue to grow in Him.
God is on a God-sized mission in the world. He offers a relationship with Himself so that He can send us out to participate in His mission. He releases the power of His Spirit. He reminds us—no, He clearly commands us to let nothing other than love be the motivation for what we are doing. And, He reminds us that in our going, He continues to transform us and mature us even as we participate with Him in His mission to others.