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Sacred Agents #102
If you want to rile me up (please form an orderly queue), throw at me the pop-theology concept that to see God work what we really need to do is to “get out of His way” so that “He can do his thing.” In case you’re skim-reading, let me be clear: That’s an appalling theology of ministry and mission, and a dismal view of humanity, one which is closely connected to the passivity and nihilism … OK see? I’ve riled myself up.
It’s not God’s intention to work around us but rather through us. Daunting as the responsibility is, we are called into the thick of God’s work of redemption and there’s great reward for those who take a deep breath, admit their weakness, call on God’s power and guidance, and step up. “Whom will I send?” looks for the response of “Here am I, send me.” What a blessing are those who take that stance.
But there’s also way that we can take that too far. There’s a danger in mission and ministry called Gift Projection, which we don’t talk about nearly enough. Gift Projection is where a Christian who is one particular part of the body of Christ comes to the view that all the other parts should be just like the part s/he is. And so preachers who have a passion for teaching the Scripture begin to insist that all their hearers also teach others. And worship leaders who love to dance try to get everyone to dance. In their own lives, it’s how they connect deeply with God and often they only want that joy for others. But it can do harm where good is intended.
Similarly in mission, when we are urging and inviting others to enter God’s kingdom, we can often reflect on the happenings and methods in our own experience of coming to Christ – and project that onto our hearers. (Perhaps even onto our fellow-sacred-agents: “Outreach means door-knocking!” or whatever we found was effective in reaching us.) We can also subtly project a narrow view of what it looks like to be a Christian onto people that we’re sharing the good news with. They may assume (and we might help them) that to be a Christian will mean that they need to do all the particular things that you do.
But across Scripture and throughout history, the ways by which people encounter and turn to God are very diverse. This is not to say that anything goes, but it is to say that quite a few things do. One of the many leaves we can take from the Global Interaction book is their motto “Empowering communities to develop their own distinctive ways of following Jesus.” How different people come to actually turn to Christ, and how by His Spirit he begins to renew them will be different. Let’s have our eyes open wider. And also bear in mind the few things that will be common to all: One Lord, one Spirit, one Father, one faith, one Baptism.
For discussion: What will it mean for you to reflect Christ – brightly, unashamedly – in all the ways He’s given you, but not unduly project yourself onto others? How can we help each other with this?
Andrew Turner is the Director of Crossover for ABM and author of Fruitful Church and Taking the Plunge.