Tuesday, January 23, 2007

Missional Church, part II

As I mentioned in my last post, I feel confident that focusing on Jesus, as he actually is, is foundational for a church. But is there a focus that Jesus himself had that we should also acknowledge? This is where I recalled the substance of a very short book I read a few years ago called How to Find Your Mission in Life by Richard Bolles. (The book was originally published as an appendix to Bolles' longtime bestselling job hunting / career path book, What Color Is Your Parachute?) The thrust of the book is that each of us have 3 missions in life, or one mission with 3 parts, depending on how you view it. The first two missions are shared by everyone, and they are what Jesus called the greatest commandments. Each person's first mission is to "Love God with all your heart, soul, mind & strength." "Man's chief end is to glorify God and enjoy him forever" is the way the Westminister Catechism puts it. Once we begin this mission in earnest, we will be drawn inevitably into the second part of our mission, which is also shared with every other human being, and it is to love other people. On this point, a caveat is in order. Just as we have a tendency to remake Jesus in our image, so too with love, especially when it comes to loving other people. We tend to think that we are loving people, but thanks to Jesus, the term 'love' now has more definite content. "A new command I give you," Jesus said. "Love as I have loved you." Just as Jesus is "the visible image of the invisible God" so he is the revelation of what love is. "This is how we know love" the scriptures say, and then point to his actions for us. As we pursue our first two missions of love, we are no more free to reinvent the term than we are to reinvent Jesus and the God he represents. He has given us, in word and deed, the definition of love that he is asking us all to participate in with all of our being.

According to Bolles, the third part of our mission, that we will discover as we pursue the first two parts in earnest, consists of those things, unique to each of us, that God has gifted and placed us to be and do. To me, this encompasses the longer-term 'missions' like my calling to be a husband to Kim and father to Ruby. No else has the opportunities that I do in those ways, and I am designed for these missions. To a slightly lesser extent, my work as a lawyer and professor and friend to others gives me other aspects of my current mission in life. The key is that the first two missions continually serve as the foundation, the reason, the fuel, the plumbline, for the third. Anything that isn't logically related to the first two missions simply isn't my job to do. Mother Teresa said of her work that it was "something beautiful for God." Of course, there are still lots of decisions between lots of good options: Do I marry this person, someone else, or no one? Is this job offer God's will for me? Where should I live? Etc. And this is precisely where being in community with other 'missionaries' who are also learning how to hear from and follow the living, functioning Christ can be most helpful. Also, in addition to these longer term missions, there are the countless other smaller opportunities for being a human representative and instrument of God every day that make up our unique mission in life. This third part of our mission includes the natural--giving a cup of cold water to _______, and the supernatural--letting God use us as instruments of his loving power.

So, after discussing this with the church that meets in my house, we've decided to let these 3 missions be ours, as continually defined and refined by Jesus himself:

  1. Love God with all that we are and have;
  2. Love others as Jesus has loved us;
  3. Be faithful to discover and complete the missions unique to each of us.

These are our missions. We'll ask each other about how we're doing in them, and do things together to train ourselves for our success in them. The point, though, isn't just to understand these missions or even Christ's teachings as a whole, that is just a necessary step. I've had too many encounters this year with thoroughly evil people who teach Sunday School every week. Fulfilling the mission is the goal.

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