Every Monday Ed Stetzer, president of Lifeway Research, has been posting a question for missional bloggers to wrestle with.
I love trying to answer them, and reading other peoples answers because they force me to think through and further define what I believe.
This week Stetzer gave a brief historical overview of the relationship between the church’s passion for the salvation of individual souls and passion for societal change. He described them as two extremes on a pendulum – when one has been focused on the other has been ignored.
Stetzer then asked the following question:
So let me ask: Is there a “primary” concern in the mission of God? Is that evangelism, making disciples, societal transformation, or something else? Or, are they of equal value?
And, this may be the trickiest part, if they are of equal import (a growing view) how do we keep from losing one or the other? The easy answer is “both are important.” But, if so, how do we make that true “long term” in light of the consistent failure of our forefathers and mothers to be able to do so?
I’m going to answer this as bluntly as a I can.
The primary concern for the mission of God is love.
Self-sacrificing, neighbor-next-to-me focused, hope filled, Spirit empowered, change the world, denying ourselves and taking up our cross love.
For me it is honestly that simple. Justice is to love our neighbor as ourselves. Righteousness is to love God with all our heart, all our soul, and all our strength.
In this light, to share the good news of Jesus with someone that doesn’t know Him (evangelism) is a beautiful act of love.
To take a homeless guy to the pharmacy to fill his perscription (something Wendy did on Saturday) is a beautiful act of love.
To lobby the mayor’s office for an impoverished neighborhood downtown to get a light-rail stop so they can have easier access to jobs in the suburbs is an act of love.
The mission of God is love.
Our goal as His ambassadors should not be to ask, “Which act of love is better? Which should I focus on?” But rather to listen to the Spirit and capitalize on every opportunity to love He puts in our path.
Yes, His ultimate desire is for people to fall deeply and desperately in love with Him; to allow Him to restore the relationship with Him we were created to have. But we must focus on the love.
When we love with reckless abandon He will use us to call all people to Himself and call us to fight for our neighbor to have what is best – whether that neighbor be next door or in Singapore.
Now part two. How do we today avoid the mistakes of the past?
To be honest, I know less about the social justice movement than I should. In my limited understanding I believe the answer is…
Instead of trying to solve the problems of the forest, we get down amongst the trees.
What gives the current missional conversation its power is its obession with the incarnation. Being on mission with God is about being Jesus where you are. In every conversation, in every interaction, with every glance, with each decission, for each individual we must choose to sacrificially love. This is the practice of justice. This is joining God. This is the imitation of the incarnation.
Listen to the Spirit and give all that we are to love others.
This justice (love) on an individual level is messy. Every time we embrace a homeless heroine addict we will leave smelling like him. Every time we take an alcoholic to the hospital our car our seats wreak for a week. Every time we hang out with a greedy, self-absorbed, uber-suburban-consumer we will find ourselves tempted to want to keep up.
When I have sought societal change on a macro level it has been over coffee with friends in comfortable chairs. It is typically a debate over best practices that ends in our longing for the government to do something else. I don’t do the macro level well. It allows me to stay too clean, too safe, too “that is what THEY should be doing to fix the problem.”
Maybe that is just me.
There was nothing clean about the incarnation. Nothing comfortable.
So let the justice of our missional movement look more like the incarnation. Let us stink of sweat. Let our knees be scrapped and caked with dirt. Let our hands be full of splinters, our brows be dripping with blood, and our backs torn to shreds by the whips of those that would seek to stop our revolution.
Only then can we say we loved like Jesus loved on the cross. Only then can we say that we imitated the incarnation.
I believe that my missional community will transform our city – one act of love at a time, one individual at a time. And one day, the Holy Spirit willing, we will see the tipping point…then the city will be turned upside down. Crime will vanish. Kids will stop killing each other in the streets. The drug trade will dry up. Families will grow strong. And compassion, not corruption, will be our defining attribute. Then we will get a glimpse of the Kingdom like no one has ever seen…and it will make us long for home.
Lord, let your love come to my city. Spirit, run wild here.
Will this attitude help us avoid the failures of the past?
We will see.