Snow Shovels and Evangelical Social Justice

(an irritatingly general perspective on evangelical social justice)

Snow Shovel

Four inches of snow showed up today. The HOA (Home Owner’s Association) didn’t. Normally, my neighbors and I can count on them to faithfully plow our driveways before we head out for work in the morning. Not today.

So I made the trip to the local hardware store, shelled out the $15, and bought a snow shovel. By the time I got home, I had the words “Do for others what you would have them do for you (Mt. 7:12)” in my head.

Lovely.

It’s interesting that Jesus didn’t say: “Don’t do to others what you wouldn’t have them do to you.” In other words: “Just avoid hurting people. Hold back. Restrain yourself.” That’s too passive for Jesus. For Jesus – and therefore, for the Christian – love is necessarily active.

It isn’t God’s design that the church merely hold back hate – but that we actively help, serve, and love a hurting world – that we do. I’m pretty sure that’s what God means when he says “faith without works is dead (Jms. 2:26).”

So I shoveled my neighbor’s driveway too. Incidentally, I don’t mean to sound noble. According to Jesus, loving your neighbors is probably just supposed to be normal.

Honestly, I had a hard time just wanting to. After all – it’s cold out there.

A huge part of my 9-5 job is developing strategies and thinking strategically. Strategy is great. Strategy ensures that we don’t waste time and effort with needless mechanisms. But here’s the question: When we see a need in the world – when governments fail and other social institutions prove their impotence – are our churches agile enough to respond?

Christians are supposed to be the people entrusted with the power to love honestly and unconditionally.

But maybe we spend too much time waiting on the HOA (“isn’t that someone else’s responsibility?”). Maybe we spend too much time thinking about what snow shovel to buy (“I’m not sure we’re ready to partner with those types of Christians…”). Maybe we’re simply scared of what active love might mean (“after all, it’s pretty cold out there“).

In the mean time the snow keeps piling up and our neighbors find us shockingly un-shocking.

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A Practical Missiology: Micro-attractional, Macro-missional

This post is concerned with what it actually looks like to live as a missionary.  This is really just a series of observations thrown into two larger buckets.  Those buckets are: “How do I live as a missionary individually?” and “How to I live a missionary lifestyle as part of a collective (church, organization, etc.)?”

The concept known as “missional” (all phrases that include the word: “thinking missionally,” “going missional,” “part of a missional church / movement”) is enjoying some time in the Sun these days.  The concept of “becoming more missional” seems to be fueled by a few main tensions.  While I admit these are widely open for discussion, here are just a few:

1.)  The economic disparity between the western church and the developing world. We have wealth.  Much of the world doesn’t.  We’re wrestling through this one.  History teaches us that a wealthy culture can often move the church to the periphery.  The gospels tell us that wealth can keep us from kingdom living.  Perhaps western Christians hear the faint echo of western 16th-19th century Europe and wonder silently if the American church will soon follow suit.

2.) The theological necessity of authentic evangelism.  Another factor contributing to the rise of missional theology surrounds the irreducible kernel of authentic evangelism.  We long for revival.  We’re tired of crusades and televised events.  We instinctively feel that revivals can be no more planned than they could be contained.  Something has to give.  If the Spirit is at work at all on Sunday morning (and hopefully throughout the week), something will happen.  Perhaps our move toward missional thinking is a state of readiness.

3.) The ever-swinging pendulum of American church culture. “We didn’t plan it.  We didn’t build it.  We’re just in it.  When we have our seat at the table we’ll probably change it.”  It seems to be that every successive generation of believers seems to say the same thing.  Perhaps our movement toward a more missional church is really just a reaction against what we perceive as negative from past generations: Our parents polluted the earth.  They messed up music.  They standardized church programming.  If that is the case, here’s some food for thought: It’s rarely a good idea to be known by what you’re against – far better to be known by what you’re for.

So where do we go from here?  I want to encourage us to think on two levels: micro (dealing with ourselves as individuals), and macro (dealing with ourselves as part of a collective).

Thinking on the small / micro-scale:  There’s no getting around the idea that Jesus was attractional.  While there was nothing externally attractive about Jesus (at least in the way that we might think about attractive-ness), there was something about him that resulted in follower-ship.  The problem becomes, when we plug ourselves in the equation, conscious Christians will likely feel dirty or self-messianic to say that there also ought be to something attractional about us.  And that’s a good feeling.  We’re aren’t good at being attractional.  We are, however, good at building relationships.  Carrying the gospel across the well-laid pathways of our relationships is probably the most attractional thing we can do.  Not because we’re attactional as individuals, but because the message we carry – the irreducible core of the gospel – is absolutely attractional  (“May His beauty rest upon me / as I seek the lost to win / And may they forget the channel / seeing only Him”).  Attractional then, becomes not the opposite of missional, but a just piece of the pie.

Thinking on the large  /macro-scale: Reflecting back on point 1.) above: Resources are one the greatest gifts the American church has.  We have been given buildings.  We have been given leadership.  We have been given the financial support of congregations.  The question needs to be asked: As a church, are we being the best possible stewards of what we’ve been given?  Perhaps more frightening is the follow-up: If not, why not? We need to be macro-missional.  And that means resources.  If you’ve ever planned an event for any number of people, you know that you don’t see noticeable changes to the bottom line by changing a $30 / person giveaway  to a $25 / person giveaway.  You see noticeable changes when you cut out the giveaway all together.  I’m not advocating that we fire staff and get rid of our buildings – although in some cases, that’s not a bad start.  The kind of paradigm shift that I’m advocating means re-thinking a few key areas of our church life – namely stewardship.  In my estimation, that’s a far more courageous road.  What would it look like if our churches began scaling back to reach out?

So.  When I go home from work in a few minutes, I’m going to hopefully connect with my neighbor.  When I go to church on Sunday, I’ll give out of obedience, trusting my church leadership to take my gift and stretch it as far as it can reach.  When I’m asked what I think about both of those two things, I’ll probably pray.

Away from a Cluttered Missiology: Part One

This post is about what it means to be a missionary.  At least as far as I understand it.  The groundwork for this post has been laid in several discussions with friends and co-laborers who share a burden for the future of God’s Kingdom.  I want to make sure that from the onset: I’m not just wondering where to draw the linguistic or semantic lines between “missionary” and “salesman.”  Rather, I want to address what it means to be a missionary – and simply a missionary.

Perhaps a little background:

For six years I lived in Colorado.  During that time (along with working through the haze of seminary), I worked as a bi-vocational faith-supported “missionary.”  I worked as part of a church planting team, as well as a tent-maker of sorts.  In my case, I worked alongside a local honey farmer in various capacities – among them as a sales representative.  I soon learned that it was hard to juggle the demands of both sides of my life.  I found myself frequently and rapidly switching gears between “… and that’s why you need this product” and “Jesus came to seek and save the lost.”

The lines became blurred.  Techniques that I learned as a sales representative bled into my understanding of the gospel to an unhealthy level.  I found myself arrogantly (albeit unconsciously) looking at myself as upwardly mobile in ministry.  I had innovation.  I talked about models and structures that were “groundbreaking.”  I didn’t know it at the time, but I was slowly moving away from both roles – seeking an awkward fusion of the two.  But over time, I learned something that saved my sanity: I found that the ends of both were better served by keeping a clear distinction between the two.

Being a missionary means a form of bondage.  Unlike the images of bondage that we might immediately jump to (slavery, punitive servitude, caste systems, etc.) – where one is in bondage to an outside, incidental ruler – the missionary’s bondage is a bondage to the essential – the irreducible – something to which he / she is inextricably linked.

When I worked as a sales representative, I couldn’t exist without the larger complex superstructure of business to support my initiatives: goals, strategies, sales pitches, relational dynamics, invoices, deliverables, follow-ups, etc.  And anything evaluated by economic measurements is very complex.  A missionary, however, needs only to sink him/herself more and more deeply into a few simple things that are incredibly important.  When I read how Paul looked at himself (“bond-servant”), he always seemed to point to a few simple, obvious things (the cross, Christ and Him crucified, the proclamation of the gospel, the need for personal holiness).  Maybe a helpful formula: The more complex your missiology (the more you’re “bonded to”), the less devoted you are to dying for it.  A read through 1st Corinthians might bring greater clarity to what I’m getting at.

We’ve got tools.  We’ve got innovation.  And – in many Christian circles – we’re almost keeping pace with the culture.  But no one that I know would honestly consider dying for the models their innovations produce.  I think it was Henri Nouwen who said that “the Christian in this world is called to be completely irrelevant.”  Exactly.  Relevance is not our concern.  Because the question is: “When the model fades and when innovation dies, will we have anything left to stand on (better: stand for)?”

In future posts, some of these issues might re-present themselves along related lines.  But maybe next time, I’ll drop in some poetry.  That’s always refreshing.