As I travel around the country with Dwelling 1:14, a ministry I founded dedicated to discipling neighborhood missionaries, I have the opportunity to meet pastors and people from all types of congregations and communities. During our conversations I often pose a question designed to make them stop and think. I ask them, “How’s Jesus been messing with you lately?” The most common response? A knowing smile.
I’m finding that Jesus is messing with a lot of us.
People struggle to put it into words, but we’re sensing that Jesus is up to something, showing us something new, inviting us to perceive what he is doing next. It seems to be right there in front of us and yet still just outside our ability to see clearly or articulate fully. We are like the blind man in Mark 8:22 who is beginning to see but cannot quite make out what he is seeing. It is frustrating and exhilarating all at the same time! We know we are beginning to perceive new things (exhilarating!) but we do not yet have the perception we need to clarify what we are seeing (frustrating!).
Can you relate? You are not alone.
There is a growing sense among the U.S. Christians I am talking with that Jesus is on the move, that he’s messing with our presumptions, calling us to something more than what we have settled for. He is giving many of us a holy discontent with the status quo so that we will look up from what we are doing, pay attention to him and start to wrestle with what he is currently showing us and asking of us. I hear it as I talk with twenty-somethings in places like Houston, New York City and Portland. I hear it as I talk with retirees in the Midwest and the Deep South. I hear it as I talk with the white pastor in Minneapolis; the Native American pastor in Alaska and the black pastor in New Orleans. I hear it as I talk with congregational leaders from small towns and big cities, from new churches and 150 year old churches.
Something is coming to a close and something new is coming upon us. And Jesus wants us paying attention.
It’s unsettling and uncomfortable. And yet, I think because we sense it is from Jesus, people are also stirred, excited, like an adventure is about to begin. And an adventure is about to begin – the adventure of joining Jesus on his redemptive mission to our own community. That’s why Jesus is messing with us. He’s getting our attention. We get so focused on what we are already doing and what we are already struggling to maintain, we have little capacity to look up and focus on what Jesus is showing us next.
So, in his grace, Jesus has started messing with us.
If we’re going to be able to follow Jesus into his next adventure, he needs us paying attention to him. Jesus messes with us so that we stop and look around. He wants us to take note of what he is already doing around us. He wants us to look up from our routines and notice that the world is changing and he is already on the move in response.
And why does Jesus need our attention for that? Because he intends for us to join him.
In a remarkably short amount of time, the U.S. has become one of the largest mission fields on the planet. The odds are very good that right now, wherever you live in the U.S., the people in your neighborhood and workplace are largely unconnected to a local congregation and may not be connected to Jesus at all. We are no longer a church who is servicing a community filled with a variety of Christians. We are now a church who finds itself needing to be a missionary in a mission field.
And we weren’t trained for that.
Our congregations’ mindset and practices are perfectly calibrated for a U.S. culture that is essentially already gone. The church I grew up in in the 1960’s and 1970’s was well suited for the largely churched culture that existed in the U.S. at that time. However, in the ensuing decades the U.S. has dramatically shifted from a “churched culture” (where most people go to church or at least know they should go to church) to a “mission field” (where the majority of people do not go to church or feel an obligation to do so). The trouble, of course, is that most churches and church-goers continue to think and operate as if the U.S. culture is still essentially churched and looking for a church home.
And they aren’t.
This is why so many churches across the country are struggling. The good news is that Jesus isn’t struggling and he knows exactly what to do next. In fact, he is already showing us and leading us into his response. And that is his invitation to you, to see what he is already showing you and follow where he is already leading.
In the midst of our unsettled and uncertain world, Jesus is not wringing his hands in worry. He is not confused or discouraged. He is God. And while some of our churchy presumptions and programs may be in trouble, his Church is not. Jesus is very clever. He is using these shifting times to wake us up and get us ready to re-join him on his redemptive mission to our neighborhoods, workplaces and schools. Not everyone will pay attention and even fewer will respond. But Jesus is moving out on his mission to redeem and restore all people to his Father’s kingdom. And he invites us to join him.
“Come, follow me.”
Joining Jesus on his redemptive mission is what I mean by the term “missional living.” “Missional living” is simply living each day as if it were a mission trip. The difference, of course, is that instead of being on a mission trip to a foreign land, we are on a mission trip to our own community. We are Neighborhood Missionaries. The word “missional” is simply a descriptive word indicating that each part of our daily lives can now be seen as part of Jesus’ redemptive mission in our community. Going out to get the mail, going to the store for a gallon of milk or going to the school to pick up our kids now has mission potential.
But don’t worry. Joining Jesus on his mission is easier than we think and a lot more fun! Joining Jesus is not another layer of busyness on top of an already insane schedule. Instead, joining Jesus results in less stress, more life, more laughter and more fruit than what many of us are currently seeing. Living missionally simply requires a new “missional” mindset – in other words, we begin to think of ourselves as Neighborhood Missionaries – and to put some new “missional” practices into play along the way, which I will describe in upcoming blogs.
And congregational leaders, be of good cheer! Joining Jesus on his mission does not require your church to change its worship style (again), or its mission statement or its current constitution. You don’t have to switch from an organ to a band or from a band to an organ. Joining Jesus’ mission doesn’t require installing a whole new layer of programming. It doesn’t even require a congregational vote. We don’t need to add more staff, build another building, or launch a capital campaign.
Joining Jesus’ mission is not so much about changing the whole church as it is about changing our own mindset and practices and inviting a few friends to come with us. Think of a “pinch of yeast” as it gradually spreads through “the loaf” of your congregation. We don’t try to convince the whole congregation to be “missional,” all at once, on the count of three. We start with the few who are ready and willing to come along with us and put the mindset and practices of a Neighborhood Missionary into play as part of their everyday lives. Joining Jesus’ mission is not about changing what we do when we go to church on Sunday mornings. It is about changing what we do when we go out as Church into our neighborhoods, workplaces and schools on Monday mornings.
Like my good friend Gary Faith often says, “If we always do what we’ve always done, we’ll always get what we’ve always gotten.” If there was a day when that was acceptable for the U.S. church, it is now gone. Instead, it is time for Jesus’ Church to take up the mindset of a missionary with a few missional practices so that, by God’s grace, we will get new mission-results.
Old mindset, old practices, old results. New mindset, new practices, new results.
Are you ready to take up the missional mindset and practices that will put you into position to join Jesus on his redemptive mission every day? By God’s grace, as we work our way through these next blogs, we will go from uncertainty to understanding and from anxiety to excitement about living as a missionary. We will discern a simple plan and take the first steps of joining Jesus on his redemptive mission in the places we already live, work and go to school.
It’s why he’s been messing with us.
So now that he has our attention …
“Come, follow me.”
Let the adventure begin.