When did inducing the labor of preemies become the norm in mission?
“Plow up the hard ground of your hearts! Do not waste your good seed among thorns.”
“Umm, that’s great, but how many souls were saved?”
“Where are the sharecroppers? Where are the cultivators of love? Where are the plowers of this age? Has not God made foolish the wisdom of the world?
At the outset, and with all the transparency I can muster, I admit that I believe every believer is sent. What does that mean to me? It means I believe that deep within the Image of God DNA that we as believers have inherited, is the impulse for movement and mission from where we are, spiritually, attitudinally, and physically, to other places and spaces from the Holy Spirit. It’s genetic. (John 17:18) Those other places don’t have to be geographic spaced, but they often are. That movement, that recognizable gait, assumes that of its Father. It’s like when people say “he walks just like his father.”
That sent-ness was manifested as “the exact representation” (Hebrews 1:3) of the Father in Jesus’ mission. He did the will of the Father who sent him. (John 6:38) As a missionary in the more traditional understanding of the word, I can get too focused on the idea that everyone is sent and worse, that everyone must ‘live as sent,’ even if I can substantiate my understanding of that from scripture. My purpose in writing this is not to debate whether or not every believer is sent, but to express a concern that sent-ness can quickly descend into the burdensome yoke category.
What is a burdensome yoke? It’s the heavy burden of a system of works that religious purveyors lay on the backs of the people who Jesus is offering relief to. Jesus was, and is, offering a streamlined yoke that goes from zero to eternity without burning the environment damaging fuel of human religion.
Within the various ‘missional’ movements, and I’m not picking on any particular stream, there’s a lot of pressure to;
1. Accept sent-ness in your heart. – “Confess with your mouth that you are sent, and you will be saved.”
2. Wait in Jerusalem for power from on high. – You shall be my witnesses at the conference, in the parking lot, at the coffee shops, and in the uttermost parts of the world.
3. Be baptized. – Believe in our sent-ness and be baptized, or you shall receive eternal strife.
4. Do not forsake the gatherings. – as the manner of some is; but exhort one another: and many more, as ye see the end of the missional movement approaching.
5. Make Disciple of all nations. – Teach them to consume all that we have written.
Yes, I’m being cheeky. Forgive me of my haphazard hyperboles.
Timothy C. Tennent said that,”Evangelicals would rather be a respected “acolyte in the Temple of the Global Market God” than a prophetic voice in a culture that revels in using religious, even Christian, language to baptize the autonomous self.”
I must confess that I have carved out a few yokes of my design. I have called others to minister like I do, work like I do, and mission like I do. Oddly enough, I discovered that those yokes were not ‘one size fits all.’ Even ‘best practices’ discovered through genuine trial an error may not be the best practices for others. Reverse engineering from missional success stories rarely works. Being all missional things to all missional people is easy. Being all things to all people is not. My white chocolate dipped yoke does melt in other people’s hands. And so, as I try to figure out at what point my own sent-ness rhetoric becomes religion I’ll ask you two questions;
How do you promote sent-ness without imposing it?
What sorts of signs, in your view, are indicative of sent-ness becoming a religious rack?
We can be an agent of temptation. – “Temptations to sin are sure to come, but woe to the one through whom they come!” (Luke 17:1) Can you recall a situation in which you might have tempted someone to sin recently?
We can cause sin. – “But whoever causes one of these little ones who believe in me to sin, it would be better for him to have a great millstone fastened around his neck and to be drowned in the depth of the sea.” (Matthew 18:6) Can you clearly remember the last time you caused someone to sin? If not, is that a history that’s doomed to repeat itself?
We can decide to be a hindrance and a ‘stumbling block.’ – “but rather decide never to put a stumbling block or hindrance in the way of a brother.” (Romans 14:13) It does seem from this text that believers have the ability to decide not to do that which might harm another. Have you purposefully made decisions to be a hindrance or stumbling block to another?
We can excessively defend our rights in such a way that weakens others. – “Therefore, if food makes my brother stumble, I will never eat meat, lest I make my brother stumble.” (1 Corinthians 8:13) And, “But take care that this right of yours does not somehow become a stumbling block to the weak. (1 Corinthians 8:9) This would include defending our freedom in Christ by doing what is perfectly fine for us in front of those who do not yet have that freedom. Have you declared your rights or acted in such a way to be the demise of another?
We can manhandle scripture. – “Do your best to present yourself to God as one approved, a worker who has no need to be ashamed, rightly handling the word of truth.” (2 Timothy 2:15) This gets tricky. It is far too easy to get the approval of others for your actions when your peer group has all chosen to interpret or handle scripture in a way that’s most convenient for them. Have you misconceived scripture in such a way that enforces or invites another to sin?
We can be unhelpful. – “All things are lawful for me,” but not all things are helpful. “All things are lawful for me,” but I will not be enslaved by anything.” (1 Corinthians 6:12) Have you been unhelpful to another in need and be a catalyst in their sin?
We can dress inappropriately. – “Likewise also that women should adorn themselves in respectable apparel, with modesty and self-control, not with braided hair and gold or pearls or costly attire, but with what is proper for women who profess godliness with good works. Before anyone has a brain rupture here, that’s guys and gals, and not, in my opinion to be taken absolutely literally. But there is a principle here. There are two questions to be considered here; first, “Am I adorning myself in such a way that will tempt others or cause them to sin?’ and second, “Am I doing it on purpose?” Feel free to unload on me in the comment section on this one.
We can be offensive. – “Give no offense to Jews or to Greeks or to the church of God.” (1 Corinthians 10:32) Notice that this short verse includes everyone. We can be offensive to believers and unbelievers. Do you tend to be offensive to others?
We can be boastful. – “For by grace you have been saved through faith. And this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God, not a result of works, so that no one may boast.” (Ephesians 2:8-9) Has your boastfulness boastfulness deconstructed another or cause them to sin or stumble?
We can be doubtful. – “But whoever has doubts is condemned if he eats, because the eating is not from faith. For whatever does not proceed from faith is sin.” (Romans 14:23) You know when you’re doubtful about a particular action. Others know hen you’re doubtful too. They sense it. But, operating from doubt or ‘letting the chips fall where they may in our actions can wreak havoc in the lives of others. Has something you’ve been doubtful about pushed another towards sin?
We can love falsely. – “If I speak in the tongues of men and of angels, but have not love, I am a noisy gong or a clanging cymbal. And if I have prophetic powers, and understand all mysteries and all knowledge, and if I have all faith, so as to remove mountains, but have not love, I am nothing. If I give away all I have, and if I deliver up my body to be burned, but have not love, I gain nothing. Love is patient and kind; love does not envy or boast; it is not arrogant or rude. It does not insist on its own way; it is not irritable or resentful; …” (1 Corinthians 13) Have you faked love, and has this fake love caused another to sin or stumble?
We can be oblivious to the struggles of others. – “Let him know that whoever brings back a sinner from his wandering will save his soul from death and will cover a multitude of sins.” (James 5:20) Now, this doesn’t justify heresy hunters or sin skinners, but neither does it permit us, as we go about the course of our daily lives, to ignore the works of service (Ephesians 2:10) that God places before us. Has your being oblivious or aloof caused another to sin or stumble?
This is not intended to be a hit list or a judgmental tirade. This should not be used to bolster your Pharisaism. This is a sifter of self-reflection. When ever I have read the warnings Jesus gave in Luke 17, Matthew 18, and Mark 9, to those who would cause others to sin or stumble, I probably thought “Wow! I’m glad I’m not one of those guys.” but in a bit of my own self-reflection today, I can clearly see that I have. I am thankful I can go to the one who can unburden me. How about you?
“Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest.”