The lead singer sounded better than ever. However, she tugged on her dress, spilled water on her piano, and led the crowd in a few awkward moments between songs. Well into our thirties and on the front row, that night we saw humanity in a super star. We'd long admired her songwriting skill and silky clean voice. We assumed her life was just as silky and clean, with very few mess-ups. Seeing her perform live that night, we didn't get that feeling.
Humanity is a funny thing. When we pull people off of our stages and screens, we realize we hold a lot of basic things in common---breathing, being hungry, and experiencing pain. This levels the playing field. We have days where we feel on top of the world, and we have (more) days where we just feel the grind. We feel tired. We find out a friend is hurting. A relationship gets fractured. We procrastinate about a difficult decision. I have more days when I'm just trying to walk next to Jesus and it’s all I can do to breathe in and out and put one foot in front of the other.
Mission and Humanity
Being human puts us on an equal playing field with the people on the platforms. That’s good news. But, there are also some really beautiful things associated with the gospel that level the playing field for spiritual influence as well. That’s even better news.
After Jesus rose from the dead and before he went back to be with the Father, he stood on a hill and shared something with his disciples that changed everything for the rest of us. He said, “Go.” He told them to rise and live a life of mission. My life would look differently today had it not been for a collision with the grace of the gospel. It’s not always pretty for me, and it wasn’t always pretty for the disciples, who got much needed help when the Spirit showed up. The gospel has a way of causing a ruckus and moving forward, and we get to play a part in the advancing story.
Not only is the superstar on stage just as human as we are, but so is the spiritual giant who always says the right thing and has all the best stories. We are all equally desperate for God’s grace, and equally capable of greatness. Not the kind of greatness that makes the Huffington Post but the kind that shouts a giant shout in the halls of eternity.
In other words, each of us can have the most profound impact possible. You and I can have the most significant conversation ever possible: a conversation where the gospel message moves across the line and takes root in a person’s life, transferring their heart from darkness to light. The greatest conversation of all time can be had by any of us, and there’s no need for a guitar or super-tight jeans, which is really good news for me.
God talked about Jesus through Paul’s letter to the Colossians.
And he is before all things, and in him all things hold together. And he is the head of the body, the church. He is the beginning, the firstborn from the dead, that in everything he might be preeminent. -Colossians 1:17-18
Jesus was before everything that is, and he holds everything together as it continues to be. He’s in charge of his people, work, and plan. He’s preeminent. He’s above all things. With the lifting of his finger, the universe would jump off of its rails and become a disorganized and utter mess. Jesus’ power is comforting to me, but it’s also unnerving. If it's true that Jesus is preexistent and preeminent, then I’m in need of a gut check every day. It also means that there are a lot of people who are in a bad spiritual space.
Mission with Love and Trust
Paul wrote to one of the more disheveled cities, reminding them of the why behind “Go.” He said,
For the love of Christ controls us, because we have concluded this: that one has died for all, therefore all have died; and he died for all, that those who live might no longer live for themselves but for him who for their sake died and was raised. From now on, therefore, we regard no one according to the flesh. - 2 Corinthians 5:14-16
It’s the love of Christ that moves us toward people. His love controls us because we have experienced it. I was quite a mess when the gospel took root in my life. I was confused and unhappy. The ground below me seemed like it was constantly moving. I felt like a shell of a person, and I wasn’t sure what to believe or who had the answer. I had a family who loved me and friends who exposed me to Christians, but it wasn’t until I actually heard the words of the gospel that things started to make sense. My life didn’t start to change until someone sat me down and said: “I care about you. And you need to know this.” I experienced God’s love in the fact that he moved toward me when I wasn’t moving toward him in any way. He reached out to me and set my feet on ground that was finally solid, not shifting and unsure. I hope you know that kind of love. That same love is what now compels us to share the great news of who Jesus is, what he has done, and what that means for us.
Living missionally isn’t recognized by spell check but it sure is talked about a lot in our carved out, Christian part of the world. We make missional living out to mean so many things that I wonder if it’s lost it’s meaning. One thing we easily forget in all of our missional talk is the importance of the gospel moving out, verbally, from one person to another. Of course, there are times when a person discovers the gospel on their own. And God is the only one who can change a heart. But most often another person is the medium for the message -expressed through language- in the context of love and trust. When the gospel is shared in the context of a relationship where love has been expressed and trust has been earned (at least in some form) big things can happen. Sometimes love can be expressed and trust can be built rather quickly, as fast as a few minutes on some occasions. Sometimes it takes longer. Somewhere along the way, however, the actual information has to be presented. The gospel message has to come across the wire and be heard by the person on the other end.
I'm part of an organization that talks a lot about going. We like to say that "go" is in our DNA and flavors most of our tactical moves. We work mainly with students who are 18-24, and it’s a privilege to engage a person in that window of time when they are so full of passion but still wondering if they are buying the God (or non-god) that's been sold to them. Sold to them by their parents, taught to them by a pastor, or shared by their grandma on their social feed. Whatever goods on faith they’ve been sold, they’re finally on their own and deciding for themselves what they really believe.
These young people are walking around their campuses with their backpacks full of academia, but life just doesn’t make sense apart from Jesus. Without Christ, they’re in a bad space even if they don’t realize it. Come to think of it, so is my neighbor who leaves their trash can at the curb too long, my kid’s coach who yells too much, and the young person working behind the counter at the grocery store with the tattoo that I can’t read. Apart from Jesus Christ, life is coming off its tracks. They’re in a bad space. We’re in a bad space. And here’s something I wish I thought about the night of that concert with my wife...the same is true for that skinny-jeaned, bouncing guitar guy with wandering eyes.
A heart without Jesus is a dark heart. Darkness is darkness. A dark heart is a sick heart, and a lonely heart. Without Jesus life just doesn’t make sense.
Mission and the Next Generation of Leaders
I like thinking about the future, and I love the idea of being part of a leadership engine for the body of Christ. After all, sometime soon, a creative young leader will make something that will change everything for the rest of us. Do you remember what life was like before seeing a hashtag in the corner of your TV? I have a feeling that right now that future leader isn’t coming up through the ranks of youth group fame. Maybe they are. However, I think it’s equally likely that the future spiritual leader is rushing around their campus dropping f-bombs when they meet with their professors. Or it’s the young lady who last week slept with her boyfriend and can't imagine anything greater. The student organizer who is motivated by self-promotion. Or, the inebriated fraternity guy who is out for revenge. What if, before they changed the world, that young person’s life collided with the grace of the gospel and everything changed for them?
I think that would affect a lot of people. After all, there are certain things that are already reaching the world: technology, the arts, and media to name just a few. I wonder what would happen if a few of the top leaders in these parts of our culture were Spirit-led leaders with a foundation in Christ and a vision for making disciples? And what might happen if they didn’t use their platform to shout through a megaphone, but instead used it to generate meaningful conversation and intrigue about Jesus Christ? I think we’d see a serious ripple effect of life- change and kingdom expansion. Maybe even one that could change the whole world.
I have a friend who makes reality TV shows. He's good at his job and his shows fill up my DVR. He laughs when he thinks about his work and that's worth something in itself. He also tries to develop a thread of redemption while producing these humorous, real-life dramas. His passion is crafting good art that tells some piece of the story of God. He’s living a life of meaning. Not just in what he’s creating, but in how he loves people, builds trust, and shares with them what he’s learned about Jesus. I think my reality show-making friend is changing the world.
I have another friend who battled cancer early on in his college career. Even before I knew him, I heard stories about dozens of young men shaving their heads to support him through the rigors of chemotherapy. I've always said that my friend understands the urgency of the gospel better than me. He’s tasted suffering and considered life and death in a deeper way than I’ve ever had to do. He wants to love people and share Jesus with them because he understands the brevity of life in a very personal way. Currently, he is leading significantly on a college campus and taking the grace of the gospel to young people every week. He also recently got married. I think my cancer-free buddy is changing the world.
He Is With Us
So where are you with all of this missional talk? Have you really considered how loving it is for God to come after you when you weren’t really that interested? Have you thought about the collision that took place when you first understood what the gospel meant for you? Have you thought through how you might establish (or re-establish) love and trust with a friend? How could you do that in just a few minutes with a stranger, a neighbor, your kid’s coach, the grocery worker? Is there a re-orienting of priorities that you need to make?
Right after Jesus told the disciples to “Go,” he added, “I’ll always be with you.” It’s hard to overstate the calming effects of this part of the Great Commission. He sent out his people and followed it up with a promise to be with them at every step. When God says, “I’m with you” He means it. That shouts a great shout in the halls of my heart. Thank you, Jesus.
You and I are human. We’re not God. We’re not superstars. We’re also not inadequate ministers of the gospel because Holy Spirit is at work through us. Unfortunately, my humanity can create the feeling that there’s not a level playing field with the people on our platforms and screens. We’re all equally human. Yet, the gospel of grace that has taken root in us has changed everything. That same grace makes it possible for you and me to have the most significant influence that could ever be. Because of Jesus, we’ve experienced the collision of the gospel with our very humanity. And we get to take part in that beautiful collision in the life of someone else, too. Even if they’re in a band. And bouncing.
Shawn McGrath is a husband, dad, friend, marketer, strategist, baseball coach, and wannabe anthropologist. He serves as National Director for Leadership Development with Cru- giving emphasis in Texas, Oklahoma, Arkansas, and Louisiana. Follow Shawn on Twitter @shawn_mcgrath and catch his blog at http://ShawnMcGrath.net.