Love

Mission as an Act of Worship

Please enjoy a free excerpt from our next book from Ben Connelly, A Pastor's Guide to Everyday Mission: Navigating the Paradox of Leading God’s People and Pursuing God’s Mission. Releasing at the start of June.

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John Piper famously begins Let the Nations Be Glad with:

Missions is not the ultimate purpose of the church. Worship is. Missions exists because worship doesn’t. Worship is the fuel and goal in missions. It’s the goal of missions because in missions we simply aim to bring the nations into the white-hot enjoyment of God’s glory. The goal of missions is the gladness of the peoples in the greatness of God… But worship is also the fuel of missions. Passion for God in worship precedes the offer of God in preaching. You can’t commend what you don’t cherish. Missionaries will never call out, “Let the nations be glad!” who cannot say from the heart, “I rejoice in the Lord… I will be glad and exult in thee, I will sing praise to thy name, O Most High.” Missions begins and ends in worship.

Participating in God’s mission is an act of worship.

“Missions exists because worship doesn’t”

But our participation in his mission is not a man-made response, as if in an attempt to pay a debt to God, a counsel of Christians considered multiple options and landed on missions. Instead, like every other act of worship, this was always part of God’s design. These words are on the last page of Let the Nations Be Glad:

The ultimate goal of God in all of history is to uphold and display his glory for the enjoyment of the redeemed from every tribe and tongue and people and nation. …The church is bound to engage with the Lord of glory in his cause. It is our unspeakable privilege to be caught up with him in the greatest movement in history—the ingathering of the elect from every tribe and language and people and nation.

From Genesis to Revelation, we see God unfolding his story of redemption. And at least from Genesis 12, when God tells Abraham he’ll be blessed in order that “you will be a blessing” (v.1), God involves his people—as inadequate, unskilled, and disobedient as we are—to fulfill that mission. This continues through both Testaments, as God calls both his Old and New Covenant people his “nation of priests.”

Jesus, of course, is the climax of God’s mission. As the ultimate Sent One of the Father, Jesus entered the darkness of this world and pursued the people God sent him to. As the most well-known verse in all the Bible says,

For God so loved the world, that he gave his only Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life. For God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but in order that the world might be saved through him. – John 3:16–17

And when he returns to the right hand of the Father, the Son promises his followers that the Spirit will come and empower them to continue the same mission he started during his time on earth.

God wants missionaries at the ends of the earth and at the end of the cornfield.

If this is new for you, here are just a few of the clearest biblical passages that display God’s design for his people to serve as his missionaries; to make disciples of those around us:

[God] through Christ reconciled us to himself and gave us the ministry of reconciliation; that is, in Christ God was reconciling the world to himself, not counting their trespasses against them, and entrusting to us the message of reconciliation. Therefore, we are ambassadors for Christ, God making his appeal through us. – 2 Corinthians 5:18–20

You are a chosen race, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a people for his own possession, that you may proclaim the excellencies of him who called you out of darkness into his marvelous light. – 1 Peter 2:9

“All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me [i.e., Jesus]. Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you. And behold, I am with you always, to the end of the age.” – Matthew 28:18–20

“I do not ask that you take them out of the world, but that you keep them from the evil one. They are not of the world, just as I am not of the world. Sanctify them in the truth; your word is truth. As you sent me into the world, so I have sent them into the world.” – John 17:15–18

How then will they call on him in whom they have not believed? And how are they to believe in him of whom they have never heard? And how are they to hear without someone preaching? And how are they to preach unless they are sent? As it is written, “How beautiful are the feet of those who preach the good news!” – Romans 10:14–15

Sing to the LORD, bless his name; tell of his salvation from day to day. Declare his glory among the nations, his marvelous works among all the peoples! – Psalm 96:2–3

Ministers, we cannot ignore God’s mission, nor abdicate our pursuit of it, obedience to it, and position in it! Mission is commanded by God. Mission is at the heart of God. Mission is why Jesus came to earth from the right hand of God. Mission is an act of worship to God.

GOD CALLS ALL HIS PEOPLE MISSIONARIES

To be clear, none of the verses above were written exclusively to “paid” ministers. They’re written to every Christ-follower—because God’s call to mission goes far deeper than just those of us who are paid by Christian ministries. On one hand, this is a relief. We’re not in it alone! On the other hand, the fact that God’s mission is shared among his people makes it an even more vital part of our lives. We’re not missionaries because we’re ministers; we’re missionaries because we’re Christians!

MISSION FOR NON-MINISTERS

For the people we lead, their role in life—student, lawyer, mother, teacher, or friend—pales in comparison to the identity that God has given them in the gospel. For example, because of who God is and what he does, every follower of Jesus is a son or daughter and an heir of God; every Christian is also simultaneously a sinner and saint. Non-ministers (in the sense I’m using the term) don’t get to reject those identities when they enter the classroom or courtroom, because their identities are deeper than their roles. In the same way, missionary is part of every Christian’s God-given identity. In Christ, God gives us “the ministry of reconciliation” (2 Cor 5:18); thus, all Christians are part of reconciling the world to God. In 2 Corinthians, God calls us all his “ambassadors” (those sent to a foreign land, representing a dignitary) and, in 1 Peter, “priests” (mediators between God and others). In Acts 2, Jesus sends his people out as his “witnesses.” In Matthew 5, he calls us “salt of the earth” and “light of the world.” Over and over, the Bible shows that God has gloriously woven mission into our very identity in Christ. It goes far deeper than the other roles we may play. Anyone who calls himself or herself a Christian, God calls his missionary.

MISSION FOR MINISTERS

But let’s pull our chairs together, lower our voices, and make sure no one’s listening as we talk honestly. For paid ministers, the hard part of living in the both-and of ministry and mission is this: It’s easy to call on the doctors, lawyers, EMT’s, and pizza deliverers in our ministries to live for God in their careers, but we think we already do, all day everyday day! While it’s easy to call students and retirees to sacrifice and lay down their lives for God, we get paid to do exactly that! The roles that we play are already saturated with Jesus-y things; the tasks we complete involve talking about and modeling godliness. In fact, if we happen to find time for mission in the midst of our consistently-crammed calendars, we may feel that we’re actually stealing time from someone in our ministry. “And those are the people who I should prioritize, right? While mission sounds good biblically, it’s so darn hard. My board’s already breathing down my neck. My people are just so needy.” We couldn’t possibly leave our flock of 99, in pursuit of one lowly lost sheep…could we?

GOD CALLS MINISTERS TO LEAD HIS PEOPLE WHERE THEY SHOULD GO

We’ve all heard the phrase “as goes the leader, so goes the organization.” In more biblical terms, Peter calls ministers to be “among” our people as “examples to the flock” (1 Pt 5:2), and Paul’s leadership involved calling others to “be imitators of me, as I am of Christ” (1 Cor 11:1). As leaders, we’re called to model for our people, the life we’re calling them to. So here’s the reality for those of us in leadership in Christian groups: as a ministry leader, you must also serve as its lead missionary. If you’re a leader in a church, then you need to lead your people into mission unless you’re content with your church’s growth being primarily by transfer.

If you lead a parachurch organization, then you need to lead your people into mission unless you want to find yourself surrounded with already-Christians. If you’re a leader in any other type of ministry, then you need to lead your people into mission unless you want to wake up one day and realize how insulated your world has become.

Honestly, the few of God’s people he’s entrusted to my inadequate oversight and stewardship are far more likely to go somewhere if I lead them there. Sheep need shepherds; ministries need leaders. And if we’ve taken up the mantle of serving others by leading God’s people, then it’s up to us to lead them where they need to go. Whatever other titles, roles, and duties we may have, if we believe that all Christians are called to “go and make disciples,” we must first embrace that part of the gospel DNA that runs through our own God-given blood: We are missionaries. Then, as leaders of other gospel-formed missionaries, we must step into the title, role, and duties of being lead missionaries of our organizations.

IT’S NOT AS HARD AS YOU THINK

Next, we dive into the deep end of this issue, lay a biblical foundation, and will be awakened to the reasons many ministers neglect a life of mission. This truth may leave some of you feeling godly conviction. It may, however, leave you feeling guilty or shameful and unsure of what to do.

Any feeling of inadequacy, guilt, or weakness is simply a glimpse of the biblical reality for every minister. So if you feel regret for your lack of pursuit of God’s mission, the gospel encourages you. The Apostle Paul—arguably the greatest missionary ever—says:

But he said to me, “My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.” Therefore I will boast all the more gladly of my weaknesses, so that the power of Christ may rest upon me. … Not that we are sufficient in ourselves to claim anything as coming from us, but our sufficiency is from God, who has made us sufficient to be ministers of a new covenant, not of the letter but of the Spirit. For the letter kills, but the Spirit gives life. – 2 Corinthians 12:9; 3:5–6

If you’re feeling unsure of what to do or the next step to take, then know that the rest of the book is devoted to helping you. In the remainder of this guide, you will consider biblical principles, heart postures, and practical ideas to weave God’s call to mission into the chaotic tapestry of vocational ministry. But it’s not as hard as you may think.

You likely know someone whom God has given the gift of evangelism—he’s the one who can make friends with a Buckingham Palace guard; she’s the one whose very presence seems to make people fall to their knees and declare their need for Jesus. Praise God for giving that gift to some of his people—but it’s not required to be a missionary. To some of his people, God has given the gift of evangelism, but to all of his people, he’s given the mission of making disciples. As the lead missionary in your ministry, you don’t have to be “that guy” or “that gal” to lead others to make disciples. There are no specific traits, Myers-Briggs types, or DISC profile necessary to lead your organization to live out our missionary identity in Christ. It’s not as hard as you may think.

In fact, the first requirement for being a lead missionary is the first requirement for most of a life of following Jesus: love.

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Ben Connelly, his wife Jess, and their daughters Charlotte and Maggie live in Fort Worth, TX. He started and now co-pastors The City Church, part of the Acts29 network and Soma family of churches. Ben is also co-author of A Field Guide for Everyday Mission (Moody Publishers, 2014). With degrees from Baylor University and Dallas Theological Seminary, Ben teaches public speaking at TCU, writes for various publications, trains folks across the country, and blogs in spurts at benconnelly.net. Twitter: @connellyben.

Jesus Welcomed REAL Sinners. Do We?

In a very real sense, the work of Jesus is complete. When it comes to our standing as beloved, forgiven, delighted-in sons and daughters of God, “It is finished,” just as he said. His sinless life secured for us a new and irrevocable status—holy and blameless in God’s sight. His death fulfilled the requirements of God’s justice toward our sins. We are summoned by Scripture to make much of Jesus. It is stunning that Jesus makes much of us, too. Jesus lived the life we should have lived, and he died the death we should have died. Because of this, we are free. What a wonderful and humbling reality—God does not treat us as our sins deserve, because he has already treated Jesus as our sins deserve.

The work of Jesus continues in the world through Christians.

All this being true, there is still much work that Jesus intends to get done…through us.

Luke writes in Acts 1:1, “In the first book [the Gospel of Luke], O Theophilus, I have dealt with all that Jesus began to do and teach.” Began to do and teach? How could there be more for Jesus to do than he what has already done?

That’s where we as Christ’s “ambassadors” come into the picture. We are now the chosen ones, sent into the world on his behalf, filled with his Spirit to represent him in the places where we live, work and play. The work of Jesus continues in the world through Christians.

Our calling is to labor in every way possible to model our ministry and message after his. We are to live as those who are “full of grace and truth” until our churches and ministries attract the types of people who were attracted to Jesus, and, by unfortunate necessity, draw criticism from the types of people who criticized him.

What does it mean to have a ministry atmosphere that is “full of grace” (John 1:14)?

Gandhi famously said:

I like your Christ, I do not like your Christians. Your Christians are so unlike your Christ.

Gandhi admired Jesus but found it difficult to reconcile how the Christians in his life seemed to represent Jesus so poorly. In his mind, this is what kept him from becoming a follower of Jesus.

As Jesus’ ambassadors, we need to listen very carefully to statements like this one. We must carefully and lovingly examine the common barriers that stand between the real Jesus and people’s false impressions of him—impressions which, unfortunately, have been projected to a watching world by sincere yet misguided Christians. Let’s consider some of these barriers, shall we?

BARRIER #1: CONDEMNATION

Writer Philip Yancey often asks people he meets what they think about Christians. Sadly, the answer he hears most often from people is that Christians are judgmental, intolerant, and holier-than-thou.

When the September 11 terrorist attacks took place on the World Trade Center, one very well-known (and deeply misguided) Christian leader confirmed this stance by saying on national television:

If you are a homosexual, a member of the ACLU, in favor of abortion, or part of the People of the American Way, then I point my finger in your face and say you did this. You made this happen.

A Christian friend of mine who is an actor once invited a gay friend over to have dinner with him and his wife. Their guest soon realized (from the Bible on the coffee table) that they were Christians. He then said to my friend, “You are a Christian, and you actually like me?” This kind of story causes my heart to sink. Does it yours?

Are we serious about being Christ’s ambassadors in the world? Then we must humbly wrestle with, and fight with love to reverse, the idea that Christians are against people who don’t believe like we do.

Whether this impression is true or merely perceived, it is still our starting point in the minds of many non-Christian people. If we are not guilty ourselves, then we are at least guilty by association with believers who have misrepresented the biblical Jesus with harsh, abrasive, condemning or withdrawn attitudes. We must take personal responsibility, as far as it depends on us, to replace pictures of a false Jesus with pictures of the real Jesus—the Jesus who came full of grace and truth, and who even welcomed “sinners” and ate with them (Luke 15:1-2).

BARRIER #2: SEPARATION

I believe that Christians who want to separate themselves and their children from secular people, secular things, and secular ideas make a big mistake. Christ’s ambassadors must resist this “us against them” and often fear-based mindset. We must do everything in our power to become friends with as many non-Christians as we can—no conditions attached. This must be a central, core value of our lives and also our Christian communities.

Consider Jesus. It was only the religious proud who withdrew from Jesus, criticized him, took offense at him, and wished to rid the world of him. But what about the prostitutes, crooks, drunks, gluttons and sinners? These all wanted to be near to Jesus, and they wanted to hear what he had to say. And Jesus obliged gladly—so much so that he became guilty by association, and was accused of being a glutton and a drunk and a “friend of tax collectors and sinners” (Luke 7:34).

We know that these accusations of drunkenness and gluttony were false—Jesus was tempted in every way but without sin. But Jesus was unapologetically a friend to the least and the lost—to all who felt ostracized and belittled by the religious communities of his day.

Jesus was willing to offend strict religious people if that’s what it took to convince broken sinners that he loved them and had hope for them.

Are we?

Jesus was repulsive to religious insiders and a breath of fresh air to religious outsiders.

Are we?

BARRIER #3: SMUGNESS

There is a price to pay if we get serious about cultivating atmospheres that are full of grace. The more we begin to befriend the kinds of people that Jesus did, we will experience resistance and even rejection from “the faithful.” They may even be our fellow church members. It’s a simple fact. When we do the kinds of things that Jesus did and love in some of the ways that Jesus did, some will take offense at us. And they will tell themselves that their being offended is because of their love for God. But anytime someone is offended by kindness that resembles Jesus, our Lord says that this person, rather than acting out of love for God, is acting as a child of the devil (John 8:39-47). It is Satan, not God, who is the hater of kindness. It is Satan, not God, who is the accuser of the people that Jesus loves.

Consider Luke 7, where a woman described as “sinful” enters the home of Simon the religious Pharisee. In the name of love, and in the spirit of radical grace, Jesus receives with delight her very un-orthodox display of affection toward him. Jesus breaks with religious customs, allowing this ceremonially and morally unclean prostitute to touch his feet. He breaks with social customs also, receiving her as his disciple—putting a woman on equal footing with men in a very paternalistic, misogynistic society where women were seen as second class.

Most scandalous, however, is the way that Jesus even breaks with moral customs to demonstrate to this woman how dear she is to him. She lets down her hair, which was grounds for divorce in those days—a woman could do this only in the presence of her immediate family. She also touches him with the tools of her prostitute’s trade. He lets her anoint him with a prostitute’s perfume and kiss him with a prostitute’s lips!

Of course, we know the rest of the story—Jesus was shunned as a man of ill repute by the religious people at the sinner party. To these smug Pharisees, showing positive attention to this woman—whom they judged as a sinner not a child of God, as a thing not a person—was evidence of moral compromise.

This story has serious ramifications for those who wish to represent Jesus well in a modern context. We must come to terms with the fact that if Jesus were a 21st century American, he would not associate godliness with membership in a political party. He would not tell a lesbian she was “in sin” without also offering her a personal, no-strings-attached friendship. He would not talk about how smoking destroys God’s temple while simultaneously devouring his third piece of fried chicken at the church potluck. Jesus would not condemn adultery as being any worse than studying the Bible for the wrong reasons.

BARRIER #4: PRIDE

Becoming a friend of sinners begins with the understanding that we are much more like the “chief of sinners” than we are like Jesus Christ. Our approach with all people, no matter who they are or what their history, must assume the posture of “fellow beggars humbly telling others where to find the bread” (I got this magnificent quote from Steve Brown).

If we really want people to be impacted by the gospel and to enjoy the riches of God’s grace, they must first see in us the humility of those who have been, and continue to be, genuinely impacted by grace ourselves. Our humility must be authentic and not just an act. If we have never been brought low by God, we will approach other people from a high horse. And that is never any good for anybody.

Consider the Apostle Paul. He was not above humbling himself. In Romans 7 he gives us a window into his personal struggle with the sin of coveting—a sin nobody would see unless he told them—and the way that the gospel gave him hope in the face of his coveting. In 1 Timothy Paul identifies himself as the chief of all sinners. If we intend to reflect Jesus in our ministries and our messages, we need to get over our love for reputation and image. As the late Jack Miller once said, “Grace runs downhill.” We can only be drenched by grace toward the bottom of the hill.

And yet, how easy it can be to build our identities on how good we look—on being “model Christians” that people are supposed to admire because of how put-together we appear to be.But we must not do this. It is a trap and it will rob us of gospel power and effectiveness. If people around us are going to be changed by the grace of Jesus, they must witness the gospel working effectively in our lives—healing us of our sins and deepest wounds and fears. Changing us.

Scott Sauls is senior pastor of Christ Presbyterian Church in Nashville, Tennessee and author of Jesus Outside the Lines and Befriend (releases Oct, 2016).

Used with permission from ScottSauls.com, “Jesus Welcomed REAL Sinners. Do We?