Tulsa Lectures: First and Third Class, On a Mission from God

To be a disciple is to be on a mission from God. (It’s a mission that’s even bigger than bringing blues music to the masses.)

It’s about restoring the reign of God over the world. It’s bringing into its fullness the prophets’ vision of the Kingdom as a place of peace, justice, health, and prosperity for all.

Ultimately, it’s about everyone bending his knees before God, as revealed in Jesus, so that God’s will is done on earth as it is in heaven.

And that makes evangelism of critical importance. It’s not the only important thing, but we cannot properly think of God’s mission apart from evangelism.

A sense of entitlement or lust for power is the very antithesis of mission. Entitlement is all about me, what I get, how I’m served, how much I enjoy church for what church can do for me. Mission is about others, what I give, how I serve, how much I enjoy church for what I see God doing through me and others through our sacrifice and submission.

You see, they are polar opposites.

We have to learn to think as missionaries. We must re-imagine our congregations as church plants. The church isn’t planted to serve the mature. The mature are here to serve others, especially visitors and new converts. The church leaders aren’t here to serve the members for the sake of the members. Rather, as shepherds they lead the membership into the green pastures of God’s mission. After all, there is no greater food and no greater drink than serving alongside God in his cosmic work to transform the world.

When the mission is paramount and the comfort and pleasures of the members are subordinated to the mission, the squabbling ends.

Can you imagine a missionary church planting team fighting over who gets to pick the hymns? Or who preaches? No, they’ll decide these things based on what serves the mission of the congregation — to reach the community in which they’ve chosen to work. Anyone who joins a mission team sacrifices his taste in music (and food and career) on the altar of evangelism.

I was nearly brought to tears at Tulsa during what they call the “flag presentation.” I read “flag presentation” and thought this would be some corny tribute to patriotism, but instead, groups to two, three, four, or five young men and women entered the auditorium carrying the flags of the nations they were going to serve as missionaries.

It’s all part of the AIM program (Adventures in Missions) by Sunset International Bible Institute. And just seeing several dozen young people heading off into the mission field in teams was an emotional moment. The crowd applauded loud and long, and the young people who were holding the flags were visibly moved. If you’re a Christian, moments like these should thrill you.

I doubt many of the young missionaries were worried about how the chairs would be arranged in the auditoriums of their new churches or what times services would be held or whether their favorites hymns would be sung in the foreign land they were traveling to. No, they were giving up years of their lives to participate in God’s mission. Praise God!

What the rest of us forget is that God has a mission at our home congregations, too. But our established congregations are too busy serving their own members to actually make much of a sacrifice for the lost.

But a church planting team — who would be far more mature in the faith than the other members of their new congregations — will gladly submit their preferences and tastes to the newest members and the visitors, because they take far greater joy in building the kingdom than having their own turn, compromising over musical styles, or getting their way just to show that they matter.

In such a setting, there are no winners and losers because everyone wins. The more mature receive the greatest possible joy: the sheer delight of participating in God’s mission and seeing the seed they’ve planted spring forth in new life. The price of giving up the songs of their childhoods is trivial — entirely forgotten in the joy of seeing God at work bringing new souls into the kingdom.

(If it’s a thrill to see young men and women heading off into the mission field, imagine the thrill of being in the mission field and seeing God’s hand at work among new converts!)

And the visitors and new converts delight in an assembly crafted to speak the gospel in a language they understand. Because they understand the music and the words and the symbols, they can easily appreciate and delight in the story of the gospel they are being taught.

But in the US, in established churches, we perversely insist that visitors learn our language, learn our music, learn our symbolism, and become like us before they can appreciate the gospel we teach. Jesus, however, surrendered heaven so that he could become like us and teach us gospel in terms we could understand — even at the cost of his life.

Therefore, I have little interest in taking turns. I don’t want a turn. I want to see the lost saved and the immature brought to maturity. And if it costs me my musical taste, well, I have iTunes and YouTube. The assembly is about serving others — because Christianity is about serving others.

We’re on a mission from God.

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About Jay F Guin

My name is Jay Guin, and I’m a retired elder. I wrote The Holy Spirit and Revolutionary Grace about 18 years ago. I’ve spoken at the Pepperdine, Lipscomb, ACU, Harding, and Tulsa lectureships and at ElderLink. My wife’s name is Denise, and I have four sons, Chris, Jonathan, Tyler, and Philip. I have two grandchildren. And I practice law.
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2 Responses to Tulsa Lectures: First and Third Class, On a Mission from God

  1. John says:

    Jay, I give a genuine, from the heart, AMEN to your first three paragraphs. But with the last two I have slight issue.

    Adjusting the worship for visitors is not something that is wrong as much as it is just not necessary if the services are conducted from a true sense of the Holy. I believe it is simply assumed that those from the outside will not appreciate “traditional” styles of worship.

    But, as much as many in the CoC and other conservative denominations wish to believe that main line churches are dying, the truth is some of them thrive just like some conservative, evangelistic churches do. And the ones that thrive, whether they be Episcopal or Greek Orthodox, do so because their worshippers are ALIVE. There are Rock & Rollers and Country Music fans who walked into these types of services for the first time and sensed “God is in this place”.

    So, for congregations of the CoC the answer is not throwing away the hymn “Nearer My God to Thee”, but in making sure it is actually believed. Visitors can detect real life.

  2. Charles McLean says:

    I wish church planting teams were more different than traditional congregations. I will confess that the most limiting thing I see in most church planting teams is what they bring with them from home and immediately, even unthinkingly, establish as their baseline of life and practice. I am not talking about such things as whether you let ladies pass the plate, or whether you sing Stamps-Baxter more than Dennis Jernigan, or if you use PowerPoint instead of hymnals and blackboards. No, I mean more ubiquitous things: congregational branding, required Sunday services, preset titles and leadership structure, pre-packaged curriculum, meeting structures (liturgy) centered on religious instruction, demographic slicing of familes for religious activity, the priority of accumulating cash for the purpose of “getting a building of our own”. Things we do because we have always done them this way.

    And, God forgive us, the biggest flaw– our measuring success or failure of our “mission” by how well these habitual things are being done and how many people are doing them under our leadership. I don’t think I ever heard a report of rousing success of a church planting team which did not mention growth in Sunday morning attendance, and progress toward a stand-alone church building.

    As Jay suggests, we require these people to learn our religious code language, to participate in our own traditional expressions of Christianity, before they can be “one of us”. We have done just what Jesus accused the Pharisees of doing: made it difficult to enter the kingdom. But because it’s easy for us, we don’t even know it.

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