In a recent lecture, Wright broke mission down into five elements:
- Evangelism (proclaim the good news of the kingdom)
- Teaching (teach, baptise and nurture new believers)
- Compassion (respond to human need by loving service)
- Justice (transform unjust structures of society, to challenge violence of every kind and pursue peace and reconciliation)
- Creation care ( strive to safeguard the integrity of creation, and sustain and renew the life of the earth)
All intrinsically flow from the Lordship of Christ
Wright then re-focuses these into three —
- Building the church = evangelism and teaching
- Serving society = compassion and justice
- Caring for the Creation
Obviously enough, I find myself in disagreement but only because Wright omits the ethics/ecclesial elements of mission from his analysis. (In his book, it’s more a question of lack of emphasis.) I think Thompson and Hauerwas are exactly right to declare the church to be the mission. Long before we can get to this other stuff, we need to very intentionally decide that we want to be a Sermon on the Mount church. A Jesus church. A Rom 12-15 church. A church that wants more than anything to be just like its rabbi — both individually and as community.
But the reality is that it’s not step 1, step 2, step 3, etc. There may be an order of importance or what is more fundamental, but there is no time order or even an order for which step causes whichever other step. That is, if you wait until you get your ethical life right before you begin to care for the Creation, you’ll never get to the Creation — and you just might become a self-involved, navel-gazing, stick in the mud in the process of waiting.
I’d far rather see you picking up litter in the name of Jesus than staring at a Bible and waiting the Holy Spirit to speak to you through lectio divina or meandering through a prayer maze. I believe in an active, powerful Spirit. I don’t believe in magic. The Spirit is far more likely to speak to you while you’re feeding the hungry or working in a prison ministry than through some Medieval mystical, highly individualized exercise that doesn’t involve service, submission, sacrifice, or suffering. Walk in Jesus’ sandals, and Jesus will speak to you well enough.
We grow in our ethical life — in our Sermon on the Mount life — by doing this other stuff. It’s synergistic. Helping others makes us better people — although and because we really have to be better people to help others. Teaching others forces us to learn it better — and to live it better — which makes us better teachers — which helps us to live it better … (you get the idea). Physicists might call the process mutually reinforcing.
It’s also true that any of these missional activities can push us to be full of ourselves and self-involved. If I do evangelism to earn points with God or to show my immense persuasive talents, then evangelism becomes about me rather than the Lordship of Jesus. Therefore, the ethical side can never be neglected. Remember: the ethics of Jesus are founded in service, submission, sacrifice, and suffering — not pride. And that’s one more reason we so need our brothers and sisters — to knock us off our high horses when necessary.
On Meddling as One of the Greatest Acts of Love
And that’s one reason I picked the parables I did. It’s rarely about knowing what’s right. Far more often the challenge is in being willing to risk a friendship or even your place in your local congregation to do what’s right. Being a Jesus person can sometimes get you hung on a cross — and if you’re not willing to go there, you’re not yet a disciple.
We Christians, especially here in the South, confuse non-confrontation with being “Christian.” And yet Jesus was never afraid to confront those on the wrong path. And confrontation doesn’t have to be mean-spirited or hateful. It can be done in love. And without loving confrontation, church problems and sin never get dealt with — and bad things happen.
It’s an art knowing how to rebuke a friend. But the best rebukes comes from friends. And a real friend will do it — even at the risk of the friendship. Those who refuse to confront you when you are in the wrong don’t love you. They love themselves.
And, of course, that means those of us who sometimes mess up and say or do bad things need to give permission to the others to gently and lovingly rebuke us. In fact, it might be good to dedicate a service at church, once a year or so, to the formal giving of permission to mess in our lives. We need to say the words giving our friends permission to meddle.