Some one gave me this little wall hanging years ago. I look at it everyday and I laugh but I also think a lot about the strangeness of what we do as Christians.
I just got into a conversation (actually the conversation has been going on for a while because of difficulties, trials and tribulations we are experiencing with Project 24) about the “validity” of mission projects. What makes any Christian Project valid is not its chances of success, but does it bear the marks of the Church? Is it something that God wants us to do? How do we know? Does it relate to the gifts given us with a view towards the end of the age and life everlasting?
If we have this “end time” view of Christ’s mission, our mission, our witness and our life, we have then a stamp of approval on what we “do” as church and believers. We are living that famous statement that Paul made when he said “it is no longer I who live but Christ who lives in me.” Galatians 2 and 2 Corinthians 5). We have a stamp of approval that comes through the marks of the church. Through the proclamation of the Gospel we are assured that Christ himself is with us “even to the end of the age”. Through the office of the keys we believe we have Gods stamp of approval to forgive people, and that forgiveness is valid in everlasting life. We believe in the Lord’s Supper we are receiving Gods stamp of approval once again and we have a very special reason for doing it often. Every time we celebrate and receive the Holy Supper we “proclaim the Lord’s death until he comes”. There is a mission emphasis to the Supper. When we are merciful because we’ve been motivated by Christ’s Gospel to be merciful, we realize that those acts will be the basis upon which we are judged at the end of the age according to Matthew 25:31 – 36.
The strangeness then of our preaching and our doing, our mission and our witness, is that we cannot expect results. We are not bound to the need for success. One of the more famous churchmen used to say, “Gods work done in God’s way will never lack Gods supply”. China Inland Mission founder Hudson Taylor famously said that and yet the evidence of life, and the witness of the scripture seems to be exactly the opposite. We have problems with this issue. Note all the programs, all the missionary endeavors, all the Bible class materials, all the foundation and fundraising efforts to give us some kind of success, and give us some metric to prove that what we are doing is “valid”. We as preachers very seldom see any “success” to what we do or proclaim. In fact I am convinced that some of the functional difficulties we see in the office of the Holy Ministry today, are in part the result of the fact that preachers are tired, and depressed about the lack of results. I remember being absolutely elated when a member of one of my churches said “I want you to know how much I enjoyed your sermon last Sunday. My family has been talking about it all week every night around the dinner table”. I was so excited I ran home and told my wife the good news. My excitement turned to deflation when she asked me a question – “what did you preach about?”, and I could not remember. I had been so busy during the week getting ready for the next Sunday, that my supposedly wonderful sermon had disappeared from my mind almost as soon as I preached it. My wife didn’t remember it either but that is a story for another time.
Baffled by the so-called “lack of return on investment” in worldly terms, it is my belief that many are turning to what we have mentioned many times as “therapeutic deism”. I believe that the so-called lack of return on investment in faith has caused many people in the society to look to one or both of our political parties as their religion. The evangelist zeal they may have exhibited a few years back in the church is now invested in the kingdoms of this earth. The Bibles warning to “trust not in princes” (Psalm 146) has fallen upon deaf ears. When we can get free stuff bought and paid for by the hard-working labor of others we can have a kingdom on this earth, while at the same time pretending that we have carried out the imperatives of Jesus in Matthew 25.
Our preaching is about a victory. The Gospel is the good news of the victory over sin and death and the power of the devil. But in that preaching we need to hammer home the point that the church on earth is militant, it is a struggling community, it is still in the battle, and so the triumph is often hidden by signs of apparent failure. The validity of so many of our mission endeavors are in question. The motives and competence of partners around the world are called into question without us ever realizing that the demonic forces of evil ranked against them are much more plain and powerful than they appear to us who have things relatively easy. The demonic attack in the third world is “in your face” while the Devils attacks here are much more subtle. Both of them are damning part from Christ.
Restructuring and strategic planning are good first article gifts. Being efficient and competent are much needed in the church. But what does a “valid” mission or project mean? Success? Was Jesus mission valid when He himself asks this question, in Luke 18 – 7now, will not God bring about justice for His elect who cry to Him day and night, and will He delay long over them? 8“I tell you that He will bring about justice for them quickly. However, when the Son of Man comes, will He find faith on the earth?”