Building a congregation’s life around a clear vision and purpose is easy to affirm. Aligning that purpose with biblical teaching and witness makes sense. Seldom will church leaders resist the idea that the path toward a vibrant and engaging congregation is to embody God’s mission in clear, dynamic, and powerful ways.
What if we used Jesus as a model for how to live out a clear and compelling mission? His ministry provides insight on the “healthy habits” that can help a congregation stay true to its calling.
The problems emerge when we begin to talk about the how of living out God’s call to be a people on a mission. Like barnacles on a ship, our preferences, traditions, icons, and cultural accommodations have encrusted the mission and threaten to smother it. What if we used Jesus as a model for how to live out a clear and compelling mission? His ministry provides insight on the “healthy habits” that can help a congregation stay true to its calling.
Solitude. Jesus knew the value of time spent with a compass rather than a calendar. He repeatedly frustrated those who prized efficiency. From the beginning, he was prone to pull back from the limelight and reconnect with the divine dream and mission. Rather than allow others to sway his agenda and trajectory, he clearly defined who he was and what he came to do. The wilderness was his friend, and solitude was a regular habit. Planning and preparation claimed a healthy portion of his time.
Ruthless adherence. For God’s vision to take root, Jesus found it imperative to avoid every temptation to water down or diverge from the vision with which he had been entrusted. Repeatedly, he declined opportunities to compromise the mission. Instead, he demonstrated an iron will that held fast to the calling despite popular acclaim or the threat of rejection.
Right people. Jesus chose men and women to help him carry out the mission with an eye toward their visible and invisible gifts. He taught a diversity of gifts in which his followers were a living example of that lesson. He paid attention to individuals and pushed them to become what they had been intended to be. Missing in his actions was an insistence upon lock-step behavior or thinking. When he spoke of unity, it was a unity of purpose, not style. In the diversity of the disciples and other followers, he found a powerful combination that turned the world upside-down.
Repetition. On a regular and consistent basis, Jesus taught and re-taught the basics of the reign of God. Using parables, he helped those around him visualize what it would look like for God’s will actually to come on earth as it was in heaven. Whether it be a story featuring a waiting father, a good Samaritan, a lost coin, or a bridal celebration, he repeatedly reinforced the new way of living and being God’s people.
Reinforcement. Not content with mere theory, Jesus illustrated his prevailing vision with real-life examples. Blind men, innocent children, lepers, wayward women, and demon-possessed men all served as vehicles for him to reinforce and drive home the core teaching of this new kingdom.
Celebration. Along the way, there were victories that needed to be celebrated, and Jesus focused on those successes to build a growing sense of movement among his followers. When bodies were healed or lives redirected, the resulting exclamations and joyful dances served notice that this was going to be a kingdom whose end result was abundance and joy. The gospels are permeated by glimpses of joy and laughter.
Integrity. Jesus insisted that all of his life with his disciples be congruent with his teaching. He was the one who noticed the beggars, the blind, lame, and diseased. He was the one who stayed true to a life of simplicity and singular focus. When others wanted to crown him king or build him a temple, he redirected them to the deeper meaning of his coming. Even when the mission led him to the garden and the cruelty of the cross, he remained true to his calling and his divine mission.
If our churches were willing to exercise these habits in our quest to live out the mission God has entrusted to us, perhaps we would ask these types of questions:
- How much time does our church spend reconnecting to its vision?
- Does our church say no to lesser things so that it can say yes to the mission?
- Are the right people leading the effort?
- Is our church’s reason for being continually repeated and reinforced?
- Does our church celebrate its successes?
- Does our church call people to a faith that embraces their whole being?
This article is adapted from a post on Bill’s blog and reprinted with his permission.