In part one of my series on Critical Shifts for Embracing God’s 21st Century Mission, we discussed the need for moving From Preaching to the Choir to Communicating with Cultural Clarity. In this new installment, I want to suggest a second shift: From Waiting for Rock Stars to Unleashing the Overlooked.
We live in a culture of the celebrity. Bigger is better. Money talks. We value experts. Super hero movies routinely dominate the charts.
As we as Christ’s followers seek to advance God’s mission in our day, we can sometimes fall prey to the idea that we need a hero or celebrity to lead us forward. Instead of focusing on forming and developing the people whom God sends to our communities, we wait for experts and already-formed leaders to walk through our doors to solve the problems in our churches. Yet the power of the Wesleyan revival of the 18th and 19th centuries was in part found in its ability to reduplicate itself and expand through the common women and men who responded to the gospel.
John Wesley made a critical decision. As a leader, he chose to be a river rather than a reservoir. He did not build a wall around his expertise and giftedness. Instead, he freely shared his knowledge and poured his life into creating a network of lay preachers and small groups led also by the laity.
The lesson for us is this: we need to focus on the women and men whom God leads to our parishes rather than on the people that we might wish would walk through our doors. Wesley modeled an imaginative, creative, and organic structure that unleashed the spiritual gifts of others for the advancement of God’s kingdom.
The film Apollo 13 modeled the type of thinking that we need to embrace. If you recall the plot, the mission to the moon encountered a serious problem and the lives of the astronauts were at risk. The original mission was aborted, and the new mission became a rescue mission in which the astronauts and the Houston-based support team had to rely only on the people and materials available to them on the spaceship. There were no fatalities and the Apollo 13 crew returned safely to earth through the creative team work and ingenious reenvisioning of the equipment and supplies on the craft. What if we as pastors and teachers adopted the posture of the Apollo 13 mission with respect to our existing communities of faith? Brainstorm, nurture, and unleash our communities’ gifts for the advancement of the kingdom in our day.
To do this will require a new sense of vocation and calling. Instead of embracing a vocation as a professional clergyperson or older models such as pastor as resident theologian, let’s take on a new calling as missiologists, dream awakeners, and unleashers of the overlooked. Wesley did this type of work, but he was only following in the footsteps of Jesus, who called and sent out fishermen, tax collectors, and former lepers and demon-possessed persons as well as culturally undervalued women to serve as heralds of the gospel.
August Toplady, a 19th century critic of Wesley, completely missed the point of Wesley’s method with this ironic critique:
Let his cobblers keep to their stalls. Let his tinkers mend their vessels. Let his barbers confine themselves to their blocks and basons. Let his bakers stand to their kneading-troughs. Let his blacksmiths blow more suitable coals than those of controversy.
Wesley trusted the non-clergy and non-seminary trained men and women of his day to lead the church of Jesus Christ into the world on mission. We must too.
Who may I have overlooked within my existing spheres of influence?
How well do I serve as an awakener of God-sized dreams?
What kind of person do I need to become to shift from being a reservoir of religious good and services to a river of inspiration and empowerment of others?