Saint John of the Cross said "Mission is putting love where love is not." I write about this in my forthcoming book Missional Small Groups. But here I want to reflect on a different angle. If love is central to mission then must we actually experience a God of love? Without such an experience how can we put love anywhere? Agape love, the Apostle John tells us in his first epistle, is revealed through Jesus on the cross, through self giving so that others might live.
But there is a problem. I've probably listened to about 30,000 sermons in my 40 years on earth and many different themes stand out to me. But I don't recall much ever really being said about God's overwhelming love. I recall a lot more talk about what I needed to do to line my life up with God or how I needed to be faithful. I just don't remember much about encountering the God who loves. The themes that stand out seem to focus on the things that I need to do.
And I don't think I'm unique. So when we talk about being missional and how the church must engage their own neighborhoods with the Gospel, I think about whether we go in love or we go with a message like "God has a wonderful plan for your life, so act now and do something about it." This usually means 1) come to my church, 2) pray a prayer to demonstrate that you are lining up, 3) support the church with your money, 4) get involved in church activities like me. I know this because this is what I thought love looked like when I tried to be missional. In reality I think I simply wanted proof that what I was giving my life to--the church institution--was worth the effort.
It never dawned on me that love has no strings attached, no hidden agenda to get them to church, no plan to get them to acquiesce to a Gospel presentation. Love simply loves.
I have a friend in Houston who has 4 or 5 friends who are entrenched in the gay lifestyle and have little interest in God talk. My friend has been praying for them for over 20 years, hanging out with them periodically and simply being with them as an equal. He does not look to convert them; they know where he stands. He simply tries to live Jesus before their view.
He can do this because he has experienced a God who loves him that way, no strings attached. This kind of love is wild, risky and even uncomfortable. It gets close, accepts, converses, shares honestly, and never judges. It knows that real love can transform because it gives the other the space to be and discover other ways of being.
Is this the kind of God we experience, preach, and know? Is this our mission, our mandate? This perspective turns mission into being and removes it from the category of doing something to or even for the world.
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