Tuesday, April 3, 2012

Do We Make Mission about Self-Love?

When I was a youth intern, we took our kids to an event at Baylor University. Before the kids arrived, all the youth pastors and leaders gathered for some meetings. It was two days of super-charged energy, something of a competition to see who could display the most passion, at least this is what it felt like in retrospect. One night, I walked to the local convenience store to purchase a snack and met a homeless man. I spoke with him, bought him some food and told him about Jesus. He even prayed the prayer. Who knows? He could of done it to get me to leave. After all, I was on the passion drug and was probably rather pushy.

This hyped up my passion even more. It was as if I had crossed over some kind of Rubicon. Even though I had led others to pray the prayer before, I was jumping through the ceiling. Now I was a real Christian because I a witnessing machine and I was not ashamed of it.

Looking back, I realize how I made the act of telling others about Jesus more about me than about the other person. I did not understand that conversations about Jesus should be shaped by agape—self-sacrificial, other-oriented, choice-based—love. I was doing the right thing for all the wrong reasons. I was doing it out of love of myself. Look at me. Look what I did.

While reflecting on this experience that happened over 20 years ago, I looked up at a stack of books on my desk that speak to what it means to live missionally. It seems to me the focus on most of these resources lies on self, about how to be a better or "missional" Christian or how to be a better or "missional" church. How can we be "radical" for Christ? How can we be zealous for Jesus? How can we "change the world?" I think that our intentions are right, but it seems to me that we place a heavy focus on ourselves and what we are doing instead of actually looking at, paying attention to, listening to and engaging those who need the love of Jesus. We make it about us instead of becoming a people of love who offer freely for the sake of the other.

By contrast, I love the little book Friendship at the Margins by Heuertz and Pohl. They challenge common assumptions about mission and evangelism and invite us to enter into relationship with the other, into mutual encounters of friendship and the sharing of life together with those in need of the love of Jesus. They write:

"Such approaches open us to the temptation toward manipulation, and manipulation should never be mistaken for evangelism. Unfortunately, certain types of strategic outreach assume that the means don't matter if the end result is good. But the means and ends are profoundly intertwined. If we want people to experience the kingdom of God and to dwell with God for eternity, then how they experience their relationship with us should be a foretaste of that goodness and beauty" (31).

People are not pre-Christians who are potential clients for our version of Christianity. They are human beings created out of love by the father who are longing to experience the goodness and beauty of the God's kingdom through those who will offer love for the sake of the other and refrain from reaching out for the sake of self.

Lord make us into this kind of people.

Check out this wonderful book:

1 comment:

podszilla said...

This is beautiful and true and needed. Thanks for writing such an honest piece. "Look what I did" evangelism cannot have the right heart.