A Mission of Grace
Fundamental to my understanding of Christianity is that we are called into an adventure of faith and this means being on mission together. The Great Commission applies to us right here, right now. A significant part of my emphasis upon mission has been to try and help my congregation grasp that we don’t just send a select few to be missionaries overseas, but that all of us are called to be missionaries. I constantly reiterate that we don’t have an evangelism program; rather, the church is the evangelism program. I work hard at helping church members think hard about how they can connect with those outside the faith, contextualize what they believe, and contend for the truth of the gospel. If I had to pick one word to sum up the purpose of the church I would choose ‘Mission’.
At the same time I have beat the drum of grace equally loud and often. I love to draw attention again and again to the unmerited favour that is ours in Christ. Again and again I explain that we need not – cannot! – add anything to the salvation Christ has already accomplished for us. I speak about the freedom, joy and security that is the believer’s birthright because of the free gift of grace. If there was one word I would use to sum up the culture a church should display it would be ‘Grace’.
On the first night of our summer holiday this year I experienced a crisis moment. (Talking with others subsequently it appears I am not the only person who has suffered such a moment on the first night of a holiday – the sudden change of gear from the normal pressures of life can precipitate something of a psychological collapse.) As I reviewed my life, and ministry, I was flooded with existential angst. What have I achieved? What has been the point?
The real nub of my crisis was that despite all the emphasis I place upon mission the evangelistic fruit in my own life is pitiably small. It is not only that I preach mission, I also seek to practice what I preach. We have many friends from outside church. We regularly have non-believers in our home. We seek to contend and contextualize and connect. So, my self-loathing-self-questioning went, Is the gospel not actually true? If it is why haven’t I seen more fruit? If it is, is the problem simply that I am useless? I may as well give up! I had a bust up with my wife (which is a mercifully rare occurrence in our marriage) was angry with the kids, angry with the world, angry with myself, angry with God. I felt depressed, dissatisfied and ready to jump off the mountain on which our holiday home was situated.
We were staying in the French Pyrenees and the next morning I sat down on the roof terrace, looking up at the mountain which the previous night I had considered jumping from, and opened my Bible to where I was in my regular readings – Isaiah 52 – and read, “How beautiful upon the mountains are the feet of him who brings good news”. As I read that familiar verse I was overwhelmed again by the grace of God. Grace means that if I never see visible fruit I am not condemned. Grace means that if God, for whatever reason, never enables me to do the things I would liked to have done, he is still sovereign – and good. Grace means that if I do not achieve the things I would have liked to have acieved that does not invalidate me or my call. Grace means that when I proclaim the gospel something beautiful is happening. It’s all grace!
Grace! Grace changes everything!
All of which is my somewhat convoluted answer to the question posed by Andrew about whether pastors should be missionaries. Yes, we should, because every believer is called to be a missionary. Mission is our heartbeat. But grace is the corresponding beat, and grace means we don’t beat ourselves up when we are not getting everything done we think we should get done. Grace makes it plain that we cannot get everything done, but Jesus achieves absolutely everything he intends to.