Our Presumptuous Calling
Not long ago I was on the phone with Gary Moon and Dallas Willard. Dallas and I are to speak at a conference in early 2013 that Gary is coordinating. The title of the conference is taken from the last chapter of one of Dallas' books: "Pastors as Teachers of the Nations."
"Part of the feedback we're getting is that the title seems a little presumptuous," Gary said. "What do you think?"
Dallas's response was unapologetic. "That's exactly right," he said. "It is presumptuous. Look at the final instructions Jesus gave to his followers. He told this tiny little group to spread throughout the entire world—uninvited—and help every single human being become a follower of his. They were to teach everybody his teachings. Who else would even dream of saying such a thing, let alone expect it to actually happen? This is the most presumptuous idea in the history of humanity."
I had never thought about Jesus in this light before. Because I "church-ify" him so often, the Great Commission tends to be one more of those put-it-on-a-church-plaque statements. But when I think of Jesus as a real person, making a claim about how important his understanding of reality is, it struck me. "All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. Therefore go and make disciples of all nations … teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you." That would be a lot of authority. Nobody else ever said that. Socrates never said that. Confucius and the Buddha never said that. Dear Abby and Oprah never said that. Jesus did.
This presumptuous side of Jesus has nothing to do with egotism. He was famous for his foot-washing, life-sacrificing, other-serving humility. But his humility was tied to a deeper conviction about the desperate need for his ministry. Jesus knew that he brought to the human race knowledge about true goodness, how it is received, and what sustains a human being through life and death. Jesus was not enslaved to any human being's opinion of him. He did not go home after the Sermon on the Mount and ask the disciples, "How do you think that talk went? Did people like it? Did it need more humor?"
But Jesus also handed the task off. Jesus said that his followers—"unschooled, ordinary" people—were to go into all the world and announce good news. The vision and the task were made cosmic. His followers took this call seriously. "Day after day, in the temple courts and from house to house, they never stopped teaching." They began a process of education called catechesis.
And who is to bring the knowledge that will answer life's great questions to our world today?
That would be you.
If you are a follower of Jesus—particularly if you are a pastor or a leader in a church or ministry—you have a calling far more important than you may know.
The great danger in ministry is that we think about the task before us in ways that are too small. We are not called to fill buildings or balance budgets or launch successful programs or grow at a 10-percent annual growth rate. We are not called to be more successful than our peers in order to boost our self-esteem. We are not called to dream up the next big post-seeker post-emergent post-missional ministry trend.
John Ortberg is pastor of Menlo Park Presbyterian Church in Menlo Park, California.