As leaders in the church or marketplace, we are often and consistently bombarded by questions of all varieties. This can unintentionally create a modus operandi that we are to have all the answers to the most pressing questions. We become the all-knowing source for solutions. Slowly and subtly without us realizing, we forget to ask ourselves questions—the most fundamental questions in life.
Questions probe the heart and reveal our lives. Four questions I have been pondering lately are personal, relational, incarnational, and movemental in nature. The personal is the most indispensable.
1 – Do I have a life worth imitating?
Throwing all masks aside and casting off any sense of false authenticity, is the life that I am currently living worth imitating? Have I discovered a way of life that I would gladly invite others to live into because it is beautiful and good? Is my life rooted in a love that knows no boundaries? Is my hunger for significance grounded in Christ, transcending my current sense of failure or success, inadequacies or gifts?
Have I discovered a joy that can pierce through disappointments, disasters, and distractions? Am I on a pathway that is growing my capacity for peace and patience with people amidst the stress of activity around me and the demanding deadlines ahead of me?
In those moments of thick silence and disrobed solitude, could I say with the Apostle Paul, “Follow me as I follow Christ?” Or is my life more reflective of the “Underground Man” in Fyodor Dostoyevsky’s Notes from the Underground?
The underground man or woman lives in a world divested of transcendency, and thus they are left to scratch and claw for meaning in a horizontal framework. Unable to be rooted in the divine, the underground person is left a prisoner to envy, as he or she compares him or herself to others. As an ultra-conscious person, he or she envies the person of action, even if the unreflective person of action is engaged in self-defeating actions.
In the underground, the opinion of others becomes ultimate.
As an enneagram type three, my fear of failure is ultimately rooted in the tyranny of how others perceive me, which can cause me to be possessed by my image instead of possessing the image of God and grounding my sense of being in the Ultimate One.
In my observations, the ultra-conscious person rightly prizes faithfulness, but wrongly denounces fruitfulness, while the unreflective active person prizes fruitfulness, but primarily to build a tower that happens to have his or her name in bright neon lights at the top.
Jesus seems to value those who desire faithfulness and fruitfulness (Matt. 25:23; John 15:7-8), those who have been purified in their desires by joining him in his death and resurrection. As Paul, the redeemed Pharisee, put it:
Indeed, I have been crucified with Christ. My ego is no longer central. It is no longer important that I appear righteous before you or have your good opinion, and I am no longer driven to impress God. Christ lives in me. The life you see me living is not ‘mine,’ but it is lived by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself up for me. I am not going to go back on that. (Gal. 2:20 ,The Message)
Legitimate self-reflection with intentional soul care lends itself to a life which is both faithful and fruitful. How is your soul?
2 – Do we have a community worth joining?
Whether you lead a church, business, or band, leaders quickly recognize the need to cultivate a culture which increasingly gives people a sense of belonging. For in the beginning was community—the Father, Son and Spirit—in an unending dance of mutual enjoyment.
The most fundamental reality of existence is community. We were created for shared-life in community.
Yet, the underground person still lives imprisoned by the laws of the underground, where revenge, resentment, and rancor run rampant, having inherited a way of life which leads to isolation and alienation.
Dostoyevsky describes underground living as people who remember their injury “down to the smallest, most ignominious details” even adding more details, then going over the details of the injury again and again until they actually invent stuff that has happened. The most striking thing about the underground person is that they “will forgive nothing.”
How do we cultivate a community where each person is appreciated, accepted, and valued for who they are, where conflict is considered a normal problem in human relationships, but unresolved conflict is considered abnormal, detrimental and destructive?
Are you building a relationally healthy community? How do you rise above the destructive laws of the underground and become an apprentice of Jesus and learn the craft of forgiveness and reunion which is found in him? How are you rooting yourself in the love of God and experiencing forgiveness, so that you can love and forgive others?
The one who lives with grudges and bitterness simply reveals they have yet to tether themselves to Christ in his death and resurrection.
As a person who has started churches on the East and West coasts, and who currently has the chance to work with church planters across the country, I’ve recognized that if we are unable to help people give up their grudges and learn to get along with each other, we don’t have much to offer a world that lives perpetually in the underground.
Engaging in practices that help us transform conflict into life-giving opportunities for constructive change is vital.
3 – Do we have a mission worth dying for?
Only when we have thoughtfully wrestled through the first two questions are we more likely to approach our mission in life in a way which no longer unintentionally hurts those we purport to want to help.
What do I need to do to turn my youthful zeal into a careful, faithful, local presence in the place I dwell?
When one understands that at the center of the universe is a missionary God who is seeking the renewal of all things, it changes the way we approach mission. John tells us that the One who is the Word “became flesh and blood, and moved into the neighborhood” (John 1:14, The Message).
In a world where we are tempted to extend our ministries through video church, we are invited to follow Jesus, who left a realm where time and space had no consequence, in order to live in a particular time, in a particular space, with a particular people. How should knowledge of the incarnation shape the people of God in a digital age?
An invitation to faithfulness is about adopting a posture that acknowledges that God initiates mission. What practices would allow you to discern the work and whisper of God among the people in the place you have been called?
Mission is recognizing the beauty and brokenness in the places we live and responding to the hurts and hopes of the people to whom we have been sent.
The final question is only helpful if we have struggled with the personal, relational, and incarnational questions. This question is movemental in nature:
4 – Is what we are multiplying reproducible?
Movement requires reproducibility. So how do we engage in practices which move discipleship from the periphery of our lives to the very center? Often as leaders, we can impress people with our skills, our communication gifts, and our acumen, but is it merely creating wowed spectators?
We need to learn the essential work of making complex things accessible, doable, and applicable for disciples.
How do we create simple structures which makes what we are multiplying reproducible by just about anyone?
This is the power of minimalism.
Minimalism is creating space which allows us to put our energy and emphasis on what matters most, clearing away the distracting debris and excessive performances. How are we focusing on simple rhythms of life that help us live into communion with the Father, Son and Spirit, community with each other, and the co-mission in our local place?
These four questions help us move beyond the underground man and woman that so easily rules us and instead live awakened to the light of our resurrection.
Fyodor Dostoyevsky, Notes from the Underground, Part I, Book 3.
JR Woodward has been passionately planting churches on the East and West Coast that value tight-knit community, life-forming discipleship, locally-rooted presence and boundary-crossing mission for over 25 years. He is the author of Creating a Missional Culture (IVP, 2012) and co-author of The Church as Movement (IVP, 2016). He co-founded the Missio Alliance and currently serves as the National Director for the V3 Church Planting Movement. He is the co-founder of the Praxis Gathering and writes for numerous websites and journals. He has a Masters of Arts in Global Leadership from Fuller Theological Seminary and is working on his PhD at the University of Manchester (UK).