Teenagers long for responsibility; adults often run from it.
Think about the average 14-year-old itching to transition from the seemingly mundane tasks of childhood into the official assignments of an adult. They want to drive. Create their own schedule. Have a job. Make money and determine how it’s spent.
They’ll soon find out that these highly anticipated responsibilities aren’t all they’re cracked up to be. Adulting is tough. Most of us have no shortage of adult responsibility, and if we’re honest, we’d like to step back from some of the burden that comes with it.
So, when ‘would-be disciple-makers’ are encouraged to take on new responsibilities—particularly those involving the church’s divinely commissioned mission—many seem quite understandably unenthusiastic.
And what makes things much worse is that the average churchgoer respectively equates a call toward missional responsibility with a request to serve on a church committee, or an appeal to show up a few minutes early to make coffee on Sunday mornings.
Even these seemingly low-threshold responsibilities make many weak-in-the-knees as they consider how to add something new to an already jam-packed weekly routine of must dos.
With busy believers neck-deep in personal responsibility, and a similarly frantic church calendar appealing for their most valuable commodity—time—a huge question remains both unasked and unanswered: Who is taking spiritual responsibility for the spiritual harvest that sits neglected all around us?
At first glance, we might answer that the local church, corporately, bears this burden of responsibility. It’s we, collectively, who give ourselves to declare and demonstrate the gospel in our community.
But in actuality, such an assumption more often leads to the neglect of communities than in their engagement. Our ecclesiastical assumption is that, somehow, we participate in Jesus’ Mission by proxy. We give generously. We attend faithfully. We serve unquestioningly. Surely our church’s commissioned mission is being fulfilled, isn’t it?
But the answer might be found in pressing our question one step deeper. Who is taking spiritual responsibility for lostness within your neighborhood?Who is so concerned about the waiting and wasting harvest in your community that they:
- Seek to know the names and spiritual condition of those in your community.
- Pray regularly for the salvation of those apart from Jesus.
- Meet practical needs in order to demonstrate the grace and kindness of God.
- Take every opportunity to share the gospel and point to the hope found in the gospel.
- Pursue those who are new to the neighborhood and welcome them to the community with genuine and biblical hospitality.
- Seek to network estranged believers to healthy local churches where they can be cared for and with whom they can partner in a shared mission.
Who’s doing that in your community? Sadly, even in neighborhoods with many professing believers, the answer is normally, “Nobody.”
How might our effectiveness in mission change if our church’s membership understood this task to be their highest spiritual responsibility? Imagine the hope that would come from mapping a community and knowing that every community in which a church member lived was “owned” by a commissioned disciple-maker.
Picture a day when multiple believers living in the same neighborhood took responsibility together. It’s not beyond comprehension to envision contexts where we could ensure that every person living in a defined geography had a gospel witness.
For this to happen, church leaders will have to shift priority and focus in four specific ways.
First, we will have to model spiritual ownership of our own neighborhoods. Of course, pastors are responsible for the flock that they are called to shepherd, but are they not also taking responsibility for the neighborhood in which they live? The effective discipling of the God’s people has always been transparent showing more than impervious telling. Messages riddled with personal stories of both missional failures and victories will inspire others to follow a faithful and faith-filled leadership example.
Second,we will have to prize missionary service. Perhaps it’s more important for a godly couple to take responsibility for their neighbors than it is to serve on another committee. Of course, such forms of service are not always mutually exclusive, but the public visibility of serving within the gathered church can often displace the less visible missionary impulse of spiritual engagement outside of the church walls. What is most prized by a church’s leadership must be unmistakably understood by all as the Mission of Jesus.
Third, we will need to streamline structures to encourage evangelistic intentionality. You simply can’t add spiritual responsibility for a community onto an otherwise frenzied church calendar. If a church’s disciples are going to lean into mission, then we must eliminate unnecessary activities that limit their availability to make disciples within their neighborhoods.
Finally,we will have to learn to celebrate the right wins. We will need to tell stories of the faithful man of prayer who laborers on behalf of his neighborhood and sees God open a small crack in the door for gospel truth to be shared. We need to publicly validate the busy single mom who takes a precious free Saturday to seek out other families in the neighborhood and help them meet practical needs in the name of her King.
Our churches will need to consistently hear these stories, because they are the stories of everyday disciples seeking to reveal the kingdom within their regular rhythms of life. And these are the things that lead to gospel movements.
One stubborn fact seems undeniable. If we, as the people of God, do not take spiritual responsibility for our immediate communities, we should not be surprised when our churches, collectively, struggle to break out of a long lingering evangelistic malaise. No amount of quality church programming or captivating expository proclamation will make up the void left by a church abandoning its gospel responsibility within the community of its spiritual responsibility.
And here is another undeniable fact: Every church in every community has a divine Mission. And like it or not, it’s not our compelling vision that matters. It’s only Jesus’ Mission that commissions his church. So the question that stands ever before and above us is this: Does Jesus’ Mission have a church in every community? Does the Mission have a church in your community?
A waiting and wasting harvest is hoping the answer is “Yes!”.