If there’s anything these last few weeks have shown us it is that we are all living in an era of flux (to say the least). Change is upon us and its full implications are still amorphous.
We are living in a time that will be written about in history and that has resulted in a global crisis of epic proportions, with more to unfold. The response of the church, generally, amidst this time of crisis has been commendable. We’ve seen churches respond generously to their community through acts of loving kindness.
We’re witnessing the frenzy of churches moving services online to connect with their congregations. We’re seeing a flurry of online devotions and live online gatherings continue to escalate. Our pastoral care strategies have been dramatically impacted, as well.
I wonder, in all this, if we’re missing something, or leaving something behind? Ed Stetzer is right where he says that the crisis is not getting your church online. The crisis is also not when the church will get back to ‘normal’ again.
This crisis has brought about paradigmatic change, and unless our response shows a consideration of this new reality, we will suffer from the law of diminishing returns.
If there’s anything the events of the last few weeks has taught me, it has been that we need to think missionally about the times we are living in. We cannot assume it’s ‘business as usual.’ We are called to be completely faithful to the biblical text and shaped to the contours of our cultural narrative.
Missional Christians are in tune with the ever-changing contexts we find ourselves in and also aware of their calling from God. When I was a seminary student in the early 2000s at the Baptist Theological College of Southern Africa in Johannesburg, we were required to read Frederick Buechner’s works. One of his quotes regarding the creation intent and calling of believers has always stuck with me: “The place God calls you is where your deep gladness and the world’s deep hunger meet.”
What does this mean for us living in challenging times such as this? Here are three thoughts for you to consider at this critical cultural junction we are faced with.
First, we are to live out our identity (2 Cor. 5; 1 Pet. 2:9).
Our Christian identity is more than the box we check in a demographic survey; instead, it forms the foundation of our lives and interactions with others.
In Here and Now: Living in the Spirit, Henri J.M. Nouwen summarizes this concept well: “Jesus came to announce to us that an identity based on success, popularity and power is a false identity—an illusion! Loudly and clearly he says: 'You are not what the world makes you; but you are children of God.”
Our Christian identity emanates from new life in Christ (2 Cor. 5:17) and involves characteristics, gifts, and abilities that were not ordinarily part of our existence before submerging our identity into Christ.
One of my favorite passages of scripture is 2 Corinthians 5, where Paul argues that being reconciled to God changes everything for those who identify with Christ. Paul makes a powerful statement in verse 15 and 16: “…and he died for all so that those who live should no longer live for themselves, but for the one who died for them and was raised. From now on, then, we do not know anyone from a worldly perspective.”
Clearly, Paul argues that our Christian identity relinquishes our worldly insistence on self, which is an important biblical truth to be mindful of during the ensuing pandemic seeing that God uses our lives as an advertisement of what’s possible when Jesus changes our hearts; “we are ambassadors for Christ, since God is making his appeal through us” (2 Cor. 5: 20).
Second, we are to embrace our calling (Eph. 4:1).
The COVID-19 pandemic has revealed our culture’s deep-seated anxiety and affection for surreptitious idols.
Across the world, millions of people have cleaned out grocery stores amidst the frenzy of panic buying that continues to plague a grocery store near you. What does it mean to embrace Paul’s opening entreaty in Ephesians 4:1?
These words have disproportionally greater meaning for many living under lockdown conditions today; “Therefore I, the prisoner in the Lord, urge you to live worthy of the calling you have received.” What does it mean for us to embrace our Christian identity and calling while on lockdown (in ‘prison’/self-isolation)?
In their book The Church as Movement, JR Woodward and Dan White Jr. speak about God’s calling and remind us that,
A calling is not primarily about increasing our earning potential or gaining a prestigious role or title. A calling refers to the fact that God made us with certain passions and capacities and embedded certain Theo-genetic codes in us, and if we are going to partner with him in bringing more heaven to earth, then this world needs us, and those we serve to fulfil the calling we have been given.
Ephesians 4:7 reminds us of an important aspect of our Christian identity and calling; God’s grace: “Now grace was given to each one of us according to the measure of Christ’s gift.” The remainder of Ephesians 4 is dedicated to quintessential characteristics of embracing our Christian calling, building to Paul’s climatic instruction in Ephesians 5:1: “Therefore, be imitators of God, as dearly loved children, 2 and walk in love, as Christ also loved us and gave himself for us, a sacrificial and fragrant offering to God.”
Third, we are to serve others in our areas of gifting (Rom. 12; Eph. 4; 1 Cor. 12).
It seems somewhat irresponsible to speak about serving others during this time of isolation and lockdown, yet this time presents us with a momentous opportunity to serve others in meaningful ways, without endangering ourselves.
Paul’s statement that God has given each believer grace a gift, is the one of the most under-rated Christian realities. Perhaps this time is a helpful reminder to Christians who feel like they are living as exiles during this time of isolation and lockdown that an over-reliance on buildings, paid staff, and programs are crippling the economy of God’s grace within his church.
Imagine a world where Christians enjoyed the favour of all kinds of people in their communities because of the ways they lived out their audacious generosity in serving others, instead of prioritizing their own needs and desires.
This world is not far-fetched and is clearly reflected at the birth of the church in Acts 2: “They ate their food with joyful and sincere hearts, praising God and enjoying the favor of all the people. Every day the Lord added to their number those who were being saved” (Acts 2: 46, 47).
Furthermore, Peter instructs us on how to live in the light of eternity: Just as each one has received a gift, use it to serve others, as good stewards of the varied grace of God. If anyone speaks, let it be as one who speaks God’s words; if anyone serves, let it be from the strength God provides, so that God may be glorified through Jesus Christ in everything. To him be the glory and the power forever and ever. Amen. (1 Pet. 4:10-12)
During this crisis, may Christians emerge as those who are defined by love and grace, may we find creative ways of encouraging our neighbors, showing hospitality, and being generous and sacrificial.
In my role at the Luis Palau Association, I have been amazed by the many opportunities this time has presented us with. I believe that this time of crisis will be used of the Lord in amazing ways. We are called to embrace our calling from God and live out our created purpose by living out our Christian identity for the sake of the world.
Like the early church, we are called to be a blessing to those around us and to be mindful of the way we serve others in our culture; we are to serve in such a way that even unbelievers are thankful for our presence in the community. Here is a link to the Next Generation Alliance page with a number of resources for you to consider at this time.
City Gospel Movements have also put together a curated listed of learning opportunities and innovative ideas to encourage your leadership at this critical time. During this time of danger and opportunity, may our missional focus serve as an important waypoint in our journey through this crisis.
Desmond Henry is the Global Network of Evangelist Director for the Luis Palau Association.