For some of us, it’s hard to think about mission right now.
This sentiment is surely understandable—pastors and church leaders are scrambling to discern the best path forward to love and lead the sheep entrusted to their care. This work, combined with genuine personal anxiety about the coming crisis, sickness, and death, leaves many with little mental or emotional margin to consider how best to care for those outside of the flock.
Yet such efforts are needed, perhaps now more than ever. Our last decade stands as a condemning witness to almost every tribe for the lack of prioritization in disciple-making. Many have authored compelling articles which included undeniable stats of languishing evangelism numbers.
The calls for increased efforts in evangelism often elicit resounding “amens” from pews to tribal leaders alike. Yet even with all the hearty ‘amens’, the numbers suggest that we’ve failed to make progress. Could it be that this moment of global crisis comes with a Sovereign reawakening from our complacent self-fascination to a renewed commitment our King’s commission?
There seems to be three means of gospel engagement that never change. Disciples of Jesus are always positioned with these three tools in their missionary arsenal: what we say, what we do, and how we respond. Let’s think about each in light of the current COVID-19 pandemic and how we might effectively lean into each for missionary engagement.
What We Say
The gospel is multifaceted. This is the brilliance of God’s plan. God’s redemptive work is impossible to contain in one image or concept, so the biblical writers use many different pictures to convey the glory of what God has done for us in Christ.
- Reconciliation– Right now, many are lonely, isolated and alienated from one another. The Gospel reminds us that we, who were once cut off from God, have been brought into right relationship with the Father through Jesus. We are gis, seen most vividly in the fact that we are indwelt by gis Spirit. Sequestered, isolated and lonely lives need to know they can have intimacy with God.
- Justification– People are fearful and death looms large. The good news tells us that those who’ve been made right with God have nothing to fear, in this life or the next. Our sin has been forgiven and we will be with God forever. Fearful people need to hear that there is eternal hope.
- Salvation—People are looking for a silver bullet, whether medicinal cures, economic fixes, or political intervention. The good news reminds us of what we all instinctively know to be true – that no temporal fix is going to address depth of the brokenness of our lives or of the world. Our only source of salvation is found in Jesus. Anxious people need to hear that there is hope.
What We Do
Disciples of Jesus demonstrate the veracity of their words through physical acts that model the character of Christ. Now, more than ever, it’s vital that God’s people do just that. Preaching from the comfortable confines of our sanctuaries feels a bit empty and hollow when disconnected from selfless actions.
Gospel engagement must be practical and tangible in its demonstration. What types of actions should become normative for Jesus followers this week and in the months to follow?
- Meaningful Conversations– Do you remember two weeks ago when the question “How are you doing?” was a passing gesture that meant relatively little? Things have changed. The question has supernaturally shifted from a meaningless greeting, to an inquiry into the soul. We might be one of the few lifelines to hope and help they have. How are your neighbors doing?
- Humble Service– Over the weeks ahead we are all going to be faced with the challenge of caring for those who are sick or those who know someone who is. Many will lose people that they love. Now is the time when faithful followers of Jesus can listen, pray, and care for our fragile neighbors. Like Jesus, we can enter into their pain and humble ourselves to serve.
- Thoughtful Intentionality– Has there ever been a time when bringing a package of toilet paper to a neighbor actually made more sense? There are countless ways to think of others as more important than ourselves. Whatever you need or whatever creates anxiety in you is surely on the minds of others. So, assume they need help and simply find a way to be a blessing. Don’t wait to be asked.
- Astounding Generosity– We all know that the implications of this crisis extend to every aspect of life and in every domain of society. The rebuilding process could take years. We, as followers of Jesus who understand that everything that we have is a gift from God, can life open-handedly as we selflessly share with others. A faith-filled church generously meeting the needs of a fear-filled community will reposition its sometimes-rumpled reputation back to the character of its Founder.
How We Respond
Our words and actions matter–and they combine to create clear patterns of response that others observe. If our words communicate one thing, but the posture of our actions communicates something different, we then undermine our integrity, betray our primary allegiance, and flush our missional opportunity. What type of response should define Jesus’ church?
- Steady Resolve– Franticness betrays the sufficiency of our hope in Christ and our confidence in his faithfulness. Of course, in moments of personal crisis, we will have moments of despair – we are after all, human. But, by the power of the Spirit, believers steady themselves and commit to the disciplines that define our hope in seasons of plenty and in times of loss.
We re-surrender to our Sovereign, listen to His voice through His Spirit and His Word, and resolve to trust him more than the instincts of our fallen emotions.
- Confident Hope– All around us, people are fixated on their news feed or social media outlet of choice. Their sense of security is tethered to projections, bell curves, and CDC predictions. Followers of Jesus care about what’s going on in the world, but their confidence is not defined by it.
Their hope—whether the daily briefing is optimistic or dire, is found in the eternal promises made to them by a King who does not waver in troubling moments like these. Those close to us but far from God should sense this mysterious and unexplainable confidence.
- Bold Risk– The church, and her leaders, have always moved toward crisis rather than run from it. Shelter-in-place orders need not confine the church to self-preserving passivity. We should be the people looking for every way to enter the lives of those who are hurting and without hope.
This missionary path is the same now, as it was three weeks ago. What we say, what we do, and how we respond have always been means of missionary vitality. But perhaps the insecurity of this moment provides a new sense of urgency to live as Jesus’ missionary people.