The natural human inclination is to react. We see and observe certain things to be true about our world, and based on our life history, personality, and gifts, we respond in a way that ideally brings honor to God. For church leaders, this reactionary posture has become the normative modus operandi since March. No one was prepared for a pandemic. No one knows how this whole mess is going to play out. So, each week, or even each day, leaders pivot and make decisions based on their understanding of the facts at any given moment. Such a reactionary posture is both understandable and unavoidable when a crisis lands at our doorstep.
But most of life isn’t lived responding to crisis. What makes a crisis so paralyzing is that it’s an anomaly to the normative flow of our lives. It forces us to adapt and respond to unusual circumstances, often when the stakes are at their very highest.
But we as humans can’t live this way for long. Thankfully, most days are filled with relatively normal patterns. Though the days may be busy and the work complex, we normally have some sense of what we are going to face from one day to the next. In fact, we’ve even seen this to be true in the post-COVID-19 world. As the chaos of the initial crisis abated, we began to adopt new normal practices, many of which we’d likely never considered just a few months previously.
And here’s the rub for us when it comes to mission. We simply never—or almost never—react our way into mission. Sure, there is the occasional circumstance where a missionary opportunity drops in our laps. You see a neighbor in crisis and lend a hand. A co-worker shares a personal need and you are given a chance to pray or lend counsel. But the fact that these experiences are electrifying accentuates their infrequency within the normal rhythms of our lives.
As a general rule, effective mission requires preparation over reaction. One reason for this is simple—there are so many things in life to react to already, that without great intentionality on our part, we will simply never get around to mission. You wake up late. You get to work and the boss has a side project that needs your immediate attention. The AC goes out at home and you’ve got to meet a service tech there over lunch. After work involves the normal burst of chaos of getting kids to practice and finding time to stuff down a little dinner. But today there’s an unavoidable conversation you’ve got to have with a family member who’s facing a daunting challenge and that calls ends up taking an hour. You’ve barely had time to speak to your spouse, so you try to get in a few minutes of conversation before you both fall exhausted into bed. Rinse and repeat.
Without a great act of God’s Spirit, it’s hard to find any margin in this schedule for a meaningful conversations about Jesus. So we must prepare. Again, the post-COVID-19 world is a good illustration of this shift. We now know that all of our daily activities will be different. We will need masks to move through our day. Our kids school schedules will vary. Many parents will now be working from home. Even a trip to your favorite restaurant will face additional layers of complexity. So you have to prepare. You move into your day with constant thought of how to adjust your old rhythms to a new reality.
What if we took the same level of intentionality to our missionary calling? We are, after all, new creations in Christ commissioned to be his ambassadors everywhere we go (2 Cor 5:17-21). This missionary identity should inform the way that we prepare and order our days. We start this preparation by asking questions that focus our minds for the missionary possibilities of the day:
- Who has God put around me who is close to me but far from God?
- Who am I praying for today?
- Who is hurting and in need of the hope that can only be found in Jesus?
- What gospel truth do those who God has put in my life need to hear most?
- Where can I go today where I will most likely interact with non-believers?
- What acts of service and compassion would demonstrate the reality of the kingdom?
These questions, and others like them, press us into mission by reminding us of our missionary identity. They help us prepare for a new day by proactively engaging with those who God puts in our path. They raise our spiritual antennae so that we are more aware of the ways that God’s Spirit is at work around us. And, they make it more likely that we will proactively step into the missionary opportunities that God brings before us.
Interestingly, they are also the same types of questions missionary churches are asking. Rather than merely running programs or catering to the whims of the current attendees, churches on the front edge of God’s mission are positioning themselves for missional effectiveness through proactive intentionality. They are not content with reacting to the latest COVID-19 curveball. They are leaning out into the unknown seeking to discern how a God who is always on mission is still on mission in this moment. This level of preparation may seem relatively rare, but it’s the best path to effective labor within God’s waiting harvest.
So, next week we will continue by looking at some weekly rhythms that we can all take in order to proactively move into the mission that God has for us.