All of life involves risk. Just growing up has risks involved, much less getting married, choosing a career, running a business, or raising children. Retiring can be risky, too. What makes the risk worth it? We know that risk-taking exposes us to outcomes you never would have experienced before, many of which are positive! Leaning into risk also boosts confidence and helps us let go of the fear of failing. As someone who fails often, this is very good news.
In his wonderful book, Five Practices of Fruitful Congregations, Robert Schnase names five familiar church practices: hospitality, worship, faith development, missions and generosity and amplifies them with challenging adjectives. So, for example, not only should the church practice hospitality, but a fruitful church practices radical hospitality. When he speaks about missions, he claims fruitful churches practice risk-taking mission and service. This emphasis is so important to him that he writes: “Risk-taking mission and service is one of the fundamental activities of church life that is so critical that failure to practice it in some form results in a deterioration of the church’s vitality and ability to make disciples of Jesus Christ. When churches turn inward, using all resources for their own survival and caring only for their own people, then spiritual vitality wanes.”
What lifts missions and service to the level of fruitfulness? Maybe you can ask yourself: “What have I (or we) done in the last six months to make a positive difference in the lives of others that we would not have done if not for our relationship to Christ?” As we move forward through 2022, I want us to continue to seek out those things that, in the words of our church vision, “share God’s transforming love.”
Risk-taking mission and service transforms the life of the recipient. People we help are really helped when the gospel reaches them on the ground floor. “Mission” is derived from the word meaning “to send.” Missions involves a going out, and in so doing, God uses missionaries like us to bring help, healing and hope. When that help comes from somebody who loves Jesus, the people who receive the help know that Jesus loves them, too.
Missionaries will tell you that going out to love and serve also transforms the lives of those who are sent. When you risk yourself to help someone else, you become a channel through which the love of God flows and your own relationship to God is strengthened. It will deepen your spirit and reveal reservoirs of compassion you didn’t know existed. It might even energize you to serve even more!
Missions can create transformational space if you are willing to be led by God into spiritual places you have never been before. This is because the ones we touch are Jesus Christ. Jesus told a parable of a Great Judgment in Matthew 25:31-46. Because of its place in Matthew’s Gospel, it is something of a culmination of Jesus’ teaching, just before the events that lead to Jesus’ death and beyond to Easter. It’s the summary of Jesus’ entire ministry. And the point is this: “Truly I tell you, whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers and sisters of mine, you did for me.” (v. 40) And the judgement is also true: “Truly I tell you, whatever you did not do for one of the least of these, you did not do for me.” (v. 45)
So for us, the missions portion of each newsletter is not just a reporting tool, it is a standing invitation to meet Jesus. The blurbs in the Sunday worship guide are not announcements, they are marching orders. That call to engage, participate or try something new are Spiritual prompts to meet Jesus where he told us he can be found. This is exceedingly good news for those times when we wonder whether we are on track personally and congregationally.
Andrew Young’s political career spanned the US Congress, the UN and as mayor of Atlanta. He says that none of that prepared him for the day in 1985 when his youngest daughter announced that she was going to Uganda to work for Habitat for Humanity. He couldn’t believe she would go so far to an area that was still very dangerous after the civil wars and the terror of Idi Amin. He feared for her safety. But she was an adult, young though she was, and her mind was made up. She felt God calling her to make a difference by building houses in a devastated country.
So Young found himself standing in the airport on a winter day in 1985, tears streaming down his face as he said good-bye. He stood at the window and watched as the plane took off, taking his little girl to Uganda. As the plane lifted out of sight, he turned away from the window and his aides heard him mutter, “I always wanted her to be a respectable Christian…but not a real one!”
What kind of Christian do you want to be? What kind of church do we want to be? What will it mean for us to practice risk-taking mission and service? I’d like to find out. It’s how we bear the fruit Jesus wants to cultivate in us. It’s how we participate in God’s loving transformation the world.
It’s how we can see, touch and serve Jesus Christ.
Grace and Peace,