Recently I had a conversation with someone in which I asked the question, “What would you say to other followers of Jesus to encourage them to consider what it might mean for them to join God in their neighbourhood?”
My question produced a grimace and a sigh. “I’ve tried, nothing works,” they said. I persisted. “It’s a hard shift,” I said, mentioning, too, that people don’t want to take a risk.
We continued chatting about our own experiments and sharing some God-at-work stories, and we discovered that “Just do it!” was a common theme. But then we agreed that it can’t be just another add-on—one more thing on our to-do lists. Missional living is missional living: it’s a complete lifestyle change!
Yet that shift, however perplexing it may be at times, gives us life and freedom, as well as a renewed sense of mission, purpose, and calling. And it’s transformative.
It is within this lifestyle change that we discover the meaning, challenge, and intention of the Great Commandment and the Great Commission. This happens by experiencing them, by trying to actually live them in our ordinary, everyday lives—not by memorizing, reciting, or wearing them on our t-shirts.
In truth, it feels like the way we were made to be. Weren’t we made to be in community? To love and be loved? To belong and to include? To give and to receive?
When we do these things, knowing Christ is at the centre of them, we exclaim with our lives that the Kingdom of God has come near.
Transformation Through Participation
I’ve asked myself and others on the journey how to inspire more traditional churchgoers with this transformative vision numerous times.
As I have listened and reflected, I have come to realize that stories interwoven with advice and admonition motivate and inspire me the most. The narratives of transformation through participation point to my own growing understanding of, and commitment to, what is sometimes referred to as “on-the-job training.”
It all makes me wonder how our stories might lead the way in helping us inspire and extend grace to those who are “not there yet.” Furthermore, what does this on-the-job training look like for the average Jane and Joe in the average pew on an average Sunday morning? Many missional thinkers (for example, Alan Roxburgh) suggest that it looks like experiments.
Just as Jesus sent the seventy to do an experiment (notice that it was in the going that they discovered God at work), so we too must go.
[Tweet “Just as Jesus sent the seventy to do an experiment, so we too must go. #ExperimentalDiscipleship”] Our first steps, like those of a child learning to walk, will likely be small and slow. Some examples may include making a tic-tac-toe board on a sheet of paper, marking ourselves in the middle, learning the names of the eight neighbours nearest us, entering them in the squares, and then committing to praying for these neighbours; bringing cookies to welcome a new family; or coaching the community soccer team instead of the church league.
It all sounds so simple and quite reasonable, yet we have a myriad of excuses for not even doing them. We’re busy. We don’t know enough (What if they ask a tough question?) We’re not good enough (What if they begin to know the “real” me?)
Essentially the point is this: We’re afraid.
In the first verse of Luke 10, those who follow Jesus are sent. Those sent, however, do not appear to be well prepared for the mission. If I had been Jesus, I think I would have been sending them back to Pre-Discipleship 101, not sending them out!
The disciples didn’t seem to get it. Despite the fact that they had just been part of a miracle, declared Jesus as Lord, and witnessed the transfiguration, they were unable to cast out a demon. They argued over who was greatest, betraying not only a lack of understanding—Jesus told of the true nature of greatness only verses earlier—but also a lack of communal trust and unity.
Next, they wanted to torch a Samaritan village—hardly an expression of Jesus’ unconditional love—their pyromania being followed by their excuses not to follow (examples culled from Luke 9:10-17, 18-20, 28-36, 37-43, 46, 21-27, 51-56, and 57-62 respectively).
Sent As We Are
After all this, the seventy are appointed and sent (Luke 10:1). Luke has called attention to the inadequacies of the disciples, specifically their lack of “right” knowledge, experience, and commitment, and yet it is after this that they are appointed and sent.
On the one hand, this may be rather disconcerting (Are these the best you could get, Lord?). On the other hand, pondering an after this context is rather reassuring.
This is because we are not sent because, or when, we have it all together or all figured out. We are sent as laity (to use the language of Christendom), and our first priority is to pray (Luke 10:2). Jesus sends ordinary followers just as they (we) are. We don’t have to have all the answers; we can be vulnerable. We can be as we are.
[Tweet “We don’t have to have all the answers; we can be vulnerable. We can be as we are. ~Dr. Karen Wilk”]
We Are The Seventy
Numbers are significant in Scripture, not in the literal sense, as we understand numbers today, but in the symbolic and emphatic sense. Seventy is clearly such a number: 7 X 10, seven being the number of divine perfection and ten the number of fullness.
Seven is particularly important throughout the ancient Near East. It was sacred to the Egyptians, Assyrians, Persians, and other nations in the Bible. Thus, in contrast to what the reader might think of the disciples after reading chapter nine, here Luke is declaring that they are sacred.
In all of their ordinary humanness, and as they are sent into the ordinary, everyday life of their neighbourhoods, they are holy, set apart for the sake of the other, sent into various midsts with the blessing and the Spirit of the Divine and perfect One.
In Genesis 10, seventy is symbolic of the nations of the world; the Gospel is for the whole world. Seventy was also the number in Jacob’s family when he went down to Egypt, of elders appointed by Moses, and of members in the Sanhedrin, the religious leaders of Jesus’ day.
Jesus, through Luke’s identification of seventy, has bestowed the identity and authority of this old leadership upon all those who follow Him. The implication is that the whole people of God are sent into the whole world together.
[Tweet “The whole people of God are sent into the whole world together. ~Dr. Karen Wilk”] So, how then do we live into this?
One story and one experiment at a time.
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