For some time now, church has been known as and defined by Sunday morning. The principle exists that you reap what you sow, and in church culture what has been sown is “come and see and I’ll feed you.” What has been reaped is followers of pastors who have made Sunday mornings a sacred cow, who have equated discipling with getting more people to to the place where they can hear the pastor, and who have developed spiritual nourishment patterns defined by gluttony on the worship experience and the words of the pastor on Sunday mornings all the while starving themselves and being lazy when it comes to the teachings of Jesus the rest of the week.
Surely pastors have not intended for this to happen. While it may stroke the ego of equippers, it has stifled the daily ministry of the saints. The daily ministry of the saints seems to be much more important according to the New Testament and much more influential according to the new testimonies of the people of our culture.
Why? Could it be that the daily ministry of the saints tells a story and engages people in a way that pastors never could on Sundays? Could it be that the credibility of daily living is and always has been a much more significant form of persuasion than what one individual tries to communicate.
Not that what pastors communicate is unimportant. Not that the role they play as equippers is not necessary. But Sunday mornings cannot be viewed as “fueling stations” any longer. They must be viewed as post offices, sorting mail and sending out letters.
Paul introduces a very picturesque and challenging metaphor in 2nd Corinthians 3 as he defends the focus and authenticity and credibility of the message he delivered and the ministry he lived. He said that the people who received this message were now letters written by the Spirit of the living God. What this implies is that the church is not to be gone to, but rather to be sent out. Released with God’s stamp of love and grace, sharing a message as we live sent in the daily. Being letters from God into culture.
And God pens this letter without a pen. He does more than writes it. He embeds it. Not on tablets, but on our hearts. And so, we live sent as a letter from God to culture sharing the same message He has delivered all along – “I love you. I am near. Follow Me.”
While living sent certainly involves many elements, here are three in particular that I would suggest are of utmost importance to the mission of being the letters that we are as followers of Jesus.
First, living sent is all about trusting your value. The primary hindrance for a follower of Christ who is made to live sent is that he/she does not trust their value. What we need to understand is that our value is not appraised, it is declared.
The housing market ebbs and flows, has ups and downs. My home has been appraised three times in the last four years, and every instance has produced a very different perception of its value. Depending on the condition of the house, the state of the weather, and the perspective of the appraiser, the value amount has varied. This is fine for homes, but not for God’s letters, not for His followers.
You see, our value has been declared. He nailed it down. We are worth dying for. Our worth as His letter and our value for living sent is not up for debate. If we follow Him, we have trusted His declared value over us, are abiding in the One who declared that value once and for all, and are resided in by the Spirit who makes us priests and kings. The message that our family, neighbor, co-worker, and all of humanity needs to read is written on our hearts.
Next, living sent is all about doing life together. The “as you go” stuff within the verses church culture has labeled “the great commission” means exactly that. Doing life together is mandatory for discipling just as much as discipling is mandatory for every Christ-follower. Jesus modeled it.
And discipling is not this formal, master-teacher driven, gotta be in a classroom thing it has become. If our lives are letters, then people can read and learn and be moved simply by doing life with us. Not that “teaching” doesn’t happen. It does. Sometimes formally, most times informally.
This implies a lot. Two implications are: (1) there is no A to Z process then for how we live sent and “disciple” someone. There is a need, however, for ongoing discernment of where between A to Z the person being discipled is, and thereafter a customized discipling process is embedded within relational intentionality. (2) we will have to get messy, deep into the lives of people, right where they are, like Jesus did, in order to live sent and do life together. The problem – we tend to be spiritual germaphobes.
I heard one teacher put it this way. Church culture in North America treats culture at large like a public restroom. Think about it. When I go into a public restroom, I try not to touch a thing. I tell my children the same thing when I take them in – “don’t touch anything!!!” When Caleb needs to go “messy,” for instance, we walk into the stall. We tear off toilet paper and carefully wipe the seat down in a manner that does not wipe the stuff you are wiping off on the parts you sit on. Then we tear off more toilet paper, fold it over and place it on each side and on the front of the potty seat. Caleb carefully sits down. He does his business. I flush with my foot. We try not to touch the door of the stall as we move to wash our hands. We hope they have motion faucets. Do they? They don’t. I elbow it on. Get my hands wet. Gingerly touch the soap dispenser praying desperately they will at least have soap. Wash intensely. Rinse well. WAIT. Before the faucet thing, I check to see if they have motion towel dispensers. If not, I give it four pulls and keep a keen eye out to make sure someone doesn’t steal my patient paper towel. Then do the wash and rinse thing. Then pull my towel off. Then dry my hands. Then turn off the faucet with the damp paper towel because it has a non-penetrating shield for germs. I look to see if I can back out of the door instead of having to pull it. If I have to pull it, I do so with the damp paper towel. Then I turn to see if the trash can is near enough and open enough to toss it in with one foot holding the door. I give it my best basketball set-shot. If I miss, I for sure am not picking it up because once it hits the floor who knows what undiscovered diseases lurk there and immediately leaped onto the paper towel. I foot open the door swinging wide enough to slip through. Whew! We made it.
You know you do it, too.
Sad question is, does the church tend to treat culture like a public restroom? We know we got to go in, cause we got to go you know? But we sure as heck don’t want to touch it. Don’t want to touch him. Don’t want to touch her. But Jesus reached out and placed a hand on that leper. Jesus extended His arms and embraced that prostitute. Jesus drew near and touched me. We gotta live sent, no matter how messy.
Finally, living sent is all about giving ourselves away intentionally. Jesus gave Himself away. We know what love is in that Jesus gave up His life for us and we should give up our lives for others (1st John 3:16).
There’s no better illustration of giving oneself away than the story of the widow’s offering (Luke 21). Jesus stated that she gave “largest offering today.” All these others made offerings that they’ll never miss; she gave extravagantly what she couldn’t afford – she gave her all” (quote from The Message).
Some important thoughts emerge here for living sent. We don’t have to wait to live sent until we “have a lot.” God makes much of our little. It also doesn’t have to make sense to give ourselves away. We should give as though we have access to God’s supply, not just our bucket. That’s why we can give our all.
My prayer is this – that the church will be released to be the letters from God that He has written them to be. Gathering is fine, as long as it is to worship the Sender and then to leave to live sent.