Signs

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I notice street signs.

Yes, all motorists are supposed to “notice” the signs that direct the flow of traffic, warn of possible danger, and inform us about our location. But I notice them because I’m a communication geek.

Did you know that the United States Interstate Highway system has its own typographical font? It’s called “Highway Gothic,” and it was designed for legibility from a distance and at speed. It’s kept traffic flowing safely since 1945.

There’s even an international committee of graphic designers who worked with the U.S. Department of Transportation to develop universal symbols for signage on roads and in subways, ports, rail and bus stations, and airports. Their goal is to create symbols that will communicate the rules and routes of transportation to as many people as possible.

In the U.S., the “no” symbol is a red circle with a diagonal slash through it. In Europe, they don’t use slashes, just the red circle.

Each state is responsible for the wording of their signs, which can be quite a challenge. Longer messages mean more letters and larger signs, resulting in greater expense. Being terse can save money, but smaller signs are less visible and succinct language can be more easily misunderstood. Abbreviations and inconsistencies are not advised. The purpose of a road sign, after all, is to help drivers orient themselves along the way, navigate irregular conditions, and warn them of what they’ll face up ahead.

I’ve written much lately about mission being our identity in Christ. When we come to know Jesus, we do so by joining Him in His mission. All followers of Christ are therefore missionaries. But what does that mean?

It means that we are signs.

The Bible is clear that we are saved to do “good works.” Our default behavior in this world is to love our neighbors, do justly, love mercy, and walk humbly with God. We do these things because righteousness is the effect of the Holy Spirit’s presence in our lives. By allowing others to see our efforts, we point people to God. This is our role in God’s global mission.

Ultimately, I’m with missiologist David Bosch: as Jesus followers, our lives serve as signs– “previews” to the already-but-not-yet Kingdom of God. We give people a glimpse into what life can be like when people are forgiven of sin, made right with their creator, and sent out to make disciples of all nations. As Bosch often writes, “our mission is not more than this, but certainly nothing less.”

In order to be signs of this one, specific Kingdom, we must pay attention to how we communicate it. Like the road signs that direct traffic, we must be visible, recognizable and understandable to those we wish to direct. Works of peace, generosity, and justice require verbal proclamation of the gospel in order to point people to the One who saves.

This is a key missiological point: we do not bring the Kingdom of God to people. Neither do we bring people to the Kingdom. All we can be (and it is much!) are signs pointing people to the Savior, who brings the Kingdom to people. Our presence, be it at home or in a far-off place, is to point people to the Most High God.

We can be good, helpful, informative signs or dangerously vague signs; but as His people, we are God’s signs to the people around us.

Nostalgia

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Imagine that you move to a far-off place to live among a tribe of people of a culture very different from the one you grew up in. Here, you’re truly a fish out of water. They do everything differently here, and you don’t like it one bit.”Things are much better back home,” you complain. “Why can’t they just do it like that here?”

You publicly challenge the chief’s authority, explaining that he has too much power. You recommend that he limit his authority to only a few, vital tribal concerns, and that they institute free-market capitalism. You’re offended by the tribe’s customary dress, as loincloths and grass skirts are immodest. You recommend more appropriate attire. You scoff at their concern over the use of the land, you disapprove of their art, and you refuse to allow your children to play with theirs.

In this imaginary scenario, you’re a pretty bad missionary.

In matters of justice, the missionary must speak out. He should not be shy about calling sin what it is. In all things, he should demonstrate how his relationship with God through Jesus influences his every opinion and affects every aspect of his life. But to social ills, the missionary offers Christ alone as the solution. He recognizes that a society’s problems are merely symptoms of the underlying issue- that people are separated from their Creator, and utterly lost without Him. They will neither honor Him as God nor give thanks to Him. As the scriptures say, they have became futile in their thinking, and their foolish hearts have been darkened. Lost people will do the things lost people do. They are powerless to do anything else. Even if they were to muster the wherewithal to act like Christians, it wouldn’t get them any closer to God.

The missionary who puts effort into making his host culture more like his home culture is like the soldier who has become entangled in civilian pursuits. On the mission field, this makes you a bad missionary.

In the United States, though, it makes you a conservative.

Conservatives publicly challenge the authority of officials they disagree with. They’re champions of free-market capitalism. They constantly complain about immorality (which is rampant) in America. They scoff at society’s environmental concerns, disapprove of its art, and work to isolate themselves from the very people they’ve been placed among.

Across the country, evangelicals have come to identify with social and political movements that aim to preserve a culture that no longer exists. Nostalgia for the good ol’ days is no less counter-mission than the international missionary who longs to turn primitive peoples into Midwestern American suburbanites. Yes, we should participate in society and work for the good of our cities. We should vote our conscience, live out our values, and support those who seek to do good. It’s important to be well-informed. It makes sense that we would have an affinity for those who share our perspectives. We must be on our guard against the evil all around us.

But we can never forget that we are pilgrims and strangers. Our citizenship is not of this world. We are missionaries here, and our role is to show and tell people that Jesus alone is the answer to their God problem. In the midst of political debates, changing societal norms, and frustrating ignorance, it’s important that we not get sidetracked by trying to change the culture through anything other than the redemption of those to whom we’ve been called.

Everything we do is to that end. What neighborhoods we live in, what schools we send our children to, the cars we drive, the bond measures we vote for. You’re a missionary, just passing through. There are no points for surviving.

Mission Is Who We Are

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In my last post regarding the Anthropological approach to mission, I proposed that the church should replace its task-oriented view of mission with an identity-based one. One thing I failed to do there was explain what, exactly, an identity-based missiology would look like.

Mission is not something we do, it’s something we are. The concept of mission is rooted in the Missio Dei. That is, from the beginning, God has revealed Himself to be a missionary God. Everything that He does is either sending or gathering. Early church Fathers used the word mission to refer to the interaction between the persons of the Holy Trinity; the Father sends the Son, they send the Spirit. It has since been used in reference to God’s purposes to bring people to a right relationship with Himself through Christ.

In other words, what we know of God we know because He’s revealed it to us, and He has revealed Himself as redeemer of humanity. It’s His nature. As David Bosch writes: “Mission is not primarily an activity of the church, but an attribute of God. God is a missionary God.” We do not know the Father except as a missionary.

Throughout history, God’s interaction with humanity is unique in that He doesn’t just speak to people, He sends them. Noah’s mission was to save the animals and repopulate the earth. Abraham was sent to a new place to begin a new nation of people though whom God would bless all people. Moses was sent to lead the Hebrews out of slavery. Even the reluctant missionaries were sent– Joseph and Daniel were taken against their wills, Jacob was chased, Jonah brought by fish. All of these examples serve as part of God’s mission. That these men were indeed sent isn’t just inferred, God actually uses the language, “I’m sending you…” In every case, His interaction can be summed up as, “Go,” and the purpose, “to be an agent of salvation.”

Nowhere is this more clearly seen than in Christ Himself, the Son who was sent by the Father. In passages like John 14, Jesus makes several references to the Father as “the One who sent me.” God incarnate, is God on mission among us. He proclaimed Himself as the gospel and lived it out before our very eyes. Mission wasn’t something He did, it’s who He is. Bosch refers to this as Christ’s “self-definition,” and he argues that all of His followers shared that same “self-definition.”

The first believers responded to the gospel like sleeper agents being activated. It was the same with Matthew, Peter and Andrew, and all who were present at Pentecost; they heard God’s voice and went. Their calling was to follow Jesus- to join Him on His mission. The various “commissions” in scripture are not optional activities for a select few Christ-followers, they are reminders that in Christ, we are all sent, and they knew it. They found their identity in their sent-ness.

It makes no sense to talk about our faith, our savior, or even God outside the context of mission. Talk of mission ending should bewilder us. How will we know God apart from His mission? He hasn’t revealed that to us. The church exists to organize God’s people on mission. Without mission, there is no church and we have no meaningful connection to one another. God has established that our relationship to Him and to one another is in His mission to redeem the world.

Referring to mission as a mere activity, something we do instead of something we are, has robbed us of our identity as Christians. In Christ, we are sent out ones. Making mission an activity implies that there is a passive state, times when we’re not on mission. But this isn’t the case. Our presence in the world is necessarily a missionary presence. There’s no other kind. Of course, we’re not always the best of missionaries. We’re often distracted by the mission field in which we find ourselves, which is why we’re reminded not to get caught up in the world, that we’re foreigners (“strangers,” or “aliens”).

When we make mission a task, we miss the fact that we were made for mission. The only reason we have been saved is because that is God’s mission. Now, our identity is in Him, and He sends us. When we lose sight of that– when we lose our identity– mission becomes a chore. It becomes a challenge to motivate people to go. We develop a special class of Christians to do missions for us. We’re either confident we can “finish the task” or paralyzed by the overwhelming need all around us. To what have we discipled people if not missionary? The Scriptures give us no other category.

The Anthropological Approach to Missions

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The concept of unreached people groups is a helpful way for Christians to organize their efforts toward global disciple-making. Around the world, people group themselves along certain lines- lines that also present significant obstacles to the spread of the gospel from one group to another. Ethnography, the practice of studying and categorizing groups of people, provides the mission with a framework for the measurement, organization, and global strategy for missionary engagement. When we know what languages people speak, we can make efforts to get them the scriptures and a gospel witness that they can understand.

This “people group thinking,” now common to most involved in the missions world, is relatively new to the scene. It was championed by Ralph Winter and Donald McGavran at the Lausanne International Congress on Global Evangelization in 1974. Hinging on a new interpretation of the ancient Greek word ethnos (“nations”) found in some of the missionary passages of scripture, people group thinking asserted that the goal of Christian mission is to reach people of every ethnolinguistic people group.

This was a radical departure from the historical missionary conversation, which focused on language/affinity blocs, countries, regions, and an ongoing debate over whether to focus on “harvest fields” vs. “pioneer areas.” Nevertheless, most major evangelical missions agencies adopted this new understanding of “nations,” and reorganized their systems and structures accordingly. Strategies were built around the prioritization of certain groups over others based on ethnography, population, degree of difficulty, and access to the gospel.

People Group missiology goes like this: according to passages like Revelation 7:9 (“..behold, a great multitude that no one could number, from every nation, from all tribes and peoples and languages, standing before the throne…”), God desires that people from every nation (ethne) in the world come to worship Him. The church should, therefore, concentrate its efforts to that end by redeploying personnel and resources away from “reached” people groups and toward the “unreached.” The categories of “reached” and “unreached” were further defined as being “2% or fewer evangelical.”

The concept of ethnolinguistic people groups is borrowed from 1960s anthropology. During that time, anthropology as an academic discipline moved away from science toward theory. Cultural anthropology was separated out from the sciences of archeology and biological and linguistic anthropology. This is important to missions because the concept of “people groups” is based on the old, measurable, observable “scientific” approach to the study of humans. It deliberately takes into consideration only what can be objectively observed by outsiders.

People groups, though, are not static. Through intermarriage, assimilation, global influence, and desertion, ethnolinguistic groups die out all the time. Meanwhile, new such groups are emerging at a surprising rate. According to missiologist Carol Davis, transitional peoples– second- and third-generation immigrant groups, for example– are not simply combinations of host- and home-cultures. They are completely new people groups, with distinct cultural identities, worldviews, and use of language. This complicates the notion that we might somehow be gaining on the goal of finishing the task. The ever-changing unbelieving world is a moving missiological target.

Neither is the spiritual status of a group permanent. Once a person is in Christ, he is forever in Christ. But if he is not faithful to make disciples of his own, knowledge of the Creator can and will be lost in future generations. That’s why, according to the “reachedness” statistics, places like Spain, France, and much of the Middle East are all now “unreached.” None of the seven churches of Asia Minor mentioned in Revelation have survived. In all of Turkey, where those churches once thrived, there are only three thousand known believers today. A “reached” group isn’t necessarily always reached.

While ethnography is helpful to us in missions, it is not strictly biblical. Jesus never mentions the idea of unreached people groups; His emphasis was on those who believed and those who did not. In Acts 1:8, without any mention of ethnolinguistic groups, Jesus further commissions His disciples to be His “witnesses in Jerusalem and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the end of the earth.” Paul seems to have only two missiological categories for people groups: Jews and Gentiles. This was the radical shift in the New Testament concerning the recipients of the gospel: Christ is the only salvation for people of any ethnicity. Otherwise, there is no evidence that any of the New Testament authors displayed any anthropological savvy in their missiology.

So what about all the mentions of “nations” (ethnos) in the scriptures? You only get “ethnolinguistic people groups” if you’re very selective. It’s true that the Great Commission sends us to make disciples of “all nations,” but that same term is used elsewhere to mean something other than ethnolinguistic people groups. In the Pentecost account in Acts 2, Luke writes that “Now there were dwelling in Jerusalem Jews, devout men from every nation (ethne) under heaven.” If he actually meant that there were Jews and devout people from every people group, well then the “task” of “reaching” them was accomplished in the first century. If instead he means only that Jerusalem was quite diverse at the time, it presents a problem for this particular understanding of the word.

There is no historical evidence of ethnography ever being a factor in missions. According to David Bosch, even the word mission was not applied to the idea of Christians sharing the gospel with non-Christians in other cultures until the sixteenth century. Before that, it was used in reference to the doctrine of the Trinity (as in, the Father sent the Son). So the over-simplification of missions as “reaching all the unreached people groups” is relatively new. Roland Allen, in his book Missionary Methods: St. Paul’s or Ours? suggests that Paul’s missiological unit was the province (Acts 16), as opposed to people group.

Again, the concept of people groups is extremely helpful to our mission. As we identify significant barriers to the communication of the gospel, we can be smart about overcoming them. Every Christ-follower everywhere needs an indigenous expression of church in which to worship. As God has demonstrated since Babel, cultures are valuable things, and part of His redemptive work among humanity.

But as helpful as it can be, the anthropological approach to missions can also be a problem for Christians who are trying to discern God’s direction. When the categories of people groups, particularly “reached” and “unreached,” “engaged” and “unengaged,” become a presupposition for God’s leadership for our missionary efforts, we limit Him. When we assume that our work among the lost of one group is somehow of more kingdom value than that among the lost in another, we play a part that isn’t ours to play.

The only biblical mechanism for organizing our work is the Holy Spirit. Through the local church, He equips, calls, and sends missionaries. In Acts 16, Luke writes that Paul clearly had a desire to preach the gospel in Asia, where it seemed to be his assumption that the gospel had not yet been proclaimed. Nevertheless, he was forbidden by the Holy Spirit. As Paul and his companions attempted to go into Bithynia, the Spirit of Jesus prevented them. Finally, they were lead to Macedonia by a vision. As God orchestrates His Church on His mission, He doesn’t do things the way we would do them. By using human means, God has proven Himself to be neither logical (by human standards) nor efficient.

There’s even a dangerous heresy that springs out of the people group thinking interpretation of Matthew 24:14. Some have come to assert that Christ will not return, indeed cannot come back until this task of reaching every unreached people group is completed. Some have even taken to using this as a motivation for missions- that Jesus is just waiting in the wings, unable to return until we finish the job. This, of course, contradicts verse 36 of that same passage, where Jesus says that no one– not even the Son of Man– knows when He will return.

The greatest danger in the anthropological approach is that it has made missions a problem to be solved rather than our very identity in Christ. Francis Dubose, who coined the word missional, wrote that God is a sending God. We are a sent people. As Christopher Wright reminds us in his book, The Mission of God, the Father was sending long before He sent the Son. It’s His nature. And ours, as His people, is to be sent. There’s no other way to be a follower of Jesus.

So mission will not end when the last of the people groups is reached. We are not sent because of the temporary need in the world (which is indeed great!), but because God is a sending God and He is glorified in our obedience. We must recognize that mission is the very nature of God and the basis of our relationship to Him. Mission isn’t a task to be finished, it’s our identity in Christ.

Open Invitations

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My friend Kyle Goen recently posted about his experience using the internet to meet people in Belgium. I’m proud of him for stepping out of his comfort zone (even further) in order to build relationships with people in Belgium.

The concept is simple: lots of people are using the web to meet people. Sure, many (most?) of them are not looking for platonic, Christ-centered relationships. Some are, but don’t know it yet. Skydivers, moms, coffee enthusiasts, and Abba tribute bands are looking for others who share their interests. Many are simply out to find a friend. Forums, message boards, and social networking sites across the internet are full of open invitations to personal relationships. The opportunity for ministry is tremendous.

Kyle used meetup.com to start his own group. Dozens of people responded. Eight showed up to the fist meetup. He admits that he wasn’t initially a fan of the idea. It wasn’t long ago that only perverts and nerds met people online. You often hear about predators, scammers, and worse lurking around on social sites. It turns out that the virtual world, like the real world, is not safe.

We were never promised safety. In fact, we have been sent like sheep among wolves. So be smart. Be courageous. Never go alone, even (especially?) into cyberspace. Don’t give out too much personal information. Communicate well in order to establish expectations. Lead with Jesus, He’s a great filter. Love whomever God brings you.

It’s funny- “meeting people” is often cited as the biggest challenge to mission and ministry around the world. Yet there are meetup opportunities in your city today. Why not take people up on their open invitations?

Cultural Expectations

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Fitting in?

The American who moves into the slums when his countrymen almost always live uptown. The third-world-born doctor, the female cab driver, mixed-race families. These are people who deliberately choose to not conform to social expectations. When someone bucks the system, people take notice.

Basic to our missiology are the concepts of cultural norms and expectations. Every culture has pre-determined ways to think about and interact with different kinds of outsiders. Everyone has their place. In a global city, for example, some outsiders are the scapegoats. These are usually a lower-status immigrant group that takes the blame for all of society’s ills. These cultural norms tend to be built around social stereotypes, and when an outsider doesn’t behave as expected, he doesn’t fit the pigeonhole. This can be seen as good or bad, but it’s always remarkable.

Usually, missionaries put their efforts into conforming to cultural expectations. Follow the norms, the thinking goes, and people will be more likely to hear the message. In missiology, this is called contextualization; minimizing the differences between the missionary and those to whom he ministers so that the unevangelized can hear and understand the message without getting hung up on the “other-ness” of the outsider’s presence.

That’s why field workers learn language, dress appropriately, and do all the customary social things. In Asia, one might bow deeply to show respect to an elder. In the Arab world, women avoid eye contact with men. In Russia, there’s kissing. Every culture has some sort of greeting, public comportment, and mealtime rituals. These things may not seem to have any direct bearing on the communication of the gospel, but they really do. Failure to follow the rules only serves to highlight the foreign-ness of the outsider and his message.

But blending in isn’t always our goal. As Jesus-followers, there’s a time to blend in and a time to stand out.

Obviously, believers should stand out in some ways. The Bible is clear that we ought to repay evil with good, forgive every offense, be known for our love (both for one another and for our enemies), and live such good lives that unbelievers glorify God in heaven. Being in Christ makes us pilgrims and strangers, even in our own hometowns. Our other-ness marks us as God’s “called out” people.

In some cases, breaking societal norms will get a person into trouble. Because of the company He kept, Jesus earned a reputation for being a “glutton and a drunk, a friend to tax collectors and sinners.” (Luke 7:34) Some people certainly used this as an excuse to write off anything and everything Jesus said. The religious may have accused Him of syncretism- going too far in His efforts to contextualize.

In other cases, breaking the norms can add credibility to our claims of internal spiritual transformation. Humble submission to one another may not be a norm in many cultures, but it is a distinct value of the Kingdom of God. Revenge may be acceptable in many cultures, but Christ-followers are called to stand out by repaying evil with good. Following Jesus makes us irreparably different and necessarily foreign.

Note: How is a missionary to know when to conform to social norms and when to break them? The Holy Spirit, who knows culture and the hearts of men. He alone can guide us into incarnation of the gospel that is both cultural and acultural; specific to context yet universal. Culture cannot be navigated from afar. Only the faithful worker on the field, walking in the Spirit of God and committed to incarnation, can understand the implications of meeting or breaking cultural expectations. While it is entirely appropriate that, for accountability’s sake, a sending church question a worker’s approach to cultural immersion, we must take care not to impose our cultural meanings of the norms of other cultures. This is missionary work.

Missionary Not Welcome

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Most missionary strategy is developed with one major assumption: that a missionary presence of one sort or another might be welcomed by the people to whom we feel “called” to minister. With all the missions talk of “embracing” the “unengaged” and “reaching””unreached” people groups, we need to consider one elemental aspect of ministry across cultures: What if people don’t want to be engaged by Christians?

The scenario isn’t hard to imagine: popular sentiment leads a people to reject the presence of outsiders and their influence. This can occur whether the outsiders are known or unknown, but it seems most common where the influence of outsiders is only imagined to be threatening. Some places, like Turkey, justify outright persecution of Christians by categorizing Christianity as a crime that insults “Turkishness” and Islam.

Many countries have laws restricting missionary access and activity. We tend to dismiss such laws as being imposed by controlling governments rather than reflecting the will of the people. But what about other warning signs like anti-Christian graffiti, social shunning, or outright opposition? At what point do we consider a people hostile to us and our message? Does the response of the recipient have any bearing on our efforts? Basic to our missiology is the question of whether we should attempt to continue work among inhospitable (or even hostile) people.

A “welcome” can be a subjective thing. In some places, Westerners are met with government delegations or fattened-calf feasts. In others places, missionaries may not be officially welcomed, but are shown hospitality all the same from locals. Workers often tell of being met by nationals who had been anticipating their arrival after having had dreams and visions of Westerners coming with an important message.

The majority of the world today meets Christians from the West with a collective yawn; an indifferent tolerance that neither loves nor hates us. On the one hand, our presence might mean community development or material wealth. On the other hand, our influence is seen as toxic and exploitative. Consequently, they nothing us.

Paul certainly faced hostile crowds during his travels. Sometimes he challenged such opposition, claiming his rights as a Roman citizen and condemning his accusers. Other times, the Apostle was run out of town by zealous religious people or by protective friends. so we see that despite his “calling” or “passion,” he didn’t always stay where he wasn’t welcome.

Jesus addresses the possibility of an unwelcoming community in Luke 10 when He tells His disciples “When you enter a town and are not welcomed, go into its streets and say, “Even the dust of your town we wipe from our feet as a warning to you.” Earlier in that same passage, Christ mentions the harvest and the constant danger of working in the harvest fields. He never mentions working in “resistant” or “hard places.”

Obviously, we cannot confuse a red carpet reception for the leadership of the Holy Spirit. But is it good and biblical missiology to insist on maintaining a missionary presence in the face of persecution, opposition, rejection, and indifference? Are we there “for their own good,” “whether they like it or not?”

The answer must lie in our obedience to the guidance of the Spirit. There is no better strategy than to go where He leads and to stay as He directs. Resistance is best measured at the individual level, and even then, only the Spirit knows the heart of man. He is surely at work among the peoples of the earth, and He alone prepares every person of peace to welcome His messengers.

If You Thought Like A Missionary…

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Joseph Plumb Cochran, Presbyterian Missionary to Iran, 1848

If you thought like a missionary, the word “church” would conjure images of people, not buildings.

Your plans for the year would be limited only by your creativity, not your available funds. You’d have a plan for what happens after you’re gone (a plan that could be implemented tomorrow).

You’d worry more about getting things right than being right. You’d know that every decision you make along the way has far-reaching implications for the work. Missionaries think about the long-term strategic consequences of decisions like establishing elders too soon, dividing up families for Bible study, and growing one large church vs. starting several smaller ones.

Church planting would be more than just starting a church and being its pastor; it would entail discipling indigenous leaders and pastoring through them.

You’d exegete your cultural context, not consume it. What you learn would inform what you do, because indigeneity would be a goal of your work.

You would love your city, but never quite feel comfortable in it. Something would always remind you that you are a stranger, pilgrim, and at best, an acceptable outsider.

Your church would understand that it’s only a part of what God is doing around the world. There’s a lot to learn from believers of other times and in other contexts. Global involvement cannot wait until local work is mature.

Your team would spend more time listening to the Holy Spirit than listening to you.

Your family’s active involvement would be vital to your ministry. Missionaries, at least the ones that last, include their spouse and children in building redemptive relationships.

The people you’re ministering to would have your mobile phone number. The real one.

Your stories would be current, first-person, and self-depreciating.

You would be keenly aware of the depth of your inadequacy, the dangers of the spiritual reality, and the blessing of God’s gracious provision.

You should become a missionary.

Priesthood In Your Neighborhood

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Key to our theology of place is that we understand that we are priests. No, not the kind who wear robes or back suits with funny collars, but the kind mentioned in 1 Peter 2:9:

“You are a chosen race, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a people for his own possession, that you may proclaim the excellencies of him who called you out of darkness into his marvelous light.”

While Christ is the mediator between God and man (1 Timothy 2:5), we act as mediators between God and the unbelievers we live among until they meet Him. We often think of our personal ministry as being to people across town (or around the world), but where we live matters. We must focus some of our attention on those we live among. Seeing ourselves in this light could radically affect how we interact with our neighbors.

A priest speaks on behalf of God to his neighbors. As His ambassadors, we are God’s spokespeople. When we speak and act on God’s behalf in our neighborhoods, we demonstrate that we are in Christ, are filled with His Spirit, and are familiar with His Word.

Some examples of speaking for God into the lives of our neighbors:

  • The gospel- “And how are they to believe in Him of whom they have never heard?” (Romans 10:14)
  • Wisdom- Through conversation, we can speak timely Biblical wisdom into a person’s life.
  • Warning- When we see a neighbor headed in a dangerous direction, we are obligated to warn them.
  • Peace- as agents of peace, we may speak peace (Luke 10) to troubled people.

On the other hand, as priests, we speak to God on our neighbors’ behalf. As people who have access to the Father through the Spirit (Ephesians 2:18), we can intercede for those who live around us.

  • Prayer/intercession- We can always make our needs (Philippians 4:6) known to God. But we may also pray for mercy, grace, guidance, and forgiveness for our neighbors.
  • Thanksgiving- Every good and perfect gift comes from the Father of Lights (James 1:17). We can thank him on our neighbor’s behalf!
  • Worship- while I don’t believe in worship by proxy, I can’t help but remember God’s conversation with Abraham in Genesis 18, where He agreed to show mercy to a city if only one faithful person could be found. Our obedience may be more significant for our neighbors than we realize.

The funny thing is that when we act like priests, people begin to treat us like priests. They invite us to events because they feel that our presence somehow makes a thing sacred. They confess their sin to us, because doing so gives them a taste of God’s comfort for sinners. They come to us with questions, because we regularly demonstrate ourselves to be well-acquainted with the Truth. Our words take on extra weight, our reputation is of love, and our faith a welcome constant.

Ultimately, as priests, our role is to be a blessing. To bless something is to ascribe spiritual value to something. When we bless those around us, we point them to the Most High God. Like Abraham, we have been blessed to be a blessing. How can we intercede and mediate for those around us?