One View: Our way forward in the PCUSA

I am embedding a document produced by the Office of Theology and Worship at the Presbyterian Church (USA). It’s worth reading critically in order to get a handle around what we as a denomination have actually done with respect to the ordination of people who engage in same sex sex acts (i.e., homosexuals) and also in terms of the the redefinition of marriage.

Later this week and after Christmas day I’ll work through the document and offer some thoughts and responses. Initially, the paper seems to be an attempt to describe the current reality of the PC(USA)–a helpful offering since we as a denomination occupy a space that the culture suggests oughtn’t to really exist (i.e., neither affirming nor denying the faithfulness of same sex marriage). The culture may be right though not necessarily, and its important that we not rush to occupy the patterns of thought that exist outside of the church.

At the same time, it’s important to make sense of whether the current arrangement is (a) faithful to Scripture and to the Christian tradition, and (2) whether it is a tenable way forward. I’ll allow you to form you own opinion as I develop mine hopefully under the Lordship of Christ and in subjection to the word which is Christ’s.

Some counsel in challenging times

O Gracious Father, we humbly beseech Thee for Thy Holy Catholic Church,

that Thou wouldst be pleased to fill it with all truth and in all peace.

Where it is corrupt, purify it; where it is in error, direct it; where in anything it is amiss, reform it.

Where it is right, establish it; where it is in want, provide for it; where it is divided, reunite it;

for the sake of Him who died and rose again and ever liveth to make intercession for us,

Jesus Christ Thy Son our Lord.


The Book of Common Worship of the Presbyterian Church (USA), 1946, 1964.


It is a tumultuous time to be a part of the Presbyterian Church (USA). Our culture is shifting and with it our church. Some changes are for the better, some relate to things indifferent, and some run counter the tradition we have received as members of the one Holy Catholic and Apostolic church. I have my opinions which readers of this blog will likely know. Rather than write about issues, today I’d like to offer some words to those of us (which is really all of us, regardless of our theological orientation) living through these times of change. In a sense, I am writing this post to myself as much as to anyone else. If, then, you are so inclined, join me in reflecting on how we can respond to the challenging times in which we live.

  1. Do not be afraid. Offering God’s help to Israel, Isaiah prophesies: “[D]o not fear, for I am with you, do not be afraid for I am your God; I will strengthen you, I will help you, I will uphold you with my victorious right hand” (41:10). Fear is natural, but fear can give way to faith when we prayerfully recite and rely upon God’s covenant promises to us found in Scripture. The reformers used a motto that captures the broader perspective of the trials we know face: post tenebris lux–“After the darkness, light.” Christ is Lord of his church and he has not forsaken her.
  2. Do not be hasty. The Proverbs contain this admonition: “Desire without knowledge is not good, and one who moves too hurriedly misses the way” (19:2). When we are afraid or anxious, it is easy for us to rush to judgment. In so doing, we easily move too fast and perhaps move further or faster than we ought.
  3. Do not cease in prayer. Prayer is central to the Christian life: it is one of the chief means of grace. Paul writes, “Rejoice in hope, be patient in tribulation, be constant in prayer” (Romans 12:12). God both hears our prayers and by our prayers works in our lives to give us comfort and care.
  4. Do not compromise your convictions. Scriptures gives us the example of Daniel, who remained faithful to God even when instructed not to pray. If there are matters upon which, like Luther, we find that the Word of God will not allow us to compromise then we must stand firm. It may mean that you’re the only vote against a motion; it may mean that you do not participate in some service or action of a church of council. Regardless of what it is, stand firm.
  5. Do not cease confession. Nothing is more dangerous to the soul than sustained theological disputation. By nature we are prone to sin and nothing is more tragic than winning a theological argument while losing one’s soul. Martin Luther remarked, “To be a Christian without prayer is no more possible than to be alive without breathing.” He also is famous for having said, “I have so much to do today that I’m going to need to spend three hours in prayer in order to be able to get it all done.” The heroes of our faith were all men and women who dedicated themselves to prayer.

Final Question: How do you deal with challenging times?



We’re moving!

I wanted to let you know that I have accepted a position at First Presbyterian Church of Bethlehem, PA. Effective April 1, 2014 I’ll serve as Director of Discipleship. I can’t tell you how excited both about the position and about the church.


One of the passions that animates my life is developing fully devoted disciples of Christ who love God with heart, mind, soul, and strength. A church is never stronger than its ability to make disciples.

As Director of Discipleship I’ll lead a team of dedicated and excellent staff who minister to children, middle schoolers, high schoolers, and through the church’s weekday preschool. Each of these ministries is strategic and critical to the church’s fidelity to the Great Commission and I deeply believe that all of them is incredibly important. I’m eager to see these ministries continue to thrive, to grow, and to develop to be even more effective in forming students as Christians.

The ministry of formation doesn’t stop when a child goes to college or even when s/he graduates. Discipleship is central for the entirety of our lives. As Discipleship Director I will work to build on the effective ministry of small groups established by my predecessor. On top of that, I will work to develop a discipleship program that provides a meaningful context for growth as Christians. I’m looking forward to the opportunity to explore ways in which the resources of the reformed tradition can enrich our devotional lives, facilitate growth in the use of spiritual disciplines for growth in Christ-likeness, and many other ways to make adult disciples.

Would you pray for me as I turn this corner in my vocation life and enter into a new phase of ministry? Would you also pray for our whole family as we prepare to uproot from Winston-Salem–our home for the last seven years and where both of our kids were born–and transition to Bethlehem?

Thanks in advance!


Can only followers of Jesus Christ be saved?

“Only followers of Jesus Christ can be saved.” This tricky little statement appears on the Presbyterian Panel Study, a statistical sample of responses to a set of questions posed to PC (USA) teaching elders, ruling elders, and members over a three year period. 

Less than 50% of respondents typically agree or strongly agree with that statement. This often leads to the conclusion that the PC (USA) is functionally universalist in theology. Many attempting to be dismissed from the PC (USA) point to this as a central issue precipitating their departure. in 2010 Peter Chang, administrator of the survey, reached that conclusion himself.

“There seems to be some universalist streak in Presbyterianism, where some Presbyterians are open to the idea of other paths that folks in other faiths might be taking.”

Is the PC (USA) functionally universalist? It’s understandable that many reach this conclusion, but probably not warranted on the basis of this survey question alone. In other words, to argue that the PC (USA) is functionally universalist, it’s necessary to point to evidence other than this survey.


In my view, it’s the question itself that is problematic. It forces the respondent to venture out into the realm of God’s possibilities stepping beyond Scripture into speculative theology. 

Respondents who disagree may do so for a variety of reasons including the belief that God, in himself, is not limited in what he can do. The answer is technically true, but intellectually unsatisfactory because it poses a question whose answer tells us more about the nature of God in himself than it does about the way God acts in the world. It moves into the realm of speculative theology and out of the realm of biblical theology (i.e., theology that has the Bible as it’s evidentiary foundation). The response moves into the world of medieval-like theology where scholars discussed matters like, “how many angels can dance on the head of a pin?” To be sure, the nature of the relationship of the spiritual to the temporal and material is not unimportant, but I think we’d all agree that (at least superficially) the answer to this question has little to do with our experience of God today. 

It’s sort of like another question–a perennial favorite of youth groups–“can God make a rock so heavy that He is unable to lift it?” The best answer I can come up with is, “why would God want to do this?”


Calvin had little time for speculative theology like this. His theological method was driven by appealing to the text of Scripture, which he read primarily in relationship to other parts of Scripture in consultation with the teaching of the Church Fathers. We do well to follow him.

In following Calvin, and in reading this question closely, we will likely be forced to be open to God’s ability to save those who are not followers of Christ, at least hypothetically. However, “can God save those who are not followers of Jesus Christ” is not the same thing as “will God save those who are not followers of Jesus Christ?” The former is a question of ability or power, the latter a question of intention.

In the end, we don’t know whom God will save other than to say–with the Scriptures–that he will save his elect. Wisdom is found in the Westminster Confession which notes:

The grace of faith, whereby the elect are enabled to believe to the saving of their souls, is the work of the Spirit of Christ in their hearts, and is ordinarily wrought by the ministry of the Word, by which also, and by the administration of the sacraments, and prayer, it is increased and strengthened. [14.1]

Put simply: God ordinarily saves those who (1) encounter the Gospel message, (2) are enabled by God’s Spirit to embrace it, and (3) respond in faith to the message they have heard, by (4) turning away from their sin, and (5) relying on Christ to be their surety and substitute.

To the extent that Teaching Elders in the PC (USA) tend to enter into speculative theological answers in reference to this tricky question and not the Confessional heritage of the church is really the central problem. As a result, I’m more comfortable saying that the PC (USA) is un-catechized than that it is functionally universalist. Both, to be sure, are significant problems.

Making sense of Calvin on church unity

When the going gets tough, the tough quote Calvin. It’s interesting that as soon as a congregation begins to consider seeking dismissal from the Presbyterian Church (USA), Calvin becomes everyone’s best friend. If you can’t have the Bible one your side, the next best thing is to have Calvin at your back. The problem arises when Calvin–sort of like the Bible–becomes simply a tool to be used to buttress an argument arrived at prior to consulting him. And to be honest, much of what we do is appeal to authorities that we believe support our received view rather than affirmatively creating our own perspective. It’s not to say this is wrong so much as that it is inevitable.

So, let me ask the question: when is it okay to depart the visible church (the visible church being the institution of the church marked by a common way of ordering life and belief? 



In order to justify leaving a church (or denomination for our purposes), Calvin required that you be able to answer each of these questions in the affirmative:

  1. Is there an error of doctrine or practice in the visible church?
  2. Is that error significant in nature (i.e., touching on an important, primary belief or practice of the church—Calvin’s examples focus on the person and work of Christ)?
  3. Is that error promulgated by a higher authority and more pervasive than a single pastor, session, or congregation (i.e., it cannot be a local peculiarity)?
  4. Does the error in question necessarily involve, affect, or compromise one’s own ministry or the ministry of the local church (Calvin argues that if 1-3 are true it will necessarily mean 4 is also true)?

 If the answer to all of these questions is “yes,” Calvin asserts that church or denomination in question has so compromised its belief and practice that it may be characterized as a false church. As such, individual believers or member congregations may seek dismissal with a clear conscience.

It’s important to note that, for Calvin, a true church may have numerous errors, notorious sinners, unfaithful ministers, and yet be a true church (this point is often made by those arguing against departing from the PC (USA)). Likewise, a false church may have pockets of faithful ministers, flourishing congregations, and lively saints (perhaps something that needs to be pointed out by more evangelicals). 

Drilling down in The Institutes (IV.1-2), we can follow the development of Calvin’s thought:

A church exists where the Word of God is preached and the sacraments are administered.[1] Calvin argues that one cannot choose to leave such a properly ordered church simply because of some doctrinal defect or practical error.

For example, arguments that appeal to solely or primarily to efficiency of church structure don’t, I believe, fall within the scope of Calvin’s argument. So while appealing to the ‘flatness of ECO’ is nice and even compelling, Calvin would likely not accept it as an exclusive or even primary argument for leaving the PCUSA.

Likewise the argument that “what they do in Louisville doesn’t affect me” or “they can’t make us do something we don’t want to do” aren’t necessarily recognized by Calvin either. He makes clear in IV.2 that any substantial error on a core doctrine necessarily affects the whole church.

The visible church, for Calvin, is analogous to the Old Testament people of God. He anticipates that there will always be people in the (visible) church who are not truly converted and there will always be some measure of doctrinal impurity just as there was within Israel.

In this he is responding to the Anabaptists who placed a high emphasis on “regenerate church membership,” in distinction from the reformed church and its emphasis on baptism of infants as the entryway to church membership.

In order to leave a church, it’s necessary that a serious doctrinal or practical error has occurred that has actually moved the church from the category of “true” church to “false” church. A serious doctrinal or practical error includes such cardinal or core beliefs as those expressed in the Ecumenical Creeds.

For Calvin this error(s) had to be more than an isolated occurrence(s). Instead, it had to be a doctrinal or practical problem rooted in the structure, belief, and practice of the whole visible church itself.

Calvin deals with this corruption in terms of his own interaction with medieval Catholicism, which he asserts has been compromised by the institution of the papacy. Here our closest analog is actions of the General Assembly, which are binding upon all teaching elders, councils, and churches.

In our current context, it is necessary to point to some doctrinal (belief) or practical error (practice) that is promulgated by an authority higher than a single pastor or congregation in order to determine whether or not a church is true.

Calvin himself acknowledges that though the Catholic Church is a “false” church—and thus he is free to depart from it—there are many congregations of faithful people within it.

We may look around the Presbyterian Church (USA) and see many faithful congregations and pastors, yet this alone is not sufficient ground to declare that the denomination is a true church.

We must determine whether there is a significant theological error that is substantial in nature, touches upon an essential doctrine of the faith, and that materially affects the integrity of our ministry in the local context.

Late this week we’ll delve deeper into the sort of issues that meet this criterion.


[1] Inst. IV.ii.1.

Are there really two marriages? (Part Two)

In his brief anthology of blog posts entitled, There are Two Marriages: A Manifesto on Marriage (2011), Tony Jones argues that the church ought to seek the strict separation of what he calls “legal marriage” and “sacramental marriage.” A result of this change would be the removal of much of the church’s resistance to same sex marriage.

Yesterday I rehearsed Jones’s historical and theological objections to the connivance of state and in marriage. I will argue today that Jones fails to recognize that marriage is, for the Christian, necessarily the union of religious belief with the physical world:


….Marriage matters because we are embodied and what we do with our body matters.

The church has affirmed over the centuries—almost with no exception—that marriage exists not only for the mutual aid and comfort of husband and wife, but also for the procreation of children.

“The union of husband and wife in heart, body, and mind is intended by God for their mutual joy; for the help and comfort given one another in prosperity and adversity; and, when it is God’s will, for the procreation of children and their nurture in the knowledge and love of the Lord. Therefore marriage is not to be entered into unadvisedly or lightly, but reverently, deliberately, and in accordance with the purposes for which it was instituted by God.”[1]

We’d likely all agree that a marriage may be legitimate without children being born to the couple—having children does not a marriage make. However, it is a relatively recent innovation to believe that childbearing and marriage are totally unrelated.

Jones seeks to trace the changing nature of matrimony as grounds for a continued development of marriage to include same-sex couples. For example, in the ancient world marriage was simply the exchange of property with the consequent production of progeny.

Today marriage has become simply, “formalizing and cementing a romantic attraction.” It is emphatically not about having children. If it were, we would not allow “celibate, infertile, post-menopausal, non-producing” people to be legally married.

The reference is to restrictions on marriage, principally state laws that forbid consanguinity but that fail to forbid marriage between people unable to conceive. To derive a mandate for the church simply by the absence of state law on the matter is not a terribly good way to do affirmative theology.

As a pastor, were a couple to ask me to marry them and state up front that they would not be sexually intimate with one another nor would they even consider attempting to conceive, I would likely not marry them. Marriage is intrinsically linked with both sexual intimacy and with procreation. That some are unable to conceive doesn’t invalidate the rule, rather it’s the exception that proves it.

In all, Jones fails to build a compelling case for changing the nature and definition of marriage either in the state or in the church. He assumes that since people will always be gay—which is true—we should incentivize gay monogamy in the context of marriage. On the surface this may appear sound. However, Jones’s contention fails to consider that in the Christian view it is not simply that homosexual polyamory is wrong, but that all homosexual practice is not only inconsistent with Christian holiness, and is detrimental to human wholeness. To change marriage means more than “live and let live,” it necessarily encourages destructive behavior and, moreover, will inevitably lead to restrictions on religious groups that fail to recognize the appropriateness of same sex marriage.

[1] Book of Common Prayer

The Celtic Way of Evangelism – A Review

George G. Hunter, III. The Celtic Way of Evangelism: How Christianity Can Reach the West…Again. 10th rev. ed. (Nashville: Abingdon, 2010). 130pp.

A single question is central to the mission of the local congregation: how can we translate the gospel message for our context? The answer to this question will have implications for every part of our life together. It will influence our discipleship, and it will shape our engagement with our city.

The last sixty years have witnessed significant change in American society. In 1953 few would have anticipated an African American President, the legalization of same sex marriage in several state, or the church being moved to the margins of society. Yet, these are the days we have been given and our commission is to faithfully and effectively communicate the gospel in this new milieu.

George Hunter’s book, The Celtic Way of Evangelism offers insight into how the Christian community can engage these new realities. To do so he draws on the Irish mission work of Saint Patrick, a British Christian who was kidnapped and sold into slavery in Ireland. He escaped and years later returned to engage in a highly effective apostolic mission to the land of his captivity.


Hunter provides a significant amount of historical background that helps the reader come to know Patrick as well as the key distinctions between the Celtic and the Roman expressions of the Christian faith.

This book does not contain a strategy so much as express a vision of what the Christian community can be, and must be, in order to do effective mission in our post-Christendom culture. Hunter identifies ten characteristics of Celtic Christianity the translate to characteristics of effective missional communities today. I will highlight four: contact, community, contextualization, and conversation.

Conversion almost always happens in the context of a relationship (i.e., contact) with both an individual Christian and a community of Christians. Authentic, trusting friendship with a Christian is often a key avenue through which the Holy Spirit draws a not-yet Christian into the kingdom. Relationships–with all that is entailed with sustaining them–were central to the Celtic way of evangelism. Are you intentionally nurturing an authentic friendship with a not-yet Christian?

A unique understanding of community marked the Celtic approach to mission–belonging preceded believing. Celtic communities were hospitable to people, encouraging them to become a part of the community without the expectation that they change in order to be welcome. This is an echo of the gospel–God doesn’t require us to change before he welcomes us. Instead, he welcomes us in order to change us. As a church, are we welcoming strangers and people who aren’t like us? Or, do we inwardly expect people to change (learn “Christian etiquette) before they become part of our community?

Christian missiologist David Bosch informs us, “the Christian faith never exists except as ‘translated’ into a culture.” The job of the church is to work to effectively and faithfully ‘translate’ the message so that it can be heard by the members of our culture, one in which the Christian worldview is no longer ascendent. At the very least the work of contextualization requires taking seriously the changes in assumptions that are now evident in culture. For one, there is no longer an assumption that everyone ought to at least publicly give lip service to the Judeo-Christian ethics. If we start by assuming traditional ethics, our witness to the gospel will go nowhere fast.

Celtic Christianity placed a high value on conversation as opposed to presentation. Conversation is bilateral; presentation is unilateral. The ministry of conversation is central to becoming a new creation in Christ since we encounter the gospel most fully through relationships. Conversation is also significant for discipleship. Celtic Christianity emphasized the role of “spiritual friends” as companions as we follow the way of Christ–people who help us to live out the message in the midst of the realities of life in a broken world.

The Celtic Way of Evangelism is a helpful book that offers much to prayerfully consider as we collectively try to discern what it means both to love God ourselves and to lead our city to God as well.

Why bother with Easter?

It’s a loaded title for a blog post, right? Certainly. It does, however, communicate some of the intellectual dissonance I’m experiencing around our contemporary evangelical/presbyterian way of celebrating easter. I’ll cut to the chase–it seems arbitrary to me that we have chosen to not celebrate the Easter (paschal) triduum as it has traditionally been celebrated by the church and have instead elected to allow Maundy Thursday to replace it. We got to church and enter into the drama of the last supper and ensuing betrayal (on Maundy Thursday) and then return to Celebrate our Lord’s resurrection. How evangelical in the most impoverished sense of the word.


I don’t presume to speak for anyone else when I write this, but I long–deeply long–to order my life around the story of God’s redemptive purpose in the life of Christ and of his church. Why? Not because I think it’s sophisticated. Not because I’m reacting against my low church heritage. Not because I think it’s cool.

I have one reason alone: by myself, and in myself, I am not strong enough to ensure that the kingdom vision of the gospel remains the most formative truth in my life. 

I’m dead serious about this–I can’t do it. I need help and that help must come not simply from friends but from Christian sisters and brothers, and it must come from them in the context of a worshipping community who have chosen to intentionally order their (our) lives around the story of God.

Are we evangelicals really serious about our discipleship, about our formation? Is our view of the church sufficient to produce apprentices who will remain faithful to Christ in a post-Christendom society?

It’s fairly safe to say that so long as our communal worship has about it the feeling and value of a thing added to our lives rather than the reality out of which our life flows then the answer will be no.

Four ways churches manage the tension of gospel and culture

Evangelicals are learning to face some new realities about the gospel’s encounter with contemporary culture. The church exists for the purpose of proclaiming the truth of the Christian gospel–that reconciliation with God is possible through Christ. As God’s missional community, we are to embody that truth we pursue the various callings God has given to us (father, mother, husband, wife, etc). We are also to verbally communicate that message as God gives us opportunity to do so through organic, authentic, respectful conversation. As a result we live with a tension in deciding which parts of our message and faith are culturally-conditioned.


This tension between message (gospel) and means (practice) has been addressed in at least four ways by the contemporary church.

  1. Change neither the means of communication nor the message itself. This is the traditional church that continues to speak and act as if it was still 1950. A traditional gospel is preached using traditional religious language, and in the context of a program driven church with a very traditional worship service.
  2. Change the means of communication, but not the message itself. This group includes many new reformed churches associated with the Acts29 network, a fewer number of emergent/ing communities, and generally those who are associated in some way, shape, or form with the center-right constituency of the missional movement. I’d even include a church like Redeemer New York (and its daughter churches) that assume a non- or post-Christian audience. The essential meaning of the gospel message remains consistent with the church’s traditional formulations. The language is updated and much insider language is jettisoned in favor of verbal symbols that connect with contemporary hearers. Context is king and so some of these churches embrace older, more liturgical forms of worship and some embrace what could be called “contemporary” Christian music (contemporary having a range of meanings each specific to the decade in which the preponderance of the congregation became believers).
  3. Change both the means of communication, and also the message itself. I’d include in this grouping the majority of the emergent/emerging conversation. It’s clear to me now that classical theism doesn’t describe the views of many of the proponents of emergent/ing. Many would object to (or at least downplay) doctrines like: God’s impassibility, the penal-substitutionary theory of the atonement, and God’s foreknowledge and/or foreordination of that which is to come. Since these concepts (often thought to be cultural accretions owing the Greco-Roman origin of the early Christian church) seem to many emergent/ing folk to be insufficient to addressing our contemporary world they are essentially jettisoned. As with group number two, these folk work hard to create worship experiences that are participatory, aesthetically rich, and transformative.
  4. Change the message, but not the means of communication. At first glance, you might be tempted to think that this should be an empty category. It’s not. Most of the mainline churches have essentially revised the gospel message to be accessible to their conception of what (post)modern people want. However, few have changed the form of their worship beyond including ethnically diverse hymns in their hymnbooks and editing out masculine language.

These are the four options most Christian churches pursue. It is my belief that the path of Christian faithfulness requires innovation in almost every area of the church’s life. My preferred means of innovation is breathing new life and forms into classical Christian worship as it existed prior to the Great Schism of AD 1054. Any innovation must be severely restrained (even chastened) in terms of the way in which the church talks about God and the gospel. Our talk about God does not exist in a cultural vacuum–it is anchored to and flows from God’s revelation of Himself in the person of Jesus, in the Word of God written, and in the church’s theological reflection on these over time. This is a limiting factor on the extent to which we can speculatively formulate notions of God and gospel that are “acceptable” or “palatable” to our present cultural moment.

Those are my thoughts–what are yours?

[Missional Monday 5] Missional is urgent and lean

This is the fifth post in our series about missional ministry. You can read my prior posts by following the links:

1 – Introducing missional theology

2 – Why you can’t be missional alone

3 – Why prayer is the fuel of missional ministry

4 – Why missional ministry requires vulnerability

Missional is urgent and it is also lean. Christians (and churches) make the missional shift when they come to realize that not only is the mission of God their mission, but that the ways in which we’ve pursued that mission in the past are no longer effective. In The Missional Leader Alan Roxburgh and Fred Romanuk detail a common response to declining ministry effectiveness in non-missional churches: confusion, anxiety, and conflict. Often, our first response to a major change in the context in which we’re ministering is to keep doing what we’re doing, but to do it more intensely. We decide to work harder rather than smarter. Roxburgh and Romanuk call this “the reactive zone”–not a good place to be.

Some typical reactive responses to diminished missional effectiveness include:

  • Tension with senior staff that results in pastoral turnover.
  • Building a new worship center in order to attract more people to worship.
  • Adding a “seeker” service or an extra AA group.

These reactions show that the leadership of the church is struggling to really grasp what’s going on in their context. They think that by adding some “extra” they can revamp their flagging ministry success. In reality, they need to take the time and do the hard work of digging down into their unique congregational DNA and asking God to reveal to them where, why, and how they need to change in order to be better stewards of the Gospel.

When a congregation and its leadership are willing to start that journey, the likelihood is that they’ll move toward being a missional community. Jesus addresses one of the realities that, I think, restrains pastors and churches from becoming more mission-focused: it’s urgent work and to be done with lean resources.


As he sends the seventy-two, ambassadors preparing the ground for Jesus’ upcoming preaching tour, Jesus tells them: “Do not take a purse or a bag or sandals; and do not greet anyone on the road” (Luke 10:4).

There are at least three ways we can understand what Jesus is saying and I don’t think they’re mutually exclusive:

  1. Their ministry is urgent. In telling them to depart without stopping to provision themselves for the journey points to the urgency of the task that Jesus has given to them. It was critical that they depart immediately and make progress down the road so that they could do the preparatory work of establishing a missional vanguard in the places Jesus would visit and preach. Common sense would dictate making some preparations for the journey, but Jesus places that as a relatively unimportant task compared with getting the good news to the people. 
  2. Their ministry is lean. This leanness is a function of the urgency of the mission–the more baggage a traveller has, the more difficult it is to be flexible in travel. It reminds me of my honeymoon. We way overpacked and had a miserable time dragging full-size rolling suitcases down the cobbled streets of Hereford, UK. The messengers had what they needed–it was time to get on the road.
  3. Their ministry depended on others. Since they carried and important and urgent message and were barely provisioned, these missionaries had to depend on the hospitality of others, a high cultural value in their culture.

Making the missional shift requires us to embrace the urgency of the mission and to engage it with a creativity unencumbered by the baggage of ineffective mission strategies. The mission is so urgent that it ought to be the criterion by which we evaluate most (if not all) elements of our church budgets. To what extent does this program or this line item play a key part in taking the gospel into the community? Where there seems to be a tenuous connection between the two, we should consider entering a period of prayerful discernment about the future of this program–how could it change to be more missional? Is there a place for this in our congregation?

This is difficult work of spiritual leadership. It requires focus, humility, prayerfulness, and proximity to the heart of God. For that reason, it’s imperative that before all else we prepare our hearts before we rearrange our priorities.