The spontaneous expansion of the Church reduced to its element is a very simple thing. It asks for no elaborate organization, no large finances, no great numbers of paid missionaries…What is necessary is faith.
Live more with Christ, catch more of His spirit; for the spirit of Christ is the spirit of missions, and the nearer we get to Him the more intensely missionary we become.
Henry Martyn was an Anglican priest and missionary to India and Persia. The quote above is his response to the question of how to get churches back home to exercise their missionary calling.
Last week, Ray Ortlund posted a quote from Lesslie Newbigin on his Gospel Coalition blog. The full quote is reprinted below.
“There has been a long tradition which sees the mission of the Church primarily as obedience to a command. It has been customary to speak of ‘the missionary mandate.’ This way of putting the matter is certainly not without justification, and yet it seems to me that it misses the point. It tends to make mission a burden rather than a joy, to make it part of the law rather than part of the gospel. If one looks at the New Testament evidence one gets another impression. Mission begins with a kind of explosion of joy. The news that the rejected and crucified Jesus is alive is something that cannot possibly be suppressed. It must be told. Who could be silent about such a fact? The mission of the Church in the pages of the New Testament is more like the fallout from a vast explosion, a radioactive fallout which is not lethal but life-giving.”1
Newbigin says, with slightly different language, what I’ve been trying to communicate for some time now. Namely, that sentness is the by-product of grace. The missionary impulse, living sent, is an overflow of grace before it is obedience to a command. Sentness as the by-product of grace is summed up in the tag line of this blog. “God’s glory, our spiritual poverty. God’s grace, our sentness.” Ultimately, it’s our life with Jesus and our realization of God’s great grace that fuels the mission of living sent to make disciples.
1 Lesslie Newbigin, The Gospel in a Pluralist Society (Grand Rapids, 1989), page 116.
A few months ago I wrote about partnerships for the sake of the gospel. Today, the team I’ll be serving with had a conversation about partnerships and collaboration. The conversation reminded me of the book The Church of Irresistible Influence by Robert Lewis. In it is the story of the building of the Chunnel, the tunnel that underneath the English Channel that connects England with France. It’s the perfect illustration of partnerships or collaboration gone wrong. The French had the perfect word for the Chunnel project: bicephele, or two-headed. There were two mammoth firms built from scratch to complete the project: one charged with finance and operation, the other responsible for building it. Each of these companies was also two-headed: equally French and British.
No one was allowed to take charge. Leadership, more times than not, was reduced to the management of conflict. Said a high-ranking executive, “The project…created a lot of tension because it [was] not geared to solving problems; it [was] geared to placing blame.” The English yelled at the French, and the French yelled at the English. Said another executive, “There were nervous breakdowns galore.”
The problems were primarily from a lack of shared standards. The two countries had a different word for everything. The French had their accounting system, so did the English. The French ran on 380 volts, and the British ran on 420. Instruction manuals were bilingual. There were even two different standards used to measure sea level.
As I’ve reflected on today’s conversation, the shared standard for collaboration and partnership in New Testament terms is the gospel itself; a fellowship for the sake of advancing the gospel, as Philippians 1:5 puts it. As I read Philippians, Paul seems to make the case that the best way to keep partnerships from becoming bicephele is to shoot for a common way of life that keeps that shared standard central. Philippians 1:27-28 describes this ethic.
Only let your manner of life be worthy of the gospel of Christ, so that whether I come and see you or am absent, I may hear of you that you are standing firm in one spirit, with one mind striving side by side for the faith of the gospel, 28 and not frightened in anything by your opponents. (Phi 1:27-28 ESV)
Underpinning this ethic, this manner of life, are several attitudes. Paul says to stand firm in one spirit. And he says to contend as one man for the faith of the gospel. The former would have brought to mind a soldier refusing to budge an inch from his post. We are called to stand firm and not budge an inch from the unity we intrinsically have in Christ. The latter has overtones from the gladiatorial arena. Think of the arena and a group of people in the ring together contending, struggling for a common purpose. On the one hand the Philippians were to stand firm (a defensive posture). On the other hand, they were to contend together (an offensive posture). Both together produce an ethic or way of life that advances the gospel.
The implication for ministry partnerships is clear. The bicephele monster dies if we live this out on our ministry teams and with our ministry partners. May God give each of us a deep desire for oneness in the Spirit and an iron will to contend together for the common cause of the gospel in whatever sphere God has placed us.
Frankly, I struggle with the degree of oneness we are called to. Paul spells out this oneness in the first four verses of Philippians chapter 2.
If you have any encouragement from being united with Christ, if any comfort from his love, if any fellowship with the Spirit, if any tenderness and compassion, 2 then make my joy complete by being like-minded, having the same love, being one in spirit and purpose. 3 Do nothing out of selfish ambition or vain conceit, but in humility consider others better than yourselves. 4 Each of you should look not only to your own interests, but also to the interests of others. (Phi 2:1-4 ESV)
Unity can be expressed by a common way of life, conduct yourselves in a manner worthy of the gospel (1:27), and also by a common way of thinking. This is the part I struggle with. Be like-minded the text says. Scholars have found an inscription with that word like-minded on an ancient tombstone of a married couple buried together that reads as such, “we spoke the same things, we thought the same things and we go the inseparable way in Hades.” That’s what it means to be like-minded! I can hardly imagine a higher bar to shoot for in terms of how we approach collaboration and partnership. As if this weren’t enough, we are also called to have the same love—to have a common love for one another. We are called to a have a common set of goals—be one in spirit and purpose. And we are to do all this with a measure of humility as we consider those in the partnership better than ourselves, verse 3.
In terms of collaborative partnerships with others, I’m not sure I’ve ever truly experienced this. But I want it. More than anything. And I want the teams and initiatives and partnerships I’m a part of to experience this too. Death to bicephalic partnerships!
The Christian belongs not in the seclusion of a cloistered life but in the thick of foes. There is his commission, his work. ‘The Kingdom is to be in the midst of your enemies. And he who will not suffer this does not want to be of the Kingdom of Christ; he wants to be among friends, to sit among roses and lilies, not with the bad people but the devout people. O you blasphemers and betrayers of Christ! If Christ had done what you are doing who would ever have been spared?’
Bonhoeffer quoting Luther in Life Together, p. 17-18.
Here’s a video of Miriam and me introducing the Berlin Initiative. The video was produced by one of our church partners, Faith Church in Milford, OH.