Jesus could not be a leader in our church.
There, I’ve said it.
If Jesus offered for the ministry, we would turn him down.
Why? Because we structure for pastoral care, but Jesus
planned for mission. If you want to be a minister, you are offering to be in ‘pastoral
charge’ of a congregation, administer the sacraments to the faithful and preach
the Gospel to them. If you were to be an apostle, a prophet or an evangelist,
you wouldn’t fit the job description. Jesus was all those things.
Oh, he showed pastoral care and taught the disciples, too –
he uniquely was the master of all the leadership gifts. But here, as so often
in the Gospels, Jesus is a man on a mission. His Father’s mission.
So, rather than taking our cue from church – which may be ‘life,
Jim, but not as we know it’ – I want us to listen to the subversive Jesus, the
missionary Jesus, to understand how he calls us to share in his Father’s
Mission starts with compassion. It does for Jesus, here. He heals the sick
(verse 35), but also observes that the crowds are ‘harassed and helpless, like
sheep without a shepherd’ (verse 36). In other words, they are lost, without
true direction and purpose in life. This moves Jesus at the very depth of his
being. How can people be like rudderless ships, blown everywhere and without
the destiny of his Father’s kingdom? He is on the point of weeping.
This needs to motivate our concern for mission, too. Our reason
for reaching out to people has to be their need of Christ. Some jog along happily
without him, not realising their folly. Others sink into addictions (from
shopping to narcotic drugs) as a means of covering their emotional pain, or
because they cannot cope with stress. Some live for the moment, regardless of
the harm they do to themselves and others. Others have an emptiness they don’t
want to face. These are reasons for mission.
How that contrasts with some approaches in the church. Sadly,
sometimes our motivation for mission is not compassion for those missing from
Christ; it is to save our own skins. If we don’t do something, our church will
close. We need more people in order to do the jobs. These speak more about the maintenance
of a religious club than compassion for the lost. Which do we suppose Jesus
would support? Our passage tells us the answer. He has compassion for the
Does compassion drive Jesus straight into action? No. It drives him to prayer,
and he calls his disciples to pray, too:
Then he said to his disciples, ‘The harvest is plentiful, but
the labourers are few; therefore ask the Lord of the harvest to send out
labourers into his harvest.’ (Verses 37-38)
Here’s the point: mission is a spiritual exercise. You can
have all the strategies, tactics, feasibility studies and risk assessments you
like: ultimately, mission is a spiritual cause and requires a spiritual foundation.
The vehicle is spiritual, and the fuel must be spiritual. Prayer is the fuel of
So mission is not in the first instance about finding the
right methods, programmes or mechanisms: it must be a subject for prayer. ‘Lord,
you have moved our hearts with compassion, so we pray to you. You see the need,
Lord, raise up those who will help.’ Prayerless mission is hopeless mission. Prayerful
mission is hopeful mission.
But there is a catch. Just because mission depends on prayer
doesn’t mean we leave it all in God’s hands and do nothing ourselves. This is
where it’s great that the Lectionary reading straddles chapters nine and ten of
Matthew. Chapter 9 ends with this call to prayer. Chapter 10 begins with Jesus
calling the apostles, and commissioning them to heal people and cast out evil
spirits (verses 1-4). There is no separation of these two things in Matthew’s
What do I mean? I mean that we need to pray, but we also
need to be willing to be part of God’s answer to our prayers. The twelve
apostles were among those Jesus called to pray. Next thing we know, Jesus is
saying, you go out on mission.
So here is an important lesson for us from Jesus. Never
forget that mission is spiritual, and can only be accomplished with the
spiritual fuel of prayer. But be willing to be part of the answer. So – let us
pray for those where God fires us with compassion. But let us also be willing
to be those who share God’s love with the same people.
3. Start Where You
Doesn’t it seem strange that Jesus tells the apostles not to go to the Gentiles
or the Samaritans, but to ‘the lost sheep of the house of Israel’ (verses 5-6)?
Wouldn’t you think he’d send them to those furthest away from God’s kingdom, to
those most likely depraved and evil, in the sight of a good Jew? No. The lost
sheep of the house of Israel.
I’ve met quite a few Christians who have a secret fear of
asking God what he wants them to do with their lives, and so they don’t ask
him, because they expect it will be something they dread. One common fear has
been the thought that the moment you open yourself up to God’s will for your
life, he will send you far away across the sea to do the thing you fear the
Now I don’t want to knock the idea that God calls us to
tremendous challenges, but I do want to question the idea that God is some kind
of sadist who only calls us to the things we hate. And it may be that in the
case of mission, he often calls us to start where we are. It’s what happens in
the Acts of the Apostles: they start in Jerusalem, they expand into Judea, then
they get into Samaria and eventually into the Gentile world proper.
It may be similar with us. God calls us to start our missionary
witness with those closest to us. Local people. Friends. Neighbours. Family members.
Even church people. Some people in our churches are quite practised at putting
on a good Christian mask when they have never committed themselves to Christ. I’m
not suggesting we go all judgmental, but I am saying that the place to start
talking about Christ and to demonstrating his love in word and deed is with our
nearest and dearest. That itself can be challenge enough for the time being!
4. Unconditional Love
Whenever parents approach me about a baptism or a thanksgiving service for
their children, the question usually comes up about a fee. How much does a
christening cost in your church, they ask. When I reply that it costs nothing,
they are often surprised.
Here, Jesus tells the apostles to preach the kingdom of God,
cure the sick and cast out demons, all without making a charge (verses 7-8). What’s
that about? Didn’t they need money, food, clothing and somewhere to live? Why
refuse to take payment?
I think it’s a sign that everything we offer in mission is
done so with unconditional love. We offer God’s love with no strings attached. We
do not make people jump through hoops to receive blessings, we simply offer the
Gospel proclaimed and demonstrated. Some churches offer social programmes to
the elderly or to children, but only after an evangelistic talk. You may be
hungry, but you can’t eat unless you listen to what we say. That isn’t
unconditional love. Offering God’s love without any conditions is a sign of the
Gospel. People may say there’s no such thing as a free lunch, but in Gospel terms,
there is, and that’s what we’re called to do in offering Christ to the world.
A dear friend of mine works for an evangelistic organisation called Through Faith Missions. This group
is best known for a series of missions called ‘The Walk of a Thousand Men’. With
a particular concern for reaching men with the Gospel, they recruit hundreds of
men to walk throughout a county or a region, sharing the Good News. They sleep
on church floors and move from place to place with their rucksacks. They are
only allowed to bring a very limited amount of cash with them on the missions,
and at one stage (I’m not sure if this is still the case) didn’t allow the men
to bring a mobile phone or credit card with them. It’s their interpretation of
what Jesus says in this passage:
Take no gold, or silver, or copper in your belts, no bag for
your journey, or two tunics, or sandals, or a staff; for labourers deserve
their food. (Verses 9-10)
The point is one of simplicity, of simple faith in Christ to
meet all needs. And Christ does. In fact, despite the rigorous amount of
physical exercise on these missions and the dependence on others (especially local
Christians) to feed them, several men have reported putting on weight during
Jesus is reminding his apostles and us that mission is a
simple thing. It doesn’t require a huge budget in the normal run of things
(although I am involved in one such project, re:fresh08,
right now). Sometimes we see the big churches with lots of money, staff and
ideas, or we look at the big missions or the well-known Christians and feel
discouraged. We think, that’s all way beyond us, we don’t have a hope. Jesus says
otherwise. He kick-started his apostles into mission without money, food or
clothing. It just requires a willingness to go in the name of Jesus, to love people
in his name, and to love them enough to talk about him. Any disciple of Jesus
can do that. At heart, the mission of Jesus is simple.
6. God Prepares the
Mike Breen, an Anglican vicar now working in the States, used to tell a story
about when he was a vicar in Brixton. The parish had a worship band leading the
music on Sundays, and one day Breen was in his back garden one Saturday when
the oik of a teenager next door called out to him, ‘Oi vicar! I hear you’ve got
a band at your church. I play guitar. Can I join?’
This posed a problem. The parish had a strict policy that
only committed Christians could play in the band, because they had the holy
task of leading worship. But what could Mike Breen say? He said, ‘Bring your
guitar tomorrow morning.’
He took him along, introduced him to the band and said, ‘Here’s
your new guitarist.’ He made him stand at the back, where no one in the
congregation could see him. The lad became a regular in the band.
Breen left that parish, but returned a few years later to
take some special services. Guess who was leading the band, having become a
Christian? He was about to go to university to study music.
Whatever town or village you enter, find out who in it is
worthy, and stay there until you leave. As you enter the house, greet it. If
the house is worthy, let your peace come upon it; but if it is not worthy, let
your peace return to you. If anyone will not welcome you or listen to your
words, shake off the dust from your feet as you leave that house or town.
The point is a simple one: God goes ahead of us, working in
people’s hearts. We discover that when we find who is responsive to our message
of peace. Our job is not to initiate: it is to join in with what God is already
doing. If there is resistance, it may be legitimate to move on to someone or
somewhere else. For God always makes the first move in salvation, we don’t. So
when we find there is a positive reception, that shows us where to concentrate
I could go on, ploughing through Jesus’ teaching and example on mission. But I’ve
given you half a dozen bullet points to ponder, and I think there is much here
to encourage us that while mission seems daunting in the way the church has
often presented it, with Jesus mission is Mission Possible.