By Shane Bennett
Sometimes I make people mad. Now if I were saying this from a pulpit somewhere, I might claim it happens because I take tough stances on controversial issues or because I get all John the Baptist-y on people and point out their sin. Since it’s just us, I can be honest and say that usually when I make people mad it’s because I do dumb stuff. Spend money I haven’t earned yet. Commit to things I haven’t the time or skill to do. Lose track of one of my own kids. You know, stuff we all do, right? So a life goal of mine is to do less dumb stuff with increasing frequency.
This also applies to my efforts to encourage people to give their best for those currently without access to the gospel. Here’s a quick look at some events from my mobilization hall of shame:
- I told one of my staff she had to use her sick leave to go care for her dying father.
- I took a couple of men who had hardly been out of their state to four Asian countries in nine days, dragging them through some of the toughest neighborhoods on the planet, asking them to eat food they hadn’t even seen on the Travel Channel.
- I promised a friend I’d research the Afghans of his city in too little time and with too few people. It was a dismal failure.
In an effort to be less dumb, I’ve been wondering lately about how I motivate people to give their valuable time, energy, and money to the unreached and unengaged. And not just how I do this, but how we do this or things like it.
Inviting People to Join God’s Purposes
Think for a moment about what motivations you appeal to when you invite people to join you in God’s purposes. Do you ask people to respond to great need with great compassion? Certainly a valid motivation. What about guilt? You know, “How many Bibles do you have gathering dust on a shelf, when [name the people group] have none?” It’s hard to argue with that logic. But the guilt fails to carry the water when home is a long way from the well.
The particular motivation I want to think about with you today is summed up nicely in the inspiring but perhaps problematic call of Francis Xavier to “tell the students to give up their small ambitions and come eastward to preach the gospel of Christ.” It’s the “what I’m doing is more important than what you’re doing” motivation. And I think it may be pretty dangerous.
Catching One Kind and Killing the Others
When we, with genuine hearts, call a group of people to join in what we believe God is doing, establishing his name among all nations, we may inadvertently imply that what they’re currently doing is somehow subpar. In fact, we sometimes explicitly declare this! God knows, perhaps what people are doing is subpar, but it’s arrogant on our part to say so.
It’s one thing to communicate this to my daughter, son, or pastor. I know them. We can discuss it. But to say such to a group of people or broadcast it by print or web is risky. It will certainly appeal to some. I wonder though, if we get our few at the cost of alienating most. Because most will be dishonored by the implication that their jobs, vocations, and visions are not really what God is up to. Some will respond with slight aggression. Most will simply ignore us. It’s like fishing with a type of bait that catches one species, but kills the rest in the process!
Did Jesus Do This?
Now it seems that Jesus may have used this precise motivation when he called some of his guys to leave their fishing nets and follow him, saying he’d make them fishers of men. Was our wise Father Francis simply paraphrasing Christ? I don’t think so. Jesus knew these guys. He was addressing novice disciples and calling them to the next step in a rabbinical process they were privileged to participate in.
Feel free to push back on this with comments and corrections (below). As I said, I’m wondering about these things. We need hundreds of thousands of laborers thrust out into the harvest field. Particularly given that the nations have moved in to our neighborhoods in the past few years! It won’t do to celebrate a few dozen (even a few hundred) missionaries if in the process of calling them, we offend everyone else to the degree they don’t participate at all.
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