Growing up in North Alabama, I remember going through specific routines in the event of an emergency. I doubt there was a kid who did not know why or when you need to stop, drop, and roll. We were trained in protocols in the event of a tornado, calmly lining up in the hallway and securing our heads from potential debris. We knew how to exit the buildings in case of a fire in a single-file line to safe zones outside. All of these procedures were responses to various kinds of potential disasters we could encounter while in school.
Now what, do you think, are the possibilities that I as a kid in elementary school would actually need to follow through on those drills? How often would a tornado tear through our building? How often would a fire consume the classrooms? Hardly ever, if at all, right? But we were still trained in how to respond in the very unlikely event that they might occur.
What if I told you that on a daily basis you are going to be faced with potential crises or disasters that required a response from you? What if it was not a distant potentiality but an eminent reality? How would you prepare yourself for such situations? Would you be trained to know how to respond?
Let me break this down and make the case why every follower of Jesus must have a gospel response plan (GRP).
These are just a few questions addressing realities you and I face on a daily basis, and with every question/situation, a response will manifest from your life. But what kind of response will it be? We have a choice to respond out of our sinful nature (Gen. 3) or out of our new identity in Christ. Will our response be driven by guilt and shame, hiding and pretending, blaming and fearing like Adam and Eve in Genesis 3? Or will our response arise from repentance and faith out of a heart resting in God’s acceptance of you in Christ?
You are a sinner living among sinners. You are a desperately needy person rubbing shoulders with desperately needy people. What weak, needy sinners need in every moment is to look to a strong, sufficient Savior. That’s what we do when we respond to the gospel–we turn from looking to ourselves (whether out of self-pity or self-righteousness) in repentance and we look to Christ in renewed faith and trust.
The problem we have today, I fear, is that most Christians do not have a developed gospel response plan and, therefore, there is no functional repentance and faith response when things happen (internally or externally) in their lives. The default, then, is to look somewhere other than Jesus in our response. And this, I find, is a massive discipleship breakdown for believers.
Someone is going to sin against you. Will you handle that situation with a response that honors the gospel? Will you pursue reconciliation through forgiveness and view that person through the lens of grace? Or will you come across self-righteous and force that person to make atonement for their sin by working their way back into a right relationship with you based on their efforts?
You are going to sin against someone else. Will you handle that situation with a response that honors the gospel? Will you make excuses for your sin? Rationalize it? Blame others for it? Or will you own it, humbly confessing it to God and those whom you sinned against, seeking forgiveness? Will you hide away playing the victim card in self-pity, sulking in your failure, or will you take your sin to the throne of grace to your merciful High Priest?
Paul said, “As you received Christ Jesus the Lord so walk in him…” (Col. 2:6). You receive Jesus by repentance and faith, and you walk in that same repentance and faith. That is to say, this is how we “learn Christ” (Eph. 5:20) and “put on our new self” (i.e., our new identity in Christ). I think the most practically and helpful tool that Christians have today is to be trained to know how to respond to various situations they will encounter in a way that commends the gospel and flows out of a heart fully resting and secure in Jesus. We are not talking about potential dangers here. We’re talking about actual, real-life situations happening every day where Christians will either act out the old man of Genesis 3 or the new man being renewed by the Holy Spirit.
Think back in your life where sin has impacted your relationship with God and others. Are there people that are no longer in your life because of the functional absence of a gospel-driven response? Sadly, I can say that is true for me, and I suspect that if we are cognizant enough, nearly everyone would consent to that reality. But we don’t have to continue that way!
So what is your Gospel Response Plan?
You are sinner living in a fallen world. You are going to be hurt, betrayed, frustrated, prideful, annoyed, judgmental, pitiful, and so much more. It’s going to happen. But are you going to be trained as a follower of Jesus Christ to know, almost instinctively, how to respond with the gospel through premeditated prescriptions of specific ways to walk in repentance and faith?
Perhaps what we need to do each morning is prepare ourselves with some “gospel drills.” Think about one possible situation a gospel response will be required of you. For example, you are at a restaurant and your server is extremely slow and the food is cold. The server asks you if there is anything else you need, and you are tempted to treat her like her actions deserve. But instead, you respond by saying, “Thank you for serving me today, and by the way, as I pray over my food I would like to know if there is anything I can pray for you about?” Who knows? The server may already be feeling guilty and embarrassed by their service and surprised by your gracious response. They could be going through a terrible crisis in their lives, and they open up to you and provide an opportunity for you to minister to them (and perhaps introduce them to Jesus).
Why that gospel drill? Because you will get bad service and cold food. You will be tempted to act out of the old Adam and not out of the risen Christ. And this is one of countless other ways we need to “learn Christ” and “put on the new self” with a strategy to approach whatever comes our way to walk in repentance and faith and show the transforming power of Christ’s abundant grace actively working in our lives.
Tim Brister is a pastor and elder at Grace Baptist Church. Find out more on his blog: Provocations and Pantings.
In this final part of my reflections of integral mission from the life of Jesus, I want to turn once more to Luke 9:1-17 for some further observations related to the church. We see from the feeding of the multitude that Jesus had a plan and a people. He had provision and power to do all that was needed to see that the people were cared for and utterly satisfied.
STRATEGIC & SUPERNATURAL
When Jesus went about feeding the multitude, it is interesting that before He performed the miracle, He instructed His disciples to have the people to sit down in groups of 50. Seems like an unnecessary detail Luke included, no? Well, actually I find it really beneficial for integral mission. Jesus could have feed 20,000 in an unhelpful sea of chaos and confusion, but instead He chose a method that would best serve the people and make the greatest impact. I don’t want to read too much into this observation, but I believe it is accurate to say that this represents a strategic plan. Following this strategy came the supernatural work of God.
There are some who might think that strategic thinking and planning is unspiritual. Some may argue that it leads to pragmatism or doing work without God. While that is possible, simply because it has led some to pragmatism does not necessarily mean that it causes it. In fact, those working in difficult situations must have a strategic plan in place or the work will fall apart on its own. Having said that, we should pray and believe God to do what only He can do. He puts us in desperate situations where, if He does not come through, we are sunk. If you are not in a place where you are desperate and dependent on the sovereign, supernatural work of God, then you are in the wrong place.
CHURCH & WORLD
The disciples, who were once on the sidelines looking to advise Jesus on how to get rid of the multitude, were commissioned by Jesus to get in the middle of the work and deliver the miracle to the people. Between Jesus and the world stood His disciples, and this is true today. The church, the community of disciples covenanted together to live under His lordship, is the hope for any community. The church is a people who make the gospel visible. We are not good news. Jesus is good news. We carry that good news with our lives in the same way the disciples did. The disciples did not perform miracle on their own, but rather they carried the miracle to the people.
Integral mission has the church at the center and the world around it as its target. It is not governments nor religious organizations who are recipients of the promises of God. It is the church. Jesus will build it. He’s the head of it. He will work to keep it and use it for His glory and the good of others. If we believe in integral mission, we will integrate the church in the community to deliver the gospel in word and deed. Simply put, the church is not plan B. It is God’s plan A without a plan B.
ORDINARY LIFE & EXTRAORDINARY LOVE
The miracle of feeding the 20,000 was miraculous not in what was produced (bread and fish) but how much was produced. The miracle did not come with glitz, glamour, or fanfare. There was something amazingly ordinary about it. People were hungry. Jesus provided bread and fish. I would assume that bread is something that we take for granted on a regular basis. The ordinariness of the miracle in some ways shrouded how extraordinary it was and yet demonstrated the practical, humble nature of Jesus’ work. It was not a 5-course meal, but it was more than enough. Jesus did not provide a “health and wealth” version of miracles. It was what everyone there needed, and that was enough.
But the climax of this story came as a result of extraordinary love. Think with me at the close of this day how many people were touched by Jesus. How many messes were there? How many seemingly impossible situations were overcome by the compassion, power, humility, and graciousness of Jesus? The needs were massive. The messes were everywhere. It was easy to think the problems are too severe, the situation too dire, and the needs to great to do anything. But Jesus had none of that. When people wanted to throw their hands up in despair, Jesus put His hands together in prayer and worked it out. He had extraordinary love that demonstrated His mercy was greater than all of their messes and His power was greater than all of their problems.
When we think about integral mission, we are entering ordinary life with extraordinary love. Our work is humbling, messy, and difficult. But in it we see the miraculous hand of God at work through us as well as His extraordinary love at work in us to dig in and spend ourselves for the sake of the mission. It was a desolate place that day, but Jesus turned that desolate place of ordinariness into a banqueting table to feast for 20,000 people. This should be a great source of encouragement and we can be confident that God’s work done God’s way will not lack God’s supply.
So as I wrap up my thoughts on integral mission from the life of Jesus, we should be reminded that we have a Master who modeled it for us and a Savior who is sufficient to meet us and others we meet with His mercy and majestic power. Let us look to Him with faith and look to the world with love.
In my first post, I shared how Jesus demonstrated integral mission by balancing and affirming relief and development in His earthly ministry. Drawing from the same text (Luke 9:1-17), I want to continue with more observations for integral mission from the life and ministry of Jesus.
God sent His Son to die on the cross for our sins. God also sent His Son to dwell among us (John 1:14) so that we could see His glory. In Luke 9, we find Jesus in a desolate place among scores of people with all kinds of needs. While it may be easy to overlook this, let us not play it down. Jesus made Himself accessible to everyone in society, especially those on the margins. He was accessible and approachable, even for those who could not walk (the lame) and those who could not be touched (the lepers). Even those in the grave were not beyond the scope of Jesus’ reach!
Jesus had a plan. It was to pour into His disciples. Yet the multitudes pressed in on Him. What would He do? Would he tell them to get in a line and schedule an appointment with one of His disciples? According to Luke 9:11, Jesus welcomed them. He welcomed them because He was with them. He was with them because He was for them.
WORD & DEED | SPIRITUAL & PHYSICAL
Jesus proclaimed the kingdom and healed the people of their diseases. He held up both word and deed consistently throughout His ministry, and a cursory look at the early church would reveal that His disciples were well trained to keep these two together. He proclaimed the good news of the kingdom while demonstrating what the kingdom looks like when the poor are welcomed, the marginalized are ministered to, and those with sickness and disease are confronted with the healing power of God. His preaching (word) gave explanation for His healing (deed) and provided clarity as to what this means. His healing (deed) gave an apologetic and embodied the proclamation (word) with validating power.
Jesus met both the spiritual and physical needs of the people. If He had just fed hungry people but did not call them to repent and believe in the gospel, then that would be eternally “hurtful.” If He had just preached to the people but refused to address the obvious needs, then His compassion would be called into question. Is there one that is more important than the other? Well, yes. We want people rescued by Jesus through believing the good news. However, that good news is embodied by people doing good deeds and living in such a way that cause others to ask for the reason for the hope that is within them (1 Peter 3:15). Those who have a robust deed ministry, caring for the physical needs of the people, are provided with greater accessibility and opportunity to reach more people with the gospel word.
DIVINE SOVEREIGNTY & HUMAN RESPONSIBILITY
On the one hand, there are those who will play the “sovereignty card” when presented with a mission opportunity, saying that God is big enough to take care of His own world and all the problems in it. On the other hand, there are those who take responsibility to a level where they think they are God in that they have limitless resources and are indispensable to the work, leading to burnout and despair.
Interestingly enough, when the disciples saw the day ending, they ignored both divine sovereignty and human responsibility. They did not want to take responsibility for the needs of the people, so they advised Jesus to send them away to the surrounding villages. It was a problem they wanted nothing to do with. On the other hand, their minds were hardened to what they had been witnessing all day long. Jesus’ sovereign power over all kinds of sickness and disease was presented before them for hours. Surely, they would have believed Jesus is big enough for any need that came their way after a day like that! Yet, they factored out God’s sovereignty as sufficient for the need and considered a worldly solution rather than a divine one.
What was Jesus’ response? He affirmed both sovereignty and responsibility. He told them, “You give them something to eat.” You. You! You give THEM something to eat. It is your job. Their needs are your responsibility. This was a command they could not run from or excuse away. They had to do something. But what? They had nothing but a few loaves and fish. How many people will that feed? Then Jesus, demonstrating His sovereign power, took that offering and miraculously provided more than enough food to feed 20,000 people. The disciples did give them something to eat. They handled their responsibility as God handled His sovereignty.
This is vitally important for integral mission. First, we must remember that this is God’s mission. He takes far greater ownership of the work than we could ever imagine. We are working with Him! And yes, we are working, and our work matters. We are means through which He delivers His miracle to the masses. Our sovereign God chooses to work through human means who have been entrusted with the responsibility of carrying out His work in the world. We cannot reduce God to man, lest we lose hope. We cannot give ourselves to God-like expectations, lest we factor Him out and fail in the process. God has a role, and He is great at being God. We have a role, and we need to be faithful at being servants entrusted with His mission.
As many of you know, I lead The Haiti Collective, an organization focused on bringing the gospel of Jesus Christ to the poorest country in the Western hemisphere by empowering indigenous churches to make disciples, train leaders, plant churches, and care for orphans in their midst. The needs are massive, even four years after the devastating earthquake. It can be argued (rather easily, I might add) that the needs are even greater now, after attempts of intervention have hurt the economic stability of an already fragile world. Needless to say, careful thinking about unintended consequences when doing relief and development work is critical to any long term success.
I am grateful for books like When Help Hurts and The Poverty of Nations that have come out from a biblical worldview of helping the poor. However, there is still a lot of tension when it comes to relief and development. Those I know who take When Helping Hurts seriously are so concerned about the possibility of hurting that they don’t attempt to help much at all. So the question comes–what hurts the people more? Not doing anything at all in fear of possibly hurting them by what you do, or making substantive, strategic efforts to make a big impact, knowing that you will likely hurt in ways you could not fully prevent?
I don’t think that anyone who takes the mission of the church seriously would entertain the idea of refusing to engage using the “high ground” of non-engagement (better to not be accused of hurting, so I default to hurting by not doing anything at all). Seems like Matthew 25 has a lot to say about the eschatological implications of such passive disobedience. On the other hand, we should consider the relationship of word and deed, relief and development, church and organization, physical and spiritual, etc. in ways that are robustly biblical, practically helpful, and bring long-term lasting change for the good of the people.
RELIEF AND DEVELOPMENT
Having said that, I believe there is much to mine from the ministry of Jesus as it relates to such integral mission. For the sake of this article, I am going to base my observations solely on Luke 9:1-17 where Jesus commissions His disciples to live on mission and then shows them how to do by ministering to the multitude and miraculously feeding them. Jesus demonstrated a balance between relief and development in the interplay between the needs of the disciples and the needs of the multitude. The disciples needed to be taught and trained (developed), and the multitude needed to be helped and fed.
As the scene unfolds, the disciples return from their commissioning to report back to Jesus all they had done. We don’t know what they said, but we do know how Jesus responded. He wanted to spend more time with them, possibly to develop their thinking and train them more in a private, secluded place. However, the crowds caught up with Jesus, and the pressing needs caused Jesus to change His plans and spend the entire day ministering to the people. It looks like the disciples, and their need for development, was being ignored. But take a closer look with me.
When Jesus sent His disciples out, He commanded them to proclaim the kingdom and to heal (Luke 9:2). When Jesus takes it upon Himself to minister to the multitudes, Luke said that Jesus “welcomed them and spoke to them of the kingdom of God and cured those who had need of healing” (Luke 9:11). Do you see a connection here? Jesus was doing the very thing He sent His disciples out to do! Jesus was not a detached leader who just gave directives from corporate office. He was on the field, in the trenches, showing His disciples how it is done. His leadership was exemplary and practical. It was on the job and intensely personal. He modeled to them what it meant to live on mission and minister to others. It was not a 30-minute webinar or an hour long lecture; rather, it was an all-day ministry marathon with His disciples getting front row seats. Jesus developed them in the work, as He worked, for the sake of the world around them.
There is an important lesson to understanding the relationship of relief and development. They are not mutually exclusive. Jesus provided relief to the multitude by healing them while also training His disciples. Furthermore, relief is not a permanent fix. Relief has an important role to play, but it is not development. Jesus did not feed the multitude again and again and again, but He did teach and train His disciples day after day after day. He knew there would be a day when He would entrust the mission to His disciples, so He spent 3 years developing 12 men while providing relief to those who were in need. Yes, Jesus validated the need for relief by His words and actions. We need to enter in. But when we do, we need to train those who are there and focus on development so the work can continue long after we are gone.
Tim Brister has served as a pastor and elder at Grace Baptist Church since June 2008. Tim's passion is to demonstrate a life that trusts God, treasures Christ, and triumphs the gospel. Tim is the Director of PLNTD, a church planting network in association with Founders Ministries. He's also the director of The Haiti Collective, organizer for Band of Bloggers, and creator of P2R (Partnering to Remember) and the Memory Moleskine.
You can read more about Tim on his blog, Provocations and Pantings.