For those tuning in to get teaching notes from our São Paulo Discovery Trip, I’m including notes this weekend (in two separate posts) from our 4th and 5th teaching sessions! And if you missed the first 3 sessions (one by Mike Lopez and two by Michael Frost), check out those teaching notes in our earlier blog posts!
To start our fourth Teaching session, Michael Frost noted that many of our testimonies from this trip seem to have tied in to one of his points for today’s message, so he figured he would start there. That piece of missional understanding is Prevenience (or “prevenient grace”), the recognition that God has gone before us, working in people’s live before we join Him there.
Frost noticed that our team seems to have “assumed that God is already at work in the lives of people”; when we encounter them – through a Free Hug, an info card, a conversation in the college food court – we understand that we’re joining a work already in progress.
But he’s noticed that other Americans oftentimes too quickly move on to being creative and entrepreneurial in our missions efforts, because we’re good at those things, and we love coming up with solutions. But while, “Don’t just sit there; do something!” might be our American mantra, that’s not the usual M.O. of a missional Christian.
Instead, “Don’t just do something; sit there” must be our slogan, as we wait, watching, to see how we might join God’s work. “Just go to the people group to whom you’ve been sent, and sit there. Watch. What is God doing? … What does it look like for God to come to this place?,” Frost encouraged. We don’t simply look for conventional religious “signs,” but anything God might be doing among the people to whom we’ve been sent.
For instance, when we see examples of beauty and when we see examples of justice, these are two of the biggest clues that God’s reign is invading a place. For example, he recalled a time when great tragedy hit his town, when a little girl was killed. Frost watched as many from that place immediately responded with kindness and generosity and help – and those acts of beauty, he said, alerted him that God’s reign was “bleeding into” this place.
So he responded by helping organize further service, drawing together many of the town’s leaders to help a poorer area of Australia. Frost pointed out, as we in similar ways demonstrate what the ultimate reign of God will mean, we end up having opportunity after opportunity to announce God’s reign, as well. And that’s especially true if we follow the other principles (see below).
But we may also find examples of God’s prevenience in people’s own descriptions of “religious experiences” – which, he said, nearly everybody will admit to having, even if they claim not to “be religious.” Oftentimes Evangelism involves simply naming the name of the God who has already shown up in their lives (like Paul did in Acts 17).
The biggest mistake we can make is ascribing to the idea that “we bring the Kingdom.” Instead, “We don’t bring the Kingdom to the world; the Kingdom is unfurling” and we submit to what God’s already doing.
While God is prevenient and working in people’s lives, “The thing that breaks my heart is there aren’t enough of us out there building relationship with them to be there on the spot” and help interpret their God-experiences. For instance, what if we happened to play darts weekly with a guy who has a “religious experience” he can’t explain? Then we’ll be ready and able to discuss it with him.
Jesus claimed to send his disciples into the world in the same way the Father had sent Him (John 20:21). But how was He sent?
He was sent to spend thirty years simply “in proximity” with this world, before He ministered in a public way. And His “proximity” was so natural that when He returned to His hometown preaching about God’s Kingdom, the people were surprised! In other words, they didn’t say, “I always knew there was something different about you – you were a little different, you never laughed at our jokes or spent time with us. I get it… You’re the Messiah!”
No, they were surprised – even though God incarnate had actually be living among them. Jesus practiced a kind of holiness that still fit into culture. His life reflected two things proximity requires: physical proximity (“moving into the neighborhood) and time.
Frost lives in and ministers in the place he grew up. So the city officials, he said, call him when they need the church to respond to something. Why?
Because “We know you’re not going anywhere,” they tell him. They might as well say, “You’ve hitched your star to our wagon,” to go down if they go down, and be successful if they’re successful. Other religious figures have come and gone so many times; others aren’t involved in the town in the same way. But Frost has chosen proximity to those people.
While Frost spent more time on the first two principles, he did offer two more principles for what missional living looks like.
The third principle Frost mentioned as part of what missional Christians “do” is that they embody the presence of the Living God on earth. Among the people to whom we’ve been sent, we are indeed temples of God.
Among other things, this means not only esteeming the lowly, but also sometimes humbling the proud. Frost at this point provided a very interesting reading of the juxtaposed stories of Jairus and the woman who had been bleeding (from Luke 8:40-53). In that entire story, the synagogue leader Jairus is brought down like a child, forced by his circumstance to run to Jesus, a rabbi he may very well have been skeptical of previously. And the woman, on the other hand, is esteemed – in front of Jesus the well-known Rabbi, his disciples, and this synagogue leader.
Both these things – humbling the proud and esteeming the lowly – are works of God; we should ask whom these things are happening to within our ministries.
We need to embrace this role, too, Frost continued. Christ – though obviously not actually powerless – divested Himself of that power and presented Himself as torn and broken and weak. We should ask ourselves what it would mean to be “empty-handed” in this place. Our God showed us that true greatness is in embracing humiliation, not avoiding it.
When we’re in denominations or contexts where we do have some “pull,” money, or other opportunities, we should be careful that we not simply throw all that weight and money around, being powerful in our missional contexts. We might even need to do things designed to bring ourselves to the level of those we’re reaching – that they might see us more as peers than as “leaders,” “teachers,” or “ministers.”