Saturday, February 23, 2013

Missional Musings - Purpose or Person Driven?

"Don't reduce the work of Justice to projects. The work of Justice is about people." The quote is from Eugene Cho and posted by my friend Karl Mueller to Facebook this morning. It got me to musing and reflecting on this past the Leadership Network,  hearing from Brian Fikkert the author of  "When Helping Hurts," as well as some recent conservations, from what I am currently. reading, and how it gets expressed in the work we're doing. I do get the strong sense that the Lord is working on my own heart to refocus from project, I'm highly task oriented, to people. I'm thinking that repenting of my purpose-driven orientation is probably necessary as a result, and I'm thinking I'm probably not alone, Rick Warren's best selling book not withstanding.

With reference to Cho's quote, it seems to me that we can swap the word "Justice" for any number of other things we do as Christians. Insert your fave ministry focus in the blank: "Don't reduce the work of _____ to projects. The work of ______is about people" and see if it works. Some other words we might insert are: Evangelism, Apologetics, Community Transformation,  Church Planting, and even Prayer. What could you add to this list? Our western shaped response to need (be it physical or spiritual) is frequently projected-centered instead of people-centered. We want to fix what's wrong without considering the needs of people. This stems from a materialistic worldview entrenched in our thinking, according to Fikkert.

Projects serve our purpose especially in our accomplishment focused culture.Projects serve a purpose but often we can become focused on the purpose instead of the person.  When we are more "purpose-driven" than person-focused we can lose sight of people, and therefore God's redeeming mission of love is reduced and diminished. People should be our focus for they were Christ's for coming. We intuitively know this is true but our church and ministry models, as Fikkert points out, too often miss the person as we get consumed by the project, as good and noble as they may be.

Twice this week I had lunch with ministry leaders and our discussion came around to the need to refocus on people first. On Monday, I lunched with an Iranian-American friend who ministers to refugees, having been a refugee herself. She took umbrage with something that was shared at a recent meeting I led where one of our guests speakers talked about God's mission and focused on Revelations 7:9. She was offended that the speaker was so task oriented instead of people oriented, purpose driven instead of person-driven. It was a wake up call to me since I too have often spoken about the Great Commission as a task to be completed, as vital as that is, instead of people to be reached with God's reconciling love. "How can we guard against making people objects of our projects?"is a question I think needs much discussion.

The second lunch was with a senior pastor of a large successful church. In the missional world I move in we casually use terms like UPG (Unreached People Groups) and UUPG (Unengaged and Unreached People Group) as the focus of our efforts. We talk a lot about completing the "assignment" that Jesus gave us to do (Matthew 24:14, Matthew 28:19-20, Acts 1:8). We talk about "Finishing the Task." All are necessary, at least we think they are, and have shaped missiology since William Carey. During our lunch, my pastor friend made reference to a comment made by his daughter questioning if "we," meaning those who use such terms, are really interested in people or are people just a means to an end. Do we see just the "mission of God" or are we looking beyond at the people of God's mission?

There is missional distinctive becoming clearer this week between project and people, purpose and person. I do think that while different they are two sides of the same coin. But do we notice that the coin has two sides? Consider the Great Commission (Matthew 28:19-20) as two sides.  On the one side, Jesus says, "Go therefore" which is purpose driven and also says, "make disciples" which is by all definitions person focused. Jesus says, "teach them" which is purpose focused and adds "obey everything commanded" which is person focused. Amazingly, Jesus concludes with these relational words, "I am with you always" which should tell us that Jesus is putting people before project.

Another big question, I am coming to learn, is does our project focus hurt or help our Gospel witness in the world? How do people look at what we're doing and does what we do erect barriers to Christ's global cause? One of the valuable lessons from this week is to consider well, at least as much as we can, the law of unintended consequences. Do we realize we can do a lot of damage, have done a lot of damage to the cause of Christ in the world, as a result of unintended consequences. The good we think we do might actually cause harm. We need to rethink our priorities.

Paul says in 2 Cor 5:14 that "For Christ's love compels us" or some translations use the word "constrain us." The Greek word translated "compels" also refers to the process of a cattle squeeze, the pushing in on each side to force the cattle into a position where it cannot move so the farmer can administer medication. The picture we should get is that the farmer is concerned with the health of his cattle, as Jesus is concerned with the health, emotionally, physically and spiritually, of his people. The farmer narrows his cattle's focus to such a point so that he might help them receive what he knows is best for them. It is Christ's love that should squeeze us into living in such a way that He administers the "medication" of the Gospel of love, through us, to everyone we come in contact with. Christ's love should constrain us to put people first above our projects, through life-on-life ministry.

Paul continues in 2 Cor 5:16, "so from now on we regard no one from a worldly point of view," as mere objects of our projects. Rather our assignment is to reconcile people to God for he "has committed to us the message of reconciliation" which is person-driven, lived out in relationship with people. "We are therefore Christ’s ambassadors, as though God were making his appeal through us. We implore you on Christ’s behalf: Be reconciled to God." Can we live compelled and constrained focused on other people for "Christ's behalf?"

This week the need to do so became so much clearer. Projects have a role but often miss the emphasis of reconciliation - people. I love the statement, which my home church and others use as a mission statement - "people helping people find and follow Christ." We just need to do a better job of living it out for Living Sent Today.

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