There are likely but a few pastors in this faith we call “Christian” who have not counseled others to find a way forward from some endless variety of “why God?” questions. We can all get stuck in a learned helplessness upon asking “why?” only to miss out on the far more helpful question of “how?” involving our faith. It’s the kind of missing out that can turn our highest faith into our deepest doubt.
That said, it may or may not be helpful to bring up the question of “how” in relation to our Christian mission of transformation in today’s world.
How to achieve such a transformation in our world is a question that may for sure take us down one of two major metaphorical roadways. The first road is one I would simply label “fearful control.” This roadway contains two distinct lanes. One lane involves our fear that either we transform them to be like us or they will transform us to be like them. Said differently concerning our Christian mission of global transformation, “we must Christianize them or they will paganize / secularize us.” Either we “make” them into disciples of Jesus Christ, or else. It becomes a power struggle for control. This lane of the “fearful control” roadway is paved by our Old Testament scriptures and our over-identification with the ancient Israelites of yore.
The second lane of this roadway of “fearful control” to achieve our mission of global transformation may involve not so much our fear of “them” as of "Him," aka “fear of the Lord.” More succinctly, this involves a “fear of God’s wrath” if we fail to take control over “them” as our rightful favor to God. It assumes “when we fail God, He will fail us” and our fear of failure and loss becomes our principle motivator. Because we assume God to be in control over us, we then view our control over others as a form of righteousness or Godliness. Again, this lane of the “fearful control” roadway is paved by our Old Testament scriptures and our over-identification with the Israelite people and the Matthean conscript we call Christ’s Great Commission to “make disciples of all nations.” Implication: either “make them” or else we “fail” to obey all that Christ has commanded us. Doubly scary.
Thankfully, there is another roadway. May take longer to reach the destination, may have only one lane, and may indeed be the road less traveled. But I would label this second road as “loving influence.” It compares quite well with the old single-lane route we might take across country through the assorted villages, towns, and inner cities. It risks getting behind that slow-moving farm implement or loaded truck. It means Mom & Pop motels – restaurants - gas stations, whereas the wider Interstate means familiar brand names and the rubbing of elbows with other hurried tourists instead of those slow-moving locals.
This road called “loving influence” means lower speed limits, for sure, and is the last place those with “fearful control” want to find themselves if ever afraid of failure and judgement and being late. But it is precisely “how” our Lord Jesus seemed to go about transforming the world for his own part. Upon reading Luke’s Gospel, it seems to take forever and a day for Jesus to reach Jerusalem. Wandering through Samaria. Stopping to heal a crippled woman on the Sabbath day of all times? You’ve gotta be kidding. Lunch with a tax collector? Oh, come on, now. Who has all day to accomplish this mission of transforming the world?
Who else but Jesus?
How else but Jesus?
The Jesus I personally have chosen to follow is famous for asking questions first before presuming to make speeches. And for hearing others’ questions first before presuming to give answers. Takes longer that way. Doesn’t “make” other people think a certain way. Yet it seems to transform in 3 rather deliberate steps:
1. Conform -- join, accommodate, learn, engage.
2. Inform -- offer an outside perspective or insight using a relatable parable.
3. Transform -- serve, model, teach, challenge.
Reminds me of a therapy session I once observed many years ago in which my family therapy mentor was asked by the father of a highly dysfunctional family, “then how am I supposed to even be a good parent?” to his miscreant offspring. My mentor’s answer? “There are actually three ways you can be a good parent here:
1. Be an example
2. Be an example
3. Be an example.”
All of this brings me to a consideration of what is now happening inside the United Methodist Church where I have my full Elder’s membership. I see us as united in the mission to “make disciples of Jesus Christ for the transformation of this world” and yet stepping all over ourselves trying to figure out “how to” get there from here. I see a lot of “fearful control” in what amounts to two lanes of noisy traffic. But I also see some “loving influence” taking place in what may be called the “back roads.” And along this “other roadway” to global transformation, I see us discovering three ways we can be a good and missional Church here:
1. Follow Christ’s example
2. Follow Christ’s example
3. Follow Christ’s example.