A common theological misstep comes under the firing line of straight-shooter Andrew Turner in this month’s edition of Sacred Agents.
If you want to rile me up (please form an orderly queue), throw at me this pop-theology concept: to see God work, what we really need to do is to “get out of His way” so that “He can do his thing.”
In case you’re skim-reading let me be clear: that’s an appalling theology of ministry and mission and a dismal view of humanity, one which is closely connected to passivity and nihilism… See? I’ve riled myself up.
As I mention here regularly, it’s not God’s intention to work around us but rather through us.
Daunting as the responsibility is, we are called into the thick of God’s work of redemption. There’s great reward for those who take a deep breath, admit their weakness, call on God’s power and guidance, and step up.
“Whom will I send?” looks for the response of “Here I am, send me.” What a blessing are those who take that stance.
But there’s a way we can take it too far. There’s a danger in mission and ministry called “gift projection”, which we don’t talk about nearly enough.
Gift projection is where a Christian who is one particular part of the body of Christ comes to the view that all the other parts should be just like the part they are.
And so preachers who have a passion for teaching the Scripture begin to insist that all their hearers also teach others. Worship leaders who love to dance try to get everyone to dance. In their own lives it’s how they connect deeply with God and innocently enough, they want that for others.
Similarly in mission, when we are urging and inviting others to enter God’s kingdom, we can often reflect on the happenings and methods in our own experience of coming to Christ, and project that onto our hearers. (Perhaps even onto our fellow-sacred-agents: “Outreach means door-knocking!” or whatever we found was effective in reaching us.)
We can also subtly project a narrow view of what it looks like to be a Christian onto people that we’re sharing the good news with. They may assume (with our help) that to be a Christian means to do all the things that you do.
But across Scripture and throughout history, the ways by which people encounter and turn to God are very diverse. This is not to say that anything goes, but it is to say that quite a few things do.
One of the many leaves we can take from the Global Interaction book is their motto “Empowering communities to develop their own distinctive ways of following Jesus.” How different people come to actually turn to Christ, and how His Spirit begins to renew them will be different.
Let’s have our eyes open wider. And also bear in mind the few things that will be common to all: One Lord, one Spirit, one Father, one faith, one Baptism.
For discussion: What will it mean for you (specifically) to reflect Christ – brightly, unashamedly – in all the ways He’s given you, but not unduly project yourself onto others? How can we help each other with this?
On a personal note: You may have heard that I will soon be concluding as Church Development Facilitator for Baptist Churches of SA. I’ll be taking up a new role with Australian Baptist Ministries as Director of Crossover – a ministry that according to its motto, is “Helping Australian Baptists Share Jesus.” Sacred Agents is likely to continue, but may disappear for a few months while I work through the transition.
Andrew Turner is our Church Development Facilitator. You can interact with this and other articles on his blog www.sacredagents.net