These last several days have been a joy as we’ve gathered together. We picked a great spot to come together and celebrate 75 years of Missions Door. Looking back, on Monday Rick spoke to us about Missions Door history and the challenges we’ve conquered in the past. Nothing could stop what God led. On Tuesday, Felix spoke to us about missions challenges we face in the present. Nothing can stop what God is leading. Last night, we celebrated those who retired, and in particular, Rick Miller. I am indebted to Rick for his graciousness and kindness to me over the last several months. And I’m keenly aware of the legacy of faithfulness established by Rufus, Jack, and Rick. On this last night of gathering together, representing countries and ministries all over the world, I want to turn our attention to the horizon ahead. On that horizon, we face new challenges. With those challenges, we face new opportunities. In particular, I want us to ask the question, “How do we become unstoppable in a world filled with stops?”
My favorite missions story is the story of a local multiplier who changed Europe during a time where European society was fracturing. Long dominated by Roman rule, the time around 500-600 a.d. saw the sharp decline of the Roman empire. That which had united much of the world, bringing unparalleled global access, shortened transportation, increasing technology, and political stability had devolved into a time of fractured tribalism, uncertainty, a new age of regionalism, political instability, and societal uncertainty. If it sounds familiar to this 21st Century, it is. Roman rule stopped short of the country of Ireland. When Patrick came to Ireland, returning as a former slave, he focused on local forms of ministry that made sense for the context. For example, services were conducted in Latin and Irish. The result was a revival in Ireland from Celtic shamanism to the worship of Jesus as Lord.
It was into this context that Columbanus (not St. Columba, but Columbanus) surrendered his life to ministry. Columbanus was an extraordinary local multiplier. The Papacy was not too thrilled with what was happening in Ireland, and so Columbanus along with twelve monks sailed to mainland Europe and began to make their way into unknown territory with the goal of arriving in Rome. Along the way they would plant churches. Each church was radical in that it encouraged raising, training, and deploying local multipliers, emphasized the Gospel moving through the person to societal impact, elevated expectations for holiness in the Christian and the church, energized missions by a Scriptural engagement of what it meant to be a sojourner on this earth, educated local citizens so that the greatest value add sprung from the bedrock of Christian values, kept the structure flat and respectful of authority, and most importantly, helped local multipliers everywhere see that they were better together than each doing their own thing. The result? Several sociologists and historians commented that Columbanus and the local multipliers that sprung from their work changed the trajectory and future of Europe. Essentially, Columbanus identified, resourced, networked, and encouraged local multipliers to unity in diversity. Seven points of impact: 1) foster local multipliers everywhere, 2) commit to personal and communal transformation, 3) double-down on godliness, 4) follow Jesus more than your comfort, 5) add value, 6) flatten structure while serving humbly, and 7) remember what unifies us in our diversity. These seven can be distilled to three points for navigating an unknown, uncertain, potentially turbulent future. These three points can help us, like sailors confronting an unknown horizon, navigate the future ahead.
Early sailors used many tricks when sailing into uncharted waters. But three have emerged as the most crucial: a fixed point above, longitude for north and south, latitude for moving east and west. In combination, regardless of what the horizon held, sailors could know where they were and how they arrived there.
Our fixed point must be integrity to Jesus as Lord. He leads, we follow. His character, our new nature. Our longitude must be faithfulness to the task. Where the world says stop, we go. And our latitude must be unity in diversity. Our collective creativity should complete a unified work of art.
These seem simple. But they are hard. I take as my main text 1 Peter 4:7-11 and invite you turn there. Won’t you stand with me in honor of God’s Word:
7 The end of all things is at hand; therefore be self-controlled and sober-minded for the sake of your prayers. 8 Above all, keep loving one another earnestly, since love covers a multitude of sins. 9 Show hospitality to one another without grumbling. 10 As each has received a gift, use it to serve one another, as good stewards of God’s varied grace: 11 whoever speaks, as one who speaks oracles of God; whoever serves, as one who serves by the strength that God supplies—in order that in everything God may be glorified through Jesus Christ. To him belong glory and dominion forever and ever. Amen.
Together we face a 21st Century filled with challenges. I was in a conversation with a pastor recently, who stated he thought the new primary value in society was self-expression. But I think the challenge is deeper. The new prime value is self-actualization. People are seeking to re-engineer themselves in the images they seek, attempting to find their true selves. In some ways, the question of “Who am I?” is nothing new. What’s changed are the technological tools and societal norms to experiment and affirm a variety of answers to that question.
Philosophically, the question on the horizon will be, “What does it mean to be human?” With the rise of Artificial Intelligence, engineered biology, and existential uncertainty, this question will shape decades to come.
Politically, we are heading into a brief period of regionalization, or what some call de-globalization. But given shared digital information globally, the net result will be a new world where cities and regions align over shared values. The other night I watched a German program on immigration and the debate over what it means to be a German citizen. On one side were Germans who believed citizenship meant shared values. On the other side were Germans who believed citizenship simply meant shared opportunities. In a world full of opportunities, the identities of nations as they apply to shared values will increase. In the United States, there is serious conversation around a divided America, no longer between rural and urban or rich and poor, but of those who do or do not share common values.
One other notable challenge on the horizon includes speed of travel. Experts predict that within the next decade, we will book travel for the price of an economy flight anywhere in the world in the length of time it takes for a pastor to travel the L.A. freeway to his parish. “Lunch in Rio” may be a new norm. The ease and expediency of travel will challenge notions of who is a local and why. The temptations to ignore proven missiological principles will be retested by a continuing rise of global multisite churches. And this will potentially cause greater confusion in the places we live, work, and play.
In 1892 the British built the first golf course in India, the Royal Calcutta Golf Course. However, there was a problem – monkeys surrounded the Golf Course. So, when one of the Golfers took a swing and knocked the ball into the fairway, these monkeys would run along, grab the ball, and start throwing it around. Obviously, golfers didn’t like this, so they tried doing a few different things to solve the problem.
The first thing that they did to try and control this situation was to build high fences around the golf course. Not surprisingly – the monkeys just climbed the fences and carried on with their game. The next thing they tried to do was to lure the monkeys away from the golf course. They would put piles of bananas outside of the golf course. The monkeys grabbed a quick snack and then climbed the fence back onto the golf course. Finally, they tried to capture the monkeys, but it turned out there were a lot of them and they were hard to catch. The golf course realized they would have to innovate. So they put up a sign, that’s there to this day, saying, “Play the ball wherever the monkey drops it.”
The future will not catch God by surprise. He positioned Missions Door pointing towards the horizon of the rest of the 21st Century. In another 77 years, we’ll enter into the 22nd Century. God is calling us together to face this future. Society is the monkey, and opportunity is the golf ball. So we seize the opportunity where society puts it.
“How do we become unstoppable in a world filled with stops?” First, we fix our eyes on Jesus as Lord. The apostle Peter, facing an uncertain future himself and writing the Church to meet it, bookends this passage with the dominion of Christ and what it means for us. He ends with “To him belong glory and dominion forever and ever” and begins with “The end of all things is at hand; therefore be self-controlled and sober-minded for the sake of your prayers.” In other words, because Jesus is Lord, commit to being realistic about his position in your life. Peter is clear that this is “for the sake of your prayers.” How we pray, what we pray for, and when we pray is determined by the dominion of Jesus over our actions and attitudes. I was talking with Dr. Jack Estep when he shared a joke with me. He said that an American football player once said, “I don’t know the meaning of fear.” Then he paused and said, “But I’m a football player and I don’t know the meaning of a lot of words.” When we look ahead, we can grow fearful. And we will not have the excuse of ignorance because John has the antidote. 1 John 4:18 says, “There is no fear in love, but perfect love casts out fear.” Perfect love of Whom? Of Jesus as Lord. Our north star is Jesus’ dominion over our character. This includes knowing when to rest. Columbanus famously would take walks in nature to keep the wonder of God’s dominance over the world at the fore of his thoughts. Pete Scazzaro writes of Christians who “use God to stay away from God.” Peter’s instruction on being sober-minded means we are not afforded that option. We do not play religious games in the name of God, nor do we fill our schedules with action items to work for God without spending time with God. I believe strongly in Christian industriousness. And there is a type of Christian laziness – also game playing – in the name of rest. Our challenge is to be sober-minded about our own propensities, and to be self-controlled, not controlled by our calendars or insecurities, unto Jesus as Lord. He leads, we follow. In all things. To meet the future, we need to increase our devotion to Jesus; allowing His grace to move through us to reflect His ways. His character is our new nature.
“How do we become unstoppable in a world filled with stops?” Second, our longitude must be faithfulness to the task. Where the world says stop, we go. Our organizational commitment to be faithful, consistent, and persistent will be key to impact. Thankfully, Scripture defines the word “faith” for us. Hebrews 11:1 states, “Now faith is the assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen.” Faith is not about a belief system. It is about the conviction that God’s leadership is trustworthy. We have faith and therefore, we act in faith. The great hall of faith in Hebrews 11 is a list of men and women who were assured that by following God into His unique calling for them, God would transform. They may not always see that transformation at first. But not seeing wasn’t a condition for their action. Missions Door has as a unique mission in the world of missions’ organizations. We focus on personal and societal transformation by identifying, resourcing, networking, and encouraging local multipliers to engage campuses, communities, and castaway groups in societies everywhere with the ultimate result being healthy, local churches. The local church on mission following Jesus as Lord is the best hope for realizing human potential. The inflection point for that best hope to spread is local Christian multipliers, who match local needs with local leaders they identify, resource, network, and encourage. Unfortunately, local Christian multipliers are under-identified, under-resourced, under-networked, and under-encouraged. We want to change that. Our commitment is to faithfulness to that unique work without growing distracted or diffused. Not an easy commitment in a world with so many needs and voices asking us to broaden out our focus. But if we stay consistent and persistent, the world will be transformed. Unstoppability is not a superpower requiring a superhero. It begins by not giving up.
I love how Peter puts it. 8 Above all, keep loving one another earnestly, since love covers a multitude of sins. 9 Show hospitality to one another without grumbling.
Keep loving one another. Don’t stop. Be faithful and committed to a sincere love for each other. And then, don’t grumble when being generous and open with each other. Why that instruction? Because it’s easy to grumble! We must be vigilant in the task at hand.
“How do we become unstoppable in a world filled with stops?” Third, our latitude must be unity in diversity. Our creativity should complete a unified work of art. Peter writes, “10 As each has received a gift, use it to serve one another, as good stewards of God’s varied grace: 11 whoever speaks, as one who speaks oracles of God; whoever serves, as one who serves by the strength that God supplies—in order that in everything God may be glorified through Jesus Christ.” Unity is not uniformity. The future will require creative solutions as local multipliers, knowing their places of live, work, and play, meet local opportunities for impact. We are good stewards of God’s “varied grace.” We cannot simply “plug and play” a single solution, curriculum, training, method, or approach. We cannot also be stubborn that our current solutions are the best solutions. Therefore, we need a variety of tools for a variety of efforts. We must be unified in celebrating our diversity. Diversity does not mean, “I do what I do and you do what you do. Let’s leave each other alone to do our thing and it’s all good.” Diversity means, “You’re doing something I can help with and I’m doing something you can help with. Let’s share, network, and encourage so we can be stronger together.” Campus ministries does not exist for campus ministries. Rather, they see themselves as the front end of a bell curve, of men and women alongside of them who are working toward impact at a different but connected point. Students can’t live on campus forever. At some point, they’re to be a part of a community. Communities can’t turn a blind eye to castaway neighbors or campuses. After all, they occupy the same space if not the same season or challenges. And castaways cannot segment themselves off from the rest of society because they’ll be influenced or challenged by that society eventually.
Missions Door is a place where we celebrate one another, unified in our integrity by Jesus as Lord, faithful to the task at hand, and highly valuing our diversity globally. At Missions Door, every locality and ethnicity is equal. We’re all local multipliers. Once we see that fiscal generosity can move everywhere to everywhere, and that every locality has the capacity for support, we can grow creative about how that support is encouraged and fostered. We need to think about how God’s ways and truths add value to the places we live, work, and play. And that includes values on generosity, work, character change, and organizational structures.
The future is changing rapidly. We cannot predict where it will go. But we do know what it needs. A world asking what it means to be human needs to know a God who created humans; that to lose their life is to find it. Self-actualization does not come by one’s self. A world asking what they value needs wise and trusted voices helping them realize their uniqueness and potential. A world pretending global is local – that detachment can equal connectivity – needs men and women committed to journeying with them daily where they live, work, and play.
Missions Door, this is the future to which we are called. And I believe God has spent 75 years positioning us to follow Him to a unique influence in the world. Like Columbanus, maybe future historians will one day look back and say we altered the trajectory of the world – even for just a moment – because the God we serve is greater than a world that tries to stop Him. “How do we become unstoppable in a world filled with stops?” We together follow with courage and grace our unstoppable Lord.