A reminder to me of how messy mission is: When following Jesus, things can get complicated. The world resists the kingdom of God breaking in. Our Master never promised us it would be easy. We do things intending to bless people and our efforts are rebuffed. Sometimes we totally fail. But we have to keep trying.
Wednesday night I had a strange phone call. It was the mother of some of the kids in our mid-week tutoring program. The family is Muslim. We had invited all the kids to go to Bible Camp this summer. This week I started handing out the permission slips to go. The mother called and was frantic. She told me that if I took her kids anywhere, she’d burn down the church. Wow. That’s messy. I assured her that we would never take her kids anywhere without her permission. I apologized for any harm we had done in extending the invitation and said I hoped that she would consider allowing us to bring the kids to our Art Camp next month. The kids called me later and were upset and disappointed. I told them that God wants us to respect and honor our parents. If their mother didn’t want them to go, they need to respect and honor her. I suggested they try to serve her and love her and maybe, just maybe, she would change her mind.
Friday night, the same mother called back. She was apologetic and said that she gave her permission for her children to go anywhere with me. Wow. Complete change. Praise God. An answered prayer. God changed hearts and minds and his will-will be done. But you have to be willing to wade through the mess first, give up control, and don’t give up.
Last weekend, a friend of mine and our ministry, another Muslim, gave his life to Christ. I’m weeping as I write this. I wasn’t at the service he attended and then he was out of town this week. We finally connected yesterday. His family is in an uproar. I don’t know how this will affect his business. There are so many things to be overcome. It’s messy. But praise God. I am confident that if we wade through the mess, He will be faithful.
Sometimes I think that the church is kept from doing mission because we’re afraid to make mistakes, make a mess, we’re afraid of making people angry or upset. We’re afraid of not meeting the expectations of our long time members to deliver what they expect week after week. We’re afraid of the mess we’ll make if we invite those who don’t know Christ to follow him. They could say no. They could get upset or offended.
Following Jesus is messy. Mission is messy. Being faithful is messy. But do we have the faith to risk failing? The faith to make a mess?
At church we’re experiencing a new phenomenon. Our members are bringing homeless men to church. Wow. The kingdom of God is happening. But it’s messy. The men want to shower before the service. The showers are in a Sunday School area. We have to set up an elaborate system of supervision to be sure that everyone is safe. These men need accountability, they need to be discipled, they need community, they need a job and place to live. It’s ironic to me that as a pastor I’ve never realized that we weren’t set up to incorporate those not in families and without a place to live into our church family. I’d like to think that as a church, we could be a place that could incorporate anyone into the Body of Christ. And now we have to. And it will be messy. And we will make mistakes. And we might even fail. But in the end, it’s worth it. Because following Jesus is messy.