In John 4, Jesus states that he was sustained by his encounter with the woman at the well in Sychar. The narrative concludes with Jesus exhorting his disciples to reap a harvest. The implication is that missional encounters will be their sustenance.
Like the Jewish culture Jesus confronted, churches can tend to become isolated communities cut off from redemptive involvement in the wider culture.
Jesus indicates, however, that it is only when the church encounters outsiders in open-ended relationships that we are sustained.
We do not encounter others with postures of condescension, arrogance, or even in order to set anyone right. We’re not here to tell others what to do. Just as Jesus asked the woman for a drink, taking on a posture of mutuality and even need, we ought to cultivate friendships and relationships of mutuality with others.
Books like unChristian and films like “Lord, Save Us From Your Followers” sufficiently document the destructive effects of Christian relational strategies of manipulation and coercion. Not only do such behaviors not “work,” they’re simply sub-Christian ways of relating to others.
We should not imagine that we can embody our identity as the people of God by failing to behave like Jesus.
There are countless ways that churches can relate to outsiders that follow the pattern of Jesus, but so many of these are unexplored. We tend to imagine only manipulative relationships that will “get results.”
Churches can offer to clean up local neighborhoods, care for town parks, staff after-school services for kids from low-income homes, provide help for immigrants trying to navigate life in a new place, and enthusiastically support Big Brother and Big Sister programs to mentor kids from single-parent families.
And we can do all of this without insisting that it helps our “bottom line,” increases our attendance, lifts our profile, or benefits us in any other way. We should be satisfied that we have faithfully embodied our identity as followers of Jesus.
And we’ll find that when we live this way, we are sustained by the Spirit of Jesus.
For tomorrow, a common obstacle to evangelical churches being missional.