Hardly anyone gets kicked out of the church because they did nothing. Even among the clergy, who are employed, we seldom relieve them for “doing nothing.” Can you imagine members of the church being brought up on charges of inactivity—for doing nothing right or nothing period? Our practice might suggest there could be no such thing as “missional mal-practice.”
But not if we read Jesus’ story carefully. In fact, within the story it is hard to distinguish Jesus’ call to discipleship—conversion and new life let us say, from Jesus’ call to participate in doing what Jesus does. The most basic call of Jesus is to follow him, and it is in following that the call is accepted. In the absence of actually following, of doing something, there can be no claim of discipleship.
Following what or where? Better to ask, first, who (or whom)? The right answer, of course, is Jesus. Follow Jesus where he goes, follow in what he says and in what he does. Are you a disciple? Here’s the telltale sign: are you following? Following the One who calls, going along with, entering into, what he says and does, in the way he does, wherever he does. Another way to think of it is: Is what you say and do, how you say and do it, with whom, for whom, or to whom you say and do—all flowing from the One you are following? At least, more or less? If not, then it’s not likely “discipleship” and you are not yet a “disciple.” On what grounds would I say such a thing? On grounds of doing nothing or not doing the things that “following” leads followers to do. Or, on grounds of missional mal-practice.
More specifically, I’ve been reflecting on what Jesus did according to Luke 10. Clearly, Jesus is “on mission,” as we like to say. He is living, serving, leading, offering ministry—all to accomplish the mission he’d been sent to accomplish. Let me list what Jesus does.
- He appoints 72 (or 70) others, other than the 12 (see 9:1 for them). These are ordinary people who’d come to Jesus.
- He sends them to other places and people to prepare them for meeting Jesus.
- He tells them they do not have enough help and their assignment is too big for them, but this is not an excuse for doing nothing. Still, go!
- He instructs them to pray for help, to do what Jesus wants them to do. But, again, they must not wait, but go and expect help along the way.
- He warns them of danger, threat, and peril that could be deadly, but still they are to go.
- He commands them to tell people exactly what he had been telling people (Kingdom-Come!) and to help people the way Jesus had helped them (e.g., heal the sick who are there).
- He tells them how to go, what to take (or not), what to look for, what to say, and what to expect.
- He assures them that even if the worst happens there will be vindication of them, their words and deeds.
I could say more, but this list demonstrates the point. Jesus’ call to belong to him inseparably links to his call to join him in a life of missional being and doing. In other words, Jesus did things and calls as many as will to join him in doing things. If would-be followers did as Jesus with Jesus, well and good. If not, still well and good for now, but they are not to be confused with disciples. Here, I think, are the grounds for discipline or even expulsion for doing nothing, for missional mal-practice.
Now, this contrasts strikingly with common understandings in most of our churches, even or especially in Bible-believing, Jesus-loving, born-again churches. We focus on believing; and “doing” follows, we assume. When we speak of “believing” we mostly mean believing the right things about Jesus, and other things as well. More particularly, we mean being able to say the right things, in the right way, about the things we believe. Sometimes we also mean saying all or nearly all the right things about what we believe, in the right way and proportion. These are often our preoccupations. And, against these beliefs we measure, evaluate, confirm or condemn ourselves and others. We all agree that some should be disciplined or censored for violations in such matters of faith and belief.
But we seldom, if ever, notice that Jesus’ actual ministry seems to move along a different path. Of course, some things are right and true, and there are proper ways of understanding and talking about them. But most of that came or was learned along the way as Jesus’ followers followed in the ways Jesus walked. We do not read of Jesus turning people away for saying the wrong things about important matters. But regularly Jesus reminds or clarifies what he is doing, and what following him would mean for those who ask. Regularly, Jesus leads his own into places or situations where they do what he does, and they say what he says. Which is to say, belonging to him was on display in what they were doing.
Regularly, missional practice marks the true follower in ways that are powerful and fruitful. Certainly it is because of who Jesus is and what Jesus has done and continues to do, that any such doing does any good at all. Still, however, the sign is seen in right practice not right profession. Clearly we are most right to focus on missional practice and should be vigilant when there is no or mal-practice afoot.
My point is not so much that we should kick more people out, so let’s examine what they are doing. My point is that in light of Jesus’ way of making disciples and starting the movement that eventually became church, we should note carefully that following Jesus leads us to be on mission with Jesus, to participate in that mission. Missional mal-practice, therefore, is real and must be carefully avoided. And, of course, the best way to avoid missional mal-practice is to do something, like Jesus did. Who knows, it could lead to mission accomplishment.