It is a belief of mine that people will never move as a community to a place where stories can’t be told. People are adverse to theory, they want eyewitness experiences in order to adopt a vision or mission.
We can proof-text from scripture all day long…we can show the biblical reasons for doing something…we can form strategies for ministry that spring from the best of intentions, but still, people will only go where a leader lives in their own life. People only walk the roads marked with the footprints of those they follow. If you want to lead people on mission, you must have stories to tell from the land they are traveling to.
When Israel came upon the borders of the Promised Land, it was not enough to just enter the land. They had to send and get eyewitness accounts of the road that lay ahead. It was critical to the buy-in of the community that they know where they were going and what they would face, and so they sent spies into the land to gather reports. The spies returned with stories of giants they had seen, what they had experienced, and better yet, they returned with grapes and examples of the fruit of the land. The stories included sightings of the sons of Anak (giants), but they were also holding giant clusters of grapes so large it took poles with two men to carry them. Though there was much discussion and argument about whether they could actually occupy the land. Eventually, with the help of the apostolic leading of a young man named Caleb, they entered the land God set before them. The unknown was scarier than the known, and the reminder that God had called them to that mission overcame their fear of the giants and the other obstacles that they would face. Eyewitness stories of the land, along with tangible examples of the promises that lay ahead (in form of giant grape clusters), was enough to mobilize a nation to embrace the mission set before them.
As church leaders, those called to move people toward mission, what stories are we able to tell about he land? As teachers take their place in the pulpit each week, are we able to add to the witness of scripture with our own life stories, or do we rely on the stories of others? Do we simply pontificate theology of mission from within the walls of the church building, or are we able to tell of encounters with giants?
If theory becomes the beat of our drum, then it can never create a missional rhythm in community. Just as the spies returned with eye-witness testimony of what the promised land held, we as leaders must stand in front of people, not with assumptions of what lies ahead, but with eye-witness accounts of what God has in store…and what he is doing in our midst. Even more importantly is what he has done in our own missionaly lived life.
To be a missional Christ-follower, you must live a life on mission. It’s not enough to know about the mission, or even to have memorized the mission. To lead others on mission, you must be able to describe the destination, not from post cards, but from experience. Can you describe what a missional life looks like? Do you have adjectives that describe the joy, fear, pain, as well as the rewards of entering the land? Can you tell these stories first-person? Perhaps the first step to leading a missional church or group is live on mission yourself.
None of us would hire a guide that didn’t have first-hand knowledge of the place we were visiting. Why would we pay someone to tell us about a place they had only read about? We wouldn’t! As God’s leaders who have been called to lead people into the mission Jesus gave us, as his “sent” people (John 20:21), we must be knowledgeable guides! We cannot lead people to lands we have not visited.
My prayer for myself as a pastor, and for you that lead others in the mission of God, is that we always have stories of giants, as well as grapes to show.