Why aiming at mission creates authentic community and refined theology
Written by Andrew Wood
“Follow me, and I will make you become fishers of men.” – Mark 1:17
You know that feeling when Facebook reminds you of a post you made six years ago, and all you want to do is roll up in the fetal position? But instead, you start to investigate whether it was just that one post; you need to see if everything you said back then was just as cringeworthy.
The more you look, the more you regret. Then you start looking at pictures, thinking, “Maybe at least I had some swag back then.” But you’re let down once again. You want to erase every picture you took and filter you used that you thought was cool, and every comment you made that you thought was profound.
Sometimes, looking back on my life journey can be a bit like revisiting my awkward, pre-puberty Instagram posts. I can see the seasons where I put in hard work and accomplished something meaningful, and the seasons where I was extremely lazy and had nothing going for me. I can look back and see seasons where I had some mad game with my romantic interests, and seasons where my mom would have had a hard time lying to me about how handsome I was.
When you start seeing your past with some level of awareness, you also gain the ability to look forward on your life with that same awareness. You can start to see the seasons you are heading into and understand that they are only a season, even in the midst of one. You begin to trust the process of ups and downs.
I say all this to suggest that I’m on the verge of a new season in my life, particularly as a follower of Jesus. In this new season the mission of God—to share the gospel of Jesus Christ through word and deed—is the primary target I’m trying to hit. That may appear elementary, so let me explain.
Throughout my life so far, I’ve often separated ministry into three separate priorities: theology, community and mission. At different times, I pursued these priorities in different orders and in different ways. Of course, each one is important and closely intertwined with the others. However, I have come to believe that my primary focus should be on mission. Depth in discipleship and theology happen best while on mission, and strong communities are built in the midst of shared mission.
I didn’t always think like that. When I first started to take Jesus seriously for myself I made it a priority to know and understand my own theology and philosophy. I felt as though step one in my discipleship to Jesus was to know what I thought about Jesus. The goal was to have a strong defence for my reasons for following Jesus. I figured that if I started there I could find or build a community around that common goal. It was only then that I would “Go” (Matthew 28:18-20) and reach my neighbours and friends with the hope I’ve found in Jesus. I would categorize that season as fruitful, but not necessarily kingdom-building kind of fruitful. That season had its benefits, and I think God has used it to bless what he’s called me to today. But I felt that there was a lot missing.
My next season was prioritized by community. Diversity in theology didn’t matter as much, as long as we had community. I thought mission would be a by-product of community, that if we built a strong and healthy enough community, then people would be attracted to it. I believed peoples’ attraction to our healthy community would give us the chance to share the love of Jesus with them.
I’ve had a run at that for a few years, and have seen some fruitfulness from it. But I’ve also seen how easy it is to get comfortable with your community. I’ve found that when community is primary, you end up being surrounded by people who look and think a lot like you. We tend to organize around commonalities—I think that’s human nature—and that’s okay. But I think there’s more to the mission of God.
I read Mark 1:17 a little while back, and something dawned on me. When Jesus called his disciples to follow Him, He promised to would make them into fishers of men. But he didn’t just promise that he would eventually make them into fishers of men after he trained them in theology, and built a solid community around himself. He told them he would make them fishers of men and then immediately took them to start fishing for men. The disciples said yes to Jesus and were immediately thrown into the game. Now, I don’t want to minimize the importance of equipping the disciples to make disciples, and their fruitfulness by doing so in community. However, it is clear that Jesus highly prioritizes mission and taught his disciples to do the same.
I’m heading into a new season where I’ve committed to mission determining my community, and my theology being refined in the process. This is a season where sharing the gospel of Jesus Christ through love and deed takes priority over my selfish attempts at community, and where the depth of my theological understanding will come from necessity on mission. I will no longer consider myself, or anyone else who has chosen to follow Jesus as ill-equipped to participate on mission, and instead suggest that it’s on mission where you will grow the most in your theology. I will no longer assume that the community that I build around myself will be attractive to people around me, just because I think it is. Rather I’ll assume that the community that God builds around me as a result of mission, will be the community that God uses to build his Kingdom.
I can’t say how long this season will last, but I’m giving it a shot and praying all the way through it. I’m fully aware that in a few years from now, I may look back on this season of my life and cringe. My future self will consider my present self as immature and uninformed. My future self will likely have answers my present self doesn’t have and wisdom that will only be gained by living out this new season—and I’m surprisingly comfortable with that.