Engaging in mission, 'Jesus style'
We are all called to mission, and Jesus provided us with a model for how to do it, says Elaine Storkey
Study passage: Luke 10:1–9
Jesus set out an interesting model of mission, which we can read about in Luke’s Gospel. He drew on an ancient image of itinerant harvest workers in traditional Middle Eastern society. However, within our contemporary context, this approach might feel a bit dated. Today, we are encouraged to do mission using Facebook, YouTube and smart phones so might conclude that we have little to learn from people centuries ago, who combed down dusty roads to villages and farms at harvest time.
However, we would be wrong. For followers of Jesus, harvest time still refers to the time when we gather the fruits of gospel outreach. And, in this passage, we are being offered a vision of mission that can be applied in whatever era, region, technological condition or cultural context we live in. Let’s see why.
Jesus’ vision for mission
The first thing to notice is that those who Jesus sent on mission went from where he was. They didn’t act on their own, but went under his instructions. They were instructed to share the good news that Jesus is the saviour of the world. Secondly, they were told to travel “two by two” (v1). They didn’t go in huge groups, as that could have intimidated those they were trying to reach. They also didn’t go alone, which could have been dangerous. Going in small groups of two meant that maximum territory could be covered, and it also provided the opportunity for fellowship, accountability and protection.
They were also asked to go in vulnerability. Jesus said: “I am sending you out like lambs among wolves” (v3). We all know what happens to real lambs when wolves are around; the lambs get torn to shreds, killed and then eaten. Their only protection is to keep close to the shepherd. Mission requires us all to stay close to God and be attentive in prayer. Jesus reinforced this third point when he told his disciples not to take a “purse or bag or sandals” (v4). They were to accept their vulnerability, rather than rely on externals. Money, goods or even spare clothing were to be left behind. They were also told not to “greet anyone on the road” (v4). Normally, itinerant workers would have stopped people on the road in order to pick up information about where work was available. Jesus was intimating that disciples were not to second-guess what God had in store; rather they were to simply wait for God’s leading.
Jesus next urged his disciples to seek out the people of peace (v5). When they entered a house or gathering, they were to take the peace of God in with them. Jesus said that if people of peace were present, God’s peace would rest on them. Who were these people of peace? They had not yet heard the gospel, so weren’t followers of Christ. They would have been those who welcomed others out of generosity or kindness. But, above all, they were people whose hearts were not closed to God. Such people of peace are with us today; people who mean us well, and are open to hearing our message of hope.
Jesus then told his disciples to receive from the people they witnessed to, gladly accepting the hospitality given to them. If they were offered food or accommodation, they shouldn’t look around for a better offer but should simply eat and drink whatever they were given (v8). This can be quite a challenge today, particularly if we are witnessing in a multicultural context and the food is very foreign to us. For example, when I was doing a lot of international travel as president of Tearfund, I was often offered meat of very doubtful provenance – I once suspected I was being given rat. But, as guests, we all ate what we were offered, and were blessed by our hosts. Jesus made the point that mission is a form of work, and food is one of the most basic resources we need in order to do this work. Accepting from those we serve in Christ, irrespective of what they believe, reinforces both our vulnerability and the graciousness of their hospitality.
The final point Jesus made was that the disciples should undertake integral mission. They were not simply to preach to people; their message had to be integral to the whole of life, and be done within the context of kingdom work. So he told his followers to heal the sick and share the kingdom of God (v9). They needed to recognise that people think, feel, work, love, get tired, fall sick and struggle. Many people were being treated unjustly too. When they heard the gospel, they needed to be told that God is both love and fairness. Christian mission deals with every aspect of human life, as it draws people to the love of God in Jesus in order to make them whole.
As Jesus sends men and women out into the harvest field today, whether abroad or in their local communities, all of these principles are still part of our mission.
Applying Jesus’ principles of mission today
As Christian women, we are all called to mission – and the vision offered by Jesus is vital. To begin with, we need to recognise the season that we are in. We might be in a time of harvest, like the disciples in Luke were, with people receiving us with open arms and readily responding to the gospel. Or it might be an earlier season, in which we are simply called to sow seed. We could be in a winter season, which is when the ground is hard and we need to pray through the darkness faithfully. We also need to realise that we may not all be in the same season at the same time, but we are still being sent by God in partnership with others. We need one another for support and protection.
A friend of mine used to do street evangelism on her own. One friendly man she encountered struck a bargain with her. If she agreed to go to a club with him, he said he would invite all his friends to listen to her. It seemed a good challenge so she accepted. Somewhat later she realised that his real intention had been to get her drunk in order to lure her back to his flat. She left swiftly, but from then onwards always did her evangelism with others.
We must recognise our vulnerability too, in order to be wise. But we must never put our trust in externals, such as money, status or power. Our trust should be in Christ alone. Embracing this sort of vulnerability is difficult for most of us, especially in the society we live within. But those who have accepted it have often found that God has released his resources for them through others.
Seeking out people of peace is an exciting biblical calling for each one of us. Somewhere in your own circle of friends or acquaintances there will people of peace. Who are they? Who are the ones who engage with you and mean you well? It might be worth asking God to show you if no one comes to mind immediately. Often, they open their wider network of friends to us, which allows us to reach beyond our own circle of acquaintances.
My life has been hugely enriched by people of peace. Some years ago, I had a university colleague who regularly sought out my company. She was an agnostic but often came to my public lectures, and especially enjoyed an evangelistic talk I would give that focused on the Bible stories of Jesus and women. She sat in the front row, knew all the jokes and would laugh even before I got to the punch lines! One day she phoned me and asked if I would be willing to travel 200 miles to give that same talk to a social science conference she was organising. Effectively, she was inviting me to preach the gospel to hundreds of non-Christian students. Some years later, that colleague herself became a Christian. In the end it didn’t happen through my preaching, but through the witness of a Christian neighbour faithfully struggling with disability.
Accepting hospitality, even from those we might not know, is as important today too. The kind of hospitality we receive might be different from that which we read about in Luke. It may involve food or children’s clothing, or it might be someone providing practical help such as collecting a prescription from the chemist or offering us IT help. Learning how to receive from those who are not believers deepens our friendships as well as our interdependency. As we live openly, being honest about our needs, it becomes easier to share the gospel with those we encounter every day.
Jesus’ teaching on mission speaks to us now, whether our calling is to be a street pastor, a CEO, or a mum sharing a play date. Even in our hardened, post-truth culture, the calling for all Christian women remains unchanged: to listen, pray, embrace our own vulnerability and live out the truth of the gospel. We might find ourselves working with pregnant teenage girls, praying with mothers in debt, helping in soup kitchens or listening to bereaved friends, but as Christ’s disciples, our mission stays the same. Many years ago, Jesus sent out those first 72 women and men with wise words on how to preach the gospel and do the work of the kingdom. Today he is anointing us to do the same. All we need is the humility to accept the calling.
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