Updated: Oct 27
Why multiply or engage in mission?
Loads of leaders, multiplication catalysts, planters, and wannabe planters converge in Orlando on annual pilgrimage. It can signal a break from Snow-mageddon in Nova Scotia. These pilgrims arrive donned in shorts, flip flops and Tee Shirts. Middle aged pilgrims in an act of homage to Rick Warren and Wayne Cordeiro sport dazzling Hawaiian shirts. Fedoras are optional since many pilgrims desire maximum absorption of the Florida UV Rays.
Orlando is the place for networking and sunshine, at Exponential East. This event invites you to “experience the largest multiplication gathering on earth.” This broadly intertribal gathering draws young and seasoned leaders from across North America and even overseas. It has been a source of encouragement, inspiration and challenge for thousands of leaders. One plenary speaker tackled two lousy reasons to plant a church and offered two great reasons for wading into the glorious mess of church planting.
"One terrible reason to plant a church is because it's the trendiest, hippest, coolest thing going on in church work today. I have seen a share of young, energized leaders who felt peer pressure to demonstrate their love for God by getting their board shorts, and surfing the church planting wave only to wash up three years later, bloodied and disillusioned by the whole experience.”
The veteran leader also identified that many leaders jump into kick starting their own church to avoid the challenges of a leadership developmental forged while on staff with and under others. He called this “leapfrogging.” Leapfrogging into a more autonomous ministry.
Here, the megachurch dude echoes the late Dutch missiologist Johannes Verkuyl who claimed there are both pure and impure motives for mission and evangelism.
We as Christ followers are on a journey of ongoing transformation and our motives will never be squeaky clean until we are promoted to glory. However, Scripture does invite us to prayerfully weigh our motives. Thus, the megachurch pastor and the Dutch missionary statesman, have warrant to challenge the why you and I are on mission.
Simon the sorcerer becomes a believer and attempts to buy the ability to impart the Holy Spirit. Scripture implies he wanted status and power (Acts 8:9-10). Paul identified “false apostles” motivated by a desire to secure their own following (Acts 20:28-30). I have met young leaders who are stoked by the prospect of presiding over their own fiefdom – church planting “lairds of their ane castles”- as we would say in Scotland. I have heard young preachers who are the eloquent heroes of their own sermons and illustrations –when the goal of the preacher is to lift up Jesus as glorious and strong and mighty to save. Preaching Christ can be driven by “good will”, “love”, “sincerity” or “envy”,” rivalry” and “selfish ambition” (Phil 1:18).
Methodism’s Rev. C.C. McCabe can be assessed as “a model of apostolic confidence.” He can rightly be celebrated as exemplifying gospel optimism. But it can also be argued that he and his followers, with their derogatory references to agnostics, displayed other motives.
Robert Ingersoll, a champion of agnosticism, was given newspaper coverage when speaking at a Freethinkers of America conference. He asserted that churches were in terminal decline. McCabe telegrammed his ideological opponent: “Dear Robert- All Hail the power of Jesus’ Name – we are building one Methodist Church for every day in the year, and propose to make it two a day” – C.C. McCabe”. As the contents of the telegram became widely known it became the catalyst for a folk hymn. This referred to the Freethinkers as a “motley band” of “infidels” and a refrain that declared four times – “we’re building two a day.”
This can be seen as more than the celebration of gospel preaching churches being launched. It could be cited as evidence of expressions of triumphalism, sectarianism, spiritual arrogance and (Methodist) denominational superiority.
It’s of course, quite easy to critique McCabe and his followers and bemoan the bygone Methodists’ antics and attitudes. It’s easier to point a finger at a historic figure like the Scottish pioneer , David Livingston, who was committed to the Three Cs of Christianity, Civilization and Commerce and accuse him of colonialism than it is to search our own hearts. Cross-cultural missionary activity has been accused of imperialism; “ a power which seeks to be served.” This all reveals the reality that Christian action is influenced by both “pure” and “impure” motives.
I want to offer you Biblical motivation to fuel your missional endeavours. Meanwhile, I do invite you to have the courage to look in the mirror. I invite you, as God enables you to look into your dark side. I invite you to get trusted peers and mentors around you who will call out and speak into your actions and attitudes. The Psalmist could say, you have searched me, Lord, and you know me.” (Psalm 139:1) and pray, “Search me, God, and know my heart; test me and know my anxious thoughts.” (psalm 139:23) I invite you to pray into your “why”. I invite you to pray that your heart will be stirred afresh with affection for Jesus and a desire to make much of him.
What fuels your ministry? What propels you on mission? Why pour your energy into developing a brand-new gospel enterprise? Why catalyze a new venture?
Learning from a Scottish Indiana Jones
The medical missionary pioneer, David Livingstone, has been criticized for being hijacked by Victorian cultural imperialism. The Scottish explorer pursued the three Cs: Christianity, Commerce, and Civilization. He thought that the opening up of legitimate trade routes would break the back of human trafficking. This was a misguided strategy. From our 21st Century vantage point it is all too easy to point at the imperialistic shortcomings of our missional forebears. Something greater than three C's percolated through the chambers of Livingstone’s heart.
He had a vision. That’s for sure. He dreamed of indigenous African evangelists fanning out across the Dark Continent and proclaiming the good news. He would look out on the horizon and see smoke curling up from distant kraals, realizing these people had never heard the name of Jesus.
He put his life at risk. He was shot at by slave traders, attacked by a hippo and mauled by a lion. His wife, Mary, contracted malaria on a journey to join him, and died. Like many missionaries of that era, he spent extended periods away from his children.
Why in the world would you put yourself through all that?
This question was brought into sharp focus when Livingstone returned to the British Isles on home assignment. One audience member recited Livingstone’s trials and challenges, and then questioned the Scotsman.
“Livingstone, you’ve been attacked by wild animals, attacked by slave traders, and in all this, you have only seen one convert. Why?”
Livingstone responded succinctly, “The love of Christ constraineth me.”
He echoed Paul’s words, albeit in King Jim English. Paul describes a divine impetus to his life mission as an ambassador of Christ and a herald of the message of reconciliation. “For Christ’s love compels us, because we are convinced that one died for all, and therefore all died.” (2 Corinthians 5:14)
Livingstone’s dreams of gospel transformation were not realized in his lifetime. Apparently, only one soul professed faith in Christ through the Doctor’s efforts. The singular fruit of Livingstone’s labors was Sechele, chief of the Kwena people of Botswana. However, some of the Scottish pioneer’s missionary peers questioned the authenticity of Sechele’s conversion.
When David Livingstone died, his corpse was shipped to London, and he was laid to rest at Westminster Abbey. His heart was buried in Africa. David Livingstone loved Africa, and he loved Africans. He was “compelled by the love of Christ.”
Love, love, love…
Do you love the people and the place where God has positioned you? Do you love the Seattleites, Vancouverites, Torontonians, Quebecers, San Franciscans, Calgarians, Londoners, Glaswegians, Bostonians, around you? Do you have a heart for the community that occupies the zip code or postal code where you have planted your gospel flag? Do you have a heart for the misguided, quirky, driven, eccentric, religious, irreligious, artistic, apathetic, promiscuous, delightful, dysfunctional, distracted, broken, self-sufficient, autonomous, idolatrous, lost people around you? Is your vision for church planting or church expansion fueled by something grander than presiding over a viable, sustainable, or “successful” (whatever that means) ecclesial enterprise?
Where will they bury your heart?
Do you love your town or city like a missionary, or do you simply enjoy your community, consuming its goods, services, and amenities?
Livingstone looked beyond himself and could see “the smoke of a thousand villages” where no missionary had set foot, where the gospel had never been announced, and where The Name above every name was unknown and uncherished. He was compelled by the love of Christ.
The love of God for a broken cosmos, a runaway planet, populated by a rebel race fueled the divine rescue mission. “For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life.” (John 3:16) It was the relentless, furious love of God that compelled the spotless Son of God to offer up his life on the cross. Octavius Winslow exclaimed, “Who delivered up Jesus to die? Not Judas, for money; not Pilate, for fear; not the Jews, for envy-but the Father, for love!'"
God is looking for people compelled by love to join Him in His mission.
Heavenly Father, I cannot get my head or heart wrapped around the immensity and intensity of your love. I confess that I don’t live in the power of your affection for me. Give me a fresh revelation of your love, pour your love afresh into my heart and use me as an expression of your great love, In Jesus’ Name Amen.