In Matthew 10, we get the missional marching orders from the Sent One himself. Three times Jesus mentions sending (9:38; 10:5; 10:16) in this instructional passage where those who had been listening and learning have now become laborers and leaders in the mission. I have been preaching through this text for the past four months, and God has enriched my understanding about the mission of God, some of which I would like to share with you.
There’s a lot of talk these days about being missional, and a significant part of that conversation has to do with engaging culture (a la Acts 17 and Mars Hill) while working within a indigenous framework and disciplined contextualization. I applaud the efforts for Christians to become better intercultural communicators and learning to impact our culture by not just reacting against it, but with a redemptively prophetic speaking into it as those who have inherited a kingdom that is unshakable and eternal. Nevertheless, I am concerned that the idea of missional has sometimes led Christ-followers to seek respectability with the culture they endeavored to befriend, often fostered by ungrounded assumptions.
These thoughts were triggered in my mind while reading through Jesus’ words in Matthew 10. Missiologists often talk about the pursuit of finding a “man of peace” (Luke 10) or a “worthy man” as a base for gospel advance. While the principle is sound, Jesus does not speak with as much certainty as he does conditionality. “If the house is worthy” (Matt 10:13) or “if a son of peace is there” (Luke 10:6) Jesus says. We are to pursue this but are not guaranteed to find it. Therefore, if we necessarily make the starting point of gospel advance finding such a person, are we not making the assumption that the condition will always be met?
The fact is that condition will not always be met, and the account of the early church mission through cities and culture centers proves this to be the case. Rather, they entered into the religious centers (synagogues) resulting in riots, revival, and sometimes removal from the city by stoning—which leads me back to Jesus in Matthew 10. Following the instruction about direction and reception in culture, Jesus proceeds to tell them with clarity and certainty what they can expect from the culture in Matthew 10:16-23. Because of Jesus, they will be persecuted and beaten by both Jewish and Gentile leaders, put to death by family members, and hated by everyone.
Now these words should cause us pause when we think about cultural engagement and contextualization, should it not? While these words don’t overthrow the missiological principles of cultural engagement and contextualization, we should beware lest we make conditionalties of the mission certainties and certainties conditionalities. Jesus is telling those who join his mission that they will be treated the same way he was treated. If they flogged Jesus, hated Jesus, and put him to death, then those who join Jesus in the mission the Father sent him to accomplish can expect no different results. Suffering is inevitable consequence of those who take up the cross our Savior bore (e.g., Paul testifies in Act 20:23 that in every city the Holy Spirit testifies that imprisonment and afflictions await him). The marks of fruitfulness to the mission cannot be seen by cultural respectability but by faithfulness to the Via Delarosa.
Let’s admit it. We would rather conclude that the man of peace and “worthy homes” are certainties and suffering, hatred, and death are conditionalities in the mission. The problem with that kind of thinking is it is not the thoughts of the one sending us. Therefore, it seems to me that we should be more concerned with a missional methodology that prepares Christ-followers for suffering handed to them by the culture they are hoping to impact for the glory of Jesus.
When I think missional, my first thoughts should not be contextualization or cultural engagement but suffering for the cause of the Christ, and this precisely because Jesus promised it. Should God open the door and provide favor to make cultural impact with kingdom-minded venues like social justice or other forms of mercy ministry, then great, but those very activities that provide avenues of influence and respectability should not pacify us from preaching repentance and confronting the idolatry which the glory of our jealous God consumes.
By no means am I saying that the missional mindset should make allowances for self-inflicted suffering (!) or simply being a jerk (we should be harmless/innocent as doves). What I am saying is that the firstfruits of our mission and our main advertisement should be that of the spectacular claims of Christ and the unavoidable realities pressed home upon the hearts of sinners when the kingdom of God is at hand. What we see from the instructions of Jesus and the acts of the apostles on mission is the displaying of the infinite worth of Jesus through suffering as a primary means for advancing the gospel. Regardless of our cultural context, that should be a guiding truth and principle of being missional. Missional without suffering because of Christ is not missional, no matter what we add to it. May we never contextualize the message to the point where it offends no one, because a gospel that does offend anyone will save no one.