Spirit-Led: Pillars of Participation in God’s Mission

In the previous blog post, we discussed the idea that the Church does not have a mission; instead, God has a mission that the Church is invited to participate in. This idea is intimately related to being Spirit-led.

Craig Van Gelder writes that “it is crucial to understand the ministry of the Spirit if we are to comprehend the ministry of the church in the world, or more aptly put, how the church is to participate in God’s mission in the world,” (Van Gelder, The Ministry of the Missional Church, 24). The Church is here to support God’s mission, not the other way around. When the Church takes the reins, the Church often leads itself astray chasing what it thinks should be done instead of what God is trying to get done.

The Spirit is active in the world right now. Across time and space the Spirit works out the mission of God in creation. When the Church understands that the Spirit is already at work before the Church arrives, and when the Church begins to recognize the work that the Spirit is doing, then the Church can step into the situation that God has been preparing.

The Spirit is active in the world right now.

One of my professors in graduate school, Dr. Steve Cloer, likes to say that the Church is not a motorboat, it’s a sailboat. Many churches today function as a motorboat. They turn the motor on, take control of all movement and direction for the church, and then zip off to wherever they want to go. Often times, these churches run out of gas and become stranded in the open waters of the world, tossed around by the waves of culture as they lose control of the boat. This is not to say that God can’t or doesn’t use these churches. God can and does still impact the world through motorboat churches. It is to say that motorboat churches limit their ability to participate in God’s mission the way God designed them to.

The Church is, instead, called to be a sailboat. “The Spirit of God empowers and guides the mission of God,” (Allen, Poured Out, 13). The Church is not powered by anything of its own making; the Church is powered by the pneuma – the wind/breath/Spirit – of God. The Church catches the wind of the Spirit and travels wherever the Spirit wants it to go. As Christians, it is our job to learn how to open our sails so that they may be made full by the Spirit.

The Church is not powered by anything of its own making; the Church is powered by the pneuma – the wind/breath/Spirit – of God.

Especially in our culture today, a sailboat church is terrifying. There is a major loss of control in this type of living. Sometimes the Spirit blows us into easy, calm water like we see in the story of Philip (Acts 8:26-40). An angel of the Lord told Philip to travel the road from Jerusalem to Gaza. On this road he came across an Ethiopian eunuch and “the Spirit told Phillip, ‘Go to that chariot and stay near it,'” (Acts 8:29).

Philip and the eunuch began a discussion about Scripture that ended with the eunuch being baptized into the kingdom of God, consummating the restorative power of God’s mission foretold in Isaiah 56:4-5. After this, “the Spirit of the Lord suddenly took Philip away…[and] he appeared at Azotus and traveled about, preaching the gospel in all the towns until he reached Caesarea,” (Acts 8:39a, 40b)

Other times the Spirit blows us into rough waters where the waves threaten to drown us. We see this in the very life of Jesus. After his baptism, “Jesus, full of the Holy Spirit, returned from the Jordan and was lead by the Spirit in the desert, where for forty days he was tempted by the devil,” (Luke 4:1-2a).

Sometimes we try to steer ourselves one way and the Spirit blows so strongly that we have no other option than to either crash under the weight of the wind or release the ship wheel and yield to the direction of the Spirit. We see this when Paul tries to travel into Asia to preach the gospel. “Paul and his companions traveled throughout the region of Phrygia and Galatia, having been kept by the Holy Spirit from preaching the word in the province of Asia. When they came to the border of Mysia, they tried to enter Bithynia, but the Spirit of Jesus would not allow them to,” (Acts 16:6-7).

And still, other times, it seems that the Spirit of God has ceased blowing altogether, leaving us stranded, motionless in the sea. When Jesus ascended into heaven, he told his disciples, “Do not leave Jerusalem, but wait for the gift my Father promised, which you have heard me speak of,” (Acts 1:4b). And so they waited, not entirely sure what they were waiting for but trusting that God would not leave them high and dry. Then, on Pentecost, the Spirit of God filled them. Full of the Spirit, Peter spoke “and about three thousand were added to their number that day,” (Acts 2:41b).

A Spirit-led life is messy, but beautiful. It is uncertain, but built on the cornerstone of God. It is painful, but brings the deepest restoration. A Spirit-led life manifests from a deep trust in the faithfulness of God. The Judeo-Christian tradition teaches us that it is the Spirit “who not only creates the church by calling it into existence, but who also leads and teaches the church by sending it into the world to participate fully in God’s mission in all of creation,” (Van Gelder and Zscheile, Participating in God’s Mission, 52). A Spirit-led life is the life of faith that God is calling us to.

This life is, in part, what James is talking about when he says, “Now listen, you who say ‘Today or tomorrow we will go to this or that city, spend a year there, carry on business and make money.’ Why, you do not even know what will happen tomorrow. What is your life? You are a mist that appears for a little while and then vanishes. Instead, you ought to say, ‘If it is the Lord’s will, we will live and do this or that.’ As it is, you boast and brag. All such boasting is evil. Anyone, then, who knows the good they ought to do and doesn’t do it sins,” (James 4:13-17)

Engrained into us by the scarcity mindset of the culture around us is the need for security. The American Dream adds its voice to this mindset, telling us that we are only guaranteed the security that we create for ourselves. Almost everything in our culture today is pushing us to be motorboats, to tell God where we are going. As Christians we are to be sailboats, trusting in the faithfulness of God and allowing our lives to be steered and powered by the Spirit.

Almost everything in our culture today is pushing us to be motorboats, to tell God where we are going. As Christians we are to be sailboats, trusting in the faithfulness of God and allowing our lives to be steered and powered by the Spirit.

Comment with any thoughts, ideas, or questions. I would love to hear what you think!

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