by Jim Reapsome
No, strategy isn’t the right word, because Jesus didn’t give us strategies for world evangelization. He gave us relationships between himself and his Father and between himself and us.
No, strategy isn’t the right word, because Jesus didn’t give us strategies for world evangelization. He gave us relationships between himself and his Father and between himself and us. He gave us joy, peace and unity — the same kind he enjoyed with his Father. He also gave us an unparalleled passion for the world. He was forever talking about being sent.
He knew the world rejected him and hated his disciples. But he prayed for the world to know that he had come from God. He also prayed for unity among his followers to come, because their unity was the key to the world’s knowing that God sent him.
Our unity is the most overlooked "strategy" for world evangelization. Like deer racing through the woods in hunting season, we have tried to dodge the bullets in our Lord’s prayer in John 17. Or worse, we have allegorized his bullets into marshmallows.
All the while, we have hissed at liberals for making John 17 their main artillery in the drive for denominational unity, while despising allegorists for not taking the Scriptures literally.
Putting all preconceptions aside, we must figure out how to make our Lord’s prayer work. He had the world on his heart that night in the Upper Room. I would love to see a model for world evangelization built on John 14-17.
One of the disciples asked Jesus about the world. If we had been sitting around the table with him, we wold have picked uup certain key threads that connect the world with our love, obedience, joy, peace and unity. The world won’t hear with spiritual ears what we have to say, or see with spiritual eyes what we do, unless we love Jesus and each other. Not unless people see our joy, peace and oneness in Christ.
We love to talk about resistant people and religious and political barriers to conversion across the world. We write books and conduct seminars. But we do not even ask if there might be something wrong with us. The static is always on the other person’s line, not ours.
If only we worked as hard doing what Jesus said as we do explaining what he did not say. When we read that we are supposed to be one as Jesus and his Father are one, we’re embarrassed by our failures. When I read it, I confess that my brain crashes like my hard drive. I can’t ring up on my monitor a picture of what this oneness is supposed to look like. But I have a very strong impression that it doesn’t look like what I see happening in the church and mission today.
We major on what Jesus did not mean in John 17. He didn’t mean one world superchurch, did he? He didn’t mean one world supermission, did he? We say No, and then go our merry way denying that he said we ought to be one so that the world might know.
I’m also better at describing what this unity is not. It is not everybody doing what they want to do, regardless of their fellow Christians. It is not striving to appear to be the best, or better than the rest. It is not competing for churches, workers, and money in places where others are already at work. It is not screaming, "Look at us! Look at us!" It is not waving our denominational flags and blowing our doctrinal bugles as we charge into battle.
I suspect that we don’t want to answer our Lord’s prayer because we don’t think it works in the real world of evangelization and mission. We are too well schooled in behaviorism and mass marketing to beleive that anything that simple would actually draw unbelievers to Jesus. It’s a lot easier to latch on to this or that gimmick, or the latest "key" to conversion. For example, in these days it seems a lot more attractive to pray against Satan and his demons than to pray for unity and love among our sisters and brothers.
When we throw out John 17 for the sake of the good old church fight, we send ripples of spiritual degeneration around the world. Divisiveness at home is connected to spiritual resistance abroad. If what Jesus said means anything at all, it means lack of response overseas is connected to what we are here. Praying for a breakthrough in the 10-40 Window? Great. Where are the great prayer summonses for unity in Christ’s body? Where are the churches and mission agencies that will issue a call for unity before studying the ramifications of Generation X for world missions?
I’d love to sit around the table to find out from my sisters and brothers what John 17 really means in world missions. Somehow I suspect that until we get serious about doing what Jesus prayed for, the world isn’t going to be too impressed by our talk, or convinced by our clever strategies.
EMQ, Vol. 32, No. 2. Copyright © 1996 Evangelism and Missions Information Service (EMIS). All rights reserved. Not to be reproduced or copied in any form without written permission from EMIS.