by JIm Reapsome
In a sense, the apostle Paul played and planned like Michael Jordan.
Chicago’s Magnificent Mile magnetizes shoppers from around the world. One of North Michigan Avenue’s most powerful magnets is Water Tower Place, a vertical shopping mall with anchors like Marshall Field’s. But what attracts me is the astounding array of goods tucked in the corners. I’ve wandered the bazaars of Old Jerusalem and Istanbul, and this is Chicago’s upscale version.
One of the biggest hands reaching for my wallet is Michael Jordan’s, not the man himself but his store. Yes, he not only owns a restaurant in Chicago, but also a store in which every piece of merchandise has his name on it, from golf balls to cologne. He not only pours in points with his patented twists, turns, and dunks, he just as creatively pours money into his coffers.
That’s because Michael Jordan has redefined what it means to be a professional athlete. He sees beyond the tests of outscoring opponents and winning games to more long-term goals. He’s well on his way to a fifth championship ring, but his vision exceeds even that. He knows there’s life after basketball. No matter how many championship rings you wear, they soon lose their glitter, and poor athletes have had to pawn theirs.
In a sense, the apostle Paul played and planned like Michael Jordan. I can almost see Michael when I hear Paul declaring, “We proclaim him (Jesus Christ), admonishing and teaching everyone with all wisdom, so that we may present everyone perfect in Christ. To this end I labor, struggling with all his energy, which so powerfully works in me” (Col. 1:28, 29). Fully energized by the Holy Spirit, Paul wanted to win every game. “I want you to know how much I am struggling for you,” he said.
I don’t think Paul would object to my comparing him to Michael Jordan, because he loved to compare his calling to that of an athlete. Paul, too, saw far beyond each game. His majestic vision swept beyond individual conversions and new churches. He racked up an impressive Hall of Fame record in total points over a brief career of only 10 years or so.
But Paul was not content to read his box score every day in the newspaper. U.S. sending churches get excited when they hear how fast the church overseas is growing, how many “decisions” we record, how many new churches have been started, how many new conversion techniques we have in our missionary tool-kits. They see these things as short-term goals, as winning one day’s game perhaps. It’s relatively easy to recruit and send players for these exciting games. But our churches don’t sense the urgency in missions to push on to the kind of perfection the apostle Paul sought over the long haul. Potential recruits with a bigger vision of the purpose of world missions are not so readily available.
In our eagerness and zeal to win games, let’s not trample God’s vision. We need to know his game plan. We can’t lose his vision by arguing about what the apostle Paul meant when he talked about presenting everyone perfect in Christ. We must agree that his model of missions surpasses our somewhat limited goal of preaching to produce converts and starting new churches.
Is our missionary vision as big as Paul’s, or are we content with a few spectacular slam dunks? Obviously, Paul was as concerned about starting new churches as Michael Jordan is about hitting his shots. Then what? God’s plan, said Paul, is to give gifted leaders to individual congregations. These gifted leaders, in turn, are to coach God’s people how to coach each other to become winning churches. Every believer plays this game until all the players reach the epitome of their skills. They sharpen their skills by learning more and more of Jesus, until they really become as good as he is.
Their team, the local congregation, plays together as a unit, not as a collection of individuals. They don’t pout, cry, and complain like babies about their roles; they grow up. They do “in your face” love talking, not “trash talking.” And what do you know? Their team keeps getting better and better, because each player builds love into every other player. This team winsbecause it’s held together by the head coach, the Lord Jesus Christ. This is where God is going with his world mission.
Until the new teams we have started around the world play like this, we have not completed our mission. One game does not a season, or a championship, make. What’s our goal in world missions? Championship teams saturated with knowing Jesus, humming along in unity, growing every day in faith and maturity, and scoring nothing less than the full stature of the Lord Jesus Christ.
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