Friday, September 5, 2008

The Missional Heart

Whether or not you've ever darkened the door of a North American church the word mission, when used in a “religious” sense, evokes thoughts of missionaries traveling to distant lands and unfamiliar peoples. For many, the word mission is associated with the financial support of others who go to distant lands and unfamiliar peoples in the name of Christ. Don't get me wrong, I have a great love for those who engage in mission to far away places. Our particular church supports a variety of mission organizations whose primary focus of ministry is beyond North America. Recently, we've been able to send short-term mission teams to Cameroon, the Philippines, and the Middle East, for which we give thanks.

That being said, when we speak of being missional, we are talking about more than supporting God's work in distant lands. For while the word mission is a noun that we can support from afar or for a summer, the word missional is an adjective that describes our personal participation in God’s ongoing mission all around us. Mission comes from the latin word missio, meaning “sent.” The missional church is nothing more than individuals who realize they have been sent by God, and in particular to their own place and time.

I heard someone complain to his pastor, “I just don’t have time to be missional.” I have to agree. With the busyness of our 21st century lives there’s simply no time left to be missional -- unless of course we make the time. For we will make time for the things we care about, the things we are concerned about, the things we are moved about. Friends, to be missional we need a heart change. In Matthew 9: 36 we discover a primary reason why Jesus was missional. “When Jesus saw the crowds, he had compassion for them, because they were harassed and helpless, like sheep without a shepherd.” Jesus had a heart – a heart of compassion for people. The word “compassion” translates a Greek word (splachna) meaning “to be moved from the gut.” Jesus had a gut-level compassion for the sick, the grieving, the lonely, the hungry, the harassed, and for those who were running from God as fast as they could. The compassion of Jesus begins at the exit doors of the church – and in a time when cynicism comes easy, this same compassion is the gift that Jesus wants to give us.

As we seek to understand more deeply what it means to be God’s missional people, and to be sent by God to this city, I’m asking our Lifegroups to ponder and respond to this important question: What are some of the things that really move you with compassion in our immediate situation, place, and time? In particular, what are the things that move you with compassion and concern right here in West Los Angeles…or in your own particular corner of God’s world? Let’s talk about it together…and pray that God will develop within us, his missional heart.


Kim said...

What draws me to show compassion is when we see all the hurricanes fly through the Gulf Coast I feel that we as the body of Christ should have compassion for those who lost there homes have no food, money, computers etc I also feel we should show compassion by giving to these people who were devastated by all these hurricanes.

Mirja said...

My compassion is with the animals of the world. I feel a deep sadness for the way that we humans have treated our fellow inhabitants of this earth. We should be their caretakers but we are not. I volunteer at the West Los Angeles Animal Shelter and do what little I can do to bring a small amount of joy to the lives of the foresaken dogs and cats. I recently adopted a 14 yr. old blind and deaf poodle who was about to be euthanized. I now have the burden on my shoulders of knowing when life should be brought to an end for her. I am praying and asking for prayers to guide me with that decision making so that I do right by her. Thanks

Life said...

A beautiful post to begin with and a question that applies to everyone regardless of their belief in God. In my own heart I often struggle with the difference between two words - compassion and pity. When you see a war veteran at a stop light with a sign that requests help, is what I feel compassion or pity? When I see a child in Asia begging on the streets for food, do I feel compassion or pity? When I see the thousands of families in Iraq and other countries who have lost a family member to war and poverty, what do I really feel? Pity seems to have such a negative connotation attached to it. I suppose the easy difference between the two feelings is defined by the action that happens after it - if you work to alleviate the suffering, you have compassion. If you offer commiserations and get on with your life it falls into sympathy or pity. But is the difference really that easy to define? In the busyness of this world, how much of the help we offer (financial, physical, mental) really falls into compassion or how do we know what it is that we really feel? said...

compassion is not just a reaction; it is what is truly in your heart for your fellow earthly creatures. (at least that is my take on it) pity doesn't even come into play...

when your heart breaks for others it is the result of a compassionate (pure) heart. (a God-like heart, so to speak)

the missional heart is filled with compassion and acts upon his honest love for his brothers and sisters in need, without pity.... without selfish interests involved. simply doing what is right by each other, as we would have done right by us! (the golden rule my mother always talked about so much!)

Steve Craig said...

Thanks Kim, Mirja, Life, and Dancer for your comments! I agree that when we are speaking of Christ's compassion, we are talking about more than feelings...we are talking about actions, inspired by the Spirit of Christ himself. The flow of the Sermon on Mission, and even the prayer that follows in v. 37-38 will bear that out.

Thomas Donnelly said...

For me, compassion is the innate stirring of God's love within us. It is a basic urge of connection, unity, and love, between men (and women) for the betterment of us and of this world.

I love that we will be focusing on compassion, perhaps because I feel I am very much of this world, and my consciousness focuses here. I appreciate talk of the hereafter, of salvation, etc, but for me the application of the teachings of Jesus, the social gospel, and the calls to make the expression of God's love manifest on Earth touch me far deeper.

And also, my interest in a deeper and truer spirit of ecumenism also stokes my passion for this subject matter. After all, so many people of faith see eye to eye on the deep spiritual need for compassion:

“In seperateness lies the world's great misery, in compassion lies the world's true strength.” The Buddha

“No man is a true believer unless he desireth for his brother that which he desireth for himself” Muhammad

“A religious man is a person who holds God and man in one thought at one time, at all times, who suffers harm done to others, whose greatest passion is compassion, whose greatest strength is love and defiance of despair.”
Abraham J. Heschel (Jewish theologian and philosopher)

“Compassion will cure more sins than condemnation.”
Minister Henry Ward Beecher

This last quote resonates in me the strongest. I feel if as Christians we focused more on compassion and less on judgement, more on suffering and less on sin, we might well be walking much closer to the path of Jesus.

And when I ask myself what I am compassionate about, what pulls me from the gut, I suppose I try and look at the world and see it through Jesus's eyes.

In his time, he looked at those no one would look at, those who were reviled by most and pitied by none. Those were who he chose to show his most profound acts of compassion. Who is that in our society? Well, for a prosperous nation we have the largest percentage of people in prison of any country in the world, and any and all attempts at their recovery or redemption have been all but forgotten. The immigrants here, legal and illegal, have hard lives made even harder by misguided laws and our own apathy. And closer to my life, the hidden plague of loneliness, of separation, brought on by the isolation of our itinerant and technological lives is something that I feel called to respond to. I think if we all thought for just a moment or two, we could name a good number of people suffering from loneliness, and that is something that is curable...or at least treatable.

Steve Craig said...

Tom, beautifully said. Compassion is a universal principle taught by many wise leaders and peoples but, unfortunately, so is cruelty. The capacity to choose one and not the other is, I believe, a God inspired gift -- whether we realize it or not. May we grow in that compassion which is a reflection of God's own!

Irina said...

I know it's been a few weeks since this post started, but now that I know how to log on (long story), I wanted to post our groups answers to what moves us: Children (their hearts, spirits), Immigrants (wanting to welcome all who come here), animals and ALL who suffer, and when death encroaches and tries to take the life (literally and figuratively) out of someone. It was very honoring to hear each person express what moves them.

Steve Craig said...

Thanks for your comments Irina: the cause of children, immigrants, and the suffering (animals or people). These are certainly close to Jesus' heart. How do you think we are doing when it comes to ministry in these areas? Anyone have suggestions for improvement?

Emily said...

After a long delay...Some "Splachna"-inspiring things for our Friday Night Life Group: animals, elderly and infirm people, large crowds of people, homeless people, people suffering from hunger around the world, military and their families, physically and mentally disabled people, immigrants, temporary workers and students