Archive for the 'Bono' Category

If It Isn’t Personal, It Isn’t Mission


“On Christmas Eve I went to St. Patrick’s Cathedral….It had dawned on me before, but it really sank in: the Christmas story. The idea that…Love…would seek to explain itself and describe itself by becoming a child born in straw poverty…I was sitting there, and…tears came down my face, and I saw the …utter genius of picking a particular point in time and deciding to turn on this…love needs to find form…Love has to become an action…There must be an incarnation. Love must be made flesh.”—Bono

“The Word became flesh and blood and moved into the neighborhood.”—John 1:14 (The Message)

Most churches raise large amounts of money for mission projects in their own community and all over God’s world. Money is an essential ingredient of those projects. The folks who’ve raised the money feel a genuine sense of accomplishment, both from their shared work and also from the difference their gifts make in someone else’s life.

Sending a check is a good start. But too many people and churches fail to move beyond that ‘good start”. Fundraisers evolve into annual events. Over the years “missions” becomes synonymous with “charity”. Those annual fundraisers fail to create a connection between the givers and the recipients of their generosity. They (we) gladly support a good cause at arm’s length, without getting dirty or disrupting our comfortable lives.

It does take money to feed the hungry, to house the homeless, to provide clean water, to treat and ultimately eliminate diseases like AIDS and malaria, to build schools, hospitals, churches, and other institutions, to provide disaster relief and rebuilding, etc. Money is necessary, but never sufficient, for accomplishing the mission of God. Mission isn’t our “charity”, our “good works”. Authentic mission is our participation in God’s mission of healing and reconciling all people and all creation in Christ. David Bosch says that “Mission…is the alerting of people to the universal reign of God through Christ.” That’s where Jesus began: “The time is fulfilled, and the Kingdom of God has come near; repent and believe the good news.” (Mark 1:15 NRSV)

Michael Frost  goes a step further. He says this “alerting” involves both announcement and demonstration. We tell the Good News—and we show it by acts of sacrificial love and service. These days most folks need to see some credible “showing” before they’re receptive to our “telling”. Our walk and talk are most believable when they’re seamlessly integrated.

That’s hard to do from a safe, check-writing distance. If I were leading a church today, I would challenge my people not to settle for sending mission donations. “Let’s make that ‘check in the mail’ the exception rather than the rule,” I’d say. “Let’s deliver those checks personally when we bring a team of volunteers to serve at the local food bank, homeless shelter, urban ministry center, disaster relief site, etc. Let’s not settle for collecting school supplies and backpacks at the beginning of the school year. Let’s also pray regularly for that neighborhood school’s students, their families, and for the teachers and staff. Let’s volunteer to serve in whatever ways we can be most helpful–in a classroom, an after-school event or carnival, a maintenance project. “

In other words, let’s give ourselves along with our monetary and material donations. Not everyone can go. But some of us can—many more than we might think at first. If we’re participating in God’s mission, let’s follow God’s method: “The Word became flesh and moved into the neighborhood.” Let’s build authentic relationships with the folks we seek to serve. Let’s live alongside them long enough to know how life feels in their shoes. Let’s work, worship, and pray together.  Let’s be willing to be grateful receivers as well as generous givers. After all, those we seek to serve also have gifts to share with us. Reread 1 Corinthians 12 if you wonder about this point.

Missions isn’t “charity”. It’s having some skin in God’s life-changing, world-changing game. The technical theological term for having skin in the game is “Incarnational Mission”. I’m increasingly convinced that’s the only kind of authentic mission. A few years ago a man in our church got excited about a mission project in Northern Mexico. Within a few months he had organized a team to go down and work during Spring Break. That team made a meaningful difference in the life of the church and community where they served. Many went back the next year.  All of them came back different people.

That’s why I urge folks to get involved serving somewhere. It changes us as much or more than those we serve—because we have some skin in the game. Folks who’ve experienced Incarnational Mission know mission isn’t merely sending checks to “worthy causes”. Mission is personal—as personal as God wrapping Love in human flesh in Jesus of Nazareth. If it isn’t personal, it might be a good deed. It might be charity. But it’s not mission. Authentic mission happens wherever followers of Jesus act out Bono’s Christmas Eve insight: “…love needs to find form…Love has to become an action…There must be an incarnation. Love must be made flesh.”