Live Sent: Are You Sending a Message with Your Life?

June 6th, 2011

I have not met a follower of Jesus yet who, when asked to define church, does so as a place or an event. Everyone has said that the church is people. Why is it then that how those in church culture talk about, strategize about, and set goals for church communicates something different altogether? Why doesn’t our verbal expression of a personal philosophy about church match our practical expression in the daily?

It is a fact that for many in church culture, the bridge from philosophy to practice is wide and gapped. So isn’t it a fair question to ask—Am I actually living sent? Am I living as a letter, sending a message of God’s love to the people I meet? Am I fully engaging in the mission Jesus intended for His followers?

In order to help you discern whether you are actually bridging that gap between what you say you believe and how you are actually living, in order to decide whether you are actually being the church or just going to church, in order to determine whether you are actually living sent or, as my friend Charlie says, “living sat,” here are ten litmus test questions to consider.

1. When you speak of church, what prepositions do you use?

This is an important question and not just a trivial matter of semantics. If you are intentional in the way you verbalize living sent, you will be more thoughtful and responsive to actually live sent as the church in your various spheres of influence. Jesus was very intentional in how He spoke of and prepared for the sending of His people, His church, and we should be too. So don’t use “to” and “from” and “in” and “at” when you speak of church. Or any other words that refer to church as a place or event. The New Testament doesn’t. Why should we?

2. When you think of missions, do you think of a missions trip to a distant city and a service project in your own community, or do you think about daily life among your family, neighbors, and coworkers?

Hopefully the answer is both. However, if when you think of missions you only think of the first half of the question, then I would suggest that you are not living sent. Rather, you are just doing missions. You are not living as a missionary, as a letter from God into culture.

Read Matthew 28:18–20 and Acts 1:8 and emphasize them. But read Matthew 9 and 10 and emphasize them too. Jesus loves neighbor and nations, and sends us to both. Ultimately, He intends for His church to love every single person we encounter as though a neighbor and give generously into their lives no matter their background.

3. What is your common declaration about lost people around you? “Can you believe the way those people act?” OR “When can you come over for dinner?”

A friend of mine told me that one of his mentors once challenged him with this statement: “If those who follow Jesus would open their homes and their dinner tables to the stranger, then we’d eat our way into the kingdom of God.”

What might happen if we actually opened up our lives and homes to the lost rather than just attempted to get them to church? I wonder if the reason American culture seems so disconnected from the ways of God is because the people of God are so disconnected from current American culture? More specifically, I wonder if they grow tired of feeling like we are trying to sell them something rather than loving them into the kingdom?

If you commonly comment about how the lost act, then you may have two issues to grapple with. One is your understanding of lostness. The other is your willingness to befriend people who aren’t like you but are very much like those who loved being around Jesus.

4. Is my tendency to disengage from culture and retreat into safer, more Christian environments, or is it to engage culture even amidst discomfort and danger?

Following Jesus is not safe. The current trend of Christians in America to try to create environments that shelter them and their kids from our culture, including the efforts to boycott certain organizations and to legislate righteousness, are not only self-serving but are also destructive to the mission of the church. Being holy is not the same as staying clean from the world. A holy God put on skin, became human, walked among the sinfulness of this world. He didn’t stay sheltered and clean carrying that out.

If you spend more time at a family life center than you do at the local public gym, if you participate only in church league recreational activities rather than the city league, if you are constantly thinking about how to create a Christian moms’ playgroup rather than participating in community playgroups, then you may not be living sent.

5. When you hear “make disciples,” do you think of a classroom or your relationships?

Learning and living the ways of Jesus goes far beyond the setting of a classroom. If you are attempting to be faithful to the mandate for every Christ follower to be making disciples of Jesus, but you only think of it in terms of enrolling people who are already Christian in a let’s-go-deeper class, then you may not be living sent. There’s nothing wrong with a great study together. However, discipling happens before someone even professes their faith in Christ and discipling continues far beyond the walls of a classroom into the halls of daily life. The classroom is simply one component of a discipling strategy. How are you being equipped and equipping others to disciple in the daily, not just the classroom?

6. Do you spend a lot of time wondering whether you should quit your job to surrender to ministry, or do you simply live to minister to anyone and everyone where you are currently?

It is a common quote I hear: “I should quit my job so I can go to seminary and study the Bible and be a pastor. Then I could really do ministry!” Wait. Are you really thinking this through?

If you have a job in the marketplace, then you have a ministry that most “pastors” will never have! And the only reason you should ever leave that ministry is if you sense a leading from the Lord to be a pastor/equipper, go to seminary, and serve full time with a local church family.

Think about it. Not only do people look at me funny when I say I’m on a pastoral leadership team, but often it also creates a wall between me and that potential friendship. That’s just the way it is. But if you are a teacher, a CFO, a factory worker, a manager, a barista, an IT guy, a garbage man, etc., then you have an opportunity to share the love of Jesus in the normal rhythms of your life that most full-time paid pastors will never have. Why would you want to leave that vital ministry for the pastorate? Seminary is great, but it’s not that fun. Get an MBA for crying out loud. It’s marketable and there are more lost people in that setting to love and listen to and serve than there are in seminary.

7. When you think of a friend who needs help, do you think, I need to get him to see the pastor OR I wonder what I can do to help?

The game that the church is fiercely involved in during the week is the real story of the church alive in a city, and the pastor/equipper is not the head coach as much as the water boy. I’m not saying they don’t provide leadership. Pastors should act less like Bear Bryant or Nick Saban and more like the equipment guys. Maybe if this happened, then those in the game every day in the marketplace and in neighborhoods would grow in the confidence to actually let the Spirit speak through them to someone rather than figuring out how to get them to talk to the professional wise-guy known as “pastor.”

You matter. Your ministry is valid. If you follow Jesus, then the Holy Spirit resides in you. Listen to Him and say what He says when you are in situations where counsel is being sought.

8. When you think of heaven, do you think “kingdom come” or “kingdom is here”?

The purpose of living sent isn’t just to proclaim “pie in the sky by and by.” It is to give people a taste of the God who came near. Jesus anticipated that as we love one another the way He loved us, that we would experience the kingdom now, not just when we die. So proclaim the heaven of the now that should exist among those who are living sent together—it is only a glimpse of what is to come. May we cultivate “on earth as it in heaven.” If we are not, then we are likely not living sent.

9. Do you think godliness is measured with a mirror or within community?

In John 13:34–35, Jesus told His followers they were to love one another as He had loved them, and that people watching them would know that they are learning and living His ways by their love for one another. It is a safe conclusion, then, that without love for one another in transparent, united, missions-centered community, we cannot live sent as letters of God’s love and hope.

An intimate, shared life with God is most clearly demonstrated in intimate, shared life with one another. You show that you are godly when you live and love like God, not when you live and act like you have it all together.

10. Do you have a lost friend who would actually introduce you as his or her friend?

This is probably the toughest and most telling question among the ten. If you do not have a genuine friendship with a lost person, then you are not living sent. How could you be? Jesus befriended the “tax collector and sinner.” The One who was sent that now sends us had genuine friendship with the lost or “those in need” as He called them.

I wonder if we too often approach friendship in terms of looking for friends rather than being a friend. We need to quit living to be validated by our friendships. We are loved! We must begin living as already validated by the love of God and live sent with the intention to give that love away.

Why? So that others can know and live like they are loved, too, as they walk in relationship with the God who is love.

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