I have heard many people say, “What you celebrate, you also cultivate.” It’s absolutely true, which makes storytelling and defining success a huge deal whether it is in a business environment, a classroom, at home, or in the church.
For missional communities, the idea of a group of Christians being a gospel-centered community on mission, it is most definitely true. But this forces us to question what we are celebrating. Is success in a missional community only multiplying that community into two or three communities? Is success only celebrating baptisms? Is it a service project?
What you celebrate, you will also cultivate.
If the above list is what you are celebrating, you will likely see more of it, but if they are the only things you celebrate, what are you creating in the process? What aspects of a gospel-centered community on mission suffer when these are the only measures of success?
I’ve been really impacted lately going back to look at how Christ developed His disciples to eventually lead a movement that would change the world. One of the most impacting passages on this for me lately has been Luke 10:17-20. This follows the disciples being sent in pairs with some brief instructions. They go out in pairs, meet with the leaders of the community and based on receptivity stay or leave. They come back to Jesus and have this exchange.
“The seventy-two returned with joy, saying, “Lord, even the demons are subject to us in your name!” And Jesus said to them, “I saw Satan fall like lightning from heaven. Behold, I have given you authority to tread on serpents and scorpions, and over all the power of the enemy, and nothing shall hurt you. Nevertheless, do not rejoice in this, that the spirits are subject to you, but rejoice that your names are written in heaven.” Luke 10:17-20
Celebrate & Cultivate Gospel as Success
That last sentence is impactful. They came back with joy and were celebrating their mission success and Jesus does celebrate with them, but then redirects their rejoicing to the reality that they know God in the gospel of Jesus Christ. He tells them not to celebrate their mission success, but celebrate their salvation in the gospel.
There is no doubt that Jesus desired to see the things they accomplished in mission, but the mission was not the end in itself. When we only celebrate mission as success, we set ourselves up for failure. There is only so much control we have over the “success” of investing in a cause or sharing our faith with others. What happens when the success dries up and that which you celebrated has disappeared? For some, they will be fine, but I’ve seen many times where it completely wrecks people.
There’s pressure to maintain great mission to be seen as a successful Christian, there’s the potential for burnout because the focus has shifted from loving God to doing for God, and we begin to depend on ourselves and our effort rather than trusting and depending on God. Christians are called to faithfulness to God to bear fruit, not just a focus on mission.
Power of God & Purpose of Mission
This is why Jesus celebrates with them, but then immediately points to what they should be celebrating. He places their focus upward on God and the gospel because it is the power of God and the ultimate purpose of the mission.
The gospel is the power of God that motivates mission. So celebrating and loving the gospel is the only way to sustain mission. By the gospel we know, experience, and rest in the love of God that is rooted not in our efforts, but the work of Christ in His life, death and resurrection. We are reminded that it is ultimately God who gave us the gospel, gifted to us a great salvation providing and empowering us to accomplish His mission through His message. It also places us back on the right purpose for our mission.
Mission doesn’t end on serving your community or extending the love of Christ to your neighbor, the end is that Christ is exalted and worshipped as He should be. The final result should be that what is most valuable (Jesus) becoming most valued.
Seeing a merciful God that has chosen to punish Christ on the cross instead of us, exchanging His righteousness with our sin and rejoicing in God because of it is the aim for the Christian on mission. The purpose that all might see Jesus as the resurrected King and a good King at that.
Widening the Lens of Success
We must widen our definition of success in gospel communities on mission. We have our favorite stories that we share, but why not share and celebrate the messy side of community? A community that is messy is usually the result of the gospel sinking in deep into the lives of the people in the community. They believe there is hope for change, a way out from their hurt, their anger, their addictions, and they’ve been told they won’t be defined by them anymore because of Christ. Is there any more comfortable environment to share these things than a community centered on the gospel?
But the lack of celebrating the messiness makes leaders feel like they are failing if there are sins, errors of judgments, addictions, etc. when it’s the very reason we have the gospel! This is success in the gospel and not failure in mission.
Widening the lens of success means that you get to rejoice often. You get to rejoice with the community when people seek to live near the community and how they seek God together and find an apartment. We celebrate when we see the gospel setting people free from addictions, or fear of man. We celebrate when conversations no longer center on ourselves and our thoughts, but on Jesus and His scriptures. We get to celebrate so many things that express the love of God being extended to other through the community.
We still rejoice in the mission, but it’s always in light of the gospel and not on its own. Mission gets put in its rightful place, a byproduct of the gospel of Jesus Christ and not our grounds for celebration.
In celebrating the gospel, Jesus becomes our foundation for hope, joy, approval, and freedom. He never gets replaced by the work of our hands. He deserves the reward of His suffering, a people praising His name, not just their work for Him.