Category Archives: mission

Limitless Grace for Limited Leaders: How Accepting Our Boundaries Frees us to Flourish as Pastors

cliffs edge

Cross-posted at For The Church

Since the day our church was planted, our pastors have fielded many questions on the topic of mission from the younger generations in our midst. “Do we have a plan to serve the poor?” “How are we going to plant missional communities in the most underserved parts of our city?” “How soon are we going to be able to bring the gospel to the unengaged peoples in the world?” Our standard (and honest) answer has been that we have a heart for any place where Jesus is not truly known. But we look at the work and our five fish and two loaves and know that the Great Commission is a God-sized task.

One the one hand, we love their ambition. It challenges and sharpens us. It’s easy, even as pastors of a church plant, to suffer from missional drift. On the other hand, the pastoral wisdom that comes with experience and age makes us cautious. We know that we can’t achieve everything that needs to be done missionally. We find ourselves speaking the truth in love that there are confines to what only one church can accomplish.

I recently was reflecting our church’s missional ambitions and I began to feel a deep sense of conviction about something. I began to see inconsistency in the way I shepherd others with their dreams of mission versus the way I shepherd my own heart in ministry. I warn others of the dangers of trying to do too many things missionally but struggle with warning my own heart of the hazards of not understanding the “perimeters” of my pastoral abilities. I remind others that God will clarify those few things we must do missionally but struggle with reminding my own heart that God has set boundaries of gifting for me in ministry to “move” within. I even preach to others that we should have faith that God will help us do a few things well but struggle to preach to myself that I’m only a small part of God’s eternal plan.

So why am I nervous to admit that I can’t do everything that needs to be done? I think it’s simple. I am afraid to to confess that I have limits. I’m afraid to admit that I have God-allotted periods and boundaries of my dwelling place (Acts 17:26). And I’m afraid that will render me unimportant.

In a 2012 New York Times article entitled “The ‘Busy’ Trap,” Tim Kreider says:

“Busyness serves as a kind of existential reassurance, a hedge against emptiness; obviously your life cannot possibly be silly or trivial or meaningless if you are so busy, completely booked, in demand every hour of the day.”

Kreider is touching on something we would do well as pastors to hear. And there’s so much more. The clamor to be the smartest person in the room, the pressure to make everyone like us, the temptation to be the biggest church in our city – these are attempts to make our lives exceptional. But admitting that we have boundaries means that we have to accept that much of our ministry “busyness” is a veiled attempt to make much of ourselves and not Jesus.

Jesus didn’t seem to struggle with limits or boundaries like us. In Zack Eswine’s book, Sensing Jesus, he says:

“Limits repulse the driven. The driven therefore struggle with the sense of place that Jesus had…[But] the holy One of God became a man – and this incarnation included limiting himself and inhabiting a locality on the earth.”

This is the heart of Philippians 2. Jesus emptied himself, taking the form of a servant, being born in the likeness of men. This was a “limiting” act on the part of Jesus.

Why was Jesus willing to do this? Jesus was inclined to live within earthly boundaries because he had a white-hot focus on one thing: joyful obedience to his Father that would lead him to a cross for our sake. This should reorient us all. Eswine again, “The divine condescension to locality challenges my ambition that is restless to embrace various things at once.”

See, if the God-man Jesus was willing to live within human flesh and in a local place that would ultimately lead to him sacrificing his life for ours, we can joyfully accept our lesser limits too.

This is where limitless grace meets limited leaders. We can only rest in our limitedness when we see that Jesus limited himself by leaving the culture of the Trinity and entering the culture of man for our sake. His act of incarnation and redemption settles our need for significance on this side of eternity. Healthy leaders accept their limits because when we look to Jesus, we see the ultimate limitation – God becoming flesh and blood to bring us spiritual rescue. And as we rest in this truth, we can let the unlimited One and his limitless grace give us courage to be the limited leader that we are and in the end, flourish for the good of our churches and the gospel.

The Guest List of our Lives

invitation

My daughters received an invitation to attend a birthday party for our neighbors recently. If you’ve ever wondered how screams could be collected for energy (see Monsters Inc.), you’ve never been in the same room when young girls receive soul-thrilling news in the form of an invitation. My daughters’ hearts could have burst and their shrieks could have powered a small village—easily.

Ecstatic joy flowed out of my daughters so naturally, I felt like I was being let in on something. We like to be invited to things. It makes us feel loved. It makes us feel like we belong. Jesus once told a parable about an invitation. It was an invitation, not to a birthday, but to a dinner—and at its core, it was a very unusual invitation.

The Parable of the Great Banquet

In Luke 14, Jesus first tells the Pharisees that when you give a banquet or a dinner, don’t invite your friends or your brothers or your relatives or rich neighbors so they will invite you in return. Jesus instead says when you give a feast, invite the typically uninvited—the poor, the crippled, the lame, and the blind.

Now, this is counter-intuitive because the Pharisees and scribes felt a sense of supremacy in their separation from those on the fringes. When the Pharisees and scribes would throw a party, they would only invite the people who could invite them back. In other words, the Pharisees manipulated hospitality for their own self-glory and reputation. Parties were about raising your social capital. Only those who could further that agenda were welcomed.

But the marginalized—those on the outside looking into the cultural upper echelon—had no way of doing this. In fact, if they were invited, they wouldn’t accept the gesture because they knew they would be required to repay the courtesy and they knew they couldn’t do that. It would be too humiliating to accept that type of invitation because they did not have the means to reciprocate, so they would refuse.

To further make his point, Jesus launches into a story to illustrate his teaching with the opening line, “A man once gave a great banquet and invited many.” This was going to be a huge event thrown by a very wealthy man. The Jews would have understood this. To be at this party would be the height of social recognition. In fact, when you were invited to a large dinner like this, you would typically get two invitations. The first invitation acknowledged you as an honored guest. The second invitation would come to alert you that the party was about to officially begin.

Now, when the second invitation comes in this parable, we go from the invitation to excuses. Every single person highlighted in this passage says, “I can’t come.” All of them. The Pharisees would have said, “Nobody would do that. This is disrespectful. This is uncivilized.” But in Jesus’ story, they all decline. So the wealthy man does the unthinkable. He tells his servant to go out and seek another group of people. He tells him to bid the outcasts to come to the banquet—the poor and crippled and blind and lame.

In the minds of the Pharisees, the first group wouldn’t turn down the invitation and the second group would never have been invited. But in this story, the master says go and bring them in. In Greek, the verb bring in highlights that they would have to be taken in because they would resist. So they would have to be forced to come. And they knew the etiquette—they would have to pay the master back with an even greater feast if that happened. And that would be impossible.

Head over to Gospel Centered Discipleship to read the rest of this article and see how Jesus pushes us to go even further missionally in our pursuit of the outcast.