Many people have described the Christian walk as a journey. One of the more widely read magazines in Evangelical circles is Sojourners. I can’t count the number of times I have heard or seen “sojourn” or “journey” in the title of songs and poems written by Christians, in Church and organizational names, and in a host of other places. We seem to have a sense that we are on some type of journey. As I have studied the Bible over the years I have become aware of another theme as well. Let me illustrate it with a few quick references.
The Bible opens with the creation story. God created Adam and Eve, and told them to be fruitful, multiply, and fill the earth. Their descendants were to be on a journey until the mission was accomplished. Adam and Eve sinned and their son Cain went into full rebellion. Rather then being fruitful and multiplying, he chose to kill and destroy. Rather than fill the earth, he chose to dig in and create his own world. He called both his first son and the city he built “Enoch,” meaning “to initiate.” Cain was announcing the establishment of life apart from God. Genesis tells us that he settled in the land of Nod. Nod literally means “wandering.” So Cain settled in the land of wandering. Was ever a truer word written about the human condition?
After God destroyed humanity with a flood, he told Noah to be fruitful, multiply, and fill the earth. What is the first story we encounter after the account of Noah? The people of Babel build a city and start constructing a tower to the heavens declaring that “We will make a name for ourselves.” While this relates to achieving renown, it also refers to the ancient belief that the act of naming was an exercise of authority over the person or thing named. The people of Babel were intent on overthrowing God’s authority by naming themselves. Rather than disperse and fill the earth, they sent down roots and united in rebellion against God.
With Abraham and the beginning of Israel, there are increasingly clear indications that God created his chosen people to be beacon to the rest of the world of God’s love, justice, and provision. Through Israel, God would call all people to him and redeem the nations. Instead, the Israelites took their chosen status as an indication of privilege. They became content with the home God provided and they became indifferent to God’s objective of redemption. They ended up loosing not only God's favor, but their home, as God dispersed them throughout the world.
When Jesus came, he sent the Church on a mission to reach Jerusalem, Judea, Samaria, and the ends of the earth. After his resurrection, the “Reverse Babel” of Pentecost came, where everyone understood everyone else and became united in their mission through Christ. It took divine intervention with people like Peter to see beyond their own communities but the Church began to spread for several generations. Then a man named Constantine offered the church a “home.”
Over the centuries there have been pockets of Christians who have boldly taken the grace of God outside their homes but for more than 1,500 years the church became entangled in the project of building Enoch, Babel, Jerusalem, and Rome. The sojourners, charged with Christ’s mission of going into the world and bringing every realm under his loving Lordship, opted to build homes rather than stay on the road.
Jesus calls transformers into a journey to transform every realm. He sends us out into the world to be fruitful, multiply and fill the earth with his presence. Some of Jesus’ most powerful metaphors concerning mission deal with the dispersion of substances so that the mission might be realized. Salt to preserve food and add taste. Yeast to leaven bread. Seeds to grow crops. The mission of the Church is to disperse and bring every realm under the loving Lordship of Christ. Realm does not just mean geographic regions. It also means social institutions and varied human relationships. Jesus' strategy is the dispersion of his people into every realm so that each realm and person may be transformed into extensions of God’s love and justice.
Transformers of the realms require dogged determination, passion, courage, and commitment, to name just a few traits. They must develop specialized knowledge and skills to address their realms of ministry. The leaders know that they can not fight the battles for the ministers under their charge. They are there to equip and aid in the transformation of the transformers, even as the transformers seek the transformation of others. Such a mission has no place for “laity.” The leaders can not be with their dispersed ministers out on the road, engaged in the journey. The leader can’t possibly have the expertise in every realm to which the ministers have been called. These ministers must mature and become effective leaders in their own right in the realm where God has sent them.
Instead, like Cain, like the folks at Babel, and like the Israelites, we have opted to build homes and put down roots. God wiped out the rebellious descendants of Cain, he dispersed the people of Babel, and he dispersed the Israelites. What do you suppose God has in mind for the “homes” we call congregations and denominations, used to avoid being on the journey?
I have been writing about clergy and laity. Where the mission is simply to maintain a home, a clergy/laity dichotomy may cut it (even if it isn’t biblical.) The clergy is the professional head of household for a family full of dependents. However, in the context of transforming realms, the clergy/laity mindset is deadly to the mission. Each disciple has to become a competent minister dispersed into the realm to which they are called. The trivialization of the dispersed ministers and the obsession with “house” work is a direct result of the dichotomy. I think as people begin to understand the mission established by Christ, the “laity” concept becomes plainly transparent for the destructive force it is. Problem is, many of us are quite content in Babel and would just as soon not here about mission.
It seems to me that the first thing we need to do is find those among us who are restless in Babel. Then we need to talk to them about three things: mission, mission, and mission. After that, we should begin talking to them about mission. We follow this with some conversation about mission. Not everyone is going to leave Babel, but as rumors of the mission of a lifetime circulate, and others witness others on the road, maybe we will see an exodus from Babel into world transforming mission.