If Jesus Came Today

I was around 23 years old when I read a story in On Being, an 80’s Australian Christian magazine, that told the story of Mick Duncan and his wife Ruby working in the slums of Manila with the mission organisation, ‘Servants to Asia’s Urban Poor’. I was totally inspired by what I read of their work so I wrote him a letter and told him I wanted to come visit and see what I could learn from them. I wondered if my own sense of missionary calling may have taken me to working in a similar situation. I had to explore this!

I didn’t hear back from Mick – I don’t know if my letter ever reached him – but I decided to book a flight and then go find him – in Manila… It wasn’t the sharpest of plans. I realise that now, but at 23 I wanted to be inspired and I wanted to live for Jesus in the most radical way I could imagine. This form of mission seemed to really push that button so I flew out on a whim and a prayer.

I can’t imagine doing that at 59. Not just the crazy impulsive travel plans, but the whole thing. At 23 I owned a car and a couple of surfboards. I wasn’t married and I had nothing to lose. Everything was a possibility and an adventure! I never did find them, but I eventually met Mick about 20 years later at a Forge gathering where I listened to him teach about some of the harsh realities of slum living. I then felt glad I didn’t end up there after all.

Such is the nature of western life that as we age we become wealthier and ‘wiser’, less prone to adventure and more likely to conduct ‘risk assessments’ rather than simply wading into challenging situations. Our ever increasing affluence means we now have more to lose than before and it feels almost impossible to stay free of the entanglements of wealth. My mind flits to Hebrews 12 – the ‘sin’ that so easily entangles and prevents us from running the race we had set our course for. Could it be greed? Security? Comfort?

These are the challenges of later middle age – to not be the soil that is choked by thorns – to steer a course away from the safe and cruisy life that our society tells us we are entitled to. Does anyone really want to do that?

Jesus says. ‘You cannot serve both God and mammon’, and we seem to say ‘can’t we at least try?…’

Whatever happened to youthful zeal? When was it converted to a measured and tempered – (maybe even dull) approach to faith and discipleship?

Why the lament?

It’s possibly less a lament and more a reflection on the nature of youth, but it is borne from my reading of the gospels and the book of Acts.

We know Jesus was around 30 when things kicked off for him and he chose disciples to be with him – young men – late teens to early twenties. Paul was a very young man when he was involved in persecuting the church and when he was converted. The mission of the early church was catalysed by a group of young people.

Jesus didn’t seem to pursue older men – the (apparently) mature and wise ones. It seems he wanted to invest in the audaciousness of youth. He put all of his chips on a crew who had little to lose and a lot to live for. But just imagine – this man who is a charismatic curiosity not only doesn’t choose your best heavy hitters for his cohort, but instead chooses some relatively unknown and definitely un-tested ‘kids’ to form his core team. Not only does he choose the young, but he avoids the churchy types and goes for more blue collar, tradespeople, the non-elite.

The hopes for his movement – for the kingdom of God – have been invested in a crew of men and women in their teen years – with maybe a few in the early 20’s.

If you know what its’ like to not be chosen then you know that feeling of indignation that would arise as many of us feel sidelined and even offended. We have so much to give -so much experience! But he doesn’t choose us. I wonder if I’d be able to be ok with that?

To see Jesus choose my son or daughter and then ‘radicalise’ them in the cause of the kingdom of God? I wonder if I would be glad that he chose my teenage kid to join his band or if I’d be suggesting to my child that we wait and see where this all headed? I wonder if he would even see my PK kids, or if he’d choose the ones who had lost interest in church?

I wonder if Jesus drew his disciples quite purposefully from young adults because he was seeking out undamaged minds – paradigms still forming – because he wanted to invest in the optimistic energy of youth. He was willing to take on some loose cannons, because with their unpredictability also came devotion and focus that was less inhibited than the parents – less wed to a vision of how things ‘ought’ to be.

If we accept that Jesus chose disciples who were aged around 20 and that he had no fear of investing his life in them, then how may that inform us at this time when the church is struggling? I wonder if we have bet all of our chips on the grey hairs – the wise and experienced – to help us out of this mess.

Could it be that if Jesus came today he would do the same thing? He wouldn’t go after maturity, experience and savvy, but he’d go for the ‘drop everything’ raw passion of youth – for the pliable minds and simple uncluttered faith, that aren’t cynically deconstructing every last element of faith?

Honestly – I don’t think he would look at my 31 years of church leadership as an asset – but possibly a liability. I think I may be offended by his choices, but I sense he’d just tell me to deal with it.

What’s the point?

As I wrote a few posts back, I wonder if those of us who are older need to take more risks by inviting our young people into leadership and allowing them to genuinely shape the form and future of the church. Unfortunately most of our churched youth have long been steeped in a culture of deference to elders so even freeing them from this could be nigh on impossible.

But I sense our hope lies in listening to the ideas of a generation who do not see the world as we do and who may not see church as we see it.

And our role? To ‘em-power’. To genuinely create space and allow them to lead us. Patrick Lencioni makes the point that ’empowerment’ is giving power away – allowing someone else to have control.

If Jesus came today he wouldn’t recruit denominational leaders or senior pastors. He would go after young, willing hearts and minds, and no doubt we would oppose him and make his life hard. Who knows we may even crucify him.

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