A few months ago a college student came into my office with a question. They had felt called to go to into missions, specifically at a country that was in a time of political upheaval. Everyday in this country, bombs were going off, and people were getting killed. Needless to say, it wasn’t a popular tourist trap, but my friend still wanted to go.
The problem was that this college student had parents. And like any parents, they didn’t want their kid to go to this dangerous of a location. Which is understandable. But that didn’t change what this college student felt. They really thought God wanted them to go to this country, but they wanted to honor their parents. And so they asked me what they should do. Should they stay or go?
What would you tell them?
So I’ve been thinking a lot about Risk for the past year or so. I like this way of talking about Jesus-following a lot, it is, after all, s a synonym for Faith. And that’s important, because the word faith has gotten a lot of baggage theses days. It’s started to mean to just believe something cognitively, but that’s a definition that James would take issue with.
But this is a hard word for most churches. Institutions, by their very nature, don’t like risk. But Faith, by it’s very nature, is risk. So what does an institution that tries to form a risk-taking people look like?
I like the way that the great Theologian Hans Kung talks about this:
“A Church which pitches its tents without constantly looking out for new horizons, which does not constantly strike camp, is being untrue to it’s calling….[We must] play down our longing for certainty, accept what is risky, and live by improvisations and experiment.”
I’ve noticed something over the past few years in ministry. The kids that grow up hearing these Jesus stories today are tending to believe them. The one thing we were unable to pass onto them is our incredible ability to compartmentalize the radical things we believe and the way we can also live such sedentary lives. So they hear the stories in the Scriptures of Resurrection people doing resurrection things, and they can’t make the heretical distinction of then and now. They have faith, so they risk.
In the book, “The Shaping of Things to Come” Michael Frost makes the distinction of function and appearance. He asks the question, “Is a can opener a can opener if it cannot open cans?” It sounds silly, but “it is a very subversive question because it forces us to tackle the disctinction between form (it looks like one) and function (it doesn’t operate like one). And it’s not long before some bright button in the group applies the formula to the church. That is, Is the church still a church if it doesn’t operate like one anymore?”
Which brings me back to that college student that came to me a few months back. Their question still haunts me. I think I told them something diplomatic about faith being balanced with caution, but I don’t think that I give it again.Because it’s so ironic to have a story like the one we believe and dish out advice like that. I’d hate to think about what might have happened to Abraham or Moses or Gideon or Peter if someone like me would have given them common sense.
I heard a statistic the other day that children with agnostic parents have a better chance of strong faith than kids whose parents go to church but don’t disciple their kids. And I think I can understand why. Because Faith is risk, and if our institutions of faith don’t embody that then are we really smoking what we are selling?
Maybe you’ve seen the above picture before. It’s meant to poke fun at the WWJD bracelet movement, but I love it’s message.What Would Jesus Do can be a more negative take on what it means to follow Him. Because, at least in my experience, that translated into not drinking, smoking or having premarital sex. That’s What Jesus Would Do, he would avoid those things. But that’s not the best question.
If you followed Jesus back in the day, you’d have seen him spit into dirt, make mud, and rub in a blind guy’s eye. You’d have seen him walk on the water in the middle of a storm, you might have seen him step into a lynch mob to save a woman (at great personal cost to himself). And the question you’d have asked then, would not have been What Would Jesus Do? It is What Wouldn’t He Do?
But the scary answer is…He might not go to your church.