It seems pretty likely that any American over the age of 12 has seen several of those “Let’s lock and load!” sequences so prevalent in action movies and TV shows, sometimes even spoofed in children’s programming. As entertainment consumers, by now we are all familiar with the prerequisites for a well-executed lock-and-load montage:
- An unimpressive ragtag band of no-account misfits (URBONAM) reluctantly joins together to take on a huge, manifestly-evil empire/corporation/army (HMEECA).
- Vastly outnumbered and outgunned, the URBONAM’s first attempt at defeating the HMEECA inflicts only minor damage…and the team suffers some serious losses.
- An inspirational speech is delivered by the URBONAM’s ne’er-do-well leader as the team members lick their wounds and grouse over mission failure.
- As the leader speaks, close-ups on the faces of each member of the team reveal a tightening in resolve; eyes get all squinty, jaws lock firmly into place.
- Cue the Lock-and-Load Montage: Weapons are cleaned, ammunition is clicked firmly into place, grenades are uncrated, firearm bolts clank back and forth, knives and arrows are sharpened and strapped to legs and backs, and several high-tech, meaning-laden LED displays, gauges and dials are consulted.
And now…we’re off! Helicopters land, doors are blown open, dozens of extras are dispatched with impossibly-accurate shooting and/or the impossibly-nimble use of martial arts. (Personally, I could sit quite happily through hours and hours of lock-and-load sequences entirely stripped of any larger context; what comes before or after is often far less exciting than watching angry, determined individuals sharpen both their equipment and their attitude.)
Oddly, what is obvious to just about any other realm of human endeavor – mission success is far more likely when paired with adequate preparation – can frequently get lost whenever one enters the realm of Christian service.
It has been my experience that spiritual prep work frequently gets the short end of the Christian Mission Planning stick; believers often hope that merely showing up will be sufficient. (I’ve caught myself doing this more times than I care to recall.) While showing up is huge and does, in fact, command the lion’s share of ministry success, it is still better by far to remind ourselves of some basic truths before we ever get around to putting boots on the ground. To get a better sense of what I mean, I have a few thoughts – by no means exhaustive – that have proven beneficial to reflect upon as I walk to a meeting, schedule my weekly planner or otherwise prepare to enter into any and all forms of Christian mission:
- Pray. Pray a lot. In days gone by, I might only pray prior to a meeting or event that I was dreading or anxious about. It slowly dawned on me that even a meeting with a friend – one that I expected to go well – could go seriously wrong if my heart were not both strengthened and softened by the Word of God and by the ongoing work of His Spirit.
- Questions to Ask: Is God truly calling me to this…or is this possibly my own ego run amok? Will God be glorified by this decision/these actions? Where would I go in Scripture to draw parallels to this current effort? Am I regularly inviting the Spirit of Jesus into my thinking and planning?
- Verses to Consider: Luke 14:28-33; Proverbs 3:5-6; Genesis 41:34-36; Philippians 4:6; James 4:17.
- Thank God for providing you with an opportunity to serve Him. God doesn’t need me. He doesn’t need any of us to accomplish anything. Rather, in His grace and mercy, He offers us opportunities to serve. Being given an opportunity to serve – even if it’s just clearing away dishes after a meal – is both a privilege and an honor, and we need to express gratitude.
- Questions to Ask: Do I have a heart of gratitude with which to serve others…or am I performing this task out of some sense of obligation? Am I looking forward to serving, or dreading it? Will I be tempted to grouse about my perceived losses of time, talent and treasure rather than celebrate the opportunity to give freely to others?
- Verses to Consider: 1 Thessalonians 5:18; Colossians 3:17; Hebrews 12:28; Psalm 50:23; Matthew 6:21.
- Confess your inability. As we drift toward thinking how lucky others are to have us on their team, we quite naturally forget that God gives us life, breath and the ability to do anything at all, let alone do it with excellence. A regular confession of inability serves as a great reminder that we may not possess this certain skill set for very long.
- Questions to Ask: Who gave me the life, breath, intellect and ability with which I plan to serve others? Am I overly confident in myself? Do I imagine that I am somehow “indispensable” to the larger mission at hand? Have I thanked God for my health, safety and His provision lately?
- Verses to Consider: Ephesians 2:12; 2 Corinthians 12:9; Philippians 4:19; Ezekiel 18:4; Romans 3:23.
- Confess your pride and arrogance. Probably the biggest threat here is to refute the notion that we are prideful and arrogant. Better by far to assume that we are – the Bible certainly does – and then build in some effective countermeasures to acting out of that pride.
- Questions to Ask: In what ways have I been ignoring reproof and correction from others? Am I truly open to advice in this matter, or am I merely pretending to listen long enough until I get another chance to speak? Who do I think I am…and Who do I think God is? Have I given other people permission to call me out whenever they perceive an irritable or unteachable spirit in me?
- Verses to Consider: 1 Samuel 2:3; Romans 12:3; Proverbs 8:13; Luke 18:9-14; Galatians 6:7-8.
- Be 100% clear on who is in charge of your mission. Nero – arguably one of the worst emperors in all of Roman history – was on the throne when Paul wrote Romans 13, exhorting believers to obey their leaders. So we have to ask ourselves…is my Small Group leader really that bad? Do I really think that the guy running this operation is somehow worse than Emperor Nero, who enjoyed throwing elite nighttime cocktail parties illuminated by the flames of Christians being burned to death?
- Questions to Ask: Am I in charge here? Who has the Lord, by virtue of His divine sovereign will, placed in authority over me? Am I in any way, shape or form sabotaging the decisions of leadership with which I personally disagree? Do I feel the need to interject my strong opinions even when they are not sought? Is my thinking marked by regular times of grumbling over things that have not gone my way?
- Verses to Consider: Matthew 28:18; Philippians 2:3; Jeremiah 23:1; Romans 12:9-13; John 13:12-15.
- Resolve in advance to value relationship over results. Admittedly, this one is tough for me. If we come together and our relationship grows, metaphorical bridges are built while walls remain unpainted, I’m typically not a happy camper. Many Christians accept the free grace and mercy of God offered in Christ and then turn right around and build a To-Do list by which they expect the rest of us to live. Lord, help us repent!
- Questions to Ask: Will I be upset if this unforeseen interruption causes the task at hand to suffer? Am I inviting people to work together toward a common goal…or am I merely using people to get accomplished whatever I have already decided needs to be done? Is this mission drawing people closer together, or is it instead sowing division and discord?
- Verses to Consider: Romans 12:1-2; 1 John 4:20; Proverbs 17:17; Hebrews 13:1; Ephesians 4:29.
- Hold your expectations very loosely. Jonah, exceedingly bitter and reluctant, spoke just eight simple words and all of Ninevah repented. Jeremiah, by way of contrast, poured his entire life and being into his God-ordained ministry…and saw nothing but abuse and torment for his efforts. So why do we think we are owed any sort of outcome for our efforts?
- Questions to Ask: Have I already determined what the end result of this mission ought to look like? Am I leaving any room here whatsoever for God to do far more than even I can imagine? In my heart and mind, have I truly released the outcome of this mission to God such that He is “free” to bless it…or strike it down?
- Verses to Consider: Jeremiah 29:11; Proverbs 23:18; Micah 6:8; Proverbs 10:28; Mark 11:23.
- Determine in advance to leave a small footprint while on mission. The dead last thing you want to do on any sort of Christian mission is seek out ways to call attention to yourself. Don’t ask for the installation of a nameplate on the finished project, don’t try to get your picture in the newspaper, and don’t tout your personal holiness in conversation or on social media.
- Questions to Ask: In what ways have I allowed this to become more about me than about the mission itself? Am I pursuing personal humility even as I seek to work redemptively? Do I secretly envy the other people I am working with, especially those who are being made much of?
- Verses to Consider: Proverbs 22:4; Colossians 3:12; James 4:10; 2 Corinthians 11:30; Proverbs 18:12.