Major League Baseball pundits drool over the “five-tool player” who can run like the wind, throw like a rocket launcher, hit for average like a machine, hit for power like Superman, and catch the ball like flypaper. OK, all that “like a” stuff I made up, but you get the point – to be a good player one needs to develop more than one skill. The guy who can catch the ball, but do nothing else the sport requires isn’t likely to be able to quit their day job and play ball for a living.
I have friends who are multidimensional Jesus followers. Well, I only consider them “friends” when they’re not making me jealous. They can do it all and to top it off they’re humble! Don’t you just hate people like that?
One guy whose blog I follow calls himself: “An Anabaptist, lower-case evangelical, fairly charismatic, slightly liturgical, and sometimes contemplative follower of Jesus.” Talk about covering all the bases! On the other hand, I know people who seem content to be one-tool Christians. It’s not just a matter of their gifting, they seem to value only one aspect (their aspect) of the faith. They’re scholars who know more than Paul – about his own Epistles! They pray more than Jesus, preach better than Martin Luther King Jr., or fast more than Ghandi. But that’s all they can or care to do for God. It’s all they talk about, all they admire in others, and if you don’t excel with their same “tool” you’re not likely to be admitted into their club.
It’s my opinion that sane Christians and healthy churches should value and practice more than just one feature of the life and ministry of Jesus.
Luke 10 features three scenes – all unique to Luke’s Gospel – the missions trip of the seventy, the Good Samaritan Parable, and the account of Mary sitting at Jesus’ feet. These scenes depict three streams of Christian spirituality: the missional, the merciful, and the worshipful. I can’t say for sure that Luke or the Spirit who inspired him placed these three scenarios next to each other in the narrative intending to portray three particular essentials of the Christian life, but their juxtaposition does seem a little curious.
Reaching out to lost people, serving the marginalized, and pursuing an ever-deepening intimacy with Jesus are all essential components for healthy Christians and churches. As would be expected, people and churches tend toward one or another of these. Some major on sharing Christ everywhere they go, healing the sick, and confronting demons. Others aren’t as proficient at or compelled to good news sharing, yet are passionate about good news showing through helping the poor and hurting people. They’re drawn to social justice in the same way that others are attracted to evangelism. And then there are those whose primary passion is to cultivate a deeper intimacy with God through contemplative prayer, meditation, and worship; while the other priorities are hardly on their screen. Each person, church, or spiritual movement has a particular stream in which they’re most comfortable swimming.
As beautiful as this scenario can be, from my vantage point, there are a couple flaws in it. First, when we swim exclusively in our own preferred stream to the near exclusion of the other streams, we tend to lack respect and appreciation for our brothers and sisters who swim elsewhere. “Those other Christians (if they are Christians at all) do it all wrong…”
I’d remind these one-tool Christians to honor one another above themselves, appreciate their gifting, support their calling, and learn from their passion. Because they don’t do it the way you do it doesn’t mean they’re wrong and you’re right. It might just mean that they have a revelation of a different facet of Christ than you do. Thank God for them.
The predominantly missional Christian can be critical of the merciful for exclusively serving the poor and of the worshipful for wasting valuable time seeking God when they could be out making disciples. The mainly merciful Christian might tend to feel both the missional and worshipful brethren should be doing more for the cause of social justice in the world instead of preaching or praying all the time. The Christian whose primary passion is worship might be tempted to criticize the missional and merciful for spending too much time working for God and too little time seeking him.
I think that sometimes such opinions are generated more by jealously than theology. We envy the strengths of others and concoct a theology that devalues their contribution. Instead, we should celebrate and emulate those who excel where we fall behind.
I’d love to hear from you on my informal poll:
- Which of the three (Missional, Merciful, or Worshipful) do you personally tend toward most readily?
- Why do you think that is?