Embrace the Mission and the Mess

by Pastor Bob Myers

Before we had children, when we visited new parents and observed the chaos, we vowed to be different. We smugly vowed that we would never allow chaos and mess to be manifest in our home. We were going to be different from most parents. Our lives would not be controlled by the little rug rats we so longed to love and welcome.

But then we observed something. There were pristine houses where children were being raised without messes. Plastic covers were on the sofa and lamp shades. Draconian measures were in place to prevent messes. It soon became clear that these were the wrong priorities, the wrong mission for a family raising children. The mission of keeping away the messiness of life seemed to obscure loving life and loving little ones. Part of the joy is in embracing the mission of messiness.

So we learned to live with and expect messiness when our children were young. The walls of our house had little handprints all over the place. Toys littered the floor. One of our children used most of a new lipstick for a special graffiti project on the walls. Baby bottles full of apple juice often leaked and left stains on our furniture. It seemed like the diaper pail always needed to be emptied. And one time, a package of raw chicken got packed away with some diapers and baby wipes in a closet, to be discovered only after an odor revealed a hazmat situation. Things were moving too fast for fastidiousness. But I can say this, I know our children experienced a climate of love, devotion and grace.

A home that loves children and a church that loves lost people require the same kinds of sacrifice. Both must sacrifice their comfort so that the ones they seek to love will be comfortable.

If a church is on mission to make people comfortable, four things are important:

  1. Easy Access: We do everything possible to make it comfortable for uncommitted, unwashed, unserious, people to hear the gospel again and again and again. That means a kind of joyful burden bearing is required for those who have made the journey of being drawn and won by Christ. It means the committed have to foot the bill, whether that means paying the mortgage and light bill, or serving in the Cafe’ or children’s ministries.
  2. Engaging Ministries: Culturally, we speak the same language, have the same concerns, and experience the same brokenness that is all around us in the world. The music that moves us, the truths of the Bible that connect with our lives, the need for real friendships, are not different for believers or unbelievers. Connecting with unbelievers serves to keep us honest. The relevance that serves them also serves us.
  3. Great patience: We want everyone to come to full maturity in Christ. But we can’t rush the process. The larger the decision, the more people need to “browse before they buy”. “Shape up or ship out” is not our motto.
  4. Change: I’ve pastored five different churches in the last sixteen years, all of them Covenant Church in various renditions. Change always involves loss, pain, grief, and gain. Three out of four of those things are not our inclination. But the gain is a gain that makes it worthwhile.

So, while we take on whatever sacrifice we need to in order to make this place comfortable, we hope the Holy Spirit, through the scriptures, makes people uncomfortable, makes me uncomfortable, because growth requires some discomfort with where I am to get me to where I need to be.

We don’t change the Word of God in the name of outreach, as if God needed us to run a wiser P.R. campaign than what He gave us in scripture. We don’t filter anything out of our teaching. The Cross is offensive. We preach Christ crucified and the whole counsel of God, no holds barred. The message of the Cross is designed to either transform you or make you uncomfortable.

How long it takes and how we change is the Holy Spirit’s job, not ours. Therefore, we don’t decide to plug our ears to the hard things in the Bible for ourselves and we don’t put others on a timetable and stamp an expiration date on grace.

Proverbs 14:4 Where there are no oxen, the manger is clean, but abundant crops come by the strength of the ox. If I embrace the mission, I must embrace the mess. After all, Jesus did it in order to embrace me.