In case you missed it, the internet has been abuzz the past few days over this article posted by Dr. Anthony Bradley. In it, Bradley’s asserts that ‘missional’ has become a means to aggrandize accomplishments for God and shame people who live ordinary existences because they feel they are not living up to being ‘missional’. He states;
I continue to be amazed by the number of youth and young adults who are stressed and burnt out from the regular shaming and feelings of inadequacy if they happen to not be doing something unique and special. Today’s millennial generation is being fed the message that if they don’t do something extraordinary in this life they are wasting their gifts and potential. The sad result is that many young adults feel ashamed if they “settle” into ordinary jobs, get married early and start families, live in small towns, or as 1 Thessalonians 4:11 says, “aspire to live quietly, and to mind [their] affairs, and to work with [their] hands.” For too many millennials their greatest fear in this life is being an ordinary person with a non-glamorous job, living in the suburbs, and having nothing spectacular to boast about.
Now there is been a fair amount of push back over a lack of qualification of certain statements. But I do agree with the above referenced section. As I wrote here that celebrity Christianity has made the average Joe feel woefully inadequate. Even worse, when you add shame into the equation and tell people they aren’t measuring up unless there doing x, y, z notable accomplishment for the kingdom.
There are other points as well. But central to what I want to write about is Bradley’s premise of 1 Thessalonians 4:11-12 (I added vs 12 as it is pertinent to this post), where Paul tells his audience
Make it your ambition to lead a quiet life, to mind your own business and to work with your hands just as we told you, so that your daily life may win the respect of outsiders and so that you may not be dependent on anyone.
I want to focus on what Paul is telling the Thessalonians because I think it addresses a growing concern of mine. First, on leading a quiet life. The verb ἡσυχάζειν connotes a stillness; inner peace. It is a settled life with what has been given. Now I get that some people have been given responsibility for grander accomplishments. But others can be just as effective leading normal lives, loving God and neighbor, influencing in whatever circles they find themselves. Neither should be exclusively promoted or condemned.
Aside from living a quiet life, what Paul says next is pretty significant, “to mind your own business”. As I scan blogs, Facebook, twitter, sermons, and Christian circles in general, I think there is a unusual pre-occupation with the affairs of others. And by affairs, I mean concern for what others are or are not doing in the body of Christ. We are very quick to cite how others are not measuring up – how their not witnessing enough or giving enough or expending enough time or energy. Deficiencies abound!
And I think this feeds into the ‘missional’ concerns. It strikes me that we can have such a ‘doing’ mentality that it gets imposed onto the affairs of others. People need to know they should be doing more and this seeps into the pulpit and books and blogs, “If Christians were really missional they would be [fill in the blank with prescribed activity]. I wonder if at the heart of the backlash of Bradley’s article is a reaction against people not working enough or rather “not as hard as I’m working”. Martha anyone?
Mission involves a multiplicity of functions as God redeems lost creation to himself of which the church is a chief instrument as I wrote about recently. That means different people play different parts in different ways and yet it all works together. The person who sells all their possessions to minister in the Amazon is no more on mission than the accountant who works a 40 hour work week, provides for his family and doesn’t do any kind of grand accomplishments. Mission simply means being involved in what God is doing in his grand scheme. And yet many are not satisfied and insist they people but be doing x, y, and z to really be on mission. Is it any wonder Bradley calls this ‘legalism’ ?
But moreover, why are we so concerned or even threatened by how others are not measuring up? Friends, Paul’s commands to the Thessalonians are ours as well. We must mind our own business. We should not be so overly occupied with the affairs others that we find statements of leading ordinary lives threatening to the work of God’s kingdom. This is the quiet life Paul commends. Is God not sovereign over his affairs? Is he not masterfully orchestrating each person’s sanctification process that would lead to the good works he has prepared in advance (cf Eph 2:10) whatever that may be so it fits in with the whole? Can the Holy Spirit not convict where needed where there is a lack of fruitfulness?Did Jesus not say he would build his church?
Look at Paul’s next statement – “to work with our hands”. Meaning, we put our hands to what God has called us to do. Let’s worry about our own hands and tasks. Let us be good stewards for whatever our hands have been given. Let the one who is to take on big responsibilities do that. Let the one who is convicted to give up all and go to remote places, do that. But let the one who leads a quiet, ordinary life do that as well. Over it all, let God be God.Whatever it is, if done to the glory of God, will win the respect of others for God’s mission and his glory.