With a handful of reed, I stuffed the wire guide to contribute to the 9-year old boy’s remade house. Immediately after the church service, just two days after arriving in Mozambique, members of the Celebration Church campus in Xai Xai head out to Jose’s house upon finishing lunch. Ladies with babies strapped to their backs hold a huge bundle of reed on their heads, grasping them with their hands to hold it balanced. Franco, originally from South Africa and the white minority in the church, utilizes his construction talent to fix the roof on this rebuild. We all take turns doing various jobs, and no one stops until the house is complete. The next few days even have their own construction project of building a kitchen for the church with a similar construct as the reed house–manually manufacturing cement for the floor and an open flame oven, building walls from scratch–then later, fixing a broken wall of another campus. All components of each project took every person who helped work to do so. Everyone was tired, but no one was miserable. People helped each other, conversed, and when a hand was needed one or two pairs of hands were always right there contributing. Whereas ‘serving’ is something that Americans have to think about and praise themselves for, Mozambicans just considered it life–not one effort to a thought was even made on the manner. Though we saw this as part of our “mission trip”, they saw it as Monday through Wednesday–nothing out of the ordinary except for a few Americans with t-shirts that said “Celebration Church“. We made conversation and learned about the people who would later etch their names in our hearts, forming the beginnings to relationships more akin to family–working never seemed so joyful!
Perhaps my greatest lesson was the one I hadn’t expected–ministry begins, not preaching behind a pulpit, but with a shovel in your hand. This may be obvious to many people, but not to me until this particular trip. Since my days in Bible college, my emphasis was and still is a strong understanding of the Gospel along with the insight to determine my audience’s lens–begin with where they are. The problem, however, was that my starting point has been to analyze and explain, rather than empathize and relate. I also have sought to convince the truth of the Gospel, arguing our need for Jesus and the rationality of an existent God against someone else’s inadequate worldview, rather than communicating to the person within a level of friendship. For, true Gospel living is not philosophical in nature, but relational. Neglecting that essential foundation to the Christian faith has been one of many flaws in evangelistic efforts. Perhaps we think that convincing others of our faith somehow will build up our own. Only when we experience true life change from the Christ do we have legitimacy in sharing the Gospel.
I love the apostle Paul’s critique of our valiant efforts outside of a conviction motivated by love. We pursue apologetic arguments and rational defenses, hand out tracts (don’t know who invented that brilliant idea), post signs, and participate in politics by giving our “Christian” votes–none of which are even close to being observed in Jesus. Before he begins his notoriously famous monologue-like definition of love, he criticizes what we tend to value over love.
If I speak with the tongues of men and of angels, but do not have love, I have become a noisy gong or a clanging cymbal. If I have the gift of prophecy, and know all mysteries and all knowledge; and if I have all faith, so as to remove mountains, but do not have love, I am nothing. And if I give all my possessions to feed the poor, and if I surrender my body to be burned, but do not have love, it profits me nothing. – 1 Corinthians 13:1-3
Chapter 13 in 1 Corinthians is placed right in the middle of Paul’s explanation of the Holy Spirit gifting people in the church for service and spiritual edification. Out of anything supernatural mentioned, such as prophecy or healing, Paul finds love to be of the utmost value. Every type of service he mentions in his letters for Christ-followers to do, which is quite a few actually, end up being self-righteous acts without the conviction and motivation of love. Within this three chapter description of spiritual gifting, Paul recognizes the inevitable self-righteous, self-absorbed reactions to that which is God-given. People consider themselves as having been given particular “gifts”, while neglecting the humble acknowledgment that it’s God’s Spirit working His power for His will–not ours.
Start with a shovel. As Pastor Mel handed me one he asked if I could find the level of the ground with the church porch for the purpose of making new foundation. A major project for the next year or so will be to change the ground, as it sits on a hill, for many purposes of expanding the property. As I dug into the ground, this ground tilling tool seemed to serve a greater purpose by symbolizing a missional attitude of service. Immediately, you’re forced into humility when you have that attitude. The focus isn’t on sin, salvation, or evangelism, but on serving. You can reach anyone anywhere when you just do some work with them. You are not judging them, arguing them, trying to persuade them–you’re just working with them and for them. With this attitude we won’t allow ourselves the opportunity to be heroes: going somewhere thinking highly of ourselves as “ministers”, pursuing the salvation of others. Perhaps many of the missionaries who get burnt out see themselves as little superheroes going off to fight evil and save innocent people, only to find that their ideas and efforts are all wrong. Only by holding the shovel first can we become the tool God wants us to be while He penetrates the soil of their hearts with His love–molding the foundation for His purpose and crafting. Then, and only then, do we even have the credibility to communicate the Gospel in a powerfully effective manner.