Have you ever heard the phrase, “That’s the tail wagging the dog?” You will hear that used in the context of an institution or group that is allowing a minor part of the system or body to set forward an agenda at the expense of the larger whole. Obviously a dog is supposed to wag its tail, not the other way around.
It happens when the vision is too micro-focused on one certain aspect of the overall mission. It happens when one person or group has too much power and uses it at the expense of the whole. It is painstakingly transplanting a single tree when the entire forest is on fire.
I walked with a clergy friend last week who had just finished a webinar on the mission of the church. Her take-away from it was wrapped up in one incredible thought: God’s church doesn’t have a mission; God’s mission has a church! But sometimes we get that wrong, and put our mission before God’s vision. We try to wag him with the power of our planning.
Let that roll around in your brain as we take a look at the great commission Jesus gave all his disciples, just in case we have lost sight of God’s mission for his followers:
16 Now the eleven disciples went to Galilee, to the mountain to which Jesus had directed them. 17 And when they saw him they worshiped him, but some doubted. 18 And Jesus came and said to them, “All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. 19 Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, 20 teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you.“
Let’s look at the trees for a moment before we get to the forest.
There were eleven disciples there, as this occurs after the crucifixion. It is the resurrected Jesus who is speaking, and all but Judas are present. And did you catch the part where “all worshiped, but some doubted.” Can you imagine being Jesus in that moment? Come on, guys! What does a savior have to do to gain respect, already?? If Jesus was a southern lady in that moment, he would have thought, “Well, bless your hearts.”
So he asserts God’s authority once again, and then gives them their life-long commission.
Notice that there are things that churches sometimes do that are NOT listed in that commission. Things like judge, condemn, alienate, or rebuke. The forest-view of these four charges reminds us that God’s mission has a church. And the church is the thing he is counting on to forward his mission on the earth. It is only by his authority that we do this. And the best news of all? We don’t do it alone:
“And behold, I am with you always, to the end of the age.”
Remember that without vision, the people perish. Jesus was very clear about his vision for his followers when he departed for the last time. Go to the people where they are; bring them into a discipled life; baptize them as part of their initiation into the Body of Christ; teach them everything you know about my kingdom and its commandments.
How are you living out the great commission in your life? Are you inviting others to a relationship with Christ? Are you telling your truth in a way that people can hear Jesus? You’re the only Jesus some will ever see. Will they see him in you? God calls everyone into his mission today and invites each one to join him in this great undertaking.
So go. Make. Initiate. Enlighten.
Be Jesus to someone today, and watch the forest grow.