The Unhurried and Unstoppable Mission of God

The Unhurried and Unstoppable Mission of God

For over two decades we have been committed in our church mission and organizational culture to narrow the Sunday to Monday gap so perilously prevalent in the American church. In the power of the Spirit and with biblical wisdom we have increasingly become a local church congregation with Monday in mind. As a church family we have never been more intentional or more committed to the primacy of vocational discipleship and vocational mission. Yet, I believe two of the most compelling realities for us to keep close to our hearts in narrowing the Sunday to Monday gap are gospel plausibility and proclamation, both of which are more important than ever in our increasingly secular age.


Seeing is Believing

The goodness of the gospel so often needs to be seen by others around us before it is truly heard from us. Taking the time to look back at church history reinforces this timeless truth. A particularly insightful church historian is scholar Alan Krieder. Like fellow early church historian Rodney Stark, the question of what enabled the early church to grow as it did against fierce cultural headwinds and formidable odds is one that captures their intellectual curiosity and disciplined research focus. In his excellent book, The Patient Ferment of the Early Church, Krieder puts it this way; “Why did this minor mystery religion from the eastern Mediterranean—marginal, despised, discriminated against—grow substantially, eventually supplanting the well-endowed, respectable cults that were supported by the empire and aristocracy? What enabled Christianity to be so successful that by the fifth century it was the established religion of the empire?”

 Kreider answers this question by pointing to several factors we are wise to emulate. First, he describes what he calls habitus, that is, the very down-to-earth reflexive bodily behavior exhibited in the mysterious mundane of daily life where the early Christians lived, worked, and played. Kreider writes, “Their behavior said what they believed; it was an enactment of their message. And the sources indicate that it was their habitus more than their ideas that appealed to the majority of the non-Christians who came to join them.”  The early church theologian Cyprian summarizes Christian habitus as a non-compartmentalized, comprehensive, and distinct way of life. What we might describe as an integral and coherent life embraced not only on Sunday, but also lived on Monday. Cyprian wrote, “we do not speak great things, we live them.” It was the early Christians’ distinct lives forged and formed in a highly relational community that spoke volumes of plausibility to a curious and watching world. 


A Curious Lifestyle

Kreider points particularly to the virtue of patience. At first blush this may be a bit surprising, but the early Christians viewed God’s sovereign mission as “unhurried and unstoppable.” The result was they placed less emphasis on bold strategies and more emphasis on morally and virtuously distinct lifestyles that would be organically and relationally influential over time. The early Christians were known and at times scorned and ostracized for their sexual purity ethic, sanctity of life ethic–particularly for the unborn and newborn, their diligent work ethic, their sacrificial caring for the poor, and for a lifestyle of non-violence. 


Working Together

The gospel and its transformational influence was primarily spread in the context of the marketplace. Ordinary Christians, not clergy, were the missional key. Kreider notes, “Christians followed their business opportunities.” Pointing out the witness of Christians, Kreider notes that non-Christians observed distinct Christian differences in the marketplace. Non-Christians “experienced the way they (Christians) did business with them, the patient way the Christians operate their businesses.” Kreider summarized the profound impact of vocational discipleship and vocational mission. “What happened was this. Non-Christians and Christians worked together and lived near each other. They became friends.”


A Distinct Lifestyle

While the early church was far from perfect, their pluralistic cultural context is in many ways remarkably similar to our 21st century western world. There is much for us to learn from the remarkable legacy they left behind in shaping the Christian church. Kreider’s helpful insights on the early church’s long-term impact resonate deeply with our church for Monday strategic emphasis. It is our hope that vocational discipleship will bring increased spiritual formation and with it a distinct lifestyle and bold verbal witness to our local, national, and global marketplace. 

While we desire to employ our best creativity and strategic thinking moving forward, we are wise to remember the early church’s patient ferment, knowing that in redemptive history as it unfolds in front of our eyes, God’s mission is unhurried and unstoppable. With a tenacious trust, an unhurried pace, and a patient posture, may we not only speak great things, but also live them before a curious and watching world.

Thriving Even When Monday Work Disappears

Thriving Even When Monday Work Disappears

by Kelli Sallman

Record layoffs. Seclusion. Loss. In three weeks, Americans filed more than 16 million unemployment claims (*data as of April 9). Shelter-in-place rules, age, illness, and the broad loss of livelihoods have stripped away roles and outlets for talents that help form self-identity and our sense of purposeful work. For many, our world has become a maze to stumble through in the dark. 

Loss disorients us—not only in the paid-work world but also in the unpaid ways we contribute to human flourishing in our homes, church, and communities. Even if only temporary, the unexpected loss of a defining identity (entrepreneur, hugger, soccer player, host, high school senior, provider, greeter, performer, always available Grandma) feels like suddenly waking up without an arm. We beat our heads against all the things we can no longer do. Even opening the door at a neighbor’s knock seems awkward and strange.

When Work Goes Dark

Seventeenth century British writer John Milton could relate. For more than 40 years, he formed his identity around the gifts God had bestowed on him—a brilliant mind, freedom to study, and a powerful pen. Then he went blind. In the first eight lines of Sonnet 19 written after darkness overtook him, Milton reflects on what must have been his own questions and grief in blindness:

When I consider how my light is spent

Ere half my days, in this dark world and wide,

And that one Talent, which is death to hide,

Lodged with me useless, though my Soul more bent

To serve therewith my Maker, and present

My true account, lest he, returning, chide;

“Doth God exact day-labour, light denied?”

I fondly ask. 

He compares his trouble to the parable of the talents (Matthew 25:14–30) as an acutely unfair riddle. In the parable, God rebukes the man who foolishly stewarded his master’s treasure by burying it rather than making it produce. Milton likens his lost ability to the steward’s hiding of treasure and fears God will rebuke him too, despite his wish to continue writing.

He then asks a question that alludes to another parable in which a landowner hires day laborers to tend his vineyard (Matthew 20:1–16): Does God require work (day-labor)? His question resonates in our own hearts during times of loss, if we are honest. Is God disappointed by my lack of productivity? Does His inclusion of us in His kingdom require that we perform? How can He require work from me when He has allowed my most natural means of serving to be stripped away? How do we recover?

These questions bubble up from our core because God created us for work—good work. “The Lord God took the man and put him in the garden of Eden to work it and keep it” (Genesis 2:15).  “For we are…created in Christ Jesus for good works….” (Ephesians 2:10). He wired us to long for purpose. And we equate working with doing, in some manner.

Waiting Is Sufficient Work

But Milton—perhaps as a pioneering faith and work leader—gives us in the poem’s final six lines a hard-won, unexpected answer to our questions: in certain seasons, re-envision what it means to work and flourish.

But Patience, to prevent

That murmur, soon replies: “God doth not need

Either man’s work or his own gifts; who best

Bear his mild yoke, they serve him best. His state

Is Kingly. Thousands, at his bidding, speed

And post o’er Land and Ocean, without rest;

They also serve who only stand and wait.”

God requires nothing. Though we may want to earn our keep, God wants us to continue to learn how to receive. We receive by bearing Jesus’ mild yoke and learning from Him (Matthew 11:29–30). And, as Milton points out, Jesus’ “state is Kingly.” We do well to see the invisible realities of His kingdom. 

His thousands of angels do His bidding by carrying messages, judgement, and intervention throughout earth and heaven. Yet His “myriads of myriads and thousands of thousands” also serve well who stand by His throne and wait (Revelation 5:11). Angels need no rest and suffer no physical frailties. If waiting on the Lord is sufficient work for them, how can it be less than sufficient for us when God calls us to it?

Waiting Is Hope

The Hebrew word for wait also means “to hope.” I pray in these troubling times you don’t lose hope. Milton thought in his mid-40s that his greatest work—as civil servant for the Commonwealth of England under Oliver Cromwell—was behind him. But he completed his enduring masterpiece, Paradise Lost, only after he fell blind, as he accepted help from others. 

Let us wait upon the Lord and rejoice in His salvation. He will take away the reproach of His people and wipe all tears from our faces (Isaiah 25:8–9). Only stand and wait.

[vcex_divider color=”#dddddd” width=”100%” height=”1px” margin_top=”20″ margin_bottom=”20″]Links and Sources:

*Patricia Cohen and Tiffany Hsu, “‘Sudden Black Hole’ for the Economy with Millions More Unemployed,” NY Times, April 9, 2020, https://www.nytimes.com/2020/04/09/business/economy/unemployment-claim-numbers-coronavirus.html?referringSource=articleShare. *This article has been updated read the complete article for current information.

John Milton, “Sonnet 19,” PoetryFoundation.com, accessed April 10, 2020, https://www.poetryfoundation.org/poems/44750/sonnet-19-when-i-consider-how-my-light-is-spent. Public domain.

Kelli Sallman writes, edits, and mentors writers for a living. She loves using her theology training and literature and arts background to help people make sense of God’s good world. You can find more of her writing on her blog, Inklings & Inspiration.