When my wife and I began life with our first child it was an adjustment, to say the least. We were trying our best to navigate the new challenges of midnight feedings, purposeless screaming, and sleeplessness. That being said, we were not at a deficit for ‘wisdom’ from everyone with whom we came into contact.
We quickly found that everyone, yes everyone, had broken the secret code of infant survival through this book or that book, this technique or that technique, this herbal supplement or that herbal supplement, this schedule or that schedule… you get the idea. I quickly discovered that parenting an infant often brought some significant arrogance in people because they sincerely believed they had the best method which EVERYONE else should be using. Don’t get me started on breastfeeding…
As a student of missions I have been aware that these same ideas are pervasive and so often damaging to the global church. The most obvious examples are evidenced around the globe when you come across the little white church building with a steeple which is in the middle of an African geography. This is created from a belief in having all of the right answers and strategies which solve all people’s problems.
This grievous error completely dismisses the way that the Apostle Paul changed his ministry methods while amidst different groups of people. These changes did not alter the truth of the gospel of Jesus Christ but the changes affirmed that a fluid gospel was required. Maybe a helpful illustration, which has been used before, is that of liquid in a container. When pouring 8 oz of water into one size glass you still have the unchanged and all-present characteristics of the water, yet the shape has changed. Again, if you pour that water into a flat and shallow dish you do not change the elements of the water but merely the shape in which it rests.
Being on foreign soil last week and meeting with people who have given their life to see a community transformed, I was fighting these temptations. I arrived with a set of expectations which I believed would be the best fit for their context. However, we held a foundational belief that we wanted to aid these new friends in a way that they believed would be valuable to their efforts.
After a lot of listening and praying, the fruit came in one conversation of honesty. We asked pointed questions and gave explicit permission for brutally honest replies. We listened. It sounds so simple but it had the most significant impact on the trajectory and value of our partnership. We listened. This, by God’s grace and the work of His Spirit, brought us to a place where we found an action plan which would not only be valuable to our new friends, but would be just as valuable to our American workers.
I hope you are actively engaged in gospel work around the world, but I know that for many different reasons you may not be at this time. These ideas do not change when we are talking about neighbors, coworkers, friends, and family.
As you and I walk out our lives as gospel stewards amidst our surroundings, that does not mean we have all of the answers for everyone’s various struggles. There is only one real answer and that is the gospel of Jesus Christ. We must be people who listen so that we can see the doors God wants to open for us to bring the life giving water of the gospel to those around us.
What if our first action item as missionaries amidst any context from our street or workplace, to other continents around the world, was to listen? My belief and my experience has displayed that if we listened we would see God opening opportunities for gospel conversations.
Do you get so wrapped up in your own agendas that you miss the opportunities that God is opening before you? Do you listen and look before you speak? What might God be doing around you if you were able to see it?