9.30.2009

Authority, responsibility and freedom

Luke 9:1-6

Jesus' approach to sending his followers out on mission is pure genius.  His sending begins with the authority to cast out demons and cure diseases.  It does not start with proclaiming the kingdom (that comes later).  This is so critical because, first, it focuses on the issues that keep people from hearing or even perceiving the kingdom.  "Demons" of all kinds, like possession by possessions, wealth and privilege, and like lack of hope, cynicism (my favorite) and damaged trust, as well as physical and social ills often keep us too self-absorbed to listen to the possibilities Jesus offers. 

Leadership gurus have preached for years that people need to have authority to accomplish the responsibilities they are given in order to be productive and healthy.  Without authority, the tasks one is responsible to accomplish become a burden, or worse.  Rather than being creative problem solvers, people who work for leaders who don't give authority play it safe, don't take risks for the mission, seek permission for everything.  Clearly Jesus is not launching this type of all-to-common organization!

Having given authority Jesus turns to the mission -- proclaim the kingdom and heal.  There's no separation here.  The disciples' responsibility for helping people become whole and well -- spiritually and mentally as well as physically -- is not just preparation for God's mission, it is God's mission.

Next Jesus equips the twelve with instructions that impart his wisdom about the task they will face.  This is not a micro-manager's procedure manual.  Rather, it is an approach that will leave the disciples open to the changing needs of the mission, unencumbered by stuff and its attendant worries.  The Message offers a wonderful amplification: "Don't load yourselves up with equipment. Keep it simple; you are the equipment."

Finally, Jesus adds to the disciples freedom to be flexible and responsive to their context the freedom to discern when their message is not being heard, and to move on to more fertile fields. Note that Jesus doesn't condemn those who don't pay attention to the message, he just tells the disciples to make it clear they are moving on (which is really more release for the disciples than judgment on the unresponsive).

Luke tells us that the disciples had success "everywhere" following Jesus' wisdom. 

Today, at least in my neck of the church, there is some anxiety about decline, a tendency to throw more authority and responsibility on leaders instead of disciples, and the complexity of structures (institutional and physical) that limit flexibility in working with God's mission.  Asking good questions about the status quo can help us to re-balance authority, responsibility and freedom in ministry.

I am often frustrated by the barriers these objections present to connecting with people about my faith, and theirs.  I wonder what it would look like to act as if we actually have this ultimate authority over these stumbling blocks?  What would be effective ways to work with people who are not yet in a place to perceive the message?

Do the disciples we want to be responsible to share the Good News have the authority to do so? Have we equipped them to engage people where they are as well as tell their story of the kingdom?  Do leaders create a climate where people can take risks, say the wrong thing, even fail?  Or are disciples paralyzed by fear of "not getting it right"?

Are we keeping things simple, so that buildings and staff and programs serve a mission? Or are these things being served by more and more time, money and energy that is drained from God's mission? Do we have the freedom to release tools that no longer work and try something new?

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