Mission is Messy and Inconvenient

Missional is a term that has become trendy and seems like a way to describe almost anything. But to me, it describes a way of life that should seem pretty weird to the people around us. Missional should mean living a lifestyle that causes questions and raised eyebrows. My pastor and his wife do that routinely :) and it’s fun being in their “orbit” observing daily life! Here is a snippet of living on mission.

Zeke, Shelley and Keith

Zeke, Shelley and Keith

Recently, our pastor and his wife (Keith & Shelley) invited a friend of ours (Zeke) to live in their basement for a few months until he could get settled in a new job with a place to live . This missional sharing of their life and home was what drew us into friendship with them, as we share similar approaches to life and ministry.

A friend many moons ago challenged Shawn & I to live out the verse in 1 Thessalonians 2:8 that says,

“Because we loved you so much, we were delighted to share with you not only the gospel of God but our lives as well.”

For us, this has worked its way into a million places in our lives since that day, but also draws us in friendship to people that are kindred spirits in this lifestyle. The genuine pondering and working out of what it means to share our lives as well as the gospel draws us to others who are doing the same.

If you’ve read anything else that I’ve written, it should be obvious to you that I believe the church needs to shift some of its notions and ideas of family & community. The idea of being missional in all areas of our lives resonates deep inside me.

You may have read in my previous post that Zeke attended #Revoice18 with my husband Shawn & myself along with our housemate Kristen. I got to know Zeke in his senior year of high school when he attended a Bible study that I led. He was a gay 18 year old who fell obviously in love with the Jesus he met reading the book of Luke with me. It still is amazing to remember his excitement over each new story of Jesus’ life & ministry. I’ll have to let Zeke tell his story sometime. But back to being missional!

Missional living means to me that I define my person and my life around being an agent of God’s mission to save the world’s people through a relationship with Jesus. God has a mission and He invites me to join. To the degree that I embrace this mission as a person, I will orbit my daily life around this principle as well. How I spend my time, energy and money reveals what my organizing principles are. I believe this mission works best in the intersection of relationships and daily life. I also believe this supersedes my ideas of how I should fill my time and my life. God decides. And I believe He has prepared work for me uniquely to do.

Together with Keith & Shelley, we hold a belief that the body (you and I as believers) should be active in pursuing intersections of our lives with others. Often this gets messy and inconvenient. It’s messy because people and their/our dysfunctional lives have few neat solutions. Inconvenient because, let’s face it, we all have our own lives we are busy living and it takes work and energy to invest in others. Also inconvenient because it takes time & energy to be purposeful in intersecting our lives with those outside our house. Our daily work (how we pay the bills) is tiring and we can want all our evenings to rest and enjoy our framily and it takes effort to bring others in.

Speaking of having our own lives, our pastor and his wife have quite a full life. Besides the functional job of leading our church, they have 5 teenagers: 2 adopted from Ethiopia and 3 biological that include one set of twins . Seventh grade, eighth grade, ninth grade and two sophomores keep their life hopping to say the least. They have chosen to live in an urban neighborhood on the west side of South Bend and keep their kids in urban, public schools. Their house has 5 bedrooms which means that 2 kids are sharing ☺. That left the couch in the basement open for our friend to inhabit. Inconvenient, yes. Messy, yes. Time consuming, yes. Missional, for sure!

Zeke met Keith and Shelley when he began to attend our home group (our church’s version of small groups). He was a senior in high school and had been saved about 3 weeks when I invited him to our home group that meets in their home. For the last 3 years we have walked together through a myriad of situations in all our lives and have become genuine friends. It is in this context that we have seen Zeke struggle in his relationship with his mom and closest sibling as he lived with them. He desired to move from their house but finances as well as other issues kept him there.

While out for dessert one evening this summer, we were batting around the thought that “you become the average of the 5 people you spend the most time with”. Specifically, we were talking about Zeke and how we could be more consistently involved in his life and be “his 5 people”. Since all of our bedrooms were currently occupied, Keith and Shelley offered their couch.

This living situation has opened the door for Zeke to see them discipline their kids, to watch them navigate sinful choices and consequences, to experience how they deal with finances, and get counsel on jobs and the future. He has taken help in his job search, reworked his resume and talked about life.

Sure, they could have invited him to dinner a couple times and verbally shared these things, but doing life together leaves an indelible impression that you cannot accomplish in two hours over dinner. He has been startled by the ‘realness’ he is experiencing in their house. Real people walking alongside Jesus in normal, messy life. When they went out for dinner the other night, all 8 of them, the server asked, “are you some sort of a team”? They are not your traditional looking family.

It gets very real when half the family is sick, vomit is happening and people are in foul moods. But that is our life and it is powerful when shared in the context of the walking in the Spirit through these daily happenings and allowing people access. Zeke has had access into all kinds of “daily life” inside their house!

Not everyone wants 5 new people in their life, but Zeke did. He was wanting and ready to make some foundational changes, but needed people willing to be alongside him for the long term. There are many people in our churches in this same situation. I believe the Lord would have us raise up an army of “alongside” people. The Lord puts up with a lot in us as the Spirit works to sanctify us over the course of many years. He is alongside us for the long term and wants to grow that in us.

Does this mean that life is easy once we are alongside Jesus in His mission? Heck no! We struggle, argue, confess and forgive, seek counsel, experience tension, confess, and forgive…over and over. But it’s worth the work.

Jesus came and lived in our neighborhood for 33 years. He got into messy situations with prostitutes, tax collectors, and other garden variety sinners of that day. He ate dinner, shared living spaces with his disciples, received hospitality from friends, and got Himself dirty with the hard situations and people around Him. He lived in a way that caused tension in those around Him. His life and the way that He loved startled people- especially the religious people. He definitely lived alongside others.

When was the last time you or I startled someone with our routine life? Has anyone ever asked you, “why are you friends with such and such?”, or “why do you live together with her?” Do you routinely get ‘messy’ in trying to walk alongside people and their hard situations? If we wait to clean up the normal mess, we miss opportunities. And let’s be honest- there will just be new mess!

In an earlier post, I talked about how all of us need to open our doors, tables & homes to others in the body. Specifically, those single persons that remain single long term for a variety of reasons. In my last post, I shared about Side B Christians in our churches and how the ways that we live and love make a celibate life more possible and inviting. Our churches need more of this kind of living.

Could this be you? What would it look like for your life to orbit around “being missional”?

Susan Titus