In an interview several years ago with the Rt. Rev. Dr. David Zac Niringiye, then assistant bishop of Kampala in the Church of Uganda, Andy Crouch asked this question: “What could equip us to be more countercultural, living in a nation that is very much at the center of power?” I loved the Ugandan church leader’s response:
“We need to begin to read the Bible differently. Americans have been preoccupied with the end of the Gospel of Matthew, the Great Commission: ‘Go and make.’ I call them go-and-make missionaries. These are the go-and-fix-it people. The go-and-make people are those who act like it’s all in our power, and all we have to do is ‘finish the task.’ They love that passage! But when read from the center of power, that passage simply reinforces the illusion that it’s about us, that we are in charge.”
This response reminded me of what an African American Christian leader told me a week ago: white Christians like to fix problems without getting involved with the people facing the problems.
How are we going to move beyond this problematic orientation? In addition to the African Christian leader’s helpful, constructive suggestions, I would offer the following:
We must remember that the Great Commission flows out of the Great Commandment. As we are going, we are to make disciples and teach them to obey everything that Jesus has taught us, which is centered and founded on the Great Commandment. The Great Commission (Mt. 28:18-20) must flow out of the Great Commandment (Mk. 12:30-31); otherwise, we will never move beyond going to fix people’s problems. The Great Commandment is the Great Communion: to love the Lord our God with all our heart, soul, mind and strength, and to love our neighbors as ourselves. Such communion ensures that the commission is communal. Otherwise, the Great Commission becomes the Great Compression—fixing others and fitting them into our ministry program mold.
With this biblical-theological perspective in mind, we must then go to share life with people rather than try to fix their problems. Surely, there are problems to which we must attend in missional endeavors. But fixing the problems must flow out of sharing life together. As we share life with people of different cultures, we will see that our friends from those cultures here and abroad will reveal to us hidden problems in our own lives, too. As we share life with one another, we will care for one another and be used of God to bring mutual healing. Relational healing goes far deeper than fixing problems. Relational healing goes to the depths of the heart.
When we go to people of different cultures, especially those deemed to be on the margins of a given society, we must not ask, “What can we do for you?” but “What can we do together?” The former question can easily be taken to be condescending, whereas the latter question is collaborative in nature. Collaboration is the way forward, if we wish to get beyond the Great Compression to the Great Communion and Commission.
This piece is cross-posted at The Institute for the Theology of Culture: New Wine, New Wineskins and at Consuming Jesus.