Place-making and mission
Working on this week’s sermon in Genesis 2:4–9, I’ve been exploring the importance in scripture of place and place-making. One fairly obvious objection to the idea that God’s people should be rooted to place – that they should be planted trees, lovers of the local, self-consciously embracing not only embodiment but also emplacement – is that our Lord had no place to lay His head (Matthew 8:20). Jesus was a wanderer; isn’t this a pattern for us to follow? Shouldn’t we be ready and willing to leave any place at any moment and follow Him we know not where?
I think a careful look through the Bible will reveal that its call to gospel adventure and its call to domestic stability are ultimately not at odds. The kingdom of God on earth embraces both a missional impulse and a cultural impulse. The kingdom seeks globally, and it settles locally. It advances militantly (albeit not with carnal weapons) even as it calls and commands its citizens to occupy, to cultivate, to build, to lead a peaceful and quiet life as saints in a particular place.
The work of Jesus and His apostles was predominantly missional, but they affirmed the cultural life of those to whom they ministered (e.g., by staying so often in homes, attending weddings, enjoying meals, etc.); indeed, they commanded that the structures of cultural life be honored (e.g., the marriage bed, parent-child relations, king-subject relations, lawful vocation, etc.). Their missional work was for the purpose of settling churches to be salt and light in their local places.
Some Christians today are gifted for, and called to, predominantly missional labors; they are the vanguard of the kingdom, so to speak. Most of us who follow Jesus, however, are gifted and called to be the cultural laborers of the kingdom: to live and learn, love and laugh, be faithful and raise up faithful generations, all in a local context. It’s important not to pit one of these against the other; both lie within the bounds of true discipleship.