Jesus came to share in our place, and he invites us to place share in our church neighborhood.
By Sam Butler, Pastor, Grand Rapids, Michigan
As believers, we are called to participate in the ongoing mission of Jesus Christ. Jesus is actively involved in mission, and he invites us to participate – as congregations and as individuals – in the mission he is already involved in. Our participation is outlined in Jesus’ teaching about the vine and the branches:
I am the vine; you are the branches. If you remain in me and I in you, you will bear much fruit; apart from me you can do nothing. (John 15:5)
There are two ideas in this passage that are critical to understanding the concept of mission. The ﬁrst is that we need to remain in Christ; we are not able to accomplish anything apart from him. The second is that when we are in relationship with him, fruit will naturally develop. Notice he does not ask us to produce fruit on our own, but tells us when we are in him, the resulting relationship will bear fruit.
What does it mean to “remain in Christ?” It starts with answering the “Who?” question. Who is Jesus? Once we come to believe that Jesus is who he claims to be – Lord, Savior, brother, friend, redeemer, reconciler – we then answer the 2nd question, “Who am I in Jesus?” I am the one he saved; I am the brother or sister; I am the friend; I am the one he redeemed. I hold on to this truth – remain in him – by being in constant relationship with him.
To remain in Christ is to be in relationship with him. It’s a personal relationship that will look different for everyone. The result of this personal relationship is the fruit that we bear in and with him. Remaining in Christ and bearing much fruit are intricately and intimately tied together. To tie this in with mission, we can say successful mission for our congregations and fellowship groups only happens when we are in relationship with Jesus. What does this look like as we focus on the Love Avenue? What does bearing fruit with Jesus look like in your church neighborhood or community? To answer this question, let’s flesh out a term we’ve heard GCI President Greg Williams and others use, which will help us understand mission. That term is place sharing.
Place sharing is how God shared his love with us by sending us his Son. Jesus came to share in our place – to live in and among humanity. But he didn’t just come to share life with us, he went a step further and became one of us. God became flesh – this is called incarnation. The Christmas celebration is the beginning, the starting point of incarnation, which has never ended. The Son of God is still human – though now in a glorified state. Incarnation is how God chose to place share. It is how we better understand his desire to continually share his love with us.
We need to understand this: in order for humanity to achieve our ultimate goal of being with God for eternity, God, compelled by love, sent the Word to dwell with us (place share). In so doing, he forgives us and reconciles us to bring us into relationship with Father, Son, and Spirit. Jesus came to share our place. To live with, in, and through us. He shares in our joys and our sorrows. He shares in our trials and our celebrations. He shares in our laughter and our tears. He joined us in our place so he could share life with us. He did not require us to be like him, to come where he is, to join in what he is doing before he shared in our lives. He came to us, right where we are, and entered into our place to share our experiences right alongside us. His love for us compelled him to place share with us.
Now, through the Spirit, Jesus invites us to place share with him to others by place sharing with our neighbors right where they are. In our relationship with Jesus, he calls us to participate in his ministry of calling those he loves, forgave, and died for into relationship with him – these are the people right around where your congregation or fellowship group meets. Jesus, through the Spirit, continues to be present in our world, but now invites us to be part of that presence. He has invited us to participate in that place sharing. As we remain in him, we share in what he is doing in this place.
Jesus gave us a commission to participate in what he is doing (Matthew 28:18-20), and he reminds us we are never working alone. He wants us to interact with our communities where he is already at work and build loving relationships with those neighbors he is already reaching. He wants us to place share with those he loves – to enter into their world and walk alongside them.
From a missional perspective, it is important for us to know that Jesus is already in the community. He already has a relationship with those we are reaching out to, and the community already belongs to him, although they may not know it yet. Jesus invites us to join him there and participate with him in his kingdom work. In order to place share, it is important to identify a community where needs align with the church’s gifts, experiences, and resources. More will be said about this in future articles.
Once we identify the community, we take the necessary steps to get to know it by noticing the ebbs and ﬂows of the life of the community and the people who inhabit the area. We begin the process of building relationships. Only then can we understand our roles there. We allow the community and the people to inform us; we allow the community to get to know us as we in turn get to know them. We begin to see the community through Jesus’ eyes by learning, and as we become involved, we are able to interact in an appropriate way for the sake of the gospel. We do not begin with the goal of changing the community or sharing Jesus in the traditional sense; we begin by joining people right where they are, loving and serving them there. It is in this setting that the Spirit works and God’s Kingdom work thrives. This is place sharing.