Throwing Out Agendas and Replacing with Mission

In being downtown Sarnia we have always said we never wanted to have an agenda. The idea stemmed from hardcore, door-to-door sales pitches for religious beliefs that we wanted to stay away from. Missionary dating, evangelism surveys, salvation cards, invite your friends to church for a chance to win a stereo Sundays and witnessing in your cworkplace are all part of the deeply disconnected culture of evangelism that we are reacting against. When you have to fake a relationship with someone (or why bother even faking at times?) then we thought there must be something wrong.

So in going downtown, to an environment completely unfamiliar to us, one of the things we were going to make sure we did, was erase all agendas. We had seen the dangers of what agendas could do, so we wanted to steer clear of them. We were not moving downtown to “save” the downtown. We were not moving there so we could better understand their culture and then eventually hit them in the head with Bible verses. We didn’t grab beers with store owners, join the Artwalk committee or go to the concerts so we could get them to come to the events we ran or to church on Sundays. Our sole purpose was going to be to move somewhere that was abandoned and build relationships with the people that are there with no expectation on them at all. So that’s what we did.

We’ve been here for three years now. I would say we’ve done pretty well at successfully integrating ourselves into the fabric of what is happening downtown. Besides a few special circumstances, we get along with many of the people downtown and I would call most of them friends. At this point, any good Christian would see this as a great opportunity to present the gospel as we know it and share it with as many as possible. The only problem is, it sort of feels that would negate the whole non-agenda clause that we established when we first started. So we continue to build relationships, and genuinely care about the people downtown.

I think my problem with agendas are, that they feel inconsistent with what the gospel really is. When somebody has an agenda in a relationship, they are really only nice to you or want to be your friend because they want something from you, or want you to do something for them. If we wanted to have everyone that lives downtown, attend theStory’s service on Sundays, and so we started integrating ourselves into the downtown core so we could start bringing people out to the service, then that would be an agenda. That isn’t why we are there. People showing up at our service really has very little to do what is going on.

However, as Christians, I think it is still crucial that we have a mission. A mission is different than an agenda. Agenda’s can be checked off as completed when the work is done or when I get what I want. Mission is about a commitment to a way of life, something that you bring into whatever happens around you no matter how people respond, if they respond at all. As Christians, we believe that the way we should live our lives is by loving God and loving others. Part of our mission is to do that to the best ability wherever we are. Since we are downtown, our mission is played out daily in our relationships with whoever we run into. Agenda’s come with expectations for the other, mission comes with duty for yourself.

There is a purpose I’m downtown but it isn’t to complete or follow an agenda. I will not be able to wake up tomorrow morning either disappointed or excited because the agenda worked. Mission doesn’t give such a clear picture of what the future looks like. Rather, it gives you an arrow in which direction to head. The other beautiful thing about mission is that it gives purpose that is based on what you should contribute rather than what you need to accomplish or how people must respond. In other words, with mission you aren’t scored and ranked, where with an agenda, you almost get marked with how closely you followed it and how people react to you.

So after three years we are beginning to see what this looks like. If we were following an agenda, we would have been disappointed long ago, since really no one from downtown is attending our Sunday services. However, that was never our goal. Our goal was to move into downtown, and love on downtown people. End of story. Whatever comes from that was awesome, but there will never be any expectation to exactly how that will play out, who will join us or what it will look like. We are constantly accomplishing our mission every day, it will never full be accomplished and that’s what I like about mission. It just gives you daily purpose for how you should live your life rather than mandating what everyone else has to do around you to fit into how you think things should be.

For this, I am grateful. I think throwing out an agenda was a good thing for us. It has allowed us to face into whatever came our way and not pre-determined exactly what we were going to look like. We allow our mission to shape our day to day activities and how we interact and go from there. I don’t feel stuck, and I do not feel like I have failed at anything because there is nothing to fail at. I am here and I love people and I love God. Mission being accomplished.

7 Comments

  • Good stuff. I see this as a difference between ‘witnessing’ and ‘bearing witness.’ Many evangelicals are great at one and shitty at the other.

  • Sounds cool, but doesn’t sound anything like the book of Acts. I wonder…

  • Care to explain Art?

  • Hi Nathan,

    I’m sure you can’t communicate the whole picture with a few paragraphs, although this does seem like a summation of your positions and directions (mission).

    Re: the “hardcore, door-to-door sales pitches for religious beliefs,” most of us find a level of agreement that these are most often ineffective and sometimes harmful methods. And, I share your desire to love others without expectations. But how is that is at odds with sharing the most wonderful news about the most gracious God, especially with someone we have come to love through service and mutual interactions as equals? 

    From these few paragraphs, it sounds as if your belief is that to share the gospel with someone is somehow…wrongish or insensitive. I said, “sounds.”

    I’m particularly attuned to these issues as I’m involved in a new church plant among some apartment communities here in Raleigh, NC. I have been working through the range of approaches, motivations, methodologies, and ways of being that are true and authentic and not contrived and artificial. But I can’t imagine not sharing the wonderful news, or considering that an agenda. I share all sorts of stuff, and they do, too. Opinions, views, perspectives. If someone doesn’t jump at the gospel, it has no bearing on how I feel about them or interact with them.

    It is quite possible there is much more to this story. It may be that the folks downtown you hang out with know where you are coming from, that you are devoted followers of Jesus Christ. It may be that you do share the gospel when and if it seems appropriate. Or, there may be any number of other ways that your are saying, as well as showing, the gospel. 

    When I read Acts, the gospel was evidently proclaimed “from house to house and publicly'” there were open meetings to dispute the merits among both Jews and Gentiles. It is also true that evidence of changed lives, unselfish love, kindness and graciousness was commonly seen by the people they lived among. And, that they loved one another in astounding, sacrificial ways. But against that backdrop, with the “living proof” set plainly before others to see, it seems clear that the gospel was proclaimed effectively.

    So, may I also ask you to explain…a bit more? At what point do you feel comfortable sharing the great story of what God has done for us and offers us? How do you approach that?

    Grateful for your labors,

    yours,

    -Art

    • Hi Art, thanks for elaborating.

      I should make one thing clear. This really wasn’t about being afraid to or trying to work myself up to sharing the gospel with someone else. It was about not sharing it the gospel with strings attached that are selfish and really about numbers. I’m all about living out the gospel, I’m not all about trying to make converts. I’m all about loving others, I’m not all about making friends so they become Christians.

      We live in an entirely different world than Acts, and while there might be many things in acts to help shape us to be better disciples, I don’t know if the history book should become a manual for how we should do all things in the future. So while preaching before 3,000 unsaved people and then seeing the masses come to faith worked in Acts, it doesn’t necessarily make sense now, especially in a culture like ours where advertisements are bombarding them with competing messages every fifteen seconds.

      I seek to live out the gospel in all its fullness and through that action the gospel will be proclaimed. Whether or not people respond to it won’t affect how I live or what tactics I use, I won’t be using any tactics. This isn’t to say I’m afraid of speaking of Jesus, not at all, I’m not even slightly hesitant. It just means my end goal isn’t to make converts to live like I live, my end goal is to live more like Jesus.

      Does that make more sense?

  • Hi Nathan,

    A few years ago, when my son was 28, he got a sliver helping me do some work on a window. My wife sparked up, “Oh, let dad get it–he’s good at slivers.” In fact, When I was much younger, I was really good at getting out a sliver. My son smiled and reached his hand forward.

    I got on my glasses, and poked and pulled with my old tweezers until his hand bled. He never pulled away or made a sound. The sliver eluded my every attempt. I finally pulled back and sighed. “Sorry son.”

    I feel that way now. I think you have a sliver, but from way down here, I can’t see it very well. I know how awkwardly I might poke and pinch and never quite get at the thing, with our communications so very limited and so distant.

    I know I may be missing the issue by a good measure, but let me respond to something you said (and I’m sure your words were just the tip of a much larger and more complex iceberg, and so my response is clumsy and off target).

    You said, “I’m all about living out the gospel, I’m not all about trying to make converts.” Must it be “all” one or the other? Must these two really represent opposing purposes?

    Oh, I know it CAN be ONLY “all about trying to make converts” in cold, calculating ways designed only to pump up pride.

    But I’m not sure how we are prevented from being loving and caring and kind–all without strings, all regardless of whether people like us or hate us, accept Jesus or reject Him–if we also care so much about where they spend eternity that we are quick to share the gospel whenever we can?

    And, one other point if I may. You know how fashions keep coming back and coming back? As you get older, you’ll for sure notice that things you once liked as a kid come back several more times in your lifetime. Don’t count out the patterns in Acts. They are happening as we speak (type?) around the world. Our world today is very much like the first century. Pluralism, multiple Gods, “political correctness” moral depravity and confusion, highly segmented social strata, etc.

    yours,

    -Art

    • I don’t mind the poking and pinching. Usually you’ll find a whole slew of other slivers while your looking and it makes for better conversation in the long run.
      I tend to use large brushstroke statements to make my points and that seems to be what you are responding too.
      I don’t think that making converts was really ever our intent at all. What does that even look like? That has to be the HS job and I just need to do my part.
      Disciples are different than converts. I don’t like this “caring about where they spend eternity” because I don’t know where this was ever an idea that I was supposed to care about.
      All I ever read in the scriptures is telling me to leave eternity to God and for me to worry about the here and now and how close to Jesus I look like.
      So I’ll proclaim the gospel through my actions, my mission is to work alongside of God in the redemption of the world.
      My agenda is empty. There is nothing to check off as if it’s completed. I won’t one day check off the to do list that I loved that person as if I already did it.
      That was the point of this post. Mission has an eternal perspective, agenda is temporary. Mission is about your role in the world, agenda’s only work if you have success.

Join the Discussion