“There is no need to see accountability questions as burdensome if we understand that God’s grace is our foundation.”
This article is courtesy of Missio Alliance, an organization dedicated to equipping the church for fuller and more faithful participation in God’s mission. For more resources, including articles, videos, podcasts and more, go to MissioAlliance.org.
What does it look like to keep ourselves accountable to joining with God on his mission in our neighborhood?
Progressing in our faith can be hard to measure, but I think it is important to think about what maturity looks like as a Christian. Then we can begin to assess our growth.
Self-accountability questions have a spiritual-formation element in that we are able to discern the way that the Spirit has been at work in our lives. The Spirit will gently challenge and affirm where necessary so that we reflect the image of Jesus. There is no need to see accountability questions as guilt-inducing or burdensome if we understand that God’s grace is our foundation.
The definition of spiritual formation, according to Jeffrey Greenman in Life in the Spirit: Spiritual Formation in Theological Perspective, is that spiritual formation is “[our] continuing response to the reality of God’s grace shaping us into the likeness of Jesus Christ, through the work of the Holy Spirit, in the community of faith, for the sake of the world.”
What I love about this definition is that there is a balance between God’s work and our cooperation with an emphasis on community and missional intent. This is the purpose of spiritual practices: They transform us into people who join with God on his mission. What we can also see in this definition is that our goal as Christians is to reflect the likeness of Jesus.
Reflection Questions for Local, Contextual Engagement
Often I find that the questions we ask ourselves in terms of spiritual disciplines revolve around Bible reading, church attendance, tithing and, perhaps, evangelizing. None of those things should be discarded.
However, if we want to be a people of God who discern and join with God’s work in our local contexts, I think we can go a little deeper and craft reflection questions that lead to practices that will keep us engaged in our local contexts.
Leaders, pastors and neighborhood activists can model being missionaries in their local contexts and then encourage others to join with them on that journey. Leaders can also encourage individuals in church cell groups to ask these questions of each other so there is mutual accountability present, and so that formation happens in the context of community.
Here are six questions that I have personally found helpful in joining with God on his mission.
1. How am I loving others?
That might seem like a simple and broad question. However, if we define love as putting others before ourselves and freely sacrificing our own resources for the sake of others, it is worth asking. This helps us live a life that is not primarily about our own advantage, progress and self-preservation. Ask yourself, “Have I taken time recently to meet the needs of others even though it comes at a cost to me?”
2. How am I paying attention to “the least of these”?
It’s easy to love those who are like us but harder to take notice of and love those who are different than us. If we are privileged enough to have a life that reflects the results of a solid education, good health, strong relationships, comfortable shelter and sufficient income, then how can we show hospitality to the least of these?
The expression comes from Chapter 25 of the gospel of Matthew, in which the least of these are the hungry, the strangers, the naked, those in prison, those thirsty, and the sick. Ask yourself, “How am I paying attention to and loving the vulnerable members in my neighborhood and world?”
3. What faith conversations am I having?
Being on God’s mission means connecting with matters of faith. It means thinking about what else might exist beyond us and our world, and connecting with our Creator.
We can incorporate faith elements into our conversations when there is an opportunity. This brings a bigger perspective into our daily conversations, shifting discussions away from the mundane, which can dominate our lives. Everyday matters are important, but we so often live superficially, without ever asking the deeper questions of life. How can we weave the story of the gospel into our conversations?
4. Who am I eating with?
Sharing food around a table with others helps us to prioritize community. As we alternate between playing host and guest, we learn reciprocity and build relationships with people who we might not otherwise engage with. If we are eating with people who are always similar to us, maybe it is time to invite someone different from us to the table so that mutual learning can take place and respect for each other’s differences can grow.
5. How is God’s rule growing in my neighborhood and world?
The rule or reign of God is a vision of the world as he longs for it to be. A picture of this kind of world would be one that exhibits beauty, perfect love, truth, salvation from our self-absorption, healing of wounds and peace. Is this vision growing in our neighborhoods and contexts where we work and live? Are we joining with others who have a similar vision to flesh out the essence of this rule in our world?
6. Am I inviting people to join me?
As we work with others to grow this vision of a new society, are we inviting people to join with us? When we embody this picture of peace, reconciliation, justice and beauty, we will have opportunities to welcome others to cooperate with God’s work as we engage in it. Ask yourself, “Who am I asking to walk with me on the road toward this presently unfolding reign of God?”
What are some questions that you ask yourself, to keep your focus on living a missional life in your neighborhood?
Karina Kreminski is lecturer in missional studies at Morling College Sydney in Australia. Before that, she led and pastored a church for 13 years. This article was originally published on MissioAlliance.org.