In the last post we discussed the first two “steps” of missional engagement—the need to discover and discern. The next two D’s involve obedience (Do) and reflection (Debrief).
This may seem obvious, but the process of discernment is useless if we do not obey what God is calling us to do. When God prompts us to participate in what He is doing in the lives of others, we must be obedient to respond.
A story told by a friend of mine named Sam illustrates the first three D’s of discover, discern and do. Sam purchased a house in a very impoverished part of town. His intentions were to create a “mission house” that would be home to several volunteers that would invest in the life of the neighborhood for the purpose of seeing community transformation take place. One of their first projects was the “adoption” of the local elementary school. The plan was to invest in the school by providing tutoring to students, be a blessing to teachers, and provide simple maintenance for the school facilities. Who could argue with these great ideas?
One day, Sam decided to share his vision for the school with Nacho, a man who lived just across the street. He had two children that attended the school, and surely he would be very pleased to learn of Sam’s plans. However, as Sam began to share with him what they were gearing up to do, Nacho asked Sam to walk outside to the sidewalk in front of the house. At that point Nacho pointed up above their heads to the streetlight. He said to Sam, “If you really want to be a blessing to this neighborhood, then get that streetlight back on.” At first Sam was a little bewildered. It was in the middle of the afternoon, on a hot summer day. “What’s so important about a streetlight?” Sam thought. Nacho began to tell Sam that when the streetlight was not on it wasn’t safe for the kids to play outside after dark. When the streetlight wasn’t on, drug deals would go down on the corner. When the streetlight wasn’t on, cars got broken into.
Nacho then told Sam that he had been trying to get the city to come out and fix that light for nearly a year. Straightway, Sam called the city authorities, and that afternoon the streetlight was back on. There was apparently a language barrier that was prohibiting Nacho from making the proper city department connection.
The first time I heard that story I told Sam that from that day forward I was forever going to refer to it as the “ITSS” story. It’s The Streetlight Stupid! The point is that no matter how great our plans for a community might be, it may not be what the community really needs. We can’t assume we know. Instead, we must listen—listen to God and listen to the community. Then we must act.
Throughout the process of engaging God’s mission we must create opportunities to reflect on our missional involvement. Sometimes this may simply mean we need individual “down time” to reflect upon our activities. We may need to ask God to affirm our involvement, or to ask for clarity of direction. But it will also mean we must carve out time to reflect with others among our faith community. We need to hear what others are seeing and sensing concerning God’s activities and to hear the stories of how others are engaging God’s mission. It is important for us to be in the position to offer feedback on what we are sensing.
In what ways are the “4 D’s” helpful?
Can you give examples of how you or your church has “front-loaded” missions?
How could you and your church do a better job in the area of discernment?