Being faithful isn’t a daily grind we have to strategize.
“For the Father loves the Son and shows him all that he himself is doing.” John 5:20
This text is one of the most compelling parts of scripture. It’s amazing to me that Jesus got up every morning and waited for His Father to lay out His day and to hear comforting and directive words of truth. He’d sit in desolate places waiting for that (Luke 5:16). It was how He organized each day—and it worked.
Jesus was always waiting, listening, watching. This was why He said, “The Son can do nothing of His own accord, but only what He sees the Father doing. For whatever the Father does, that the Son does likewise” (John 5:19).
Imagine how your life would be different if you waited to be shown what was going on and then you moved into each moment with clarity. What if you could begin a missional community that way? How do you imagine it would change things?
Learning to listen is the most important skill I’ve ever learned—and I’m still learning. Listening to others is important work. Listening to God, even more important. There is one thing, however, that will derail it all: your own agenda.
Living Under Orders
In a recent blog post, Alan Hirsch shared that, “If we take Jesus at His word when He says, ‘As the Father has sent me, I am sending you’ (John 20:21), then we realize . . . this applies to every disciple—not just to the so-called clergy (the called ones). We are all called into the kingdom and into living our lives under orders. . . .”
Being sent and living under orders is a compelling summary of the faith walk. As Brennan Manning once wrote, Jesus didn’t die to make us nicer people or give us better morals, but to “create a community of prophets and professional lovers.” We are sent to love as we have been loved, see people reconciled to God, and call others to do the same (1 John 4:19, 2 Corinthians 5:18, Matthew 28:19–20). These are our orders, and our new identity embodies this life. God’s Spirit is working all this out in the lives of His people—being faithful to these orders isn’t the daily grind we have to strategize. No, God himself works in us to carry out His plans (Philippians 2:13). The way we align with this is by listening.
Where to Focus: Listening Inward, Listening Outward
When I was church planting, I found it was such a tight-rope to walk between following my strategy and dealing with the actual things that were happening in our community. I want to give you a tool to know how to focus your time—listening inward and listening outward.
Once I was asked when our group did Bible studies. In return I asked, “How would we know what to study until we’ve shared a little of life together first?” Think about that. We can’t impose a roadmap onto people without watching their lives, listening to them, and seeing what the Spirit is already doing. We’ve got to listen for that, then adjust our community life to be in line with the Spirit’s work.
Listening inward is about slowing down when someone says, “I’m really hurting,” and asking them to tell you more. It’s about changing the agenda for the day because something else came up and being sensitive to the real needs among you. Maybe there are financial issues or parenting needs or maybe people are just plain tired. Whatever the themes are when you listen inward—rest assured, it’s OK to focus on real stuff. Spending a season to learn how to manage finances better, be better parents, or have a little fun could be a life-giving way to spend your time.
But if you stop with listening inward, you’ll miss the other part of the mission. If God’s work is about changing hearts and creating a community of professional lovers, then this life has to end up on display.
Listening outward is about asking, “What would good news look like to a particular person or community?” Once you find the answer to that, then you know how to focus the other half of your energy as a missional community.
Once I had a friend who asked this question in a rough part of town. What he learned led him to provide a safe place at a motel where drug users and women caught up in the sex trade could come, eat a meal, and find a safe person to talk to. I was a part of a missional community once that asked this question, and it led them to volunteer at a local elementary school, hang out on the playground, and help at school events. Currently I’m a part of a missional community that wants to serve a hurting population in our city, so that’s resulted in Sunday night cookouts and games for the slew of kids running around unsupervised. Yes, we are learning to listen inward. But as we are listening outward, the real needs among our missional community are becoming known.
“I don’t have capacity for this . . .” and “I’ve got a loved one who is sick . . .” are things that have been said recently in our community as we’ve been on the outward mission. The outward mission has served to reveal more clearly the inward mission. These terms simply serve to describe the same mission: to change hearts and see people restored to God.
The Real Mission
The mission isn’t to create a missional community. The mission is to make space for God to change lives. We’ve got to get this right, or we’ll crush everyone around us by trying to get them in line with our agenda.
Jesus knew how to listen for His Father’s agenda. How would things change if we also went to the One who did this perfectly? Listening inward is about paying attention to the real needs among us. Listening outward is about listening to our outside relationships, neighbors, and city. Organizing our lives in this way requires listening to the Spirit, doing what our Father is doing, being able to say with Jesus, “Whatever the Father does, we also do. . . .”
You’re starting a missional community? Listen.