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My friends at The Point Church in Seymour, Indiana invited me to teach a 4-week series on the intersection of our faith and the work we do in the “secular” world each day. What God’s Word has to say about this subject might surprise you.

When we work, we “image” God, we cultivate His creation, and we love our neighbor. I hope this encourages you as your alarm clock goes off tomorrow.

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Last week I sat in a hotel conference room in Dubai for a three day meeting with the following list of people:

• The head of the Russian Pentecostal Church who oversees a Gospel movement that stretches across 11 time zones.

• The pastor of a multi-site South African Church of 30,000 people and two of his staff who are leading a Gospel-restoration movement that is transforming cities.

• A German church-planter and businessman who started 50 congregations throughout Deutschland and is launching business models to support them.

• The leader of an European ecumenical movement that is drawing hundreds of churches together across England for the sake of city renewal.

• The pastor of a 6,000 member Kenyan church and Bishop in the Kenyan Assemblies of God who is building self-sustaining revenue models through schools, housing, and retail that support his church and meet the needs of the community.

• The pastor of a massive Ugandan congregation that cares for 4,000 mothers infected with HIV and their children.

• Two French pastors that are having unheard of Gospel impact on their cities in a post-Christian culture that has long replaced Christianity with secularism.

• The President of a global-impacting missions organization and chairman of a major Christian University.

• The oldest grandson of a famous American evangelical preacher (you would know very well) and acting pastor of a large church in Florida.

• The 80-year-old founder of a global missions organization that has tangibly taken the Gospel to millions of children across the world.

• The pastor of the largest church in India.

• A half dozen other brilliant pastors, missiologists, and organizational leaders.

ª (Oh, and I can’t forget my “Pastor-preneur” brother-in-law who leads a fantastic congregation in Bloomington, Indiana).

Needless to say, I instinctively felt small. Very small. Even as I typed this list my flesh fought back the feelings inferiority. What am I doing in this room? What stories do I have to share that can possibly measure up to what these men are accomplishing? How will the work of my hands ever make that kind of impact? As we obsess and compare within certain circles, it’s easy to shrink.

But throughout the course of our three days together, various members of the aforementioned “superstars” (my word, certainly not theirs) shared insights on the book of Nehemiah, the tumultuous and inspiring story of the rebuilding of Jerusalem’s walls after years of lying in rubble. Each citizen was given a designated section of the wall to rebuild, and therein lies our answer.

Each of us has been assigned a portion of the wall to rebuild. Our portion.

When I feel small, it’s because I’m focusing on someone else’s portion. Someone else’s calling. Someone else’s work. My responsibility is to the work of my hands.

If you’re feeling small today, I challenge you to recenter your attention on what God has called you to. What can you touch? What can you impact? What can you restore? Because all of it – all of us – are vitally important to the overall work at hand.

Now get back to rebuilding.

Let’s face it, it’s much easier to leave Jesus out of missions. He gums up the works. Messes things up. Makes them awkward.

I’m part of an organization that mobilizes business for missions work around the world. It’s an awesome company, doing awesome work, both here and abroad. But I’ve noticed something interesting:

When I share with our staff (many who are not Christians) about the missions work we do, it’s so easy to tell them about the schools and the medical clinics we’ve helped start. It’s the stories about church planting and the proclamation of Jesus I struggle to craft. The excitement quickly morphs into uncomfortable silence. “Why’d you have to go and bring Him up?”

That leaves me in an interesting spot and pondering what will likely be a controversial statement for some of you:

Missions is about the proclamation of Jesus Christ and the establishment of The Church.

I know, I know, some of you are rushing to your Bible (or the latest millennial magazine article) to show me why I’m wrong. You’ll (mis)quote Francis of Assisi who (never really) said “preach the Gospel at all times and, if necessary, use words.” No one really knows where that came from by the way, as Assisi was a bold proclaimer of Jesus in everything that he did. Personally, I prefer Ed Stetzer’s rewrite:

“Preach the Gospel at all times, and because it’s necessary, use words.”

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Photo CreditivanCHANG

We humans have a unique ability to overcorrect, and today’s generation is understandably energized by “doing good.” That is a beautiful thing. We must do good works, serve the poor, respond to the oppressed, care for the orphan and the least of these (I can quote you all those scriptures, too) to live out or roles as Christ-followers in this world. But if the proclamation of the Gospel and the declaration of Jesus is not central, not on our lips, not the ultimate point, then we are not engaging in New Testament missions work.

Good works will accompany the proclamation of Jesus, but they cannot replace it. Jesus is the game changer.

I think there are two main reasons modern christians get uncomfortable with the idea of Gospel-proclamation and expansion of The Church as the ultimate focus of missions work:

1. Western Cynicism Toward The Church: I think many have become disillusioned with the idea of church in our western sphere. Pick your poison: too traditional, too institutional, poor leadership, too personality driven, too wealthy, too inward focused, too _____________. Because we’ve embraced cynicism toward The Church here, we don’t get real excited about the idea of replicating it elsewhere. But The Church, broken and imperfect, is God’s idea and has been His mechanism for spreading the Gospel message and His Kingdom to a broken and imperfect world. We’ve got 2000+ years to prove it.

2. Our Obsession with Being Liked: It’s a “how many likes can I get” world out there. I know, because I’m engaged in it, too. Addressing social ills and championing charitable endeavors garner positive media attention and “good feelings” from outsiders. Who doesn’t rally around anti-sex-trafficking and clean water? Adding Jesus to the mix just stirs up controversy and narrows our platform. And to make things worse, proclamation is associated with the obnoxious bull-horn preacher standing on his soap box and reading hellfire verses from the King James outside local sporting events. Who wants to be that guy? It’s easier to focus on the good we’re doing and just keep Jesus to ourselves. And in that, I fear we lose the whole point.

Just to be clear…

When we see the hungry, we feed them. When we see the naked, we clothe them, When we see the uneducated, we teach them. When we see marginalized and abused, we fight for them. But to everyone, at all times, and in all ways, we must proclaim the deity of Jesus, and His life, death, and resurrection as the only hope for this broken world.

With our mouths.

It’s not “we’re right and you’re wrong,” it’s “we’re all wrong and Jesus is the only One who can make things right.”

Missions cannot be over-simplified to “do good.” We must embrace the proclamation of Jesus (with our words) and the establishment of His Church to the ends of the earth. Good works will accompany our proclamation, but they cannot replace it. Let’s make sure that Jesus is “messing up” our missions work.

I had the honor of putting my “preacher” hat back on this week, filling in for my friend Steve Greene at The Point Church in Seymour, Indiana. I got to share a little about our missions-based nonprofit, Community Reinvestment Foundation, and dig a bit deeper into my favorite topic: The Gospel of Jesus Christ…

The Law crushes.

The Gospel raises up.

The Spirit empowers.

…all within the context of The Point’s most recent message series: Love Does.

If you live in or around Seymour, or are ever driving through southern Indiana on a Sunday morning, I can’t encourage you enough to stop and visit this great church. Steve, Joel, and the entire team have led this century old church to be a continued expression of hope in this beautiful community.

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When I was growing up, there were two major life paths we discussed within the context of our youth group and church culture (that is, when we weren’t debating the spiritual impact of Amy Grant’s crossover albums or whether movie-going became sinful at PG-13 or R). The conversation usually went something like this:

“Have you been called into full-time ministry, or are you going into the secular world?”

Or sometimes we phrased it this way:

“Are you planing to enter the ministry or fund the ministry?”

A third iteration might have emerged in more missional terms:

“Are you a sender or a goer?”

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As a high school kid longing to serve God and live out my faith in this world, I was keenly aware of this sacred/secular fork in the road. It quietly plagued many of us as we watched peers respond to altar calls at youth group rallies or emotionally-charged church camp services aimed at separating the chosen from the unchosen, the called from ordinary, the truly elect from the “financial supporters.”

Please don’t misunderstand, there is something holy and unique about full-time vocational ministry, of taking on the weighty role of an ecclesiastical leader within the life of a local church body (I know, I spent 12 years in just such a role). My concern is not that we’ve over-inflated this high calling, but that we may have unintentionally relegated business and everyday work to a tier of second-class christianity.

I recently had the honor of attending a gathering of businessmen, pastors, and leaders from all over the world to discuss 21st Century global trends and how they are impacting (or need to be impacting) the way we do ministry and missions work today. From Europe, to China, to India, Africa, and America, so many insights, angles, and ideas emerged I couldn’t write fast enough to record the barrage. But from beneath the fog of all this brilliant commentary, one key mantra continually resonated with my business-turned-pastor-turned-business-leader spirit:

Across the globe, ministry leaders are asking how we can break down this “sacred/secular” divide; about our need to harness the business community as a full-on ministry partner and not just limit their involvement to financial giving alone.

Here are a few questions to ponder:

What would it look like to see business as more than just an ATM machine for “real ministry,” but as an actual Kingdom solution?

What would it look like to better engage business people in ministry and mission – not only through their secondary giftings as ushers and choir members or Sunday school teachers – but through their primary, God-given gifts and talents as businessmen and women?

What would it look like to begin championing business and everyday work as “sacred” work? To develop a healthier and more holistic theology of work itself?

I’m starting this conversation in my own circles and would love to invite you into the dialog. What do you think? Have we misdefined sacred and secular when it comes to our work? Do these walls need to be broken down? If so, how?