A Missional Church is a Vulnerable Church

In Luke, chapter 10, Jesus appoints seventy emissaries to go ahead of him two-by-two, into “every town and place where he himself intended to go.” He commissions them with these words:

“Go on your way. See, I am sending you out like lambs into the midst of wolves. Carry no purse, no bag, no sandals; and greet no one on the road. Whatever house you enter, first say, ‘Peace to this house!’”

When I travel I usually have a suitcase full of belongings, a change of clothes, toothbrush, toothpaste, and always in my pocket a credit card or two in case I forgot something. My pre-travel routine includes checking on the arrangements for transportation and for lodging several times over, just to be sure. I feel most comfortable when I know that I have what I need, that all arrangements have been made or, barring that, that I have the means to purchase whatever is lacking. To think of going anywhere without reservations and without my wallet is quite scary. No purse? No bag? Not even extra undergarments?

What Jesus demands of those he sends is a frightening vulnerability. They are sent out in complete reliance on the hospitality of strangers. How will they eat? Where will they sleep? What will they do when their sandals wear out or break? They are sent with no money even to purchase the basic necessities.

Perhaps their only solace is that they are sent two-by-two – each person relying on the support of her or his partner. But even that, I imagine, could be trying. The most delightful travel companions can have their moments of strife along the way. And the greatest of partners can and often do fail each other.

As we talk about Mission in our church we often use words like “self-sufficiency” and “viability”: Seldom do we use the word “vulnerable”. Reflecting on the commissioning story in Luke, I wonder whether we need to change our thinking; and when I look on the state of many of our ministries, I wonder whether God is changing our thinking. Jesus did not call us to self-sufficient lives but lives lived in partnership with one another, our neighbors, the world.

The ELCA describes itself as a church with three expressions – congregations, synods, churchwide. Each expression can rightly be said to be the church, but each needs the other in order to make that assertion. No one congregation is the church without the other congregations in their synod and in the entire ELCA; nor are synods church without their congregations or without the other 64 synods of the ELCA. And the same is said of the ELCA that cannot exist as church without synods and congregations. We recognize in our polity and practice our interdependence and our vulnerability.

What would it be like if in our different expressions of church we allowed our dependence on each other show more clearly? What if in our Mission planning we sought to reveal our vulnerability rather than trying to prove our strength? To think of it is certainly scary, but we are given each other to rely on for support and encouragement – person to person, congregation to congregation, synod to synod, even church to church in our Lutheran World Federation.

At last I wonder whether our church, our synod and our congregations, interdependent and vulnerable to the relationships we have with each other, can invite our neighbors into that vulnerability and need. Can our Mission take us into the world without the baggage of self-sufficiency so that we truly share our need with the needs of our neighbors? Can we go with the confidence of those disciples of Jesus who, although sent out like lambs among wolves, went with confidence that God would provide for them through the graciousness and hospitality of those they encountered?

I wonder.

Craig Miller

Director for Evangelical Mission