One of the biggest mistakes I ever made in our church was seeking to be Jesus to our city. When we first started Soma, the church we planted in Tacoma, Washington, I opened the Scriptures to John 20:21 and read, “Jesus said to them again, ‘Peace be with you. As the Father has sent me, even so I am sending you.’” Then I explained to our small core group we were going to discover together how God sent the Son and, in turn, how he was sending us into the city of Tacoma on mission. I made it my goal from that point on to teach the missional incarnation life of Jesus throughout the book of John and mobilize our team to live on mission every day. It was a great study as we sought to be Jesus to Tacoma—big mistake.
One of the biggest mistakes I ever made in our church was seeking to be Jesus to our city
By the time we had finished our study of John we were well aware of the life Jesus lived on mission, and we were also well aware of our inability to live it. We were overwhelmed and burnt out as we tried to love, serve, and demonstrate the kingdom of God in everyday ways—just as Jesus did. In our study we landed back in John 20. Tired, weary, overwhelmed, and disillusioned I read verse 21 again as the resurrected “Jesus said to them again, ‘Peace be with you. As the Father has sent me, even so I am sending you.’” This time I kept reading verse 22. “And when he had said this, he breathed on them and said to them, ‘Receive the Holy Spirit.’”
If only I had kept reading before! Why didn’t I read onward the first time?
I had called people to do the work of Jesus without the help of Jesus
I led people to try and be Jesus without the presence of Jesus. I had sent people out to do the missional incarnation work Jesus did without the same power he did it with: the Spirit. We can’t be Jesus. There is only one Jesus. We need the same Spirit that empowered him for ministry and raised him from the dead. In John 15:5, Jesus said, “Apart from me you can do nothing.” And the apostle Paul states very clearly in Colossians 1:27 that it is “Christ in you, the hope of glory.” In both cases, it is evident the only way the work of Jesus will be done in and through us is if we are doing it by the very same Spirit.
If Jesus needed the Spirit for the mission, so do we.
In our emphasis on living a life on mission, we must not be so foolish to think we can be Jesus—nor should we be so proud to think we are better than Jesus. If Jesus needed the Spirit for the mission, so do we. Jesus is a better Jesus than you, and the Spirit has all the power you need to accomplish Jesus’ mission through you. Don’t try to do this on your own.
“If you ask me anything in my name, I will do it” (John 14:14). The good news is he isn’t asking us to do the work. He is inviting us to ask him to do the work in and through us. I am thankful he let me experience the fruit of my foolish pride because he led me back to himself, and I will never forget how refreshing he was for this weary pastor!
Jeff Vanderstelt is the visionary leader for the Soma Family of Churches and the lead teaching pastor at Doxa Church in Bellevue, Washington. When he isn’t preaching or mentoring church planters, he and his family share life with their missional community. He is the author of Saturate: Being Disciples of Jesus in the Everyday Stuff of Life.