This morning in our devotions, Maki and I were reading in Mark, and we came to the passage in chapter 13 where Jesus prophesies the destruction of the temple in Jerusalem. I was reminded that since Jesus' resurrection, there have been many generations that looked around at their current events and assumed that they were living in the end times, and Jesus' return was imminent.
This points to a great tension that the church has always had to keep in balance--being prepared as the ten virgins waiting for the return of the bridegroom, while at the same time leaving a spiritual inheritance to the next generation should Jesus decide to tarry.
This means that Christians need to be able to have an urgency for souls in the immediate future, while also laying the foundations for institutions and movements that can steward the Gospel faithfully to their grandchildren and great grandchildren. Some generations of Christians throughout history have been better at holding this tension than others.
Without wanting to be too critical of those who have come before, I believe that our current generation and the one directly preceding it have overemphasized the immediacy of Jesus' return at the expense of stewarding the Gospel well to the next generation.
In the past fifty years, many of our missions efforts have been motivated by the call to reach the unreached within our generation--emphsizing rapid expansion of converts and churches rather than putting down deep roots and seeing Gospel transofrmation of societies and peoples. We would do well to think deeply upon Jesus' parable of the soils and how it relates to our current paradigms regarding missions and evangelism.
An idea I would like to spend more time developing elsewhere is how different organisms favor different reproductive strategies--but for the sake of this post, it is enough to say that Elephants and Rabbits althgouh both mammals, have completely different repruductive strategies. Rabbits, which are highly predated, flood the zone with offspring, because few are expected to reach maturity--while Elephants take much longer to produce a single viable offspring, which by virtue of its development has a better shot at survival.
A eschatological expectation of Jesus' immediate return would push the church towards trying to reproduce like rabbits, while an assumption of a longer time frame and a greater mission of Gospel transformation would push churches to invest in Elephant like reproduction.
I believe that at an individual level and at an institutional level--both strategies are desirable and needed. But as I already said, I believe that currently, our Evangelical movement favors rapid immediate reproduction (gratification) over long-term investment, stewardship, and institution building--as reflected more broadly in modern American culture.
We need to hold the tension well between the possibiltiy of Jesus' immediate return and the possibility that he won't return for another thousand years. That requires that we pursue many different avenues of ministry--planting churches, founding seminaries, building movements, translating scriptures, writing books, translating training materials, building Christian families, communities and culture--while at the same time, crying out Marantatha!
No single Christian is capable of doing all of these things--and like the body, we need all of the parts, including those that seem less important to be working together. We need missionaries that are hungry to share the Gospel with as many people as possible, while at the same time building seminaries that faithfully teach men to rightly divide the Word of God. We need house churches in the most unreached areas, while at the same time building beautiful church buildings that can stand as a public witness to the presence of living faith communities where that is possible. It is not an either or--it is a both and.
We need to be able to preach and teach as if Jesus' return is imminent, while at the same time making sure to steward the Gospel well should Jesus decide to tarry another thousand years--and that requires many different kinds of ministries, missions efforts, and missionaries.