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Three Lessons for Christian Leaders
My family and I saw the movie Jesus Revolution this past Saturday. The film tells the story of Chuck Smith, Lonnie Frisbie, and Greg Laurie and the beginning of the revival in California that became known as the Jesus movement during the late 1960s and early 1970s. If you’ve not seen the movie yet, you should do so.
I promise not to spoil the film for you too much in what I’m about to discuss, but I want to share three lessons I was reminded of as I watched this film. These are lessons that most Christian leaders are aware of but are important reminders that we should not lose sight of.
1. Participation in the mission of God happens by recognizing and joining in the work God is already doing.
The doctrine of Missio Dei says that it is not the church that has a mission but God who has a church to participate in his mission. That means God is already at work in the world, bringing his redemptive goal in Christ to fulfillment. Because God is already at work, Christians must learn to recognize the what, where, and how of God’s work to participate. We join in this redemptive work that God is already doing, trusting that God will bring his good.
We see this participation depicted in the Jesus Revolution film in how Pastor Chuck Smith responds when Lonnie Frisbie shows up to his church. Some of the older church members are not happy about a bunch of hippies disrupting the traditional order of their church, even if those hippies are followers of Jesus. Chuck Smith is forced with a decision in which he can either send the hippies on their way to appease the desires of the older church members or, in recognizing the redemptive work that God is doing through these hippie followers of Jesus, welcome Lonnie Frisbie and his friends into the church. Chuck Smith wisely chooses the latter, which opens the door for the revival that will involve the eventual conversion of Greg Laurie.
Here is a reminder for Christians: Revivals are not planned by us. Instead, revivals seem to occur as we live in the name of Jesus Christ by the power of the Holy Spirit. This is what we see happen with the disciples of Jesus in Acts and what we see depicted in the Jesus Revolution film.
2. Participation in the mission of God requires a discernment that checks our egos at the door.
Participating in the mission of God as followers of Jesus is our calling. Witnessing people experience the love of God through gracious hospitality and give their lives to Christ in baptism is exciting. This may be the most exciting aspect of ministry, and when it occurs, there will also be a spotlight on the leader(s) of the church.
Right or wrong, the spotlight is what happens, but the spotlight can also become intoxicating. If we’re not careful, having a spotlight shining on us can swell our egos to a point where subtly and often unnoticeably, the ministry becomes about us. We can easily recall too many contemporary stories of churches where such ego-centric fermentation has wreaked damage. The film also depicts this ego-centric fermentation taking place with Lonnie Frisbie. Pastor Chuck Smith saw this and, with moral courage, confronts Lonnie Frisbie, and the result is that Frisbie leaves the church (don’t worry, they’ll reconcile later).
Here is a reminder for Christians: We need people around us who have the moral courage to help us check our egos. It’s so easy to masquerade shining the spotlight on ourselves and making our name great within the work of the Lord that we can’t see the difference. But others can. We need to heed this warning because an unchecked ego can do a lot more harm than good if we’re not careful.
3. Participation in the mission of God should never mean sacrificing our relationships with our families.
As we all know, participating in the mission of God matters and is of great importance. In fact, what is more important than seeing people experience the love of God and give their lives to Christ in baptism? Or that is how our thinking goes and even how we rationalize sacrificing other important responsibilities for the sake of ministry.
We see the struggle with this ministry rationalization take place between Lonnie Frisbie and his wife as well as with Greg Laurie and his mother. There’s nothing disastrous that happens. Frisbie and his wife work on their marriage struggles, and Laurie continues to care for his mother. However, as I watched the dynamics of both relationships unfold in the film, I was reminded of how easy it is to rationalize the neglection of our spouses, parents, and other important relationships for the sake of ministry.
Here is a reminder for Christians: We must never neglect relationships that matter for the sake of ministry. Our spouses, children, and other family and friends are too important to sacrifice on an altar called ministry. Because we believe that God is at work, we can trust God enough to set the necessary boundaries that create space and time for us to invest in these relationships that matter.
If you have already watched the film Jesus Revolution, what takeaways do you have to share?
K. Rex Butts, D.Min, serves as the lead minister/pastor with the Newark Church of Christ in Newark, DE, and is the author of Gospel Portraits: Reading Scripture as Participants in the Mission of God. Rex holds a Doctor of Ministry in Contextual Theology from Northern Seminary in Lisle, IL, and a Master of Divinity from Harding School of Theology in Memphis, TN. He is married to Laura, and together they have three children.