As we head to Nigeria in a matter of hours, I’m reminded of what I heard Dr. Timothy Tennent say recently. On the occasion of his inauguration as President of Asbury Theological Seminary, Dr. Tennent, and outstanding missiologist, observed that ground zero for the church has shifted in recent decades. He put it in this graphic way. At the turn of the 20th century the prevailing profile of Christ-followers was a 41 year old man living in England. One hundred years later, the prevailing profile is a 34 year old woman living in Nigeria.
Ground zero for the church, epicenter of our Lord’s awesome transforming reach into our world has moved south and east (from our perspective). Indeed, stories of Holy Spirit movement and courageous obedience of Christ-followers who enter that movement generate and spread as gospel goes viral. And as a result we hear about Pentecost-like ingathering of people and transforming of world. Such stories always bring me to places of great joy and deep sadness. Joy because how dare we not celebrate what God is doing! Sadness because Pentecost-like stuff appears oh-so-rare where we live and serve most of the time.
Lately, however, I’m coming to other places, places of willing support and of eager expectation. The mighty deeds of God in Christ elsewhere do not mean we’ve been bypassed. There are ways the U.S. church may support all that God is doing in the world. Our prayers count as we pray God’s will to be done everywhere as in heaven. Our wealth waits to be spent (read “invested”) so that kingdom blessing flows to unreached and untouched people. Our expertise and talent and experience represent huge gifts to be offered to the world. I am thinking of retired people, rapidly on the increase in numbers, who are young enough to use their skills, gifts and passions for global impact. Wouldn’t it be so like God if it turned out that what many imagined was their career is actually the training for the real world-changing work God created them to do in their so-called retirement years?
Our support in these and other ways in the Pentecost happenings elsewhere may also help the Spirit shape us more exactly in Christ’s image. We don’t have to be in the lead, in the place of “prominence,” in the driver’s seat, to make a huge contribution to what Christ does around the world. In fact, it may be good for us to be in some other lesser or lower place.
All of this is not to say we should aim low or be content with the status quo or with whatever … whatever. Not at all! In fact, a move to places of willing support is also a move to places of eager expectation. Weaned of the illusion that we are world-changers, we may run toward, enter into, and move with the flow of the grace that truly transforms everything everywhere. Again, wouldn’t it be so like God to respond to our willingness to play any role he assigns as the basis for new outbreaks of Pentecost-happening. In the beginning of the gospel story, an unassuming young lady said, “Lord, let it be to me as you have said,” and we have yet to see the end of that story. I’m sensing that a similar humble and steady willingness today will yield outrageously wonderful kingdom consequences in his time and in his way.