Thursday, January 29, 2009


I bear my soul in a plea to "stay" in the city when a sense to "go" in mission emerges

NO SMALL THING. It is no small thing when persons, younger or older, take seriously their life’s calling, when they sense that their lives are meant to make a contribution or to be used in some way for a purpose greater than their own self-satisfaction or to be mere cog in the wheel, and when they open themselves up for divine guidance regarding their vocation. To explore vocation with a heart for God puts us on sacred ground, though the journey be difficult and direction at times hard to perceive.

THE RIGHT QUESTION. Who dares to ask, “God, what do you want to do with my life?” This is a very different than saying, “God, here’s what I want to do with my life; please bless it.” Or, “God bless me in my vocational endeavors (a la, ‘expand my boundaries,’) and I will support your work.” Or, “God, let me do what I want to do now, and I will give you my later years.” Or other variations, all of which begin with a person telling God what one is going to do, regardless.

READY TO LIVE THE QUESTION. It is never too late or too early, even if we have for a lifetime told God what we are--and are not--going to do, to stop and put it simply and squarely: “God, what do you want to do with my life?” When this question is asked, with all sincerity and with the sense that it is incredibly risky and that the answer may even blow our carefully-crafted cocoon of a world away, the real adventure of life begins. Do not ask this question flippantly. Be ready to live the question into a lifetime of heartbreaking service and unparalleled joy.

WHY I RAISE THE ISSUE. I raise this issue because I know of young people who take divine guidance for vocation very seriously. I raise it because I know of young people who do not factor calling at all in their vocational considerations. I raise it because of older people who begin to grapple with the question of divine vocation only in later years. I raise this issue because I believe, sooner or later, we all will see that our lives are to be in mission, in service to a purpose greater than ourselves.

A SENSE OF MISSION. I believe young people, in particular, sense that they are to be in mission. They sense that the world needs to be healed, that their lives are a gift, that there is a difference they are to make, and, for all their limited range of perspective and the clutter of adolescent culture, they will be one of the ones to make it. The world is not short on young people who strive for high ideals, not short on children who dream great dreams, on mission-minded leaders-in-the-making, on nurturing young people to give themselves to a high calling.

MARKETPLACE SABOTAGE. But it is hard--extremely difficult--for young people to see a world-changing trajectory in entry-level labor or work, family, educational, and community environments that all but squelch their sense of hope and transcendence. The marketplace can eat a soul alive and sabotage the best-intended. By age twenty-five, most have either abandoned any sense of calling and idealism or pushed it so far down the ladder of important things that it no longer seems reasonable or relevant.

HOW MISSIONARIES ARE FORMED. Others hold tenaciously to a sense of calling and mission, but do not see it likely, possible or rewarding in their hometowns or immediate community settings. They will go to the ends of the world in order to be in mission. These young people want to make a difference and to have an opportunity to see their gifts, talents, and skills make a direct impact through self-giving service. This is why young people continue to sign up to be missionaries, to go with the Peace Corps or AmeriCorps, or other culture-crossing, life-changing programs.

WHO WILL DARE TO STAY? And this where, as an urban advocate, I want to stake my challenge. To my way of seeing, there is no greater culture-crossing spiritual challenge than the American city. The swirl of conflicting and competing marketplace, cultural, and ideological influences and complexities mixed in with crushing poverty juxtaposed to unbridled wealth, incredible pain medicated by addicting pleasures, unprecedented media satiation in the face of disintegrating relationships, and an overabundance of irony and cynicism--could there be a more challenging arena of mission? Many world mission fields pale in comparison. The American city cries out for love and grace. Who will dare to stay?

FRAMING MISSION. My challenge as an urban advocate is to frame the context of cosmopolitan ministry in such a way that no foreign mission field is opted for simply because the crying need, the possibility for changed lives, for authentic community, and the opportunity for creative service in one’s own city is not clearly perceived. My challenge is to so articulate mission that every participant in our community of faith sees themselves in a critical culture-crossing mission capacity in this city, and that only those who engage that challenge and, through active urban service, sense and confirm that they are called to immerse in another urban culture would ever be sent afar. This I hope to do, by the grace of God.

In the spirit of dialog, I welcome comments and/or questions. Click on "responses" below to post. They're moderated only to reduce incivility. Shalom!


  1. Well said, John. I love this call. It was by praying the prayer of Jesus ("yet not as I will, but as you will") instead of the prayer of Jabez that I finally found my own calling. - Greg Coates

  2. John,

    This is an incredible call-my heart was pounding with each word read- this call is not from John Hay Jr. but straight from the heart of God. I especially liked the paragraph,"Ready To Live The Question". You are right, when we dared asked the question, then begin in baby steps to live the question- Our carefully crafted cocoon of a world was blown away. After the shock wore off our life really did began-and as hard as it gets at times, and as often as we say, we are tired and feel nothing has changed- we continue to ask the question, live the question and YES he keeps taking us into new and challenging places. Excited, scared, rarely clear on what's next, yet trusting we continue on and we are glad for it. Our prayer is as you have said, young people would see, hear,respond and be challenged with trusting hearts, the cry of the Lord for this City. Not tomorrow but today! Thank you for sharing your heart!

  3. Anonymous10:20 AM

    Hi John,

    Well put. I'm right now in Kaohsiung, Taiwan after having spent nearly three weeks in the Philippines. The urban poor of Manila are not caught in the same kind of web as the urban poor of America. They are far poorer, but not shoved up against the materialism of the church. My heart is greiving for how the "prosperity gospel" is taking hold in the poorest of nations. I'm thankful that our general conference has designated the US as a mission field. I think we should be a bit more specific in designating Urban America as a mission field that has challenges all its own. Thanks for slugging it out in Indy. I know you love this city.

  4. Thanks, Greg, Georgia, and Gerry. Gerry, I sensed what you sense--that a prosperity gospel was gaining hearts and minds--during our six-week sojourn in India. Let's talk more about Urban America as unique mission and church challenge.


Your tasteful comments and/or questions are welcome. Posts are moderated only to reduce a few instances of incivility.