We are all very familiar with the Great Commission and the challenge to Go. There has been much taught on the Great Commandment and the need to go with Love. But it is the last part of Jesus’ mission – in Jesus’ final prayer – that we have missed. It’s the Great Collaboration – that we are to go in love Together!
This article is a transcription of Efrem Smith’s main stage talk from Exponential 2020 in Orlando, FL. Efrem is a church planter and now Co-Lead Pastor of Bayside Church Midtown in Sacramento, CA.
I love superheroes. I grew up reading comic books – Captain America, Iron Man, the Falcon. Oh, I love these comic books – Captain Marvel, Spiderman, Thor. Me and my friends would read these comic books all the time as a kid. And I never thought . . . as a kid that one day, they would make it onto the big cinematic stage. It was like as an adult, I became a kid again when I saw The Hulk at the movie theater, and . . . Captain America . . . and I saw Iron Man at the movie theater. But then Marvel Studios decided to blow my mind. They decided to take it to another level and came out with the Avengers.
Do you know why the Avengers had to come together? Because the threat was too big! That’s why they had to come together. The threat upon planet earth was so big. There were villains on the ground in the earth that you can see, and there were villains coming from the sky up above. Oh the threat was so big, sisters and brothers, that they could no longer be individualistic. They had to collaborate.
Over 2,000 years ago there was one trying to bring an alliance together. His name was Jesus. The Gospel of John tells me in chapter 17 that Jesus prayed for an alliance that would be in the world, but would not be of the world. And I wonder if Jesus did it because the threat was so big and it was so multidimensional that Jesus said I’m going to pass my glory on. There’s not going to be after me another individual savior. There’s not going to be after me another individual Messiah.
Jesus prayed for an alliance.
When Jesus prayed about the assembly of a group of disciples, he was praying in between a promise and persecution. When Jesus was praying for the Great Collaboration, he was in between the promise of the Holy Spirit and the persecution he was about to receive at his arrest. He was praying in the in-between. When Jesus was praying, he was praying in between a commitment and a cross. When Jesus was praying, he was praying in between miracles and his own mutilation.
Jesus is praying in the in-between.
I came to you today to tell you that the church is in the in-between right now. We’re in between a broken world and a blessed eternity. We’re in between the horrors of this upside down world and the holiness of living in Heaven forever with God. The church is in the in-between right now, and we have to decide who we will be in the in-between.
Will we say yes to the plan of Jesus? Because the church is sitting in between the resurrection of Jesus and the return of Jesus. And we have to decide on this planet who we will be in the in-between. Will we say yes to the Great Collaboration?
To make disciples of all nations, sisters and brothers, we have to collaborate because we’re supposed to make disciples not of our skin color, not of our place in the social stratosphere, not based on our nationalism and patriotism. We’re supposed to make disciples of all nations. And so to do that, we have to be collaborative, because if you’re not collaborative, if you’re not learning from other ethnicities and other nations of Believers, if you’re not leaning into relationship with the global body of Christ, your plan can be discipleship but instead you could accidentally become a colonizer instead of a Christ follower. So collaboration is important if you’re going to fulfill the Great Commission to make disciples of all nations.
Jesus says, the kingdom of God is like this: a king gathers every nation, and he separates them like sheep and goats. And to the sheep on his right he says, come and inherit the Kingdom. I was hungry and you gave me something to eat. I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink. I was a stranger and you invited me in. I was sick and you tended to me. I was like a foreigner and you invited me in. And I was in prison and you came to see about me. They were like, when did we do that King? He said, as you did it to the least of these, you did it to me.
So in the in-between, the church has to be willing to answer the question, Are we willing to live out the mandate, the words of Jesus in the in-between?
So let me give you three questions to ponder.
1. Will we live as those not of this world?
Will we as a church live as otherworldly people? Will we choose the Kingdom of God first? Will we choose intimacy with God first? Will we form a global alliance of citizens that are not of this world? The church ought to be an outpost of the Kingdom of God. The church ought to be an embassy of the kingdom of God. We ought to live on this planet like foreigners, like refugees, Kingdom immigrants in a foreign land representing the Kingdom of God.
Let me say it this way. I love living in the United States of America. Now I know we have problems, we’ve got issues. But I love living in the United States of America because I like eating catfish, collard greens, macaroni and cheese, yams, hot cornbread, sweet tea, grits. Murica, yes! I love the fact that I get one vote . . . I have to vote because people bled and died. They were bit by dogs. They were hosed, their churches were bombed and hot coffee was thrown in their face, they were spit on, they were called the n-word so I have to. Glad I get to do it. We live in this country where you can take an idea and turn it into a service or a product, turn the service or product into a business and put the business in the free market enterprise. Whoa, but you know what?
Even with all that America love, I’m going to have to stand before God one day, and he’s going to want to know, did I put his Kingdom before my nationalism and my patriotism and my political rhetoric and my political party and my english-only and my philosophies and ideologies around politics. Did I put the Kingdom of God first? Did I put the global Church first? I have sisters and brothers in Israel and Palestine and Egypt and Uganda and Kenya and Australia and New Zealand. I have to collaborate!!
2. Will we operate as people of the Word?
This (the Bible) is a global multi-cultural, multi-national, multi-ethnic piece of literature. This is the Word of God. Now last time I checked, there are a bunch of traditions . . . and new people planting churches that believe in the authority and centrality of scripture. It’s one thing to say that, and it’s another thing to live that. We have to decide, are we going to be people of the entire Word of God? Not just the word that meets my racial preferences, or the part of the word that represents my theological stream, or the part of the word that favors me and the way I’m doing church. Are we going to collaboratively be people of the Word? The Word that is powerful; it’s a two-edged sword, it divides, it equips, it empowers, it inspires, it mobilizes. It breaks things down, it rips sin out of your gut.
3. Here’s the last question I want to ask you: Will we prioritize reconciliation and unity?
Because that’s how this part of the text ends – that we would live together in unity. To do that, we have to prioritize reconciliation and unity over our homogeneous context for church. We have to rise to the occasion.
You know what I like about superhero movies? After they did the Avengers and then Avengers Age of Ultron, they decided to do kind of an offshoot of the Avengers called Captain America Civil War, and we were introduced to the Black Panther. This set up Wakanda to play a role in the collaboration of the Avengers. Yeah, they couldn’t fulfill their mission without going to Africa. But I want you to know, they didn’t go to Africa to sponsor a child. They didn’t go to Africa to get running water going. They didn’t go to Africa to build an orphanage. They didn’t go to Africa to build a well. They went because Wakanda was the most resourced nation on the planet. They had all the technology, all the resources, all the intuitive nature, all of scholarship to save the world. They had to go to Wakanda.
If we’re going to be a reconciled collaborative church, we need to start sitting at the feet of people that aren’t the dominant people of the world. We have to say: Teach me how to preach; teach me how to worship; teach me theology; teach me new methods. I’ve got to get out of the dominant Americanized, everybody-looks-like-me, everybody’s-got-the-same-color theology. Are you willing to go to Wakanda so we can collaborate and advance the Kingdom of God?
We’re living in an age of questions, sisters and brothers, but that’s not new to Jesus. Jesus lived in a time of questions. Jesus even asked questions: Who do you say I am? Jesus said, can’t you stay awake with me for one hour? People asked Jesus questions: Do you claim to be king? They asked Peter questions: Weren’t you with him?
Jesus on the cross said, Father, have you forsaken me, and then he died. After Jesus questioned the relationship between him and his father on the cross, he gave his life, and there was darkness, there was silence. But I want you to know, our story doesn’t end with a question. It ends with an answer. On the third day, Jesus answered every question that’s ever been asked when he rose out of the grave.
So don’t fear, church. Don’t fret, church. Don’t have anxiety-filled days, church. Because even though we live in a world of questions, political questions, economic questions, racial questions, all of the questions around us, I want you to know that if we come together today, we can rise with the answer of God in a broken world. Rise, my sister. Rise, my brother. Rise, black church. Rise, white church. Rise church in Asia. Rise church in the Middle East. Rise church in Australia. Rise church, rise!!