That All of Them May Be One
“My prayer is not for them alone. I pray also for those who will believe in me through their message, that all of them may be one, Father, just as you are in me and I am in you. May they also be in us so that the world may believe that you have sent me. I have given them the glory that you gave me, that they may be one as we are one—I in them and you in me—so that they may be brought to complete unity. Then the world will know that you sent me and have loved them even as you have loved me.” John 17:20-23
7 Minute Read
By Will Brooks
I want to see how we can work towards a theology that points to the fullness of God in our fields. But imagine what I am doing when, even as a missionary I look upon my Thai brother and sister and I don’t see the glory of God on them. I’m missing what they have to speak into my life.
Or what if I’m not listening as well to one of my colleagues from Brazil, Taiwan, or Indonesia, and their life experiences of how the Lord is working through them?
There are nuances of theology I need to hear from all of my brothers and sisters which will allow me to know my God more fully.
Unfortunately, we at times miss the depths of this opportunity for a lack of intentionality.
To this point, I have a hypothesis.
The African American church, the broader Black church in America (Haitians, Nigerians, etc.), our stories are a part in moving us in this direction. When I see this as an intentional part of our missional process I will begin to listen, not just for differences, but to learn and hear what the Lord might speak to me through my brothers and sisters from other backgrounds as well. They will know my story and trust the work of the Lord in me, and I will know theirs.
My hypothesis is that in hearing and knowing the Lord through each other, we will create two important opportunities.
Listen to Each Other’s Stories
First, we remember the story of Antioch, Barnabas, and a man named Saul. In Acts 11 we read that such a number of folk came to faith in Antioch that the church in Jerusalem sent Barnabas to look into the news and encourage the folk. Now here is the thing, Barnabas saw all that was happening and thought of a brother he himself vouched for before the council at Jerusalem, Saul. Barnabas knew Saul, knew his story and saw much of what the Lord saw in Saul. The result, in verses 25 and 26 we see Barnabas go to Tarsus to collect his brother for the work at Antioch because he knew Saul’s story well enough to know that Saul was right for the work.
This is our first great opportunity! When we hear each other’s stories and are intentional about knowing each other, we give each other room to operate in the way the Lord has created us towards His purposes with a fuller expression of His character.
Barnabas was God-centered enough to skip the controversial elements in his move to get someone he knew would speak to a worldview most vastly different from his own.
If I am intentional in hearing my brothers and sisters, I will not hesitate to call on them when their voice is needed.
Make Room for Different Voices
Second, for years many have bemoaned a lack of a theological voice in Thailand. I wonder, is it in part because our Thai brothers and sisters are not hearing voices close enough to theirs that gives them an avenue to create their own theology?
If someone has correct theology and teaches me, but it’s too far away from my context and experiences, I can’t really make theology in that lane. I can teach what I’ve learned, hopefully, but to truly touch the heart of my context I still might struggle. I need something closer to me, my experiences, my fears, my dreams, that’ll help me begin to be a theologian where I am.
The Early Church Made Room for Diverse Voices
Back in Antioch (Acts 13:1-3) we find a church with a leadership that seems to reflect the diverse nature of the church. Out of these circumstances, and from this group of diverse voices, we see an expression of faith that comes out of their experience that has now been shaped by God for the glory of Christ. That is to say, Antioch, the recipient of accidental missionaries, became an intentional sending church to the lost, inclusive of gentiles. A ripple of growth in theology happened in Antioch and is recounted for Theophilus and the rest of us to learn from by faithful Luke.
Making Room for Voices Enables Rich Theology
In the same way, if we don’t have enough voices, our national brothers and sisters won’t be as enabled to create theology themselves. But when you are intentional in introducing voices that might be different than your own or might have a different background than your own, we give our brothers and sisters more opportunity to meet with God where they are and have that become a starting point for their journey with Christ.
This second opportunity is simple, when you have voices that are nearer to folk and the context in which God is meeting them, it can become a catalyst for them to see more clearly the character of Christ, as well as expressing that character in the realm of their cultural realities.
Sounds OK, But What Now?!
This is a great question. Let me close with a few practical thoughts and steps for folk working to be better listeners, and more whole practitioners.
What now, as I step into missions?
For brothers and sisters who are thinking about, “how do I step into missions?” I want to encourage you to step in with your voice. While you will be careful to enter into your ministry context as a learner, you must also be willing to speak into your team and soon, with great wisdom and love, into your ministry with your voice.
Find a Mentor to Help Cultivate Your Voice
To do this, you are going to have to be strong and courageous. I want you to understand there might be times when you’re challenged because people are afraid of your voice, they disagree with your voice or it might just seem superfluous. When this happens, don’t think you have to conform to some other voice. Find mentors who will help you cultivate that voice and meet the challenges before you step into the field and after.
What I mean by cultivating your voice is learning to be a unique voice even within a dominant culture. Not in an antagonistic way. We have to be brave and fight the wave to make our voice sound like everyone else’s in order to be the blessing the Lord wants us to be to those around us. It takes experience and time and that’s why you need a mentor to help you walk through your growth process.
What Now, We Need a Holistic Theological Voice
For my brothers and sisters who are coming from the perspective of already being involved with missions, our challenge is how do we become more whole in our voice? Whether it’s partnerships between fellowships or mobilizing the whole church in whatever context, we need a more holistic theological voice. That’s our challenge.
Fortunately, the first step to meeting this challenge is really quite simple: be a listener/learner. Yes, I made this up, but it takes two things that are real and combines them. Be a listener who not only gives space for expression but will then learn from that expression.
Learning is only truly expressed in changed behavior, which means you must be affected by the voices of others around you. So take that first step, create the right environment that encourages your teams, and become good listener/learners.
We are glory bearers according to John 17. We are needy of each other as the body of Christ, globally, and culturally, as we reflect His character in our collective story.
Listen well and celebrate all the Lord is doing in each other, because it really is about our stories. Not because of our glory, but because of the remarkable grace-filled fact that God has chosen to express His glory through your story.
Will Brooks is from Lake Jackson, Texas. In 1999 Will journeyed to Thailand to serve with OMF, where he met his wife Meng En who had come from Taiwan to serve with OMF as well. After completing studies at Dallas Seminary, Will and Meng En returned to Thailand with OMF as a family. They were then blessed with their daughter, Hadassah, who was born while they served in Thailand. Together the Brooks engage in church planting ministry in the Central Region of Thailand. Their ministry includes soccer outreach, disciple-making and church planting training, home school, and more!
Yes! Thank you, Will, for such an insightful and challenging article.