This article is written by Innovista's International Director Jason Lane and first appeared in Reach Out magazine
There are a million ways to go about mission. Dinner with neighbours. Conversations with colleagues. Giving clothes to those without. And there are a few things that should always characterise our mission – such as gentleness, respect and grace.
Jesus' life was characterised by grace. Take his conversation with the woman at the well in John 4. There are lots of reasons why Jesus should not have talked with her. She's a Samaritan and he’s a Jew and they were not supposed to mix. Samaritans were mixed race - Jewish and something else - which didn't go down too well either. And of course, this is a Samaritan woman. For a Jewish Rabbi, women were irrelevant.
But Jesus meets and converses and discusses theology with this Samaritan woman.
Grace Distinguished Jesus’ Mission
As if the differences in race, religion and gender weren't enough, this woman is also famous in her community - and not for the right reasons. She'd been married five times and was now living with a man she wasn't married to. This was simply outrageous in this context and she’d become a social outcast, fetching water in the middle of the day when the other women were in the cool of their homes.
Jesus knows her story, but he doesn't do what his disciples expected, and slam her for her sin. In fact, he doesn’t slam her at all.
This was a woman weighed down by her own mistakes. She didn’t need anyone to tell her she had a problem. She didn’t need anyone to point it out. She re-lived it every day as she walked alone to get water. Her whole life was defined by her relational nightmare.
Instead, she needed grace. And grace is what is different and unique about Jesus. Grace causes this woman to conclude that Jesus is someone sent from God (a prophet). Jesus tells her he’s the Christ.
Grace Should Distinguish our Mission
When grace is what is distinct about Jesus' life and ministry, when grace is what we are saved by, why is it that most people outside of the church associate the church and Christians with judgment?
My work with young mission leaders takes me across Eastern Europe and Russia and the same is true there too, especially amongst the younger generation.
As the body – the hand and feet of Christ - we need to turn this around. We should first be known for grace. Not for slamming or judging people, but for grace. Because grace is like Jesus. Grace changes people.
Grace Changes People
In one of the Central Asian Republics, we've been helping some young leaders who want to bring grace to disabled children and their mums. Disability is a taboo in this area. So much so, that when a disabled child is born, it's not uncommon for the father to leave. And so the Mums are left to care for their disabled children on their own, which also means they struggle to find time for the jobs they need in order to feed themselves and their children.
So a group of young Christians decided to host a summer camp (in secret of course) where mums could bring their disabled children. The mums get a break that they couldn't otherwise afford and these precious children have lots of fun and a fantastic time.
At the end of one of these camps last summer, one of the mums who came with her severely disabled son took one of the young leaders to the side and said, "I have no one to help me or my son. I only came to this camp because I was desperate and I had nowhere to go. But no one loves me and my son like you Christians." Grace changes people.
The woman at the well experienced grace and it clearly changed her. She runs back to her village and invites everyone there to come and meet Jesus. And they did, and John records that many of them became believers, all starting from one encounter marked by grace.
Grace should always mark the church on its mission. It’s how we should be known. Because grace always changes people.