One of the most pressing questions in my life is really not complicated. In a certain way my pressing question is two questions: (1) Why do those who embrace the need for mission not realize that God’s way to reach the world is by bringing Christians together in deep oneness and unity so that the world can see the Father’s love? (2) Why do those who love unity, and work in the area of what has been called ecumenism, not see that all the work for ecumenism in the world will prove fruitless if this effort is not closely linked with mission, compassion, justice and mercy? We must not divide what God has joined together. Consider again the words of our Lord who prayed for us all, nearly twenty centuries ago, by saying:
20 “I ask not only on behalf of these, but also on behalf of those who will believe in me through their word, 21 that they may all be one. As you, Father, are in me and I am in you, may they also be in us,[a] so that the world may believe that you have sent me. 22 The glory that you have given me I have given them, so that they may be one, as we are one, 23 I in them and you in me, that they may become completely one, so that the world may know that you have sent me and have loved them even as you have loved me. 24 Father, I desire that those also, whom you have given me, may be with me where I am, to see my glory, which you have given me because you loved me before the foundation of the world (John 17:20-24, NRSV).
This text informs my entire life. What Jesus prayed for here is pure gift. But it is a gift we must desire, like any gift God offers and gives. We “have not because we ask not.” Few are asking for unity so that the “world may believe.” Clearly there are some Christian leaders in Milwaukee who understand this and are pursuing it with deep passion and purpose.
During my visit to the City on a Hill ministry center in Milwaukee, one week ago today, I saw missional-ecumenism in action. Here are only a few illustrations:
- One African-American elementary school principal is in his second year at his school. He has 460 students. He is a pastor’s kid with a heart for good education but an even bigger heart for God’s kingdom. He spoke of Christians in his school who helped him gain perspective through providing a different lens through which to view his work. He attributed this to the numerous volunteers who pray throughout this school.
- Another African-American principal, from a large high school, spoke about how caring adults were making a difference in his context. He spoke passionately about adults who would come into his school and share time with students showing them how deeply concerned they were for the well-being of his students.
- A director of school support for the Milwaukee schools, who is responsible for 32 schools, referred to Acts 18:9 and tearfully said that when she was ready to give up she refused because God spoke to her heart from this text. Here is the context of this story from the Scripture:
When they opposed and reviled him, in protest he shook the dust from his clothes and said to them, “Your blood be on your own heads! I am innocent. From now on I will go to the Gentiles.” Then he left the synagogue and went to the house of a man named Titius Justus, a worshiper of God; his house was next door to the synagogue. Crispus, the official of the synagogue, became a believer in the Lord, together with all his household; and many of the Corinthians who heard Paul became believers and were baptized. One night the Lord said to Paul in a vision, “Do not be afraid, but speak and do not be silent; for I am with you, and no one will lay a hand on you to harm you, for there are many in this city who are my people.” He stayed there a year and six months, teaching the word of God among them (Acts 18:6-20, NRSV).
This director told us how God had quieted her spirit and assured her that she should “not be silent, for I am with you and . . . no one will harm you, for there are many in this city who are my people.” Granted, the context of this passage has a specific reference to Paul and his mission but the Spirit often takes such texts and impresses them upon people’s hearts and minds when they need encouragement to press on in faith. This was her story and it moved most of us in the room quite deeply.
- After each person spoke Mark Mallwitz, the leader of the meeting, asked someone to specifically pray over the principal, or school leader, and then commit them and their concerns and vision to the Lord. This was extremely moving to witness.
- We ended this meeting with circles of prayer formed around each leader from the public schools. I was allowed to pray for a precious sister that I sat with during the meal. She had opened her heart to me in a moving and powerful way. We had some deep similarities in our journey even though I am white and she was born into home with a black father and white German mother. We just seemed to bond in the Spirit of God’s love and grace. I marveled, thinking of my white, racist, small-town background and my racially segregated church. (I gave thanks again for my mom and dad who taught me that the kingdom of God was not segregated at all.)
When the lunch concluded around 2:05 p.m. I met several of these folks personally. I also spent a few minutes with Mark Mallwitz. I asked him if we could meet with me over a meal so that we could get to know one another? I also asked him about the Catholic Church in Milwaukee and where they were in this shared vision for the city? He had already been thinking about this question so I then said, “Let’s get together with a Catholic leader and see what God might do with this humble effort.” Pray for Mark and me, and for whatever leaders God might want us to meet with to see if ACT3 Network has a future role in serving God’s people in nearby Milwaukee. My vision was nourished and expanded last week. I hope, in the months to come, to share more about this story with you as God opens new doors for expanding his witness to many more people through the gift of missional-ecumenism. I pray and dream about this on a daily basis. Join me if God so speaks to your heart.