Mark 10:35-45 suggests a First-century failure to “get” Jesus’ message; do today’s churches get it? “Maintenance” versus “Mission” congregations

Cramer’s Corner 18 October 2009

Last week we realized God’s Domain is something you get (or don’t)—not some place the faithful get into. We affirmed that Barack Obama, and the much-maligned Norwegian Nobel Peace Committee, get it. What about our churches?

Mark 10:35-40: Then James and John, the sons of Zebedee, come up to him, and say to him, “Teacher, we want you to do for us whatever we ask!” He said to them, “What do you want me to do for you?” They reply to him, “In your glory, let one of us sit at your right hand, and the other at your left.”

Jesus said to them, “You have no idea what you’re asking for. Can you drink the cup that I’m drinking, or undergo the baptism I’m undergoing?” They said to him, “We can!”

Jesus said to them, “The cup I’m drinking you’ll be drinking, and the baptism I’m undergoing you’ll be undergoing, but as for sitting at my right or my left, that’s not mine to grant, but belongs to those for whom it has been reserved.”

[The Jesus Seminar, reflecting broader current scholarly thinking, says Jesus didn’t have this conversation, even though the disciples did indeed seem “blind” to his gospel.]

Mark 10:41-45: When they learned of it, the ten got annoyed with James and John. So, calling them aside, Jesus says to them, “You know how those who supposedly rule over foreigners lord it over them, and how their strong men tyrannize them. It’s not going to be like that with you! With you, whoever wants to become great must be your servant, and whoever among you wants to be ‘number one’ must be everybody’s slave. After all, the son of Adam didn’t come to be served, but to serve, even to give his life as a ransom for many.”

[The Jesus Seminar on the other hand says this passage certainly could have come directly from Jesus. Mark 10:35-40 reflects conditions in Mark’s day, including the supposition that Jesus, being divine, could have known just how he would die. Here, in verses 41-45, Jesus reflects only his own humanity—fearing death, knowing it surely might come in Jerusalem—and it’s his goal for disciples. Then, and now, we must follow him in his upside-down vision of what God expects of “full humanity.”]

You know by now (I hope) that I teach Jesus Seminar scholarship because it still generally across the Christian church isn’t taught. In the gospel reading for this morning, it makes a tremendous difference how Jesus most likely viewed himself. He called disciples not to try to do what only a divine figure could do—but to do what he himself, “anointed” but fully human, said God wants all of us to do. And he showed it by his fully-human life. So it is, to me, the second half of this morning’s reading that issues a direct challenge to our church.

Brian Stoffregen once obtained a summary of a book about being a disciple church, and in a handout I’m reproducing it. I want us to discuss its challenge for Christians to develop communities that are “mission” in the essential nature, not just “maintenance.”

And Brian helped me a great deal by noticing that, next Sunday, we will read about “Blind Bartimaeus,” who can be seen also as a stand-in for Jesus’ disciples who didn’t “get” his teaching that the first shall be last, and vice-versa. To some extent are we also “blind?”

Also, let me just mention that it really isn’t that some are first, some are last. In the world view of Jesus, we are all equal, equally children of God, caring for ourselves and others. In his experience of the world of American Indians (whom we supported with our Neighbors in Need offering last week) . . . Brian discovered a universal image of circles: teepees; houses; round sweat lodges; endless stories of the circle of life.

Our mission: is it to reflect this? Which of the following are we?

In measuring its effectiveness, a maintenance congregation asks, “How many pastoral visits are being made?” The mission congregation asks, “How many disciples are being made?”

When contemplating some form of change, the maintenance congregation says, “If this proves upsetting to any of our members, we won’t do it.” The mission congregation says, “If this will help us reach someone on the outside, we’ll take the risk, and do it.”

When thinking about change, the majority of members in a maintenance congregation ask, “How will this affect me?” The majority of members in the mission congregation ask, “Will this increase our ability to reach those outside?”
When thinking of its vision for ministry, the maintenance congregation says, “We have to be faithful to our past.” The mission congregation says, “We have to be faithful to our future.”

The pastor in the maintenance congregation says to the newcomer, “I’d like to introduce you to some of our members.” In the mission congregations, the members say, “We’d like to introduce you to our pastor.”

When confronted with a legitimate pastoral concern, the pastor in the maintenance congre-gation asks, “How can I meet this need?” The pastor in the mission congregation asks, “How can this need be met?”

The maintenance congregation seeks to avoid conflict at any cost (but rarely succeeds!) The mission congregation understands that conflict is the price of progress, and is willing to pay the price. It understands that it cannot take everyone with it. This causes some grief, but it does not keep it from doing what must be done.

The leadership style in the maintenance congregation is primarily managerial, where leaders try to keep everything in order and running smoothly. The leadership style in a mission con-gregation is primarily transformational, casting a vision of what can be, and marching off the map in order to bring the vision into reality.

The maintenance congregation is concerned with their congregation, its organizations and structure, its constitutions and committees. The mission congregation is concern with the culture, with understanding how secular people think and what makes them tick. It tries to determining their needs and their points of accessibility to the Gospel.

When thinking about growth, the maintenance congregation asks, “How many [UCC] live within a 20-minute drive? The mission congregation asks, “How many unchurched people life within a 20-minute drive of this church?”
The maintenance congregation looks at the community and asks, “How can we get these people to support our congregation?” The mission congregation asks, “How can the church support these people?”

The maintenance congregation thinks about how to save their congregation. The mission congregation thinks about how to reach the world.

[Is this a really great time to be thinking about this . . . or what????]