Expansion & Excavation

My name is John, and I’m a pendulum swinger.  I don’t mean to be, it kind of just happens.  I live in a constant state of FOMO or fear of missing out. Maybe you’re like me.  Maybe you are perfectly content doing something and then you see someone else talk about an activity (that couldn’t be more unlike what you’re currently doing) and you feel like you’re missing out on something.  So you, like me, drop everything that you’re doing because you don’t want to miss out.  There’s so many arenas that this takes place in life, from workout plans to diets to hobbies—you name it.  Somebody always has advice on what we “should” be doing that makes us feel like we’ve been wasting our time.  So, we scrap what we’re currently doing and start from scratch. Lately, as we’ve been going through the book of Acts as a church, uncovering the history of the church, I’ve felt this pressure in evangelism.

Lately, it feels like this term missionality has been exclusively defined as “meeting new people.”  Missionality, then, is really all about expansion.  I feel this internal pressure to spend all of my free time meeting strangers, or people who I don’t yet have a close relationship with. But I’ve seen a huge problem with this. As a pastor, I have a full-time job and other obligations when I get off work.  Simply put, I don’t have the relational bandwidth to make new friends every week.  More than that, even if I do make new friends every week, they won’t be my friends for long if they are constantly replaced with newer friends with whom I’m trying to be missional.

Even though I know this truth on the inside, I still feel “guilty” when I’m not meeting new people, because I feel like I’m not doing what I “should be doing.”  I feel like I’m missing out on something, and I hate that feeling.  You probably hate that feeling too.  So, you do what I do—you swing the pendulum and become fully immersed in building “new relationships”.  That is, until you realize that there comes a point where expansion by itself becomes counterproductive.   Sooner or later you’re going to realize that you’re missing out on helping these new friends grow deep in their faith.  When this time comes, my prayer is that you learn from your mistakes like I have.  Here’s the truth, when you always live in a state of fearing what you’re missing, you’re never able to be fully invested in what’s right in front of you.  If you spend all of your time feeling guilty about the stuff that you’re not doing that you “could” be doing, you’ll never fully give yourself to what you “should” be doing right now.

Pendulum swinging affects our perspectives as well as our practices

If missionality is only about meeting new people and expanding God’s kingdom numerically, then you’re perspective on the book of Acts is going to be extremely one-dimensional.  You’ll focus on the expansion of the message to the neglect of the excavation of the same message in the lives of the people that come on board.  In Acts, the church grows both deep and wide.  There’s both expansion and excavation (digging deep).  We usually leave off the larter part and disregard that aspect of God’s mission.  A quick survey of the book will show you that as often as God’s people meet new people, they remain with them for many days, weeks, even years to make sure that they’ve got it (Acts 9:43; 10:48; 14:3, 28; 15:35; 17:14; 18:3, 11, 18; 19:22; 20:6; 21:4; 25:6, 14).

What that means is that we’re constantly going to exist in a tension between the two.  A good friend always says, “This tension isn’t meant to be solved it’s meant to be managed.”  We don’t need to feel guilty because we’re giving more attention to one at a particular season of our lives.  If God has granted you favor and you have many significant relationships with people who are open to learning about who God is, it may be a good season for you to spend some time with them unpacking who God is.  You may have to “stay with them a great many days.”  Don’t be concerned with what you’re “missing out on”; rather be fully invested where you are. Take full advantage of the season that God has placed you in.  It’s impossible for you to do two things at once, so we’re always going to be “missing out” on something.

Corporate Mission – We can do two things at once

The great comfort that we have in remaining fully invested in the season that we’re in is the fact that this is a collective effort. The beautiful thing about really being “missional” (accomplishing God’s mission) is that God intends for his mission to be carried out by a collective group.  While individually we can’t expand and excavate at the same time, we can do it collectively.  In Acts 17:14, as Paul was getting ready to move on and meet new people, he urged Timothy to stay behind.  He understood that priority needed to be given to introducing people to Jesus and ensuring that people that met him have a right view of Him.  I doubt Paul or Timothy felt guilty about where they were investing their time because they were confident that the other side was being taken care of.

Hear me, this is not an attempt to absolve you of responsibility or justify the lazy.  This is not an attempt to pigeonhole anyone into a role.  We are commanded to do both—regardless of if you’re an introvert or an extrovert.  My hope is that as you find yourself moving in and out of the worlds of expansion or excavation that you would do it with all of your strength and unnecessary guilt wouldn’t make you ineffective.

Now, time to get to work.