Discerning Mission

Missional Lab

Missional Lab: What's the God of the Cross Up to?

By Patrick Torbit

It was a hot summer evening in New Hampshire. I was sitting cross-legged on the floor of the sanctuary of my internship  congregation. Tied to my right wrist was an orange bandana.  Surrounding me was my tribe, about fifteen energized third and fourth graders. On second thought, energized might be an understatement. It was the end of Vacation Bible School, and the curriculum we were using invited us to ask the kids for their “God sightings,” that is, where they had experienced God throughout the day or the week. As we went around the circle different answers were given. One child of God sighted God in a household pet.  Another child of God saw God in macaroni and cheese. Another child spotted God in a hug. And another child had seen God in the often out-of-control “When We Worship God” sing-a-long song.  

What is God up to? What does God want to do? These missional God questions have been at the heart of my seminary education and, to be honest, I really don’t like them. I don’t like these questions because they are difficult to answer. It’s no small thing to think what God is up to in the world. How can we possibly begin to wonder what God wants to do?

The theology of the cross takes us in directions we otherwise wouldn’t go.

As I have reflected upon my seminary education and my own ministry experiences, I have come to this conclusion -- it is a good and faithful thing for the church (young and old) to wonder about what God is doing in the world and how we might participate. And yet while this is good and faithful work, it is also challenging. Therefore, it seems to me that the transformative missional leadership question is this: How might we as leaders of the church equip those we serve to be attuned to and participate in the activity of God?

The theology of the cross would serve well the leaders of the church who are called to this important work. The theology of the cross serves us, not because we love the way of the cross (Jürgen Moltmann writes in The Crucified God: “The cross is not and cannot be loved.”), but precisely because we don’t love the way of the cross. The theology of the cross will have us see God at work in those people and places we consider to be Godforsaken. The theology of the cross will have us see God in those tragedies that insist that God is merely an invention of the hopeful mind. The theology of the cross will have us see God in those people and places where we would least expect to see God, where we would least want to expect to see God. The theology of the cross will have us see God present in those who have no clue, in those who are unfaithful, in those whom we are sure God has rejected. The theology of the cross will take us to those people and places in which we do not want to go –- whether it is because of fear, hate, or some other reason.

The theology of the cross takes us in directions we otherwise wouldn’t go. The theology of the cross would have us know God as a suffering God and ourselves as God’s suffering people. The God of the cross transforms us as leaders and the people we lead from that of works, glow, strength, and wisdom to that of suffering, cross, weakness, and folly. The God of the cross transforms us from a people set on going our own ways to God’s people led in God’s ways, which is the way of the crucified Christ. The God of the cross transforms congregations for mission.

About the Author: Patrick Torbit is a husband and a father who has flaws and gifts, who worries and is sometimes at peace, who despairs and sometimes hopes, who is judgmental and sometimes graceful, who is trying to learn how to love as much as possible and live life vulnerably, gratefully and fully. He’s also a new pastor in the Red River Valley of eastern North Dakota who dislikes many things about faith and church (especially empty words, albs, and clerical shirts), but he also likes a lot about faith and church (especially people, faith that is alive, and mission).
About the Missional Lab series: In Spring 2013, members of Dr. Mary Sue Dreier's "Transforming Congregations for Mission" class launched a deep and broad conversation about how to better follow Jesus in a new era -- an era where the church is losing privilege and nothing can be assumed about the people who go or don't go there.

The blog posts in this Missional Lab series are drawn from those papers. Thanks to the contributors, to Prof. Dreier, and to Luther Seminary's Center for Missional Leadership.
Image credit: "God's Response to Man's Sin," Creative Commons image of the crucifix in the Lower Basilica in Lourdes by Fr. Lawrence Lew, O.P. on Flickr.

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