The Common Good

Rob Bell: 'Surrender the Outcomes'

Rob Bell listens to a question from the audience at a conference Tuesday. Photo by Cathleen Falsani/Sojourners.

How do you step out and take a risk — as a pastor, as an artist, as a parent, as a person — when the job description of a pioneer or a vanguard comes with the assurance of persecution?

“Surrender the outcomes,” Rob Bell told the audience at his intimate gathering, Two Days with Rob Bell, in Southern California on Tuesday.

“Surrender the outcomes of your presence, your influence, your work, your leadership,” Bell said. “They may drink the coffee. They may not. That’s just how it is. When you come to terms with this, then you’re actually free.

In other words, it’s not about you.

If, as a pastor, parent, or person, if you do what you do because you’re called to do it — without expectations, without needing a particular response, without hitching your wagon of joy to someone else’s reaction (or lack thereof) — you free not only yourself, you liberate others as well.

A pastor who needs the constant approval of her or his congregation isn’t free. And neither is the congregation.

“But you know, if they have found joy simply in doing the work, when they have found their center and their joy…you know it’s a gift with no strings attached. They are free and you are free,” he said. “It’s intoxicating.

Eugene Peterson goes into a pastor’s convention and just slays it,” he continued. “You’re like, ‘What was that?!’ You know why? He doesn’t need you to like him. He doesn’t need anything from you. And that’s why you want to hear him over and over again.”

Yes. But innovators such as Peterson come under unbelievable criticism. Where do you put that?

“Pioneers are crucified,” Bell said.

One of the men in the audience interrupts: “How do you know whether you’re being crucified because you’re a pioneer or because you’re just wrong?”

Bell smiled.

“If you’re being crucified because you’re wrong, I wouldn’t call that crucified. I’d say that’s just really sharp critique,” Bell answered.

Heads nodded in agreement.

In Matthew 28, the writer tells us that even after Jesus rose from the dead and appeared to the disciples and his followers, some folks still didn’t believe.

“There was a group there that doubted,” Bell said. “He’s risen from the dead … and there are still people who don’t buy it. What an interesting thing Matthew does here [by including that bit of information.] You simply cannot control the outcomes of your work. You cannot control how people respond to you … to your presence, your talent, your work, your action in the world.

“You can pastor people, you can love them. You can absolutely rip your heart out and put it on a plate for them week after week after week … and you cannot control whetherh they will be your friend, whether they will listen, whether they will walk away, whether they will stab you in the back. It’s simply not possible. But it is possible to live with the great illusion that if you do certain things you will achieve a certain result — and that’s simply not true. The sooner you come to terms with this, with our powerlessness, the more joy you will have.”

God doesn’t love you because of what you do or don’t do or how well or badly.

Think of the Gospel description of the day John the Baptist baptized his cousin, Jesus, in the Jordan River. And the heavens opened and the Holy Spirit descended and the voice of God proclaimed: “This is my beloved son in whom I am well pleased.”

“Jesus hadn’t ‘done’ anything yet,” Bell said. “He hasn’t achieved anything. He doesn’t have an impressive bottom line. He hasn’t given any sermons, no crowds have gathered yet.”

And yet … God already is well pleased.

“Is there anybody who needs to hear, ‘This is my girl; this is my boy’? That’s your job.”

Cathleen Falsani is Web Editor and Director of New Media for Sojourners. Follow Cathleen on Twitter (where she'll be sending updates from today's conference) @GodGrrl.

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