In my research into how to build grassroots ministries that are sustainable and Christ-centered for my books, Jesus Died for This?: A Satirist's Search for the Risen Christ, and Starting from Zero with $0: Building Mission-Shaped Ministries on a Shoestring, I've gleaned practical wisdom from Shannon Hopkins, a UK-based missional entrepreneur and a U.S. emerging church pioneer. When she was asked, "With all the needs out there, how do you set priorities or determine where God is calling you?" she made this thoughtful observation:
My work is missional at the core, and I am looking for ways to bring transformation both to individuals, communities, and the culture at large. So that also provides a filter. It allows me to ask the questions: Will people experience the kingdom of God through this project? Will people see Jesus in this work?
Shannon's final question gnaws at me when I survey the plethora of invites I receive from Christians to lend my support to far more causes than I could ever support in a lifetime. How do we know we're following Jesus or simply following the whims of our own egos by taking up a cause that will help build up our own street cred? I've sat through too many gatherings where some progressives depict Jesus of Nazareth as the ultimate social justice warrior, as though they've reduced the crucifixion to nothing more than a really bad day at the activist office. Then there are those performance art pieces led by armchair insurrectionists decked out in faux Che Guevara gear who deconstruct and then deny the resurrection, a war of words that may exercise the mind but fails to feed the soul.
When I asked Lisa Sharon Harper, executive director of New York Faith & Justice, why she chose to get arrested in the name of solidarity, she reflected:
"As a Christian, I felt led by scriptures such as Matthew 25 and Leviticus 19:33-34 that call us to welcome the immigrant. Since I am a leader of a New York City faith-based, justice-oriented organization, I knew that my actions or lack thereof on the issue of immigration would speak volumes. So I believe God called me to stand on this line because as a country, we have reached a true crisis point. Right now we are deciding whether or not we will welcome the immigrant. As a follower of Christ I am called to love my neighbor. For me, that means I stand with them and don't leave them all alone and abandoned in their moment of greatest need."
Lisa's stance does not mean that she expects others to follow. Noting that other close colleagues chose not to join in this particular act of civil disobedience, she states, "God speaks to different people in different ways. The important thing is that when Jesus says 'follow me,' we follow -- no matter what the cost. Ultimately, it really is all about love."
A number of years ago, I marched in the New York City gay pride parade. I quit after two years when I realized I was there to be the "hang-out-with-the-cool-Christian" person instead of someone actually immersing myself in the cause. But this nudging in my heart kept pulling at me by reminding me that as a single straight woman over 40, I wasn't part of the stereotypical Genesis story either. I too was on the outside of the conformist Christian circles. After much soul searching and prayer, I found some spiritual places I could call home, including St. Mark's Church-in-the-Bowery and St. Lydia's (a dinner church held at Trinity Lutheran Church on the lower east side) -- two welcoming places where I felt all could be embraced in the same way Jesus welcomed the woman at the well (John 4:1