Jay Kim: Is Jesus the Surgeon or the Scalpel?

In the mid-2000s, I spent several years as a youth pastor. One of the most rewarding aspects of working with teens was seeing their eagerness to bring about positive change in the world. On almost a weekly basis, they would share with me about some new global crisis they had discovered and their wide-ranging ideas for how we could do something about it. Wanting to empower our students, we often took their ideas and ran with them.
One of these events was a march through the downtown area of our city to raise awareness about the atrocities being done to children in northern Uganda. To help our teens promote the event to our church, I leveraged the story of Jesus and his family fleeing to Egypt in Matthew 2:13–15. With as much oratory and poetic skill as I could muster, I emphasized that if Jesus’ family had to walk all those miles from his home to Egyptian territory because of the impending threat of genocide, surely we could walk a few miles together to stand against the evils of our day and age.
Our students organized and executed the event spectacularly. Teenagers from all over the city showed up to walk through downtown, holding signs and banners, singing and chanting in solidarity. I was proud of them and thrilled for them. But afterward I couldn’t shake the sense that something was off about my approach to promoting the event. Sobered up from the intoxicating energy of pulling off a successful event, I was faced with the embarrassing reality that I’d ripped the Jesus-flees-to-Egypt story out of its appropriate context. I’d co-opted it to further my own agenda, and in doing so, I‘d coerced a call-to-action out of the narrative that doesn’t appear in that biblical story. I quickly realized that although Jesus had been a focal point in motivating people to participate, he had been glaringly missing from the event itself. I’d convinced students to show up because of Jesus, but I’d failed to lead them effectively to Jesus.
Over the years, I’ve learned and grown from experiences like these—my own as well as others’. But I am still often tempted to co-opt Jesus as a means to achieve my own ends. I have a strong sense that I’m not alone. For those leading in the local church, even when our intentions are pure, it’s all too easy to fall into the trap of seeing Jesus as a means to an end rather than the end itself. This extends beyond social justice and compassion efforts like the event my students put on.
In counseling situations, it can be easy to leverage Jesus in inappropriate ways. We can tell a hurting person that Jesus commands them to “love their enemies” and “pray for those who persecute you.” Of course, that’s true, but if an abusive spouse or friend has victimized the person you’re counseling, those words may encourage them to not only tolerate but also accept abuse as God’s will for their lives.
In trying to motivate financial giving, it can be easy to use Jesus to reach certain metrics to fund our ministries. We may retell the story of the widow’s last mite to urge people to give sacrificially. Yet in doing so, we may be heaping guilt and shame on lower income congregants.
In preaching and teaching, the same thing can happen. For example, far too often, Jesus’ words in Matthew 18:20, “Where two or three gather in my name, there am I with them,” are irresponsibly leveraged to coerce listeners into more frequent Sunday attendance or joining a small group.
Let me be clear. Prayerfully and thoughtfully setting goals, creating metrics, and outlining desired outcomes are all necessary elements of church leadership. But this ultimate truth is undeniable: If Jesus is not always the destination, then the journey we’re taking is headed in the wrong direction. The way we read, study, and teach the Bible must point first and foremost to Christ. In light of this, here are three key questions I’ve found helpful as centering points in my decision-making process, my approach to serving our church community, and stewarding God’s call to leadership.
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Source: Christianity Today
Source: Black Christian News