Believing radical transformation is possible

Missionary ministry that reflects Christ

The message burning in Jesus' heart was not one of syrupy self-improvement. Jesus knew that human beings needed radical transformation, the kind of transformation possible only as we surrender ourselves to divine intervention.

As Jesus began his ministry, He declared that we all must be "born again." That wording by Jesus in John 3 graphically captures humanity's need for profound transformation. Indeed, the Gospels tell of people radically transformed physically, emotionally, and spiritually by encounters with our Lord. Lame people who met Jesus walked again. Blind people began seeing. Demon-possessed people were liberated. Those who had defrauded others gave the money back with interest. Sexually immoral people quit their sinning. People of power adopted servanthood attitudes.

In an episode recounted in Matthew 21:31, Jesus horrified Jewish religious leaders when he said corrupt tax collectors and prostitutes would be allowed in the Kingdom of Heaven. Jesus was right, of course. Matthew gave up being a tax collector to become one of the 12 Apostles. A tax collector named Zacchaeus radically changed in attitude and behavior. A promiscuous Samaritan woman was transformed when she met Jesus at a village well (John 4).

An encounter with Jesus on Golgotha radically transformed a dying thief's relationship with his Creator. Jesus knew that Peter could be transformed into something more than a loud-talker who crumbled under pressure. Jesus knew that a wealthy young man needed to be transformed. Sadly, that young man refused (Matthew 19). When Jesus appeared to Saul on the Damascus road, Jesus offered him radical transformation. Saul accepted and became the man we now call "the Apostle Paul."

If the Church is to truly fulfill the Great Commission, its missionaries must share Jesus' belief in divinely-wrought, transformation. People's attempts at self-generated transformation will always fall short of what is needed.

As the Church of Jesus Christ tries to minister around the world in Christ's name, its objective must be more than simply helping people. We want people everywhere to have clean water, health care, and decent schools. We want to help those who have lost homes and possessions in natural disasters or civil unrest. We would like good people to get even better. However, our overarching desire for people around the world must be for the transformation of their hearts. That is what can lead eventually to the transformation of whole societies.

Jesus' words regarding people's need for a radical transformation in their hearts must grip us. Proclaiming its possibility must be a priority for us even as it was for our Lord. That message must permeate everything we do in global cross-cultural ministry.

Discussion questions

  1. In what ways does Jesus' message of radical transformation differ from messages of self-improvement?
  2. What are some examples from the Gospels of radical transformation that happened when people encountered Jesus?
  3. In what ways can missionaries need to prioritize the message of radical transformation in their ministry?
  4. Why might it be important for the Church to prioritize the message of radical transformation over just helping people with basic needs?

    -- Howard Culbertson,

This 500-word mini-essay on Christlike attitudes and actions that should be present in cross-cultural missionary service is one of a dozen articles in the "missionary ministry that reflects Christ series published in Engage, a monthly online magazine produced by the Church of the Nazarene.

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