In my mailbox (the one sitting in my office) was a copy of the Winter 2012 Leadership Journal (a real paper and print artifact).  “The Outreach Issue:  How service projects actually introduce people to Jesus.”

Do they mean church people helping non-church people and in the process introducing Jesus to them?

Or that church people are introduced to Jesus as they go out to offer a cup of water, visit in prisons, feed, clothe?  (Matthew 25:31-46)

Drew Dyck, Managing editor of Leadership, cites Clark Blakeman’s concept of ‘biblical symmetry’.  Blakeman uses this concept to “remind ourselves that just ‘doing’ isn’t sufficient … the more common problem is for people to fear that the doing is empty, just padding people for a more comfortable journey to hell.  For them, we work to show that proclamation is insufficient apart from the demonstration of the gospel.  We’re pushing both sides toward biblical symmetry.”

I always grow uneasy when people speak of mission as two things even if they combine them.  In our Salvation Army we struggle with this.  The official mission statement is “to preach the gospel of Jesus Christ and meet human needs in his name without discrimination.”   Almost all the time I hear and read our Army people differentiating, distinguishing between two things.  Even attempting to balance.

Drew Dyck then says “to achieve this biblical symmetry some congregations (like mine) need to be challenged to open their mouths and share the gospel verbally.  Others need to be challenged to extend a hand of compassion.  All need to do both.”

I think there is a problem with this statement.  We are supposed to maintain symmetry?  We’ve watched the tightrope act.  Lot’s of falling off during practice.  Most people give it up.  Only the gifted and persevering make it across Niagara Falls.  Not many.

The problem?  “congregations need”, “other [congregations] need”, “all [congregations] need”.  Mission is not to be defined by my need.  By yours.  By ours.

In Matthew 25 we read of that good and faithful servant “blessed by my Father” who unknowingly meets the need of persons who are not part of my congregation or your congregation or anyone’s congregation.  Our God is pleased when we live for others.  Christ, ‘the man for others’, Bonhoeffer’s favorite christological title.

When we live responsibly in this world, as it alternately sinks and rises, bobbing on its voyage through an ocean of history, we are to follow Jesus who gave his life for this world.  We go into that world.  And as we do, we encounter others who need water and bread, comfort and help, a good word as well as the only word that brings salvation.  The word which speaks to us and compels us to “come, follow me”.

But it is their need.  Not my need.  It isn’t symmetry.  It is others.