Rich Villodas is the Brooklyn-born lead pastor of New Life Fellowship, one of the most ethnically diverse churches in the world. He is also a key speaker for Emotionally Healthy Discipleship—a movement that has touched hundreds of thousands of people. Over the years, Rich has offered a way of following Jesus that integrates areas not normally held together. Areas like the contemplative life, race, emotional health, and justice. In today’s post, you will be challenged to rethink a fundamental aspect of our life with Christ—mission. It’s a grace to welcome Rich to the farm’s front porch today…
In his classic autobiography The Seven Storey Mountain, Thomas Merton recounted an experience he had with a simple yet mysterious Hindu man who lived a monastic life.
In his conversation with the man, known as Brahmachari, they discussed the effect of Christian missionaries in parts of South Asia. Brahmachari noted that Christian missionaries had minimal impact in that part of the world for many reasons. Chiefly, they weren’t holy enough.
As Merton reflected on this significant conversation, he concluded that “the Hindus are not looking for us to send them men who will build schools and hospitals, although those things are good and useful in themselves—and perhaps very badly needed in India: they want to know if we have any saints to send them.”
“They want to know if we have any saints to send them.”
As I read that line, I was reminded that any talk of being engaged in the world must begin not with activity but with a life in God. The Hindus in this story were looking for people who could model a different way of being in the world. It’s not that the work projects don’t matter. We need them.
What matters more is the quality of lives out of which the work flows. Our lives are to be joined with God in love, in contemplation, in surrender, in obedience, and out of that, in loving service and mission to the world.
Over the course of our three decades, our church has sought to regularly wrestle with the tension between monastery and mission.
We are not called to remain within cloistered walls, giving ourselves to prayer apart from social engagement with the world. Nor are we called to perpetually and indiscriminately be consumed with being active in the world. We are called to hold this dynamic tension before God.
Why? Very simply, unless we do so, we have nothing to offer the world.
Do we have any saints to send?
There is a way of responding to the needs of the world in such a way that leads to fatigue and burnout. We try to give what we don’t possess, and every time we attempt this, we put ourselves in danger.
Is there a way to actively respond to the injustice, poverty, and pain that people experience without being destroyed by our good intentions and deeds? I think we can. But a shift is required.
The deeply formed mission is fundamentally about becoming a particular person and offering that to the world.
This kind of mission is not just about activity; it’s about being Christ for another.
Anyone who belongs to Jesus is indwelled by His Spirit. This indwelling life is not simply for the purpose of private, mystical experiences; it’s also for the purpose of being shared with the world around us.
Some of you reading this are already tuning me out. Perhaps you look at your life and think, I can never be Jesus—I can’t even find my Bible; my prayer life is so inconsistent; I have too many sins that need forgiving; I just became a Christian, so how can I be Jesus for another? or I don’t feel close to God.
Deeply formed mission is first about who we are becoming before what we are doing. Our most effective strategy in reaching a world for Christ is grounded in the kind of people we are being formed into.
The quality of our presence is our mission. And the good news is that Jesus doesn’t wait for us to be perfect before inviting us into mission.
On the contrary, being “perfect” disqualifies us from partnering with Jesus in mission. When you read the Bible, you’ll see again and again that God doesn’t call perfect people.
I recall a humorous line from Homer Simpson. Upon reading the Bible, he says, “Everybody’s a sinner . . . except for this one guy.” He, of course, has Jesus in mind.
Deeply formed mission is first about who we are becoming before what we are doing.
God is in the business of calling broken, fearful, hotheaded, inconsistent, pessimistic, doubting people like you and me. That’s what makes the gospel good news. Just look at Jesus’s first disciples.
As Jesus was arrested and crucified, His disciples deserted Him. He was left alone to suffer and die. After His death, burial, and resurrection, the disciples locked themselves in a room for fear that they would be next to die. These disciples had failed Jesus. They’d dropped out.
Who would want these people on their team? The answer is no one except Jesus.
Jesus went back to His failed disciples and instead of bringing up their mistakes, He sent them on a mission. After coming face to face with His friends, He said, “Peace be with you. As the Father has sent me, even so I am sending you.” And after He said this, “he breathed on them and said to them, ‘Receive the Holy Spirit’” (John 20:21–22).
This is the good news of the gospel.
Even when you make mistakes, don’t perform, and can’t get your act together, Jesus comes to you and says, “I want you. I’m calling you, and I’m sending you.”
Jesus knows your problems, your addictions, your hang-ups, and your failures, and in spite of that, you are invited into His mission.
Rich Villodas is the Brooklyn-born lead pastor of New Life Fellowship, a large, multiracial church with more than seventy-five countries represented in Elmhurst, Queens. He is also a key speaker for Emotionally Healthy Discipleship—a movement that has touched hundreds of thousands of people.
Rich’s first book, The Deeply Formed Life, is an ambitious reframing of spiritual formation, integrating elements of Christian life often segmented (contemplative rhythms, racial justice, interior examination, sexual wholeness, and missional presence). Most believers live in the state of “being a Christian” without ever being deeply formed by Christ. Our pace is too frenetic to be in union with God, and we don’t know how to quiet our hearts and minds to be present. Our emotions are unhealthy and compartmentalized. We feel unable to love well or live differently from the rest of the world—to live as people of the good news.
[ Our humble thanks to Waterbrook for their partnership in today’s devotion ]