By T.R. Robertson
It’s the stereotypical Christmas. The kids open their presents and before you know it, they’re in the middle of the living room playing with the boxes, ignoring their wonderful gifts.
Sunday mornings can be a lot like Christmas morning as churchgoers play around with their favorite boxes.
Box Seat Christians have become comfortable sitting in their favorite spot each Sunday morning, enjoying the show. It’s easy to settle into audience mode, especially in a large gathering where you can blend in, remaining anonymous in the crowd.
Others settle into being Check Box Christians. Like the rich young ruler, they’ve compiled a small list of acceptable and manageable virtues, plus a checklist of church activities that make them feel like they’ve met the minimum obligations for being a dedicated church member.
Some church members have allowed their spiritual lives to be defined and determined by a Ballot Box Christianity. Their faith in their chosen political positions dominates their interactions with people in the church and with non-believers.
All of us are living our Christian lives in one box or another. We want to define the religious dimensions of our faith, to mark out the limits (or non-limits) of our beliefs and behaviors. The challenge we face is learning the difference between building a box to suit our preferences and stretching ourselves to live the full life of faith as God defines it. We risk becoming preoccupied with our own boxes while we ignore the incredible gift we’ve received from God.
Thinking Outside the Box of God’s Word
In recent years many believers have felt confined by what they see as the limiting box of God’s Word. A generation ago, that urge to step out of the Bible box took the form of liberal theology. So-called “progressive” believers wanted a generalized faith without embracing the parts of the Bible that require a more specific faith.
Today, the same restlessness tends to lead believers toward a life of faith without the morality and lifestyle restrictions they grew up with in the church. It’s an understandable reaction to the rules-oriented religion many of us grew up in.
Some, though, go beyond embracing grace and freedom, and get just a little too much pleasure from stocking the fridge with alcohol and indulging in the kind of entertainment we were warned against in our youth.
We need to remember that the same Bible that celebrates our freedom in Christ also celebrates the blessings of extreme obedience.
Blessed are those whose ways are blameless,
who walk according to the law of the LORD.
Blessed are those who keep his statutes
and seek him with all their heart—
they do no wrong
but follow his ways.
You have laid down precepts
that are to be fully obeyed (Psalm 119:1-4).
We have a lot of freedom as Christians, but we need to be sure we stay within God’s revealed Word. We don’t have the freedom to pick and choose which of God’s commands we’re going to obey.
Stepping Outside the Box of Tradition
On the other hand, it’s easy to cling to what we think of as the Bible box, when in fact we’re stuck in a tradition box.
Those “no-rules” Christians do have a point. Some of the church’s expectations about acceptable religious behavior don’t faithfully reflect the heart of God as he revealed himself in the Word. Some of the things we think are important are just part of a church culture we’ve constructed around the faith, similar to what the Pharisees did.
There’s a current non-traditional movement toward being “un-churched believers.” These people are committed to living a faithful life as followers of the Lord, but they don’t want to be a part of the local church.
Stepping away from the traditional box of the congregational church model can be either a bold step forward on faith, or a foolish disregard of scriptural warnings against neglecting the assembly of the saints (Hebrews 10:25). One path can lead to falling away from faith altogether, while others become stronger by embracing the call to “be the church” in other, less traditional, ways.
My wife and I are active members in a traditional congregation, but most of our ministry and our fellowship take place outside the walls of that church. We value the iron-sharpening-iron accountability and ministry partnerships of our weekly home-based small group. And our greatest worship and fellowship time happens each Monday night with our little boxed-in congregation of believers and seekers inside the walls of a state prison for women.
Our Christian life is centered in Christ, but it’s focused outside the traditional steepled box.
Playing in God’s Box
None of our man-made boxes can provide the true joy and excitement God intends for his people. He has a box of his own design, a missional box.
The church over the years has created a missions box of its own design. Missions are what missionaries do. And then they come to the churches and show multi-media presentations of what they’re doing in some other country. We put some money in the offering plate and we’re satisfied that we’ve “done missions.”
But God invites each of us to make our heart’s home inside his missional box. In fact, he insists that we all play along. Scriptures are clear that the very reason he redeemed us for his own was so that we could participate in his mission.
God’s box includes not only Romans 3, with its fantastic promise of salvation by grace, but also Matthew 25, with its challenge to take care of the needs of “the least of these.” I’m here to tell you, based on my own experience, that you’ll never fully appreciate the joy of God’s mercy until you’ve allowed yourself to be a vessel of his mercy, intentionally becoming messily involved in the messy lives of messy people.
Willingly allowing your life and schedule to be defined by God’s mission, rather than a mission of your own making, will have a profound impact on how you interact with people.
Since I grasped the freedom of playing in God’s missional box, I’ve come to see politics as an opportunity for evangelism. Ballot Box Christianity creates church members who are more interested in being right than in being righteous. They’ll argue with political opponents so zealously that there’s no window left open to model God’s righteousness to them. They’ve blinded themselves to the truth that our mission is to win the person rather than the argument.
When people try to draw me into an argument about elections, platforms, and positions, I eagerly join in the conversation and begin steering it toward how God chose us, how we can stand firmly on his promises, and how the best position is on my knees before him.
Once you’ve learned the joy of playing in the missional box, every conversation becomes an opportunity to build bridges for him.
When my mother died last year, the funeral director came to our home to discuss funeral options with my wife and me. We let the young man talk on and on about the various options. We weren’t at all interested in most of them, but we knew that the longer the conversation lasted, the more opportunities we would have to share God’s truth about death and what comes when this life is over.
Because we’ve allowed God’s mission to be the box defining our lives, even a discussion of burial plots and cremation becomes an opportunity for joyfully pursuing his mission.
What Box Are You In?
We’re all in some kind of box. Intentionally or by accident, we’ve established a framework that helps us understand Christianity and sets boundaries for our daily walk. Is your box one of your own making, or the one God has provided for you?
The box God has for you is not a cubbyhole designed to separate you from “those people.” It’s not a lockbox that refuses to adapt to the needs of the mission he sets before you. It’s not a soapbox designed for you to stand upon and enlighten the world with your opinions. And it’s certainly not a pine box, created for a person who has his ticket punched for Heaven and is content to sit in church and wait for the Second Coming.
The more comfortable we are with the way we’ve constructed our lives and our schedules, the more likely it is that we’re stuck in the wrong box and are missing the opportunities God has waiting for us.
Open your box and look inside. Let God fill your life from end to end, top to bottom. And then play with what he gives you.
T. R. Robertson is a freelance writer in Columbia, Missouri.
God’s People on a Mission
Eats with Sinners: Reaching Hungry People Like Jesus Did
by Aaron Chambers
(Standard Publishing, 2009)
Beyond Your Backyard: Stepping Out to Serve Others
by Tom D. Ellsworth
(Standard Publishing, 2008)
Compelled by Love: The Most Excellent Way to Missional Living
by Ed Stetzer and Philip Nation
(New Hope Publishers, 2008)
Missional Small Groups: Becoming a Community That Makes a Difference in the World
by M. Scott Boren
(Baker Books, 2010)
The Missional Mom: Living with Purpose at Home & in the World
by Helen Lee
(Moody Publishers, 2011)
Untamed: Reactivating a Missional Form of Discipleship
by Alan Hirsch, Debra Hirsch
(Baker Books, 2010)
Reclaiming Adoption: Missional Living through the Rediscovery of Abba Father
Edited by Dan Cruver
(Cruciform Press, 2011)
Resources on the Web
“Simplified Missional Living” by Jonathan Dodson
“Missional Living for Regular People” by Lilly Lewin