Missional Ice Cream
Taking the gospel where people can taste and see that the Lord is good.
I’ve heard that the church is like a family. We’ve all been told the church is like a business. Now Leadership contributor, Chad Hall, explains that a missional church is like an ice cream truck. He may be on to something, but there will still be arguments about what kind of music to play.
My kids (6, 3, and 2 years old) LOVE the ice cream truck, and so do I. What's not to love? There we are, outside on a hot day playing in the yard or riding a bike or washing the car and out of nowhere we hear the faint melody of the ice cream truck. Like an unexpected friend dropping by, the ice cream truck rounds the corner and delivers delicious desserts in the middle of an otherwise humdrum day. It's a beautiful thing.
The ice cream truck reminds me of what it means to be a missional disciple. The ice cream truck driver has a wonderful gift he wants to bestow (okay, he's selling it – every metaphor has its flaws, so let's ignore the mismatches, okay?). The driver also seeks out the very kinds of people who are ready and in want of the gifts he has. The driver does not sit in the parking lot of the old folks' home and wait for my family to drop what we are doing and come to him and get our cool treats. No, he comes to us. And we delight in what he brings.
Missional disciples also have a wonderful gift (Jesus), best offered to those who are in want.
The more I think about it, what my kids love is not the ice cream truck – it’s the ice cream itself. If we bring Jesus to people, people will love what we bring. But too often we get perplexed and even disappointed because folks reject our opinions about Jesus, or our system for understanding Jesus, or our organization that is devoted to Jesus. In fact, we may even find it difficult to know Jesus apart from our opinions, systems, and organizations related to him. Perhaps the most difficult aspect of being a missional disciple is letting Jesus be unwrapped from all that packaging.
But do people really want Jesus? Do they want Way, Truth, and Life? At some level, the answer for every child born of woman is “Yes.” People want Jesus even more than my kids want ice cream because Jesus is the only Way we can Truly Live – and every person wants to truly live.
For a while, my 5-year-old neighbor didn’t think he liked ice cream. Go figure. At birthday parties, he’d take his cake plain. At summer cookouts, he’d settle for a cookie. When the ice cream truck came by, he just kept playing. But over time he kept noticing the other kids going bonkers over ice cream. Nobody forced him to try it. Though I considered holding him down and shoving some Neapolitan down his throat, I refrained.
Last week he finally came around. He likes bananas and he decided out of the blue to try some with ice cream. He liked it – a lot. I’ll let you draw out the deep and applicable analogies here, but the point is that everybody loves ice cream – some people just don’t know it yet. What’s a 5-year-old kid really know, anyway? And aren’t we all just kids who don’t yet know what we really want out of life? If the gospel is true, then a saving and sanctifying relationship with God through Jesus is at the core of each of us. It is our essence.
Force-feeding Jesus to people will only produce skeptics and suspicion. The missional disciple goes out in search of folks who hunger and thirst for Jesus. Such a disciple seeks them out and introduces Jesus so that people can taste and see that the Lord is good. Some will receive Jesus with enthusiasm and delight, while others will be affected by the impact Jesus makes for those who savor him.
While every person wants Jesus, whether they know it or note, the missional disciple does not concerns herself with convincing people they want Jesus. Savvy ice cream truck drivers go where ice cream is welcomed and lets the Nutty Buddies and Push Ups do their magic. They don't go to country clubs or carpet stores. They're not out on the interstate or at a Harley convention. Jesus had some things to say about the healthy not needing a doctor. Savvy disciples (wise as serpents) go after the hungry and thirsty. This is why most discipleship should be expressed outside the church. (Notice discipleship here is "living like Jesus," not "learning about Jesus.") Disciples are to be on a mission to bring the delight of Jesus to the least expecting and most ready.
I believe there are Jesus-ready people just about everywhere, if we only have eyes to see and hearts that are open. How might we seek out and bring Jesus to those who hunger and thirst? Here are some ideas…
• Paying close enough attention that you discern the unique way a co-worker hungers and thirsts
• Providing a listening ear to a friend (or foe) who thinks no one cares
• Seeking out a neighbor to encourage
• Praying for the people who wouldn't expect your prayers
• Walking through shame and disappointment with someone who has suffered loss
• Forgiving an enemy (you DO have enemies) even though there is embarrassment on both sides
• Going out of your way to allow someone to experience the Holy One who makes his temple-dwelling in you.
So what about you? Where do you need to drive your ice cream truck this week?
Chad Hall is a ministry coach living in Hickory, North Carolina, and the co-author of Coaching for Christian Leaders (Chalice Press, 2007).