Yesterday I was sitting with a group of wonderful people at a European Roundtable, a refugee ministry summit. I felt like I was sitting on holy ground as we went around the circle explaining where we were from and what God had called us to in relation to the recent tragic events in Afghanistan. The moderator kept asking all of us for our organization’s name but one of group simply said, “I don’t have an organization, I’m a part of the church.” My husband cheered for him with a loud “Amen!” Eric style.
Frequently we receive messages from people passing through Athens that want to come see our “ministry” or “what we do.” I’m always faced with a little quandary when this opportunity poses, because it’s not that I don’t love to meet new faces and learn from all the beautiful people traveling through, but in many senses I really don’t have anything amazing to show people.
It’s hard to show people the inside scoop of a life that is devoted to radical discipleship because it is a deeply personal and corporate transformative journey. It is much too sacred to unravel in a quick conversation, or to orient with paper and ink. I don’t usually meet people behind a polished desk in designated ministry space. If people want to come “see what I do” they will most often find themselves around the table with something freshly baked and a hot cup of coffee. Recently in one of these conversations a friend looked over and asked, “But you DO focus on women who have survived human trafficking, right?”
Once again, a question I cannot really answer.
I endeavor to focus on the face of Jesus Christ and listen well to what His mandate is for me. This has brought me into close contact with those who have been trafficked and exploited. These experiences have not added a gem onto my bio, but instead made me more desperate for the reality of the life of a disciple and what it really means to live like Jesus.
Yesterday at the conference a very famous Iranian theologian was invited to the stage. The moderator introduced him by saying, “I had a beautiful intro written about our speaker but he asked me not to share it.” When the speaker started his talk he explained that he didn’t want our time to be wasted with a wordy introduction about himself. He was a charismatic speaker and the audience was deeply engaged. At one point when everyone clapped he put up his hand and again asked us not to waste his time.
I resonate with his weariness. The questions, “What level of education do you and your husband have? Has your husband been to seminary?”
I love answering these questions simply, because we don’t have anything great behind our names. I don’t usually mention the education I do have because if people only knew the reality of my life they would see bent knees and desperate hands reaching towards heaven for answers, not open textbooks and large seminars.
We have created structures that make it very difficult to keep our identity as a disciple intact. Our churches, organizations, ministry programs, and businesses often give us influence and accolades based on what we can write behind our name when we’re asked for our bio. The older we get the more we can add gems of success and another rung of the ladder we have accomplished. Yet those of us who have lived on these tottering platforms of performance and watched them crash into shambles, and those of us who have pursues the “full-time ministry” saga and seen the depth of our human depravity often come to a time of reckoning. We can continue building our name, organization, or church group with the momentary high of accomplishments, or we can get face to face with Jesus and dedicate our lives to obeying Him.
The honest truth is that the success of any of our endeavors lies in what we decide between these two. There are many well-known theologians, missionaries, and pastors who can write the longest bios but portray the smallest fruit. We should beware who we place on platforms of awe in our mind, as these ministry caste systems are destructive for everyone’s walk of obedience.
What is this ministry caste system?
We tend to think of India as the hotbed of social caste systems, but I suggest they are also alive and well in our churches and ministries. Disobedient christians can make a prayer card, start an update email, call themselves a “missionary” and suddenly be placed on a different rung of the social ladder than a faithful Mother or prayer warrior in a local church. Millions of dollars are invested in supporting missionaries while some of them love their new identity as a cross cultural worker but have never learned to live as an obedient disciple.
The word “missionary” means “apostle” and this is a very specific spiritual gift in scripture. Mission organizations often send anyone who is willing to go and expect them all to be apostles. These sent individuals may never have led anyone to Christ or baptized anyone, but find strength in their new identity as a “missionary.”
I’ve left behind the terminology and embarked on a quest for reality. I don’t usually call myself a missionary, cross-cultural worker, anti-trafficking advocate, nurse, or counselor unless it’s practical. I’ve simplified (and complicated) my life considerably by taking on the label of “disciple.” I am a follower and learner of Jesus. This strips me of many external comforts and props. I’ve felt wildly unlearned and sometimes grasped at human straws for reassurance about my identity. This desperate groping has left me panting on the road with the woman with the issue of blood, grasping for the hem of His garment.
“If I can only touch you Jesus.”
It can be relatively simple to create a straw-man identity within our systems, but oh how it strains to let go and sink with full resignation into the gaze of our master. We are only who He says we are.
Who does He say that you are?
It is not wrong to educate ourselves as it can provide many helpful tools for what God has called us to. It is not wrong to create a prayer card and move to a location God has called us to. But that location, people group, or education should never become who we are; otherwise our fruit will shrink as our experiences expand.
Are you a true disciple? Ask yourself the following questions;
- When was the last time I was with someone broken and shared the gospel?
- When was the last time I prayed for healing for someone sick?
- When was the last time I invited a stranger to sit at my table?
Mark 16 says this:
“And these signs shall follow them that believe. In my name shall they cast our devils, they shall speak with new tongues; they shall take up serpents; and if they drink any deadly thing it shall not hurt them; they shall lay hands on the sick and they shall recover.”
No amount of human effort can produce the supernatural. No amount of our own works and energies can transform our own hearts and others. If our backbone becomes the rung of the ladder we perceive ourselves to be on, we will be shattered. If our strength is found in the subconscious detailing of our accomplishments we will be perpetually weary.
But how freeing (and challenging) is obedience! It only requires two little words straight from our hearts like Peter the apostle.
There’s a reason Jesus repeated himself three times.
“Peter, feed my sheep.”
We tend to forget our commission with the distraction of a million perceived accomplishments. Obedience simplifies our life into one beautiful quest to know Him and make Him known. It complicates our life because our flesh screams for recognition for our sacrifices. It frees us to enter into rest and cease from our own works, embarking on a single quest to exercise the gifts God has given us in the way He leads us to use them.
In Acts 9 we have this beautiful account that starts like this, “In Damascus there was a disciple named Ananias.” The Lord called him by night to go speak to the most dangerous persecutor of the Christians. Ananias was afraid and questioned God, but received only another command.
Ananias wasn’t anyone very special and he was afraid of suffering, but he was dedicated to obedience. His faithfulness caused Him to see the miraculous. Saul turned to Paul with physical healing and water and spirit baptism that night. All Ananias did was say, “Yes Lord!”
All you and I have to do is say, “Yes Lord!”
Have you complicated your life? Never let the perceptions others have about you discount the depravity within you. We all know the truth when we look straight into Jesus’ face. We are all in need. We are all called. We can all be obedient.
We can all be a disciple.
Friends, my name is Kate Kleinsasser. I am a disciple of Jesus living in Athens, Greece. I would love to have you around my kitchen table so we can share together what Jesus is doing with our obedience. I am a part of the church of Jesus Christ growing alive and strong around the world. Some call me sister, others call me mother, and one wonderful man calls me wife. I am always wrestling with obedience and learning more about what it means to follow Him.
That’s who I am.
Who are you?
(Stay tuned for the second part of this blog sharing insight on how this topic impacts the people we serve.)
Photo by Hannah Busing on Unsplash
3 thoughts on “Who are you? Losing Labels and Finding Jesus”
Thank you, Kate, for speaking truth! I so needed this!
I am Lori Zimmerman. Living in Chiang Mai, Thailand and I used to have this ‘I’m gonna fight human trafficking’ label. Now I just meet people in their moments of grief or joy or whatever it is and it’s messy and unclear and my heart hurts most of the time for the injustice they have to fight for and the disagreements the church has when they are unwilling to let go of their label for the sake of helping someone. Standing in the gap is less defined than it was in that well-written vision statement. It’s more like a winding, widening chasm. One that I can’t fill. But one that a living Jesus can!
Thank-you Kate, for the refreshing post that put words to that push/pull of being in the moment with the ones we love and having ‘something to show’ those who ask. I would love to experience sitting at your table. 🙂
This is profoundly beautiful, and so, so true! Our identity as a disciple of Jesus Christ is the only identity worthy of the eternal. Because we are His, and this is His world, and all that is good in life is the fruit of saying “Yes, Lord” over, and over, and over again.