Cruciform Missionaries

I have been significantly influenced by C. Leonard Allen book The Cruciform Church. The word cruciform, meaning "shaped or arranged in a cross," was intentionally selected with the hope that it might become a significant metaphor shaping Churches of Christ (Allen 1990, ix). The book's emphasis, expressed in its subtitle, is becoming a cross-shaped people in a secular world. In this book Allen says, "The most pressing question facing Churches of Christ today is the question, Can we recover the 'word of the cross' in its biblical fullness? No other question even comes close to this one" (1990, 113).

With these cross-formed perspectives in mind, imagine that you have joined a missions team going to an exceptionally receptive area of the world. You are excited to be working with people who are your friends and are thankful for the prayer life of the team. You consider the work you will do, training laity and leaders to plant reproducing churches, the most important in the world. Although expecting the work to be difficult, you go with confidence because your team has undergone team dynamics, language studies, cultural analysis, and internships.

Soon after arriving on the field, however, you are awakened to the vastly different personalities on your team. One team member is an activist. He tends to take charge and likes to get results quickly. He values flexibility and the freedom to think. He also prizes creativity and spawns new ideas freely.

You, on the other hand, prefer to follow prescribed, planned formulas, maintain meticulous standards, and check every detail for accuracy. You dislike abrupt changes and are leery of new ideas. You tend to judge others by precise standards, especially by how conscientiously they are fulfilling the game plan of the team.

You feel yourself becoming critical, cynical. You are negative about anything proposed by your dominant, freethinking teammate. You want to attack, to tear down. You have begun to wonder, "How will this team ever work out? It's already beginning to crumble!" The problem, as you see it, is that your teammate wants to totally revamp all the plans that your team has made.

In the midst of all these struggles a third teammate, hearing your frustration and understanding your feelings, suggests that you take a spiritual retreat. Because of your respect for him and your desire to get away, you accept his advice.

Reflecting on the cross-formed perspectives in Allen's The Cruciform Church, you decide to apply teachings about Christ's crucifixion and his cross to your life. Before leaving for the retreat, you select three passages, Galatians 2:20, Philippians 3:4-11, and 2 Corinthians 5:14-21, for reflection and personal application.

Galatians 2:20 challenges you with the idea that you are to participate in Christ's crucifixion. You acknowledge that you have never been fully "crucified with Christ" and wonder, "Why is my ego so much on the line? Am I, like the Judaizers, concerned with works of the law rather than faith? Am I expecting my teammate to follow our original plans even when they don't apply here."

You find Paul's testimony in Philippians 3:4-11 even more meaningful. Paul had based his identity on an I-am-right-you-are-wrong assumption. He believed that the works of the Old Testament law saved all. His status--"circumcised on the eighth day, of the people of Israel, of the tribe of Benjamin, a Hebrew of Hebrews, in regard to the law, a Pharisee; as for zeal, persecuting the church"--reflected these perspectives.

However, he now considered all of these "rubbish" compared to the "surpassing greatness of knowing Christ." You realize that "knowing Christ" means "being in a relationship with him." You are especially touched by vs. 10: "I want to know Christ and the power of his resurrection and the fellowship of sharing in his sufferings, becoming like him in his death." You are convicted that cruciform missionaries are Christians whose old lives have been crucified on the cross of Christ and whose new lives are being molded into his likeness. You, therefore, begin to pray for spiritual reorientation.

2 Corinthians 5:14-21 convicts you that only by dying to self can you be compelled by Christ's love. You are touched by the words, "He died for all that those who live should no longer live for themselves but for him who died for them and was raised again" (vs. 15). This new commitment leads you to see people differently so that you, along with Paul, regard people no longer "from a worldly point of view." In Christ you have become a new creation so that "the old has gone, the new has come!" This conversion is from God who "reconciled us to himself in Christ" so that you have become a "minister of reconciliation." God's ambassadors must become changed people.

You return from your retreat a changed person, one who sees the world through different lens. You are much more ready to sacrifice for others. Above all, the saving grace of Christ permeates your character so that you become a mediator of his grace.

You are amazed to find that your "disagreements" with your "obnoxious" teammate no longer appear "fatal." You no longer judge him to be overbearing. You perceive him through grace rather than through the law. This changed perspective leads you to spend time with him and achieve enhanced commonality of purpose as God graciously leads you forward.

You, therefore, renew your commitment to look to God and to be "transformed into his likeness with ever-increasing glory, which comes from the Lord, who is the Spirit" (2 Cor. 3:18).

Becoming cross-formed people is never done in the abstract. Being cruciform is reflected by the attitudes and actions that Christians have with one another and with those yet to believe in Jesus Christ.

Copyright © by Gailyn Van Rheenen. Used by permission. All rights reserved.