Needed: A Seat at the Table
President Michael Gibson, Pacific Southwest District, The Lutheran Church Missouri Synod
“Listen, my beloved brothers: Has not God chosen the poor of this world to be rich in faith and to inherit the kingdom He promised those who love Him?” James 2:5
“Go into the Word of God – it transforms us! It’s not OK to be a country club.” Mike Gibson.
To be honest, in my experience, many but not all District Presidents are passionate about Christian missions. Mike Gibson, the first term president of the LCMS Pacific Southwest District, has made bringing more souls to Christ his first priority. That means challenging the ninety five percent White English speaking Lutheran Churches in America to “get real” and get out, to love all people, especially those unlike them. According to Mike, the church of the global north, a church of privilege, has to listen and learn from the church of the global south, a church that has learned to lose all for the sake of the gospel.
Picture: Recent student graduates of CUI’s “Cross-cultural Ministry Center.”
Not that the southern global church knows so much more – but it has been left out of the conversation. How would the church be different if there was a seat at the table for those “left out” of economic power, left out of political, church, local and world power even as we cater to those who have the most? How would our lives be different if the “least of these my brethren” had a full seat at the global north table? If we listened to them, what would we learn? Mike Gibson wants us to listen and learn.
Mike grew up in an ethnically diverse community in Sacramento, California. As a consequence, the ministries he has served have brought him into close contact with a diverse population. He benefited from that life experience. He didn’t have to learn not to be afraid of someone who did not look like him, who spoke in accented English, whose faith challenged his. That kind of learning cannot be bought with money, it has to be acquired. This kind of learning is paid for with the profit from daily gospel interaction with people of different backgrounds.
In the January 2019 issue of the International Bulletin of Missionary Research William P. Gregory searches the heart of Pope Francis’ missiology.
For Francis mission “involves love, and love always involves closeness to other people. To engage in mission means, ‘going forth, coming out of ourselves and drawing near to others…This was the point when he told pastors to be shepherds with the smell of the sheep.'”(Holy Thursday Homily, March 28, 2013).
Gregory goes on to tell us, “Put simply, in their intention to be faithful and in their intention to be missionary some things Christians in fact do are counter missionary in their effects and damage the church’s relationship with the potential recipients of the gospel. The problem in essence is the church ‘Pharisee problem.’ That is, the church often comes across looking and sounding more like the stereotyped scribes and Pharisees of the Gospels than Jesus himself.”
When I asked Bishop Gibson, at the beginning of your time in office what is your deepest desire, he responded: “Congregations were raised up in a particular place for a mission reason. But over the years we have moved away from this. I pray congregations will ask ‘What have we done with our “place’? As a church we have to repent and ask ‘how we can engage our neighbors with the love of Christ?'” As an example Gibson sites the church in the global south.
In his experience Christians coming to the United States from Latin America, Asia, Africa and the Middle East have a lot to each the church in the north, in America. Mike sees these Christians as gifts God is giving to the American church. These Christians have suffered and sacrificed greatly to identify with their communities. By their lives of sacrifice and forgiveness, by their willingness to lose everything and hold back nothing they are the living proof of a God who held back nothing for the sake of the world. That is the kind of witness that attracts; that is the witness of Jesus.
The new president of the Pacific Southwest District told me, “The church of the global north is better served by the church in the global south by listening to the south, to become students of southern Christians. This is something we all need. This is something the Spirit of God can use to revitalize His church.”
Where do you have an opportunity to hold out a seat for a global southern partner?