Necessary conversations Recently, in a conversation with Dr. Tim Keller of Redee...
An invitation to ask
When our son Johnny was small, “what if…?” was his favorite question:
- What if the sun didn’t come up one day?
- What if our car took all the gas in the world?
- What if you had to fight your way home tonight?
Often it was an impossible question to answer, so I would simply say, “It would be a world record.” That seemed to satisfy him. I once heard a writer I know say, people who live imaginative lives are what-if people because they respond to ideas and events with a what-if attitude and they behave in what-if ways. What if is a big idea—as big as God—for it is the practice of God. Our God thinks, “What if I make a universe? What if I make people in My own image? What if, when they sin, I don’t give up on them?” Jesus came to people—He comes to people still—and invites us to be what-if people.
He said to His early followers, imagine a kingdom where the last are first, the least are greatest, the servants are heroes, the weak are strong, and the marginalized are loved and cherished. Imagine a world where outsiders become insiders, where people who lose their lives end up finding them, where people who die to themselves, their guilt, their sin, and their selfishness end up being brought to life.
Then, Jesus said to Himself, what if I die on a cross? And He did it. They put His body in a tomb, and three days later God said to Jesus, now what if you get up. He gathered 11 uneducated, unconnected, unresourced followers and said, imagine you’re going to be given the Holy Spirit to lead and guide you all together. You’re going to be sent out and scattered all over the world. Eventually, you’ll be killed. Of course, death can’t stop your existence with God and it can’t stop this dream. This movement, this community, is just going to keep spreading until it reaches more people in more places, embraces more cultures, and shapes more lives than any movement in human history. It actually happened, and here we are.
God is still looking for what-if people
What if God were to raise up a new generation of women and men who love Jesus, who celebrate the life of the mind, who engage the culture, who prize being a part of an egalitarian community where they serve on the basis of gifts not gender, who lead with boldness, courage, and innovation, and what if they devote themselves to building local churches? What if God were to create a movement so powerful that bright and gifted young leaders were so inspired they’d say, “I’d pay any price to be part of that. I must help this community create local churches that flourish.”
What if you and I were to pray to be a part of that? Why would we not?
As our church launches into this new season in partnership with ECO, as we create new sites, and enter into a new leadership and governance structure with new levels of freedom and flexibility, I am praying what-if prayers.
What if, through churches like yours and mine, the best of the thoughtful and reflective legacy we love were to be revitalized with a new birth of vision and fearless entrepreneurial energy? What if every gathering of pastors and church leaders became value-add events that trained and inspired church leaders? What if, rather than just tweaking creaky old systems, we started with a blank piece of paper, a clear set of values, and an unswerving commitment to our mission? What if the church were to receive the very best leaders that our world has to offer?
It would be a world record.
It’s happened before. Why can’t it happen again?
John Ortberg is the senior pastor at, Menlo Park Presbyterian Church—an ECO member church. John’s teaching centers around how faith in Christ can impact our everyday lives with God. He has written books on spiritual formation including, The Life You’ve Always Wanted, Faith and Doubt, The Me I Want To Be, and most recently, Who is This Man?. John teaches around the world at conferences and churches. He is married to Nancy, and they have three grown children. You can follow John on Twitter.