Whenever something significant happens in life, we seem to have a ceremony to go with it. When children are born, we have naming ceremonies. When two people decide to live together, we have weddings or other forms of commitment. And when people die, funerals are a common event. And whilst not everybody participates in these ceremonies these days, nevertheless, the so-called “rites of passage” are still held by many in high esteem.
But it doesn’t end there. Because if we want to launch a boat, we have a commissioning ceremony. And when their time is up, a service to decommission them too. When someone is appointed to parliament, there is a swearing-in ceremony. (And there is a swearing-in ceremony every time a minister is appointed or changes portfolios.) And even in the church we have services to commission, ordain and consecrate people for various functions.
But why do we commission people in the church? And on what basis do we do it?
Well, to answer that, I’d like to refer to an incident in the life of Jesus. It was a time when Jesus appointed and commissioned seventy-two people to go on a mission. And at the time he didn’t just send them off on their own to all the towns and places he was going. No, he first told them, “There is an abundant harvest, but few labourers. So, appeal to the Lord of the harvest to send out labourers into his field. Go! I am sending you like lambs into the midst of wolves. Take no purse, pouch, or sandals. Do not greet anyone on the way, etc. etc.” (Luke 10:2-4). Then, he sent them out in twos.
And this raises a number of issues regarding commissioning in the church that I would like to address.
And the first issue is, that commissioning plays an important part in setting people apart for a specific task.
Jesus needed to appoint some people for a specific task. He wanted seventy-two people, to send them out with one thing in mind—to prepare the people of the towns and villages ahead for an encounter with him. It was that simple. Jesus understood he couldn’t do his job all on his own. He needed help. What’s more, if others prepared the way then the short time that he could spend with them had the potential to be far more effective. As a consequence, it was important to engage others in his mission too. So, Jesus commissioning seventy-two people.
So, if we are Jesus’s disciples, think how important it can be for us too. Because, yes, we could leave it all up to Jesus to do his work, but think how much more effective his work would be, if there were willing helpers preparing the way ahead for an encounter with the Messiah. People who God could use to spread and share the message of the kingdom. People appointed, set apart or commissioned for particular tasks.
The second issue is, that having selected the seventy-two, Jesus used the appointment to detail what was expected of them.
Interestingly, the seventy-two were not given quotas on conversions, they weren’t told that their effectiveness would be measured by the number of people who attended the synagogue the following week. Indeed, they were warned that the opposite might be true because they were told what to do if they were made unwelcome. But what Jesus indicated to them was that they were expected to exercise their faith—to share what they believed with the people they went out of their way to meet. They were to use the spiritual gifts that they’d be given for the benefit of all. And the rest … Well the implication is that they were to leave the rest up to God.
As a consequence, that is true of us too. Because, if we have been commissioned, the expectation is about us exercising our faith—sharing what we believe. There should be no quotas, no pass or fail mark. Simply the need to share our faith and leave the rest up to God.
The third issue is that the appointment of the seventy-two did not come from a spiritual vacuum but followed a period of much training.
Now, I’ve often heard described of this passage that training was unnecessary and not provided. And a superficial reading of this passage might suggest that this was true. However, at the time of this incident, Jesus was near the end of his earthly ministry. He had been travelling around teaching, performing miracles, and his disciples had had a good opportunity to know what made him tick. And as Jesus began his final trip to Jerusalem the one thing you couldn’t say was that the seventy-two had received no training at all. Indeed, the seventy-two would have received much training. So, he used the appointment to give them their final instructions.
As a consequence, training is very important. It was for the disciples, and it is for us too.
And the fourth issue is, that Jesus provided a great deal of support for his workers.
Now that might seem an odd thing to say, particularly when he told the seventy-two not to take spare clothes, food, bedding or anything like that. But, yet, Jesus told them to go out in twos. No-one was asked to go out without the support of another, who was to be with them at all times. In addition, Jesus gave them the authority of God, and he gave them the authority to speak and to act in God’s name. Jesus also provided a home base—not only to come back to, but who would be ready to listen to all their stories too.
Support was very important. And it is very important with us too. Because wherever God’s authority is given, it is important for a good solid home base to come back to.
When we consider commissioning in the church, then, we have the model of the appointment and commissioning of the seventy-two disciples by Jesus to consider. It provides a model which identifies the need to specifically set apart people for specific tasks. It provides parameters (or expectations) under which people are expected to work. It provides appropriate training for the respective tasks. And most importantly it offers a support structure on which those commissioned can depend.
Commissioning is a very important aspect of church life. And when we do it, I can think of no better way than using the model given to us by Jesus himself.
Posted: 16th June 2018
© 2018, Brian A Curtis