By Tim Harlow
I’m writing this from Israel. We brought a group here to walk where Jesus walked, pray where Jesus prayed, and get baptized where Jesus got baptized.
I did a cannonball.
A cannonball is when you jump into the water with your arms holding your knees tight against your chest. It makes a huge splash. I thought it would make a good video moment for our church as we are in the last months of a capital campaign we’ve called “Cannonball—All in and Making Waves.”
We borrowed the metaphor from our friends at Mountain Christian Church in Joppa, Maryland, as a way to challenge our people to a greater commitment of involvement and stewardship. The concept is that you can step into the water slowly and not make a splash. You can even dive into the water and not make a splash (a smaller splash actually earns a higher score in competitive diving). But if you really want to make a big impact on the world, you need to jump in and make a huge splash resulting in giant waves that will flow to the ends of the earth.
So I did a cannonball in the Jordan River. I meant no disrespect to the holy place. It seemed appropriate to me, like something Peter would do. We were also at Caesarea Philippi yesterday. It was incredible to repeat Peter’s Good Confession—the rock on which the church is built—at the place where he said it, and then head to the Jordan River to get baptized in the same day.
Peter was a “radical” disciple. Tradition has it that he was crucified upside down because he refused to be crucified like Jesus. All of the apostles became radical after the resurrection. They all did cannonballs, and the church grew like crazy.
I love the emphasis and call to discipleship happening in Christianity today. We all need to hear it; I become complacent so easily. Seriously, how can you be a disciple of Jesus and wade in? Jesus said, “No one who puts his hand to the plow . . . ,” “Unless you take up your cross . . . ,” etc.
Not All Cannonballers?
But lately I’ve been wondering: Does that mean everyone in the early church was a “cannonballer?” Were they all “radical?”
The disciples, after sitting at Jesus’ feet for three years, all should have been wave-makers. Add to that the immediate, massive outpouring of the Holy Spirit on Pentecost, and we can see there was a huge cannonball as the church began.
But think about the 3,000 people dunked in the very first baptism service of the very first church. Did they all go on to have the same kind of obvious, radical impact as the apostles who led them? Or did many of them have a different impact, like quiet ripples instead of huge waves?
Here’s the thing—God gave us all different gifts and different callings. “There are different kinds of service, but the same Lord. There are different kinds of working, but in all of them and in everyone it is the same God at work” (1 Corinthians 12:5, 6).
The problem with most humans is we think everyone should be passionate about what we’re passionate about. For me, it’s evangelism. I have good Scriptures, a phenomenal example from Jesus, and a heart that is truly broken for what happens to people who are far from God to back me up. So I do cannonballs, and I think everyone else ought to them as well. This is what ministers call “gift projection”—the tendency to project our gifts and priorities onto other believers. Larry Osborne describes this in his book, Accidental Pharisee.
Not one of the writers of the New Testament epistles exhorts his readers to head out to the mission field or to join Paul and Peter in planting churches. In fact, quite the opposite. Paul instructs the people in Corinth to bloom where they’re planted, and the people in Thessalonica to live a quiet life and mind their own business. Whatever it means to take up our cross and follow Jesus, these passages have to be included in the mix.
So, yes, I do cannonballs, because that’s my calling. But then again, I do them in the suburbs of Chicago in a big church. I’m blessed to live in a nice home, and I sent my kids to nice schools. It’s a splash, but a more comfortable splash.
On the other hand, one of my heroes in the faith is a guy we brought along on this trip to Israel, Keith, who has worked in inner-city Chicago for the past 30 years for little pay and less glory. He works with tough kids in gangs. In fact, we were going to baptize one of his young men at our church, but the guy couldn’t get in the water because he had an open wound from a gunshot. Keith can’t even tell you how many kids he’s buried. He does missional cannonballs. Sometimes I feel guilty that I’m not more missional like Keith. (So to relieve my guilt, I brought him to the Holy Land.)
But Keith would never complain about my doing relatively safe cannonballs in one end of the pool while he does scary ones in the other end. The church I lead supports him, and he wants us to continue so he can create a place where the kids with police-issued ankle monitors are glad to come to church when they get a half-day pass. Keith needs me to do my service, so he can do his.
We all need to develop a deeper connection with Jesus that calls us to greater discipleship and commitment. I just think we need to do it without feeling guilty about our individual callings. Otherwise, writes Anthony Bradley, we become “stressed and burnt out from the regular shaming and feelings of inadequacy if [we} happen to not be doing something unique and special.”1
What Is Our Season?
Even with a radical calling, there are seasons of our service and discipleship.
In her article “Suburbia Needs Jesus, Too,” Andrea Palpant Dilley tells how in her early 20s she was an activist for the homeless, the poor, and victims of social injustice. Then she got married, had kids, and was forced to rethink what it meant to follow Christ and serve humanity in the context of the suburbs.
My days are filled with activities that would make David Platt yawn with boredom; I change diapers. I wipe vomit off the kitchen floor. Most days, I’m lucky to get out of the house at all, and if I do, I’m usually taking my 10-month-old and 4-year-old to visit the elderly woman down the street. We take dog treats to her yippy dog, sit at her kitchen table eating pretzels, and ask about her arthritis.
From the outside, the life of mothers may look unremarkable, and yet I’ve come to believe—had to learn to believe, actually—that our mundane actions have profound purpose if we take a long view of both our own lives and the life of the world. We’re raising our kids and rearing up the next generation of leaders. That has to count for something, doesn’t it? Behind every history-making visionary is (or was) a mother wearing an apron, mopping up puke, and reading Curious George 10 times in succession at the behest of a half-dressed preschooler.2
I think that’s what Paul meant by “varieties of service.”
I know my mom was a great disciple of Jesus as she sold real estate to help support us and raised two kids who love Jesus, all the while playing the role of minister’s wife. I’m awfully glad she didn’t decide to run off to Uganda. She made a splash; it just might not have been as obvious.
Actually, as I think about it, part of the reason Keith can be missional with gang kids is because my mom wasn’t very radical. Because she raised me and I lead a suburban church with people and resources, Keith is able to use his gift and make his own waves. We all are needed.
Paul said the body is made up of many parts and “those parts of the body that seem to be weaker are indispensable” (1 Corinthians 12:22).
We all certainly need to be stronger disciples for Jesus. I need to be challenged, and I need to continue to challenge others to a deeper walk with Jesus. I just need to make sure I understand that there are varieties of service and varieties of seasons, and every believer won’t look like me.
I did a cannonball in the Jordan—but most people just got baptized.
Is that OK?
1Anthony Bradley, “The ‘New Legalism,’” WORLD, 4 May 2013, accessed at www.worldmag.com/2013/05/the_new_legalism/page1.
2Andrea Palpant Dilley, “Suburbia Needs Jesus, Too,” Christianity Today, May 2013, accessed at www.christianitytoday.com/women/2013/may/suburbia-needs-jesus-too.html.
Tim Harlow serves as senior pastor with Parkview Christian Church, Orland Park, Illinois.