Upstream co-founders Larry McCrary and Caleb Crider are living in very different places: for Larry, Madrid, Spain; for Caleb, Richmond, Virginia. Along with their families, they’re not just teaching Tradecraft missionary skills, they’re also applying them. So we wanted to tap into their unique experiences and at the same time parallel their local and global perspectives. So “Adventures with Larry and Caleb” will be an ongoing series throughout the year where we ask them one mission-related question at a time. Here’s the question for this week:
Is ‘Person of Peace’ Really a Thing?
There has been quite a bit written up about the ‘Person of Peace’. I have found it to be an important part of mission strategy. When I was church-planting in the states during the 90’s, my concern was establishing the best possible church service in our community. We worked hard to attract people to the church, which meant that many visitors commuted into the neighborhood for the services. However, during the 2000’s many church leaders saw the need to teach their people to live incarnationally by moving into the church’s neighborhood. That was great, but it begged the tough questions: “When you enter a community, what do you do?” “How do you get started?”
Though Luke 10 gives us some great insights about encountering peaceful people while on mission, I’ve been a bit hesitant to overdo the “model”. I do not want to make finding a person of peace like an Easter egg hunt. I think what I am learning about the person of peace is that it does not always happen as a divine appointment while I’m out only looking for them. Sure, it can definitely be a point-in-time encounter. I have seen this take place, and it always reminds me of the urgency of solely going out to share the gospel. Caleb Crider calls these perpendicular or “traditional pathways” (Tradecraft, 30).
But more often than not, life is naturally conducive toward parallel or “alternative pathways” (Tradecraft, 30). This is more of a lifestyle, including ongoing intentionality in the normal rhythms of my neighborhood and city. It seems the more I incarnate myself, the more I encounter peaceful, welcoming people with whom I can establish relationships that lead to gospel witness.
I really like something that I heard recently from Steve Smith, one of the authors of T4T: A Discipleship Re-Revolution. He says that searching for the person of peace requires thinking in three levels:
An incarnational presence in the place where you are engaging.
An active observance of God’s powerful work already occurring among the people.
An intentional commitment to those who show signs of receptivity to gospel proclamation.
Embodying these ways of thinking helps me remain expectant that I will encounter peaceful people in my context, and that the gospel will flow through them to their family, friends, and friends’ friends.
The concept of the “Person of Peace” is found in Luke 10, when Jesus gives instructions to His disciples as He sends them out on a short-term mission trip. The idea, also alluded to in Matthew 10, is that God has prepared someone to welcome His ambassador wherever he is sent.
The trouble with the Person of Peace concept is that talking about it makes it sound more like an actual thing than Jesus probably meant for it to be. Many who have heard about the Person of Peace begin to profile this person, as if the key to our mission strategy is to go hunt him (or her) down in order to begin the work of sharing the gospel and making disciples.
But Jesus wasn’t dictating a missions strategy, He was simply giving these 70 disciples instructions for how they would recognize that they were on the right track. “Whatever house you enter,” Jesus said in Luke 10:5, “first say ‘Peace to this household.” Notice that Jesus doesn’t tell the sent-ones how to decide what house to enter. He doesn’t speak to how they should choose where to go or how they should represent themselves once they got there. The point wasn’t to find a Person of Peace, it was that the disciples weren’t going into some uncharted territory. The Lord who went with them had also gone before them.
As sent-ones go on their way, they should not forget that God is at work in the places they go. There’s a spiritual element to our journey that Jesus describes as our peace “resting” (v.6) on those He has prepared to receive us. God shows that we can depend on Him as we engage in His mission by making sure someone is prepared to welcome us.
In my own life and ministry, I have seen this play out multiple times. Ever the outsider, I have been welcomed by local people who really don’t have a good reason to be so kind to me. But these people have helped explain local language, culture, and customs to me. They have introduced me to their friends and acquaintances and provided opportunities for me to make connections, build relationships, and share the gospel. God has taken care of me by paving my way with people that he has supernaturally prepared ahead of my arrival.
Is the Person of Peace a good way for us to think about our reception among unreached people? I think it can be. But this is clear, God does not send us alone. He goes ahead of us so that we will have someone to proclaim the good news to. He goes with us so that we have the grace to share it faithfully. He stays behind long after we’re gone, because in the end, it’s His mission, not ours, to redeem the peoples of the earth to Himself.