Identity or Activity?
Updated: Jan 19, 2021
Activities come and go, but an identity is here to stay. I have often had trouble describing the change that has taken place in my life over the last few years. Many people attribute the change to an evangelism program at my church or some sort of disciple-making ministry that is difficult to categorize. Perhaps some have decided I have an unwarranted giddiness about some elementary gospel tools. But the change in my life cannot be reduced to participation in an activity or the learning of methods. Those are merely symptoms of a much deeper change. The deeper change extends to my heart and the core of my identity. It changes who I am and beckons me to come and die. When I invite people to join me in the harvest, discipleship, or training, my wish is not just that they would participate in a ministry or activity with me. My prayer is that God would grip their heart and change their identity. I desire that they would take ownership of the vision and the purpose for which God has given them breath: to testify to the gospel of the grace of God and pursue the expansion of his kingdom until there is no place left on this planet where the name of Jesus has not been heard.
This purpose will be accomplished when believers come together in unity to lay down their lives for the sake of Jesus and the gospel. Unfortunately, not every believer will attain to this. Statistically, most will not. But God is stirring up hearts! There is a certain kind of person, a “leader”, who will gladly come and die to live for a new identity and vision. Several of us were recently part of a study in which we examined characteristics to look for when identifying such leaders in God’s kingdom. These are not formal leaders with a job title or position – these are ordinary folks who join in the work of the Lord with a glad and sincere heart. Because of this, “leader” may even be used interchangeably with “laborer”. In the study, we looked at three distinct parameters: head, heart, and hands. What does a leader need to know (head)? What character or identity does a leader need to have (heart)? And what activities should a leader be actively participating in (hands)? We jumped into scripture and answered these questions as they applied to Jesus’s disciples, Paul’s leaders, Paul, and Jesus. We also listened to podcasts describing the development of leaders and laborers around the world today. In this six-week study, the most striking takeaway I had was that everything hinges on the heart. If the right heart and identity is not present, all efforts to pursue God’s kingdom will be a chasing after the wind.
Most of you who are reading this are familiar with the regular trainings we do to help believers get “off the ground” in the venture of making disciples. We train tools such as the 411, 3 Circles, Commands of Christ, and more. I frequently warn the group to be careful that they do not only walk away from training with a cool gospel tool. Even if you master it, you have missed the point of the training. This is because understanding and mastering a tool falls into the “head” category of the head, heart, and hands. You simply know the tools. Sadly, most people who attend a training leave with only the “head”. They learn some of the disciple-making tools but do not actively use them. The next most common person who attends a training is the one who learns the tools and then begins to put them into practice. They start showing up in the harvest or even training a few others. This is wonderful! But the problem is that it is still just an activity. To them it may be the “3 circles ministry” or the “harvest program” or the “evangelism training”. They participate and are supportive, but they never take ownership of the vision. The identity never quite forms, so the mission is relegated to an activity rather than a lifestyle. This is often the person who runs the race for a time but disappears when life gets busy or persecution comes. It must run deeper than an activity. The third type of person is the one who reforms their entire identity and lifestyle. The vision becomes their own and they consider the cause worth dying for. People like this tend to reorganize their lives around God’s heart for his kingdom. It transforms who they are, and the head and hands flow naturally out of a changed heart. In a training setting, we cannot control what happens with the heart. We can cast vision and spur you on, but the heart is a work of the Holy Spirit for which we must continually pray. It may already be there, or it may come as a result of having some methods and taking steps of obedience. Every bit of training we do addresses the head and the hands, but the real aim is the heart. We give you simple tools and an opportunity to put what you’ve learned into practice, but the hope is not that you’d join us in a ministry. The hope is that as you participate, the Lord will grip your heart. What sets the movement of “No Place Left” apart from any ministry or organization is this: Most ministries require that you come learn something and do something (head and hands). No Place Left is not that. It is not even a ministry or organization. It is God’s vision, and it requires that you step into an entirely new identity and lifestyle based on the principles of God’s kingdom found in his Word. It all comes back to the heart.
If someone has the right heart, the head and hands pieces are easy to impart. You do not have to convince them to realign their life or shift their identity. You simply get to help push them deeper into their identity by equipping them (head) and giving them opportunities to obey Jesus (hands). Someone claiming to have their heart and identity rooted in being a disciple-maker ought to demonstrate a growing pattern of missional activity over time. If they do not, it is quite evident that the heart or identity piece is not actually present. However, there are many who show a growing pattern of missional activity but never experience an identity shift. So how do you know whether your participation in God’s mission is merely an activity or if it has become your identity? Often only time will tell, but there are some key indicators to look for in yourself and in others. Keep in mind that the reason you might look for these indicators in others is not for the sake of judgment or a feeling of superiority. You look for these indicators in other people to help you identify leaders so you may steward your time well with the right people. There is no definitive list, but below are several indicators of the contrast between “activity” and “identity” to help you diagnose where you and your leaders may be. If there are others you can think of, I’d love to hear them!
Activity: There is no clear vision or end goal. Identity: You have a big vision or are pursuing an end goal.
Activity: You participate for a time but fall off when life gets busy or persecution comes. Identity: You prioritize God’s mission even when life is busy, and you endure persecution.
Activity: You stop when your Christian peers stop. Identity: You keep going even when your Christian peers do not.
Activity: Your calendar is dictated by something other than God’s mission. Identity: Your calendar is dictated by working in God’s kingdom.
Activity: The tools or methods are the revolutionary part. Identity: You have an obsession with something much deeper than a gospel tool.
Activity: Another program comes along, and you jump to it instead of the mission. Identity: Your missional involvement goes far beyond involvement in a program.
Activity: You say things like, “I’m glad we are doing this. I remember we used to do things like this years ago.” Identity: You never stopped doing things like this because it’s who you are. You are drawn to something more than reviving an old ministry activity.
Activity: COVID stops you from being able to go in the harvest, so you stop making disciples altogether. Identity: COVID stops you from being able to go in the harvest, so you find creative ways to keep making disciples.
Activity: You train others but are not a practitioner yourself. Identity: You model exactly what you train.
Activity: You don’t see any fruit, so you stop trying. Identity: You don’t see any fruit, so you fast and pray and persevere.
Activity: You reject invites to dive deeper because you have “already been through the training”. Identity: You are always a learner who seeks to dive deeper into a “kingdom lifestyle”.
Activity: Your thoughts are consumed by the day-to-day life things. Identity: Your thoughts are consumed by God’s vision and mission.
Activity: Your life decisions are not based on making disciples. Identity: Every decision is made based on what will make you most effective for the mission.
Activity: You aren’t willing to die or sacrifice your ordinary life. Identity: Unsatisfied with the status quo, you happily sacrifice your ordinary life for the lifestyle of making disciples.
Jesus implores people to take up their cross and die for his sake and for the sake of the gospel. He calls people to follow him and experience an identity change, not just to participate. Jesus’s disciples had a heart change which led to them learning from Jesus and doing what he taught them. Those who were unwilling to die and take on a new identity got turned away because Jesus can see the heart. It was the one who needed to say bye to his family – he put his hand to the plow and looked back. It was the one who would not sell everything he had – he had placed his value in worldly things. These people may have been great candidates to participate in an activity, but they were not who Jesus was looking for because they were unwilling to abandon their own lives.
True life is found in coming and dying. I beg you to come and die. Give up your ordinary life, and don’t just participate. Allow your heart to be gripped, and never look back. Isn’t he worthy?
“They triumphed over him by the blood of the Lamb and by the word of their testimony; they did not love their lives so much as to shrink from death.” Revelation 12:11