Jesus sends his disciples ahead of him with the instruction to look out for the ‘person of peace’ (Luke 10). Contrary to popular belief, this is not an evangelistic strategy. It is a strategy for disciples who would make disciples who would be capable of making such disciples in turn. These are not the same thing. For many, the working definition of a person of peace is someone who isn’t a Christian but is open to you, and therefore open to being introduced to Jesus by you. But this doesn’t equate to what Jesus does in sending his disciples to those who were already within the ‘house’ of Israel, who already worshipped God and knew something we ought not dismiss about not only knowing about God – as God-fearing Gentiles did – but knowing God. For our context, a person of peace is someone who is open to you, specifically to you as a disciple, whether or not they already worship God as revealed in Jesus.
The church community I am currently a part of is composed of two neighbouring Anglican congregations, ‘inherited’ in their patterns and concerns, within which I have an oversight responsibility.
Within that (kind of) community there are (always going to be) a few people who are opposed to me, whether because they were especially close to my predecessor, or because I don’t fulfil their expectations and am unwilling to fulfil their demands, or because of a personality clash, or for whatever reason. Do I need to love them? Yes. I need to love them and pray for them, forgive them and bless them. But I ought not to focus my time and energy on them. If I do, I will end up railing against something – whether in hate or love – rather than making disciples.
Then, there will be others (most likely, the majority) who are indifferent to me, perhaps because they know that I am only passing-through and they will be here (out of commitment to place, or out of apathy) when I have gone. Do I need to love them? Sure! I need to nurture them in whatever way I am able. But I ought not to focus my time and energy on them. Indeed, this is a major tyranny of the inherited church belief-system, that as a member of the clergy I am there to be equally available to all. I call it a tyranny because this belief, so different from Jesus’ practice, has borne fruit of worn-out overseers and diminishing members of the Body of Christ. As a strategy, it fundamentally works against making disciples.
But Jesus sends us with instruction to seek out the person of peace. Someone who is open to us, who will welcome us, who will look for ways to bless us, to support us – the person of peace is God’s relational provision in any given context. This is the relationship that I need to focus on – and in so doing, other open-to-me relationships will be opened up, for the person of peace is the door-keeper into community.
A person of peace is not someone who looks just like me, who shares my interests. A person of peace is not a yes-man, not someone who will become a clone, like me but lacking my original spark, or any original spark of their own. The person of peace is, rightly, a demonstration of unity in diversity. And while we are all called to live in harmony, the person of peace is a vital ingredient in the recipe for that to be worked out in practice.
There is, potentially, a person of peace in every ‘village’ I go to, every little community: in my church; among the staff at the local convenience store, the local cafes; at the sports club. Potentially; but not necessarily – in which case, after genuine searching proves fruitless, move on again (frequent another social space). Some of them know Jesus already. Some of those haven’t previously thought in terms of following him, or even considered the possibility; others have, but haven’t really known how to go about that. Some of them don’t know Jesus yet. Does it matter? I don’t think so. That is, I want to see people follow Jesus, want to help them follow Jesus; but my person of peace is a person of peace wherever they are in relation to Jesus, because it has to do with what Jesus, by his Spirit, is up to in their life regardless.
If I want to build a team, I look for the person of peace. If I don’t find one, that is one way of discerning that the task or the timing might be mine but not God’s. Likewise, if I enter into a new context, I look for the person of peace; and I will prioritise being with that person over being with other people, because by being with that person I am placing myself in the centre of what God wants me to do. And there, I watch and listen, for opportunity to introduce earth to heaven.
One more thing: this means that, as well as being a disciple, I am (at least potentially) the person of peace through whom God might bless another disciple and introduce them – and thus what they have learned from Jesus, and what he might want to do through them rather than directly through me – to the community in which I live...