You may remember that craze from the 90s, fuelled by the merchandising opportunities spotted by enterprising Christian marketers: What Would Jesus Do?
It was on wristbands, t-shirts, mugs. You could probably even get a tattoo.
It's a helpful question in lots of ways, but I’ve adopted a slightly different verb in recent years and found it to be much more helpful in many contexts. (More of that soon).
But first a profound revelation!
“It’s all about Jesus – the rest is just footnotes.”
This is a phrase I’ve found myself saying often recently – I don’t know whether I coined it (unlikely) but I can’t remember hearing it from anyone else first. But in essence this distils the learning of the last 20 years of walking with Jesus in the context of full time paid Christian ministry.
When we first become a Christian we know that we need Jesus. We’re full of joy about what He has done for us. The gospel is good news of great joy!
But as we continue as a Christian, the more we realise the depth of our sin, and the revel in the wonder and breadth of His grace. And the more we come to understand the otherwise puzzling phrase of Paul – “for me to live is Christ and to die is gain.” (Phil 1:21)
We don’t move on from the gospel – but we grow in our understanding and application of it. To my mind that ends the otherwise interminable debates I used to have with a former colleague about which should have priority – evangelism or discipleship. As Glen Scrivener brilliantly captured it – “Evangelism is discipling non-believers; discipleship is evangelising believers” – that is in both cases we are applying the gospel to people’s lives but with a slightly different focus in each case.
But one thing I’ve noticed recently, especially as I have been more involved in encouraging and coaching leaders, is that though we ‘know’ this, we often forget to apply it to ourselves. Which takes us back to my new verb.
Let me paint a hypothetical conversation.
I’m talking to a church leader, and they share with me some intractable pastoral problem. They’ve made a few missteps on the way and now they’re wondering how on earth to move forward. When we’ve explored the problem in a bit of detail I will often say something like this:
“Imagine Jesus were (physically) with us right now, sitting on the sofa next to you. What would Jesus say to you.”
Boom. There’s the verb you were waiting for. But the power of this question is it personalises Jesus’ involvement in your situation. It forces you to look at Him, and see Him looking back at you with love and compassion. It reminds you that He has not forgotten you or forsaken you. And that His grace is sufficient both for any mistakes you might have made in the past, and for any challenges you face in the future.
Nine times out of ten the church leader then begins applying the gospel to their heart and situation in a wonderful and profound way as the Spirit does His work. (This, by the way, is one of my favourite things about gospel coaching, that you get to sit in and watch this process happen as you simply try to ask some helpful and direct questions.)
So I offer it up to you as a question to ask yourself when you’re feeling discouraged or challenged in your life and ministry. WWJS? What would Jesus say if He were having a cup of tea with you right now? You probably know the answer – so listen…
1. I know He is always with us by His Spirit.