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Shadow Mission

Embarking Blog

...on the journey towards restoration of all things

Shadow Mission

Tom Elenbaas

Several years ago, John Ortberg – pastor at Menlo.Church – delivered a powerful message about “shadow missions” at the Willow Creek Leadership Summit. The shadow mission is the allure of centering our lives around something that is unworthy, selfish, or dark—a shadow mission. Ultimately, the shadow mission is derivative of the shadow side of our character or personality (which I wrote about in my last post). Teaching from the biblical story of Esther, Ortberg told the story of Xerxes and of his inevitable fall from power because of his inability to see his potential in favor of giving in to his shadow mission. There is always a mission – a good, meaningful mission – and there is always a shadow – an unworthy, selfish, or dark pursuit. (You can read about overcoming your shadow mission from Ortberg here.)

You see, God has a mission for each of us, and that mission is directly derived from who he has created us to be and where he has placed us in his world. God has uniquely called and equipped each of us to participate with him in the mission of our lives, quite literally. The shadow mission is an aberration of the true call on our lives. Cornelius Plantinga, in his book Not the Way It's Supposed To Be: a breviary of sin has helped me to understand sin, evil, and the "dark side" as a "privation of good." The shadow is never something in itself, but a castoff, flat, colorless version of the real thing. Evil is not creative... it is destructive. Evil is, for Plantinga - who echoes CS Lewis (particularly his illustration of hell as a bleak, grey, listless world - a world "devoid - in The Great Divorce) - the dark side that takes goodness and wholeness (shalom) and twists it, turns it, or pollutes it. An encouraging comment is twisted into a passive aggressive dig. Something meant for a noble end is turned to a selfish end. A sweet relationship is polluted with infidelity. In other words, sin, or evil in itself is neither creative, nor productive, nor generative, but instead is ultimately parasitic and destructive of the good, noble, and beautiful. 

Likewise, a shadow mission. When a person gives in to his shadow mission - as a friend of mine says - he uses his power for evil rather than good. Skills, abilities, blessings, resources, relationships are all twisted, turned, or polluted. They become aberrations of their original intended purpose. Sacrifice is twisted for self-promotion. Love turns and becomes self-fulfillment. Compassion is polluted by pity. 

Living, leading, and loving well requires confronting our propensity to give in to the twisting, turning, polluting potential shadow missions, turning away from their allure, and choosing the path lit by the good, virtuous, and pure. Sounds easy, but we all know it isn't and takes a daily diligence and consistent vigilance. You can do it. I can do it. And the One who helps us take the right path not only beckons us, but gives us the strength to do so as well. 


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