Archive for Missional Church

Oct
01

The 7 Last Words of the Church

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Years ago I heard a speaker remark that the seven last words of the church were, “We’ve never done it this way before.” I thought it was catchy, and to be confessional I even used it a time or three. After nearly three decades in ministry I think I would modify the seven last words of the church to, “We have always done it this way.” Let me explain. In my experience I’ve not found churches to be unwilling to try new things or undertake new ventures. Many churches are willing to experiment, even with a measure of risk provided the resources are available. The real problem is the refusal to let go of the things that have been done year after year after year. I suspect that the resistance to dismount the dead horses is based on a congregational felt need to have consensus. New things are permissible as long as the historical elements of the of ministry are maintained. This keeps the peace and approximates unilateral happiness.

Unfortunately, our need for short term peace comes with a long term price. Over the long haul resources are depleted and exhausted. Churches become slower and less responsive to immediate opportunities. Governance is heightened to ensure that everyone is treated equally. And, increased governance usually means fewer people are available to do the actual work of ministry. It’s hard to recognize this because many families live the same dilemma day in and day out–overcommitted and underbudgeted because we cannot stop ourselves from adding more activity without eliminating present activity. So what can be done?

1. Revisit the mission of the church. Sometimes we get lost on maintaining the clink and clank of church machinery to the exclusion of our real purpose: making disciples. Why do we exist? The answer to that question is the single most important guideline for our practice of ministry.

2. Understand the difference between history and tradition. History speaks of recurrent events in time. Tradition is more about culture, environment and style. It is critical to know the difference! Churches that refuse to stop certain programs and practices usually do so in the name of “tradition.” But its not tradition they advocate…its history. History is predictable, safe, and inflexible. Tradition, on the other hand, is like a fence that outlines the boundaries of a field wherein lies freedom and flexibility.

3. Take a programming fast to evaluate. I recently read of a church that intentionally closed its doors for an extended period of time to become reaquainted with God and one another. When they came back together they learned that there were things they were holding on to that they could live without after all. It also gave them the chance to explore new possibilities unencumbered by the weight of their habitual practices.

4. Commit to simplicity. Bigger is not better, its just more.

5. Find your niche. The church growth movement advocated becoming all things to all people to reach as many people as possible. Just as people have spiritual gifts, I believe churches have spiritual gifts. Find your niche and invest your resources. Its better to specialize in one thing and do it better than anyone else than do six things with mediocrity. If some other church has an outstanding program be kingdom minded enough to affirm it and support it. Don’t try to compete.

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One of the blogs I follow is Tony Morgan Live. This week he posted some thought provoking comments about how healthy churches think about big events versus how unhealthy churches think about them. Check it out HERE.

I came across this dated piece last week. I don’t know the original author, but thought it was good and wanted to share it.

Now it came to pass that a group existed who called themselves fishermen. And lo, there were many fish in the waters all around. In fact, the whole area was surrounded by streams and lakes filled with fish. And the fish were hungry.

Week after week, month after month, and year after year, these, who called themselves fishermen, met in meetings and talked about their call to fish and how they might go about fishing. Year after year they carefully defined what fishing means, defended fishing as an occupation, and declared that fishing is always to be the primary task of fishermen.

Continually they searched for new and better methods of fishing and for new and better definitions of fishing. Further, they said “the fishing industry exists by fishing as fire exists by burning.” They loved slogans, such as “Fishing is the Task of Every Fisherman,” and “Every Fisherman is a Fisher.” They spent considerable time discussing new fishing equipment, fish bait and places to fish. This was done in nice buildings called “Fishing Headquarters.” The one thing they didn’t do, however, was fish.

They taught numerous training classes on the needs of fish, the nature of fish, how to approach fish, and how to feed fish. Those who went through the training were given nice “fishing licenses” to hand on their walls, but they never fished. They did, however, laud the founding fathers who did great fishing in the past and praised them for handing down the tradition of fishing.

After one inspirational meeting on “The Necessity of Fishing,” one young man actually went fishing. The next day he reported that he had caught two outstanding fish. He was honored for his excellent catch and scheduled to visit all the big meetings possible to tell how he did it. He became so busy he quit fishing so he would have time to tell about his experience.

Or course, there were those of were critical of the fishermen and the fact that though they claimed to be fishermen, they never actually fished. They were very hurt when someone actually said that those who don’t go fishing are not actually fishermen, no matter how much they claimed to be. And yet, can one be considered a fisherman if year after year he or she never catches a fish?

One of the blogs I’ve recently been following is Her.meneutics, a blog by Christian women hosted by Christianity Today. This recent post by Amy Simpson suggests some practical lessons that churches can take from the US Postal Service Crisis. Its a worthwhile read.

Jan
10

Our Identity

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You are coming to Christ, who is the living cornerstone of God’s temple. He was rejected by people, but he was chosen by God for great honor.
And you are living stones that God is building into his spiritual temple. What’s more, you are his holy priests. Through the mediation of Jesus Christ, you offer spiritual sacrifices that please God. As the Scriptures say,
“I am placing a cornerstone in Jerusalem,
chosen for great honor,
and anyone who trusts in him
will never be disgraced.”
Yes, you who trust him recognize the honor God has given him. But for those who reject him,
“The stone that the builders rejected
has now become the cornerstone.”
And, “He is the stone that makes people stumble,
the rock that makes them fall.”
They stumble because they do not obey God’s word, and so they meet the fate that was planned for them.
But you are not like that, for you are a chosen people. You are royal priests, a holy nation, God’s very own possession. As a result, you can show others the goodness of God, for he called you out of the darkness into his wonderful light.
“Once you had no identity as a people;
now you are God’s people.
Once you received no mercy;
now you have received God’s mercy.”
(1 Peter 2:4-10, NLT)

In the text cited above, Peter offers three tests to positively identify the Church.

1. Our relationship with Jesus Christ

Peter affirms that we are a chosen people. Peter looked at their status as children of God and immediately observed that they were related to God because of his divine initiative. Using the imagery of the Exodus, he observed they were once not a people but now a people belonging to God…once without mercy but now ones who received mercy. Like Peter’s audience, we too lacked identity and were not even a people. But because of God’s great mercy we are no longer nameless. We belong to God through Jesus Christ.

2. Our relationship to one another

Our personal relationship to Jesus Christ carries with it a corporate responsibility. We belong to Christ AND to one another. All of the language in the passage is plural. Vertically we are a people who belong to God yet at the same time horizontally we belong to one another. We are the people of God, not the persons of God.

Peter calls us living stones. When my family moved from Texas to Arkansas we quickly noticed the Ozark Native Stone used in much of the architecture. While it may not suit your personal taste it communicates a wonderful picture of the church. Each stone, with its individual distinctive, is placed among the other stones by mortar to be used for a greater good. Each stone is acknowledged and valued yet together become powerful.

The church is not about uniformity. A brick home illustrates uniformity. The church is about unity in the midst of diversity. Each one of us has come to Christ and his body with our own size, shape, and color. Set upon the foundation of Jesus Christ we are carefully placed within the wall. Our uniqueness can be honored and celebrated as we cherish the individual contributions to the whole.

Peter then leaves the metaphor from architecture and moves to a metaphor from the field of government. Using the language of citizenship he calls us a holy nation. As good citizens of God’s Kingdom we remain rightly related to the king and to our fellow countrymen.

3. Our relationship to the world

Peter affirms that each of us serves in the role of priest. Individually we have direct access to God. There is no mediator that we need apart from our great High Priest, Jesus Christ. Corporately we engage in worship and praise, inviting others to join us in worship of the living God.

We are to be renown for our relationship to God. The mission of the church is to make disciples of Jesus Christ. As his special possession, we come to the realization that any blessing we possess does not come for our personal consumption. We are blessed so that we might be a blessing to the world.

I spent my elementary years living in a small, county seat town in Northeast Missouri. One of the features of this typical hamlet was the town square. In the center of the town square stood the county court house. Then surrounding the courthouse were the four streets that boasted the best commerce and retail that our county had to offer. I can remember summer Saturday nights when our family would take a walk uptown and casually walk around the square. I can remember the big, plate glass windows of the merchants where they would place on display the very best merchandise they had to offer. They reason, of course, for the display window was to draw the customer off the streets and into the store. Our relationship to the world is not unlike those display windows. We are to display the glory of Christ and make our appeals based on his greatness, not our own.

What is our identity? We are the people of God.

Jun
18

Wait for the Promise:: 1

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Over the past several weeks I’ve been posting reflections from a sermon series I did titled, “The Seven NEXT Words of Christ.” Each sermon dealt with the first post resurrection statements made by the risen Lord. This week I’ll cover the final post resurrection saying, found in Luke 24:49.

“I am going to send you what my Father has promised; but stay in the city until you have been clothed with power from on high” (Luke 24:49, NIV).

Jesus seventh statement concerns the important role the Holy Spirit would play in the ongoing mission of the Christian movement. My Baptist tradition in general has been a little nervous around talk concerning the Holy Spirit. That kind of theology was central to the church down the street! But the Holy Spirit is central to the ongoing story of God’s redemptive plan. The Holy Spirit wasn’t invented at Pentecost. If you read the creation account of Genesis you’ll see the active work of the Spirit in the formation of the world. The Spirit is lurking in the shadows of the Old Testament narrative, appearing here and there supporting and undergirding the story of Israel.

A more prominent role is undertaken at the incarnation of Christ and continues as such in the Gospels. But its the book of Acts and the formation of the new community of the redeemed where the Holy Spirit takes a more visible posture. The giving of the Spirit at Pentecost comes simultaneously with the sending of the church into the world. The Acts of the Apostles are really the Acts of the Holy Spirit through the Apostles. As a result a movement was born and the world was transformed through the message of the Kingdom of God.

This week I want to express a few thoughts about the Holy Spirit and the Spirit’s work then and now. I hope you’ll check in this week each day.

Jun
05

It’s About Time!

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“The Spirit of the LORD is upon me,
for he has anointed me to bring Good News to the poor.
He has sent me to proclaim that captives will be released,
that the blind will see,
that the oppressed will be set free,
and that the time of the LORD’s favor has come.”
He rolled up the scroll, handed it back to the attendant, and sat down. All eyes in the synagogue looked at him intently. Then he began to speak to them. “The Scripture you’ve just heard has been fulfilled this very day!”
(Luke 4:18-21, NLT)

Imagine living in a world filled with oppression and injustice. Racial tension is high. People live paycheck to paycheck. There is no middle class…only the “haves” and “have nots.” Religion is reduced to dead ritual, dulled by the din of different gods and new, strange ones. International peace is non existent as people live under the constant threat of invasion. People are discouraged and despondent, largely without hope. Does that sound familiar? It’s not a description of today’s world; rather of one that existed 2,000 years ago. The first century was not an easy time to be alive. For many in that era it must have felt as if it couldn’t possibly get any worse. It was at that precise time that God intervened and stepped out of the splendor of heaven and into our mess as Jesus incarnate.

Jesus’ inaugural words are posted above as preserved in the Gospel of Luke. As Jesus began his three year ministry, he was, for all intents and purposes God’s megaphone that hope was near. Like the first century, we live in a time when life seems so overwhelming that it feels as though we can’t carry on. But that is concurrently the precise time that we are reminded that God is present and has something to say to his people and through his people. As God continues to speak, he speaks his message of love, grace, and forgiveness through his people, the church. Now, more than ever, the church of Jesus Christ needs to be attuned to the fact that we do not live in a vacuum. We live in the world for the sake of the world. We possess a responsibility to remind those who are neglected and marginalized that God still loves and cares for them and that they have not been forgotten or forsaken.

God not only has something to say, He has an agenda. When Jesus spoke he spoke of actions that would lead to specific outcomes. God’s agenda is that we proclaim a message of liberating grace to those who feel oppressed and enslaved in any and every sense.

I think Luke 4 is a timely reminder for 21st century Christians. As the presence of Christ we follow his agenda, expressing his encouraging presence to people in culture who live lives of quiet desperation. But knowing about our responsibility is not enough. We have to step into that responsibility as investors and stake holders, giving our all for a cause that is bigger than ourselves.

Each week in worship we pray the Lord’s Prayer. In part we ask for “Thy will be done on earth as it is in heaven.” It’s time to become the answer to our prayer.

Jun
01

Embracing Your Sentness:: 4

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Each of the four gospels and the book of Acts contain a version of the Great Commission. John articulated it in 20:21 by writing, “As the Father has sent me, so send I you.” This simple phrase goes a long way toward our understanding of what it means to be missional. From it we learn that our sentness is rooted in the divine sentness of Christ and it is modeled in the incarnation of Christ.

Today I want to peek over to Luke’s gospel and add two more closing thoughts on what it really means to go into the world. Luke 24:47-48 reads as follows, “It was also written that this message would be proclaimed in the authority of his name to all the nations, beginning in Jerusalem: There is forgiveness of sins for all who repent. You are witnesses to all these things.”

Our sentness is informed by the message of Christ, for as we go into the world we carry the message of repentance and forgiveness. It’s sad to see a great New Testament word like repent be high-jacked by narrow minded groups like Westboro Baptist Church. Repentance is a word that the Christian community needs to fight for and reclaim. If we can push past the negative connotation and get to the original intent, the word simply emphasizes the change of orientation of one’s life. Like making a U-Turn in your car. The message of Christ describes the availability of life transformation by reorienting one’s life from sin and self to God. Forgiveness is abundant through God’s grace and we are made “whole”. Luke’s message is this: the message of Christ is the message of Christ’s missional people. We don’t have to think up our own message. It has already been communicated.

All of this, of course, is resourced by the Holy Spirit. Just as we don’t produce our own message, we don’t go in our own strength. Luke 24:49 continues, “And now I will send the Holy Spirit, just as my Father promised. But stay here in the city until the Holy Spirit comes and fills you with power from heaven.” We are divinely resourced for the missional life by the Holy Spirit of God.

So what?

Each of us has to personalize this calling to live the missional Christian life. It’s not just the job of the professional clergy or the missionary. You have been sent, just as Jesus was sent. And as Jesus was sent into the world, you have been sent to a specific place in time. You are the presence of Christ wherever you are. So embrace your sentness and express it in your places and spaces.

May
31

Embracing Your Sentness:: 3

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Jesus not only came into the world with divine authority, He also came to the world as a model for what the missional life looks like. Think about the incarnation itself. The eternal, pre-existent Christ stepped out of the splendor of heaven, limited His glory, and became like us. During His brief time on earth, Jesus revealed God to us. His claim was, “If you’ve seen me, you’ve seen the Father” (John 14:7-11). He was the “icon” of God, revealing God to each of us. He helped us know who God is and what He is like.

Not only did Jesus reveal God, He also communicated God to us. John’s gospel account begins with this affirmation, “In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was God, and the Word was with God” (John 1:1). What is a “word,” other than a means of communication. Jesus was God’s megaphone to the world that He had and continues to have something to say to creation.

Finally, Jesus came expressing the nearness of God’s presence. One of the names of Jesus ascribed through his advent was Emmanuel, meaning “God is with us” (Matthew 1:23). He tangibly represented the presence of God in the world, and did so through his words and deeds.

So how does this inform our function as missional Christians? Quite simply, as we live our lives we reveal what God is like, communicate his word and his words, and serve as tangible reminders that God is near. Tomorrow I’ll finish up this week’s run with a couple of more thoughts on living the life as a missional Christian.

May
29

Embracing Your Sentness:: 2

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Back in my Arkansas days I had a church member who was a police officer. We spent a fair amount of time together working on a community project for at risk kids. One day following a planning luncheon I was taking him back to work, when suddenly we were passed by a car driving at a high rate of speed. The car was easily going 20 MPH over the speed limit, swerving back and forth while changing lanes.

The officer looked at me and said, “Catch that car.”

The adrenaline surged and I bagan to follow the instructions of the officer. I broke the speed limit, changed lanes erratically, and did my best to catch up with the speeder while trying to preserve my own life. The only thing that saved us was the red light at the intersection.

The officer looked at me and said, “Pull up beside that car.”

I pulled beside the car and rolled my window down and yelled at the driver to get his attention. The young man looked over and saw me and gestured aggressively. He did not see the officer. About that time, the officer leaned up and displayed his badge to the driver and his passenger, and strongly urged them to exercise prudence and caution while driving. Or something like that.

I was amazed at the 180 degree change of demeanor when they realized that the middle aged man in the Chevy Silverado was accompanied by a law enforcement officer. It was like someone flipped a switch.

The moral to this story is a simple one. Jesus came into the world under the divine directive of the heavenly Father. And in the same manner that He was sent, we are sent into the world to be the presence of Christ. We don’t go on our our initiative. We don’t go by our own design. We are sent by God to fulfill His mission on earth. Tomorrow I’ll continue this series with another thought about how we can better embrace our missional sentness into the world.