Archive for Missional Christianity
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.
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.
“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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
Graduation season has reminded me of how much fun I had during my senior year of high school. I had more than enough credits to graduate and had one block to fill. A friend of mine and I decided we should volunteer the last hour of the school day as office aides. (It wasn’t like they would let us sign out early to go home.)
Working as a seventh period office aide was a lot of fun, but it carried a little more responsibility than I imagined. Todd and I began our work each day by walking to all of the classrooms and collecting the attendance slips affixed to the door of the room. We were sent to the bank to make the daily lunch money deposit. We were sent to the post office to deliver the school’s outgoing mail. If phone messages came in for students from their parents, we delivered those as well.
Todd and I did all of these activities on a routine basis and were never questioned as to why we were freely roaming the halls or driving off and on to the campus. The reason we were never questioned was because we were sent by a higher authority, namely our school principal. I learned that year that when you are sent by a higher authority you don’t have to look over your shoulder to see if anyone is judging you or evaluating you. I learned that as long as I was pleasing my higher authority I didn’t need to dwell on the opinions of lesser ones.
This simple story is a good illustration of how we should perceive our sentness into the world. In John 20:21, Jesus said to his disciples, “As the Father has sent me, so send I you.” This week I want to point our some aspects of how Jesus was sent by the Father into the world and how His sentness informs our mission on earth today.
Last Wednesday night I spoke to the InterVarsity students at Drake University. Drake IV invited the students from Central College to come over, so we ended up having a nice sized group. Since I didn’t have an assigned topic, I chose to speak about Todd Packer. Unless you watch The Office, you’ll not know who Todd Packer is. Todd Packer is a role character that drops in on the plot from time to time. Packer can only be described by words like crude, unseemly, inappropriate, vile, profane, and irreverent. In his first appearance Todd Packer is introduced as a long time friend of Michael Scott. Packer had been on the road doing sales for Dunder-Mifflin Paper Company, but was ready to settle down and work out of the Scranton office. Michael manipulates the system to get Packer hired, and instantly he upsets the delicate balance of an already fragile office with his antics and crude behavior. When the office employees begin to voice their complaints about Packer, Michael Scott agrees that Packer has to settle down. So Michael pulls Packer aside for a heart to heart talk that goes something like this: “Todd, you’ve been an outdoor cat for a long time. Now you have to be an indoor cat.”
What Michael was saying was that Packer had to comply with the standards and norms of the office if he intended to work there. Todd Packer, however, could not be domesticated. This, in part, is what troubles the church in America. We reach out to people, inviting them to Christ, then engage them in some form of discipleship process. Many times all this does is domesticate the faith of people so they can live like “indoor cats.”
That was Jesus’ problem. Jesus refused to be domesticated. He spent disproportionate amounts of time with the marginalized and neglected in his first century world compared to the few recorded instances that He spent at “church.” He lived as an outdoor cat among outdoor cats, an act for which He would eventually be killed by the indoor cats. Undomesticated cats, after all, are disturbing forces wherever they are. Jesus was certainly no exception.
The larger conversation for me leads back to the missional church. The missional church is passionate about being God’s plan for an undomesticated world. It invites believers to live among the undomesticated, meeting them at their point of need. It’s not about gathering, its about sending.
Following my talk last Wednesday one offended student approached me to defend the practices of her church. I did not discount all of the processes she described nor did I criticize those of the congregation who faithfully ran the bases for Jesus. The missional church is not about processes, its about intended outcomes. If the goal is to gather and get bigger, its not the missional church. But if the goal is to develop and release people to be the presence of Christ in the reality of a 24/7 world, then we’re on to something. At the end of the day we’re either seeking to make people like Christ or we’re seeking to make them like us. And if the goal is to make them like Christ, the outcome is unavoidable. They will live as disturbing forces for God and for good beyond the walls of the church building.
The latest issue of Leadership Journal is devoted to articles and interviews on how social activism introduces people to Jesus. Drew Dyck offers an appropriate editorial opening to the volume, suggesting that the Church once again needs to revisit the conversation that historically has polarized the gospel and social ministry.
Dyck reminds his readers that for some time the Church has failed to find its balance between the two. In my own experience, I’ve witnessed both extremes. One one hand there is the deep commitment to make sure that the “gospel” of Jesus is clearly presented to those in the community. By gospel presentation, of course, I mean the message of the cross and resurrection is preached in a manner that leads the hearer to respond in faith through a commitment, usually made in a prayer for salvation. Hardline evangelicals have sought to reverence the Great Commission so stringently that they have omitted the physical needs of those in the community.
On the other hand is the equally deep commitment to meet the social and physical needs of people in the community. Food for the hungry, clothing for the naked, shelter for the homeless, et al, is their understanding of the gospel. Jesus modeled this, of course, and furthermore extended harsh words of judgment toward those who neglect the pleas of those trapped in cycles of poverty. “Unto the least of these” rings in the ears of those who are passionate about social justice. As far as salvation of souls is concerned, that is God’s job to deal with, being the ultimate and final judge.
For decades the American church has failed to find balance. Hardline evangelicals are becoming more aware of the necessity to respond to human need. And it appears that many who have been committed to social activism are becoming sensitive to the need to share more than cups of cold water.
What is the problem? I think both sides of the spectrum to some degree suffer from the same problem. We have forgotten who its about.
By that I mean that we have made the gospel and the social imperative about ourselves more than about Jesus or those in need. On one hand we have passionate evangelists, who feel as though they are unfulfilled unless they have some tangible marker that they can use to justify their ministry. These markers are things such as conversions, baptisms, and attendance increases. Unless there is statistical data to support their behavior and expenditures, it is counted as loss. One of my first ministry responsibilities was Recreation Ministry. We organized sports teams for all ages, many of which were very successful. These teams provided an opportunity for people in our church to invite unchurched people to take a step toward Christ. When I commented to one pastor about one particular successful season, he responded by saying, “I see your trophies, but where are your souls?”
But its not just the evangelists who suffer from myopia. Those who engage the social mandate can equally make their endeavors about themselves. When my former church began to do work on a Native American reservation, one of the first things we discovered was how insensitive many had been who had visited them. “They come in and do some things so they can go home and feel good about themselves,” they said. “They bring us worn out, used broken stuff they don’t want and then leave so they can go home and tell everyone what they did.” We learned that true compassion returns time and time again to the same places and people. Every mission trip I’ve taken, whether it be in America or internationally concludes the same way: “Will you come back?”
I’m not advocating that you or your church make a choice. It’s not either/or. It’s both /and. How can we fearlessly share the gospel AND demonstrate radical compassion? The answer may determine the future of the next generation of the church.
Every day we make difficult decisions that involve trusting others with the things and the people we value the most. We select banks based on our trust that our deposits will be secure. We select preschools and daycare centers that we trust will keep our children as safe as possible. We select doctors and medical professionals based on our trust that they will thoroughly care for our physical health and accurately detect, diagnose and treat any issues as early as possible.
The apostle Paul gave Timothy a process for developing emerging leaders. From 2 Timothy 2:1-2, he had already suggested that Timothy be strong in and through the grace of Christ; that he maintain the disposition of a learner; and that he make wise investments in reliable people who would take the “deposit” and pass it along to the next generation. Timothy was strongly admonished to make wise selections concerning who he was to develop as future leaders. So how does one go about qualifying those who can be developed as leaders?
The next four verses of 2 Timothy 2 provide three metaphors that help Timothy’s then and now discern future leaders who need to be developed.
1. Allegiance to Christ
“Share in suffering as a good soldier of Christ Jesus. To please the recruiter, no one serving as a soldier gets entangled in the everyday concerns of life” (2 Timothy 2:3-4, HCSB)
By the time Paul wrote this letter he had spent ample time chained to soldiers in prison cells. He would have been familiar with what soldiers did and how they functioned. The word “entangled” in verse four literally means, “looking back.” It refers to one who is unable to focus or concentrate because they are easily distracted. Paul uses the metaphor of the soldier’s allegiance to describe the kind of allegiance Timothy should look for in a potential leader. Timothy was to base his selection upon this single minded allegiance.
Being crystal clear on matters of allegiance is important because your allegiance to Christ will always be challenged by all other allegiances. Jesus spoke of this often, reminding his disciples with sayings such as “No one who puts their hand to the plow and looks back is worthy of my Kingdom” and “let the dead bury the dead.” When evaluating potential leaders, question one evaluates their allegiance to Christ.
2. Faithfulness in Preparation and Performance
“Also, if anyone competes as an athlete, he is not crowned unless he competes according to the rules” (2 Timothy 2:5, HCSB).
Paul is probably referring to the Isthmian Games, a first century forerunner to our modern day Olympic Games. Those who competed were required to commit to a strict training regiment of 10 months, followed by the actual competition. There were rules that governed preparation for the games and rules that governed participation in the games. Each competitor was expected to play by all of the rules all of the time and to not take any shortcuts. Preparation was as valued as the competition itself.
Every potential leader needs to have allegiance to Christ that is beyond question. But each potential leader also needs to have a reputation for being faithful in all things, whether it is their private preparation or their public participation in ministry. Like many things in life, there are no shortcuts on the path to spiritual leadership.
3. An Outstanding Work Ethic
“It is the hardworking farmer who ought to be the first to get a share of the crops” (2 Timothy 2:6, HCSB).
Paul’s final metaphor is the hard working farmer. If you grew up on a farm or worked on a farm you know from experience that farming is hard work. Not only is it hard work, it is hard work without immediate gratification. Whether its corn or cows, farmers continually work hard in anticipation of a later reward.
Timothy was to look for potential leaders who were willing to put some sweat equity into their development. They had to have a work ethic that was mixed with a generous dose of patience because in the economy of God’s kingdom both are required to change the world.
These three metaphors were given to Timothy to help him gain perspective on what “reliable” or “trustworthy” people looked like. I think its important that we learn something from these metaphors when we prepare to invest in potential leaders. I admit that these are pretty high standards. As a reader you may think that the expectations are a little too high. But let me close with a couple of questions about standards and expectations.
First, are you looking for spiritual leadership or someone to fill a position? If all you’re looking for someone to fill a position in a program or to sit on some committee, then your standards can be somewhat lessened I suppose. But is church really about completing an organizational chart? Is it really reduced to staffing programs? Or is the church something more?
Second, whose church is it anyway? Who really has established the standards and expectations? If it is the church of Jesus Christ, then He certainly has the right to establish high expectations and to set high standards. Sometimes I’m concerned that churches are afraid to set high expectations because we’re afraid that someone might become upset or even leave. But if Jesus is the head of the church, then church is worth doing. And if Jesus’ church is worth doing, its worth doing right. At the end of the day, someone in your community is counting on it.