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Archive for Missional Church


Embracing Your Sentness:: 1

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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.


The Domesticated Church

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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.


Winning on Purpose

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One of the books on my summer reading list was Winning on Purpose by John Edmund Kaiser. Kaiser has spent his ministry career as a pastor, denominational executive, and church health consultant. His book is the product of his discoveries about how churches can transition from maintenance models to more productive missional models.

Using a clever sports analogy, Kaiser presents four critical questions that every congregation needs to ask: Do We Really Want to Win? Do We Understand the Game? Do We Know What Position to Play? and Do We Have the Right Equipment?

In part one, Kaiser suggests that in order for congregations to “win” they have to understand their purpose. This includes understanding the object of the game, knowing the rules of the game, and knowing how to keep score. These basic principles will help congregations stop defeating themselves and free them to function as Christ intended.

Part two focuses on the three basics that make a game worth playing. According to the author, the object of the game defines the responsibility of Christ in relationship to his disciples. It is Christ who provides the mission of the Church and the divine resources to accomplish that mission. Clarifying Christ’s relationship to the church is a liberating step and prevents churches from assuming responsibility for things she is not. The rules of the game create authority. Kaiser wisely points out that boundaries inform the church what is not right but creates a field of fair play where there is liberty. Good rules are not merely prohibitions, they serve to foster creativity and freedom. Accountability is the means by which the church keeps score. This section was particularly helpful because the writer helped clarify the difference between scoring goals and winning the game. Many of our church’s goals focus on padding statistics rather than winning the game. While scoring points is good, scoring is not the object. Scoring is the means to a larger end: winning. I believe that this distinction alone could revolutionize the way pastors, staff members, and churches think about goal setting.

Part three was also helpful. In this section, Kaiser clarified the four positions that are played within winning congregations. He did so as follows:
The Board Plays Governance
The Pastor Plays Leadership
The Staff Plays Management
The Congregation Plays Ministry.
While these chapters were clear and simple, pastors of churches that maintain a congregational form of polity may find them to be frustrating. In traditional Baptist churches, pastors face multiple committees that play governance. In addition, each month (or quarter, as the case may be) the congregation comes together to provide even more governance. These structures may be designed for support but quickly can be reduced to a culture of permission giving. Congregational churches as a whole need to evaluate their structure with the basic question, “Are we supporting? Or are we permission giving?” Supporting the ministry and the ministers is a function of management while the permission giving culture is the function of governance.

The fourth and final section is more technical, advancing the analogy even further to discuss the role of organizational documents, the church calendar, and denominational affiliations.

Overall this has been a good book. It’s written simply and clearly, and while it may not provide any new truth to an experienced pastor it certainly receives high marks for providing a different way to think about doing church. I’ve already highlighted the two most helpful sections. If I were to offer any constructive criticism it would be that at times the book comes across as more prescriptive than descriptive. But that’s a minor offering.

This book would be best used for training church leadership and membership about the organization and function of the congregation. The simplicity and clarity of this book will foster valuable conversations that cannot but help propel the church forward and to win on purpose.


Finding Potential Leaders

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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.

I think its unfortunate that many churches have turned to business models to find the “best practices” for developing leaders. I’m not against business or the practice of business. But I firmly believe that when church leaders start adopting business models instead of biblical models they become misguided and off point. If our churches are going to become serious about developing leaders for the next generation the beginning point is the New Testament. One such enlightening passage is found in 2 Timothy 2:1-6. Today I want to deal with the key elements for developing leaders and tomorrow I’ll post Paul’s words on the kind of people to pursue as potential leaders.

“You, therefore, my child, be strong in the grace that is in Christ Jesus. And what you have heard from me in the presence of many witnesses, commit to faithful men who will be able to teach others also” (2 Timothy 2:1-2, HCSB).

The first thing Paul told Timothy is that leadership development is the work of God’s grace. Some translations like the HCSB read “be strong IN the grace” of Christ, and others like the NLT have “be strong THROUGH the grace” of Christ. Which is right? Technically, either translation is viable and acceptable. I personally think that its both. Grace is the environment of all of God’s good work. And, grace is the means by which we do all of God’s good work. This subtle reminder eschews all external models that are applied to churches and church leadership. The church is to be as dependent upon God for its work of developing leaders for the next generation as it is for fulfilling the great commission. Leadership development begins when we recognize our humble dependence upon God’s grace.

Next, Paul told Timothy the be a student. I believe the best teachers are first and foremost learners. When I was in seminary I was blessed to be associated with some outstanding professors, the best of whom stated that classroom teaching was what they had to do to support their research habit! The most engaging teachers are those who are engaged in learning. Timothy needed to realize that he had not arrived and that he couldn’t take people where he himself had not been. So Paul emphasized that Timothy remain teachable before he became concerned with the stuff that is transferrable.

How do you know if you’ve grown stagnant in your learning? I think the easiest way to identify stagnation is to see if you’re simply running the same play year in and year out. John Maxwell used to talk about the difference between growing leaders and stagnant leaders this way: you can either have ten years of ministry or one year of ministry ten times. If you desire to aspire to develop leaders in ministry, you have to begin with yourself and your commitment to learning.

The final element is to be a steward of what you’ve learned by investing that deposit into others who are trustworthy and reliable. In 2 Timothy Paul described the process like this:
Christ made a deposit in Paul;
Paul made a deposit in Timothy;
Timothy was to make a deposit in reliable people; and
Those reliable people were to pay it forward and pass the baton.
I know it sounds cheesy, but let’s be honest. We’re having this discussion today (2,000 years later) because Paul’s strategy worked.

So who do you trust with what you value? That’s the content of the next four verses that I’ll deal with tomorrow. Until then, be strong in grace; be a student; and be a steward of what has been entrusted to you.


Developing Leaders

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What is church supposed to be about anyway? That question has fostered everything from constructive dialogue to fistfights in church parking lots. An ocean of ink has been spilled on books published with the intent to provide “the” angle that resolves all debate and ends all discussion.

Some would say the purpose of the church is to care for the sheep. After all, the church is led by shepherds who are to feed and care for the flock. Others would say that the church exists to spread the gospel through evangelism. Jesus first words were “repent” and his last words were “go.” That translates into making converts for Jesus! Or was it disciples? You know what I mean. Then there is the group that suggests that the church needs to meet the needs of the poor and the disadvantaged. Feeding the poor, clothing the naked, providing shelter for those with no roof is what Jesus said the final judgment would consist of. Another group would say that the church exists to teach people the Scriptures. Strong Bible teaching and preaching is what the church should focus on. The church should produce people who know the Bible and how to defend the truth.

So which is it?

I think all of these suggestions are beneficial and contain some element of truth, but ultimately each one falls short of Jesus’ vision of the church. This weekend I spoke on this topic from 2 Timothy 2:1-6. In short, the New Testament advocates a church that develops and releases spiritual leaders who minister to those in need, are actively sharing their faith, who strive to seek justice in their communities and world, and who are able to feed themselves from the Bible and in turn, teach others.

To use a simple analogy, the church is not a hospital for sinners and saints. The church is more akin to a medical school that trains and equips doctors to be the presence of Christ. If we can get that distinction down, we can become the church as Jesus intended.


(Missional) Psalm 2

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“I will declare the LORD’S decree: He said to me, ‘You are My Son; today I have become your Father. Ask of Me, and I will make the nations your inheritance and the ends of the earth your possession. You will break them with a rod of iron; you will shatter them like pottery'” (Psalm 2:7-9, HCSB).

Notice how Yahweh calls the kings his sons! This reveals how closely tied God is to his mission on earth. The relationship between the Father and the king imparted power and privilege as well as responsibility to mediate justice and equity to the people of God and to lead them in the way of true faith. What was clearly evident with the kings of Israel was even more evident in the Messiah. But I believe that relationship extends to the people of God today as we operate in the Kingdom of God as “Kings and Priests” (1 Peter 2:1-10).

God promised the kings that the nations would be their inheritance. This reminds me of God’s promise to the patriarchs of Israel (Abram, Isaac, Jacob, et al) that whatever direction they looked or where ever they stepped their feet would be their new land. Like those patriarchs, we are to extend the rule of God where ever our feet step. We are the presence of Christ where ever we are! The commission of Jesus to the church was to take the gospel to the ends of the earth. He has delegated the authority to spread the rule of the Kingdom of God where ever and whenever.

But reaching out begins with reaching up in prayer. God said that we are to ask Him for the nations. We are to begin in prayer, asking God to expand our territory and grow our influence. I think there are a lot of good things being done in the name of missions. People are giving sacrificially. People are participating in short term mission trips around the world like never before. New organizations and networks are popping up all over the grid to help facilitate mission work far and wide. All of this should be heartily affirmed. But it all begins with prayer. We can do nothing more than pray until we have prayed. But once we have prayed, God releases us to the nations to extend and implement the Kingdom of God. So what are you waiting for? Ask.


(Missional) Psalm 2

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How does God respond to the “raging nations?” Continuing from yesterday’s post from Psalm 2, the Psalmist writes, “But the one who rules in heaven laughs. The Lord scoffs at them. Then in anger he rebukes them, terrifying them with his fierce fury. For the Lord declares, ‘I have placed my chosen king on the throne in Jerusalem,a on my holy mountain'” (Psalm 2:4-6, NLT). God is enthroned in heaven, but not at a distance. His enthronement represents his exaltation. There are no threats to his sovereign rule, neither is He unsettled by popular opinion. God is changeless and strong, and reigns from his throne whether we acknowledge it or not. Our faith does not enthrone God. He is God whether we acknowledge Him as such.

Years ago it was popular for preachers and teachers to rail upon the people of God about the need to defend God and to defend our faith. I realize that believers certainly need to be equipped to “be able to explain” their Christian hope to those who sincerely seek to understand it (1 Peter 3:15), but at the same time God is more than able to take care of himself! God is rightfully on His throne. The raging of the nations will not diminish that fact, and our assertations won’t further establish it either.


(Missional) Psalm 2

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Recently I did some work from Psalm 2 as a part of our church’s annual Global Missions Month emphasis. I felt led to speak one week on the role of prayer in the missionary enterprise, and came to Psalm 2. I was already familiar with verse 8, but what I found in the rest of the chapter was a huge blessing.

Psalm 2 is often quoted in the New Testament, both for its high claims for the person of God’s anointed and for its vision of the universal Kingdom of God. It clearly takes delight in God’s dominion here and now. It is the first of several coronation Psalms (aka Royal Psalms), which were compositions primarily concerned with the human kings of Judah who understood themselves to be uniquely authorized and empowered to rule as God’s own adopted sons. These coronation Psalms give some helpful insights as to how the kings of Israel understood themselves, their authority, their roles, and their expectations.

Like the other coronation hymns, Psalm 2 has layers of interpretation. In its most direct context, Psalm 2 speaks to the kings who were situated in Old Testament history. But there are also many allusions to the Messiah. What the human kings had been unable to do in Old Testament history, God would accomplish through the Messiah. Jesus, who would come in the future, would be fully empowered to usher in the Kingdom of God. But Jesus didn’t complete the work. He handed off the ongoing process of implementing and extending the Kingdom of God to the Church. So even though we are seperated by thousands of years, we can identify with Psalm 2 and see ourselves as the believing community of faith participating in the sentness described in this Old Testament text.

Psalm 2 begins with a cry of disbelief at the disbelief of the nations. “Why are the nations so angry? Why do they waste their time with futile plans? The kings of the earth prepare for battle; the rulers plot together against the Lord and against his anointed one. ‘Let us break their chains,’ they cry, ‘and free ourselves from slavery to God.'” (Psalm 2:1-3, NLT)

The nations are presented as ones who have gathered in international conspiracy against the God of the universe. In their resistence they demand freedom and autonomy from God, insisting on their rights to self rule. Notice the astonishment of the author! Why?! Why can’t the nations see the goodness of God? Why can’t they observe his blessed ones? Why do they refuse to acknowledge God’s rule? Why can’t they see their resistence is futile?

Sometimes we want to share in that same disbelief as we look at our own world today. We scratch our heads and are, at times, admittedly confused at the rejection of God. But careful reading of the text reveals that the Psalmist answers his own question.

I recently read an interview that was conducted by one of our box office heroes. In the interview, the gentleman discussed his conservative religious upbringing and his fidelity to the church and its beliefs. He then went on to say that as he matured he found Christianity to be too “constrictive,” citing, “When I broke away from faith, I discovered myself.”

What the Psalmist is saying makes total sense: Disbelief is not just the rejection of God’s rule, its exaltation of one’s own self rule. That is why the nations rage.