Shaped by Mission

Photo Credit: timtom.ch via Compfight cc

Photo Credit: timtom.ch via Compfight cc

Should the church shape the mission or should the mission shape the church? It sounds like a “chicken and egg” comparison, but if you are a Christian your answer will determine your trajectory as a disciple of Jesus.

Christopher Wright reminds us that, “It is not so much the case that God has a mission for his church in the world but that God has a church for his mission in the world. Mission was not made for the church; the church was made for mission–God’s mission” (The Mission of God, 62).

In other words, mission should define church. Church should not define mission. In The Forgotten Ways, Alan Hirsch puts it this way: “Christology determines missiology, and missiology determines ecclesiolgy…It is Jesus who determines the church’s mission in the world, and therefore our sense of purpose and mission comes from being sent by him into the world” (142). We must start with what we believe about Christ, which determines what we believe about our mission, which in turn should determine how we form and practice church.

Consider these words of Jesus about our mission:

“As the Father has sent me, even so I am sending you” (John 20:21).

Consider these words about Jesus and our mission:

“So Jesus also suffered outside the gate in order to sanctify the people through his own blood. Therefore let us go to him outside the camp and bear the reproach he endured” (Hebrews 13:12-13).

Not only should mission define church, it should shape church. Conventional churches conform the mission to the shape of the church. This looks like hosting evangelistic events and expecting the spiritually unconvinced to come, like that trunk or treat scheduled for later this month. It looks like encouraging (or shaming) church members to bring their unconvinced friends to the building, campus, or event. It looks like a visitation program that fits evangelism into the church schedule at the convenience of the church member with little consideration for the schedules or privacy of the one visited. It looks like a calendar so filled with campus-located activities that members never have margin to be around the people that Jesus went outside the gate to die for! This is a church-shaped mission.

What if we conformed church to the shape of the mission? This would be unconventional church. What if we looked at the culture and the context of the people we are trying to reach and tailor our mission to living among them – just like the missionaries we send overseas do? What if we stopped inviting people into our buildings and started inviting them into our lives? What if we started introducing them to the truth of Jesus on their turf instead of trying to get them onto ours?

What if, once they embraced the claims of Christ, we planted the church among them? What if this new church was shaped by an ongoing mission to reach deeper into their culture instead of ripping them out of their mission field and assimilating them into our programs? What if we stopped spiritually neutering new believers by busying them in our buildings instead of equipping them to bear fruit in their own communities?

What if we, in the words of the author of Hebrews, got outside the camp? That’s where Jesus is!

What if we, in the words of Jesus, lived as if we were sent by him into the world? That’s how he told us to live!

Here’s my confession: Lately I’ve let the conventional church encroach on my mission. No more. By God’s grace, I vow to let mission shape my view of church.

What would that look like for you?

We’re All Broken

One of my college pastors used to say we that we should treat everyone we meet as if they have a broken heart because they probably do. That statement has hit home lately as I have encountered lots of brokenness in the lives of those around me. This brokenness includes grief over the death of a parent, a young mom suffering with cancer, parents with a teenager in crisis, friends whose adoption process was short-circuited, a marriage in jeopardy, abuse, addiction, even suicide. And I think I’ve forgotten some.

Here’s the truth: It hurts.

Another truth: Brokenness is a common denominator. Some of these friends that I am thinking of are very far from God while others are some of the most mature Christ-followers I know. Brokenness touches everyone regardless of faith, class, race or tax bracket. And, do you want me to be honest? I’m broken, too.

We’re all broken. We may try to act like we have it all together, but each of us is damaged in some way. We live with the scars of wounds inflicted by our own choices and the choices of others. We live in a fallen world. We are fallen people. In the words of recording artist Lecrae, “We some broken people, came from broken homes, broken hearts inside of a broken soul.” Reality. [Read more…]

A Thought on Defending the Faith

I’ve been reading through 1 Peter in my devotional time lately. This little letter in the New Testament grips me because it addresses the early church as it is beginning to encounter the full-on assault of a hostile culture. The Holy Spirit, through the pen of Peter, is answering the question – “How should we live as Christ-followers when it seems like all elements of society are opposed to us?” At the time he was writing, persecution was becoming a reality for the early church, starting with social marginalization. These first-century Christians were facing job loss, neighborhood shunning, and even violent attacks because of their claim that Jesus Christ is Lord and a lifestyle that matches the courage of their convictions. Sound familiar?

Right in the middle of that context I discovered a verse that I am guilty of taking out of context. In fact, if you’re a Christ-follower who grew up in the youth groups of the 1970’s and 1980’s you probably have heard or used the verse out of context, too: “always being prepared to make a defense to anyone who asks you for a reason for the hope that is in you” (1 Peter 3:15 ESV). It is the “Apologetics” verse. Apologetics comes from the Greek work in that verse that we translate “defense.” Clearly the verse (really a part of a verse) is telling Christians that we have a duty to be able to give a verbal defense as to why we believe the things that we believe about Christ. During my crisis of faith in college, the Lord used books that were classified as apologetics books to help me really understand why I could trust the Bible and why the claims of Christ are true. I am grateful that in His providence and grace God directed me to such helpful material.

But when I read the bigger context of this call for apologetics, I get a bigger picture of what Peter is suggesting about defending the faith:

But even if you should suffer for righteousness’ sake, you will be blessed. Have no fear of them, nor be troubled, but in your hearts honor Christ the Lord as holy, always being prepared to make a defense to anyone who asks you for a reason for the hope that is in you; yet do it with gentleness and respect, having a good conscience, so that, when you are slandered, those who revile your good behavior in Christ may be put to shame. For it is better to suffer for doing good, if that should be God’s will, than for doing evil. (1 Peter 3:14-17 ESV) 

Do you see it? Peter is suggesting a posture that is far greater than just knowing facts about the reliability of the Bible or the different theories of Jesus’ death and resurrection. Peter is saying this: Your conduct is your greatest apologetic. When you suffer as a consequence of your faith, earn a hearing for what you believe by how you behave. This is sobering!

Recently, James Emery White said “Old school apologetics are out. New school apologetics are in.” As one in the old school his words caused me tension. Yet I believe he’s right. Too many times I’ve been more concerned about winning the argument about Jesus than winning the person to Jesus. As we face more opposition by the norms of culture and the laws of our governments, Christ-followers will have more opportunities to show the difference that being a disciple of Jesus makes in our lives. It’s what an increasingly non-religious world needs to see before they will want to hear.

As Christianity becomes the minority culture in America we will have more opportunities to defend our beliefs. We will do so by faithful conduct in the midst of opposition that an unbelieving world will find unbelievable. Now that’s really old school!

 

 

The Church’s Identity Issues

I have previously staked my claim that much of how we do church in North America has its roots in a Christendom mindset. If the modern church was born out of Christendom it has been raised in consumerism. In fact, I would press the point to say that churches and church models—even the most progressive—find their identity coming more from a Christendom and consumerism paradigm than a biblical paradigm. Biblical images of church have given way to images of church that are spawned from history or contemporary culture.

All plastic shopping carts.
Photo Credit: Polycart via Compfight

In A Light to the Nations, Michael Goheen offers nine images of the church that reflect the legacies of Christendom, the Enlightenment, and consumerism more so than the Bible. [Read more…]

Should We Do Church Differently? Cultural Factors

Many commentators on culture agree that the United States is quickly moving into a post-Christendom context. Tim Chester and Steve Timmis observe that in a Christendom context, “the assumption is that Christianity should have privileged status in the cultural and political discourse of the nation…But the reality of Christendom is fading fast, overtaken by secularism and pluralism” (Everyday Church, 19). In other words, Christians are finding themselves more and more on the margins of society. While this is the context in which we find ourselves, the dominant models for church, evangelism, and mission are reflective of a Christendom mindset. Consequently, even the most contemporary reflections of these standard models struggle to make disciples.

The Separation Of Church And State
Photo Credit: Ian Sane via Compfight

In On the Verge, Alan Hirsch and Dave Ferguson posit that even the most progressive forms of church found in North America will likely be acceptable to—at best—40% of the population. This may be a generous number. “The brute fact,” say Hirsch and Ferguson, “is that most of the evangelical church leaders who will read [their book] will be white, suburban, and middle class, and the equally stark reality is that within decades, Anglo-Saxon Americans will be in the minority in the U.S.—yet our churches don’t seem to be responding to this reality” (27). We must begin to raise up leaders to go to the other 60%: those who will likely never be attracted to the church on the corner, no matter the dress code or music style. [Read more…]

Lessons from Indonesia

I’ve been home only a couple of days now from Indonesia where I accompanied Chuck Register and Joel Stephens to lead two regional pastors conferences for the Indonesian Baptist Union. We spent 38 hours in planes and airports getting home, but I feel as if it will take me 38 days to recover. The people were very polite and made us feel welcome. I have been reflecting on the trip and my learnings. If you have ever get the opportunity to serve on mission outside of the U.S., I urge you to go. You will never be the same.

Jakarta

I am fascinated by all the different people that God has created. There are vast differences in culture, color, language, body size and shape, but we are all created by God in His image. I saw that the Indonesians I met are people just like me. I want to take time to process my brief experiences with these people before I post too much about the journey, but I know there will be several take-aways that will apply to creating a disciple-making culture here where I live.

The first lesson is very straight-forward, though: Everybody worships something or someone, and there are many idols competing for the worship of people. Whether it was the Islamic call to prayer over the mosque loudspeakers in Jakarta or the Western call to purchase in the glittering Cartier and Chanel ads at the airport in Dubai, people are being called to worship false gods of man’s own making.

God created people to worship, but that need to worship is often misplaced by worshiping the wrong object. The claim of Deuteronomy 6:4 that there is one God that we are commanded to love exclusively with all of our essence is as counter-cultural today as it was millennia ago. The claim that this one God has granted access to relationship with Him exclusively through Jesus Christ is still revolutionary. The world desperately needs to hear that Jesus is Lord and that He is the only Lord. The question is, do American Christians live in such a way that we credibly can claim Jesus is Lord of our own lives, much less the Lord of all? How about you? Is Jesus your One Lord?

 

This is Discipling

I love the picture this video paints of a disciple-making culture:

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Wgg2KYdMpqc

Some questions for you:

  1. Does the message align with Scripture?
  2. Do you identify with some of the tension between event-driven ministry and a sending-type ministry as portrayed?
  3. Where did the video make you uncomfortable?
  4. Which picture of discipling looks most like your church?
  5. What are you going to do about it?

Alan Hirsch is Coming to North Carolina

I am delighted to announce that Alan Hirsch is coming to High Point, NC sponsored by North Carolina Baptists, and because you are reading this blog, you can be one of the first to register! I was first exposed to Alan’s thinking a couple of years ago when I read The Forgotten Ways. Through his words I found a voice that articulated much of the tension I had been feeling for at least a decade with the institutional forms of church in the West in which I have been raised.

God used Alan to help me examine once again the Scriptures to try and really understand what church, mission, and discipleship really should look like. I had the joy of facilitating a webinar with he and Deb earlier this year and have heard him teach in multiple venues. Every time I hear him I’m stretched and encouraged to contend for the Gospel in North America. I am currently reading On The Verge and it is equally challenging.

Here’s the deal. Because this is a white board session with Alan there are only 200 seats available! Registration will not open to the general public until next week, but we are making it available through this blog NOW. You can register today by clicking here.

Here are the details:

A Whiteboard Session with Alan Hirsch

A key missional leader, strategist, and author Alan Hirsch draws from his own experiences, as well as the experiences of ministries around the world, to provide examples of growing churches, church planting movements, and other missional projects. You are invited to join us for an informal session with Alan, seasoned with profound thinking, stimulating dialogue, contemporary expressions of church, and mixed with practitioner-based principles, stories, and a touch of humor–all pointing to the gospel.

Where and When:

The Crossing at High Point

921 Eastchester Drive

High Point, NC 27262

September 1, 2011

10:00AM-2:30PM

Cost:$20.00*Lunch will not be provided however, there is a food court located in the mall.

Register today because I know this will sell out fast!

 

 

 

Is Your Church a Culture Club?

Culture is something that Christians spend a lot of time fighting about. We use martial terms and speak of the “culture wars.” Believers are told to be “counter-cultural.” Typically, though, when Christians talk culture we are talking about “them.” We talk about “their” culture–meaning those outside the faith. Let’s think for a few minutes about “us” and “our” culture. That is, Christian culture.

 

Your church is a culture club. To some extent, all churches are. [Read more…]

What’s so important about culture?

For three years I lived in New Orleans. Now that’s a place that has a distinct culture! Monday in the Big Easy is wash day and with it comes red beans and rice. You don’t shop there; you “make groceries.” New Orleans is a city know for it’s food, music, history, and, of course, Mardi Gras. That’s culture! And while your community may not be as flamboyant as New Orleans, it has a culture, too. So does your home. So does your church. Culture is like air. When it’s taken away or changed, you notice. Culture is what is natural and normal in your environment. It is the sights, sounds, tastes, smells, architecture, habits, behaviors, and values that color the world around you. Culture dictates the way things are.

James Davison Hunter describes culture as “made up of the accumulation of values held by the majority of people and the choices made on the basis of those values” (To Change the World, Oxford University Press, 2010, p. 6). [Read more…]