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?

What’s your excuse?

“If you’re not doing church this way, then you better have a good excuse.” This is a powerful and provocative statement from Alan Hirsch. Alan drives right to the heart of our theology and practice in the church. Here’s the bottom line: We are to embody the gospel “in the flesh” among our neighbors, truly loving them by walking as Jesus walked. So, what’s your excuse?

You can purchase the whole message at the Verge Network Store.

What’s in your DNA?

It’s no secret on the blog that Alan Hirsch has been influential on my philosophy of ministry. This brief video shows why I think we need to pay attention to what he’s saying:

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=B3Lt9hk9fiU

Questions:

  1. How does Alan challenge your view of church?
  2. What is the current DNA (cultural ethos) of your church?
  3. What would need to change in your life for you to live more like a disciple?
  4. When you will you start living that way?

Lessons from Hurricane Katrina

As people along the eastern seaboard of the United States begin recovering from Hurricane Irene, it is worth noting that six years ago today Hurricane Katrina made landfall on the Gulf Coast of Mississippi impacting millions of people in Florida, Alabama, Mississippi, and Louisiana. I lived in Gulfport, MS and served at FBC Gulfport at the time. If you are affiliated with an NC Baptist church you probably recognize the picture.

Photo © James Edward Bates

We were the “poster child,” literally, for disaster relief the following year. In our church we had over 80 families displaced by the storm, but everyone was effected. God taught me so much through the days following Katrina. I often tell people that I would not change going through Katrina, but I would not want to do it again!

Because of Katrina I learned some big lessons. I learned about insurance, filing claims, and working with adjustors, both personally and on behalf of the church. I learned about church building planning and relocation. I learned how to write a grant to receive disaster relief funds. I learned to appreciate cell phone signals, electricity, and gasoline. I learned some small lessons like the importance of carrying hand sanitizer wherever you go.

I also learned the value of community–true community. My neighbors shared like never before. Our church family shared with each other. We were able to put any differences aside for the common cause of recovery. The priority was recovery and meeting people’s needs. I learned how caring the Christian community was as volunteer after volunteer came from across the nation. Of course, NC Baptist men stayed the longest and had the broadest impact. Yet, they weren’t the only ones. Volunteers from small churches and mega-churches across the nation sent money, supplies, and volunteer teams to help us in our time of need. There was even a Christian band in Norway that held a benefit concert and sent money through a church in Texas to help us.

Through all of this, though, I learned the most about God, His grace, and His sovereignty. In the Bible when Job lost everything he said, “Naked I came from my mother’s womb, and naked shall I return. The LORD gave, and the LORD has taken away; blessed be the name of the LORD” (Job 1:21, ESV). That verse carried me through the weeks and months after landfall. Job lost all his material possessions and all of his children, yet he still praised the LORD. As we teach our kids, based on the folks at Orange, it’s the principle that we can trust God no matter what. And we can praise God no matter what.

We sang “Blessed Be Your Name” the first Sunday after Katrina in a joint worship service with two other congregations. I remember because we really sang it. Through tears we sang the confession, “You give and take away, you give and take away. My heart will choose to say, Lord, blessed your name.” In those first few weeks after Katrina we knew we were powerless. We had nothing to rely on but God. We had to trust Him and Him alone.

I also learned a lot about priorities. I learned that much of what we get stressed about in life, especially church-world, really doesn’t matter at the end of the day.  When there is a common crisis, people tend to pull together and rally amidst the discomfort. The crisis is bigger than any one person. We had a corporate sense of mission born out of struggle, what Alan Hirsch refers to as communitas. Unfortunately, as things returned to normal and the crisis waned, people, including myself, began to let their own agendas and schedules crowd away the notions of a common cause greater than any one of us.

When it comes to disciple-making, I wonder if we don’t appreciate the crisis we are in. Perhaps the decline in disciples in the West has gone on so long that we simply have accepted it as normal and moved on with our own personal agendas. Katrina taught me that life can change in an instant. We really don’t have time to waste on our petty personal preferences. There is a mission that is greater than any one of us, that is to proclaim that Jesus died to redeem us and purify for Himself a people for His own possession (Titus 2:14). We have a mission to proclaim the Kingdom of God among all nations so that He can hear more and more people singing “Blessed be the name of the LORD!”

So, where were you six years ago today? More importantly, are you singing “Blessed be the name of the LORD” in your crisis? And will you proclaim Jesus so that others can sing His praises?

 

 

Coming or Going? Dimensions of Discipleship, Part 3: Mission

We have been working through a series on three dimensions of discipleship–worship, community, and mission. Today’s post will focus on mission. When I use the term mission I mean our mandate to live out and proclaim the Gospel to our neighbors and all nations in word and action. In my opinion we in church-world have reduced our mission to an evangelistic presentation devoid of context or relational integrity. I want to be very careful here to be respectful of my evangelist friends. There are men in my life that clearly have a supernatural gift to sit across the table from someone they just met and within the course of just a few minutes they can clearly explain the gospel resulting in that person committing his life to Christ. I praise God for how He chooses to use such people.

Image: Salvatore Vuono / FreeDigitalPhotos.net

Nonetheless, I believe we have missed a key element of our mission, the essence of which is found in 1 Thessalonians 2:8: “So, being affectionately desirous of you, we were ready to share with you not only the gospel of God but also our own selves, because you had become very dear to us” (ESV). Note the two things Paul says he and his companions gave the Thessalonians: the Gospel of God and their own selves or lives. I don’t think Baptists in particular have any trouble with intellectual acceptance of the first part of the verse. We know we are supposed to give the Gospel. I have heard sermons on that topic all of my life. I have preached sermons on that topic. I have been trained to give the Gospel and been obedient to share my faith. The first half of verse 2 is the “ought to” part of the passage. But the second half of that verse grips me. Paul invested more than just the telling of a message to the people. He invested his own life in them. The context of chapter 2 indicates that he invested his life in their lives at the risk of personal peril. Technically, Paul did not plant a church in Thessalonica. Paul planted the Gospel and his own life in Thessalonica for season and a church emerged.

I believe our paradigm for church planting and church growth is often backwards. Our mission, we have been led to believe, is to get people to church so that they can hear the gospel. This misunderstanding of mission leads us to plan attractive, professional, stage-driven environments where the best communicator gives the message. This is not the pattern seen in Scripture. Nor is this pattern reproducible in most of the world. Again, I want to speak out of respect for churches that God is blessing who use such an attraction-type model. But if we are not careful, we can falsely communicate that the everyday Christian is not qualified to share his faith, only the polished preacher is. That is an unintended consequence of the attractional church model. I recently heard missional thinker Dennis Pethers talk about the crisis of the church in America. He said that the crisis is not that people aren’t coming to church. The crisis is that people in the church aren’t going out and sharing what they know. The prevailing thinking in my denomination over the last two decades has been the former crisis–plateaued and declining churches. Since we think that is the crisis we change church service styles or times and look to programmatic tweaks to get people to come to church. But Pethers is right! The crisis is not that people aren’t coming to church. That is the result of the real crisis. The real crisis is that people are not living on mission. We are not living as missionaries in our neighborhoods and work places.

To live as a missionary means we seek to present the Gospel on the turf of those who need to hear the Gospel. It means we contextualize our approach to the message so that those who are far from God will listen. It means we get messy in serving those who are broken. We need to look no further than Jesus to see the true example of living like a missionary. Jesus was sent from the Father out of His home to come to earth and take on flesh to live among those He came to die for. We call this the incarnation. In similar fashion, we are sent out of our comfort zones to live among the people who need to hear the life-changing message of the Gospel. That is also an incarnation. A foundational verse for this concept is the commissioning of the disciples in John 20:21 where Jesus says, “As the Father has sent me even so I am sending you” (ESV). We are to live the Gospel and tell the Gospel to those who we live with every day.

Living the Gospel is more difficult than simply inviting someone to church! Let’s be honest about the likelihood of people who are broken and far from God ever coming to your church and feeling comfortable. Whether or not your church is friendly or inviting, most people who have no church background are skeptical or intimidated by the idea of coming to a Sunday service. I think that a plan of getting people to an event or service to hear the Gospel is incomplete. It is a plan that will reach those with some familiarity with church, but it won’t reach the growing majority of people even in the Southern U.S. who have no concept of church other than the negative view they get from the media or a bad experience. God’s plan is not for them to come, but for us to go! In On the Verge, Alan Hirsch states it best, “If we persist with the current status quo, we are in effect asking the nonbeliever to do all the cross-cultural work in coming to church! Remember, we are the sent ones–not them.”

The disciple’s mission is to go and make disciples. It is to live as one sent by Jesus as a missionary to everyone in one’s sphere of influence and even beyond to the ends of the earth.

So, how can you be on mission? I suggest you start with prayer. Ask the Father to open your eyes to those around you and to give you a heart for them like His heart for them. Then get to know those He puts on your heart. Give them your own self, just like Paul did for the Thessalonians. Do the things that are a part of your everyday rhythm and invite your friends and neighbors to do it with you. Move your evening gatherings from the back porch to the front porch. Attend neighborhood events. Live your life authentically before a watching world.

The most fulfilling thing you can do as a Christ follower is to pursue this kind of mission. Are they coming or are you going? If you are in Christ, you were made for this.

 

Shifting from Ministry to Mission

As a part of my role as a ministry consultant and strategist with my denomination I am frequently visiting congregations on Sunday mornings. A couple of years ago my wife and I were visiting an adult Sunday school class at a church. They did not know who we were or what our spiritual condition was. We entered the room and the teacher introduced himself and one of the two couples seated in the room did the same. We sat down in one of the rows of chairs later to discover that we had taken someone’s seat. Slowly the room filled up with people carrying on their own conversations, catching up with their friends with little notice of us. In fact, we were seated between two ladies who actually had a conversation “across” us. We could have predicted the rest of the visit because we knew what to expect as “professional guests.”

Image: Tom Curtis / FreeDigitalPhotos.net

Unfortunately, my wife and I are conditioned to be treated as outsiders. We realize that most groups merely tolerate the presence of outsiders. Yes, people are generally polite and there is typically at least one person who, hopefully out of genuine interest, but perhaps out of a sense of obligation or guilt, will make conversation, tell us about the church and make sure we feel welcomed. I understand that many groups such as these have deep friendships forged over time. I also know that I have been guilty at times of making outsiders to my group feel like…well, outsiders. I fear that the class I described is an accurate reflection of the state of community in most churches in North America. It is community devoid of a clear mission.

A community that loses its mission begins to believe that the community is its mission. The group becomes closed off and is satisfied to perform ministry to each other within the group with little regard for their real mission. Of course the mission for the disciple is to make disciples. Discipleship does not happen within the community that has lost its mission. True discipleship only occurs as one is on mission with their Master, Jesus, making disciples of others. In his book,The Forgotten Ways, Alan Hirsch, describes the difference between “mission” and “ministry.” He distinguishes mission as the church’s orientation toward “outsiders” and ministry as the church’s orientation toward “insiders.” He says, “Experience tells us that a church that aims at ministry seldom gets to mission even if it sincerely intends to do so. But the church that aims at mission will have to do ministry, because ministry is the means to do mission…By planting the flag outside the walls and boundaries of the church, so to speak, the church discovers itself by rallying to it–this is mission.”

So, how does a group or class move from ministry to insiders to mission to outsiders? It isn’t easy. In fact it may be close to impossible to move some long-standing existing groups to orient around mission. Those groups that choose to live in disobedience to the call of discipleship should be dissolved because they are leeching energy and resources from the body. However, groups should be challenged to orient themselves around mission. If you are a leader and you are convicted in your own heart that you need to lead your group, then think and pray through such a shift. You may be called, like my family was, to start from scratch with a whole new group of friends. But if you are sure you are where you are to lead change, the process to shift from ministry to mission should include:

1. Study the Gospels together and focus on the life of Christ. Observe where Jesus went, who He ate with, how He treated those far from the Father. Pray and process.

2. Read about missional communities in books by guys like Alan Hirsch and Neil Cole and at places like The Verge Network and the GCM Collective. Pray and process.

3. Spend plenty of time together loving the group where it is and challenging them to move to where they need to be. Be patient because it will take lots of time. You must shift values before you shift behaviors.

4. Share your life with your group and share your learnings with them at the same time. Pray for your group to see what God is helping you see.

5. Ask your group to define its mission/purpose for existence. Move to clarity that their mission/purpose should be making disciples who make disciples.

6. Ask your group to describe what behaviors of the community are contributing to accomplishing the purpose of making disciples who make disciples.

7. Ask your group to describe what behaviors of the community are keeping you from accomplishing the purpose of making disciples who make disciples.

8. Ask your group what changes the group would need to make to accomplish the purpose of making disciples who make disciples. Begin to reshape your group based upon the discussion.

9. Pray for those far from God around you by name.

10. Share your life with those around you who are not a part of your group. In other words start living on mission.

So, what is your small group/class like? Are you focused more on ministry or mission? What steps are you willing to make to change?

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!