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?

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Won’t You Be My Neighbor?

The Great Commandment. In it Jesus summed up the 600-plus laws of the Jewish people into two simple, yet profound commands from the Old Testament. The first, He said, was to love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your soul, with all your mind, and with all your strength. The second, He added, was to love your neighbor as yourself (Mark 12:30-31).

Little Pink Houses
Creative Commons License Photo Credit: Thomas Hawk via Compfight

In the Gospel of Luke, the understanding of these two basic commands led a certain lawyer to ask Jesus, “Who is my neighbor?” Jesus answered with the story that has been called “The Good Samaritan” (Luke 10:30-37) concluding that we are neighbor to those to whom we show mercy. This neighborly love transcends creed, color, gender, and even religion. The bottom line is that we are to be neighborly and show this love to ALL. Jesus used the polar extremes in his parable to emphasize the transcendent and inclusive nature of the love we are to show.

This focus on loving everyone regardless of differences is truly foundational, and it is necessary to push people outside of their comfort zones to love the unlovely and serve those least like us and most in need.

I have found it all too easy to neglect one group of people more than any other in obeying this command of Jesus. I don’t believe I’m alone, either, because I have spoken to many church friends who unconsciously overlook this segment of society, too. I’m not speaking of a social class or ethnicity here. The neighbor I neglect to love is…well…my neighbor.

That’s right. Ironically, in my attempt to obey the Great Commandment to “love my neighbor,” I have a tendency to overlook my actual neighbors! This is sad but true for me and too many of my church friends. We have been conditioned to look for others in need outside of our circles so much that we unintentionally ignore the people next door!

So, how can we love our actual neighbors? In the next post I will unpack some of the simple ways our family is seeking to love those in our neighborhood.

 

What does it look like to live as a missionary?

If you haven’t noticed there is a movement in the church to pursue worship, community, and mission as is portrayed in the Bible. At the forefront of this movement is Soma Communities in Tacoma, Washington.

Soma has a solid theological foundation for everything they practice. I love their approach to saturating life with Gospel, community, and mission:

Some questions for you:

  1. Does the story depicted in the video align with Scripture?
  2. What would missional community look like in your neighborhood?
  3. What first step would you need to take to make it happen?
  4. What’s stopping you?

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?

Catching the Rabbit – Dimensions of Discipleship, Part 2: Community

When Jesus calls us to be His disciples, He calls us into a life lived together with others. He calls us into relationship: a relationship with Him and relationships with others. We live in an isolated and individualistic culture. For many people, relationships are seen as a means to an end of personal pleasure, satisfaction, or gain. True relationships–true community–is hard to find in this world. But Jesus calls His disciples into relationship for mission, to give of themselves instead of taking for themselves. If a disciple is one who is abiding in Christ and doing what Jesus did (1 John 2:6), then the disciple will be about those things that Jesus was about, namely: worship, community, and mission. These are three dimensions of discipleship. Community is in the middle of this trio because it is the relational glue that holds disciples together to worship and to be on mission.

Image: savit keawtavee / FreeDigitalPhotos.net

When Chris Tomlin sings, “You and I were made to worship,” he is correct (as we have noted), and you and I were also made for community. God created humans in His image. The essence of God is found in His Trinitarian nature. Within the Godhead, the three Persons of the Trinity–Father, Son, and Holy Spirit–exist as a unity comprised of diversity. [Read more…]