Turning Toward Mission, Step One

Photo Credit: Lel4nd via Compfight cc

Photo Credit: Lel4nd via Compfight cc

Last week I wrote about the need for churches to turn outward and amplify the message of the Gospel of Jesus Christ. I also promised practical steps for making your church systems a megaphone for making disciples. We are all seeking effective approaches. Everyone is seeking the steps that will lead to success. I am always reluctant simply to give a pragmatic answer. The books, articles, seminars–and blogs–offering the step-by-step approach are legion. But no matter what system or steps one chooses to implement, I believe true missional realignment in ministry or in your personal life comes from two key ingredients. The first is spiritual renewal. The second is disciplined, hard work. I want to focus on step one. [Read more…]

Funnel or Megaphone?

Photo Credit: Stig Nygaard via Compfight cc

Photo Credit: Stig Nygaard via Compfight cc

Funnels and megaphones are essentially the same shape. The difference is in application. Most church systems-even the coolest and most progressive-operate like funnels. Churches plan outreach strategies, attractional services, or events designed as entry points to gather people from the masses. Maybe they even inspire church members to “invest and invite,” but the outcome can be the same. People are “poured” into the big end of the funnel and collected into the church’s systems. This is referred to as assimilation. It’s a noble enterprise. The intention is to gather people as the church and develop them within the system to become disciples of Christ. Too often, though, the means becomes the end. [Read more…]

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?

A Grandfather, Siberia, and a Bible

He removed the 110-year old family Bible with care from a simple white plastic bag. With his most prized possession in his hands, Alexander told the story of his grandfather with tears in his eyes. His grandfather was a pastor in the Ukraine in the former Soviet Union where it was illegal to teach the Bible and preach the Gospel. The grandfather was arrested and sentenced to 10 years of hard labor in Siberia for preaching the Gospel. Before he was arrested, he was able to hide the Bible with a friend. Not knowing whether her husband was dead or alive, Alexander’s grandmother continued to teach her children using that Bible. The grandfather barely survived Siberia but was released after he completed his time. When he returned home his family didn’t even recognize him after all the years of neglect in the prison camp.

Now Alexander is a pastor in Moldova and uses the family Bible to teach his grandchildren about Jesus Christ. I was able to meet Alexander last week and had the privilege of preaching in the church he planted and pastors. Our entire mission team was treated to dinner in his kitchen where he told of his grandfather. When he told the story I was moved to tears. I was witnessing first-hand the impact of generational discipleship. The family Bible was a physical reminder of the commitment of a man to pass his faith down from generation to generation.

I thought about Psalm 78:5-7:

He established a testimony in Jacob and appointed a law in Israel, which he commanded our fathers to teach to their children, that the next generation might know them, the children yet unborn, and arise and tell them to their children, so that they should set their hope in God and not forget the works of God, but keep his commandments.

Christians in the Soviet Union didn’t have the luxury of a church down the street to handle the discipleship of their kids. The church was underground and it was up to parents to pass faith along to their children. In fact, I don’t think it would have ever occurred to those parents to rely on someone else to teach their children about faith.

What about you? Are you teaching your kids to love God through His Word? Do they know about your faith? What if you were separated from your family like Alexander’s grandfather? Would your family know to set their hope in God?

Today, we’ve been conditioned to look for helps like devotional books or curriculum lines to help us know what to say to our kids. Those tools can be helpful to be sure. But it seems that believers in places that don’t have access to other literature are doing just fine with God’s Word alone.

So, try this:

  • Read a chapter of the Bible yourself.
  • Make a note of a principle or promise you need to apply to your own life.
  • Share that chapter and principle or promise with your kids.
  • Pray together as a family, asking God to help you walk in His ways.

Train your kids to know the Word even if your not around!

Read more about Alexander.

Find out more about the NC Baptist Moldova Partnership.

 

5 Sins of the Church

From time to time I come across stories that, though not out of my own experience, need to be told. Consider the case of Fellowship Bible Church in Jonesboro, AR. I don’t know much about the church, but I was impressed with a document I ran across last year regarding the church’s decision to start over in 2008. This is where the story gets interesting.

Image: Dan / FreeDigitalPhotos.net

For several months the church leadership sought God’s direction to answer the question, “Jesus, how would you evaluate Fellowship?” This period of prayer and reflection led them to the cold reality that they were not effective at making disciples.

So, they repented. That’s right. They confessed their sin of ineffectiveness. Sounds harsh in our day. Fellowship decided the most obedient thing they could do was repent and relaunch with a focus on the Gospel, discipleship, and mission. Specifically, they confessed sin in 5 areas:

1. We planted programs before planting the gospel.

2. We taught our people great Bible content without calling them to follow Jesus on the mission of the gospel (i.e. discipleship).

3. We equipped people for our world (the “church” world) and NOT for their world (everyday life).

4. We assumed people knew more about the gospel than they really did–beginning with us as leaders.

5. We were more concerned with filling our services than filling our city with people who live and love like Jesus.

When I read their list I was brought to great conviction myself. Many churches–too many churches–are guilty of the exact same sins. Somehow we’ve taken our eye off the ball in the life of the church. We have traded Gospel goals for institutional ones.

I have a ton of respect for Fellowship. They had the courage to get to the heart of the matter. Unfortunately, I believe many churches would be more inclined to talk about a “new vision” or “new purpose” rather than confessing their lack of attention to God’s design as sin. But that kind of spiritual brokenness is the only place where real awakening can start.

So, what about your church? This post is not just for pastors, it’s for whoever is a part of the Bride of Christ. If you were intellectually honest about your church’s effectiveness at making true disciples what would you say? Do you have the courage to ask Jesus to evaluate your church’s ministry?

Read the whole story of Fellowship.

 

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?

 

Why should we go?

Tomorrow I leave in a group of three for a ten day mission trip to Indonesia to participate in conferences encouraging and equipping pastors. I am thankful for the opportunity and amazed at the doors God continues to open for global discipleship. The thing I’m excited about the most is getting to learn from the people I will meet.

Image: twobee / FreeDigitalPhotos.net

Indonesia is the world’s third-laregest democracy and over 80% (186.7 million) of the people are Muslim. Nonetheless Christianity is a recognized religion and Christians have the freedom to worship there. Some, even some Christians, may wonder why I would travel over 24 hours and spend ten days away from my family in a context I’m not familiar with to participate in this conference. Here are just a five of the reasons why I go, and why I think every believer should seek to go.

  1. Christ commands it. The last command Jesus gave while on earth was for His disciples to be His witnesses in Jerusalem, in all Judea and Samaria, and to the end of the earth (Acts 1:8). I believe that command to witness globally is still valid.
  2. Stewardship. God has afforded those of us who live in the West tremendous opportunities for education and equipping that many pastors in other places do not have. Many Sunday school teachers I know have larger theological libraries that do most pastors in Asia. Part of the responsibility that comes with this investment is the obligation to invest in others.
  3. To encourage these church leaders. According to their denominational leadership, there is great discouragement among the pastors in Indonesia. Being a pastor anywhere can be a lonely vocation. I want to be a part of spurring these men on to love and good deeds (Hebrews 10:24).
  4. For my own encouragement. Whenever I travel overseas and see the church in a different context, it helps me get a more accurate picture of God’s true church. I am always humbled by the faith I see in believers who are persecuted or marginalized due to their confession of Jesus as Lord. I know I will learn more than I will teach.
  5. So that God will be glorified. The chief end of missions is that God will be glorified among all the nations and peoples of the earth (Psalm 96). When people do not know the name of Jesus and are not given the opportunity to confess Jesus as Lord, then God is robbed of the glory that is rightly His.
And so, I go. Please pray for us. Pray for the pastors we will be spending time with. Pray for the preaching opportunities that we will have along the way. Pray for our families as we are separated. Most of all, pray for God to be glorified among the nations!

Learn more about praying for Indonesia at Operation World.

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?