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?

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.

How to Love Your Neighbors Without Them Hating You

Proximity means risking intimacy. Last week I shared about the importance of loving our actual neighbors. This does not excuse us from loving ALL peoples and treating everyone like our neighbor, but I think that in many ways it is harder to love those who live near you. It is good to love those across town or around the world (I try to do both), but when you serve in those contexts you eventually go home. When you invest in your neighborhood, you are home! That means you have to risk rejection on a more personal level.

A little over three years ago my family relocated to a new state and a new neighborhood. Brandie and I were convinced that we had not loved those in our last neighborhood well. We repented of that sin and committed to doing our best to live out the gospel among our neighbors. We weren’t sure what that meant, but we knew we wanted to glorify God by living differently. Our journey is going to be a long one here, and we’re still learning lessons of what it means to have genuine community, but here are five of the very simple principles we have learned that I hope you will consider adopting in order to fall in with love your neighbors:

1. Pray: “Give me my neighbors or I die!” When we moved, I wanted to have the same burden for my neighbors that God has for them, namely, to see them come to repentance and fall in love with Jesus. I wanted to share the gospel with them but I wanted to do it out of devotion and not duty. I had to ask Him to give me that burden. During those early months I read about Scottish reformer John Knox. Knox was so burdened for the souls of his countrymen that he prayed, “Give me Scotland or I die!” So, I began to pray that prayer for my neighbors. As I started praying John Knox’s prayer and substituting the name of my subdivision, the Holy Spirit started to melt my heart until I meant the words of the prayer. I can honestly say that God has given me a sacrificial love for my neighbors. I love them so much I don’t want to see them separated from eternal life in Jesus Christ. As I have gotten to know many of them that love has truly increased. Which leads to point number two.

2. Meet your neighbors. This sounds too elementary to list, but it’s easy to get so focused on your family that you forget to meet those around you. Learn your neighbors names and try to find out some of their stories.

3. Be faithfully present. We haven’t always done this well. Faithful presence means that you show up and make a commitment to keep showing up. Show up without any agenda but to build relationships. In missional circles, this is called being “incarnational.” It simply means to give flesh to something. We want to “give flesh” to the gospel by being involved in the lives of our neighbors. That means going to parties we may not normally go to. We don’t compromise who we are, but we don’t expect them to change who they are, either. It also means putting priority on being in the neighborhood over other good choices, including spending time at church.

4. Share your life. This includes our imperfections. The best compliment one of my neighbors has given me is to say that I’m “real.” We need to be genuine, even when we mess up.

5. Share the gospel. We don’t want to be silent on the message of Jesus. We cannot truly love our neighbors if we don’t share with them the hope we have found in Jesus. Some have embraced Christ, some have returned to Christ, and some are still wrestling with the claims of Christ. Our friends know where we stand, but more importantly they know we are sharing with them out of love, not as a task. I will write more on how we do this later.

In 1 Thessalonians 2:8, Paul reminds his friends that he didn’t just share the gospel with them but his very life as well. I have come to the conclusion that we really can’t share one without the other. We love God and we love our neighbors. It’s only natural, then, to want to introduce them. It really is that simple. We could be doing more to show our neighbors we love them, I’m sure. But we have taken a step into missional living and we can’t imagine going back.

So, how about you? Will you start to love your neighbor for the glory of God?

 

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’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?

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?

Missional Church: Simple

While I’m away for a few days, I’m posting some of the videos that have helped me think about what it means to be the church. Enjoy…

  1. How can we reconcile current church culture with missional church culture?
  2. What steps can you take at your church to be more on mission?

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.