Archive for March, 2014

Strengthen What Remains and is About to Die

March 30, 2014

How much would you invest in your church if you knew that it was going to die soon? How much would you invest in a friend if you knew they were going to die soon? What would you do if you knew you were going to die soon? These are questions that come upon us at various points in our lives, but especially this month, when our thoughts turn to Palm Sunday, the Last Supper, Good Friday, and Easter Sunday. We are not a morbid people, but this is the time of year when we reflect on Jesus’ death, what the meaning of life is, and how God calls us to live when we know the end is coming. As the Jewish holiday of the Passover was approaching, Jesus knew that He was going to die. Jesus tried to tell His disciples that He was going to die, but they weren’t really able to comprehend it until it was actually happening. They were not prepared for Jesus to leave them, and when they saw Him beaten and crucified and die, they were devastated.

How would their last days together have been different if they had been fully and completely aware that Jesus was going to die? Would they have asked different questions? Would they have had different conversations? Would they have acted differently?

In Revelation 3:1-3, the angel speaks to the church in Sardis and says, “These are the words of him who holds the seven spirits of God and the seven stars. I know your deeds; you have a reputation of being alive, but you are dead. Wake up! Strengthen what remains and is about to die, for I have not found your deeds complete in the sight of my God. Remember, therefore, what you have received and heard, obey it, and repent. But, if you do not wake up, I will come like a thief, and you will not know at what time I will come to you.”

These are strong words that the angel speaks to the church in Sardis. What if an angel came and spoke to our church and said, “Strengthen what remains and is about to die.” What does that mean? We may think that our denomination is dying. We may think that our congregations are dying. If that is true, what do we do? The angel that speaks to the church in Sardis says, “Strengthen what remains and is about to die.” Does that sound as odd to you as it does to me? Why would we spend time and energy trying to strengthen something if we already knew that it was going to die? Isn’t that a waste of time? Apparently not. It seems as if the scriptures are telling us to continue to invest in the church, even though it may be dying. Why?

Maybe it is because God wants the church to wake up, and there is a chance that by strengthening the church before it dies, it might awaken before it is too late. Perhaps by continuing to strengthen the church, she will remember what she has received and heard, and perhaps she will start to obey the Word and repent of her sins. Have we ever been surprised by a person we never thought would repent of their sins, only to find out that they did? We think that is a miracle, and it is. But, our God is a God of surprises. Our God is a God of miracles. God can do things that we cannot see and is doing things that we would never predict. We are called to continue to work to strengthen the church even when we are convinced that it is dying.

The Today’s English Version translates Revelation 3:2 as “So wake up and strengthen what you still have before it dies completely.” While death can be discouraging, there may be a message of hope hidden in here for us.
A few weeks ago, I heard Francis Chan speak on this passage. He said Revelation 3:2 reminds us that God is all that matters. Often, we forget that, or we don’t understand that, or we don’t get it. We confuse secondary matters with primary matters. We make less important things into more important things. He said that God is holy, God loves us so much, and God is all that matters. Do we really believe that? Do we live like we believe that? Or are we wasting too much time on what is less important?

Easter reminds us that life is all about Jesus. If it were not for Jesus and His resurrection, we would not have life. We would not have real life, eternal life, abundant life. Because of Easter, we want people to have life. We want people to know Jesus, to love Jesus and to serve Jesus. We want people to share Jesus and join what Jesus’ Holy Spirit is already doing in our world. We want people to take the gospel message of Jesus into the world so people can hear it and receive it and hopefully believe it. We want to make a difference in people’s lives, in our communities, and in our world.

Easter is not just an individual matter. It is not just so that I can be forgiven of my sins. Easter is for everyone. Easter is for all the people of the world. Easter is for all of creation. Easter causes us to believe and do crazy things like strengthening what remains and is about to die. Who knows? Maybe God will use us to resurrect a person’s life, a church’s life, or a community’s life. Easter is an encouragement for us not to give up. Easter reminds us that you just never know what God might do!

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Don’t Waste Your Time Writing a Mission Statement

March 2, 2014

It almost sounds like heresy to say it.  Don’t waste your time writing a mission statement.  So many churches in North America have spent a lot of time over the last 40 years carefully crafting just the right language for the just the right mission statement, not wanting to engage in any new mission directions until we have that statement perfect.  But, has that exercise proven fruitful?  What are the results we have seen from writing such wonderful statements?  Have more people come to know Christ as their Lord and Savior?  Have our statements caused more people to be sent out into the world on mission with God?  Have our statements caused our world to be transformed?

Patrick Lencioni is the best-selling author of such books as Death by Meeting and the Five Dysfunctions of a Team.  In his book entitled The Advantage, he says,

“Since the 1980s, many organizations have centered their clarity and alignment efforts around a singular tool that has been a major disappointment.  What I’m referring to is the mission statement.  Thought I can’t be sure, I suspect that at some point about thirty years ago a cleverly sadistic and antibusiness consultant decided that the best way to really screw up companies was to convince them that what they needed was a convoluted, jargony, and all-encompassing declaration of intent…  Even if my historical suspicions are untrue, it can’t be denied that most mission statements have neither inspired people to change the world nor provided them with an accurate description of what an organization actually does for a living.  They certainly haven’t created alignment and clarity among employees.  What they have done is make many leadership teams look foolish.”

Lencioni then goes on to quote a mission statement from a company and asks the reader to guess which company the statement came from.  The mission statement said,
“(X Company) provides its customers with quality products and the expertise required for making informed buying decisions.  We provide our products and services with a dedication to the highest degree of integrity and quality of customer satisfaction, developing long-term professional relationships with employees that develop pride, creating a stable working environment and company spirit.”  Do you recognize the company?  This is the mission statement of Dunder Mifflin, the fictional paper company from the TV Show The Office.  The statement was written as a joke.  It’s a spoof.  And yet it sounds like so many real mission statements of real companies.

While Lencioni is writing for the business community, the same could be said of the church.  Somewhere along the way, people in the church got the idea that crafting a mission statement was essential to getting their church moving in a new direction.  And yet, this is rarely true.  Mission statements rarely lead to new action.  So, why do we do this?

Many of the church mission statements that I have read sound the same as most other church mission statements that are out there.  Very few are unique.  Many of the church mission statements that I have read don’t really have an impact on what that particular congregation is doing.  Many of the church mission statements I have read seem to just hang on the wall or get printed in a bulletin without getting into the heart and soul and culture of a congregation.

So, are church mission statements worthless?  When they are used as we often use them, then yes, they are worthless.  But, they don’t have to be.  However, their purpose is the opposite of what we think they are.  We often try to write new mission statements to inspire our people to move in new directions.  This rarely happens.  When mission statements do work well, they work in reverse.  They describe what has already been happening for a long time.  They don’t provide new energy and direction, but they describe the energy and direction that is already there, so people know in which direction the river is flowing that they are stepping in to.

Many churches have thought that if they could just write the great mission statement, that they would be able to walk by sight and not by faith.  They could predict and guarantee where the church would go and steer it in the direction they want it to move in.  But, the Christian faith doesn’t work that way.  We walk by faith and not by sight.  God invites us to follow Christ and trust Him to know where He is leading us.  It is Abraham in Genesis 11, leaving his home in Iraq because God told him to, without knowing what the destination of his journey was going to be.  It is like Noah obeying God to get on the ark, not knowing how long he would be on the boat, or where it would finally come to rest.  It is like Paul and Barnabas setting off on a missionary journey, not knowing where their travels would take them.  We begin to move first, and then God tells us where we are going.  We don’t tell God where we are going first and then move.  We don’t write our mission statement first.  We follow Christ first.  And after we have journeyed with Christ and our Christian community for a while, we get a stronger sense of where and how God is leading us.  And after many days on the journey, we look back at where we have been, and where we have come from, and it is then that we write our mission statement.  It describes the journey we have been on for a long time.  It describes what we have already been doing for some time.  And it invites others to journey with us.

So, we don’t waste a lot of time trying to write the perfect mission statement.  It is not an instrument that is capable of leading or inspiring us to take new actions or move in new directions.  Rather, just the opposite is true.  We walk by faith and not by sight.  We start out and begin moving in a direction first.  After some time, much conversation, and many ups and downs, then we can write a mission statement that describes where we have already been, where we have come from, and where we humbly guess that the Holy Spirit is leading us into the future.  We don’t write and then move.  We move and then write.