Posts Tagged ‘sent’

Re-Framing Your Life

May 31, 2017

In their book Designing Your Life, Bill Burnett and Dave Evans tell a story about a woman named Janine.  In her mid-30s, she was starting to reap the benefits of decades of dedication.  Her willpower and hard work had gained her a number of accomplishments.  She was the picture of success and achievement.  But, she had a secret.  Some nights, after driving home from work, she would sit out on her deck and cry.  She had everything she thought she should have, but she was profoundly unhappy.  Who wakes up every morning as the picture of success and goes to bed every night with a knot in her stomach, feeling as if she is missing something, and that she has lost her way?  In America, 66% of workers are unhappy with their jobs, and 15% actually hate their work.  Janine had a dysfunctional belief.  She believed if you are successful, you will be happy.  She needed to re-frame her thinking:  happiness comes from designing your life with God.

In their book, Bill and Dave also tell a story about a man named Donald.  He had worked for more than 30 years at the same job and had made a lot of money.  His home was almost paid off.  His kids had all graduated from college.  He had money for retirement.  He had a solid career and a solid life.  Get up, go to work, pay the bills, go home, go to bed.  Wake up the next day and do it all over again.  Lather.  Rinse.  Repeat.  But, for years he had carried the same question around inside of him as he went to coffee shops, dinner tables, church, and the bar.  The question would wake him up at 2:00 am.  He would look at himself in the bathroom mirror and ask, “Why am I doing this?”  Not once had the guy in the mirror had a good answer for him.  He had a dysfunctional belief.  He believed that a life of responsible and successful work should make him happy.  He felt stuck.  He thought he didn’t have any other options that to continue to struggle through an unfulfilling life.  He believed it was too late to change his life’s work.  But, he was wrong.

Many people today operate under the dysfunctional belief that they just need to find out what they are passionate about.  They think that once they know their passion, everything else will just magically fall into place.  But, most people don’t know their passion.  Only 20% of people between the ages of 12-26 have a clear vision of where they want to go and what they want to accomplish in life.  80% of people of all ages don’t really know what they are passionate about.  In the United States alone, there are more than 31 million people between the ages of 44-70 who want an “encore” career – work that combines personal meaning, continued income, and social impact.

Many people today struggle with dysfunctional beliefs and don’t know how to change them.  This is why we go to church.  This is why we read the Bible.  We all grow up with beliefs and ideas that we think are true, but really aren’t.  They shape who we are, what we do, and how we live.  But, we don’t realize they aren’t true.  And if we do discover they aren’t true, then we don’t know how to change them and how to re-frame them.  This is why we need Jesus in our lives.  This is why we need the Holy Spirit leading us through life:  because all of us need to re-frame our thinking in our major ways.  But, we don’t know how to do it.  And we can’t do it alone.

Your life cannot be perfectly planned.  None of us are perfect.  We all make mistakes.  There is no one single solution to your life.  If you keep looking for the one right answer, you’ll never find it.  Our God is a much more creative God than we realize.  When we surrender our lives to Him, He doesn’t just open one door of possibility for us.  He opens many doors for us.  He gives us choices we never had before.  The Holy Spirit leads us to design a life that makes sense.  Life is all about growth and change.  It’s not static.  It’s not about answering the big life question once and for all and then it’s done, never having to be re-visited ever again.  It’s about going on a journey with Jesus, with a Christian community, for the life of the world.  There will always be twists and turns, sunshine and rain, cold and heat.  There will always be signs and wonders, plants and animals, unexpected guests and new friends.

We need God’s help to think differently.  We need Jesus’ help to live differently.  We need the Holy Spirit’s help to dream differently.  We need the church’s help to focus our attention on the right things, to develop disciplines and practices that will pay off, and to help us get out of the rut we are stuck in.  We need to take off the blinders that keep us from seeing the possibilities God has waiting for us.  We need to understand where happiness, fulfillment, and satisfaction really come from.  We carry around too many dysfunctional beliefs.  And we need the Bible and the church to re-frame our thinking and our lives.

God doesn’t want us to waste our lives.  God doesn’t want us to feel miserable or stuck.  God wants us to soar like eagles as we discover how He designed us, and how the Holy Spirit can help us design a life that makes sense.  But, we have to be willing to let go of our dysfunctional beliefs.  We need to let the Bible re-frame how we think and how we live.  And we need to be willing to follow Jesus down some life paths that we never thought we would walk down.

 

We Still Need Easter

March 1, 2017

A recent survey by the American Psychological Association that was released last week found that:

66% of Americans feel stress about the future of our country

57% feel stress about the current political climate

49% feel stress about the results of the 2016 election.

I think people have always felt some level of stress and worry about what is going to happen in the future, but these anxieties seem to be stronger and more widespread today than they have been in a while.

Part of what I think is contributing to this is our diminishing level of confidence in our leaders and institutions to address the challenges of our times.  People seem to have a decreasing level of trust that our leaders can focus on the big issues, have the competence to handle complex challenges in compassionate ways, and can bring people together to find solutions for complicated problems.  Abraham Lincoln once said, “America will never be destroyed from the outside.  If we falter and lose our freedoms, it will be because we have destroyed ourselves.”  The old cliché is “We have met the enemy, and he is us.”  As much as we worry about terrorists coming in to our country from outside and attacking us, our biggest problems actually come from ourselves.

This is what we learn from the Bible.  The Bible teaches us that sin lives in every one of our hearts.  In Mark 7:20-23, Jesus says that evil flows out of every human heart.  In the Sermon on the Mount, in Matthew 7:3, Jesus said, “Why are you worried about the speck in someone else’s eye, when you have a log in your own?”  We don’t have to look far to find evil.  All we have to do is look in the mirror, and there it is.

In 1933, Simone Weil wrote about the suffering we experience in a world that seems to be falling apart.  She said that one of the most disorienting perplexities is that evil isn’t always recognizable.  Sometimes it is incognito.  She wrote, “Never react to evil in such a way as to augment it.”  That is one of the challenges of our current times.  How do we not throw gas on the fire?  How do we not make the situation worse?  How do we act so that evil decreases rather than increases?

When Hannah Arendt wrote about the evil that was experienced under the Nazi leadership in Germany, she talked about the deliberate disconnect from reality that she called “holes of oblivion.” (Today, we call them “alternative facts.”)  She said that one of the key ways to confront evil, and the lies that it keeps telling, is for simple, ordinary people to keep standing up and speaking the truth.  Evil will try to suppress the truth.  Evil will try to shut people up by firing them, putting them out of work, or trying to discredit them.  But, there will always be a few who will speak up and tell the truth, even in spite of the consequences.  While people worry that the evils of the Nazi way of thinking could happen anywhere, the truth is that it did not happen everywhere.  That is what gives us hope.

The presence of evil in the world, even the growing presence of evil in the world, continues to show us our ongoing need for Easter.  This month, we begin the season of Lent.  Lent is the 40 days (plus Sundays) leading up to Easter.  It has traditionally been a time for reflection and contemplation on the meaning of Easter, the sacrifice that Christ made on our behalf, and our utter dependence upon God.  Easter was the day that Jesus defeated evil in the world.  Yes, evil still exists, and evil continues to flail around as much as it can.  But, it has already been defeated.  The game is over even though the time has not run out yet.  Evil doesn’t want to admit that it is losing, and it will lose, but it will.  Easter is our assurance of that.

Easter reminds us that evil is real, that we do not have the power to stop evil by ourselves, and that we are dependent upon Jesus to defeat evil for us.  We will continue to battle it the rest of our lives.  Evil is like a boxer that has already been knocked out.   But, he continues to get up off the mat and flail his arms around, trying to inflict a little more harm on us, before he completely collapses, totally defeated, never to get up again.  Without Jesus, evil would win.  Without Jesus, we would lose.  Without Easter, we would be without hope.

Because of Easter, evil has width, but not depth.  Evil is like a bad weed that grows and grows and takes over the topsoil.  It looks like it is everywhere.  But, it has no roots. It has no depth.  It can kill off the grass and the plants on the surface, but it can’t go deep, which means that it won’t last.  Only good has the roots to go deep.  Because of its roots, good will outlast evil.  Good will conquer evil in the end.  Good has the depth that evil lacks.

That is what we learn from Easter.  That is why we look forward to Easter.  That is why we have hope.  The evil that we see now will not last.  Evil was defeated on the cross.  When Jesus rose from the dead on Easter, he signed evil’s death sentence.  It’s only a matter of time, before He shuts it away completely.  Hang in there.  Easter’s coming.

 

New Habits for a New Year

January 2, 2017

We have flipped the calendar.  We have celebrated the end of 2016.  We have celebrated the beginning of 2017.  We get a fresh start.  We get a chance to start over, to try again.  So, now, what will we do?  Many people make New Year’s resolutions, but half of those people give up on their resolutions by the end of January.  The key is to develop good habits.  The key is to break bad habits.  We are much more likely to act our way into a new way of thinking, than we are to try to think our way into a new way of acting.  So, where do we begin acting differently?  As we start this New Year, I want to encourage us to begin 3 new habits:

1.This year, I will grow spiritually by ________________.

If you do not yet have a relationship with God through Jesus Christ, then look into this.  Read about Who Jesus is, what He said, and what He did.  Talk to people who believe in Jesus.  Explore it and check it out.

If you are already following Jesus, how can you grow spiritually this year?

Here are some habits to consider:

This year, I will read at least one chapter in the Bible every day.

This year, I will pray at least 5 minutes every day.

This year, I will attend church worship services 3-4 times a month.  (Research shows a significant difference in the strength of people’s faith who attend worship 3-4 times a month over those who only attend 1-2 times a month.)

This year, I will give ____% of my money to the church/missions/charity.

This year, I will take a Sabbath day every week.

These are called spiritual habits or spiritual practices.  If these become regular patterns in your life, you will grow stronger spiritually.

This is about Believing.

 

2.This year, I will grow relationally by ______________________.

Who are one or two people that you want to become better friends with this year?

This year, I will have coffee/lunch with someone once a week.

This year, I will invite someone over to my house to visit once a month.

This year, I will invite at least one unchurched person to come to church with me.  (The average Methodist invites a person to church once every 42 years.  What if all of us invited one person to church every year?)

This year, I will regularly attend a small group or a Sunday School class.

This year, I will call one person on the phone each week to ask them how they are doing or how I can pray for them.

This year, I will reconcile with one person I am estranged from.

This is about Belonging.

 

3.This year, I will grow missionally by __________________________.

How can you serve God in our community?

Where can you serve God in our community?

This year, I will share my faith with one person who does not yet believe in Jesus.

This year, I will talk to one neighbor a month.

This year, I will have a block party to get to know my neighbors.

This year, I will find a need in our community where I can help.

This year, I will participate in one mission effort with our church.

This year, I will donate clothes or food to a local school or mission.

This is about Blessing.

 

As we begin this New Year, I want you to think about 3 things you can do differently this year.  Think about 3 new habits you can start, or 3 current habits you can enhance and expand.  We are more likely to act our way into a new way of thinking, than we are to think our way into a new way of acting.  The quality of our lives has a lot to do with our habits – breaking old bad habits and starting new good habits.  If you become consistent in doing what God wants you to do, and consistent in living in healthy ways, you can live as the salt of the earth and the light of the world.

 

Thanksgiving

November 1, 2016

Every year during the month of November, we pause to celebrate the Thanksgiving holiday.  There are certain national stories that are important to our country.  There are certain Biblical stories that are important to our faith.  There is value in telling these stories again every year, to remind us of who we are and how we got here.  They help us reflect on why we do what we do today, and help us get “back on track” when we forget where we came from.

The first major British settlement in America was at Jamestown, Virginia, in 1607.  Jamestown was named after King James of England.  The first settlers came for political reasons (to expand the British Empire) and for financial reasons (to look for gold).  13 years later, the Pilgrims settled in Massachusetts, arriving in 1620.  They came for religious reasons.  Thus, we see that our nation originated from different groups who arrived at different times for different purposes – some political, some financial, and some religious.

The Pilgrims set sail from England on the Mayflower on September 6, 1620, with 102 passengers and 30 crew members.  Their goal was to sail to Virginia.  The Atlantic winds blew them off course.  Instead of landing in Virginia, they landed at Cape Cod, Massachusetts on November 11, 1620.  The trip across the Atlantic Ocean was a miserable one, with huge waves constantly crashing against the ship’s topside deck.  The passengers suffered from shortages of food and of other supplies.  There were two deaths on board the Mayflower, and there was one baby born, who was named Oceanus.

After landing at Cape Cod, the Pilgrims wanted to sail south to Virginia to reach their original destination.  But when the weather would not cooperate, they decided to spend the winter in Massachusetts.  To establish legal order and to quell increasing strife within the ranks, the settlers wrote and signed the Mayflower Compact.

On November 27, an exploring expedition was launched under the direction of Capt. Christopher Jones to search for a suitable settlement site. They were obviously not accustomed to, or prepared for, the bitter winter weather they encountered.  The expedition was forced to spend the night on shore in below-freezing temperatures with wet shoes and stockings that became frozen.

The Pilgrims spent the entire winter on board the Mayflower, suffering an outbreak of a contagious disease described as a mixture of scurvy, pneumonia, and tuberculosis.  When it ended, there were only 53 passengers still alive. Half of the Pilgrims had died.  Half of the crew died, as well. In the spring, they built huts on shore, and on March 21, 1621, the surviving passengers finally disembarked from the Mayflower.

The event that Americans commonly call the “First Thanksgiving” was celebrated by the Pilgrims after their first harvest in the New World in 1621.  This feast lasted three days, and was attended by 90 Native Americans and 53 Pilgrims. The New England colonists were accustomed to regularly celebrating “thanksgivings”, which were days of prayer thanking God for blessings such as military victory or the end of a drought.

Squanto, a Pantuxet Native American who resided with the Wampanoag tribe, taught the Pilgrims how to catch eel and grow corn and served as an interpreter for them. Squanto had learned the English language during his enslavement in England. The Wampanoag leader Massasoit had given food to the colonists during the first winter when the supplies brought from England were insufficient.  The feast was cooked by four adult Pilgrim women who survived their first winter in the New World (Eleanor Billington, Elizabeth Hopkins, Mary Brewster, and Susanna White, along with young daughters and male and female servants).

When we read this story, we are reminded of a few key points:

  1. The first Thanksgiving was a time to give thanks to God for their survival. The Pilgrims were not ready for the harsh wintry conditions they encountered.  Half of their group died from disease.  This was a scary time.  The people who survived did not live because they were smarter or more talented or more prepared or because they had more faith.  They survived by the grace of God Who kept them alive.  They set aside three days to thank God for saving their lives.
  2. The first Thanksgiving was a time to give thanks for the grace and the hospitality extended to the Pilgrims by the Native Americans. The Pilgrims would not have survived without them.  God saved them through the Native people.  They had knowledge of the winter, the land, the crops that could grow, and how to survive, which the Pilgrims needed.  Thanksgiving was a time to thank the Native Americans for coming to their rescue.
  3. The Pilgrims were an adventurous people. They were willing to take a huge risk to leave England and journey thousands of miles to America, knowing that they might not ever see their loved ones again, and might not survive.  They were probably driven by a mixture of fear and hope, desperation and faith, uncertainty and adventure.  They were entrepreneurs.  They were willing to make huge sacrifices to find a better life.  They had a deep faith in Jesus and were moved to pray and thank God for saving their lives.

Their first year in America probably did not go as they had hoped or planned.  They had to adapt.  They had to learn lots of new things.  They had to adjust their lives to fit the new world they were now living in, while remaining grounded in their faith in Jesus, rooted in the scriptures, and interdependent on one another.  These are good lessons for us to remember today.

As we celebrate Thanksgiving this month, what are we thankful for?  Are we still willing to make great sacrifices today?  Are we willing to set out on great adventures, stretching our faith, and willing to face new situations, like our Pilgrim forebears before us?  Do we realize that we need each other?  Thanksgiving is a story of people from different countries, different continents, different races, and different sexes working together.  Thanksgiving is a story of immigration where the first Americans welcomed some of the first Europeans with grace, generosity, and hospitality.  Thanksgiving is a story of success.

So, as we sit down to our Thanksgiving meals this year, we are reminded to be thankful to God, to be thankful for those around us who have helped us, and to take risks of faith and to make sacrifices for Jesus.  We are building on the story that began almost 400 years ago.  Jesus saves us to do something.  God rescues us to go somewhere.  The Holy Spirit is preparing us for something special.  Where will God lead us to go this year?

The Age of Generosity

November 2, 2015

In 2009, Joshua Cooper Ramo wrote a best-selling book called The Age of the Unthinkable. In it, he describes how we have arrived at a moment of peril that not long ago would have seemed unimaginable. All around us, ideas and institutions that we once relied on for our safety and security are failing – and the best ideas of our leaders seem to make our problems worse, not better. He argues that we live in a time of ceaseless, unthinkable change, yet many of our organizations are stuck in bureaucracies that are inflexible and out of date. The unthinkable has become the inevitable, and we wonder where the leaders are who can bring people together to address tough, complex problems.

Recently, David Brooks wrote an article in the New York Times called Enter the Age of Outsiders. He said that whereas our world used to function as planets revolving around the sun, with a gravitational force that kept them connected to the center, now we live in an age where the outsiders have the greater gravitational force, and they are pulling us apart. Our political systems and social systems used to work, but they no longer do. The secular vision of capitalism no longer appeals to many people and our democratic system has become dysfunctional. We are losing confidence and heading for an Age of Exhaustion. But, he suggests, our real problems are mental and spiritual.

We can make a difference in our world if we address the mental and spiritual issues of our time. Our problems will not be solved by political solutions alone. They will not be solved by economic solutions alone. They will only be solved if we also address the mental and spiritual issues that exist beneath the surface.
One way to do this is to “swim upstream” against the dysfunction of a self-centered culture. As followers of Jesus, we have to learn to “go against the grain” and not participate in unhealthy patterns of blaming, shaming, intransigence, arrogance, and narcissism. Instead of being completely focused on ourselves, we need to pay more attention on God. Who is God? How does Jesus want us to live? What changes does the Holy Spirit want to make in our lives? How can we become more like Christ? We can become more humble, teachable, and open. We don’t have to go along with every idea, but we compare them to the teachings of the Bible and see if they are consistent with what God has revealed to us.

In this age of frustration and cynicism, we don’t want our churches to be dysfunctional. It is important that we understand who we are, what we are called to be and to do, and to carry out our tasks with competence. In an age when so many organizations and institutions have become dysfunctional, if our churches can function in healthy and missional ways, we can be an example and a witness to others. We can be a breath of fresh air to those who are looking for places of healing that know how to get things done. We can be a quiet example of what people can actually accomplish when they set aside their own personal agendas, humble themselves, and come together.

What does it look like to live generously? How does a generous heart, coupled with generous actions, change the tone of our communities? If we reject the me-first, individualistic, accomplishment paradigm of our culture, and reverse it to become generous, team-oriented people who seek the welfare of the community where God has sent us (Jeremiah 29:7), what kind of impact can we have? Can we actually be used by the Holy Spirit to bring a future and a hope (Jeremiah 29:11)?

It begins with God. It begins with us. It begins with our own spiritual condition. It begins with our local congregation. It begins with our neighborhood. It begins with our local community. Through our daily words and actions, we can begin to usher in an Age of Generosity. We have been saved to serve. We have been blessed to be a blessing. We have received grace to be generous with others. The more we give away, the more we will gain. The more we share what we have, the more others’ lives will be touched. The more we share our resources, the more our communities will be recalibrated. Living generously can change our hearts, our relationships, and our communities.

We could buy into the cynicism, pessimism, and dysfunction of the current culture. We could be overwhelmed by the Age of the Unthinkable and the Age of Exhaustion. Or we could let Jesus change our lives and follow a different path. We could usher in an Age of Generosity and see what happens.

 

Going and Blessing

June 28, 2015

I have been rooted here in San Diego for the last 8 years. These years have been a tremendous blessing to me. I moved here when my youngest son was leaving home to go to college and a new season began in our lives. I have watched my boys become men and find their way in life. I have met so many wonderful people. I have built some great relationships and established lifelong friendships. I have wept with people, cried with people, and rejoiced with people. I have discovered America’s Finest City, enjoyed the beaches, the waterfront, the scenery, the attractions, and the weather. What’s not to like? God has brought so many opportunities my way and blessed me beyond what I thought was possible. I have received privileges I did not deserve. Grace upon grace abounds. I have learned a lot, grown in my faith, and been stretched in painful yet important ways. I see the world differently now. My perspective has changed. Jesus has continued to mold and shape me. My love for my wife has grown and she has made me a better person. I have worked through difficult relationships and seen healing take place. The Holy Spirit continues to surprise me with experiences he has brought my way. I have been humbled and made stronger because of that. I am truly blessed.

Now, my wife and I have discerned that God is leading us to a new place in our lives. This new place is actually an old place. A door has opened for us to move back home to Terre Haute, Indiana, and we are going to walk through it. It’s a place that we know, with friends and family we love, and surroundings that are familiar. And yet it’s a place we have to re-discover with new relationships to build and new people we will get to meet. Like any big move, it is both scary and exciting at the same time. I believe God calls us to take risks. I believe God calls us to take steps of faith when we don’t know how things are going to turn out. I believe God calls us to trust in Him when we don’t have all the answers. This is not always easy, but it can always be good.

This reminds me of Genesis 12:1 -3, one of the pivotal texts of scripture. “The Lord said to Abraham, ‘Go from your country, your people, and your father’s household to the land I will show you. I will make you into a great nation and I will bless you. I will make your name great and you will be a blessing. I will bless those who bless you and whoever curses you I will curse, and all people on earth will be blessed through you.’”

This text shows us that following God is about Going and Blessing. God calls us to Go into the world. Often this means leaving something behind. When you go on a journey, you can’t take everything with you. You can’t take everyone with you. You have to leave some things behind. God called Abraham to leave his sense of security behind – his country, his people, his household – not even knowing where he was going. It was a journey into uncertainty. It was leaving the known for the unknown – stepping out in faith. God promised to show Abraham where he was going when he got there, but not before.

Going is not easy. Going involves sacrificing one thing for another thing. We can’t have it all. Often, God calls us to give up something really, really good for something that might be even better. Who knew? Do we really trust that God will do that? Jesus calls disciples in the New Testament to follow Him. He commissions us to Go into the world and make disciples of all peoples. Following Jesus is not meant to be a static way of life. It is not meant to be stable or stuck. It is meant to be dynamic, in motion, going somewhere, becoming someone, doing something. It does not stand still. It is not a paralyzed life. It is a journey. It is an adventure. It is the road less travelled.

Genesis 12:1-3 is also about Blessing. This is mentioned five times in three verses: I will bless you, you will be a blessing, I will bless those who bless you, and all peoples on earth will be blessed through you. God’s desire is to bless every one of us. God loves us and God wants to add blessings to our lives. Jesus said he came that we might have life and have it more abundantly. Paul says that God can do immeasurably more than we could ever ask or think. God blesses us. But God does not bless us just so that we can be blessed. God blesses us so that we can be a blessing to others. We have been saved to serve. We are called to give our lives away, to invest in our communities, to move back into our neighborhoods, and to share the blessings of the Spirit with others. We are called to love our neighbors. We are even called to love our enemies. We are called to bless those who curse us and show love to those who mistreat us. We are called to make a difference in the world by sharing the blessings we have received from God with others.

Following Jesus is about Going and Blessing. My wife and I are getting ready to turn another page in the book of our lives, and we will be going and blessing in a new way. We will be moving to a new place which is really an old place. We will be moving into some old relationships and into some new relationships. We will be moving into new responsibilities and new experiences. We are going in order to bless. We go with the hope that God might bless others through us. We go with the hope that God might bless the community through us. We go with the hope that we can join with others in going into the world to bless it with good news. This is not a surprise. This is what following is Jesus is all about.

Missional Questions for Every Congregation to Ask

March 1, 2015

In Scott Sunquist’s book Understanding Christian Mission, he lists six missional questions every congregation needs to be asking to help them live into God’s missional plan. Here they are:

1. How can we understand our local missional context?
This is a social analysis of the community. What should the church be looking for as it analyzes its own mission field?
A. Ethnic patterns: what groups live here and in which areas do they live?
B. Age patterns
C. Economic status of various groups
D. Educational level
E. Major institutions in the area
F. Economic patterns (manufacturing, service industries, etc.)
G. Religious beliefs and membership
In addition to doing a factual, objective analysis from census data and other data available, there should also be a subjective analysis of the community. The church’s leadership team should walk the neighborhood, stopping in stores, schools, restaurants, and other establishments. They should take time to talk to people along the road, on the bus, or in the park. In this way, a leadership team will develop a missional awareness of their neighborhood. Most church contexts are very complex and it takes time to take the pulse, to know the hopes and fears of local people. A church must begin their missional journey with listening and attentiveness.

2. Who are the immigrant groups in our community? Where are they from and what does their social profile look like?
In most places in the world, people are moving beyond their ethnic boundaries. Some are “moving up” because of better jobs and great economic opportunities, while others are “moving out” to escape famine or violence. Some are students, some are professionals, and some are illiterate. Our missional presence must be directed according to the people God has brought into our midst. Some immigrate to get a better education which will lead to better career and economic opportunities. Some immigrate to a different country as a matter of survival. Many struggle to learn a new language and transportation system and adjust to a new climate. They can see God in the incarnation of His Body, the local church, which welcomes the foreigner.

3. Where are the poorest and neediest in our midst?
There are many ways in which we can and should be involved in local missionary work, but one aspect of mission that we must identify and then engage in is ministry among the neediest. Poverty and injustice should be like magnet north, turning the compass of our missional involvement in their direction. The early Christians were known for taking care of the poor – especially widows and orphans who were especially defenseless within the surrounding culture. The Missio Dei must run through the places of greatest darkness and pain, the places that seem completely hopeless. It is in such places, and with such people, that the light of the gospel is most needed and most clearly seen. Every local church should ask “Who are the neediest?” and then set out to meet their needs.

4. Are there events and institutions that we need to establish in order to meet needs and serve our community?
The local church should be the one place in every community in which people are asking what their community needs. It may be a medical clinic or a free dental clinic. Paying attention to the local community may reveal that the community needs healthy gathering places or wholesome gathering events. In some cities, it means reclaiming the streets: bringing families and young people back to playgrounds and side streets. Many churches are providing street fairs and sports leagues to bring communities together in moral and safe contexts. Other churches are using their buildings seven days a week to offer free tutoring for children, language classes for immigrants, computer literacy for the unemployed, and AA classes for people with ongoing addiction problems. A local church can be a catalyst for community building and the “full conversion of cultures”.

5. To what degree can the local church cooperate with people of other faiths in local mission and social ministry?
This is not an easy question to answer. In many Western countries, Christians are strongly encouraged to cooperate in all mission with all people. In certain contexts, this is appropriate, nothing is compromised, and much good is done. However, there are times when cooperation becomes compromising, as not all social issues are commonly evaluated as to their social good. In many areas of community outreach, cooperation is essential: local churches need to work cooperatively with other religions to provide basic health care, to maintain open dialogue, and to feed the poor. But, if our ability to talk about the center of our faith is hindered, we need to re-think our cooperation.

6. What is the role of the laity in mission, and how can the clergy enhance and promote it?
Many people in the West have come to believe that missions is the responsibility of the clergy. But, lay people are specially gifted in a variety of ways for carrying out the mission of God. The role of pastors is to aid in converting, equipping, and sending out the laity. We often forget that most of the evangelization in the world, most of the translation of the Bible, most of the work for justice, and most of the care for the poor has been done by lay people.

One pastor starting asking members to tell their stories of how they were living out their faith in Christ in mission in the careers God had called them into. A crossing guard told how God had called him to make the intersection in front of a primary school a safe place for children. If a child forgot their lunch, he lent them money to buy one; and if a child forgot their homework, he called a parent. He created a loving and peaceful environment for children. A hairdresser spoke about how God had called her to help women feel good about themselves and to listen and pray for her clients. A few had so appreciated her ministry that they came to her church to discover the faith that they had seen and enjoyed in their presence. Here is a model for a local church in which everyone can understand themselves as uniquely gifted and called by God to their neighborhood.

Each and every person called to Christ is sent by Christ. Some are sent around the world, others are sent across the street. However, all are sent as ambassadors and reconciling agents with a life to share as well as a message to speak.

Living Missionally

October 1, 2014

Culture shifts are difficult for organizations to make. In particular, organizations that place a high value on their history find it very challenging to make a shift in their culture. One such organization that values its traditions is the church. There is good reason for this. Many churches have a long history. Many churches have a long history of good deeds, helpful contributions, and a significant impact on their local communities. So, it is no wonder that they value their past. They have good reason to do so.

But, what do you do when you fall on hard times? What happens when more of your people are looking in the rear view mirror than through the windshield? What if most of your people are looking at what is behind them instead of what is in front of them? Then, something needs to change. It has been said that, over time, organizations shift from being a mission to a movement to a museum and then to a morgue. How do we learn what it means again for the church to live as a missionary community with an essential purpose for its local context?

One way is to go back to our roots. One way is to go way back in our history, look at the early days of our movement, and discover how the church got started and what people were doing at that time. Over the years, many church cultures shifted from doing mission to supporting others in mission. We gave money and sent missionaries overseas to do our mission work for us. One of the unintended consequences of this was that those of us in the “sending” churches no longer saw ourselves as missionaries. We forgot that we are also “sent” people, sent into our own local communities to live as witnesses for Christ. We all know that when you don’t exercise your muscles for a long period of time, that after a while, you forget how to use them. For many people in the American context, we have spiritual and missional muscles that have atrophied from lack of use. We have forgotten how to use them. This means it is painful when we begin to stretch them again. What to do?

In response to this situation, the General Assembly of the Presbyterian Church (USA) approved an initiative called Living Missionally at its June, 2014 meeting. http://www.pc-biz.org/PC-Biz.WebApp_deploy/%28S%28e0j5gwxfitkdxjfzkiz0ud4t%29%29/IOBView.aspx?m=ro&id=4851. While affirming and re-affirming their historical commitment to world missions, this initiative lifted up the need and the call for every Christian to go beyond the walls of their congregations and increase their engagement in service and witness to their local communities.

The rationale focused on three main issues of the needed culture shift that are addressed in the book Missional Church: A Vision for the Sending of the Church in North America, edited by Darrel Guder.

1. The first culture shift that the church must make is to move from being a church with mission to a missional church. Most churches will articulate a commitment to mission and have a mission program. If they are large enough, they may have a specific pastor or staff person devoted to mission. Many support overseas missionaries or contribute to food banks, homeless shelters, or rescue missions. In this construct, mission is seen as one of the many activities and programs of the church. But, the purpose of the local church is not to be a “vendor of religious goods and services” with mission merely being one of a myriad of programs. Rather, doing mission is central to what it means to be the church. The church at its core must be missional. Everything it does is not because the church of God has a mission but because the God of mission has a church. Everything we do is because God has invited us into His mission on earth. All Christians have a calling and a vocation to participate in the mission of God.

2. The second shift that the church must make is in regards to the very definition of what it means to be the church. The church was designed to be a body of people sent on mission. In other words, the church was intended to be a missionary community. Thus, the church is not only a group that gathers for a worship service. It is not just a social club that builds relationships. The church is also a group of people organizing together so they can serve the community around them more effectively. The purpose of gathering together is to be sent. Darrel Guder says, “The public worship of the mission community always leads to the pivotal act of sending. The community that is called together is the community that is sent. Every occasion of public worship is a sending event.” To be a missional church, the worship is driven more by what must happen after the service. They do this through normal, day-to-day interactions with friends, family members, and colleagues. To do this effectively, the church must know its neighbors and understand what things they care about.

3. The third culture shift the church needs to make is to move from talking to doing. In some churches, people think if they have gone to a meeting, that they have done the work. Not so. I know one church where people like to gather to talk about issues, but they don’t want to actually do anything about them (seriously). We are called to reach out to our communities through acts of witness and service to demonstrate the love of Christ to our friends, families, and neighbors. What does this mean practically? The Living Missionally initiative suggests taking some the following steps:
a. Determine a number of volunteers and volunteer hours that they would commit to their community and fulfill that commitment for the year,
b. Adopt a community in need of refurbishing in the U.S,
c. Actively engage youth and young adults in volunteer opportunities,
d. Support young adults and others called to serve in God’s mission in the U.S. and abroad, or
e. Re-present Christ in their everyday lives through normal, day-to-day interactions with friends, family members, and colleagues.

Living Missionally means stepping out in faith. It means engaging in missional experiments, being creative and innovative, and trying new forms of ministry. It means not being afraid to fail and not letting our fears hold us back. It means building relationships with people, listening to them, and discerning how God might be calling us to respond. Living missionally is not something that can be done in a sanctuary or a church building. We can be encouraged in our gatherings to go out and live missionally, but that is only the beginning. Living missionally is the realization that all Christians are called and sent. We all have gifts and talents that God wants to put to use. We are the sent ones. All of us can make a difference in the world in which we live.