Doing Good or Doing Well

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The Metrics of Mission

Measuring the performance of a missional church community is not performed using the same yardstick as many modern churches utilize. While the paramount measure of success in some church circles is bottoms in seats, the missional church evaluates their adherence to the missio dei by how many seats are provided for bottoms. Rather than making a mission of increasing the budget year over year, a missional community will consider the percentage of their budget turned around into the mission field. Tallying the noses of the churched kids who attend a VBS is one number, taking the VBS under various guises to the unreached children of the area is an entirely different count. In every missional metric the priority is reaching, touching and influencing the lives of our neighbors with the truth and reality of the gospel.

As Willow Creek discovered years ago, the metric used to evaluate success doesn’t always align with God’s intention for the church. Their numbers in terms of attendance and conversion were staggering by any measure but the culture that generated those numbers also came at a high cost. As the adage goes, they were a mile wide and an inch deep. “Go and make disciples” had reduced to “baptize them”, a crucial measure but only half the mission. The Commission is holistic and intended to build a self-replicating community of believers who will join the cycle and further the mission.

The missional church may never attain the size of a market-entertainment-self help driven church. That will always be more attractive to the itching ears of our time. The missional body will grow, perhaps not as numerically quickly, but in a more important aspect, they will grow spiritually. The numbers in this world may not impress but the results in the Kingdom ahead will be staggering.

image by Roland Tanglao

The Way to a Positive Alternative

2589059730_be5d058882_mIn a culture that is hostile to Christians one has to admit to asking the question, why engage in the social issues of the day? The price is high, victories are few and far between and the culture at large seems to continue its inexorable slide each day. When the Christian stops to consider the definition of a “win” there is often silence. If our goal is to bend people to our will we find ourselves woefully off track and defeated.

Perhaps our objective should be colored with more humility. Rather than being seen as attempting to enforce a moral code at the end of a pointing finger we can be known for presenting a positive alternative. Painting a different picture of the good life, liberty and freedom that is winsome to those who stand in opposition to your beliefs, moral code and ethics. It will gain you an audience faster than vitriol and accusation and even if the recipient ultimately rejects your positive alternative they will have bared—if only to themselves—their true reason for choosing the social path that they are living.

Consider St. Paul’s imperative in the fifth chapter of Ephesians – “Be imitators of God”. The imitator takes on the characteristics of the original in such a way that the viewer gains the impression that they are seeing the real thing. Paul is certainly not recommending an idolatrous path to making ourselves into little-G gods. Rather, he compels us to model the attributes of God as He has revealed them to us in forming a positive alternative to share with the world at large.

If we recognize that God is patient [trusting in His Spirit to be work] and He does not want anyone to perish (2 Pet 3:8-9) and God’s kindness in this respect leads to repentance (Rom 2:4), we will also discover that He wants all men to be saved and to come to know the truth (1 Tim 2:3-4). If we further come to know that God is compassionate towards even those who are His enemies (Rom 5:6-8) and that His love for the world (John 3:16), we will better comprehend this love in terms of Christ dying for the ungodly (Rom 5:6) and that Christ had the same compassion for people (Mt 9:36-38). We can marinate in these twin threads of compassionate desire for the salvation of all people and develop from it a powerful positive social alternative.

If we are to be imitators of God then we must reflect to all we encounter the desire for their ultimate redemption and do so with compassion.

Image by Loreen Liberty

Regaining Our Missionary Footing

Therefore, go and make disciples of all nations…

The majority of churches in the American context have lost their sense of mission, settling for the comfort and care of their congregants and attenders. Missions—where supported—has a foreign connotation, referring to those sent to exotic outposts to evangelize the indigenous peoples. Seeing the blocks that surround church building as a mission field is left to the church planter.

…You will be my witnesses in Jerusalem, and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth.

While we should not go so far as to say that all of the Church is to see itself as mission outposts, certainly a fair percentage of churches should seeking the will of the Shepherd as to their calling in this respect. How many churches see their neighbors and neighborhood as a mission field in the same way as those sent to Japan or Mexico? How many congregations have done the kind of sociological research on the people in the immediate vicinity of the church that a denominational missions agency has done on the ends of the earth? Are we still attempting to attract people to programs rather than seeking out ways to deliver living water to them?

For even the Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve…

The American church has grown to accommodate the culture, adapting the culture’s ways to the service of Christ in an effort to attract more people to the building. Few practice service to others without the agenda of attraction, even if it is unspoken. The Church’s local influence should be such that we are culture makers, not culture takers.

The Church must regain its missionary footing and take the first steps right outside of her door. The Lord did not leave us the option of ignoring (our) Jerusalem in favor of the ends of the earth. It will require an outward focus from the top down, possibly at the expense of internal comfort. The mission re-starts right here, right now.

Grace and peace to you…

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The Unexpected Adventure by Lee Strobel & Mark Mittelberg

imageAs we follow our particular paths through life we’re all going to encounter people like Jack, people laying tile nearby another conversation, and spend moments with our neighbors and friends. We may find ourselves in the company of a young Hindu farmer or even a Billy Moore. In every one of these interactions there is an opportunity for God to call us into the adventure of a lifetime, opening the door for a spiritual conversation that may be the turning point in someone’s life. In The Unexpected Adventure, authors Lee Strobel and Mark Mittelberg draw us into the excitement of recognizing these moments without the pressure that sometimes accompanies a programmed evangelism process.

Adventure is about opportunity. Strobel and Mittelberg speak do not set out a program as we might find in Mark’s earlier effort ‘Becoming a Contagious Christian’ and the training program of the same name. Thousands of churches have participated in these types of programs and trained numerous people in how to have the most important conversation that can be had. You learn your spiritual style and how to find those interactions where this can be utilized to the greatest advantage. In many cases, men and women have been successful in implementing the lessons and have gone on to important evangelistic efforts. Many others have found themselves watching and waiting for their opportunities to put the steps into practice but have been too shy or hesitant to move. What sets Adventure apart is its singular focus on the moments of spiritual opportunity that surround us every day. Strobel and Mittelberg serve up vignettes of personal contacts in which they recognized an opening to tell the gospel story, both directly and obliquely.

Written as a collection of 42 devotion-style entries, each of the chapters serves up a different example of the myriad ways in which God arranges spiritually needy lives to intersect with His evangelistic partners, you and me. From an overheard conversation with someone else, through a misunderstood Buenos Dias, or to a close friend who confides her darkest secrets to you; each is a possible invitation to introduce the hope that you know to someone keenly in need of that hope. The variety of encounters that the authors recall is so broad that you will be able to easily locate yourself in more than one. When you have tuned your spiritual antennae to be alert to these invitations you will find that it becomes the most natural thing in life to share what you know without the pressure of thinking about the ‘E’ word or worrying that it must be done in a specific way.

Strobel and Mittelberg have made a fantastic contribution to the Church and her commandment. This book stands up with Rebecca Pippert’s Out of the Shaker, Paul Little’s Know books and Joe Aldrich’s Lifestyle Evangelism in making sharing your hope a natural outpouring of your transformed life. What sets Adventure apart is page after page of recognizable moments in life that we all have. After reading each chapter, you will fold the pages over your finger and think back to similar times in your own life, perhaps recognizing them for divine appointments and hungry for another chance. With no steps to remember, telling your story of hope or simply answering a question will become a response as easy as breathing. Sign up now for The Unexpected Adventure, you won’t regret it.

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Rembrandt in the Mud

John Burke’s first book No Perfect People Allowed solidified a lot of my ideas about ministry and in his new book, Soul Revolution he’s just as good. I came accross this paragraph on my first read,

Imagine you found a Rembrandt painting covered in mud. You wouldn’t focus on themud or treat it like mud. Your primary concern wouldn’t be the mud at all, even though it would need to be removed. You’d be ecstatic to have discovered something so valuable. If you tried to clean it up without the expertise, you might damage it. So you’d take the painting to an expert, who could show you how to restore it to its original condition. When people begin treating one another as God’s masterpiece waiting to be revealed, God’s grace grows in their lives and cleanses them.

The more I think about this, the more I love this.

Bricks Without Straw

Ministry that is accompanied by struggle, persecution, and difficulty often leads the pastor to what where God’s plan lies. The Lord calls us to specific ministry objectives big and small and we faithfully follow that call only to discover that the ministry that results is fraught with heartache, disappointment, and struggle, sometimes even failure. I was reminded of this in reading Exodus this morning. Moses and Aaron are called to a ministry of confrontation with Pharaoh and leadership to their people. They carry the Lord’s message to him to release His people and, as a result, Pharaoh increases the pressure on the Hebrews.

The result is predictable, given what we know about human nature:

The Israelite foremen realized they were in trouble when they were told, “You are not to reduce the number of bricks required of you for each day.” When they left Pharaoh, they found Moses and Aaron waiting to meet them, and they said, “May the Lord look upon you and judge you! You have made us a stench to Pharaoh and his officials and have put a sword in their hand to kill us.”  Ex 5:19-21

Leaders in Christ’s church must be willing to remind God’s people that following His plan is a dangerous pursuit and there is always a chance that not all of us are going to come through unscathed. If God calls your church to a specific ministry, no matter how unglamorous, our calling is to lead our people into the fire regardless of the pain, scorn, and fallout that might come our way. To do anything less is to proclaim our lack of trust in the providence of our Father.

You see, we must continue to read on despite the fear of reprisal that a ministry call may generate. When Moses presses Yahweh for understanding, he gets this response:

“Therefore, say to the Israelites: ‘I am the Lord, and I will bring you out from under the yoke of the Egyptians. I will free you from being slaves to them, and I will redeem you with an outstretched arm and with mighty acts of judgment. I will take you as my own people, and I will be your God. Then you will know that I am the Lord your God, who brought you out from under the yoke of the Egyptians. And I will bring you to the land I swore with uplifted hand to give to Abraham, to Isaac and to Jacob. I will give it to you as a possession. I am the Lord.’ ” Ex 6:6-8

We, as followers of the Risen Christ, have the same great promise to undergird everything that the Father calls us to do. Every step of every day may be an incredible struggle as compared to others around us but, in the end, we have the promise of eternal life in the peace of the Lord. We can be faithful to our calling or we can avoid it, God gives us this choice but there is never a promise that either path will be easy.

Gracism and Honor for the Honorless

At the midway point in David Anderson’s examination of 1 Corinthians 12, our eyes should be opening to the reality of being a part of the Body. Gracism offers us an antidote to the individuality and exclusion that threads its way through the the Church, separating us as though we are unconnected  or needful of what other brothers and sisters have to offer. By allowing this to continue, we run the risk of planting barriers that make it much more difficult for us to fulfill our Divinely-assigned work. To this point, Anderson has summarized the complex chapter into the following Gracist affirmations:

  • I will lift you up
  • I will cover you
  • I will share with you

and today, we will take a quick look at the fourth saying I will Honor you.

An important component of the Gracist mindset comes from a refusal to allow dishonor to visited upon any member of the body. Our human tendency to assign degrees of honor to other people runs contra to the biblical notions of equality within the body. Though we may achieve different stations in life and enjoy various successes and failures, in the eyes of God — the one who matters — we are all simply sinners in need of His grace. Paul wrote to the Corinthians that this same graceful vision should be shared among the brothers and sisters of the body.

David teaches us to train our eyes to look out within the Body and extending to all people for those are “honor deficient.” These are people who do not have what the majority enjoy. It may be access to services, it may equal treatment, it could be nearly invisible things that we often take for granted but for some, it becomes a wedge of separation that should never exist within the Body of Christ. The solution for the Gracist is to seek these folks out and honor them. It becomes our job to “invite them to the banquet.” We can be the uniters within the Body, seeking out those whose honor is dirtied or being blocked and find ways of restoring that God given honor to them and bringing them back into the purpose of the Body.

Pastor Anderson offers a simple reminder of our common state before God whose eyes do not divide:

The Lord is compassionate and gracious, slow to anger and abounding in love.

He will not always accuse, nor will he harbor his anger forever;

He does not treat us as our sins deserve, or repay us according to our iniquities.

(Psalm 103 8-10)   

The Taliban Make a Martyr

 Dr. Groothuis’ measured comments on the South Korean hostages in Afghanistan are most productive in a terrible situation. Read it here: The Taliban Make a Martyr . We continue to be in prayer knowing all the while the awful truth: God in His omniscient wisdom will sometimes take the lives of his servants for the greater good. We struggle to understand and accept this but all we need to do is look to the cross. May peace prevail.

Jubilee in the Age of Racism

[The following was written by one of my spiritual mentors, H. Malcolm Newton. I was unable to find an online link to the old document so it is transcribed word for word here. It was originally published in the Faculty Column of a journal called Focal Point.]

The Mark Fuhrman developments in the O.J. Simpson case as well as the Million Man March in Washington D.C. tend to confirm the view that those failing to learn from history are condemned to repeat it. It was simply a matter of time before circumstances exposed the deep-seated racial hatred running rampant in American society. Both incidents reveal that America is descending into “a state of psychological apartheid.” They reveal what “the future is going to be, unless the church grabs hold of its prime directive: to be God’s reconciling agent in the world” (Dr. Bill Pannell, The Coming Race Wars)

The Bible records the response of faithful people to events and issues. It is action arising from the foundation of biblical witness, church tradition and a a community of faith. Jesus’ call to repent and turn away from the destructive forces that permeated his society was followed by an invitation to be part of a new community of faith. The church cannot be just another social institution; it must be a new social reality presenting an alternative way of life.

The challenge is for Christian leaders to resurrect a new vision of hope and faith in the face of the spiritual nihilism and material decay in our inner cities. How does the church do theology (ministry) in light of such challenges? Strict doctrine, speculative theology and political ideology cannot be the basis for action. The church must root itself again in the values of the kingdom and live a theology of response.

Foundation to reconciliation is a theology of creation. Scripture records that God created the earth and the whole of creation is his. God gave Israel the use of the land, but it was not their possession: “No land shall be sold outright, because the land is mine, and you are coming into it as aliens and settlers” (Leviticus 25:23). Stewardship of God’s creation became a crucial aspect of Hebrew theology. The Torah taught that the right of property was subordinate to the obligation to care for the weaker members of society, such as the poor, the homeless and the stranger (Leviticus 25:35).

The year of release established a universal release of debts and freedom every seven years to all enslaved for debt (Deuteronomy 15). In the 50th year, the year of jubilee was celebrated (Leviticus 25) in which all land sold returned to its original owner or his heirs. The jubilee year met three basic demands for justice: remission of debt, liberation of slaves and redistribution of land.

God designed jubilee to protect the poor and weak. The Hebrew nation, however, strayed from this system of justice. God stood strongly with the poor through the prophets who frequently pronounced judgment on the nations because the poor had been oppressed, exploited and denied justice (Amos 5:7-13). God judged the nations because they had reneged on their promise to observe the jubilee and Sabbath years (Jeremiah 34-35).

Jesus’ message proclaimed the ethic of jubilee: release of the captives, recovery of sight to the blind and good news to the poor. At the beginning of his ministry, Jesus read the words of the prophet Isaiah, saying that these words had come true:

    The Spirit of the Lord…has anointed me; he has sent me to announce good news to the poor, to proclaim release for the prisoners and recovery of sight for the blind; to let the broken victims go free, to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor (Luke 4:18-19).

In Jesus the reality of jubilee was present.

The church must raise the question, what is the level of pain and hurt that minorities, and in particular black males, are experiencing in this country that they are attracted to Louis Farrakhan, a non-Christian? The evangelical church missed the opportunity to proclaim the good news to the poor because it has failed to understand the justice issues related to the poor. Farrakhan is trying to fill that void.

Evangelical leaders need to be empowered for a ministry of reconciliation. It is time that evangelical ministries become deeply involved in addressing the consequences of systemic violence, child abuse, battered women and gang violence as well as rivalry and conflict between and among ethnic groups. The culture of confrontation and violence taking hold in our cities is making new demands on the Christian community who can no longer ignore the pain and suffering of their brethren. Christians must validate the integrity of that pain and hurt in order to speak to the crisis in people’s lives. At the same time, Christina must talk seriously about agape strategies (love-informed strategies) and how to allow the grace of God to transform those lives and the society in which they live.

Christian leaders must proclaim to the drug user and drug dealer, the homeless, the prostitute and the gangs that Jesus is the Christ and that is the good news! The sin-bound, blind, brokenhearted and despairing need healing. The captive and oppressed need transformation. The devastated and ruined cities need repair.

As the presence of Christ in the world, the church is to become the embodiment of jubilee. Based on Scripture, I call upon churches, church agencies and the academic, theological communities throughout the country to consider, discuss, debate and take action. Establish “Adopt a Gang” programs that evangelize youth in gangs; commission missionaries to serve as court advocates for black and Latino juveniles; train street-corner evangelist to work with youth involved in drug trafficking; establish rape crisis centers and services for battered women; provide counseling for abusive men.

The crises generated by the capitalist urbanization process present an opportunity for the emergence of new moral and intellectual leadership. “The ascension of Farrakhan as a pivotal figure in the black community is a result of the failure of black church leadership to develop a coordinated program of evangelism and rehabilitation for black males” (Eugene Rivers as quoted in Christianity Today). If we, the community of faith,–black and white—rise to the occasion, we may be able to retrieve a generation cut adrift. If not, we will have brought down the judgment of God on ourselves for reneging on Jesus’ promise of jubilee.

Prof. H. Malcolm Newton is [was] assistant professor of World Christianity and director of Globalization at Denver Seminary.

Here is a PDF of the original article newtonessay.pdf
 

Gracism and Racism

Anderson defines racism as ‘speaking, acting or thinking negatively about someone else solely based on that person’s color, class or culture’ in Gracism. It is productive to add an aspect of power on the part of the racist that extends over the oppressed but we can continue in our discussion of David’s book without it. In beginning to lay the foundation of his ideas, Anderson begins by making the case logically and theologically that inclusion within the body of Christ makes sense in this day and age. Not only does the Bible make a clear case for reaching out to all people but it also makes clear our reliance on one another.

The excursus of 1 Corinthians 12 begins with an observation of Paul’s insertion of a reference to race and culture in verse 13:

For we were all baptized by one Spirit into one body–whether Jews or Greek, slave or free–and we were all give the one Spirit to drink.

The apostle didn’t casually mention the union of all members of the body and then toss in this reference to race and culture. In fact, it can be argued that this applies a filter through which the remaining verses of this pericope are to be read. A new reading of the verses 14-27 points us to action; anyone who may feel, look or truly be ‘unpresentable’ or ‘weaker’ must be handled, and even honored, differently. The Church body should never be content with those that surround them, they must constantly be looking toward the fringes looking to include other parts of the body who something to contribute to God’s mission.

We as the body are confronted with questions that derive from this idea. We must ask ourselves first if our church, small group, or Bible class represents a group that Christ would assemble, being inclusive as He was. We must confront our choices by asking if we are perpetuating segregation among Christians and simply justifying it with my preferences and comfort? Those who militate for multi-ethnic churches within the Body must prepare for disagreement. Anderson recounts an attack from an African American man who felt that his message was against the black church, calling him a menace. His reply is stark where he says:

I’ve never read a text of Scripture that outlines God’s design for a one-race church….As much as I love the black church and at times miss it, there will be no black church in heaven. There will be one church and it will be multicultural. One bride, not a harem, is what Jesus is coming back for.”

A sobering thought for those who insist on continuing in unicultural ministry. Are you truly reflecting your Lord?