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

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Slow Your Roll

Enjoying the Gift of A Slower Pace of Change

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For those of us accustomed to a rapid rate of change, things should happen yesterday or at the latest, this afternoon. Finding oneself in a land where change occurs slowly can fool the pilgrim into believing that it isn’t occurring at all. Frustration and even thoughts of failure can ensue unless the eyes and heart are awakened by the Spirit to recognize the gift of the slower pace.

For a variety of reasons, ministry in a rural context moves a slower pace. Serving an agricultural region helps you to learn to appreciate a slower, more considerate pace to life. From the first seeds planted in the spring to the harvest in the cool of autumn, little can be forced or imposed on a field. The farmer must be observant and aware of how all of the components of life are interacting on a day to day basis and then respond when necessary to maintain the equilibrium needed to produce the harvest. Conditions change. Life intervenes. Any number of things must be kept in balance as the crop transforms slowly from fragile seedling to robust stalks of grain ready to be reaped.

Ministry in this context is going to occur at the same pace and any attempt to impose or force a faster pace is going to be doomed to failure. God’s people in this context are prepared to initiate change in the seed form but not in the planting of full grown specimens from the nursery. They will allow incremental change that can then be nurtured along and monitored, but radical-turn-things-upside-down change will be rejected. Leading change demands that you acknowledge and respect this.

The gift of the slower rate is in the increased success of the initiatives. A slower rate enables the careful consideration of the incremental steps rather than surveying the train wreck and then trying to go back and see where the engine slipped off the rails. It allows God’s people to acclimate to change at the same rate that they see God at work on the fields that surround them. It allows for greater glory in God’s name as His people celebrate the small successes along the way rather than the final big bang of the conclusion.

The ministerial gift is in allowing the Spirit to turn one’s internal dial back from 10 to 2. It allows the small steps and relaxed pace to allow you to look every more closely for where He is at work in the process. The greater gift perhaps is that it allows us to savor God’s pace of redemption in us as individuals and in the world as a whole. Where we might have liked to see the sanctification occur in full yesterday, in His economy it takes a lifetime.

Image courtesy Martin Deutsch

Far from the City

cityFar from the bustle and concrete byways of the city lies a place of mystery to many people. Though geographically this place dwarfs the footprint of the cities, suburbs and exurbs, its inhabitants are but a fraction of their population. This place is known by many names, some derogatory and insulting, some more indicative of the labors that take place there…

The countryside, hinterlands, sticks, farm country,yokeldom and hickdom, the tall corn…

Those who live in this area by choice or calling are similarly caricatured. They are simple, unsophisticated, a bit rough around the edges and lacking the panache and polish of the urban and suburban brothers and sisters. Their tastes tend toward gingham, heavily laden plates, trucks and events involving livestock.

Of course, none of these are true and all of them are true.

People are people regardless of their proximity to the urban core. They live, love, sin and repent. They are theologically complex and in some cases, artless. Some have a desire to know the Shalom, the peace of a life lived in God, The Peace and others choose their own path to peace.

It is in this rural context to which I’ve been called to minister. The challenges are unique and complex despite the stereotypes and little in my formal training prepared me to engage this culture. Yet minister I do because these are God’s people and I love them. To be their shepherd is a privilege that I do not take lightly. They have taught me much and from their ovine counterparts that I pass each day I am enlightened.

Much is made of those with sufficient fortitude attempt a ministry in the inner city as though this is the ultimate ministry field, filled with dangers and challenges unmatched in any other ministry field. We rightly admire those whom God has called into these stations but we should also avoid denigrating those who God has placed in the suburbs as well. The tract home holds its share of unique problems as well.

God calls some of us into the countryside to minister. We worship with top-notch musicians and deeply spiritual people whose prayers move your soul. We preach with all the fervor and sophistication of our urban cohort. We marry and we bury and we equip His people to minister on their own. We are not here because we were unable to make it elsewhere or because we are running away from something, we are here because we are obedient to God’s calling upon our lives.

We are here because we love God’s people and His people are here.

The Life Men Want

Man Alive by Patrick Morley

It’s the kind of question that men either ask themselves when they’re alone or refuse to confront altogether. “… would you be willing to go up while everyone else is going down?” The deeper question is whether a man will live a life of meaning, do something important, leave a mark on this world. For men who ache to have this life, Patrick Morley offers this encouraging guide, ‘Man Alive’.

Men will appreciate the short bursts of challenge on these pages that are followed by quiet moments that encourage reflection. The peaks and valleys of the text confront the groups of men who congregate at either end of that spectrum. Those who spend their entire lives nestled in the security of reflection without ever tasting the adventure that awaits them outside the door and those whose adrenaline needle is pegged all the time. These men avoid searching the depths of their character, fearful of what they might find there.

Men were created to know God, to fill the yearning for His presence by living a life of action and reflection in equal measures. Morley outlines the primal needs that lie at the soul-core of every man and inspires them to break out of their culturally bound shells to be what their Father intended for them to be. More than just a series of adventures, ‘Man Alive’ holds up a mirror that reflects the soul deficits of nearly every man and challenges him to look that image right in the eye and be more.

All The Cool Kids Are Doing It

“Pastor, everyone thinks that…”

“Hey, everyone is going to …”

“Mom, everyone will be at …”

Everyone is an interesting pronoun. It is an indefinite form that doesn’t refer to a specific person or thing. While plural in its scope, it is treated grammatically as a singular. Everyone is the faceless mob.

Pastor, everyone dislikes the color of the carpet in the sanctuary!

Wow, you wonder, how could I have been so wrong? How can I be the only person who likes the [color of the carpet, the new sound of worship, the Children’s church, the youth pastor, (insert your current issue)]? This reflection should only last a second though as you recall your grammar. It represents the whole as a single entity, and since you don’t dislike (whatever) you recognize that the scope of its usage is necessarily limited.

Everyone is not leaving the church. Everyone does not disagree with the decision to name so and so as a ministry leader. Everyone is no one until you are included. Until then, the scope of the commenter is subject to challenge. When you do however, an interesting thing happens.

They almost never include themselves in ‘everyone’.

‘Everyone’ is a challenge or a test. The person using the term is poking and prodding to see what kind of a reaction they can provoke in you. If you take the bait and respond by asking what can be done about the issue at hand, don’t be surprised if the solution is deeply enmeshed in that person’s agenda. This isn’t necessarily malicious but it may threaten to derail the plans that God has laid before you for His church.

When I am confronted by ‘everyone’, I use a number of probing questions and statements to get to the heart of the issue:

  1. “Do you dislike …”: Often, this simply question helps to uncover the true nature of the speaker’s concern. Perhaps there was safety in posing the question as crowd-sourced and now they feel safe in speaking for the group even as they give their personal take on the issue.
  2. “Who exactly is unhappy with …”: This question can put a stop to agenda promoters as you indicate that you will speak to the other people directly, freeing her from the enormous responsibility of being the spokesman for the crowd.
  3. “You and I agree that … should be done, so it really isn’t everyone is it.” This is another statement that uncovers what really wants/needs to be said.

Grace and peace to everyone…

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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Danger Close

 

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A ship in a harbor is safe, but that is not what ships are for.  J.A. Shedd

Moving forward in any meaningful way demands a step in faith. Faith–deep soul-rooted, life-directing faith–may lead to danger. We take the steps of faith because we trust in God for what may come, whether it be into blissful comfort or the first tentative steps into the enemy’s territory, fully aware that sacrifice may be the result. A church that never moves from the sanctuary is safe, but that is not what the Church is for.

Read Paul’s boasting in 2 Corinthians 11:16-33. Contrary to the witness of those who merely call themselves Apostles, Paul has the scourge scars and water marks of one who has walked, trusting God with each step as he fulfilled His calling to bear witness to Christ to the Gentile world. We continue to marvel at his effectiveness thousands of years later as he is held up as the model for our own vocational calling. We marvel, but are tempted time and time again to retreat to the safety of tradition and practice.

Church, this is not what we were created to be or do. We are the last hope of a dying world. We possess the fire of the indwelling Spirit meant to guide our hands and feet in boldly stepping into the darkness to call others out. Like the sailor who knows nothing of buoyancy and displacement but who trusts the Oak, nails and pitch to keep them afloat in the capricious and danger-filled seas, Christians need not know how or why God may lead them into a ministry effort, only that they may trust Him that it will not be in vain. 

Grace and peace in the Spirit to you…

image National Library of New Zealand