Monday, September 27, 2010

Church on the Go

Jesus said, “Go!” While we pay lip service to this, I’m not sure we actually do it. I think most of us are OK with the idea of sitting around on Sunday morning waiting to see who is going to show up. I think about Luke 14, about the idea of going out and compelling people to come to the banquet which Jesus hosts whenever his people get together.

I am overwhelmed lately with lots of images about what it means to be a church on the go. I realize that everywhere we go we should invite people to come and meet Jesus. “Come to our church.” But I also realize that this is a variation on the theme of the previous paragraph. We invite, then we wait. But Jesus said, “Go!”

I wonder if this is part of the church’s decreasing relevance in our society. If you don’t come to the church, chances are, you don’t see it’s relevance. Maybe it’s time for the church to be the church on the go and show people who we are and why we do what we do. What would it be like to take the banquet to the people? To be a church that goes to where the people are instead of waiting for them to come to us?

Every Sunday morning I drive by people who aren’t going to church (and not because they went earlier in the week). What does it mean to take the church to them? I think about the outreaches we have done to a nearby apartment complex. We bring lunch, games, lots of soccer balls, music, bounce houses, and our desire to be the face of Christ. This weekend we added a service project. But we’re still asking them to “come” and waiting for them. What if we just did church there? Or in the park up the hill? Or in a supermarket parking lot? Or at a soccer field before the game? Or at the camp ground? Or downtown on the plaza one lunch time?

What would you need? Well, people with a vision who weren’t afraid to go, for starters. Then I suppose you’d need permits or something, depending on where you’d go. Then maybe a tent or covering for some locations. Maybe some sort of sound system and a some way to power it. How about those bounce houses as an added bonus and a way to connect with kids and draw a crowd? Maybe the whole thing looks and feels more like Bible School than a solemn service. But I’m sure the Lord would honor it because we were obedient to his command, “Go!”

Oh, sure, this approach is fine in the summer, we could have a tent or something and do a service and then later have lunch and Sunday School and then play. But in Iowa you can’t really do that for more than 8 months and maybe only for six. Then where do we go? Well, God gave us an imagination and in the winter the crowds move inside. The mall? Who knows? One thing for sure, being a church on the go may be more like a rave than a set activity.

Lots to work out. But maybe we can try something in the spring. Thanks for reading. God bless. PJ

Sunday, September 12, 2010

International Mentorship and Partnership Dreams

It was a pleasure in late August this year to host Pastor Kaspars Simanovics, current lead pastor at Luther’s Church, in Riga, Lativa, my old hometown ( . He and his wife, Ilze, were guests of St. Mark’s Lutheran Church in Marion, Iowa, and Zion.

The opportunity to serve as hosts for Kaspars and Ilze brought opportunities for two pastors from different countries to talk about ministry and exchange notes. I really benefited from the exchange on a personal and spiritual level. Kaspars reminded me of the many things we share in common as pastors. Things like visiting the sick, teaching classes to new, young, and maturing believers, doing weddings, funerals and baptisms. Sure there are differences, like volume (his church is bigger than mine), technology (he needs to get on Facebook, blog), etc. His own experience and his way of pastoring served to stimulate and challenge me. It was a great exchange. We were able to share ideas, joys, and frustrations.

His visit also reminded me of a dream I once had many, many years ago. My wife and I were leading mission trips yearly to Jamaica to a partner church where we had been for several years. The pastor, Glenn Stoddart, and I had developed a good friendship over the years. We had long talks in his cool, dark, breeze block office while our congregations worked on various construction projects and did a children’s ministry together. Together we discussed the art of pastoring, and talked about spiritual things that transcended our different contexts and situations. Our conversations were so encouraging and up-lifting that we dreamed together about how wonderful it would be to be able to work together for half a year in each other’s congregations, just for the shear pleasure of combing our two different sets of experiences and backgrounds for the furtherance of God’s kingdom. We realized that living in the US had shaped me to be of use in some things and that living and serving the Lord in Jamaica had prepared him for other things, but that together, we had a wealth of experience. We each had different resources, different solutions, different approaches. We realized we had much to offer each other and therefore much to offer our congregations.

Glenn and I posited that understanding a different culture may lead us as pastors to have more patience and a better understanding of our own culture and congregation. It would help us both to think “outside the box” about doing mission and facing challenges in our congregations. Not to mention one of the best gifts of such an exchange: a better sense of what it means to be part of a global church.

I hope one day that our dreams come true. I hope one day it will be possible for pastors, who love and respect each other, to work together in each other’s countries and contexts, in order to further develop our Christian leadership skills and build up and mentor and encourage one other.