Sunday, December 30, 2012

Looking Back, Looking Forward

Looking Back, Looking Forward

Two teachings of Jesus that are extremely relevant to the Church today:

Mt 5:43-48
43 “You have heard that it was said, ‘Love your neighbor and hate your enemy.’ 44 But I tell you: Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, 45 that you may be sons of your Father in heaven. He causes his sun to rise on the evil and the good, and sends rain on the righteous and the unrighteous.   46 If you love those who love you, what reward will you get?  Are not even the tax collectors doing that? 47 And if you greet only your brothers, what are you doing more than others? Do not even pagans do that? 48 Be perfect, therefore, as your heavenly Father is perfect.”

Luke 14:12-14
12 Then Jesus said to his host, “When you give a luncheon or dinner, do not invite your friends, your brothers or relatives, or your rich neighbors; if you do, they may invite you back and so you will be repaid. 13 But when you give a banquet, invite the poor, the crippled, the lame, the blind, 14 and you will be blessed. Although they cannot repay you, you will be repaid at the resurrection of the righteous.”

Are we to destroy our enemies?   No.  Rather we are to love them.   It is counter cultural and counter intuitive.  This is part of Jesus’ Kingdom Jujitsu, you keep evil off balance by not “resisting” but by loving.  The answer to violence isn’t violence, it’s love.  The answer to hate isn’t more hate, it’s love.  

When you’re persecuted or beat up - pray.  When they strike you on one cheek, offer them the other.  When they rob you for your coat, give them your shirt as well.  

Jesus’ instruction to love our enemies isn’t abstract, it is concrete.  For Jesus love isn’t ever abstract.  We might think that loving our enemies can be done in the abstract.  “Let’s think nice thoughts about them.”  But it can’t.  Jesus’ kind of love is physical and concrete and requires us to actually touch our enemies.  

John 13:  On the night he was betrayed, Jesus washed Judas’s feet, knowing full well what was to happen.  But he did it anyway and then Jesus said that he had set an example and that his followers should follow his example.  He told us that he gave us a new commandment, “love one another as I have loved you.”  That is, wash feet.  Don’t love abstractly, love concretely.  People will know you are my followers, he said, when you love this way.  

The love of Jesus requires us to go beyond the normal.  Normal is loving those who love you.  Friends and family.  Or to love people who can do something in return for you, like a rich neighbor or even simply make you feel good about yourself.  Jesus says that we are to intentionally love people who don’t love us.  Intentionally means on purpose.   We are to greet or welcome those whom we wouldn’t normally greet or welcome.  

When we hold a banquet, we don’t invite friends and families and rich neighbors.  Why?  They can pay us back.  Instead, we are told to invite those who can never pay us back.  It’s counter cultural.  It’s counter intuitive.  It’s Jesus.  

I have a very great concern.  There is a lot of circling the wagons around our family going on these days.   People are staying home more than ever and in the face of great darkness and uncertainty in our world, they are clinging to their own families.  Families are good.  We understand them to be the building blocks of society.  But when your family is more important than all the other families and your family’s welfare is more important than all other families, we call that Mafia.  

Now apply it to the Church.  In North America we’ve been taking care of our own.  We’ve been having banquets for ourselves and our “church family.”  We’ve welcomed and greeted those who could benefit us by joining our church and paying our bills.  We’ve forgotten to go out to the highways and byways and alleyways and country roads and invite the poor, the lame, the crippled, the widowed, the orphaned, the hopeless.  

As a nation I worry that we’ve made family into a kind of idol.  Please don’t misunderstand me, family is good.  It’s the fundamental building block of society according to the Bible.  But when family becomes the first and only priority in our lives something terrible happens.  We start to see the success of our family in opposition to other families.  Our family must triumph, even at the expense of other families.  This is what the Mafia is.  A type of family that exults itself at the expense of other families.  That is not what God had in mind.  

Community is groups of families working together.   They work together to overcome shared obstacles and obtain shared success.  In community, what happens to your family matters to my family and so we’re all watching out and helping each other.  As Christians we also understand ourselves to be part of a greater family - the family of God.  We call it church.  

The trend I’m worried about in the church that is that you quit working with kids because yours have grown up.  “I helped out at church until my kids were grown.  Now it’s someone else’s turn.”  But what about everybody else’s kids?  We live in an age when, demographically, the traditional family is decreasing in churches.  How will we be able to minister to all the kids who need to be at church if we only rely on people with kids in the system?  We have to be concerned about everyone’s kids.  We have to pull together and minister to them.  It’s counter-intuitive.  It’s counter cultural.  It’s Jesus.

Our congregation has a unique situation:  other people’s kids love to come here.  We have a magnificent opportunity to influence those kids.  By investing in them we may see them succeed, prosper and ultimately, be saved.  When I look behind us I don’t see anyone else willing to commit to these kids.  So I think we have to commit to them.  For the sake of the kids and for the sake of our community, and ultimately, for the sake of our families.  

Two and a half years ago we began a journey together, a journey that was counter-intuitive and counter cultural.  A journey that has shaped us and given us a new identity.  A journey framed around Luke 14 and characterized by the phrases, “Jesus says go!” and “Let’s do something beautiful for Jesus.”  

We began with a question:  Would anyone in our community miss us if we closed?  At the time, the answer was “not really.”   What about today?   Today, I believe the neighborhood would really miss us.  How did this turn around happen so quickly?  Because we made a conscious choice to bless those who couldn’t bless us back and found ways to intentionally love those who were not our friends, families or rich neighbors.  This approach has fundamentally changed who we are as a church.

Here are some of the things I think we’ve learned together:

  • We’re learning that radical dependance upon Jesus to get things done is the best way to run a church.   Simply put into action what he taught us and trust him to handle the bills and the details.  We should have crashed or gone broke by now  but we haven’t.  God provides.  

  • We’ve learned that worship is more than singing, surviving the sermon and taking the sacraments.  

Romans 12:1  “Therefore, I urge you, brothers, in view of God’s mercy, to offer your bodies as living sacrifices, holy and pleasing to God—this is your spiritual act of worship.”

James 1:27  “Religion that God our Father accepts as pure and faultless is this: to look after orphans and widows in their distress and to keep oneself from being polluted by the world.”

If worship doesn’t lead to intentional acts motivated by the love of Christ, what has it accomplished?  

Worship leads to service and devotion which, in turn, lead to worship.  And if that isn’t happening, perhaps we’re doing it wrong.  

Liturgy (liturgia) is “the work of the people.”  Worship is our work.  We worship him by serving others.
So we switched our focus as a church.  Instead of focusing our attention every week on a worship service that lasts 60 minutes, we focused on the results of that worship - the other 167 hours of the week. 

  • Turns out, serving people in the love of Jesus is an amazing avenue for spiritual growth.  We see this particularly among the young.  Putting their faith into action, making connections with others, many of whom are less fortunate than themselves, dealing with cross cultural issues, needing to make sacrifices for others.  This is making faith real, not abstract.  This summer, a couple young people are going to do some camps for the neighborhood kids.  It was their idea.  They’ll do the work.  They are motivated to put their faith into action and serve.  I’m looking forward to it. 

We’ve developed some philosophies:
  • About donations:  Clothes and furniture specifically:  Take it all.  Don’t make too many rules.  The more rules their are about drop offs and what we’ll take, the harder it is for people to give.  The harder it is to give, the less likely people are to give and the more people without clothes and furniture there will be.  

  • Err on the side of grace.  Don’t make too many rules.  Having many groups use our space challenges us to grow spiritually:  to be patient, kind, loving, and forces us to work through conflict - and grow because of it - rather than avoid conflict.  We want to bring that church wide - no more church politics, no more factions, no more passive aggressive behavior - bring your issues into the open to staff or boards or let them go. 

  • That even though some ministries are rather larger - collect more money, take up more calendar time and space, (like STAR kids, Street Outreach, Mhezi, for example) we don’t want to define our entire ministry as just one ministry.  We don’t want to be known as the church that does “this or that.”  We want to go out of business in all our ministries because we met the need and their are no more hungry people or people who need furniture or clothing or anything else.  Rather, we want to be known as the church that does whatever Jesus shows us needs doing.  We want to be able to re-calibrate ourselves at a moment’s notice to please Him.  

  • That everything we do would be open to everyone - regardless of age, race, creed or color or membership.   If you’re in need, you’re in need.   

  • Publicity.  Jesus says that when you do your acts of charity or give alms, don’t let your right hand know what your left hand is doing.  Hard to balance that as a non-profit looking for ways to market ourselves so we can get more donations.  Why does money always dictate what we can and cannot do?  If they notice, we’ll talk to them.  If not, no, we won’t seek it. In the meantime, Jesus has provided and we trust he will continue to do so.  

  • We can do a lot of things without money, space and equipment.  But we can’t do anything without leaders (volunteers).

  • The job of the staff is to empower people to serve.  Sometimes by backing them up and sometimes by creating opportunities for them to serve.  The job of boards is to provide accountability.  

  • Fairness is not a biblical concept.  Who do we help?  The one who needs it.  We don’t help everyone the same way.  

  • Care.  It used to be only pastors went and visited the sick and home-bound.  Now, more people involved.  Pastors are still trying to be regular in visiting. The greatest challenge is time.  Some will say it’s not fair.  Most of our shut ins, though, make it to doctor, grocery store, have really good family systems.  But we have wonderful volunteers who are filling in many of the gaps.  Thank you!

  • The Church in general needs a new scorecard.  Not numbers and money.  What would that score card look like?  
    • Are lives being changed?  How many people did you feed this week, serve this week, clothe this week?   
      • Has Zion inspired you to become more involved in your community/neighborhood?
      • How many volunteer hours do you give per week?
      • Has your marriage improved?
      • Has your relationship with your kids, teenagers improved?  

What can we look forward to in 2013?
  • Pastor Ringa, the Mizo speaking pastor we’ve called will arrive and bring closer collaboration with the 1:00 service. 
  • Community Gardens Expansion.  So many want to garden.  
  • Baptisms.  We’ve spent years building relationships.  I think this might be the year we see kids and parents want to be baptized.  
  • Muslims.  Continued expansion of Arabic Sunday School.  
  • Summer - VBS, Art Camp, Swimming lessons, sports camps,  Bible Camp.
  • New relationships:  EMBARC, Transformation Group, Hoover and Meredith.   
  • Emphases:  Kids.  Growing cross cultural friendships.  Parenting and marriage.  Prayer.  

  • We really need 3 vans for transportation.  
  • We need a growing dependance upon prayer
  • We need to step it up.  When holidays or summer come around we end our programming.  The people we normally bring to church don’t come.  We don’t send the vans.  Why do we stop on holidays?  We also need to add transport to 15th Street.  

Analyzing long term trends:  in ten years every church is going to be doing what we are.    

We’ve had our share of upheaval.  Some of the changes we’ve made haven’t been easy.  But each challenged we’ve faced we’ve done so with a radical dependance upon Jesus.  We must stay the course.  It isn’t what we do that defines us.  It’s who we are.  People bought for a price.  Redeemed to be useful to God.  

Perhaps you’re worried we’ll get a big head and get puffed up.  Christmas helps to keep us humble.  

One of the lessons of Christmas to me is simply this:
“If my God and king became a baby and a carpenter, what must I become to serve him?”  Thinking like that won’t give you a big head.  It will make you just the right size for God to use you.  

Oswald Chambers puts it this way:  “Beware of becoming a profound person.  God became a baby.” 

Thanks for reading.  God bless.

Friday, December 7, 2012

Giving Up On Excellence

I am a product of the Church Growth movement.  I went to a denominational seminary and at the time they didn’t teach us anything useful about evangelism or about growing churches.  I’m serious.  We were taught that people would just come because they were Lutheran.  Our job was to minister to the needs of our flock.  I didn’t buy that then, and I certainly don’t buy that now.  

So, early on in my seminary career, I started to go to conferences and read books to supplement my education.  My first call as a pastor was to be the second full time staff member at a church with 600 members that became a mega church very quickly.  My whole professional life has been about church growth.  When we lived and taught in Eastern Europe, I taught church growth principals to my students.  I’ve been sold on the movement for a long time as the hope for the future of the Church.  

One of the tenants of the Church Growth movement is the pursuit of excellence for the sake of God.  In other words, what we in the movement saw in North American churches was that no one cared enough to give their best.  Especially pastors.  We felt that God wanted our very, very best and that our services, especially, but all things we did as a church, should pursue excellent.  It was the same kind of idea that was big, at the time, in business culture and also becoming to be a big idea in aspects of education and school administration.  

Like all my peers in the movement, I bought into the necessity to pursue excellence for the sake of evangelism.   After all, why would unchurched people trust us with their kids in Sunday School or Bible School if we didn’t look like we were excellent?  Why would any unchurched person come to a church that looked like it didn’t know what it was doing?  Why would any unchurched person go to a place whose publications were below the ability of most desk top publishing programs? 

Excellence has pursued me and haunted me all during my tenure at Zion where I currently pastor.  For several years I ran into stiff opposition to the pursuit of excellence.  Why would we want to spend money on having everything look so “professional?”  “What we’ve been using for years is good enough, pastor.”  “We don’t need new signs, pastor.  Our people know where things are.”  When we introduced new ideas into worship (that is, we introduced Church Growth ideas) we also met opposition.  The worship was said to be “too professional.”   I admit I was frustrated.  

But now, thankfully, I can tell you that I’m done with excellence for the time being.  Why?  Because our current ministry is simply too vibrant for excellence.  What do I mean by that?  Well, simply put, we’re so busy trying to keep up with the needs of the people we serve that we don’t have time to be excellent.  The image in my head is one of a rescue ship that comes upon a wrecked vessel.  You have to get people out of the water as quickly as possible.  There simply isn’t time to be orderly or excellent.  There is confusion and chaos, but people are being saved.   And that’s where we are as a church.  We simply have so many opportunities to witness to Christ at any given moment, we don’t have the time to pursue excellence.

I think our focus has shifted as well.  Instead of our focus being on what we do in worship or care, our focus has shifted to serving.  Instead of spending hours trying to figure out the perfect transitions in worship and pursuing the latest and greatest worship songs and making sure that every word on the power point is spelled correctly and so on, we’re praying with people, helping out at the local school, delivering groceries, teaching people English, and tutoring kids, all the while sharing the Gospel as living sacrifices.  It isn’t that we don’t care about what happens on Sunday, it’s just that we’ve moved beyond Sunday and our focus is on the rest of the week where faith has to be lived out to be real and to be seen by a world that increasingly doesn’t attend church.

This blog won’t be published right away so let me say this:  Tomorrow night I have a board meeting.  It’s really important that I be there.  We have a lot of things to discuss as the leadership of the church.  But that night, at the same time, is also the school board meeting and I’ve been invited by a board member to come and speak and explain how our church “buses” 30+ kids to and from school every school day and how a simple change in their policy will lead to a major benefit for 100s of kids.  I think I have to be at the school board meeting.  I think the love of Christ compels us to go.  Jesus said, “Go!”  And when we go we can’t stay and take care of our own business.  Our Master is on the move and we must follow him and help him take care of his great business.  Because the world won’t come to church because it should.  It will only come to faith when the church goes out and shows the world what the love of Christ is all about.  

So, for the sake of the love of Christ, we have changed our opinion about excellence.  What was once the pursuit of excellence in service to those who came to us is now the pursuit of excellence in service to those who have no idea who our Lord Jesus is yet but will hopefully come to faith in him through our meager efforts.  

We aren’t even excellent in what we can do for others because there are so many of them in need.  But I take comfort in this:  What we do we do for Him, our Audience of One.  And also, that in a great darkness, even a weak light shines very brightly.  Thanks for reading.  God bless you.  PJ

Monday, November 26, 2012

Where Are We With That? Catching up on some projects at Zion...

We’ve been talking a lot about various projects and maybe you’re wondering where we are with them.  Here’s a quick update.  If you need more information about a specific project not mentioned here or even one that is, please contact me and let me know and I’ll be happy to let you know what’s happening.  

Pastor Van Lal Ringa, our Mizo speaking pastor. 
Pastor Ringa and I are in communication weekly.  He has applied for his passport and is waiting on that document to come to him.  After he has his passport and we have that information from him, we can then proceed with finishing the paperwork we need to do to complete the application for the R-1 Religious Workers Visa we need for him to enter and stay in the US.  To help with this involved and complicated process, we have hired Ta-Yu Yang, a noted immigration attorney, with funds provided especially from the 1:00 service.  Mr. Yang intends to donate 50% of his fee back to Zion as a gift.  We’re grateful for his generosity and for his wisdom in guiding us through this process.  So we hope to welcome Pastor Ringa sometime in the spring of 2013. 

Buying another church van.
We received half the money we needed for the van as a stock donation.  We are very grateful.  It took much longer than we expected to get the stock sold and for the check to arrive.  Now, with the increase in activity at church because of Christmas and all the events and good works associated with it, it may be the first of the year before the van actually appears in our parking lot.  But don’t give up!  It will get here!  Until then, we continue to borrow a van from Meredith Drive Reformed Church for our weekly needs.
The new van will be especially useful to us when we can’t borrow the Meredith Drive van, like on Wednesday nights and Sunday mornings.  We’re so happy so many people want to come to Zion and we will be so relieved to be able to double our capacity for people to come.  

The Great Mosque Food Challenge.
Our friends at the Bosniak Mosque challenged our congregation and our youth to collect food items for the needy.  So far, Zion has collected over 1,000 food items for this challenge.  We’ll have a full report to share with you once we combine our items with those the mosque collected.  

Thanks for reading!  God bless you.  PJ 

Monday, November 19, 2012

Thanksgiving: Why We Need to Be Grateful and Not Expect Others to Be Grateful to Us

Thanksgiving:  Why We Need to Be Grateful and Not Expect Others to Be Grateful to Us

Contrary to popular mythology, I’m not made of stone.  My feelings get hurt from time to time same as everyone else. 

Today I was transporting a young man with some severe behavioral problems to and from an outpatient treatment program.  He’s rather young, under 12.  He’s been in this country just two years.  Our church has gone to extraordinary measures to help this boy and his whole family.  I won’t elaborate on the extraordinary efforts, but just know that I mean way, way, way beyond some food and clothes and a smile.  I mean extraordinary. 

The boy and his sibling weren’t in church on Sunday.  I wasn’t too concerned as I knew that the family that brings them and has pretty much adopted them was out of town.   So we’re leaving the hospital together, the boy and I, on our way to get some ice cream as a reward for having survived his first day of treatment.  Then he tells me that he and his sibling went to a different church on Sunday with a friend.  The other church has a big bus that comes to your house.  This is where that whole “I’m not made of stone” comment comes in.  

OK.  Did you enjoy it?  He did.  My stoney facade cracked more.  

What made it enjoyable?  Well, turns out they played a game where they chased a man who had money stuck all over him around the yard.  If they grabbed money, they got to keep it.  He got $4. 

How am I supposed to compete with that?  All our money runs out the door, too, but it isn’t a game.  It’s just reality.  I crack some more. 

What was the lesson?  What did you learn?  He doesn’t know.  

So now I’m getting ugly on the inside.  I’m actually feeling smug because while the game was fun, it failed to convey a message.  I say to myself:  we may not be fun or have money, but surely we get our point across.  Then I remember how many people we’ve lost because they didn’t get the point of the ministry we’ve been called to do.  And I remember people saying I didn’t communicate the point well enough.  

I feel terrible inside.  I know I’m sinning like crazy.  I know that I’m making it about us and about me and it isn’t.  It’s all about Him.  

It’s been tough lately.  We’re being refined.  Our Master is testing what we’re made of.  Lately there’s been a lot in the paper about a particular apartment complex where we do a lot, a lot of ministry.  No mention of our church.  Some of our folks are frustrated by that.  They see others, who do less, being celebrated.  But hey, we aren’t doing what we’re doing for anyone else.  We’re not doing it to be recognized.  We’re not doing it to be rewarded.  We’re not doing it to be celebrated.  We’re not doing it to be liked.  We’re not doing it to be famous.  We’re not doing it even for the people we’re doing it for.  We’re doing it for Jesus.  And He knows we’re doing it and that’s all that matters.  We do what we do not for the praise of men, but for the praise and glory of our Master. 

I’ve been sad lately.  A long time friend at our church simply quit coming.  When I called to find out why, she hung up on me.  It stung.  It stung because I had personally invested so much in this family, their trials and tribulations with their kids, their worries about extended family members, the whole thing.  But at the end of the day they’re gone.  No explanation, no goodbye, no chance to reconcile or even explain anything.  They’ve packed up and gone to a different church.  It’s probably more fun.  I’ll bet they can even get their point across.  At least that’s my prayer.  Because I’ve been reminded of two things this Thanksgiving Season:  1.)  We do what we do for an audience of One.  What other people think of us ultimately doesn’t matter.  We are called to serve the One, not to be liked or admired or fussed over.  And, 2.)  We’re a part of something bigger than we are.  If people are happier or get the point at other churches, that’s OK.  We have a unique role to play within that greater body.  Turns out we can do what others can’t, and they can do what we can’t.  It’s glorious.  And I’m grateful for both of these things.

So I’m having ice cream with my young friend before we go home.  And out of the blue he says: “Pastor John:  If I can chose where I go to church, I’ll go with you.”  Thank you, God.  Thank you for the opportunity to serve those who are different from us in so many ways but reflect your beauty and your holiness in such awesome ways.  Thank you, Lord, that we are a part of your amazing body, the Church, which has so many different parts and reasons for being.  Thank you, Christ, for reminding us whom it is whom we serve, namely, your great Self.  And thank you, Holy Spirit, for accompanying us along the way.  Thanks for reading.  PJ

Friday, October 19, 2012

Report from the LCMC National Gathering Part 4

Report from the LCMC National Gathering, Part 4:  Mike Breen, 3DM discipleship movement
(A bio on Mike Breen from the LCMC website follows this report)

I really enjoyed Mike Breen’s presentation.  He was specifically asked by Mark Vander Tuig  to give us a talk Mark had heard once before, a talk about feudalism in the church.  I will do my best to condense Breen’s excellent one hour lecture on history from the Roman Empire to today into a few short paragraphs.  It was amazing.  If you have the opportunity to ever hear it, be sure to listen to it.  

Mike grew up in a military family where he learned that the last thing the commander says is the first thing you do.  So as a Christian he takes Jesus’ parting words to his disciples in MT 28 very seriously.  Making disciples is the essence of his faith.  

The Gospel is simple and hard.  It is not easy.  But it is not complicated.  
So is making disciples.  It is a simple reality, but hard to embrace.   Either Jesus is worthy of following or not.  Simple.  But living out your life as a disciple is hard.  Jesus says to make disciples.  We believe we should.  Easy.  But doing it is hard.

What Mike said about his early success in ministry in the Church of England really struck me.  He said that he had an amazing ministry, won the acclaim of the hierarchy, got to be on TV and celebrated, but now, what he started is almost all gone.  He thought long and hard about why that was.  He realized that he himself could draw people to himself but that unless he taught them how to make disciples themselves, it wouldn’t be sustainable.  In the church we didn't work out how to make a disciple that could make a disciple.  So many of our “successful” churches growth It depended on their influence

His last assignment grew to be the largest church in England.  But since he taught them how to make disciples, they’ve gone on without him.  The church has doubled since he left.  Instead of counting how many people attend church on a Sunday or how much they give, this church now counts how many people are in intentional discipleship groups. That is how they measure their success. 

Anyone can make a disciple - people want to be like you.  But what we want is a disciple who can make a disciple who can make a disciple.  

In our culture, success means bigger, faster, stronger.  In the Bible, fruitfulness is the concept that is used.  Fruitfulness means reproduction.  It is a kingdom principle.  In making disciples, you celebrate what God has done in you reproduced in another person.  Fruitfulness is to have lots of children.  In making disciples it is to have lots of spiritual children who go on to have lots of spiritual children.  

In the world it is commonly understood that it is better to have healthy family than a successful business.  In the Church we need to understand that it is better to make disciples than draw big crowds

During the last supper in Luke 22, Jesus is having quality time with his disciples.  The disciples are beginning to brag a bit over brandy and cigars.  They ask, “Which of us will be the greatest in your kingdom?”  They don’t understand that they are co-heirs of a kingdom given by covenant.  They don't understand that they aren’t to function as world leaders.  In the world, Leaders = power and provision.  They have power and they are expected to provide for their constituents.  That’s how the world works.  In the Roman world it was:

Free voting citizens
The mobility - mob - slaves = 50% of the population.
Don't be like that, Jesus says. 

Edict of Milan 313, 270 years after Pentecost or so.  Constantine declares Christianity the religion of the Empire.  Before this the Church was brutally persecuted.  To be found out to be a leader of the Church was to be executed.  But it was during these years that the Church grew from 120 to 50% of the population.

How?  The Church before 313 had no buildings.  No public leadership structure.  

After the fall of Rome and the onset of the Dark Ages, the Church preserves culture.  There was a hierarchy:  Nobility and Serfs.  It was a social contract called feudalism  but it was the same old system.  The nobles had the power and they were expected to feed and protect their people.  

What ended the Dark Ages?  Famine and war and urbanization.  Things began to change.  Feudalism ends with French Revolution in France after 3 years of failed harvests.  It ends in England after WW I.  Fight for king and country. 100,000s of men die.  

What happened to the world system then?  Feudalism didn’t really end.  It took on a new form:  Marxism.  Marx replaces the aristocracy with the government / State, but the State still has all the power and it is still expected to provide for it’s people.  Socialism is reignited feudalism.

In America, Breen says, we tried a different experiment.  In the Colony days we started out feudal (land grants/slavery).  But then things changed.  New ideas.  
No taxation without representation.  Life, liberty and freedom.  Every one responsible for their own.  Build your own.  

What emerged was the most powerful, generous and collectively compassionate people the world has ever known.  And a system where people didn’t lord it over one another.  

But a virus was maintained in churches, especially European import churches to the U.S.  Feudalism.  What does he mean?  Look at how we measure the success of the Church?  How many peasants (attendees/congregants) do you have?   How much tax (offerings) do they pay?

The clergy are then expected to provide for people.  To feed them, spiritually speaking.  Drive past a church on a Sunday morning and listen in on a conversation in the parking lot:  One congregant asks another, “Did you like the sermon today?  The music?  Are you getting fed?  I’m going to go where I’m being fed.”

This is the same mentally that serfs have.  They aren’t responsible for their own provision.  There exists a poverty mentality within feudalism, “we don’t have enough food!”  The leaders are seen as the providers.  We don’t make disciples.  We just feed one person at a time.  The system prevents us from production - from fruitfulness - from making disciples who make disciples.  Our current structure for doing church is like a condom that keeps us from having spiritual children.  

Instead, we should make disciples the way Jesus did it.  He had a tension between invitation and challenge: 
Come = invitation
Go = challenge
Throughout the three years he spent with his disciples, you saw an increasing calibration of both.

Invitation or challenge?  Which comes easiest to you?  To your congregation?

At this moment in the presentation, I took a moment and texted Pastor Tina.  She concurred with me:  Zion is a low invitation, high challenge church.   We are in the proverbial “valley of the shadow of death” according to Breen.  But we are very near the border of High Invitation, High Challenge and we have to keep going.  Where we are is necessary for our future together.  

Then Breen went on to use a graph to demonstrate the various combinations of invitation and challenge.  In the upper right is Jesus.  High invitation (relationships), high challenge culture.  To the upper left, high invitation low challenge.  To the lower left, low invitation, low challenge.  In the lower right, low invitation, high challenge.  

High invite, low challenge  = cozy culture
Low invite, high challenge -  Feel stressed, discouraged.  Only as good as last week. So you go on retreat, to reset the invite/relational piece.  But you’re doing amazing ministry.  
High challenge, high invite - Jesus builds toward this.  This is the goal.  
Low invite, low challenge - Anglicans   Every ones bored.

Increasing challenge, "I'm not responsible for making disciples, or your kids, either.  You are."
The journey toward the Church that Jesus wants is the withdrawal of invite and the move to high challenge.  The invitation comes back as we accept His challenge.  

The Jesus model of Church, to Breen, looks like America.  Everyone  is expected to stake a claim, to participate, to work on their own spiritual development and on making disciples who make disciples.  Such a church is free from feudalism in all it’s forms.  It is new.  Thanks for reading.  PJ 

Mike Breen bio from the LCMC website:
Mike Breen has been an innovator in leading missional churches throughout Europe and the United States for more than 25 years. In his time at St. Thomas Sheffield in the UK, he created and pioneered Missional Communities, mid-sized groups of 20-50 people on mission together. The result, less than 6 years later, was the largest church in England, and ultimately, one of the largest and now fastest growing churches in all of Europe. In 2006, Mike was approached by Leadership Network to lead an initiative into church planting. Through this partnership, more than 725 churches were planted in Europe in just three years.

Today, Mike lives in South Carolina, leading 3DM, a movement/organization that is helping hundreds of established churches and church planters move into this discipling and missional way of being the church. Mike is the Senior Guardian of The Order of Mission (TOM), a global covenant community of networked missional leaders. He has authored numerous books, including Launching Missional Communities, Building a Discipling Culture and Covenant and Kingdom.

Mike has been married to Sally for over 30 years and they have 3 grown-up children. Mike’s passions include contemporary design and architecture, travel, movies, cycling, golf, fine wine and food...though not necessarily in that order.

Report from the LCMC National Gathering Part 3

Report from the LCMC National Gathering Part 3
Gemechis Buba
(a bio of the Rev. Dr. Gemechis Buba from the LCMC website is found at the end of this report).  

Gemechis Buba is a favorite speaker at LCMC events.  He is always very Biblical and very Christ centered and a joy to listen to.  He prays powerfully and is a man full of the Spirit and truth.  In my mind, Dr. Gemechis Buba sets the theological agenda and gives us the Scripture, the other speakers come along and tell us how to implement what he said.

Dr. Buba began by bemoaning the loss of many seminaries and Christian higher education schools to liberal theology.  Liberal theology, which believes that all people will be saved regardless of their commitment to Christ or how they respond to his call to, “Follow me,” kills mission.  If everyone is saved there is no incentive for the Church to “Go into all the world and make disciples.”  Liberal theology is now being exported to other countries in the world and it represents a great danger to our historic faith.  

In the Church, we need more leaders faster.  Our future depends on how many leaders we are training today.

We need to put more boots on the ground for Jesus.   Gemechis’s father was a pastor, a district president, in prison for his faith in Ethiopia during the brutal communist regime.   At that time, the church was in retreat.  Property was seized.  People were jailed or killed.  The communist government looked like it would last forever.  But his father never stopped developing leaders so that when things changed, the church would be ready.  It was people like Gemechis’s father that built leaders for the church, who God used to fan the explosive growth of the church today.  Leaders make leaders.  Leaders grow churches.   

Today, churches are “scared of the magnitude of the mission field.”  We must overcome our fears and move forward in faith.  Why should we be different than the Ethiopian?  We aren’t even in prison yet.  We must make leaders.  We must advance the kingdom and build the Church.  We must get ready for the future that God has in store for it will surely come.  

The theme of the Gathering was “Ambassadors for Christ” based on Paul’s concept found in 2 Corinthians 5.  

An ambassador, per the diplomatic websites, is a “chief of mission.”  

An ambassador is a master at building relationships.  An Ambassador for Christ must be a master of building relationships with:
With God.
With Host Culture.  This means we must understand where we are.  Protocols.
With colleagues 

How do I become an ambassador?   I must make an absolute commitment to the discipline of learning.  Ambassador’s learn - furociously.  Our primary teacher is Jesus.  “Learn from me.” (MT 11). 

An ambassador must have absolute confidence in his king and in his kingdom.  We do not merely compare religions like the liberal theologians, we promote our own.  We do what we do so that people meet Jesus.  We don’t want to be a “center for cultural Christianity.” Ambassadors need to be able to explain what their mission believes.

An ambassador must have an absolute obedience to the Scriptures, especially in times of trial.  Mt 4:1.  The Spirit led Jesus into the wilderness to be tempted. He relied upon the Scriptures during his trials.  “Ambassadors are not to change/debate His policy.  We are here to implement his policy.”  “Thus sayeth the Lord.”  

An ambassador is ready to lay down his life for the mission.  The ambassador communicates the mission faithfully, even in dangerous environments.  Our mission is not to please the world, it is to please Jesus.

Jesus said, “the workers are few, harvest plentiful.”
As world population expands - 7 billion today - did we increase the number of ambassadors?  No.  We need to be like farmers - use combines.  We need to maximize our capacity for mission.  Look at the growth of the Church in China, India, Indonesia.  It isn’t the clergy.  It’s disciples making disciples.  

We’ve lost the thrill, art, ability of discipleship.  Where is the thrill in the church about discipleship?  What do we do at Zion with new believers?  We don’t know how to make disciples.  And when someone does come to Christ, we’re so quiet about our joy.  
The churches have gone to courses about discipleship but we don’t know how to do it.  We are living in a major discipleship crisis in the church today.  Teach us, Lord, how to do it.  We must pray the Lord of the harvest.  

Ambassadors have betrayed Him in the mission field.  Sometimes we believe we are smarter than the king.  We’re more educated than a 1st century carpenter.  Our scholars think they know more than the Bible.  Here we go back to where we started.  The future of the faith is not in liberal theology.  It is in preparing our people to make disciples of Jesus and releasing them to go and make disciples.  Thanks for reading.  PJ  

he Rev. Dr. Gemechis D. Buba is currently serving as the Missions Director of the North American Lutheran Church. He is originally from East Africa, Ethiopia and is currently living in Columbus OH with his wife Nassisse Baro Tumsa and Labsi Gemechis.
Dr. Buba received a Bachelor of Theology with high distinction from Mekane Yesus Theological Seminary, where he served as a Professor for two years. After working on his Masters of Theology in Church History in the Ethiopian Graduate School of Theology, he moved to the United States for further studies. In 2003 he received a Masters of Divinity and a Masters of Arts in Christian Education from the Interdenominational Theological Center in Atlanta, GA. In 2006, Dr. Buba earned a Doctorate Degree from Columbia Theological Seminary, specializing in Missional Leadership.
Ordained in 2001, he has served as a Seminary professor, mission developer, Senior Pastor, Vice President of Southeastern Black Lutheran Pastors’ Conference, an assistant to the Bishop of Southeastern Pennsylvania Synod, two term president of the world wide union of Oromo Evangelical Churches Inc., founder and president of Leadership Development Systems Inc.
Dr. Buba has led, chaired and lectured on multiple international events through revivals, leadership development conventions, theological conferences, evangelistic gatherings, church assemblies and academic forums.
He has traveled extensively and served across the nations of Ethiopia, Djibouti, Kenya, Germany, England, Norway, Sweden, USA, Australia and New Zealand. In his journey across this globe he has ministered the Gospel of Jesus Christ in three languages: English, Oromo and Amharic. He has authored and translated numerous articles, booklets, books and produced materials for Christian educational use.
Above all, he is proud to be called a Child of God, which is the highest privilege and authority in the Kingdom of God. 

Monday, October 15, 2012

Report from the LCMC National Gathering Part 2

Reggie McNeal.  
(Reggie’s bio piece from the LCMC website is placed at the end of my report for your information).  

Out of the three keynote presentations, I unashamedly enjoyed Reggie’s the best.  If I had the money, I’d gladly pay the fee for Reggie McNeal to come to Des Moines and evaluate our ministry and help us move forward.  I know this isn’t the case with everyone.  I talked to one colleague who felt that Reggie is unfair to large churches and is unnecessarily cynical and caustic about the Church.  Full disclosure here:  I don’t think the Church in North America has must of a future in it’s current manifestation and so I agree with Reggie’s more “extreme” views.  This will definitely color my opinion of his presentation.  I apologize in advance if my interpretation of his remarks is not accurate.  Although it sounds like he’s used to being misquoted.  

Every church has problems.  But, “Healthy churches deal with a better set of problems.”
“We gotta get out of the church business and get into kingdom business.” 
If you want to be ambassadors, shouldn't you represent the home office well?
90+ times Jesus talks about the kingdom.  
We need to learn to talk about Church as a verb, not a noun.  You don't go buy music at the record store any more.  Nor do you go to a bank.  You “bank.”  The Church needs to be known by what it does, not by it’s location or it’s building. 

The Church is important but it isn’t the goal or end of everything.  We’re not here to worship the Church, rather, the Lord of the Church. “We start the Bible in the garden with no church, we end in a city without a church.”   The Church is a vehicle that gets from place to place.  The Church is an avenue of blessing.  Our job as the people of God is to bless the world.  It’s a continuation of the covenant God made with Abraham in Gen 12.  (“By your name all the nations of the world will be blessed.”)  The wording is different than Genesis 12:  we are to be ambassadors, the light of the world, a city on a hill, the bringers of hope to the hopeless, etc.  It’s all about grace.  It’s all about blessing people.  

Reggie suggests that we regularly encourage our congregations to practice blessing people - “Go out and bless 3 people intentionally this week.  Not randomly.  But with intention.”  

He also encourages churches to keep track of and celebrate “God sightings” on a regular basis.  Where have you seen God at work this week?  

“How can we bless you?”, ought to be what every church asks of it’s members, neighborhood and what individual Christians ought to ask of people they meet.

What is the Church?  “Airports are connectors, not destinations.   But without them you don't get to where you need to go.”  The job of the Church is to connect people to Jesus and to mission.  Mission is not so much programmatic,(although it may be expressed programmatically),  as it is 

“We are doing more and more stuff at the church house while these kids are going to hell.”  To hell with more programming.  Near almost every church there is a school with kids who are struggling.  Maybe it’s an under-resourced school.  Maybe there are kids with broken families or special needs.  But there are enough schools for churches to ask them, “How can we serve you?”  Reggie told the story of one Episcopal priest who talked to the local principal and said, “How can I bless you.”   She thought she was nuts.  She was advised by others to test him.  So she asked him to be the crossing guard.  He did it.  And there began a beautiful relationship between the local church and the local school.  The school calls the church for everything.  The church is a blessing to the school.  

 Ask yourselves this question:  “Is our city any better because we're here?”  Has the church made any difference in the life of your community?  If it hasn’t, aren’t we doing the Master of the Church a dis-service?  

Reggie says that some react negatively to the concept of the church blessing the people of the world  He says they ask:  “What about the Word?”  In other words, what about evangelization.   Reggie responds:  “The Word is a whom.   So, be doers of the Word.”  What did Jesus say in John 13:   “Behold I have set you an example, that you should do as I have done.” (Wash feet).  And, “By this, all men will know that you are my disciples:  by the way you love one another.”  

Be doers of the word.  What did the early church in the Roman world do?  There were a tremendous number of girl babies left to die because they were not boys.  The early Christians took them home and raised them as Christians.  Years later, when all the Roman boys were looking for wives, who did they marry?  Christians.  

And again, in Rome, when the plague came through town.  Who stayed and tried to minister?  The Christians.  Many died.  But those who were ministered to and survived could not help themselves but to become followers of Christ.  They had been shown a very great and beautiful love. 

“The church needs to move from an internal to an external focus;  from a program driven to a people development culture.”  Programs are useful in that they help to develop people.  Which is the goal.  Perhaps we’ve lost sight of the goal here.  Perhaps we’ve become a program driven church which values having programs more than the end of the program:  the development (transformation of people).  

For instance, why do we evaluate, even within families, on the basis of participation instead of result.  Example:  Most people think that having a God conversation with your kid goes like this:  “How was Sunday School today?  Are you going to Youth Group on Friday night?”  

A youth director in the Twin Cities said that he no longer started at the point of saying “What kind of program do I want to have?”  Rather, he asked,  “What kind of kids do I want to send into the world?”  It’s about mentoring.  And also about mentoring mentors.  Turns out, mentors grow because kids ask questions.  We need to ask more questions in church.  

How can we get churches to ask the right kinds of questions?  Just expose them to the virus.  For instance, for your sermon, interview the principal at the local school.   Ask, “How can the church bless you?”  Then people want to help.

We also need to learn to change what we celebrate in the church.  Instead of celebrating what we did in church, how many people we had or how much money we raised, why not celebrate what we do in community?

Regularly ask your congregation these kind of questions:
What are you learning?
What are you experiencing?
How are you growing?
What did you learn about God?

It’s time for pastors to move from being institutional managers to a movement leaders.

Consider that your congregation is already deployed in the world in various industries and sectors for mission.  
Release business leaders into the marketplace. 
Release artists into the society. 
Release teachers into the classroom and school.  
Keep asking people, “How can you bless?”
Teach your flock “How to be a person of blessing.”
How do we serve our community?

It’s time for a new scorecard.  Our old scorecard evaluated us on how much money and how many people we brought in.  It’s time for something different. 

Begin by asking what kind of resources the church already has = prayer, people, time, facilities, money.

Figure out how to deploy what you have.  For instance.  If your church is a church of prayer, why not follow the example of one church and put up a prayer booth at your next local fair?  Or go to teachers/schools, police and fire stations.  Tell them you’re praying for them and take requests.  Tell them simply, “We’re asking God to bless you.”  If you need a standard of evaluation, why not ask your membership to self report their community service hours?  Or ask, “Is your marriage better this year than last? “  Or, “Is your relationship with your children better than before?”  This kinds of transformative experiences are the things we should be evaluating.  It’s in these kind of things that people’s lives are changed.  

“Every hour you spend at church is taking you away from your primary mission field.”  These are hard words for a pastor to hear.  But if we’re serious about the Great Commission, I think we have to realize that our job is to equip our people to be missionaries.  And their mission fields are as diverse as our people.  

Imagine what it would be like if we didn’t have to financially support church structures?  We could give our offerings away.  Reggie suggests we find a way to give money away.  Take an extra offering, even $1 per person.  Decide who in the community needs it.  Report out.  He tells the story of one man who gave $1000 tip to a waitress at a Waffle House.  He said that both the waitress and the giver cried and cried.  It’s the kind of thing that changes people’s lives.  Shouldn’t our goal in teaching people to give be to grow generous people who will give to what's important?

At that point, time ran out and the session ended.  I followed up by going to Reggie’s breakout session.  Twenty three registered for the session (including myself).  But over 50 showed up.  There were people sitting on the floor all around the walls and up and down the aisles.  Proof, I think, that people were intrigued by his remarks. 

Question:  Isn’t it true that once you do something more than once it becomes a program?  
Answer:  Yes.  So what we’re really saying is to customize your programming for each person.  Intentionally suggest to people what kind of classes or programs will benefit them and why.  

Be sure to follow up with people.  If you ask, “what do you want God to do in your life?”  You are obligated to go back and ask people, “how it's going?”
Question:  How do you keep the kind of outreach you’re talking about from becoming “just another community service project.”  

Answer:  Keep the people development piece, that's what keeps it from being only a community service piece ...   Help people develop a response.,.. I’m doing this because Jesus loves the kids, or because I've been blessed.”  Also, we need  to train people on whether this environment is a seedbed or an open door.  In other words, are we building a relationship so we can tell them about Jesus or is it time to tell them about Jesus now?  

Always try to keep your outreach projects inter generational.  Send the seniors and the high school kids out on a project together.  They will come back best friends.  

Question:  What kind of leaders do we need in the church today? 
Answer: To be part of the Apostolic ministry, leaders need to be genuinely spiritual.  They also need to be entrepreneurs who are willing to take risks and fail.  And they must have a Kingdom vision (a vision bigger than their own congregation).  

Contrary to things that I’ve seen recently, Reggie insists that the development of the vision belongs to only a few people because only a few people can turn the wheel on a ship.  Where you want masses of people to be involved is in implementation.  Implementation is where you  want 100s of people to be on board.  Not in the development of the vision itself.  

Why is vision making left to the few?   Because in vision making with many there will be the necessity of some kind of vote.  Because as pastors we are in the job of creating winners.  And every time you take a vote you create losers. You lead a spiritual movement by listening to the Holy Spirit, not to the crowd. 

Reggie says to dream big.  How would our community be different if the church did this one thing?

Question:  What is a missional community?
Answer:  Missional community- not house church.  Under 2 dozen.    A micro church, no governance they see themselves as missionaries to their community. 
There are two models:  1.)  They may move to poor side of town together.  The get to know people, just be there and be apart of the community.  Then they teach their members how to create intentional spiritual conversations.  

2.) A community of missionaries that lean on each other for resources and ideas about how to reach the community.

Both may: 
Worship maybe once a month
Meet together based on the rhythm of the constituents
Be connected to a network
Be trained by established churches

They exist to help people get trained and get deployed in their community as missionaries.  

Final comments:  You're not going to meet a soul where God isn't at work in his life.  Find out how to partner with God to bless that person. Introduce that person to Jesus and see where Jesus goes next in that persons life.  That's what is so much fun, to watch Jesus and what he does with people. 

Thanks for reading.  God bless.  PJ  

Rev. Reggie McNeal
Dr. Reggie McNeal enjoys helping people, leaders, and Christian organizations pursue more intentional lives. He currently serves as the Missional Leadership Specialist for Leadership Network of Dallas, TX.
Reggie’s past experience involves over a decade as a denominational executive and leadership development coach. He also served in local congregational leadership for over twenty years, including being the founding pastor of a new church. Reggie has lectured or taught as adjunct faculty for multiple seminaries, including Fuller Theological (Pasadena, CA), Southwestern Baptist (Ft. Worth, TX), Golden Gate Baptist (San Francisco, CA), Trinity Divinity School (Deerfield, IL), Columbia International (Columbia, SC), and Seminary of the Southwest (Austin TX), . In addition, he has served as a consultant to local church, denomination, and para-church leadership teams, as well as seminar developer and presenter for thousands of church leaders across North America. He has also resourced the United States Army Chief of Chaplains Office (the Pentagon), The Chaplains’ Training School (Ft. Jackson), Air Force chaplains, and the Air Force Education and Training Command. Reggie’s work also extends to the business sector, including The Gallup Organization.
Reggie has contributed to numerous publications and church leadership journals. His books include Revolution in Leadership (Abingdon Press, 1998), A Work of Heart: Understanding How God Shapes Spiritual Leaders (Jossey-Bass, 2000), The Present Future (Jossey-Bass, 2003), Practicing Greatness (Jossey-Bass, 2006), Get A Life! (Broadman & Holman, 2007), Missional Renaissance: Changing the Scorecard for the Church (Jossey-Bass, 2009), and Missional Communities: The Rise of the Post-Congregational Church (Jossey-Bass, 2011).
Reggie’s education includes a B.A. degree from the University of South Carolina and the M.Div. and Ph.D. degrees both from Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary.
Reggie and his wife Cathy make their home in Columbia, South Carolina.