Wednesday, August 19, 2015

No Church's Hope Lies Inside Its Walls!

I'm no expert in anything.  However, I do have about four decades of church experience: serving in and through them, being employed by them, leading them, coaching them, and observing them.  This includes everything from churches with a dozen in weekly attendance to those with hundreds attending each week.  I probably haven't learned much, but there's one thing I can say for church's hope for a fruitful future lies within its walls.  I mean both the literal walls of a church facility or campus and the figurative containment of the people, the leadership, the systems, the traditions, and the processes that define any particular congregation.

I'm not saying that churches do not have great pastors and leaders, faithful congregants, good worship, and impacting ministries.  That's not the point.  I am saying that if a church believes a secure and successful future will come from all just those people and just that stuff that is "within", that church will certainly die.

There is a tendency within congregations to believe that once they get their internal act together, once the people within the walls are happy and motivated, once the internal organization is perfected, and once ministries to those on the inside are at their peak, then and only then will the church move outside its walls, engage its mission field, evangelize the lost, meet unmet human need, and get about the business of transforming the world for Jesus Christ.  Declining churches express this with proposed internal solutions typical of declining churches:  tighten up the budget, get the perfect pastor, get the pastor to do more visitation, bring the inactive members back in, get a dynamic youth or children's leader because "we need young people again," make worship like it used to be when the church was full, etc.   Growing churches as well have their way of focusing on perfecting the internal stuff before taking the next growth step:  get the structure right, fix "the communication problem", pin down the discipleship process, corral the directors who are "big spenders" with the budget, solve the "traditional/contemporary" worship tension, etc.  Either way, the assumption is this:  Our hope for whatever God has in store for us will come from within us.  If left unchecked, this results in a subtle but strong priority shift.  Whether growing or declining, churches come to believe the primary aim is to focus on those already in the fold.   In declining churches, this means that the mission of making disciples of Jesus Christ is lost entirely.  In growing churches, the vision gets weakened by talk of, "We need to stop focusing so much on unreached people outside our walls and feed the ones who are already in!"  All of this is anchored by the belief that hope comes from within those already in the club.

This phenomenon did not come from the Body of Christ's birth as a movement.  Prior to ascending, Jesus did not say, "Go back to Jerusalem and get organized.  Create a budget and follow it.  Make sure you have an organizational flow church.  Get your internal act together.  Once you have all that done, I'll send the Holy Spirit."  They were just praying and waiting in Jerusalem; the Church wasn't even a "thing."  They had no hope from within.  Without organization, credentials, marketing, or traditions, they were thrust by the Holy Spirit outside of themselves as Jesus followers.  It was not about them.  Their future hope was in 3,000 people outside of them who were on the threshold of meeting Jesus and didn't even know it.  From the get-go, hope for the Church is always outside of us.

As Jesus-followers in churches, hope is not within us; it is outside of us.  We commit to Jesus and a church's mission SO THAT we will engage the mission field around us.  We grow as followers of Jesus SO THAT people outside of our walls will see Jesus in us.  We get our hands dirty in service SO THAT we can be the hands, feet, and heart of Jesus beyond our church campuses.  We give money SO THAT churches can be resourced to be the front line of bringing unreached, under-served, unloved people into the arms of God.  We share faith SO THAT someone else can meet Jesus.  It's never about us, our churches, our buildings, and all our internal stuff.  It's always about Matthew 28:19.    Hope comes from outside of us.

One old canoeist/kayaker's opinion...I'll see you around the next bend in the river.

Thursday, July 30, 2015

I Have 69 Slaves Working for Me!

Last Sunday at our church our featured speaker was Sean Gladding - church planter, leader, and author, currently living in Lexington, KY.  He's the author of a book entitled TEN: Word of Life for an Addicted, Compulsive, Cynical, Divided, and Worn-Out Culture.  (We've been in a sermon series based on his book.)  Sean and his book have helped us see the Ten Commandments not just as legalistic rules in a land where many people think they should stay posted on courthouse walls, but few can remember and recite all ten.  Rather, Sean, our lead pastor Aaron Brown, and other pastors on our staff have helped us see these words from God as life practices, designed to help us be a people free from that which would bind us.  Then, as free people, like the Hebrews who first received them, we can be a people who demonstrate the light of a living God in a world mired in darkness.

Seeing the Ten Commandments this way is convicting and transforming.  For example, consider this commandment:  "You shall not misuse the name of the LORD your God, for the LORD will not hold anyone guiltless who misuses his name."  (Exodus 20:7, New International Version.)   As a kid I was taught that this means I should not say the name "God" in any other way than speaking to God or about God.  That's certainly part of it, but a small part.  Sean helped us see that, as a life practice for a people set apart for a particular purpose and mission, this is much bigger.  In the Hebrew worldview, the name of God encompassed God's identity, nature, heart, passion, and purpose.  So, as Sean observed, "taking the LORD's name in vain" isn't just asking God by name, aloud, to damn something or someone.  Sean said, "When we fail to care about what God cares about, we take God's name in vain."

As an example, he steered us to  The words of this website assert that there are 27M slaves in this world, many if not most of whom are shackled in supply chains that ultimately benefit North American consumers.  I challenge everyone to go to the website and take the survey.  According to it, I have 69 slaves working so that I, personally, can maintain my lifestyle!  Is the survey stylized to make a point?  Probably.  Is it entirely scientific?  Likely not.  Is it pointing to the fact that product and service production outsourced to forced labor, child labor, or below subsistence labor has created many of the goods in my life.  Beyond a shadow of a doubt, yes!  Just like I have a carbon footprint on this planet, I have a slavery footprint.  And this contributes to the bondage of people loved by a God who took human form for them and died for them.  And THAT is a far worse use of God's name in vain than shouting out, "!" when the hammer hits my thumb!

That's the level at which we need to allow the Ten Commandments to speak to us, convict us, and change us, way before we argue about whether or not our founding fathers believed and followed them and whether or not they should be posted on courthouse walls.  I can't speak for anyone else or make demands on anyone else.  All I can do us humble myself, seek the mercy of a forgiving God, and get about the business of reducing my slavery footprint, regardless of how it affects my convenience or my purchases and finances.   Ask me about it; hold me accountable to it.

Just some food for thought.  I'll see you around the next bend in the river.