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Moving from Maintenance to Mission. How to Move Outward.

A writer I know asked me a question for a piece she was writing: “What is your secret to having such an outward-focused church? Seriously, most Lutheran churches are all about maintenance. Most churches, period, are all about ME. What is your secret?”

Here is my answer to her question:
Turns out that Jesus was right. You can’t put new wine in old wine skins. The old skins whine. And most churches are full of old wine skins. They whine that they want new wine and new skins, if for no other reason than to continue the church. But they expect the new wine to mature quickly and become just like them. They expect the new skins to accommodate the old wine. But Jesus says it doesn’t work like that. They expect people who have no experience with church to value the same things they do, behave as they do, know and follow the rules as they do. In short, they expect people new to Jesus and new to the church to be just like them. But they aren’t just like them. In order to welcome in new people, by which I mean people new to faith in Jesus Christ and not just recycled members from other churches, we who are already in the church must die to ourselves and our favorite ways of doing things for the sake of welcoming new brothers and sisters. We know how to make church members. We don’t know how to make disciples. Even many life long church members have never been discipled and don’t understand that that word is the significance of the church. They don’t understand that being a disciple isn’t about simply knowing the Bible stories, it’s about whether or not you can live what the stories teach. They don’t understand that we are on the mission of God together, as a church, to love as Jesus loves and to make disciples of him. Plus, many long time church members expect that as pastor you can continue to offer them the same level of customer service they have come to expect and that you can still have time to go out and bring in more people to help pay the bills and replace those who have died.  Teaching our people to die to themselves helps them to mature into Christ-likeness together.  It's hard, but it's necessary.  

I think the entire Church in North America must undergo a mission shift. By this I mean that we must enter into the mission of God to bring his light and love and salvation and grace and mercy and his Word made flesh to the world.  To do this we must become the enfleshment of the gospel ourselves.  

Here are some thoughts about what is necessary for this mission shift to occur:

  • This isn’t about methods. It’s about attitude. Will we act as if we trust God or not? If all things are possible for him who believes, then we need to take the proverbial bull by the horns and act as if what we believe is going to happen.
  • You need to be desperate for the kingdom in order to attempt this. You have to hunger and thirst for an experience like that church back in Acts 2. Then you have to cry out to the Lord for a vision. You have to be really, really desperate to start this - I mean, afraid that things will just continue as normal has to be your nightmare.
  • Become obedient to the WHOLE WORD of God. Not just the thou shalt nots, but the thou shalts. God talks way more about caring for the widow and orphan than he spends on gay marriage and pre-marital sex.
  • Live out the parables of Jesus. Take Luke 14, for example. Go put on a banquet for people who can’t bless you back.
  • Follow Jesus into everything. Become radically obedient. When he says, “Love your enemies,” go round up some enemies to love and set about intentionally loving them without the expectation that they will love you back in any way.
  • Preach the WHOLE Gospel. You are saved by grace through faith - in order to do good works God positioned for you in advance. You were saved for a purpose. We forget that part.
  • Put obedience to the teachings of Jesus as the highest priority.
  • Start making decisions as if you really did believe Jesus was coming back tomorrow. It adds an urgency to your ministry and keeps you from worrying about committing too many resources. I mean, if Jesus were coming back tomorrow, you’d want all your resources, people/money/buildings/vehicles/etc. deployed in his work, right?
  • Seek the praise of God and not men or women. Forget about making people happy. You can’t. Focus only on doing something beautiful for Jesus. Please him and you will please the Father. And, according to Jesus, the world will see what you do and praise your Father in heaven.
  • Understand that you are Moses and you have been chosen by God to lead his people out of slavery and death in Egypt. And understand that they will be stiffed necked and complain continuously, be disobedient and plot your demise. Lead them any way to the very best of your ability. Be sure to keep following the Presence of God in fire and cloud, or however he chooses to show you his presence.
  • Don’t be afraid to make mistakes. The future of the Church in North America is so bleak that it’s better to try and fail then not to try at all.
  • Action is better than inaction. We are so far into the ditch of inaction we simply don’t need to worry about over doing yet.
  • Stop treating church members like customers, consumers or share holders. Treat them as if they were soldiers of the cross and followers of Jesus. Say things like, “Jesus tells us we are to feed the poor. Therefore, we will gather this week and do so. I know you all will be there because it’s what Jesus wants.” Expect your people to follow Jesus and treat them as if they will.
  • Remind people the church isn’t a cruise ship - it’s a warship. Our Master and King is at war. We are too. Now get to your action station.
  • Ask forgiveness rather than permission. Step out boldly if it's the right thing to do. Remember, act as if Jesus is coming tomorrow. This is the only way to get started. Too many churches have been making big plans for too long and they will never be enacted because there is always an excuse for delay.
  • Pray as much as you possibly can. Then go out and do. If it’s the wrong thing, he’ll show you and put you on the right track.
  • Intentionally bless people who can't bless you back.  
  • Ask everyone in your community, “How can the church bless you?” We are blessed to be a blessing. But we hardly ever bless anyone. Go to the schools, the businesses, the mall, the hospitals, the restaurants. Everywhere you go ask how you can bless them. Most will laugh at you. Some will tell you what they need and it will be transformative for both of you.
  • Don’t expect your people to do anything you haven’t done. If you want them to meet strangers, go meet some yourself first and tell them how to do it. If you ask them to pick up trash at an apartment complex, be sure you’ve done it.
  • Don’t be afraid to lose everything and know that everything will come loose.
  • Don’t be afraid to be humiliated. People will call you names and tell you that you are doing it wrong. But they’ve never done what you’re doing and they wouldn’t, even if they could. They don’t want you to do it because it means that it can be done and they should be doing it too. When the Church is on mission, it makes lazy Christians look bad.
  • Talk is cheap. Live your sermons out in front of God and everyone else. Show everyone what loving Jesus looks like.
  • Understand that your family will suffer. People will be out to get you for shaking things up and because they’re out to get you, your family will be in the cross hairs, too. Long time friends will desert you. You will experience financial hardship. You will be in and out of depression. You will have long, tiring meetings that will not end well. But God is faithful and one of the highest callings is to suffer for the name of Jesus and for the gospel. Learn to revel in suffering for dong what God wants.
  • Do hard things. Go out and find hard things you can’t do but that need to be done and then go and try to do them. Take risks, putting yourself in situations where only God can save you. You have to learn to live by faith.
  • Look for ways to make the gospel real. Look for ways to practice radical forgiveness. Do the unexpected. Practice a radical grace. People have no imagination for the kingdom these days. We need to show them what it looks like. I think that’s why Jesus taught in parables. They stimulate our imagination for what might be.
  • Practice generosity. Jesus says give to everyone who asks. It’s hard, but pay other people’s bills before you pay your own.
  • Practice collective death to self by giving away the building. Let everyone who needs it use it for free. Go volunteer your building as an emergency shelter with your county emergency management office. Give keys to the local school in case they need a rally point during a disaster. Whatever it is, do it.
  • Practice a radical dependance on God, not people. When money is low, stop passing the plate. Put a box in the lobby and tell the people that what they give is between them and God. Then make the elders pray all night for God to send the resources. He responds to challenges like that when we acknowledge that he alone can save us and that our salvation does not come through people.
  • Realize that gospel opportunities are totally spontaneous and cannot be engineered. You cannot turn this way of life into a program nor can you budget for it. How much does it cost? Everything and more. Rather, when you see an opportunity, take it. Don’t be afraid to commit to what you cannot do. If it’s an opportunity from God he will miraculously provide. Trust that the opportunity is from him and he’ll provide and do it. We committed to get 35 kids back and forth to school everyday before we had any vans or drivers. God provides.
  • Leverage everything you’ve got for the mission. We had no money but we did have a building. So we leveraged it. It is now in use almost 24/7 now. It’s hip in the missional movement to say that buildings are just a huge expense. But we had one so we used it.  What do you have?  Use it.  
  • If you’re doing things that aren’t mission, kill them. We cut two staff positions because they only served the membership and the staff members were’n’t open to expanding their roles to embrace the mission shift. The money we saved was immediately absorbed into feeding hungry people, starting an Iraqi community group, and buying beds for families sleeping on the floors of bed-bug infested apartments.
  • Ruthlessly fight fear with faith. Speak faith to fear all the time by committing acts of outrageous love. The devil will use all the fear he has to make your people and you turn back and stop following Jesus and stop trusting him. It’s like suddenly you’ll be jarred awake and realize you’re walking on a high wire with no net. The tendency is to panic. Remember that the real war here is in the spiritual realms. Then go back to work. Be courageous and be bold. The devil flees from faith. Sometimes you just have to double down and force people to keep going. You wind up burning every bridge so they can’t retreat. You’re like a gambler doubling down on each bet, trusting God is going to give you the victory.
  • Remind people that salvation isn’t about when you’re dead, it’s about how you live right now.
  • Above all, maintain unity in Christ. Exalt the kingdom over the congregation and pursue the interests of Christ above your own. Seek unity with other churches. Especially minority churches. Jesus was serious about that whole John 17 thing and we do well to be obedient to his prayer request. People may attack you for trying to reconcile differences for the sake of unity. But if we aren’t reconciling are we really a church? People will attack you for seeking unity but it isn’t really unity they don’t want, they just don’t want Jesus that much. Don’t stop. Love never gives up.

Thanks for reading. You can read the writer, Rebecca Florence Miller’s piece in Patheos at http://www.patheos.com/blogs/rebeccaflorencemiller/2015/12/the-blessing-of-serving-refugees/

Our Values: Numbers 5 and 6

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Don’t throw back the miraculous catch.  

In Luke 5, the soon to be first disciples of Jesus experience such a large catch of fish at Jesus’ direction that their nets begin to break and their boats begin to sink.  I suppose the temptation with too much is to toss it back and save the boat and the nets.  But instead, they signaled for more boats.  We are experiencing a miraculous catch as many are coming to Christ and following him and being baptized into new life in him.  A constant temptation is to stop and say, “This is too much, we can’t handle this.  We aren’t equipped emotionally or with enough staff, time or space to handle this.”  Instead, we choose to ask others to help so that not one of the precious ones that Jesus has brought to us will be lost.  This also reinforces our desire for unity - that we cannot bring in the catch alone but the entire Body of Christ needs to participate together.

 

We are one body, united in Jesus Christ

We are a church of individuals, different in many ways, yet called together by God to be one in ministry and mission. As members of the same body, we become more effective when we work in harmony as a unified whole (John 17:20-23). Among us, love for one another is the norm (John 13:34, Romans 13:8), conflicts are resolved according to the teaching of Jesus (Matthew 18:15-17), and we seek to build each other up (1 Thessalonians 5:11).  We seek to eliminate from our life together what is often called, “church politics.”  We don’t gossip, malign, spread false rumors, or seek to glorify anyone’s personality except Jesus. We rejoice together, and we suffer together (1 Corinthians 12:25-27).   

 

Our Values: Numbers 3 and 4

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Our Values:  The Principals that Inform Our Decision Making

We “get” globalization. #3

We are very much a local church with a global perspective.  We currently worship together in four languages and pray together in over 10 languages and that number is increasing.  We understand together that the world is coming to our city and to our very neighborhood and that means that everything must change as we seek to find ways to connect with our community and our world in order to serve people as if we were serving Christ himself.  We believe in reaching out to those both next to us and across the world.  We understand that God’s Plans are bigger than our ideas and we seek ways to glorify Him in the midst of a rapidly changing world.  

 

We are a part of something bigger than ourselves.  #4

Jesus taught us to pray that God’s kingdom would come and that things here would be the way they are in heaven.  We believe that God’s kingdom is comprised of all his children and so we seek ways to work with others for the sake of making that kingdom real to the world around us.  We seek unity with other believers and churches and partnerships with others who are engaged in doing good things in the world.  We do not believe that we have to own every idea or ministry.  In fact, we believe that our Master taught us how to die to ourselves and to our egos and so we hope that we can find ways to bring people and groups together without having to “own it” or take credit for it.  We believe that this attitude will bring many good things into being without our egos getting in the way.  In all things we seek a kingdom orientation. 

Our Values: Numbers 1 and 2

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Our Values:  The Principals that Inform Our Decision Making 

 

Values determine how you make decisions.  If your value is that you never go into debt, you might decide not to charge that trip to Disney World.  If your value is that you will live for the day, you very well might decide to charge that trip to Disney World.  As a church, we have determined the things that we value, the things that determine our decision making.  We're preaching about them in order to introduce them to the congregation.  I hope you enjoy this synopsis.  We'll be introducing two at a time.  Thanks for reading.  PJ  

 

Aren’t they all our children?   

Jesus was particularly fond of children and he used them in many examples of what the kingdom of God is like.  Our neighborhood is blessed with many, many children.  Many come from disadvantaged families or broken homes.  We seek to find ways of incorporating them into our church, our families, and our shared life together.  They are the first thing we think about when we’re making any plans.  Even if their parents never attend our church we seek to find ways to show them the love of Jesus Christ and include them.   

 

Let’s do something beautiful for Jesus.

In Matthew 26, Jesus is anointed with a lavish amount of perfume by a woman who saw in him her Savior and Redeemer.  In verse 10, Jesus says, “She has done a beautiful thing to me.”  Those with Jesus complained that such extravagance was a waste of money and could be better spent.  But we understand that when Jesus is present, extravagance is called for.  We should pour out our lives and all we possess upon Jesus and His great work.  Mother Teresa once said that Jesus travels the world in distressing disguises.  We seek to find ways to intentionally welcome him and poor ourselves out for him in every disguise he can wear, especially when he visits us as the poor or the “least of these.”   This attitude leads us to “see the need and meet the need” because by serving others we are serving our Master.  “What so ever you did to the least of these you did so to me.”   Our constant question to others must be, “How can we bless you?”

 

Ramblings about God, the Church and Everything.

  • after Jesus’ own heart, 
  • with relevant, Bible based teaching,
  • with passionate and authentic worship,
  • of prayer,
  • with a heart for our city and the world,
  • where the love of our Lord is evident in the way we live and minister together. 

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