Finding “a way” is a Part of Finding “The Way”

Finding “a way” is a Part of Finding “The Way”

Man it’s crazy-frustrating when everything comes apart in a mission and the mission doesn’t have the dollars or people to fix it.  Believe me, I know in a very visceral way.  And if it’s happened to you, I definitely feel your pain. It used to be that when ministries and missions needed funds and people to work them, faith communities went to within their walls to find both.  And when one or both could not be found there, faith communities rung their hands and comforted themselves with the idea that God must not want them to be involved in mission because God had not provided the community with the funds and people to do them.  And then the community goes right back to just looking out for itself.  While there is some truth in the idea that God guides by closing and opening doors, it is only a half-truth.  The idea can never be an excuse for not living out the Gospel.  A half-truth is a lie by any other name.  Matthew 25:32-40 makes no such exception for communities struggling with resources.  Heck, any community worth its salt is always struggling with resources.  I will tell you now, we don’t have enough of anything to heal this world any more than the disciples did when Jesus told them to quit whining and making excuses and to go and find a way to feed those five thousand people.

Matthew 25:32 All the tribes will be gathered before him, and he will separate people one from another as a shepherd separates the sheep from the goats, 33 and he will put the sheep at his right hand and the goats at the left. 34 Then the king will say to those at his right hand, ‘Come, you that are blessed by my Father, inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world; 35 for I was hungry and you gave me food, I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink, I was a stranger and you welcomed me, 36 I was naked and you gave me clothing, I was sick and you took care of me, I was in prison and you visited me.’ 37 Then the righteous will answer him, ‘Lord, when was it that we saw you hungry and gave you food, or thirsty and gave you something to drink? 38 And when was it that we saw you a stranger and welcomed you, or naked and gave you clothing? 39 And when was it that we saw you sick or in prison and visited you?’ 40 And the king will answer them, ‘Truly I tell you, just as you did it to one of the least of these who are members of my family, you did it to me.’

In these hard economic times, no congregation has enough money or people to carry out this mission.  We will be held accountable for whether or not we lived out these imperatives.   I worship and carry out my ministry and mission in a community of working people who give until it hurts to give.  Our people have had their hours cut at work or lost their jobs altogether.  A good portion of our community lives below the poverty line and cannot give any more than they give of either time or money.  Many of our people who serve in our missions are also served BY our missions.  Every person who has a stake and vote in our community is already engaged physically and financially in these missions – that is definitional for us.  There are no “name-only” or “worship-only” people here who vote on decisions that determine our way forward.  So what do we do?  What do leaders do? Do we wring our hands and look for a job in a wealthier community that can better provide for our needs? I wonder what Jesus would have said about that?  Did a verse in Matthew get dropped that read, “When I was hungry, you fed me until it got hard to feed me, and then you jumped ship and went to a larger congregation.”?

These hard times require a new paradigm for leadership and maybe a different kind of leader than what was required thirty years ago.  Since every penny has to count and every moment spent in ministry has to bear as much fruit as possible, leaders have to draw closer to scriptural teachings about how to handle foot-dragging and divisive behavior within their communities.  Those kind of things might be an inconvenience in an endowed church, but in a church that gives every penny it has to further the Kingdom, these things cost our people their livelihood and we have a responsibility to make sure they are shepherded and protected from being wasted on silliness inspired by the same Satan who is most threatened by what we do.  There is no longer a time or place for repeated nonsense, and destructive or negative behavior.  When a community really begins to storm the Gates of Hades along with Christ, and to pull people out of hell, then we are stealing from the “strong man” who has bound them and wants to keep them for his own. That theft will not go uncontested by Satan. Anything that creates a stumbling block to what Christ is calling his Body to do in this reading from Matthew must be immediately confronted and addressed scripturally so Satan can’t get a hold of it and run your community out of time, resources, and dollars.

And leaders have to be far more resourceful in terms of getting what’s called for to complete the mission.  First of all, congregations have to free their leaders up to be creative, to work outside the congregation at least half of the time and probably more.  Congregations have to free their leaders up to be creative in drawing in resources that may have been outside of the imagination even ten years ago.  Leaders have to be willing and able to network and build alliances with a wide variety of resources and communities.  Leaders have to be willing to do a lot of things that are way outside of traditional job descriptions because the only job description that matters is found in Matthew 25:32-40, and that is reiterated in the Great Commission in Matthew 28.  The mission doesn’t care who gets the credit, and it doesn’t care where the dollars come from.  The mission is no respecter of denomination or any other line of discrimination.  Hungry people don’t read the label on the food you give them.  They don’t worry about whether the Gospel is delivered by a Baptist, an Episcopalian, or – God forbid – a Zoroastrian.

We have a saying in our community: “The mission always has to pay for itself”.  We have solidified this by telling our missions that they may only draw one-third of their funds or personnel from within our community.  If the mission becomes skewed and begins to draw too heavily upon already existing resources, the leaders of that mission will be assisted in finding other sources, and if sources cannot be found, that mission is no longer supported by the community.  Two-thirds of all dollars and all staffing have to come from the same mission field that the mission is trying to reach.  That means that we invite secular organizations to partner with us.  That means we hustle for hours every week raising funds from people who have no idea what the Kingdom of God is.  By having resources from the mission field support the mission, those people and dollars are already participating in God’s Kingdom before the mission even gets up and running.  Isn’t the point to make disciples – people who live out the Kingdom of God?  Well, as soon as a dollar is given by a secular resource, that dollar is being used by God, and that donor is participating in the Kingdom.  Where the backside goes, the heart and mind usually follow soon after.

Is this a harder way to do things? Yes.  Do leaders have to work more than fifty hours per week? Yes.  Will this take every bit of effort and creativity that a community can identify, muster, and empower? Yes.  Do leaders need skills and abilities other than church and theological knowledge? You bet.  Is there another way forward in these tough economic times? No.  We are not handed a way to live this out.  We are gifted and supported by the Holy Spirit so that we might use every God-given gift to find a way to do what we are called to do.  Finding a way is now part of finding The Way.  Actually, it always has been.  May each of you find a way in your missions and ministries this week.  Lives and souls are at stake, and every power in heaven and on earth is backing and inspiring our efforts.

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2 Comments »

  1. Sam Said:

    Awesome Max. I especially like the “dropped verse from Matthew.”

    • Ron Said:

      Excellent treatment of mission from the perspective of Matthew’s gospel! As someone serving in Christian organizations heavily dependant on support for our mission, I am equally troubled by how often we limit our mission to the amount of financial support we receive. What a venture in faith to first ask, “What is the mission?” and then “What do we have in our hands by which we can start it?” Your article even takes me a step further, however, by pointing out that the mission is God’s and therefore God is capable of providing both support and engagement in God’s mission from those outside of the church and those already in the field. Thanks.


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