Posts Tagged ‘change’

What About the Change?


What About the Change?

“Nice sermon, Max. It really made me think.” I know that as he left worship that day he meant those words as encouragement. I didn’t see the need to tell him right then that whether or not a sermon made someone think doesn’t make a lick of difference to me. I simply don’t care whether anything I say makes someone “think”. I care whether they experienced the Holy Spirit in worship, and whether something in that experience led to a changed life. I took the encouragement and simply said, “Thank you. See Wednesday for breakfast?” That’s a better place for a conversation about the difference between “thinking” and “experiencing”, and “sparked interest” and “changed life”.

For our community, what happens on Sunday morning is not only not all of “church”, it isn’t even all of worship. We live life together here. And we live sent. Apart from Mondays, which are days of reflection, people are engaged in God’s mission every day. There are prophetic worship happenings, and healing worship on other days of the week than Sunday. We break bread together regularly. We meet for accountability sessions. And we pray together. We disciple one another around supper tables knowing that disciples aren’t really disciples if they aren’t making disciples. And we serve together in the mission. We get dirty together, fear together, cry together, and toil together. And we see miracles together, signs and wonders of the coming and present Kingdom. Corporate worship on Sundays is a celebration of all that the Lord has done in the mission during the week. And it’s a time to put the pieces together…to go after those parts of ourselves that Christ is trying to redeem and to claim as his. Part celebration and part reflection and part Spirit connection, corporate worship on Sunday is designed as an opportunity to experience the Holy Spirit in a unique way that leads us to change our behaviors, and thus to change our lives. A closer and closer walk. A deeper and deeper obedience. A thickening of our souls.

So, I don’t measure effectiveness by what folks say on the way out on Sunday. I am grateful for the encouragement because it has historically been few and far between. But I am looking for the fruit of the Spirit in the lives of folks, and in myself. Am I kinder? Am I better at discerning what’s really going on? Is my heart breaking for what’s breaking God’s heart? Am I more patient? Does my heart, and do my hands, reach out to people who I could never get anything from? Am I responding with my life and all that I have to the urgency of the situation in the world? Am I praying with all my heart for blessings upon those who have sought with all their hearts to do me harm? Am I inviting others into Kingdom participation with me…the most precious thing in my life? If I lost my checkbook and my calendar and you found them, would you be able to tell from them that I believe in a Kingdom not of this world…and that I am a Christ-follower? For me, those are better indicators of the effectiveness of our missions and ministries, and better indicators that the Holy Spirit has, indeed, come by here. Did that make you think? I love you, but I really don’t care if it made you think. It’s about the fruit. It’s about the change.


What if I Don’t?

What if I Don’t?

Luke 14:27-33

Jesus said to the crowd, “Whoever does not carry the cross and follow me cannot be my disciple. For which of you, intending to build a tower, does not first sit down and estimate the cost, to see whether he has enough to complete it? Otherwise, when he has laid a foundation and is not able to finish, all who see it will begin to ridicule him, saying, `This fellow began to build and was not able to finish.’ Or what king, going out to wage war against another king, will not sit down first and consider whether he is able with ten thousand to oppose the one who comes against him with twenty thousand? If he cannot, then, while the other is still far away, he sends a delegation and asks for the terms of peace. So therefore, none of you can become my disciple if you do not give up all your possessions.”

I don’t know how much help we can really be if our faith is still about us…about our salvation…about our finances…about our future.  We have long been sold a Gospel of self-fulfillment and prosperity as if the purpose of this life is to prosper in it.  We have been sold a superstition that preachers have labeled and enforced as sound doctrine that emphasizes our own salvation and separation and purity-maintenance, and we have been sold it right in the face of a Gospel that tells us that following Christ will cost us everything, a Gospel that outright tells us that in order to find ourselves we have to lose ourselves.  We have been told over and over and over by the powers of human faith and politics that if we just live the right way, God will bless us…as if grace has no place and we are in control of our own futures.  I just don’t remember a place in the Gospels that tells us that this faith is in any way about us.  I thought it was about the world. I thought God so loved the WORLD that he gave his only son.

And the superstitious question that I hear uttered more times than I can tell you…to the point of exasperation…is, “If I help this person, what will happen?”  By that I mean, “What will happen to me, my family, my finances, my status, my comfort, my time, etc. ?” I have seen person after person after person cower in fear and walk away from tremendous need and suffering that they could easily impact because that question led them to think that the cost was too high.  Too high for what? If the person in question was your child and you needed someone to help them, what cost would be too high?  But, “What will happen to me if I do this?” is not the question.  At least it’s not the question that Jesus asked or taught us to ask.  A wrong question always yields a wrong answer. The question that will lead you into the Kingdom of God is, “What will happen to this person if I DON’T do this?” I don’t think that the question Jesus was asking when he looked up that hill at Golgotha to that cross was, “What will happen to me if I do this?”  I think the question he was asking was, “What will happen if I DON’T do this?”

If I don’t take this child in, what will happen to her?  If I don’t shell out for a couple of meals for this guy, what will happen to him? What will happen to this sick person if I DON’T treat them?  What will happen if I DON’T stand up for the people who can’t stand up for themselves? What will happen if I DON’T open up everything I have to make room for others to simply have hope?  What will happen if I don’t use my time off to visit that person in the nursing home?   Or for those of you who are considering ministry as a vocation:  If I don’t take the call to this church full of poor folks that can’t really afford to pay me what I want, who will?  What will happen if I DON’T take this call?   This is a faith where you have every earthly thing to lose…and every heavenly thing to gain.  If you answer this kind of question, the road will become hard.  But your life will have an impact.  The breaths you take will matter to the one who gave them to you.  Listen to me for a second.  YOUR LIFE AND BREATHS WILL MATTER.  You will act on Jesus’ behalf, and your fate and future will truly and completely be in God’s hands.  Isn’t THAT the nature of faith after all?  Change the question and see where it leads you today.

“We Just Want to Stay the Same.” Not Possible.

“We Just Want to Stay the Same.”  Not Possible.

I have heard something a couple of times now and it grieves my heart to hear it.  I have heard it said right before a church begins its nosedive to closing…and usually closing with money in the bank.  I have heard churches simply say that they have decided to stay as they are…to do nothing new…rather than attempt hard changes that might make them healthy again.  I say “healthy again” intentionally.  It is unhealthy to say that a congregation is choosing to “stay the same”.  It is unhealthy because staying the same is an illusion…or more precisely, it is a delusion. I support every congregation’s right to make their own decisions. That being said, I don’t think that supporting that right precludes others from attempting to say things to that congregation that might renew their minds.  Truth matters.  The truth sets us free.  Jesus is the way and the TRUTH and the life.  Every congregation is spiritually competent to seek divine revelation out of which they can steer their congregation.  But we are not entitled to embrace a lie and call it the truth without that lie being challenged. We cannot claim to love people and not be willing to tell the truth. Paul wrote, “Speaking the truth in love, we must grow up into him who is the head, the Christ.” (Eph 4:15)

Nothing stays the same.  That is the truth.  It is completely counter to the Gospel…and to physics, by the way…to believe that any person, relationship, or community has the ability to stay the same.  Change is constantly happening.  Simply gazing upon something changes both the object and the subject of that gaze.  We do not stay the same.  Refusing to grow personally or as a community…refusing to grow up…does not mean that you, individually or collectively, will stay the same.  Not at all. Choosing to take for yourself with no eye toward others means that you will grow, but you will grow into the attitude and thought that led you to choose to focus on yourself.

If your choice is to stay focused on yourself, you will be etched deeper into and become more entrenched in self-serving and self-centeredness. Attitude and speech lead to patterns of behavior. Selfish attitudes become selfish behavior. Behavior gains momentum as it becomes habit, and habit gains momentum as it becomes character.  You will not stay the same.  You will become more adept at answering the question of “What do I want?”  And you will become less and less able to even hear the question, “What does God want from me?”   Your own needs become more and more central, and the world around you begins to look more and more like a resource to better serve yourself.  You might even find yourself developing a more and more detailed story of the world that supports your claim to centrality. That delusion is called Narcissism, and that phenomenon can be collective, as well as, individual.

Narcissism is not inert.  It is not benign, either.  All of us know someone who has been spoiled and enabled through their whole adolescence.  They do not stay the same.  They get worse. Adolescence is the process of coming to understand that you are no longer a child whose needs are central to your world.  As a baby, your world does revolve around you.  You can’t feed yourself or change your own diapers or control your own impulses.  But as an adult, we come to realize that in the scope of the universe, we really don’t matter very much.  We are like the grass that fades.  Some families never let their kids grow out of adolescence.  They are afraid that if they tell their kids the truth, their kids won’t love them anymore…and their own need to be loved becomes more important than the truth. But it isn’t that their kids stay the same.  They become more adept at manipulating people into giving in to them.  They become more hostile, more morose, and more of a pain in the neck to everyone.  They become utterly poisonous to every community that they wheedle their way into. They grow in their ability to feed their own need. They grow, in that they become less and less able to hear any “will” other than their own.  Over time, and left unconfronted, they start to hear their own will and think that it’s God’s will.  God’s voice grows farther and farther away, and their own voice grows more and more central.  When that happens, their actions cease to be benign.  They begin to do damage to anyone that they have power over, and because their will is central, that seek to have power over everyone in their lives. It is simply not true that people (or communities) that are fundamentally selfish or self-preservation-centered (whatever you want to call it) stay the same. They do not. They get worse.

As those communities that are getting worse get worse, the healthy people in them leave or are driven off.  The sick only attract the sick, and there are only so many sick people that a community can tap into for growth.  The congregation ages.  As it ages, giving drops off.  They get to the point where they can’t afford full-time professional leadership.  They drive off part-timers because dynamic people willing to work part-time have an eye towards growth – and these congregations thwart every effort put forth to do that. So they get pulpit supply just for Sundays.  Through the years, they’ve made no effort to develop solid lay-leaders who can help them grow, and no tent-maker pastor in their right mind would take on a tiny and dying congregation that has decided to “stay the same”.   The spiral downward gains momentum.  Members die and are not replaced.  Between chasing off healthy people and members simply dying, the congregation dies…it becomes unsustainable.  Selfishness in community is unsustainable.  So those congregations do not stay the same.  They die.  THAT is the truth.  They get sick.  The sickness goes unconfronted.  The sickness becomes entrenched.  They get sicker.  And then they die. THAT is the truth.  It is a flat-out lie to claim that your choice is to stay the same.  You’re going to grow sicker or you’re going to grow healthier.  But no community stays the same ever.

Healthy things grow.  It’s not a question of growth. It’s a question of health. Healthy congregations grow out of adolescence and come to realize that they are not the center of the universe…nor are they the center of the Gospel.  The Good News IS for them, but never for them alone.  The blessings of  God ARE for them, but never for them alone. Those whom God calls, and Jesus claims as his, are not his for their own sake.  They are called as vessels through which Jesus can continue to do what he said he came to do – “To seek and to save the lost.”  They are vessels through which the Kingdom of God can spread outward…and inward…but certainly outward.

Does that mean that every congregation has to drop what they’re doing and go out into the streets to reach gangsters and drug addicts today? No, I don’t think that would be a truthful expectation either.  But just as an attitude of selfishness grows, so also an attitude of selflessness grows.  Small steps matter.  Small changes matter.  Small decisions matter.  They matter because they grow.  They do not stay the same.  Small acts of kindness to those outside our walls fed by an attitude and realization that while Jesus might be our personal savior, that doesn’t make him our personal servant…those small acts of kindness change us, and they change the world. The world starts to look a little bit more like the Kingdom of God, and we start to enjoy participating in God’s present reign as his servants. The enjoyment grows.  As that joy grows, we become more warm and open.  That attitude grows.  As it grows, we become healthier and more mature and more responsible adults.  Healthy attracts healthy, and healthy grows.  It just does. Churches that decide not to stay the same are living in the truth.  And those churches that decide that they want to grow in selfless service will grow in courage and boldness and audacity.  And they will grow in their trust in Jesus.  They will not stay the same.  What started as a tiny mustard seed sown within them will grow up and become the greatest of all bushes, and the birds of the air…the lost, the disenfranchised, the addicted, the exploited, the humiliated, the suffering…will come and find shelter in its branches (Mat 4:32).

Every congregation is spiritually equipped to make their own decisions.  But no congregation is entitled to their own truth.  It is a lie to say that you are choosing to stay the same.  You are choosing to become more selfless and Kingdom-oriented, or you are choosing to become more and more selfish and self-serving.  You are choosing to grow up and grow healthy, or you are choosing to die.  THAT is the truth.


Why Does Mission Immersion Matter?

Why Does Mission Immersion Matter?

I used to do a lot of short-term mission work overseas and I caught a lot of guff for it from the “real” missionaries, the long-term ones.  I understood their argument.  The trouble was that they didn’t understand my purpose.  I do not harbor illusions about changing the world in a week.  I do not hold some simmering zeal to invade a foreign culture and set it free from its own limitations.  I use to do a lot of short-term mission overseas because somewhere along the line I came to realize that I live in the largest unreached mission field in the world.  I came to understand that it was MY culture that people were shackled to and needed to be freed from, and that if North American churches didn’t find a completely different model for doing ecclesia, then they would slip away into irrelevance.  It isn’t that I don’t use every drop of what I learned in seminary every week.  It’s just that the mental models for doing church that were presented to me there simply did not meet the need of reaching people for the Kingdom of God who lived right outside our doors.  I had no mental model.  I had no idea what a church that was entirely designed to penetrate a culture with the gospel looked like.  I needed to see one before I could do one.  So, if I ticked off a few foreign missionaries with my little short-term efforts, I am sorry.  And I also don’t care.  I needed to live in their model in order to understand their model, so that I could be a part of something here that is designed to do exactly what foreign mission churches are designed to do there.

I know a lot of great people who are really interested in taking the next step, but they (like I had) have no idea what the next step even looks like.  They, too, have to see one in order to do one.  We are not the church of our parents.  We are not that church because that church was designed to do something that is entirely unlike what the Church is being called to do here now in the U.S. – reach unreached people groups whose culture is foreign to our own.  Any teaching model that is designed to move Christ-followers into the mission, has to give those Christ-followers a model on which to build.  If they don’t have a vision for what an effective mission-driven church looks like, how can they even find a place to begin?

In my limited experience, foreign mission churches are mission-centered.  The purpose of their being is to reach outward because there is no inward to reach into when they first get going.  All of their life flows out of that mission.  Worship flows from mission. Discipleship flows out of the knowledge that disciples in the mission environment are called to make disciples who make disciples.  Mission informs the culture of the community  – it has to be host-culture-aware and host-culture-relevant.  Almost everything that mission churches do is designed to meet the needs of people who aren’t there yet.  And having said all of that, those are just words.  They aren’t substance.  What does a church like that actually look like?  What does it actually feel like? What holds it together and what keeps the roof on? What kinds of facilities do they invest in?  What do they invest first?  Where do they focus their resources and for what purpose? How do they measure effectiveness?

I did not have the benefit of having missional churches here in the U.S. that I could go and immerse myself in 16-17 years ago when I first felt God’s call to do this kind of work. The term “missional” didn’t really have legs back then.  I am sure that missional communities were out there…quite sure…but no one I knew knew who they were or how to get connected to them. People at my seminary who I know loved me deeply, said I should go into missions.  And I kept replying, “Right.” But we apparently weren’t in the same conversation.  So for me, the easiest fastest way to get something into my head was to spend a lot of money and go overseas.  And that’s what I did.  And that was how I developed a mental model around which I could cast a vision to my community, and upon which the Holy Spirit could build what we do here now.  We kicked our missional transformation off by taking about twelve people to Nicaragua.  That experience gave a nucleus of people (a cadre, of sorts) something they could use to understand what we are called to do here.  They could say, “Oh. Yeah. I get it. This is like that time in Nicaragua where we…”; or, “I get it.  This was what those missionaries were talking about when they said this is a ‘Holy Spirit Thing’”.  Understand? Immersion creates a mental model to connect current experience to.  It offers a framework…a hermeneutic…a set of lenses. The only thing we had to invent from nothing was funding methods.  Ironically, with the drop in available funds to foreign missions, we could actually help out those missionaries we visited back then with some of our funding models (Object AND Subject).

In 2012, things are different.  We have mission partners around the country where we can go spend a week and really get immersed in their mission.  Even though we kind of know what we’re doing now, we still try to do this every year.  We still have a lot to learn, and checking into other missional communities allows us to look at how others do what they do and then use that learning to enhance our own mental model and vision.  Instead of $1200 per person for a plane ticket alone, we spend $200 per person total cost.  We can do praxis in the midst of other communities’ missions that make the Gospel come to life in a way that it does not always when we are engaged in our own missions.  Likewise, we host teams from other churches and communities here for the same reasons. Sometimes you have to step away from what you do in order to gain an understanding of what God is doing in what you do.

When your community is feeling really lost about how to get started, I think that is a very valid issue.  The problem isn’t usually that they don’t want to connect to the present Kingdom of God.  And it usually isn’t that they don’t care about anyone but themselves.  It is usually that in order to do one, we first have to see one…we have to be immersed in one. We have to have a vision for what it might look like.  We need a mental model. For what it’s worth, I didn’t believe in the present Kingdom of God until I saw it with my own eyes.  Seeing it was what made me believe in it…what made me surrender to it…what made me devote my whole life to it.  Reading about it and hearing about it led me to seek it with all my heart.  However, it did not have the power to transform me. Only seeing it did.  The Kingdom of God IS the mission. If we are struggling to get our community to move missionally, consider the possibility of immersing a team in a missional community for a week or two.  Your team would certainly be welcome here and in our homes.  Blessings on the journey!