Sunday, December 14, 2014

Cutting the Strings

We recently received an end-of-the-year letter from friends who serve in an Asian country.  One of their comments particularly caught my attention.  They wrote, “Our national leaders are making disciples, bringing transformation to their communities, and raising up new missional leaders without dependency on outside support.”  Although all of these actions are important, the last item stood out.

When we talk about the missional church, we emphasize the idea that every believer is a missionary. No matter what one does for a living, he or she is on mission in that vocation—embodying and articulating the Christian mission in the marketplace.  To put a different twist on this, how important is it to equip and empower individual Christians to have a vocation and be self-supporting? 

During the colonial missionary period, missionaries often referred to “rice Christians.”  These were native believers who participated as long as the free food lasted.  Once it was over, they were gone.  We have learned a lot since then.  Missionary efforts are more likely to develop ways for indigenous people to help themselves rather than tying them to Christian work with gifts.

One example of this might be to train an indigenous believer to repair bicycles and then provide a microgrant of a few hundred dollars (which would be repaid) for this person  to buy a few bicycles, rent them out  for a profit, and become self-sufficient as a productive member of the community (as well as a well-connected witness).  (This is not my idea but one that I know has happened.)

In a webinar I attended recently, coach educator Jane Creswell talked about lessons she learned from a missionary.  One of these was “make a positive impact on the economy.”  Although missionary movements have done this in the past through providing education and health care, perhaps the greatest impact can be made by helping believers to become self-supporting and contributing members of society.

We often talk about empowering leaders in our churches, but empowering indigenous believers to be financially independent and community developers takes this to a new level.  In fact, it certainly ties in with my missionary friends’ comments about developing disciples, transforming communities, and being independent of outside support.  In so doing, they are developing sustainable missional frameworks.  Even if they have to leave the area where they minister, the mission Dei will continue.  Sounds biblical, doesn’t it?

Thursday, December 04, 2014

The Intergalactic Computer Network

Walter Isaacson’s book The Innovators: How a Group of Hackers, Geniuses, and Geeks Created the Digital Revolution is an informative story not only about the science of the digital revolution but the artistic side as well.  As he introduces those who influenced the movement, Isaacson notes the frequent intersections of art and science in the quest.

One example is J. C. R. Licklider, a man who might well be called the father of the Internet.  Both thoughtful and playful, Licklider began referring to his vision with the “intentionally grandiloquent” phrase “the Intergalactic Computer Network.”  He often spent hours just studying the brush strokes of paintings in order to understand the artist better.

Isaacson notes, “[He] felt that his love of art made him more intuitive. He could process a wide array of information and sniff out patterns. Another attribute, which would serve him well when he helped put together the team that laid the foundations for the Internet, was that he loved to share ideas without craving credit for them.”

Licklider saw computers not has artificial intelligences that would replace humans but as tools to enhance and expand human creativity and decision-making skills

Like Steve Jobs and others whose imaginations gave birth to the wonders of the digital age, Licklider understood that the humanities and technology inform and enrich one another.  We should not have to choose between the two.  This is a “both/and” rather than an “either/or” situation.

As educators put more emphasis on STEM subjects (science, technology, engineering, and mathematics), they might consider adding another letter and addressing STEAM (science, technology, engineering, ARTS, and mathematics) subjects in order to develop a truly creative generation of leaders.

For Such a Time as This: Ministry in the World

In recent years, I have become aware of people in our congregation who have significant ministries in the communitythe lawyer who volunteers with the domestic violence center, the former heart patient who spends time each week visiting heart patients and sharing insights about how to live with their disease, the busy mother who tutors at-risk children, the business person who finds himself the “chaplain” in his workplace. This is what missional Christians do; they serve in the world. These are not church sponsored activities. These are ministries they have identified and pursued.

In Missional Renaissance, Reggie McNeal notes: “People don’t go to church; they are the church. They don’t bring people to church; they bring the church to people.” Wherever a believer is, there the church is present. For some reason, we have erected an artificial dividing line between “sanctioned” and “unsanctioned” ministry.

The challenge for the church is to give members the permission to seek out and pursue their ministries in the world. We value what people do within the walls of the church through recognition, training, and encouragement, but we fail to do that for those who are doing Kingdom work outside the walls. In fact, we sometimes make members feel guilty if they are using their gifts elsewhere! The traditional church needs to find ways to bless and commission those who undertake ministries in the larger community.

Missional faith communities, on the other hand, start out with this approach as a basic premise. They expect their members to be engaged in ministry in the world. They may be focused on being the presence of Christ in their neighborhood, their workplaces, or in a common ministry that all members of the group support. Very often, missional faith communities form around a particular ministry or a specific neighborhood in order to make a difference there.

Let us remember that God is always at work in the world and invites us to join in that activity. Whether we are part of a traditional congregation or a missional faith community, we are called to an external ministry focus.

(This is an excerpt from For Such at Time as This:  Aligning Church and Leadership for Missional Ministry from Pinnacle Leadership Press.  Copies are available from in paperback and e-book formats.)

Tuesday, December 02, 2014

For Such a Time as This

Today is the launch day for my first book from Pinnacle Leadership Press—For Such a Time as This:  Aligning Church and Leadership for Missional Ministry.  This is a very personal account that reflects my own journey to understand that the church does not have a mission but the missionary God has a church.
Let me tell you first what this book is NOT:

  • ·         It does not pretend to be a “magic bullet” that will transform your congregation overnight.
  • ·         It does not suggest that your church throw out everything it is doing and start over.
  • ·         It does not blame your staff for your church’s problems; likewise, it does not accuse lay leaders of dropping the ball.
  • ·         It does not aspire to be the definitive book on missional church
.So, what is For Such a Time as This?

  • ·         It affirms that God calls the church to be on mission.
  • ·         It reminds each church that God has given it a unique ministry and calling in its particular place.
  • ·         It is an attempt to make this concept accessible to the person in the pew.
  • ·         It challenges each church to start where it is rather than where it wishes that it were on the missional journey.
  • ·         It aspires to be a catalyst for discussion, prayer, and action by staff teams, lay leadership, and others who want the church to be what God intends for it to be.  

This book is written by someone who loves the church, has given much of his life in its service, but realizes that God has more in store for us as part of the body of Christ.  I hope this book will stimulate your thinking and move you to action.

The book is available from Amazon as a paperback or as an Kindle e-book.

Monday, December 01, 2014

Renewing Our Hope

Babies change our lives.  No matter how much we plan, we are never really ready for what a new child brings into our lives.  They turn our lives upside down.

In Isaiah 7, 8, and 9, the writer tells about three births.  Commentators make clear that Isaiah expected each of these births to take place within his lifetime or the near future. They were words of warning to King Ahaz of Judah and words of hope for God’s people. 

The following text provided the hope of a just and righteous king who would rule his people with wisdom:

For to us a child is born,
    to us a son is given,
    and the government will be on his shoulders.
And he will be called
    Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God,
    Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace. (Isaiah 9:6, NIV)

The text above probably was meant to be applied to Ahaz’s successor, Hezekiah, a hope for redemption.  Hezekiah was a good king but ultimately failed.  Isaiah’s followers, however, preserved these words and passed them on to the people of God.  In ensuring years of failure and exile, they held on to these words of hope.  Ultimately, they were fulfilled in the coming of another baby—Jesus.

As we begin this season of Advent, we remember the long years that the people of Israel waited for the birth of the Messiah.  We realize God's faithfulness and we have hope.