Saturday, October 21, 2017

Marshall: A Review

Thurgood Marshall was a civil rights icon.  As founder of the NAACP Legal Defense and Education Fund, he argued 32 cases before the U. S. Supreme Court and won all but three. The most notable may have been Brown v. Board of Education which threw out the “separate but equal” approach to public education. In 1967, President Lyndon Johnson appointed him as the first African American to sit on the Supreme Court.

Rather than attempt to tell Marshall’s life story, the film Marshall selects one case in which he was involved In 1941 when he was hopping across the country by train to defend African-Americans.  In this case he works with local attorney Sam Friedman to defend a man accused of raping his employer’s wife.

Although this is in some ways a standard court room drama, the film summarizes the challenge of finding justice for African Americans as well as the prejudice against Jews while America was fighting the Nazis and Jews in Europe were being sent to death camps.  Marshall (Chadwick Boseman) fights for individual rights on the home front alongside Friedman (Josh Gad), a rather reluctant advocate.

Young Marshall is depicted as  brash, brilliant, and driven.  In this snapshot that summarizes a long and illustrious career, Boseman embodies what made Marshall such a pivotal figure in the civil rights struggle.  He is tenacious, unbending, and a bit self-righteous but these are the qualities  that  made him successful.  Although often playing for the quick laugh, Friedman (Gad) reminds the audience that the fight for equality was (and is) not only for blacks but  for every citizen, regardless of race, color, or creed.

In addition to the search for justice, the primary ethical theme here is the nature for truth and what leads us to lie.  Both accuser and accused have separate stories driven by their own fears and needs.  The courtroom drama peels away the lies and discloses the fears of each while uncovering the truth.

As the leaders of the civil rights movement pass from the scene, films like Marshall remind us of the courage of those who led and those who stood with them.  It is also a reminder that the fight for justice  continues.

Wednesday, October 18, 2017

Struggle, Discomfort, and Growth

A recent news report explained that a school district in Mississippi had removed Harper Lee’s classic, To Kill a Mockingbird from a middle school reading list because the book's language "makes people uncomfortable."  I am offended by this on two levels.  First, this is one of my favorite books.  The book and film that came from it both challenged my prejudices and gave me hope for a better society.  Second, we need to read things that make us uncomfortable.  If we only read those who agree with us, we stagnate.  Listening to others’ ideas and experiences help us to grow.

As my friend John Tyler posted on Facebook in response to this report:

“If I followed this ‘thinking’ at home, I'd pull all my Bibles from the shelves. Most of what Jesus says, as reported on the Bible's pages, makes me uncomfortable.

Learning, growing, and adopting new perspectives and behaviors can be painful experiences.  Very often, change and pain go together.  Whether we are mastering content material for an examination, exercising to improve our health, or confronting prejudice and injustice, we will experience discomfort, confusion, and some pain.

After Jacob wrestled with God, God gave him the name Israel (Genesis 32:28; 35:10).  The name can be translated “he struggles with God,” "triumphant with God," or "who prevails with God".  This describes the journey not only of the man but the people who journeyed with God.  The nation of Israel often struggled with God and did not always win.  God continued to walk with them in the learning process, however, even in Exile.

If we fail to struggle, perhaps our goals are too limited.  A bit of discomfort is a small price to pay to become the people that God has called us to be.

Tuesday, October 17, 2017

Measuring Ministry: Milestones

“Are we there yet?”  If you have traveled with small children, adolescents, or some adults, you have heard this question.  Most of us are anxious to get to the end of the journey.  The driver seeks to relieve anxiety by pointing out the mile markers or looking at the GPS to give an indication of progress toward the final goal.

When we begin moving toward the vision of what we believe God wants our congregation to do, we identify ministry initiatives and set goals to achieve under each initiative.  Perhaps even more important, however, are indicators that we are making progress.  These are milestones, indicators along the way that we are doing what we have set out to do.

In most churches, the milestones of success have been articulated in terms of nickels (amount of offering) and noses (how many people show up on Sunday).  These are not always the best measures of success.  These measures are limited in showing how we are going about life transformation, community engagement, and building the Kingdom of God.

I was talking recently with a pastor whose church is engaged in reaching and serving refugees in their area.  He talked about the number of refugee children they feed as part of their Wednesday evening activities.  I encouraged him to think about that as an effective milestone in their larger ministry to refugee families.  This measure highlights the engagement, service, and love that moves their ministry to refugees forward. 

Milestones are the little things, the day by day achievements, that show that we are doing what we say we want to do and are making progress toward our vision.

A mentor once told me, “What gets measured, gets done.”  Measurements are not an end in themselves but checkpoints that keep us going in the right direction.

One of the greatest challenges for the missional church is to identify and pursue milestones that are specific, realistic, and energizing.  We can celebrate the achievement of these milestones on the ultimate journey of what God has called us to do.

Monday, October 16, 2017

Measuring Ministry: Vision

When you plan a vacation, your tendency is to start thinking about what it will be like.  You think about the places you will visit, the food you will eat, the experiences you will have with family and friends.  Although reality may differ from what you imagine, your vision of the vacation gives you purpose and enthusiasm as you plan.

Churches need a vision to have direction and purpose.  The terms “mission’ and “vision” are often used interchangeably, but I differentiate between the two.  Mission is the reason for your existence as a congregation.  If you embrace a missional theology, your mission is the missio Dei, the mission of God in this world.  God is a sending God who sends God’s people into the world to do God’s work.  On the other hand, vision is what you hope to become.  Throughout their struggles, the priests and prophets held out several visions to the Hebrew people--to dwell in the Promised land, to be restored to their homeland, or to become a blessing to all the peoples of the world. 

Mission explains why you are here.  Vision articulates what you want to become.

The best visions are those based on a clear understanding of what you value and the resources you have available.  Values keep us on track toward our vision and an assessment of resources gives some clarity of what we might accomplish.

An example of a clear vision might be, “Our church will further the Kingdom of God by serving the people of downtown ________.”  The shorter the vision, the easier it is to remember and use as a guide for what you are doing.  You may have additional information that defines each term in your vision, but you refer to that when you bring new people on board or need clarity for those in leadership roles.

Vision statements should create a level of aspiration or tension in the congregation.  They should not be so unrealistic as to discourage action but they should stretch the congregation, calling for creativity, investment, and sacrifice.

Most of us are familiar with Proverbs 29:18 in the King James Version: “Where there is no vision, the people perish: but he that keepeth the law, happy is he.”  Another translation of this verse in The Message gives a slightly different emphasis: “If people can’t see what God is doing, they stumble all over themselves; But when they attend to what he reveals, they are most blessed.”

As we articulate a vision for our congregation, we state what we believe God wants to do in our context.  This minimizes confusion and maximizes blessing.

Saturday, October 14, 2017

Measuring Ministry: Resources

I have only watched one episode of the new version of the MacGyver TV series, but the idea seems to be the same:  a really creative guy encounters a problem, looks around to see what resources are available, and then comes up with a solution.

We can learn from this approach.  When we consider a new challenge, we often think in terms of what we lack rather than what we already have.  As a church considers what God has called it to do, another basic step is to consider what has God already gifted us with.

In Farming Church, my colleague Mark Tidsworth writes:

“One, God has already given us many gifts for mission-congruent ministry. So, we believe God is active in everything we do as a congregation. Therefore, we do what we are able to do, giving God the glory for the gifts and capacity which allows us to do so. Two, God often provides what we need when we step into the void, when we attempt greater things for God.” (p. 54)

As you stop and take an honest assessment of your church, how has God already blessed you?  There are people with gifts, talents, and resources.  There is usually a facility that should be thought of a gift rather than a burden.  There is a context into which you have been placed. There is wisdom and experience that can be tapped.

In fact, if you want to make a difference in your community, your church will want to look outside the church door and take a deep dive into your context and learn all you can about the people, challenges, and services already in play.

A process like Appreciative Inquiry is a good way to look at who you are as a congregation and what you have been gifted to do.  Design Thinking can access the creativity not only of disciples in your congregation but provide a way to learn from stakeholders in the community. Asset-Based Community Development is a way to reach out to those in your community and discover ways to partner to meet needs.

In reality, God is already at work in your context and has provided much of what you need to become the church God wants you to be.