There is an opportunity for hospitality every time your church gathers. A diversity of people gathers to worship together, learn, and grow together, as they become related to one another centered upon Jesus.  As a congregation, you have the opportunity to offer a home and family to people who, at that moment and for all practical purposes, are looking for a place to belong. Every gracious host or hostess offers “Make yourself at home.” 

Hospitality is God’s Business

As a follower of Jesus, you have an opportunity for hospitality with every person you encounter. Whether family, friend, colleague, neighbor, stranger, or enemy, you have the opportunity to be God’s loving presence in the way you receive them and interact with them. Hospitality is part of God’s mission, and you were invited into that mission when you were claimed as a “beloved child of God” and called and commissioned for ministry at your baptism (Read Preparing for Misison: Being About God’s Business). Hospitality is God’s business. 

With that in mind, think of the church as a community of Jesus followers who exist primarily for people who are not members. As a follower of Jesus, you are an instrument of God’s love for people who do not know or understand the love of God.  The apostle Paul instructed the church in Rome, “Welcome one another, therefore, just as Christ has welcomed you, for the glory of God” (Romans 15:7). Hospitality is your response to God’s grace, God’s great hospitality offered to you in Jesus. 

Said another way, as a beloved child of God, you love others for the purpose of being who God created you to be. You become an instrument of God’s grace, extending a welcoming heart and hand in the name of Jesus. Hospitality becomes who you are. It becomes the way you live your life. God sends people your way every day. So, reach out and receive them for the glory of God. It is who you are. Love them the way you have been loved by God in and through Jesus. 

God sent strangers to Abraham in Genesis 18. 

Read Genesis 18:1-8 (The Message) 

18 1-2 God appeared to Abraham at the Oaks of Mamre while he was sitting at the entrance of his tent. It was the hottest part of the day. He looked up and saw three men standing. He ran from his tent to greet them and bowed before them. 3-5 He said, “Master, if it pleases you, stop for a while with your servant. I’ll get some water so you can wash your feet. Rest under this tree. I’ll get some food to refresh you on your way, since your travels have brought you across my path.” 

They said, “Certainly. Go ahead.” 

6 Abraham hurried into the tent to Sarah. He said, “Hurry. Get three cups of our best flour; knead it and make bread.” 7-8 Then Abraham ran to the cattle pen and picked out a nice plump calf and gave it to the servant who lost no time getting it ready. Then he got curds and milk, brought them with the calf that had been roasted, set the meal before the men, and stood there under the tree while they ate. 

Reflect

Abraham was going about his normal day when three strangers appeared.  It was not unusual to encounter traveling nomads who had no place to stay. Because he and his family were nomads, living in tents, he understood the need for shelter and food. So, he extended hospitality to the traveling strangers. 

In verses 3-5, Abraham says, “Master, if it pleases you, stop for a while with your servant. I’ll get some water so you can wash your feet. Rest under this tree. I’ll get some food to refresh you on your way, since your travels have brought you across my path” (The Message).

Hospitality as a Lifestyle

Abraham offered water, food, and shelter before he was asked. He offered to meet their needs before the need was apparent. For Abraham, it was an honor to serve, care for, and shelter strangers. Because he had been welcomed by God, he was ready to welcome the stranger in his midst. Hospitality was his lifestyle.

From this perspective, hospitality is an opportunity to welcome strangers and friends into your life. It gives you an opportunity to identify with outsiders and to treat them like insiders. Through hospitality you are offering outsiders a place to call home while extending privilege across differences.  

Welcomed into the Household

In the New Testament, we see Jesus bringing people into his family. Mary Magdalene became a friend and part of his household. But when he freed a man bound by his own demons, Jesus sent the man home to share what God had done for him. The man went to tell his community what God had done, inviting them into his household.

The word “household,” in the New Testament, includes neighbors, coworkers, friends, and anyone with whom you were connected or related. Welcoming people into your household was to share God’s love. By inviting people into your household was to witness to what God was doing in your life and how you were being transformed by God’s love.  Hospitality becomes your lifestyle.

A Place to Belong

Everyone you meet is on a journey, traveling as strangers.  Each person  is longing for community. When hospitality becomes a lifestyle, in response to God’s love, you are able to draw your circle of love wide enough to provide a place for them, working for their good regardless of who they are or what they have done.

The reality is this, hospitality is neither about you, your likes and dislikes, nor your convenience. Hospitality is about God’s offer of love to you in Jesus. And who you are as a child of God is your response to God’s love. Hospitality is a way of offering God’s love to everyone God sends your way. Hospitality is who you are, and who you are is how you lead.

Respond

Today be aware of how you offer hospitality to the people you meet. Take notice of each person and your response or reaction to offering God’s love. Be mindful of the opportunities to “welcome others as Christ has welcomed you.” Be aware of what you think and feel about each situation and circumstance. Begin to be intentional in making hospitality the way you live your life. 

Prayer

O God, make me aware of the people around me today. By your grace, help me extend hospitality to the people you send my way. Help me yield a little more of myself so that I may love others as you have loved me in Jesus. Help me be faithful to your call upon my life so that I may be a blessing to someone, somewhere, today. Amen 

Return

As you reflect upon your day, give thanks for God’s call to follow Jesus. In what ways were you hospitable? With whom did you share God’s love? How did you invite people into your household? Where did you notice others offering hospitality to strangers and outsiders? With whom do you need to celebrate the love you experienced in and through them? What will you do differently tomorrow?

How do you describe your call to ministry? Usually, a call to ministry involves a deep sense of the presence of God. It is related to an event or experience of deep spiritual conviction. Sometimes a call to ministry is related to a particular vocation. It is articulated as a “calling.” We have made professional ministry a “calling,” as well as teaching, being a nurse, doctor, or lawyer to name a few vocations. 

Your Call

But when focused upon God’s mission, “missio Dei,” how do you describe your call? If the mission is God’s mission, isn’t your call rooted in God’s purpose? Isn’t your call to be about God’s business? 

Please understand, I am not speaking against a particular calling, but I am trying to articulate a primary call. There are no biblical examples of someone being called to employment. Work is not your primary calling. Your primary calling is not to something but to Someone. 

Your primary call is to follow Jesus. God values you for who you are and who are created to be, not for what you can produce or achieve with your work. 

Vocational Calling

Your work, or vocational calling, is a secondary calling. Your primary call is to be who God created you to be. You are a “beloved child of God” gifted for loving and serving the people you encounter every day in everyday situations. Your secondary calling is shaped by your primary call, whether it be within paid employment, your home, or volunteer activities. Secondary callings matter, but only because your primary call matters most. 

As a Christ-centered leader, preparing people for God’s mission, it is important to assist individuals and the church to respond to God’s call to follow. The bible has stories of people who have responded to God’s call. They respond to the invitation to follow God every day and many times in ordinary ways. Let’s look at Matthew 4:18-22 as one example of a story of answering God’s call.   

Read: Matthew 4:18-22 

18 As he walked by the Sea of Galilee, he saw two brothers, Simon, who is called Peter, and Andrew his brother, casting a net into the sea—for they were fishers. 19 And he said to them, “Follow me, and I will make you fishers of people.” 20 Immediately they left their nets and followed him. 21 As he went from there, he saw two other brothers, James son of Zebedee and his brother John, in the boat with their father Zebedee, mending their nets, and he called them. 22 Immediately they left the boat and their father and followed him.

Reflect

The call of the first disciples is the beginning of the church. Matthew uses Hebrew history as the background for his story of the formation of a new community. When he tells the story of Jesus’ baptism and temptation, he is summarizing the history of Israel in the Red Sea and testing in the wilderness. Matthew wants us to know that the new community, the church, is being formed in response to God’s action in and through Jesus. 

Context of Matthew

To better understand the call of the disciples, let’s put the story into context. Immediately preceding this story, Matthew sets the context of the call in the Old Testament when he quotes Isaiah, “The people who sat in darkness have seen a great light, and for those who sat in the region and shadow of death light has dawned” (Isaiah 11:2). For Matthew, Jesus is the great light. A new day is dawning. So, Matthew writes, “From that time Jesus began to proclaim, ‘Repent, for the kingdom of heaven has come near.’” 

From Matthew’s perspective, there is a great reversal of power and authority. The spiritual darkness of people will be overcome by the dawn of the new age when the ideal king, the Messiah appears. The Messiah, the new authority, is Jesus.   

The word “repent” literally means a “change of mind” or “change of perspective.” For Matthew, this is a reorientation of your life based on God’s acts of grace and redemption, already seen and experienced in the ministry of Jesus. Repentance is not about sorrow or remorse, but a change in the direction of your life. In other words, the call is to a new orientation for living, loving, and acting.   

The Call from Matthew’s Perspective 

Matthew has placed the call of the disciples in a context in which his hearers can understand and respond. So, look at the story from Matthew’s perspective.  

Simon, who is called Peter, is the first disciple. From Matthew’s perspective, that is important. Peter is the foundation rock on which Jesus builds the new community. Matthew uses a play on words, “You are ‘Rock,’ and on this rock I will build my church.” (Matthew 16:18).  

The fishermen represent people who work with their hands to make a living. They are not wealthy, but they own boats, have houses, and employees. They are comparable to middle-class businesspeople of today.   

Reorienting Our Lives

They are already at work. They have something useful and important to do and are not looking for a new life. They do not seek Jesus; he seeks and finds them. The words “As he walked by” are taken from Moses’ encounter with God in Exodus 33:18-25. It refers to the call of the prophets in the Old Testament. 

In other words, Jesus does not fill an obvious vacuum or meet an obvious need in the lives of those being called. But, like the call of prophets in the Old Testament, the call is intrusive and disruptive, calling those who hear to reorient their perspectives of life and work. 

The Called Out Ones

This is what God does to make followers. Here is where “repent” comes in. It is a change of perspective because this is different from what people would have understood a disciple to be. In Judaism, you become a disciple by seeking out a teacher to follow. But for the new community, you are called and invited to become a follower of Jesus. 

The words, “those who are called” refers to the act of God in calling them, not to their own freedom and responsibility of choosing. The word for church in the New Testament literally means “the called-out ones.”  As difficult as it is to accept, you are not choosing Jesus, Jesus is choosing you. You are called out to live and love differently. 

Called to Follow

The words “follow me” are significant. Matthew is telling the story to relate to his hearers. Fishing for some was a metaphor for teaching. For others, it meant the work of restoring the people of Israel. The bottom line is, that the image does not mean, in the modern sense, that you are being called to learn how to use the proper bait to win souls for Jesus. You are called to follow, to become who God had created you to be. 

With the words, “they left their nets…” and “they left their father… and followed” show that the call of Jesus has higher priority than the sacred obligations of family and work. Matthew is not just reporting what happened once in history but is presenting a scene of becoming a disciple and the forming of the new community.   

The followers of Jesus are not a volunteer society for promoting good but are those who have been drafted into service. Being called and chosen by Jesus is to reorient your living and loving. Your priorities of living and loving are directed by Jesus, not by work or family.    

Follow Me

Jesus said to them, “Follow me, and I will make you fishers of people.” Immediately the mission of God became their priority purpose in their everyday living. It reoriented their relationships and permeated their lives.   

As a Christ-centered leader, you work with people who are gifted in administration, finance, maintenance, education, etc. Each person has a passion for some form of work, but the primary call is to follow Jesus. 

In relation to God’s mission, you have the responsibility to assist people to first hear God’s call to follow Jesus and second, to live out that call in relationship with the people they encounter each day. Whether family, friends, colleagues, strangers, or enemies, God’s call is to love one another, as you have been loved. 

When you become a follower of Jesus, God’s mission becomes your priority. It not only impacts your personal passions, relationships, and decisions but reorients how you live with and love others. Living and loving are no longer based upon what you think and feel but upon God’s love in every situation and circumstance you find yourself. To answer God’s call is to be about God’s business. In other words, answering God’s call is who you are, and who you are is how you lead. 

Respond

Throughout the day, be mindful of your call to follow Jesus. Be aware of how your call impacts your interactions with people, your relationships, and your decisions. Keep in mind that God is placing people in your life to be loved and cared for. Who are those people? How will you respond as a follower of Jesus?

Prayer

O God, make me aware of the people around me today. By your grace, help me yield a little more of myself so that I may love others as you have loved me in Jesus. Help me be faithful to your call upon my life so that I may be a blessing to someone, somewhere, today. Amen.

Return

Give thanks for God’s call to follow Jesus. 

  • In what ways were you aware of following Jesus? 
  • Who were the people you encountered? 
  • How did you experience God’s love? 
  • In what ways did you model and share God’s love? 
  • With whom do you need to celebrate the love you experienced in and through them? 
  • What will you do differently tomorrow?

How do you prepare for mission? What information do you need? Whose direction do you follow? When it comes to mission, information and direction are important, but who you listen to, and who you follow is crucial. When it comes to mission, it matters where you start.

Listening to God   

When preparing for mission, start with listening to God and learning about God’s mission, the “missio Dei.” In other words, get involved in God’s business. It is your responsibility, as a Christ-centered leader, to focus upon, learn about, and live into God’s mission. 

It is your responsibility to be about God’s business, not only for yourself but for the people entrusted to your care. As you learn about God’s mission, you equip people to be about God’s business. You prepare for mission by introducing people to God’s business and equipping them to be about God’s business. 

What is God’s Business?

Being about God’s business begs the question, “What is God’s business?” The one true and authentic business of the church is God’s love, agape. Agape is to work for the well-being of people. Because you have been loved by God, you now love as God has loved you. With that in mind, God’s love flows directly through every person and every congregation who follows Jesus.

When people love one another as they have been loved, they are about God’s business. When the church is loving the people in the community it is about God’s business. So, what is God’s business? It is loving God and loving others. It is loving others as you have been loved in and through Jesus. 

Get Involved in God’s Business

“How do we get involved in God’s business?” The truth is we are invited to participate in God’s business through baptism.  At every baptism you are reminding people of who they are, “a beloved child of God.” 

You are reminding them of their “call” to ministry. As much as you might want to make baptism a personal and individualistic event, it is more of a claim upon your life and a call to be about God’s business in the community and the world. 

Baptism is an invitation into God’s business and “to remember your baptism” is to be reminded of your invitation.  

Let’s look at Matthew 3:13-17 as one story of being invited into God’s business. 

Read Matthew 3:13-17 

Then Jesus came from Galilee to John at the Jordan, to be baptized by him. John would have prevented him, saying, “I need to be baptized by you, and do you come to me?” But Jesus answered him, “Let it be so now, for it is proper for us in this way to fulfill all righteousness.” Then he consented. And when Jesus had been baptized, just as he came up from the water, suddenly the heavens were opened to him, and he saw God’s Spirit descending like a dove and alighting on him. And a voice from the heavens said, “This is my Son, the Beloved, with whom I am well pleased.”  

Reflect on Matthew 3:13-17

At his baptism, Jesus was claimed by God. The words, “This is my son” come from Psalm 2. The words were spoken on the occasion of the crowning of the king of Israel. Jesus was claimed by God to be king or to have authority. As you know, his kingdom is not a geographic location but, in the hearts, minds, and actions of people. Baptism is the acknowledgment of trust and obedience to the “authority” of Jesus in your life.  

So, at your baptism, you were claimed by God and given authority to be about God’s business. 

Baptism is a Commissioning to Ministry

Then the words, “My Son, the Beloved, with whom I am well pleased,” comes from Isaiah 42. It is part of the description of the suffering servant of God, the one who gives his life. It means giving your life in loving, serving, and caring for people. In other words, here is my son, the servant, the one through whom I love others. Baptism is a commissioning to ministry. It is a commissioning to be about God’s business in the community and the world. 

So, at your baptism, you were commissioned to be about God’s business in the places you live, work, and play. You were commissioned to let God love others through you. 

You are a Beloved Child of God

When Jesus left the Jordan River, he went about God’s business of feeding, healing, caring for, and serving people. In each of the four gospels, there are stories of Jesus being about God’s business. John even tells us that Jesus knelt and washed the feet of his disciples as part of God’s business. 

As a leader, you are reminding people that they are God’s children, and as God’s children, they are about doing God’s business of feeding, healing, caring, serving others in the love in which they are loved. When you say the words, “Remember your baptism,” you are reminding followers of Jesus to remember they are beloved children of God, and they are to be about God’s business of loving and serving other people.  

God’s Call and Commission

In the church, at every baptism, we are challenged to remember that God has claimed us as God’s children and has commissioned us to be about God’s business. As personal as people might want baptism to be, it is a communal event. 

The community of faith takes a vow to help you and all the baptized community to “Do all in your power to increase their faith, confirm their hope, and perfect them in love.”   

Claimed by God 

You have been claimed by God for something bigger than yourself, bigger than a denomination, bigger than your congregation. You are claimed by God to be about God’s business in your family, with the people with whom you work, and with every person you encounter.  

To remember your baptism is to remember to be about God’s business of love, care, and acceptance in response to God’s love and acceptance of you. You are a beloved child of God who has been commissioned to love others as you have been loved. It is a reminder to be about God’s business. 

Being about God’s business is who you are, and who you are is how you lead.  

Respond to God’s Call and Claim on Your Life

Throughout the day, be mindful of how you are living out your baptism. Be aware of how you are a part of God’s business in the lives of the people you encounter today.

Reflect upon this story told by Fred Craddock. He tells of being a pastor of a church in Custer City, Oklahoma.  The population was about 450. There were four churches in town: a Methodist church, a Baptist church, a Nazarene church, and a Christian church. Each church had its share of the population and the attendance rose and fell according to harvest time and the weather.

He said that the most consistent attendance in town was at the little café where all the men gathered while their wives and children attended one of the four churches. The attendance at the churches would fluctuate, but the attendance at the café was consistent. The men were always there discussing the weather, cattle, wheat bugs, and crops. 

The patron saint of the group was a man named Frank. He was a good, strong, rancher, farmer, and cattleman about seventy-seven years old. He was born into poverty but prospered over the years. He had his credentials, and all the men there at the café considered him to be their leader.  They would laugh and say, “Old Frank will never go to church.”  

Craddock said that he first met Frank on the street. After some small talk, Frank spoke up and said, “I work hard, and I take care of my family, and I mind my own business.” He said that as far as he was concerned, everything else is fluff. Craddock said he interpreted the words to mean, “Leave me alone; I’m not a prospect.”  

He said that is why he was surprised, the whole town was surprised, and the men at the café were bumfuzzled when Frank, at seventy-seven years old, presented himself one Sunday morning for baptism.  Some in the community said that Frank must be sick, They said he must be scared to meet his maker. Some said “He’s got heart trouble, going up to be baptized. I never thought old Frank would do that, but I guess when you get scared…”  

There were all kinds of stories. But Craddock asked him, “Frank, do you remember that little saying you used to give me so much? ‘I work hard, I take care of my family, and I mind my own business’?” 

Frank said, “Yeah, I remember. I said that a lot.”  

“Do you still say that?”  

He said, “Yes.”  

“Then what is the difference?”  

Frank said, “Before I was baptized, I didn’t know what my business was.”  

Frank discovered what his business was. It was to love, care for, and serve people. Craddock baptized Frank. He said, “I raised my hand and said in the presence of those who gathered,” ‘Upon your confession of faith in Jesus Christ and in obedience to the command, I baptize you in the name of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit. Amen.’”  

So, remember your baptism. You are a beloved Child of God who is about the business of God. And what is that business? To love, care for, and serve the people you encounter each day.  

As you go about God’s business, be aware of the people God sends you to love.  

Prayer

O God, make me aware of the people around me today. By your grace, help me yield a little more of myself so that I may love others as you have loved me in Jesus. Help me be about your business as you make me a blessing to someone, somewhere, today. Amen

Return

Give God thanks for inviting you to God’s business. In what ways are you aware of God’s business today? Who were the people you encountered? How did you experience God’s love? In what ways did you model and share God’s love? With whom do you need to celebrate the love you experienced in and through them? What will you do differently tomorrow?

This is Part 2 of a two-part blog on Preparing for Mission: What is Mission? 

As a Christ-centered leader, your primary purpose is to focus on the mission and to equip those you lead to do the same. In part one of PREPARING FOR MISSION: What is mission? We explored “mission Dei,” and what God’s mission means for you and for the church. 

Mission: It Matters Where You Start

Fundamentally, when it comes to mission, it matters where you start. The mission is God’s mission. Although we do a lot of talking about it, the mission is not the church’s mission. And even though you are the leader focused on the mission, it is not your mission. To start with anyone other than God is to misunderstand “missio Dei” and is to lead people away from a “loving and sending God” to “how can we get people to do what we want them to do” God. 

It is God’s mission, and we are invited to participate in it. As we explored in Part 1, God’s love is the one true and authentic principle of the church. When the church is loving the people in the community it is fulfilling God’s mission, God’s purpose. The church itself is not only a product of God’s love but is compelled and destined to share God’s love. The mission of God flows directly through every believer and every community of faith who follows Jesus. 

So, a working definition of mission for the church is a community of God’s people who define themselves by God’s love, organize themselves around God’s love, and who become agents of God’s love in the world. 

With God’s mission for the church in mind, let’s look at Matthew’s call to God’s mission.     

Read: Matthew 28:16-20 

16 Now the eleven disciples went to Galilee, to the mountain to which Jesus had directed them. 17 When they saw him, they worshiped him, but they doubted. 18 And Jesus came and said to them, “All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. 19 Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit 20 and teaching them to obey everything that I have commanded you. And remember, I am with you always, to the end of the age.” 

Reflect 

So, this scripture is Matthew’s way of telling his followers how to live the “holy” set-apart life, the life of love. Jesus is sending his followers out to love others into being his followers.    

“All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me.” 

Authority

The biblical definition of the word authority is understood and used to describe the power or responsibility given by God. In this case, it is the power or responsibility given to Jesus. From Matthew’s perspective, that authority was to teach and instruct the way to live before God a “holy” life, a life set apart by loving one another.   

Therefore

Therefore refers back to something earlier.  In this scripture, it refers back to Jesus having authority. In other words, Jesus is our authority regarding “holy living” or the set-apart life. Jesus gives us instructions on how to live as his followers. The instructions are as follows: 

“Go and make disciples of all nations…” 

Go

 The word “go” literally means “as you go.”  It carries with it both presence and movement. The idea here is that wherever you are at any particular time or place is the time and place. For example, as you go (wherever you are) to the office, to school, to the grocery store, on vacation, etc. These are the times and places you are set apart to live a life of love. 

Make Disciples

The word “disciple” means “student.” The word occurs over 250 times in The Acts of the Apostles. Every reference is connected to a person, and overwhelmingly that person is Jesus. So, to make disciples is to make students or followers of Jesus. 

Now, some people misread the word “make” as coercion, but that is not what Matthew means by “make” disciples. Matthew is concerned about the “holy living” as developing healthy relationships. 

So, how do you make disciples? You make disciples, followers, and students of Jesus, the same way Jesus did. You love people. You bless them, help them, and care for them. Just as with Jesus, (agape) the well-being of people becomes your priority.   

You might think of a disciple as a “grace-filled follower of Jesus who puts faith into action.”  You practice the love of Jesus so you might become like Jesus. When you read the Gospel of John, you discover that the followers of Jesus are known by the way they love one another. So, to “make disciples” means to love people as you have been loved.  It is to engage in the love of God in the places you live, work, play, and associate with people. 

Nations

The word “nations” literally means “ethnic groups” or “people.”  It is an all-inclusive word.  It includes everyone. So, wherever you go, you work for the well-being of everyone you encounter. 

As you go

As you go, wherever you are, you love people, you work for their good, so that they will love as they have been loved and grow into becoming “grace-filled” Jesus followers who put their faith and love into action. 

“Baptizing them in the name of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit” … 

Baptizing – The words “to baptize” carry with them something more than water baptism.  “To baptize” means to dip or to immerse. As you encounter people, you love them. You dip them, you immerse them in the love of God. 

Name of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit – The words Father, Son, and Holy Spirit refer to the movement of God. We are instructed to immerse those becoming Jesus followers in the movement of God.  We are instructed to saturate them in God’s love as experienced in and through Jesus Christ.  So, wherever you are or whatever you are doing you have the opportunity to love the people you encounter. You have the opportunity to invite people to learn of Jesus and to immerse them in God’s love in such a way they too will love everyone. The movement of God is the agape of God. God’s love made real in and through your relationships. 

“Teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you…” 

Teaching – The word “teaching” in this place refers to what Matthew wants us to know about “holiness.”  It is what we learn as followers of Jesus. It is what the movement of God is all about.  At the very heart of “holiness” or “righteousness” is relationship, relationship with God and with one another. 

Holy Living

This “holy living” or different living means a right relationship with family, friends, strangers, and enemies.  It includes being proactive in how you treat others.  You act on behalf of others not because they have acted on your behalf but because you have been loved by God in and through Jesus. 

This “holy living” means having integrity. It means being as good as your word. It means you can be trusted when you let your “yes” mean “yes” and “no” mean “no.”  It means that you are not conflicted but integrated in your living.  How you act and relate to others grows out of who you are, from the convictions of your heart. 

This “holy living” does not get tripped up on things but seeks first the kingdom of God. The “holiness” of God is not focused on buildings or furniture, but upon people whether they have money or not. 

This “holy living” means your caring for others becomes so natural that you care for everyone the way you would care for Jesus. You care because that is who you are, a grace-filled Jesus follower who is putting your faith into action. 

This “holy living” means being proactive in forgiveness.  It actually means to forgive as many times as it takes to restore the relationships that are being broken.  It is the relationship that is important. 

To obey

The words “to obey” mean “to observe” or to “pay attention to.”  To obey “these things” refers to the teaching on “holy living.”  To obey these things means to observe or pay attention to this holy living.  It is easy to talk about this “holy living,” but it is not so easy to live it.  To “obey” or “pay attention” means to do or to live these things.  It means to make these “holy living” a part of our daily living. 

“Look, I myself will be with you every day until the end of this present age.” 

The greatest part of this “holy living” is that you are not left alone to do these things. The Risen Christ is with you.  God does not leave you to fend for yourself. The very birth of Jesus is announced as “and they shall name him Emmanuel which means, ‘God is with us.’” The mission of making disciples is God’s mission. You have been invited to participate in God’s mission.  If God calls you, God will equip you. When God calls and equips, God will be with you, even to the end. 

So, the mission of the church, according to Matthew, is that wherever you go, love others with God’s love, invite them into God’s love, immerse them in God’s love, and model God’s love for them.  You make disciples the way Jesus did. You love people. You work for their good. As others experience God’s love through you, they will begin to love as they have been loved. This is “holy” or “righteous” living. It is working for the well-being of all people. It is God’s mission of love.  

This is Matthew’s description of “missio Dei” God’s mission. 

Respond 

Today, wherever you go, be aware of God’s mission in every situation and circumstance. Look for opportunities to model God’s love for those whom you lead. 

Reflect upon this story, told by Spring Bowlin, as an example of a simple act of love. She said, “My heart was warmed at Wal-Mart during lunch. The gentleman, in front of me in the checkout line, had his items scanned and the cashier had given him the cost of his purchase. 

“He took a handful of change out of his pocket and laid it on the counter. As he attempted to count out the coins, he became frustrated when he miscounted. Then, aware of me and others waiting behind him, he became embarrassed. He looked back at me apologetically and with hands and voice shaking he said, ‘I’m so sorry.’   

“The cashier patiently helped him separate his change on the counter, looked up at him and said, ‘No need to apologize, Honey. This is not a problem. Let’s count out the money together.’  

“Although he continued to apologize, both the cashier and I assured him it was okay. With the cashier’s help, he completed his transaction and shuffled away. 

Bowlin said, “I looked at this wonderful woman and said, ‘Thank you for being so caring and patient with him.’ 

“She shook her head and replied, ‘You shouldn’t have to thank me for helping someone who needs a little care and compassion. What’s wrong with our world is, we’ve forgotten how to love one another.’ 

Bowlin said to herself, ‘I want to be more like her.’” 

So, today, watch for opportunities to be an instrument of God’s love. Become aware of the people around you and how you might model God’s love in difficult situations and circumstances.

In other words, the church’s true and authentic organizing principle is love. When the church is loving the people in the community, it is fulfilling God’s mission. The church itself is not only a product of that love but is obligated and destined to extend that love. The mission of God flows directly through every believer and every community of faith that follows Jesus.

So, wherever you go, as you experience God’s love, remember to share God’s love so that others will want to be like you. Love, agape love, is God’s mission for you, me, and all creation.

Prayer

O God, make me aware of the people around me today. By your grace, help me yield a little more of myself so that I may love others as you have loved me in Jesus. Make me a blessing to someone, somewhere, today. Amen 

Return 

Give God thanks for the people you encountered today. With whom did you experience God’s love? In what situations were you able to model God’s love? How did you express God’s love? With whom do you need to celebrate the love you experienced in and through them? 

Defining Leadership in Today’s World

Who or what defines a leader? How do you understand the concept of leadership?

I am discovering that most people assume that they know good leadership. Their understandings are based upon what they have seen or experienced. Sometimes their view is limited to a particular place, like the workplace, a service club, the PTA, or the church. Other times their view is based upon a person who has helped meet a need or shown some particular interest in relating to people.

Shifting Views on Leadership

Some people experience leadership all the time. Whether at work, school, the grocery store, or wherever they interact with people. They experience some form of leadership. They understand themselves as leaders, regardless of position or power. Wherever they encounter people, they have the opportunity to influence and to motivate people in one way or another.

In today’s culture, there are many ways to define, think about, and approach leadership. Some say a leader is one who inspires and motivates action. Others say a leader influences and advances change for a more equitable world. Then, there are others who say that a leader is anyone who takes responsibility for finding the potential in people and processes and has the courage to develop that potential (Brené Brown). Regardless of your definition, your belief about leadership informs what you think about and practice as a leader. So, how do you understand leadership?

The Need for New Leadership Models

Over my time in ministry, leadership has been limited in understanding. It has been seen as either pastoral (caring for God’s people, counseling, and spiritual care) or entrepreneurial (the leader knows where the church needs to go and has the vision, passion, and strategy to take it there). Pastoral leadership has its roots in scripture. Entrepreneurial leadership has its roots in the sociological aspects of the culture. Both models have their strengths and have met particular needs at particular times.

Because of the cultural shifts being experienced today, the time has come to rethink our leadership models. Most of us have been trained to be good caregivers and caretakers of the people entrusted to us. As we seek uniformity and stability in our congregations, we have learned that good pastoral care helps to get better results. I agree that good pastoral leadership is needed, but it is not enough to navigate the shifts taking place.

Because of the sharp decline in church membership and worship attendance, we have decided to rethink how we develop congregations. Some of you have special gifts of vision and development. You know how to start new faith communities and grow new congregations. I agree that leaders with entrepreneurial gifts are needed, but entrepreneurial leadership is not enough to overcome the shifts taking place.

Please hear me, I am not saying we don’t need pastoral and entrepreneurial leadership. But I am saying neither are adequate, by themselves, to lead through the cultural shifts of today. Both models have their place in providing effective Christ-centered leadership. But, even together, they fall short of the leadership needed to navigate the shifts being experienced today.

Cultural Shifts and the Role of Missional Leadership

Several years ago, I read a story about Halloween Mischief Night in a Philadelphia neighborhood. Two boys broke into a store. They didn’t steal anything, but they did something worse. They went around and changed the price tags on everything in the store. The next morning, people found televisions selling for $10.00, while phone adapters were selling for $1200. What had been made valuable was made cheap, and what was cheap had been made valuable.

That story is a silly illustration of what has happened in our culture over the past several years. It is almost as though someone has broken into our culture and changed the price tags. What we once thought was really valuable and precious does get as much attention as what has always been considered frivolous and worthless. The ground seems to be moving under our feet, and there is no firm place to stand. We are in the midst of some sharp cultural shifts.

The Call for Missional Leaders

The followers of Jesus have navigated cultural shifts from the very beginning. In the early church, the followers of Jesus were sent to serve and convert the world, to care for the sick, the prisoner, the widow, the children, and the poor. They knew they had been called and commissioned by Jesus to carry on his loving service in the world.

They were to engage the world, not withdraw from it. In the middle of a hostile environment, they were to witness to God’s love The front door was the frontier into mission. They were compelled to take the life they shared in the congregation and cross over the threshold into the hostile world outside.

Baptism was a powerful symbol of death to things of the hostile culture and a new birth into the way of Jesus. It was their call to be missional leaders. It meant that they put their lives on the line for the love of God they had experienced in and through Jesus. (The Greek word translated for “witness” is the same word for “martyr”). Leaders put their lives on the line for the love of God.

Living Out the Mission

Then with the conversion of the Roman emperor, Constantine, Christianity became the official religion of the empire. The church was no longer in a hostile environment because the church and the culture became intertwined. The followers of Jesus were no longer called upon to witness in a hostile world because everyone in the culture was Christian.

Over time the church shifted from a community of convinced, committed, believers supporting one another within a hostile environment to a community of good, law-abiding citizens, who paid taxes and supported both religious and secular institutions. Unity was no longer centered upon Jesus but shifted to administration, theology, and politics. Institutional structures were developed to minimize discord and to reconcile differences.

To become a follower of Jesus was to be born into the church. Baptism was no longer a call to mission but an affirmation of your place in the church. People became organizational leaders who became loyal and obedient to the institution.

Today, we no longer live in a culture where we can assume everyone is a follower of Jesus. We can no longer assume that the church is part of the community or vice versa. Although the culture is not totally hostile to the good news of God’s love, A new way of living out the mission is emerging. The shift is back to the mission field being just outside the front door of the church, of the workplace, of your home.

A New Way of Leading: Missional Leadership

In a time in which the mission field is changing, pastoral and entrepreneurial leadership alone are inadequate. The cultural shifts call for more than transitional change. There is a deep need and yearning for transformation. There is a call for a new understanding of leadership. Although pastoral and entrepreneurial leadership are part of it, a new way of leading is emerging. The orientation of leadership is different.

For the sake of clarity, I am calling this new leadership orientation missional leadership. It is not a new leadership concept or model, but it is a new and different orientation for most Christ-centered leaders today.

Missional leadership has its roots in the love of God. At the very heart of missional leadership is the development of a congregational environment where God is the center of conversation and where God shapes the focus and work of the people. It is about a cultural change that is powered by curiosity and imagination more than new techniques or programs.

Shaping Cultural Imagination and Embracing God’s Love

It is about shaping cultural imagination in order to create an environment where people, both in the community and in the church, are embraced by God’s love and set free to love others as they have been loved. It is a missional orientation that cultivates the practice of searching scripture, discerning prayer, and Christian conversation for the purpose of discovering places of God’s life-giving future in Jesus.

Missional leaders know the difference between transitional and transformational change.

They know that transitional change is focused on maintaining stability. What changes are made are reactions to what has caused a disruption or discomfort. The ultimate goal, whether intended or not, is stability at all costs, while transformational change names current reality, focuses upon the goal of new life, and leads the necessary change to build upon the fundamentals that bring about new life.

Differentiating Transitional and Transformational Change

They understand that transitional change is concerned with creating as little pain as possible, while transformational change is “ripping off the band-aid” and moving toward a new reality.

They recognize that transitional change works to maintain the status quo, even if by a different name, while transformational change works to adapt to the changing world and is willing to pay the cost to become effective and fruitful.

Missional leaders have a growing understanding that the church, which is made up of Jesus followers, lives the gospel message that not only embraces personal salvation for individuals but also embraces salvation for communities, cities, social systems, and all of creation. They lead by putting God’s mission at the center.

With entrepreneurial gifts, they develop relationships that assist people in understanding that God’s mission is not about personal preferences, pleasing people, or promoting prosperity. With the care and compassion of the pastor, they lead the shift from program-focused ministry to people-focused ministry. They model leadership by engaging with the community, adapting to societal changes, and helping people become followers of Jesus. They highlight the need to understand and embrace the local community, moving from attractional models to celebrating what God is doing in the community and in the lives of the people.

Engaging the Church and Community

Missional leaders engage the church in God’s active healing and wholeness, leading people to break down the barriers and navigate the obstacles to God’s mercy, equity, justice, and reconciliation. They engage the church and community to “scatter across the countryside” with the love of God experienced and known in Jesus.

So, said in another way, missional leadership isn’t about getting people to a church building on Sunday mornings; it’s about meeting people where they are and forming genuine connections. These connections are the catalyst for healthy and mutual transformation.

In a culture that feels like the price tags have been changed, missional leaders help the church be who God created the church to be at unexpected times in unexpected ways.

A few years ago, in a small rural community Presbyterian church, a young single mother brought her baby to the church to be baptized. On the day of the baptism, she stood alone before the congregation, holding her baby in her arms.

The pastor had not recognized the awkwardness of the situation. He came to the part in the baptismal service when the questions were asked, “Who stands with this child to assure the commitments and promises made here will be carried out? Who will be there for this child in times of need and assure that this child is brought up in the nurture and admonition of the Lord?”

It was then that the pastor realized there was no grandparent or godparent to answer the questions. But without hesitation, as though on cue, the entire congregation stood and with one voice said, “We will.”

Missional Leaders Embody God’s Love

At the very heart of missional leadership is God’s love for all people. Missional leaders develop a congregational environment where God shapes the focus and work of the people. They help shape the cultural imagination in order to create an environment where people, both in the community and in the church, are embraced by God’s love and set free to love others as they have been loved.

Although there is much more that can be and should be said about missional leadership, I will end with this: How do you understand the concept of leadership? Who will stand with the community to ensure the love of God is experienced and known in and through the church? Will you be present and available in times of need and assurance to nurture and guide the community to become who God has created the community to be? Who is ready and willing to be a missional leader? Who you are is how you lead.

May I state the obvious? We are living in a time of great division in our country, our communities, and even our churches. Whether it be political divisions caused by particular agendas or a cancel culture perpetuated by social media, there is a tension that leads to fear and a lack of trust. 

There are no easy answers on how to lead through divisiveness. One of the first places I go to is to the scripture. But we have just come through a time in the church when scripture has been used to separate people. It has been painful to experience. Something like this has happened: If you and I don’t agree on the interpretation of certain scriptures then there must be something wrong with you or at least one of us. Because of how scripture has been used as a weapon, it is hard to trust the truth that leads us to God’s Word made flesh in Jesus. 

Don’t Confuse Your Understanding of Scripture

At other times people have confused their political views with their understanding of scripture. Because we have made scripture more about morality than we have reality, people use scripture to support their views more than allow scripture to transform their lives. There is a culture of fear growing around the understanding of scripture. I think of it this way. You start talking about God’s love for all people and an old snake will come crawling out from under a rock to scare you away. 

So, let me put it into context and then we will explore a scripture that can be helpful in meeting the challenge of divisiveness. 

The Word Made Flesh

As Christians, we believe in the Word made flesh, not in the Word made words. The scripture points us to Jesus, God’s love in human form. Following Jesus is more than a set of beliefs. It is a way of life. Following Jesus is about loving one another, especially those who are strangers or who are different from us.    

According to the scripture, the world will know that we are followers of Jesus, God’s love in human form, by the way we relate to, interact with, and love one another. When I start with that perspective, I am convinced that Scripture provides a way to lead through divisiveness. 

Read Acts 17:24-25 

For the total story, read Acts 17:16-34

24 The God who made the world and everything in it, he who is Lord of heaven and earth, does not live in shrines made by human hands, 25 nor is he served by human hands, as though he needed anything, since he himself gives to all mortals life and breath and all things.  

Reflect

The apostle Paul found himself in a new world. His old world in which all questions had clear, precise answers had been shattered by his Damascus Road encounter with the Risen Christ. 

He had to sort out that experience and its impact on his perception of himself, his tradition, and what he believed. He needed direction to begin his mission of love and acceptance of the Gentiles. Before his experience with Jesus, he had considered the Gentiles beyond mercy. Now, he was an ambassador of love to the Gentiles. 

New World Required New Tools

He traveled to Athens, a center of Greek culture, where new ideas, competing values, and diverse philosophies were the norm of the city. Sharing the gospel of God’s love in that setting demanded that simplistic answers to difficult questions would not suffice. 

The new world required new tools. So, Paul had to learn new ways, understand his context, and earn respect to deal with the new world that was thrust upon him. He had to take what he knew and what he was learning to meet the demands of faith in the pluralist environment in which he found himself. 

How did he respond to the demands of the new environment? What tools did he use to meet the challenges of the new culture? 

Leading Through The Lens of Scripture

One of his tools was his grounding in the Hebrew scripture. In this story, he is surrounded by a different worldview. He was dealing with people who were more familiar with Zeus than with Yahweh. Their heroes were Socrates, Plato, and Aristotle rather than Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob. 

Paul saw the situation through the lenses of scripture. The Old Testament’s emphasis on belief in one God and its warning against graven images shaped Paul’s perception of and response to the Greek world. His grounding in scripture shaped him and provided a framework for approaching a different culture. The scripture provided a foundation upon which his new faith in Christ was built. 

The shifting sands of our world today, with its conflicting values and diverse relationships, call us to reexamine the primary tool for discerning God’s presence and purposes. The Bible has always been our primary witness to God’s revelation and loving activity.   

Use the Bible for Illumination

John Wesley dealt with the changing social currents of eighteenth-century England with his faith firmly rooted in scripture. He was so steeped in the biblical story that every personal and societal issue he faced was shaped by the bible. 

The Bible remains the primary tool we use to approach the issues of our time. The question is, how do you use the truth of the scripture to address the challenges of our day? William Sloan Coffin, former chaplain of Yale University and senior minister of Riverside Church in New York City, once wrote, “Too many Christians use the Bible as a drunk does a lamppost, more for support rather than for illumination.”   

Instead of scripture providing a light to help us navigate our way through conflicting values, it is being used to support our political and theological perspectives. Instead of scripture being a framework for approaching cultural change, it is being used to separate and divide people. 

How Do You Read Scripture?

As I have written before, it matters where you start. If you start from the perspective that scripture supports your point of view, you will use scripture as a weapon to get what you want. If you start from the perspective that scripture gives you direction on loving and relating to people, you will be transformed to love others as God in Jesus has loved you.   

Paul used his grounding in scripture to shape his understanding of people and the culture in which they lived. The scripture became his framework for approaching a different culture and a foundation upon which his new faith in Jesus was built. 

The Tool of Tradition

Another one of Paul’s tools was tradition. As a respected Pharisee and member of the Sanhedrin, Paul was accustomed to interpreting and applying Jewish tradition to new situations. He knew the Torah and rabbinic literature. He drew upon his tradition when confronting the alien gods and philosophies of the Greek world. It is obvious from Paul’s speech to the philosophers that passages from the Wisdom of Solomon, from Isaiah 42, and from Psalm 74 were in his mind and heart. 

He not only drew upon his own tradition, but he took the tradition of the Athenians seriously. He quoted from their philosophers and called attention to their heritage. He saw connecting points between his own tradition and those of the people whom he confronted in Athens. 

Responding to Cultural Change

When confronted by personal tragedies as well as new challenges in the form of cultural change you must not only stay in touch with your values and traditions. You must also learn about and understand the values and traditions of others. 

You need to be clear about who you are in order to stand firm when the ground starts moving. But if you are aware only of your own tradition you will not be able to develop the relationships needed to address the complex challenges when the ground is moving. 

Claiming Tradition and Relating to Others

Please continue to learn about and stand upon the tradition of historic creeds and liturgies, the great stories of faith, the bloodstained examples of the martyrs, and the heartwarming sermons and hymns of our ancestors. They are part of who you are as a follower of Jesus. 

But, at the same time, don’t forget that those to whom you are trying to relate have their own creeds and liturgies, great heroes of faith, and heartwarming stories and songs. Remember, it is God’s love for you in and through Jesus who is at the heart of your tradition. 

The Power of Experience

For Paul confronting the Athenians, scripture and tradition were not enough. He had to call upon another tool in order for the gospel to be relevant in a new setting. Paul met the Athenians at the point of their experience. 

He acknowledged their desire to know the Divine. Rather than put down their experience, he affirmed their genuine search for the ultimate. He accepted the validity of the insights of their traditions and heroes. Rather than introduce them to God, as if they had no experience of the Divine, Paul named that which they had experienced but had labeled unknown. 

The Validity of Experience

Here is a clue to courageous and faithful leadership in a world of conflicting voices and values. If there is validity in your experience, then you will allow others the validity of their own experience. As a follower of Jesus, you know that God is present in and with every person and in all of life. 

In other words, God is not present with some absent from others. All persons experience the reality of God in whom “we live and move and have our being” (Acts 17:28). But, not all persons, know that it is God whom they experience.  

In Jesus, God has claimed each and every one of us. You have been claimed as a member of a loving household and called to be a giver of God’s grace. The scriptural story is a story of God’s love for all persons, but not all people know they have been claimed by God. Your experience of God’s love is a tool to connect with the experience of others and to identify the intersections of God’s grace and their experience. 

Love as You Have Been Loved

Just as Paul with the Athenians, it is your task as a Christ-centered leader, to be open to God’s presence in others and to hold the common experience in the light of scripture and tradition. God often comes to us from the experiences of those whom we assume do not know God. 

So, keep in your heart and mind the command to love as you have been loved. It remains at the center of what it means to be faithful to God. In the world in which we live, many complex realities are before us. The fundamental question remains the same, “Where have you experienced the presence and reality of God? 

The Tool of Reason

Notice that Paul did not stop with the Athenians’ unnamed experience. He connected their experience to the Risen Christ, who is the shape and source of authentic love. Scripture, tradition, and experience were resources used by Paul as he stood in the Areopagus. But he had one more vital tool, reason. 

The Athenian philosophers worshiped at the altar of reason, so Paul met them there. Drawing upon the insights of their philosophers, Paul attempted to connect the Greek culture to the God made known in Jesus. Paul told the Athenians, “From one ancestor he made all nations to inhabit the whole earth” (Acts 17:26). He then quoted their own thinkers and poets: “In him we live and move and have our being…For we too are his offspring” (Acts 17:28). 

Reason, motivated by love, under the banner of faith, can be fertile ground for eternal truth to grow and mature. In 1768, John Wesley wrote a reply to a theologian at Cambridge University, “To renounce reason is to renounce religion…for all irrational religion is false religion.” 

Reason as a Path of God’s Presence

When I was in Peoria, there was a young man, a physicist, who had difficulty believing God’s love for him, especially in and through Jesus. He spent hours reading, researching, and asking questions. Eventually, he took a step toward God. 

He found the universe to be full of mystery and wonder. He made his way to worship. In the liturgy, he found a way to express his sense of praise and adoration toward a reality he called God. Through many conversations and reading the writings of theologians, he was challenged to read the scripture with a fresh openness and to recite the creeds with integrity. Reason was a path of God’s presence for him. 

Ask Your Questions

I know a pastor who tells the story of receiving a letter from an eleven-year-old member of his congregation. Here is part of the letter: 

In the Bible, it says that several days after making the earth God made Adam and Eve. But in science, it says that no one lived before the dinosaurs or while they were living. How could dinosaurs have lived for millions of years before people if God made Adam and Eve seven days after the earth was made? …I hope you won’t be mad at me, but sometimes I have trouble believing…but I still believe in God. 

The pastor encouraged him to ask his questions. Somewhere this bright and articulate eleven-year-old got the notion that to use his mind was outside of having faith. Because he asked questions it meant he did not or could not believe. On the contrary, through reason, he and many others have come to glorify the God who is the source of all truth. 

Scripture, Tradition, Experience & Reason

Paul used the tools of scripture, tradition, experience, and reason to relate to the Athenians and to introduce them to the God who they had labeled unknown. These same tools are instruments by which God comes to us from that world out there beyond our church walls. They are the means by which God transforms the world through us. 

Respond

As a Christ-centered leader, how will you lead through the divisiveness of our culture? Here is something to keep in your heart and mind as you navigate the separation and pain of our day. 

  • It is not scripture, tradition, experience, or reason that creates the hostility we experience today. It is fear. So, as you lead with courage keep this in your heart. “There is no fear in love, but perfect love casts out fear” (1 John 4:18). 
  • It is love that banishes fear and prejudice, which allows us to grow in understanding, freedom, and compassion. It was love that made Jesus draw to himself those who the world abandoned. It is love that will assist us to do the same. 
  • In the midst of the divisiveness, be who you are supposed to be. Love as you have been loved. Learn from Paul’s response to the challenges he faced in Athens and lead as you were created to lead. Be who you are because who you are is how you lead. 

Return

Give God thanks for the people you met today. Where did you see God? What new thing was taking place? Who from the community did you meet? What did you learn about them? How can you best develop a relationship with them? Through whom did you receive love and care? What will you do differently tomorrow? Give God thanks for the opportunities you had to love others as you have been loved.

Prayer

O God, give me eyes to see and ears to hear you in the lives of the people entrusted to my care. Create a pure heart in me, because I have learned that the pure in heart can see you. With my pure heart, and open eyes and ears, help me experience you in the people I meet tomorrow and every day. In the name of Jesus. Amen

As a Christ-centered leader, you have the awesome responsibility of holding and leading the mission of the church. There is no greater work than equipping people to follow Jesus and to lead them into the community to love others. There is no greater work than to love others as God in Christ has loved you. 

I know I am not telling you anything new, but over the past several years, it has been difficult to stay focused on the mission. Because of several cultural shifts, the church is shifting as well. Without your courageous leadership, the church will lose focus on the mission and drift astray. 

As a Christ-centered leader your work is always to assist people to follow Jesus, but how you assist them is shifting. Your work is shifting from developing programs of preference to engaging people in loving others as God is Jesus has loved them. The shift is from a full calendar of activities to equipping them to pray, study scripture, and share life together. The shift is from bigger and better to “what do we need to do that no one else is doing?” 

Equipping People to Follow Jesus

Over my years of ministry, the shift has been from providing programs that would bring people into the church building to equipping people to follow Jesus into the community to love others as Jesus has loved them. 

To lead through these shifts is not easy. It means having a clear understanding of identity. “Who are we as followers of Jesus” and “What does being a follower of Jesus have to do with the church?” 

A Fable

There is a Hindu fable about a tiger cub who was separated from his mother and fellow tigers. He was adopted by goats who raised him as if he were a goat. So, instead of roaring with a voice that shook the forest, the tiger bleated softly in sounds heard only by his adopted family.

Instead of eating red meat, the tiger grazed on the soft grass and ate bark from tender saplings, which caused him to lack the robust strength characteristic of well-fed tigers. Instead of roaming the lofty peaks and leaping the treacherous mountain crevices, the tiger, who thought he was a goat, roamed the paths of the lowlands. 

He didn’t know who he was. His only image of himself was taken from the world around him, a world of goats rather than of tigers. He was less than a tiger because he had no understanding of what it meant to be a tiger. He had been cut off from his true identity.

An Uncertain Identity

The church suffers from a similar situation. We are unsure of our identity because of our broken connection with our biblical and theological roots. Our failure to stay in daily contact with the images of the church found in the scripture has blurred our identity. Because we are unclear about who we are, we have turned to images of the world around us to provide models of being and doing. 

The business world, civic clubs, and social and political organizations have become our patterns. Because of our lack of clarity, the church is treated as an institution among institutions. The church has become an organization among many organizations to which we belong, in which we find fellowship, and in which we engage in endless activities. 

The Result of Lack of Identity

The result is that we wander around on the smooth, well-worn lowland paths, grazing on tasty but unnourishing pious junk food. No one trembles at our blah messages or pays much attention to our bleating pronouncements. We hear the echo of a distant roar which temporarily strikes a responsive curiosity, and we have a vague hunger that is not satisfied by pious platitudes.

Occasionally we catch a glimpse of a Christlike image that gives a nudge to being more than we are as a church. We go through the motions, but our hearts are elsewhere. We know deep down in our souls that there is more to church than going to meetings and promoting an institution. 

Effectiveness of the Church

In every age, the church has wrestled with its identity. John Wesley, in his sermon titled “Causes of the Inefficacy of Christianity,” raised the concern that Christianity, and particularly the Methodists, has not been more effective in transforming the world. One reason he gave is that so few understand the basic doctrines and beliefs of the faith. 

According to Wesley, before the church can be effective, it must know the doctrines, practice the disciplines, and give itself sacrificially in obedience to Jesus Christ. In other words, the church’s effectiveness requires that we know our true identity and live out that identity in the world. (The Works of John Wesley, Albert Outler). 

Our Identity is Rooted in Jesus

Let me be clear, our basic identity is rooted in Jesus. However the prevailing understanding of the church today is rooted in sociology. Rather than images like “people of God,” “Body of Christ,” or “community of faith” being the images for our life and work together, we have given into images like buildings, budgets, conferences, meetings, boards, committees, agencies, and programs.  Instead of prayer, searching the scripture, and life together being our main focus for carrying out our mission, we have adopted management by objectives, strategic planning, marketing techniques, organizational structures, and institutional maintenance, as our mode of operation. Please hear me, I am not saying any of those things are wrong, but they are not the root identity of the church. 

Prayer has been reduced to a functional way to open meetings. Bible study often is nothing more than an attempt to find biblical quotations to support our self-absorbed and programmatic preferences. Worship has degenerated into an ecclesiastical performance of a variety show. 

Transforming the World

When the world gives us our identity, the mission is defined in terms of strengthening the institution rather than transforming the world. Evangelism is equated with church membership rather than loving others in word and action. Ministry becomes a profession, a career to be cultivated and promoted, rather than a calling to be fulfilled. And pastors function more as institutional CEOs rather than as spiritual leaders or as visionaries of a new heaven and a new earth. Church leaders look for the next best program for renewal rather than look to the theology of personal and social transformation. 

Being Faithful Followers of Jesus

Since I am on a roll, while Jesus dies on the cross for a broken world, his new body, the church, is preoccupied with its attractiveness to the world. While Jesus lives and serves among the poor, the addicted, the imprisoned, the wounded, and the sick in the community, the church is at the beauty shop trying to become more appealing to the masses. It is at the public relations firm working on a new slogan, brand, and marketing technique. It is in a boardroom developing a strategy to stop the downward slide of its membership. 

Again, let me be clear, it is not about the survival of an institution. It is about being faithful grace-filled Jesus followers who put faith into action. It is not our identity as a social institution that transforms the world. The world needs us to fulfill our identity as a community of God’s faithful people who are motivated by God’s love to move into the hurting places of the world. 

The New Testament is full of images that define who we are. 

Read Matthew 5:13-14 

13 “You are the salt of the earth, but if salt has lost its taste, how can its saltiness be restored? It is no longer good for anything but is thrown out and trampled underfoot. 14 “You are the light of the world. A city built on a hill cannot be hid.” 

Reflect

The good news according to Matthew was written a generation after Jesus’ death. Members of the new community of Christ were in danger of losing their identity. Matthew sought to keep the life, teaching, death, and resurrection of Jesus before the community.  He knew that only in doing so would the community remember and fulfill its true identity. 

So, he chose two images from Jesus as reminders. “You are the light of the world,” and “You are the salt of the earth.” 

“You are the light of the world; a city set on a hill cannot be hid.” So, we, as the church, are a light to the community. We live God’s vision for the world. In our personal lives and our life together, we are to model for the world God’s presence and purposes. 

Our Guiding Light

Bishop Kenneth L. Carder tells the story of serving a church that was in the flight pattern of a regional airport. The spire of the church was lit at night. It could be seen by the pilots as they made their approaches to landing or as they took off. He said that one Sunday morning a pilot attended worship. After the service, he told a few worshippers, “For years I have been using the lights from this church to get my bearings in the night. I’m sure glad you keep your light beaming.” 

As a Christ-centered leader, you are to be and hold the light by which others can keep their bearings. As a Christ-centered leader, you are to equip Jesus followers to be and hold the light in the places they live, work, and play. 

Our True Identity

Do you remember the story of the tiger cub who thought he was a goat? One day the king tiger approached the herd of goats that had adopted the tiger cub. The goats scattered, leaving the tiger alone with the king tiger. The king tiger confronted the cub who thought he was a goat with his true identity, but he didn’t understand. 

So, the king tiger took the cub to a stream. There he saw his likeness to the king tiger, but he still did not feel or act like a tiger. Then the king tiger gave him some red meat. At first, it tasted bitter, but soon it satisfied his deep hunger. It was then that the tiger roared his first roar, a roar that shook the whole forest. 

Jesus Shows Us Our Identity

Jesus has come to show us our true identity. In him, we see that we are beloved children of God. He feeds us the often-bitter meat of divine truth, but our hunger is satisfied with nothing less. We are to be the body of Christ in the world, by which bruised and alienated people are led to the living water where they see themselves as made in the divine image.  Through our relationships in the community, the people around us can taste the bread that satisfies the hungry heart. 

God’s light, in and through us, exposes the evils and heals brokenness. It nurtures us and invites us toward new horizons. It pushes back the darkness of despair and opens the curtain of a new day. That’s who we are. We are a sign of God’s reign breaking out in the world. We are a community in which God’s future invades the present. 

The Church is a Preserving, Nurturing Community

“You are the salt of the earth.” Salt preserves and gives taste. The church is a light, a mission, but it is also a preserving and nurturing community. 

As the salt of the earth, our identity is known through love. We are not a cozy fellowship of nice people trying to be nicer. We are a community of compassion loving one another, friend and stranger alike, with the love of Jesus. As the church, we are the conscience of the community, where love, just like salt or red meat, can have a bitter edge to it. We come together because Jesus, who died for us, has invited us to gather and to serve in his name.

Because we are followers of Jesus, who love like he loves, the barriers of gender, race, and class are not present in the community. Everybody is somebody. Our worth depends upon to whom we belong. All are treated with respect and dignity, like daughters and sons of God, like sisters and brothers of Jesus. 

As a Christ-centered leader, you help equip the followers of Jesus to model God’s love in the places they live, work, and play. 

Respond

What would happen if everyone who entered the church building was treated with dignity and value? And that every time they entered the sanctuary they felt as though they were being hugged by God? 

What would happen if every time the followers of Jesus left their homes, church buildings, schools, and places of work, the people they met were treated with love and dignity? What would happen if everyone you met felt as though they were being hugged by God through you? 

Our Identity from Acts

Jesus is the identity of the church. Here are the characteristics that help shape identity from the Acts of the Apostles: 

Devoted to Apostles Teaching

The early followers of Jesus devoted themselves to the apostle’s teaching…  The word for “teaching” is a dynamic word. It means that they persisted in listening to the apostles as they taught.  

Related to One Another

They were related to one another. The word “koinonia” means having something in common or in fellowship. There is no true fellowship without Christ’s Spirit in us and between us. Jesus Christ is what we have in common. He is our common bond. That bond is greater than anything or anyone else. He draws us into oneness and loves each of us through each other.  

Praying Together

They prayed together. Life together was described as the breaking of bread and prayers. For people to be one with Christ and one with each other, it takes time to be together to listen to each other, to care for and be for each other. Praying together becomes the time of communication with the Lord in which we are replenished in God’s Spirit in order to continue unselfish and non-manipulative concern and caring for each other.  

Worshiping Together

They worshiped together.  They had “gladness and simplicity of heart, praising God.”  Praise became an outward sign of the indwelling of the Spirit. It continued to be an outward sign as Jesus lived in them and in their fellowship. They could not praise God enough for what God had done for them in and through Jesus.  

Attracted by Joy of Community

People were attracted to the joy of the community and wanted to know the source of it. People wanted to be with those contagious, praising followers of Jesus and have what he had given them. 

Gathered in Homes

Because there were no established church buildings, the people met in homes. As they gathered in homes they continued to gather in the temple. When they gathered, they broke bread together and praised God with glad and generous hearts.  

“You are the salt of the earth, but if salt has lost its taste, how can its saltiness be restored? It is no longer good for anything but is thrown out and trampled underfoot. You are the light of the world. A city built on a hill cannot be hid.” 

Return

Give God thanks for the people you met today. Where did you see God? What new thing was taking place? Who from the community did you meet? What did you learn about them? How can you best develop a relationship with them? Through whom did you receive love and care? What will you do differently tomorrow? Give God thanks for the opportunities you had to love others as you have been loved.

Prayer

O God, give me eyes to see and ears to hear you in the lives of the people entrusted to my care. Create a pure heart in me, because I have learned that the pure in heart can see you. With my pure heart, and open eyes and ears, help me experience you in the people I meet tomorrow and every day. In the name of Jesus. Amen 

Who or what comes to mind when you hear the word “missionary”? Is it someone who leaves everything behind and enters a foreign cultural context to serve God? Is it someone who crosses cultural barriers to share the good news of Jesus? Is it someone who goes beyond their natural environment and into a new one motivated by the love of God?  

Who or what comes to mind? Traditionally a missionary has been seen as someone who enters a culture different than their own, develops relationships with the people, and shares God’s love by serving and working with the people. They share the good news of God’s love by learning the traditions and activities of the culture and by developing relationships of trust and compassion with the people. A missionary is a cross-cultural worker, immersed in a culture different than their own, to discover and understand the needs and assets of the people they are called to love and serve.   

Are you a missionary?

Who or what comes to mind? Have you ever considered yourself to be a missionary? Maybe you can think of it this way. Wherever you are called to serve, you have the opportunity to enter a new community, learn the traditions and activities of the community, and to develop relationships of trust and compassion with the people. In the truest since, wherever you are, you are a missionary of the love of God you have experienced in and through Jesus.     

On Mission for Jesus

The early followers of Jesus were missionaries. They found their identity in his mission. They understood themselves as evidence of the resurrection and that they became part of the living, serving, and dying of the Risen Christ. Their witness was seen in their loving, serving, and caring for the sick, the prisoner, the widow, the fatherless, and the poor. 

They engaged the world and witnessed to the work of Jesus in the midst of a hostile environment. Whether it was living in tension with the established religion (Judaism) or being persecuted by the government (Roman), they did not withdraw from the world or forsake their mission. They were missionaries of the Risen Christ.

They understood themselves as called to ministry through their baptism. As baptized followers of Jesus they lived out their call to ministry with the people they encountered each day in the area in which they lived. As they worshiped, they listened to the stories of Jesus and how he interacted with people. It was out of their developing relationships and their experience of Jesus that their understanding of mission emerged. 

They put their lives on the line for Jesus as they witnessed to God’s love across boundaries of race, nationality, and economics. The mission field was at their front door. In other words, they became missionaries of Jesus with everyone they met.

Prepared to Be Messengers

Those early followers were missionaries of the Risen Christ. In the bible, you can read about the Acts of the Apostles. I’m being a little “biased” here, but some of my favorite stories are of people like Philip, Peter, and Ananias meeting people along the way. God has prepared them to be God’s messenger as they meet those who have been pushed to the edges of society and cut off from the community of faith, who are theologically and religiously misaligned with the new community of Jesus followers, and that Jesus is greater than cultural norms and religious laws.

As missionaries, they saw themselves as evidence of the resurrection of Jesus. They told everyone they met about Jesus. When the religious council heard of what they were doing, the followers of Jesus were told to stop. But they persisted. So, the religious council had them arrested and beaten. 

Then the followers of Jesus were told not to speak in the name of Jesus again. Read the words for yourself from Acts 5:33-42

As they left the council, they rejoiced that they were considered worthy to suffer dishonor for the sake of the name. And every day in the temple and at home they did not cease to teach and proclaim Jesus as the Messiah” (Acts 5:41-42).

Worship as a Celebration of Christ

Worship was the celebration of their experiences of the Risen Christ and of what God was doing in the lives of the people they met each day. To be considered worthy to suffer for the sake of Jesus was reason to worship and to continue to witness to the mighty acts of God. So, these early missionaries, freshly beaten, walked down the road with their heads held high, smiling, giving each other first-century high fives, because they had been counted worthy of suffering disgrace for the name of Jesus.

To our modern-day ears, being a missionary does not sound very inviting. You and I have been shaped by a different worldview. Those early followers were part of a missionary age while we have been influenced by Christendom. In a missionary age, the mission field was wherever you were at any given moment. In Christendom, the mission field moved to countries beyond the borders of the empire or country in which you were living.

Specialized Ministry

The shift came with the conversion of Constantine. He declared that all the empire was Christian. With that edict, the identity and mission of the church shifted from being a voice and force in a hostile culture to becoming the official religion of the Roman empire. With that shift came a different understanding of being a missionary. As a follower of Jesus, you were no longer a missionary as you stepped out the front door. Being a missionary became a specialized ministry that carried the good news to countries outside the empire.

Baptism was no longer a call to ministry but became a rite of claiming new followers of Jesus for the empire or the institution providing the baptism. The shift was from being centered upon Jesus to being centered upon a particular culture, theology, and worldview.

Most of us, if not all of us, have been shaped by the idea that being a missionary means you pack up your belongings, travel to a foreign culture, to serve God by crossing cultural barriers to teach people about Jesus. There is a kernel of truth to that idea, but only a kernel.   

A Christ-Centered Missionary

When I ask the question, “Who or what comes to mind when you hear the word “missionary?” We have been shaped by a worldview different from those early followers of Jesus. So, take a deep breath in, now let it out. You are not going to be beaten for your faith in Jesus today.  But you are not off the hook.

What does it mean to be a Christ-centered missionary today? We are living in a new missionary age. Although most of us still believe we live in a Christian culture, we can no longer assume everyone is Christian or assume that the community is part of the church. A new way of living out the mission is emerging. The mission field is, once again, just outside the front door. And you, as a follower of Jesus, are a missionary in the places you live, work, and play.

Follow Jesus in the Every Day

So, being missionary today means you are a follower of Jesus in everyday places. You are learning about the traditions and activities of the community. You are developing relationships of trust and compassion. You are listening to and learning about the hopes and dreams of the people, while at the same time being the evidence of God’s love in every situation and circumstance. Your witness is seen in your loving, serving, caring for the sick, the children, and the poor. You are engaging your community and witnessing to the work of Jesus in an environment crying out for connection and care. You don’t have to have special training or go “overseas.” You are a missionary of the Risen Christ right where you are at this very moment.

Oh, there is much more to be said about being a missionary today. I will go deeper in the meaning and purpose of being a missionary in the blogs that follow this one. But for now, let this story illustrate what it means to be a missionary today.

Go to Jesus

Will Davis Campbell was a minister, author, and activist. He was a supporter of civil rights in the southern United States during the 1950’s and 60’s. He is best known for his book, Brother to a Dragonfly.  I wanted to introduce him to you to tell you this story.

As a preacher in the tradition of “altar calls”, he preached a sermon critiquing “the invitation” given in at the end of the sermon.  The preacher in most southern churches invited people, who wanted to commit their lives to Christ, to come down the aisle to the altar of the church to indicate their desire.

In his sermon, Will Campbell said, “I hope that someday there will be an evangelistic service when the preacher gives the invitation and people start coming down the aisle, and he yells back at them, ‘Don’t come down the aisle! Go to Jesus! Don’t come to me! Go to Jesus!’

“Upon that declaration, the people who are coming down the aisle will turn around and exit the auditorium, get in their cars, and drive away. He then yells at the rest of the congregation, ‘Why are you hanging around here? Why don’t you go to Jesus too? Why don’t you all go to Jesus?’ The people will rise quickly, leave the church, and soon the parking lot is empty.”

We Want to See Jesus

Campbell continued, “What I imagine is that about a half hour later the telephone at the police station starts ringing off the hook, and the voice on the other end says, ‘We are down here at the old folks’ home and there are some crazy people at the door yelling that they want to come in and visit Jesus. I keep telling them Jesus isn’t here. All we have in here is a bunch of old lonely and forgotten people. But they keep saying “But we want to visit Jesus. We want to visit Jesus.’”

“The next call is from the warden down at the prison.  He is saying, “Send some police down here. There are a bunch of people at the gate yelling, ‘Let us in there. We want to visit Jesus. We want to visit Jesus.’ I keep telling them that all we have in his place are murderers, rapists, and thieves. But they keep yelling, ‘Let us in. We want to visit Jesus.’”

“As soon as the phone is put down it rings again. This time it is the superintendent of the state hospital calling for help.  He is complaining that there are a bunch of people outside begging to be let in. They, too, want to see Jesus. The superintendent says, ‘I keep telling them Jesus isn’t here. All we have a bunch of sick people, but they keep yelling at us, “We want to see Jesus.”

Follow Jesus into the Community

As much as the story is slanted, it reflects the truth. As a missionary, you follow Jesus into the community to meet his friends who are sick, lonely, broken, lost, hungry, homeless, imprisoned, marginalized, and forgotten. As a missionary, when you worship, you gather to celebrate where you have seen God at work, where you have experienced Jesus and his love for people and the community.

In the day in which we live, in the context of our culture, you are a missionary where you are at this very moment. The question is, “Where are you seeing Jesus in the lives of the people?” As you reflect upon that question, consider this: Ask yourself, “Where am I experiencing Jesus in the community, at work, on the golf course, and at the ballpark?”

Look for Jesus in the Lives of People

To be a missionary is to get outside of the walls of the church building and look for Jesus in the lives of the people God sends your way. As a follower of Jesus, you have the opportunity to love others as you have been loved, to serve others in Jesus’ name, and to become the leader you were created to be by leading others into the mission field. 

As a missionary, you have been given the power to communicate across the barriers taught and experienced over centuries. You are a witness to God’s love in Jesus which is greater than the prejudices that keep people out of the community of faith. You have been given the power to address the barriers of biblical and theological ignorance rooted in the misunderstanding of who has received God’s grace and who is included in the community of faith.  

Communicate Beyond Barriers

You have been given power by God, through God’s holy spirit, to be a witness, starting where you are, in the church, in the community, and in all the world. It is God’s power given to you that communicates beyond the barriers. 

So, put this blog down and get out in the community to see Jesus. Look for him everywhere you go and when you gather with other believers, tell them where you have seen Jesus and what he is up to in loving, caring, serving, and forgiving. Put this blog down and get out there. Your community is crying out for the love of Jesus that holds them and will not let them go.

Be the leader you have been created to be. Because who you are is how you lead.

Have you ever had a member of your congregation approach you and say something like, “I’m not being fed”? Most of the time it comes out like this, “My family and I are leaving because we just aren’t getting what we need here. We are going to go to a church where we can get what we need.” 

The underlying assumption for such statements is passive consumerism. “I am not being fed” are code words for “I’m not getting what I am paying for.” 

Vicarious Spirituality

We have cultivated a culture of performance where people show up to be entertained, delighted, or made happy. If the entertainment, whether worship style, quality of preaching, or the temperature in the gathering space does not meet their expectation, then there are better places to get what they want. 

We have narrowed our responsibility down to paying the pastor/leader and staff to do ministry for us, which has cultivated a vicarious spirituality. As long as we feel good about what is going on at our church and the pastor/leader is providing leadership and care regarding our preferences for ministry, we feel good and faithful, whether we participate or not. 

Discipleship has been reduced to showing up for worship a couple of times a month, attending a study to gather information about topics of interest, and maybe participating in a fellowship gathering at particular times of the year. 

Caught in Christendom

With all of that being said, the expectation for you, the leader, is to attend all the administrative, social, and spiritual meetings because your presence validates the purpose of the meeting or gathering. And because it is a church, you do all it in the name of Jesus. 

I know it feels like I am being overly negative and that I have overstated the current reality of many of our churches, but what I have stated above fits most of the congregations still working within a Christendom model of ministry. 

In fact, it is not a stretch to say that many leaders, as well as people participating in the life and ministry of the church, feel caught in a system that is burdensome and unproductive…and that is just the local church. 

Enslaved to the Way Things Have Always Been

So, I think it is fair to say that many leaders feel enslaved to the way things have always been done. Whether it is because of dwindling funds or fewer people, you are being told that you are responsible for the decline. The members like you, but you aren’t bringing new people in, and please don’t make any changes, we don’t want to lose the few dollars and people we have left. 

I have just described what I call the enslavement of many of the churches in our culture. We find ourselves in a new missionary age while living in the old Christendom mindset. Although most of us still believe we live in a Christian culture, we can no longer assume the church has the interest or influence it once had. A new way of living out the mission is emerging. 

Let’s use our pattern of READ, REFLECT, RESPOND, and RETURN to discover the hope God is offering us as we shift from the Christendom mindset to a missionary approach.   

Read Isaiah 43:14-24 

Thus says the Lord, your Redeemer, the Holy One of Israel: For your sake I will send to Babylon and break down all the bars, and the shouting of the Chaldeans will be turned to lamentation. I am the Lord, your Holy One, the Creator of Israel, your King. Thus says the Lord, who makes a way in the sea, a path in the mighty waters, who brings out chariot and horse, army, and warrior; they lie down; they cannot rise; they are extinguished, quenched like a wick:

Do not remember the former things or consider the things of old. I am about to do a new thing; now it springs forth; do you not perceive it?

I will make a way in the wilderness and rivers in the desert. The wild animals will honor me, the jackals, and the ostriches, for I give water in the wilderness, rivers in the desert, to give drink to my chosen people, the people whom I formed for myself so that they might declare my praise.

Reflect

Isaiah wrote these words to the people who have been enslaved by Egypt. They have been separated from what they held important: family, community, country, religion, etc.  They felt overwhelmed and hopeless, because of their enslavement, lack of trust, and the circumstances beyond their control.  Isaiah reminds them that God created them, that God cares for them, and that God has been with them through the trials of their uncertainty and separation.  

God Makes a Way

Isaiah announces to them that God is going to set them free from their enemies. “For your sake 

I will send to Babylon and break down all the bars, and the shouting of the Chaldeans will be turned to lamentation.”  In the midst of their situations of slavery (hopelessness), God is making a way for them. 

For them to be set free, they are challenged to set the past aside, to reframe their future. God is doing a new thing, a new work in their midst, and they are challenged to see it.  He reassures them that they can trust God because God is able to make a way in the wilderness and a river in the desert. Isaiah is offering them hope.

God is Offering You Hope

As you reflect upon this story, could it be that Isaiah is offering you hope as well? In the midst of what you have experienced over the past several years, the isolation, disconnectedness, political polarization, being stuck in old ways, etc. it would be natural to feel overwhelmed, hopeless, and even enslaved.

But God is doing a new thing so that you might declare God’s praise. Speaking on behalf of God, Isaiah tells the people that God is not only making a way for them in the wilderness and providing a river in the desert, but God is giving them water to drink because they are his beloved children, created to declare God’s praise.

God is With You

When the going gets tough, remember, you are a beloved child of God, created for the purpose of bringing God praise by living, loving, and leading as God has gifted you.  Even when you feel alone and are thirsting for love and connection, God is with you, providing for you. 

Your connection to God is the heart of being a Christ-centered leader. Your work is to help others know of God’s love and presence in the midst of the chaos and disconnection. When people feel hopeless and entangled in behaviors that keep them from moving forward, look for what God is doing in your midst to set you free.

God is Doing a New Thing

God is doing a new thing. You are no longer being sent to other places to be a missionary. God has gifted you to love and serve right where you are. Your mission field is no longer limited to faraway countries. There are people hungering and thirsting for love just outside your door, in your community. God has created and gifted you to be a missionary just by stepping out the door of your home or leaving the church building. 

You are a missionary wherever you encounter people in your everyday life. It is in and through your interaction with people that God is setting you free, releasing you from the burden of doing to and for people. God is making a way in the wilderness for you by sending people to you who need love and care. It is in your response to the people God is sending your way that sets you free to become who God created you to be.

Teach and Model God’s Love

This is your work as a Christ-centered leader, to follow Jesus out the door of your building and into the community. As much as people want you to meet their preferences or demand a better performance, your work is to teach and model God’s love.  You love people by learning and understanding where they live, by meeting their families, and discovering what is important to them. You love people by becoming aware of their traditions, needs, and giftedness. 

As you follow Jesus and learn about your context, you develop relationships, by listening, learning, and responding. You bring praise to God by the way you love people. The larger community will know that you are following Jesus by the way you love and care for the people around you. You will be transformed by God’s love as the community is transformed by God through you.

The Time Has Come 

God is doing a new thing. As much as passive consumerism has enslaved the church, God is making a way for you to lead people into positive actions of love. The day of preferences is ending. The day of insisting on what you like, being the center of your church participation is over. 

The time has come to give yourself in love and service to the people around you. Be open to new ideas and approaches to ministry. There is no longer time or energy to cling to traditional methods that are no longer effective. God is doing a new thing, so let Jesus set your agenda and let his agenda become your new preference for ministry.

What is God Already Doing?

You might think of it this way. God is doing a new thing. The shift is from “How do we get people to come to our church?” to “What are people doing that we need to know about and join in with them?”

As a Christ-centered leader, you are responding to God’s grace. God is setting you free to declare God praise by loving and caring for God’s people in the places you live, work, and play.  

Respond

Just as the people of Israel were challenged to set the past aside, as a Christ-centered leader, you are being challenged to do the same. God is doing a new thing, a new work in your midst and you are being challenged to see it. Just as Isaiah reassured the people that they could trust God, you are being invited to trust the One who has created you, who loves you, and who called you to this work. 

Be The Leader God Has Created You to Be

Become the leader you have been created to be. God has given you strengths and gifts for leading in a challenging time. Are you able to recognize what God is doing in your life and leading? What must you set aside to see and participate in what God is doing?

What I know is this, “you don’t know what you don’t know.” It is difficult to change course when all you know is what you are doing.

But what I believe is this, “the answer to being the leader God has created you to be is already within you.” You have what is needed to be the leader God has created you to be. It is seen and experienced in your faithful response to God’s love where you are living, loving, and leading at this very moment.

Two Questions

So, here is what to do to strengthen your faith and to equip the people entrusted to your care. These two questions, by God’s grace, will assist you in making the shift needed to experience what God is doing. Start today with the leaders of your congregation and ask the following questions for reflection and discussion: (For more details see the blog: Who or What is the Church Today

1.      Where have you seen/experienced God in the past week? 

2.      How are you living out the mission of “making disciples of Jesus Christ for the transformation of the world?”

Seriously reflecting upon and answering these two questions will help you strengthen your identity as a follower of Jesus. You will fall in love with Jesus again, love the people around you more deeply, and learn to love your community. In other words, it will help you see and participate in the new thing God is doing in you, your community, and your church. 

So when you are facing difficulty leading in this new age, remember you are a child of God, loved and gifted by God, to lead with love the people of God. Yes, iIt is difficult to be a Christ-centered leader in the midst of chaos and disconnection, but God has put within you the gifts and strengths to lead people into the new thing God is doing.

So remember, who you are is how you lead. God is doing a new thing, Even in the midst of the difficulty, now is the time to participate. 

Return

Give God thanks for the people you met today. 

  • Where did you see God? 
  • What new thing was taking place? 
  • Who from the community did you meet? 
  • What did you learn about them? 
  • How can you best develop a relationship with them? 
  • Through whom did you receive love and care? 
  • What will you do differently tomorrow? 

Give God thanks for the opportunities you had to love others as you have been loved.

Prayer

O God, give me eyes to see and ears to hear you in the lives of the people entrusted to my care. Create a pure heart in me, because I have learned that the pure in heart can see you. With my pure heart, and open eyes and ears, help me experience you in the people I meet tomorrow and every day. In the name of Jesus. Amen

What does it mean to be the church today? 

There are several answers to that question. 

For some people, it means being a member of a religious community that shares common beliefs and practices. It involves participating in worship services, engaging in spiritual development, and contributing to both the missional and social activities of the congregation. Although the makeup of the church varies based upon location and beliefs, the congregation is held together by the involvement of its members in the programs and activities offered.   

For other people, it means being a member of a religious social club that shares common political and social views. It involves participating in worship services and in the activities and services that best reflect the political, theological, and missional preferences of the majority of members. It implies that membership has its privileges. 

And for others, it means being a follower of Jesus in relationship with other followers of Jesus in growing together in faith and in engaging the community in love, particularly God’s love. It involves worship, spiritual development, and growing in God’s love as experienced in and through Jesus. The congregation is held together by an intentional focus upon Jesus and less by common activities, political views, beliefs, or preferences. 

Rooted in Christendom

Each of the three answers is rooted in Christendom, but the last answer best reflects what it means to be the church today. Confused? Let’s put it into context. 

Regardless of your definition or understanding of church, we all consider ourselves to be Christian. With our formation rooted in a culture assumed to be Christian, we understand ourselves to be born into the church. So, what is the problem? We are good, law-abiding, tax-paying, moral, God-fearing, Americans. For too many of us, being Christian is more about being a good citizen than it is about being a follower of Jesus. 

As church members, we are products of a culture that has less to do with God’s love than it does with believing the right beliefs and behaving in socially acceptable ways. 

Have You Replaced Jesus?

How has this happened? In many churches, we have replaced Jesus with theological beliefs, denominational structures, political views, preferences, and even the Bible. Each of these things are extremely important and have their place in our lives, but the church, at its best, is a community of grace-filled Jesus followers seeking to put their faith into action. By God’s grace, we seek to love people and to love the community in which we are located.   

I believe we want to be that community of Jesus followers, but we are blinded by the culture that has shaped our faith and our living. 

For example, our churches live with the idea that everyone is Christian when in reality up to 60% of the people in our communities have no Christian connection or memory. That means you can no longer assume that your neighbor is a Christian or that your community is living out values derived from the Gospel. This has been a reality for a long time, but our assumptions have not changed. 

Fall in Love with Jesus Again

How do we reconnect with the people in our communities?

To reconnect with the people in your community, fall in love with Jesus again. As a follower of Jesus, Jesus informs who you are, what you say, and how you act.

Jesus is our focus in the church. This is a shift from Christian faith being faith in general to a particular faith centered in a person, Jesus. It is a shift from Christian faith being a philosophy to being a way of living in relationship with others. It is a shift from faith being a system of moral ideals to a way of loving others the way God has loved you. It is a shift from faith in a set of biblical beliefs to faith centered in the person of Jesus, the anointed one of God.

It is Jesus who makes possible a right relationship with God, who properly relates you to your neighbor, and who helps you establish a healthy relationship with yourself.

Jesus says, “Love one another as I have loved you.” And “Love your neighbor as yourself.” The implication is, you and I love others as God has loved us. He teaches, “If you have seen me, you have seen the Father.” The implication is, Jesus is the way to understand the way, the truth, and life of God.  

Fall in Love With Your Community Again

What does it mean to be the church today? It means you learn about, love, and follow Jesus. You love others as God in Jesus has loved you. You live your life in such a way that others experience God’s love in and through you. 

To reconnect with the people in your community, fall in love with your community again. As a follower of Jesus, you follow him into the community, and you look for what God is doing in the community. 

So, in the church today, your community is your mission field. This is a shift from the mission field being somewhere outside the borders of the United States to being at your doorstep. This is a shift from doing something to and for people in need to developing relationships with people who can help you become more who God created you to be. This is a shift from competition with community activities to compassion for the people who live in the community. This is a shift from doing mission at an “arm’s” distance to loving others, even in your community, as God in Jesus has loved you.   

Get to Know the People in Your Community

What does it mean to be the church today? It means falling in love with your community by getting to know the people who live and work there. It means praying specifically for neighbors.  Take a walk, visit the businesses, and speak to the people you meet along the way. 

Ask the people you encounter what they like about the community and what they would change if they could change something. Listen closely. God will be inviting you into a relationship with those you encounter. Pay attention. God will lead you to places that especially need love, care, and compassion.

As you reflect upon the people you meet along the way, ask yourself, “Where did I experience Jesus today? and “Where did I see a need for God’s love?” Then pray, “God, make me an instrument of your love and peace in this community. In Jesus’ name. Amen”

Falling in love with Jesus and falling in love with the community are only two aspects of the church today. To fall in love with Jesus, the church has to take the initiative to teach the ways of Jesus.

Seek to Understand: Who is Jesus?

Here is one way to fall in love with Jesus again. John Wesley called it “searching the Scriptures.” You and I call it Bible study. To fall in love with Jesus is to understand who Jesus is in relationship to God and to the people around us. Because we have assumed all the people are Christian, we have also assumed everyone knows the truth of the Bible, the holy scripture.

Most people today are biblically illiterate, including many of us sitting in the pews of our churches. So, what does it mean to be the church today? It means paying attention to the teachings of the scriptures in the context in which they were written, discovering the truth, looking at the truth through the lens of Jesus’ teaching, and living that truth in relationship to God and to our neighbors. 

Reality

I am sure most of you have heard of the game show “Jeopardy.” It is one of the most-watched television game shows in the United States. It is a game that challenges one’s knowledge and quickness regarding answers to questions from a variety of categories. In a recent episode, there was a question from the category “The Bible.” The question was, “Matthew 6:9 says, “Our Father, which art in heaven, (THIS) be thy name.” 

When the camera cut to the three contestants, not one of them buzzed in with a response. In fact, the question went unanswered. 

The words “Our Father, which art in heaven, hallowed be thy name” are from the most recited Christian prayer in the world and all three contestants were stumped by the clue.  We can no longer assume everyone is a Christian nor that everyone knows the Bible. 

Understanding the Scripture

Along with Christians not knowing the Bible, there are conflicting views regarding understanding the scripture. One way is to interpret scripture through the lens of your life and experience. The other is to interpret your life and experience through the lens of the scripture. 

The difference is significant. The first way is called “proof-texting.” You have an idea, perspective, or political view and you look for scriptures to support your idea, perspective, or politics. 

The second approach is called “contexting.” You study and search the scripture within the context in which it was written. Then you look at the truth of the scripture through the lens of the life, ministry, and teaching of Jesus to apply its meaning and purpose to your context today. 

What Scripture is NOT

Scripture is not a link to recipes, principles, or directives. It is not a book of philosophical ideas or of moral teachings. In reality, it is a window to the truth that interprets our lives. To experience the truth, you have to look through the window. At other times it is a mirror that reflects back the reality of your life. You have to look into the mirror to see and experience the truth. 

The church today is a community who teaches, encourages, and supports us in experiencing and living God’s love in everyday relationships, situations, and circumstances

Become A Learning Center

So, how does the church help people fall in love with Jesus? 

Become a learning center of Christian faith: With the understanding that more and more members of the church start with no understanding of the scripture or of Christian values and that many young people and adults have no previous experience with any religious group or tradition, help your church become a learning center of Christian faith. 

Instead of having “new member” classes that introduce people to the systems of the church, have learning experiences that bring the scriptures to life. Provide opportunities that allow people to experience the truth and challenges of the scripture. Introduce people to Jesus and to how Jesus leads them into the community. 

Become a Birthing Center

How does the church help people fall in love with the community? 

Become a birthing center for baptized believers and doers. With the understanding that we have assumed people are born and nurtured into the church, help your church become a birthing center for baptized believers. 

Baptism of infants made sense for the Christendom mindset. But we cannot assume that our children are being nurtured within our churches. It is time to rethink what it means to be baptized and what it means to grow into a mature follower of Jesus. This rethinking involves more than tinkering with the age of baptism and when one is permitted to receive holy communion. It involves more than a ritual event that is scheduled when out-of-town families can attend. 

Call to Ministry

Introduce people, new followers of Jesus, the parents of infants, and the congregation, to baptism as a call to ministry which automatically leads to loving the community and to loving the people that Jesus loves. 

Improve the acoustics so that baptism becomes the clear call to the mission field, the community. Teach people that baptism is the doorway through which they put their faith into daily living.   

Think of baptism this way. Through baptism you are sending missionaries into businesses, schools, and day care centers. You are sending missionaries into police cruisers, delivery trucks, and courtrooms. Wherever people go, it is their mission field. Remind them of this, “as you go, look with the eyes of Christ, listen with the heart of Christ, and speak with the love of Christ.” 

Pay Attention to God’s Movement

Send people out to pay attention to God’s movement in their lives and in the life of the community. Teach people to pray with co-workers and to bless one person each week. Teach people to ask themselves at the end of each day, “Where did I see God’s presence today?” Teach them to give God thanks for what they have experienced and ask God to “do it again tomorrow!”

Embrace the Challenge 

Over time, you’ll become a birthing center for baptized believers and doers, because people will begin to see ways to live out their faith at work, in their homes, and even at times of recreation.  People will begin to love the community the way Jesus has loved them, and they will begin to embrace the challenges of the missional church.

So, what does it mean to be the church today? It means falling in love with Jesus and with your community. It means building relationships, living your faith in daily life, and being faithful to God’s call upon your life. It means encountering the living God we know in Jesus. It is God who has called you and gifted you to be who you are, and who you are is how you lead. 

For Further Reading and Listening

Leadership Challenges for the Missional Church – Part One

Leadership Challenges for the Missional Church – Part Two

Leadership Challenges for the Missional Church – Part Three

Listen to Episode 285: Then and Now – A Call to Missional Leadership

Listen to Episode 286: Church and Society – A Call to Missional Leadership

Listen to Episode 287:  Missional Leadership – Define Your Mission Field