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? 

As a Jesus follower, you have been called and gifted to be a Christ-centered leader. You have a responsibility to live and lead as God has created you to live and lead. The question is, “What does it mean to live and lead as a Christ-centered leader?

The Role of a Christ-Centered Leader

Your first and primary task is to be faithful to Jesus. So, your first task is not a political or social one, though you will certainly make an impact politically and socially. Your first task is to be shaped by God’s love so you can be who God created you to be. It is to live and be the truth of God’s love in everyday situations and circumstances.

Your goal is not success in terms of bigger and better or more people means more money. Your goal is to demonstrate that Jesus makes possible a new order based not upon what works or competing self-interest, but upon the truth of God’s love.

Living Out God’s Love in Everyday Situations

This is not a withdrawal from the world. God’s love invites, leads, and drives you into the world to work for justice and peace. You must take seriously the political processes that change systems and structures. You develop relationships with political leaders and assist them in working for the common good.

But you don’t put your hope in the political systems that serve self-interest or in societal norms of personal preference. As you live and lead you offer an invitation to the people entrusted to your care to confront the world. In obedience to Jesus’ invitation, you are first focused upon who you are by responding to, “Come unto me,” and “Do this in remembrance of me,” and then upon living as you have been created to live, “Follow me” and “Go into all the world.”

Balancing Belief and Behavior

As a leader of the people of God, you serve the church and the community. Your service is not in running errands but in providing light. You lead to provide an imaginative alternative to the culture. As you model leadership, you are providing hope for people who are struggling to create the structures and alternatives that the world cannot achieve through governmental power of self-interest.

You might wonder if your leading is worth the hassle. Here is where your courageous leadership comes in. Keep your eyes, heart, and mind on Jesus. When you feel your living and leading are ineffective, remember that Jesus appeared ineffective in the world. Then remember that his power was the truth of the nature of God and not power, strength, and violence within the culture.

Modeling Forgiveness and Reconciliation

Modeling God’s love will always be more radical than the world can provide. Legislation cannot serve the poorest and most powerless. The best policies can do is to give the less powerful a little more power and call it justice. The world cannot give dignity to the young, the old, the sick, the disabled, the marginalized. All it can do is hand out a few meager rights and call it compassion.

For the poorest of the poor and the sickest of the sick, there must be hope that is not dependent upon public policy but upon the promise that God’s love is stronger than death, and that nothing can separate them or any of us from the love of God in Jesus Christ. You living into your call and giftedness helps bring that about.

As a Christ-centered leader, your living and loving help develop and provide a radical hope that forms a community of faith around the truth of God’s love as experienced in and through Jesus.

So first be faithful to Jesus.

Putting Faith into Everyday Action

Your second task is to live your faith in everyday relationships, encounters, situations, and circumstances. It is important to put belief and behavior together. As a leader influenced by John Wesley, you balance personal piety and social holiness.

In the scripture, proper behavior is a response to faith in God who is acting on your behalf. God’s requirements are always preceded by God’s actions. In the Old Testament, belief and behavior are brought together, “Hear O Israel: The Lord your God is one Lord” (Deuteronomy 6:4). That is the belief. Then follows the response: “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with your might” (Deuteronomy 6:5). So, to be faithful to Jesus is to live your faith in everyday relationships, encounters, situations, and circumstances.

The Ten Commandments begin with the words, “I am the Lord your God, who brought you out of the land of Egypt, out of the house of slavery” (Exodus 20:2). That is faith and belief. The commandments represent appropriate behavior in response to God’s acts of deliverance from slavery in Egypt.

The Good News in the New Testament

In good news according to Mark, Jesus walked along the lakeside announcing, “The time is fulfilled, and the kingdom of God has come near” (Mark 1:15). That was an invitation to faith. It was an invitation to believe that God was bringing a new world. Then comes the appropriate response, “Repent, and believe in the good news” (Mark 1:15). All of Jesus’ demands, from “Come follow me” to “Take up your cross,” from “Go sell all you have and give to the poor” to “Turn the other cheek and go the second mile” are rooted in God’s invitation to love.

Paul in his letter to the Galatians writes, “For freedom Christ has set us free” (Galatians 5:1). That is belief. Jesus has set us free. Then comes the invitation to respond, “Stand firm, therefore and do not submit again to a yoke of slavery…For you were called to freedom, brothers and sisters” (Galatians 5:1, 13). Then Paul offers the expected behavior, “Only do not use your freedom as an opportunity for self-indulgence, but through love become slaves to one another” (Galatians 5:13). So, to be faithful to Jesus is to live your faith in everyday situations and circumstances.

Paul wrote to the Corinthians, “In Christ God was reconciling the world to himself, not counting their trespasses against them” (II Corinthians 5:19). God acted in Jesus to reconcile us to God, to our true selves, and to others. In other words, God has acted in Jesus so we can be who God created us to be. The question is, what is the behavior to be balanced with this good news? Paul answers the questions for us, “And entrusting the message of reconciliation to us. So, we are ambassadors for Christ, since God is making his appeal through us” (II Corinthians 5:19-20). Your response to God’s reconciling love is to model through your leading the gifts of forgiveness and reconciliation.

The Leadership Role of Gratitude

At the heart of your faith and action is gratitude for God’s faith in you. Gratitude transforms obedience from a dreaded duty to a joyful expression of love. We simply enjoy doing what we do out of gratitude and love.

I remember a friend of mine telling me about his wife being on a business trip and what his children did to surprise her. On the day she was to return, my friend said he tried to persuade his son and daughter to help him clean the house before she arrived. He said they grumbled and procrastinated because they had other things to do.

As he served them their lunch, he said to them, “You know, Mom has been very good to us. She works hard and long, and she loves us very much. She will come in the door tonight with a hug and a gift for each of us. That is who she is. We are lucky to be loved so much. Why don’t we give her something as a gift? Let’s give her a clean house.” The children agreed. After lunch, they helped clean the house and even had fun making a game out of it.

I remember thinking that a clean house became a grateful response to a loving parent. That is behavior linked to belief. What a beautiful expression of faith in Jesus lived out in everyday situations and circumstances. That is what it means to lead as a Christ-centered leader. First you are faithful to Jesus, and you live your faith in everyday relationships, encounters, situations, and circumstances.

The Impact of Leadership

As a Christ-centered leader, why do you put your faith in Jesus into everyday action?

Several years ago, I read a story of a Canadian photographer by the name of Yousaf Karsh. The only portrait he took of a person’s back was taken of Pablo Casals in a small French Abbey in 1954. Karsh said he was setting up his equipment when Casals began playing Bach on his cello. Karsh was so taken by the music that he said he almost forgot why he was there. He took his portrait of Casals with the musician bent over his cello, frozen in time against the plain stone wall of the chapel. Karsh said that he took it that way to capture the loneliness of the truly great artists and the loneliness of the exile.

You are God’s Masterpiece

Years later, when the portrait was on exhibit in the Museum of Fine Arts in Boston, another old man came day after day and stood for long periods of time in front of the portrait. The Curator of the Museum noticed him, and when his curiosity got the best of him, he went over, tapped the man on the shoulder, and asked him why he stood so long before the picture. The old man, with obvious irritation, turned toward the curator and said, “Hush, young man. Can’t you see I’m listening to the music!”

Karsh watched Casals play his cello and presented a picture. The old man, looking at that picture, could hear the music.

You have been called and gifted to be a Christ-centered leader. You have a responsibility to live and lead as God has created you to live and lead. As a leader, you are God’s model, God’s picture, God’s music of what God wants your community, your neighborhood, your city to be.

As a Christ-centered leader, when you live and lead with God’s love you provide a radical hope all people need. Your music, your leadership, will permeate the whole of life and people will listen to you and follow you to Jesus.

Remember, who you are is how you lead!

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

Have you ever considered yourself to be a missionary? Have you considered entering a different culture, developing relationships with the people, and sharing God’s love by serving and working with the people? 

Whether you have considered it for yourself or not, you know people who have been called and gifted by God to 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. 

They have been trained to be cross-cultural workers, 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?

There is a need for people to respond to God’s call by leaving the known and entering the unknown. There is a need to cross the cultural barriers, motivated by God’s love, to love and serve people in the name of Jesus. With that said, have you ever considered yourself to be a missionary? As you reflect upon the question, let me offer a perspective to consider. 

The early followers of Jesus found their identity in his mission. They understood themselves as evidence of the resurrection and that they became part of the loving, healing, feeding, serving, and dying of the Risen Christ. They engaged the world and witnessed to the work of Jesus in the midst of a hostile environment. In the midst of the tension, they did not withdraw from the world or forsake the mission.

Baptism as Calling and Commissioning

Baptism was a powerful symbol of new life in Christ. It symbolized death to things of the world and new birth into the way of Jesus. Through baptism, Jesus followers knew they had been called and commissioned by Jesus to carry out his loving service. They understood the mission field to be where they were at the time. So, they lived out their call in the places they lived and worked. They were driven to ask “Who are we in relationship to those around us? To whom are we sent?” It was out of their experience with Jesus and developing relationships 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. They were missionaries just by being followers of Jesus.   

Sharing the Good News of God’s Love

Then, during the age of Christendom, when all institutions of the culture were Christianized, the mission field shifted.  It moved from wherever you were at the time to areas outside the boundaries of the empire or country. To be a missionary during Christendom meant that you entered a culture different than your own, developed relationships with the people, and shared God’s love by serving and working with the people. 

You shared the good news of God’s love by learning the traditions and activities of the culture and by developing relationships of trust and compassion. You became a cross-cultural worker, immersed in a culture different from your own, who worked to discover and understand the needs and assets of the people you were assigned to love and serve. 

The Mission Field is Outside Your Door

That brings us to today. The missionary spirit is in our DNA as a follower of Jesus. But we are living with a Christendom mindset. So, what does that mean?

It means we are in the midst of another shift. Although most of us 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.

The reality is wherever you are, you have the opportunity to enter a new community, to learn the traditions and activities of the people, and to develop relationships of trust and compassion. In the truest sense, wherever you are, you are a missionary of the love of God.   

Love Like Jesus

The foundation of being a missionary is Jesus. The greatest distinguishing characteristic of Jesus is love. So, your work as a missionary is to love like Jesus in the places you interact with people on a daily basis. 

To love like Jesus means to focus on people and develop communities of care and compassion. It is a love that defines God’s immeasurable, incomparable love for all people. It is God’s ongoing, outgoing, self-sacrificing interest and concern for creation. God loves you, me, humanity, and all creation without condition. To love like Jesus is the work of the Christ-centered missionary.

Love Lived Out in Relationship with Others

To put it another way, this love is not dependent upon the worth of the people being loved. Love does not count the cost based on the return. It is spontaneous and does not consider beforehand whether it will be effective or proper. This love is the extension of God’s love lived out in and through our relationships with each other. 

So, to love like Jesus means to live the highest form of love described and experienced in the Bible.  It is more than an emotion. It is a matter of will. 

As much as we talk about the church being a family, this love is greater than friends and family. In fact, this love is greater than race, color, or belief. It is a love that intentionally works for the good of each individual regardless of who they are or whether you feel anything or not. This love is greater than politics, nationality, gender, and race. To be a Christ-centered missionary means you live by and serve with love greater than yourself. 

Be a Missionary of Love

To love like Jesus is to understand that love is the greatest expression of relationships. As a missionary of love, you are working for the good of all people. Relationships, and not agreement, are the issue. As a Christ-centered missionary, you love as you have been loved and you courageously serve the community with that same love.

To love like Jesus is to express your love through action. Too often we talk about love and loving others but are slow to live the love we talk about. John, in his first letter wrote, “Those who say, ‘I love God’ and hate their brothers or sisters are liars. After all, those who don’t love their brothers or sisters whom they have seen can hardly love God whom they have not seen! This commandment we have from him: Those who claim to love God ought to love their brother and sister also” (I John 4:19-21). 

Be Focused on the Good of Others

To love like Jesus is to be focused on the good of others before it is focused on our own good, desires, expectations, or results. As a Christ-centered missionary, you love because God in Christ first loved you.  

Jesus said, “Love one another as I have loved you.” This love is about being who God created you to be for no other reason than being who God created you to be. Who you are is how you love.  

Love the People in Your Community

As a Christ-centered missionary, you love the people in the community where you are at this moment. So, it is important to know your context, your community, the people to whom you are sent (or are sent to you). You love like Jesus so you can fall in love with your community. So, try experimenting with the following: 

  • Take a walk through your community or neighborhood. (This might happen a little differently in some areas. In more rural communities, you might need to drive by your neighbors). Organize a group of people in your church to walk together in twos or threes. 
  • Pray for each family in the homes as you walk by. Ask God to help you be the neighbor God needs you to be for them. Pray for their well-being. Ask God to love them through you. Pray for each business, service, hotel, etc. that you pass by. Ask God to love the people you meet through you. 
  • Engage the people you meet along the way in conversation. Ask them, “What do you like about our community or our neighborhood?” “If anything, what would you like to see changed?” As you reflect upon your conversations, think about how you and/or the church can come alongside the people in the community? 
  • Take note of the different agencies and services in your community. Are there schools? Libraries? Police stations? Fire stations? Extended care facilities? What other assets can you identify? Medical clinics? Social agencies? Begin to engage your church in prayer. Pray, “Oh God, help us see you in the people in our community. What do we need to do that no one else is doing?” 
  • In your conversations, listen to the needs in your community. Is there a need for food? Housing? Childcare? Community park activities? Health care? Pray, “Oh God, send us the people that no one else wants and help us love the people you send to us.” 
  • Identify the individuals in your congregation who can assist in making connections in the community. Who are the leaders in the community? Who are school teachers or administrators? Who has influence among the people? Now, pray for each of them. Ask God to prepare them for the mission of loving the community as God has loved them. At the appropriate time, ask them to assist you in relating to the community. 
  • Identify other churches you might ask to be a partner with you in developing relationships and providing resources. Give God thanks for the opportunity to be a conduit of God’s love to the community. 

So, as a Christ-centered missionary, you love like Jesus, and you love the people in your community. The question is, “do you need special training to love? 

The answer is no. You love people and your community as God in Jesus has loved you. 

Jesus Loves You

Tony Campolo tells the story of being a counselor at a junior high camp early in his ministry. He said junior-high boys have a strange and often cruel sense of humor. There is a strong tendency to pick on anyone who is different, to make fun of them, and make them the brunt of their jokes. 

He said this was the case during one particular week of summer camp. The boys picked on a thirteen-year-old boy named Billy who had difficulty walking and talking. He had cerebral palsy. 

The boys at the camp would often mimic his gestures. They thought it was funny to imitate his halting movements and his slurred speech. Their actions were cruel at best, but the cruelest thing they did was on Thursday morning of the camp. 

On that day, Billy’s cabin had been assigned to lead the morning devotions. They voted for Billy to be the speaker. They wanted to get him up and in front of everybody so they could be entertained by his struggling attempts at speaking.   

Surprisingly, it did not bother Billy. When the time came for the devotion, he dragged himself up to the front of the room. Except for the snickering of the boys from his cabin, everyone was quiet and attentive.   

Campolo said, It took Billy almost30 seconds to say, ‘Jesus…loves…me…and…I…love…Jesus.’ Then he said, ‘Jesus…loves…you…too.’” 

Campolo said, “When he finished, there was stunned silence.  When I looked over my shoulder, I saw that all over the place there were junior-high boys with tears streaming down their cheeks. Some of them had their heads bowed.” 

He said, “We had done many things that week to try to reach the boys with the gospel message, but nothing had worked. We had even brought in baseball players whose battering averages had gone up since they started praying, but it had no effect on the boys. It wasn’t until Billy, with his slurred speech, declared his love for Jesus that everything changed.” 

It was years later, while traveling, that Campolo met a young man who said, “You probably don’t remember me. I became a Christian at a junior high camp where you were a counselor.” Before the conversation was over the man said, “Jesus reached out and spoke to me through Billy.” 

Friends, God doesn’t need superstars or trained witnesses. As it says in the scripture, God likes to take “the stones which the builders reject” to use as the foundation rock for loving all of creation. 

Are You a Missionary?

Have you ever considered yourself to be a missionary? When you leave your home, your work or your church building, you are entering the mission field where people need a kind, caring, encouraging word. God has already loved you through his Word made flesh in Jesus. The joy and peace of this life come through sharing what you have received. 

When you enter your community, you have the opportunity to develop new relationships and to share the joy and peace you have received in the name of the living God who loves you in Jesus and who empowers you to share God’s love through the Holy Spirit. 

Whether you have considered being a missionary or not, you are a missionary just by following Jesus. Today, love like Jesus and love your community. Be the missionary you have been called and gifted to be right where you are at this moment.  And remember, who you are is how you lead.  

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

What comes to mind when you hear the word “church”? A building where you worship? An organization of which you are a member? A place you work or volunteer? A community of believers who gather for Christian worship, fellowship, and learning? What comes to mind?

How often do you hear or say:

  • “I am going to the church?”
  • “I am a member of First Church,”
  • “I attend worship at Good Shepherd Church?” or
  • “That used to be a church?”

What is the Church?

The exact meaning of “church” varies based on the context in which the term is used, as well as the experience of the person using the term. So, who or what is the church to you?  

Throughout history, the church has been defined and understood in different ways. It has been most effective when it has responded to and addressed the needs and concerns of the community or city in which it is located. It has been less effective when it has turned inward attempting to protect itself from theological challenges and cultural changes. 

As we have said, it matters where you start. Whether being vulnerable in moving outward or in preservation moving inward, the church has usually entered an identity crisis when it has moved away from its purpose. That is why I am asking the question, who or what is the church today?

What Shaped the Church

Before answering the question, let’s take a look at what has shaped the church as we experience it. This is a much too simple overview, but it will help with context.

The early followers of Jesus found their identity in his mission. They understood themselves as evidence of the resurrection and that they became part of the loving, healing, feeding, 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 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.

Baptism was a powerful symbol of new life in Christ. It symbolized death to things of the world and new birth in the way of Jesus. Through baptism, believers knew they had been called and commissioned by Jesus to carry out his loving service. How they lived out their call and commission was determined by their context. They were driven to ask “Who are we in relationship to those around us? To whom are we sent?” They struggled with their answers as they worshiped week by week and listened to the stories of Jesus and his mission. It was out of their daily experiences in relationship to the people around them that their understanding of mission emerged. 

They put their lives on the line for Jesus as they witnessed God’s love across boundaries of race, nationality, and economics. The mission field was at their front door.   

The Early Years

Loren Meade in his book, The Once and Future Church, called this initial stage of the church the Apostolic Age. Along with his book, you can read stories of the emergence of the church in the New Testament, especially in The Acts of the Apostles and in the letters of Paul. 

Then, with the conversion of Constantine, the church shifted in its identity and mission. It shifted from being a voice and force in a hostile culture to becoming the official religion of the Roman Empire. The mission moved from the front door of the congregation to areas outside the boundary of the empire. Over time, the life of the empire and the mission of the church became so intertwined that to be part of the empire made you a Christian.

Shifting Landscape

The responsibility of a Christian moved from witnessing in a hostile world to being a good, law-abiding citizen, who paid taxes and supported both religious and secular institutions, which in turn was supporting the empire, the government, or the culture. 

Unity was no longer centered upon Jesus but upon theology, administration, and politics. The shift moved the church from being a community of convinced, committed believers supporting one another to an organized hieratical structure with believers working, at times, in competition with one another.

The demand of faith was uniformity. Loyalty and obedience were primary virtues. Discord within the church became the enemy of the church. When there were disagreements, people started their own churches and even denominations.

Baptism shifted to a rite of passage. It affirmed what was already a reality, you were born into the church. A call to follow Jesus became a professional decision more than one of dynamic faith and transformation.  

The Christendom Church

The church became a business more than an instrument of faith and cultural change. Over the years it has aligned itself with governments, movements, and philosophies. Because of its alignment with governments, at times the church has been used as an excuse for rivalry and warfare. Most recently, some forms of the church have aligned themselves with capitalism which shows up in different forms of consumerism. Programs and preferences have become the prevailing reasons to include people in the church.

Even attempts to move the church back to effectiveness use the very alignments that have moved the church away from its roots. This stage in the life of the church has been commonly known as Christendom. All of us, in the church today, are products of the church formed in Christendom.

Where is Your Faith?

I know my brief synopsis sounds negative, so I will let you answer the question regarding your own faith. Is your faith in Jesus or in the systems and structures designed to help the world know Jesus. There is a difference.

So, who and what is the church today?  A simplistic answer is the church is part of both the Apostolic Age and of Christendom.  A more realistic answer is the church is in the midst of an identity crisis. 

I am sure we want to thrive as a vital witness in the world, but we are struggling to survive as an organizational institution. The struggle to be faithful in the midst of hostility still exists in the DNA of the church. The shift has been from facing cultural hostility to creating hostility within our internal structures. In other words, the church is no longer at odds with the culture but is fighting within itself. Again, I know that sounds negative and hopeless, but I believe there is hope for the church.    

A New Missionary Age

Part of the struggle is, we are 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 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.

So, what does that mean? Let me illustrate with a story.

Our Town

When I was a freshman in high school, the junior/senior play was “Our Town.” It was a story/play written by Thornton Wilder. It was that play that drew me into drama class and into participating in drama productions in both my junior and senior years of high school. I apologize for my reminiscing.  

In the story “Our Town,” A young woman and wife, Emily, dies in childbirth. Given the opportunity to return to one special day of her life, she chooses to go back to a birthday she remembers as a child. She sees her family, her loved ones, going about their ordinary routines. They can’t see her or the beauty visible to her from beyond the grave. It is painful and disturbing for Emily. She watches for a short time and then returns to where the pain is at least bearable.

Wilder has given us a portrayal of what it is like to be awakened in a new paradigm and the difficulty of communicating with those still living in the old one. Emily could not stand the pain. As I reflect upon it, the younger generations of today might be suffering a similar painful contradiction. They are born into a new paradigm and are unable to communicate with those of us who inhabit the old one. 

According to Loren Meade, our situation may be even more desperate than Emily’s. We are losing our home in Christendom and have little clarity about how to be at home in the turbulence of what is emerging. As much as we want to lay blame either on what has been or on what has gone astray, the real truth of our situation and our hope lies within our own hearts.

Who and what is the church today? 

I believe the answer is within you and is experienced in and through your faithful response to God’s love in the community in which you live.

Here is what I want you to do to strengthen your faith and to equip your church for ministry in this new missionary age. These two questions, by God’s grace, will assist you in making the shift needed to impact the world. Start today with the leaders of your congregation and ask the following questions for reflection and discussion:

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

Ask your church leaders to join you in praying for the next 40 days. Pray for a pure heart, because “blessed are the pure in heart, they will see God.” Make every meeting, study, gathering, a prayer meeting focused upon recognizing God’s activity in your life and the life of your neighborhood, community, or city. 

After 40 days, begin every meeting, study, or gathering with the question, “Where have you seen or experienced God since we last met? Note: it is important that you pray together for 40 days before asking the question. This is not a program of prayer. The point is to pray for 40 days. You are not seeking results. You are praying, asking God to help you recognize God at work in your community, neighborhood, or city.

This seems simplistic, but when you begin to see God at work you can join God in God’s work.

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

After your 40 days of prayer, have your church leaders and congregation decide if they want to offer HOPE to the people of your community? If the answer is “No, we do not want to offer HOPE to the community,” please continue to pray to see and experience God in the places, you live, work, and play.

If the answer is “Yes, we want to offer HOPE to the community,” then take every program, project, activity, committee, and ministry of your church and evaluate them by this pattern of HOPE for making disciples of Jesus. This is a pattern based upon Paragraph 122, “The Process for Carrying Out Our Mission,” in The Book of Discipline of The United Methodist Church.

Think of the statements in the paragraph as HOPE: reaching out and receiving as Hospitality. Introducing others to faith as Offering Christ. Nurturing people in the faith as Practicing faith. And sending people back into the community to serve as Engagement.

Use HOPE to evaluate your congregational ministry.

Hospitality: How does this program, project, activity, committee, or ministry help us reach and receive new people? How does it help us relate to people in the community?

Offer Christ: How does this program, project, activity, committee, or ministry help us introduce others to Jesus or to the Christian faith?

Practice: How does this program, project, activity, committee, or ministry help us grow and mature in our faith?

Engage: How does this program, project, activity, committee, or ministry help us engage our community? Build relationships with the community? Engage resources to meet needs in the community?

When any program, project, activity, committee, or ministry is not helping with the mission of making disciples for the transformation of the world, or is not offering HOPE to your community, then ask the question, “Why are we doing it?” Then decide how you can reshape the ministry to meet the mission of making disciples.

Identity and Hope

This process will first help you with your identity as a follower of Jesus. You will begin to shift your focus from protecting a building, institution, and theology, to focus on loving people. 

Second, it will help you fall in love with Jesus again. You will become more of a follower, being transformed as you look for Jesus in the lives of the people you meet each day. Third, it will help you fall in love with people. You will discover that the people you meet each day, in whatever context, are helping you become the person God has created you to be.

Fourth, it will help you fall in love with your community, neighborhood, or city.  You will begin to meet Jesus in the lives of the people you encounter, and you will want to be where Jesus is, in the community, involved in the lives of the people.

Who or What is the Church?

Who or what is the church today? The answer is within you and is experienced in and through your faithful response to God’s love in the community in which you live.

Now that you have finished reading this blog post, what comes to mind when you hear the word “church?” Remember, you are living in a new missionary age. So, when you walk out the door of your home, your office, or out the door of any building in which you encounter people, you are entering the mission field where people need a kind, caring, supportive, and encouraging word. And God, by grace, has given you the word needed in and through Jesus. The joy and peace of this life comes from sharing what you have received. So, wherever you are, be at peace and experience the joy in the name of the God who loves you in Jesus and who empowers you to be an impactful missionary witness by the Holy Spirit.

Let me tell you who comes to mind when I hear the word “church.” You come to mind. You are a beloved child of God, gifted to live God’s love with the people you meet each day. You and I are in the church together. And remember, who you are is how you lead!

How will you lead this year? As a Christ-centered leader, you have the opportunity and responsibility to recognize potential in people and then assist them in developing that potential for the good of others. Who or what will make the difference in your leadership?   

Too often, we think we can lead through our own power or skill. We have convinced ourselves that if we know just a little more, read the right books, or attend the right seminars we will be equipped to lead. How has that been working for you? 

On the other hand, without thinking about it, we assume we will know what to do when we need to do it.  After all we trust God to give us what we need but being passive and not responding to God’s gifts of time and relationships have not served us well as leaders. 

Think about it for a moment. What one essential relationship or partnership do you have that equips you and empowers you as a leader? 

Use the pattern of Read, Reflect, Respond, Return as a tool to assist you in rediscovering the partnership you most need in being the leader God created you to be. 

Read Matthew 17:14-20 

When they came to the crowd, a man came to him, knelt before him, and said, “Lord, have mercy on my son, for he has epilepsy and suffers terribly; he often falls into the fire and often into the water. And I brought him to your disciples, but they could not cure him.” Jesus answered, “You faithless and perverse generation, how much longer must I be with you? How much longer must I put up with you? Bring him here to me.” And Jesus rebuked the demon, and it came out of him, and the boy was cured from that moment. Then the disciples came to Jesus privately and said, “Why could we not cast it out?” He said to them, “Because of your little faith. For truly I tell you, if you have faith the size of a mustard seed, you will say to this mountain, ‘Move from here to there,’ and it will move, and nothing will be impossible for you.” 

Reflect

This story follows the glory of Christ on the mountain (story of the transfiguration). The struggle and failure of the followers of Jesus are in direct contrast to the mountaintop experience. 

On the mountain, Jesus’ commission is reconfirmed as he begins to instruct his followers on the meaning and cost of following him. Although they have been given power and authority, they are frustrated by their failure to heal the boy or cast out the demon. The work in the mundane world in the valley is not as glorious as the experience on the mountain. 

Being and Doing

The primary focus of this story is the relationship between the power of Jesus and the experience of his followers. It is seen in their question in verse nineteen, “Why couldn’t we cast it out?” In this story, there is a difference between spiritual exhilaration and the experience of everyday service, but it does not have to be that way. 

The mountaintop experience can and should be seen in every act of love and kindness extended in every situation and circumstance. In other words, there is a partnership between being and doing, between the power of God and our response to God’s grace.

Why Can’t We Stop It?

One of my favorite Martin Luther King, Jr’s sermons is, “The Answer to a Perplexing Question” based on Matthew 17:19, “Why couldn’t we cast him out?” In the sermon, King points out that the problem that has always troubled us as human beings is our inability to conquer evil by our own power.  He points out we ask in pathetic amazement “Why can’t we get rid of evil or remove evil from our lives and the world in which we live?” 

We can ask that question regarding the violence we continue to experience. “Why can’t we stop it?”

We try, in our own ways, to stop it. Why can’t we stop the violence? We can ask that question regarding the injustice and inequality in which we participate. We try, through sermons and studies, to stop it. “Why can’t we stop it?” 

Why Can’t I…?

You know you can ask that question regarding your desire to lead courageously and effectively. “Why can’t I lead the way I want to lead? On your own, often in isolation, you try. Why can’t you lead with courage? 

King says we have usually pursued two paths to eliminate evil and to save the world.  We can say the same for violence, injustice, inequality, and for courageous leadership. 

The first path is to try to do everything on our own power and resourcefulness. It is a strange conviction that by thinking, inventing, and governing, we will conquer the “nagging forces of evil” or become effective Christ-centered leaders. 

The second path is to submissively wait for God to act on our behalf. We trust God to give us what we need, so we wait passively (and irresponsibly) for God to do something. It is another strange conviction to just “let go and let God” when God has equipped us to respond in faith trusting the gifts and talents we have been given.   

Living the Answer

King asks, “What then is the answer to life’s perplexing question? If the world is not to be purified by God alone nor by us alone, who will do it?” If we want to move beyond the rhetoric of simply asking the perplexing question to live the answer perhaps, we need to pursue a third way. 

King answers the question. He says the answer is found in an idea that is distinctly different from the two paths above. Neither God nor humanity will individually bring about the world’s salvation. He says it will take a partnership between God and humanity. 

Leading Through Partnership

Here is the key to leading through partnership. When we and God are one in unity of purpose there is a power to lead with courage. When the overflowing love of God and the perfect trust and obedience of each of us as human beings, there can be and will be a transformation of the old into the new. It is in and through this partnership we can “drive out the deadly cancer of sin.” 

Faith in Jesus opens the door for God to work through us. The followers of Jesus lacked faith when they desperately tried to remove evil from the body of the sick child (Matthew 17:14-23). Jesus points out what might seem obvious: they had been attempting to do by themselves what could only be done with God. 

When your life is an open receptacle for God’s love and grace to enter, you become the person, the leader, and the change agent you were created to be. It is God’s gift of faith that leads you into a life-changing and leader-empowering partnership with God. The one partnership that is needed for you to become the leader God has created you to be. 

Respond

Think about it for a moment.  How is your relationship, your partnership, with Jesus? You can be the leader God created you to be, but you cannot do it alone. You cannot become the leader needed today by mere resolution or by waiting on God to do it for you. To enter a partnership with Jesus, surrender yourself and become an instrument of God’s love, grace, and peace. 

Think of it this way, your family and friends, your church, and all of creation are waiting on you to open the door and to enter the partnership God is offering through Jesus. Even today, your church and your community are waiting on you to answer the invitation:                                                                                               

“Listen! I am standing at the door, knocking; if you hear my voice and open the door, I will come into you and eat with you, and you with me.” Revelation 3:20 

Reflect

Give God thanks for the people you met today. How were you in partnership with Jesus? How were you in partnership with others who connected you to Jesus? Who did you invite to be in partnership with Jesus? Give God thanks for the opportunities you had to love others as you have been loved.

Prayer 

Lord, make me an instrument of thy peace;

Where there is hatred, let me sow love;

Where there is injury, pardon;

Where there is doubt, faith;

Where there is despair, hope;

Where there is darkness, light;

And where there is sadness. Joy.

O Divine Master,

Grant that I may not so much seek

To be consoled as to console;

To be understood, as to understand;

To be loved, as to love;

For it is in giving that we receive,

It is in pardoning that we are pardoned,

And it is in dying that we are born to eternal life. 

-Francis of Assisi