As a Christ-centered leader, your primary purpose is to focus on God’s mission and to equip those whom you lead to do the same.  So, as a reminder, it is not your mission, and it is not your church’s mission. It is God’s mission. It is important that you start with the knowledge and understanding of “missio Dei,” God’s mission. 

It is also important to understand that you and the people you lead are invited into God’s mission through baptism. Each of you are claimed by God and commissioned to be about God’s business of loving others as you have been loved.  So, your primary call is to be who God created you to be. You are a “beloved child of God” gifted for loving and serving the people you encounter every day in everyday situations. Every aspect of your life and ministry is focused upon God’s mission. 

Your Priority is Jesus

To say it another way, your priority call is to follow Jesus and to teach, equip, and lead others to do the same. When Jesus becomes your priority, you love others as you have been loved and the church fulfills God’s mission by loving the people in the community, the neighborhood, and the world. 

When Jesus is the priority, the church itself is not only a product of God’s love but is compelled and destined to share God’s love. The mission flows directly through every Jesus follower and every group of people who define themselves by God’s love. So, to focus on God’s mission is to make Jesus your priority and become agents of God’s love in the world. 

For a more in-depth exploration, read the other blogs in the Preparing for Mission series:

Now, let’s move on to structuring for God’s mission. Let’s look again at Matthew 28:19-20.    

Read Matthew 28:19-20 

 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 on HOPE

(To get a firm foundation for Building on Hope, read Preparing For Mission: What is God’s Mission? Part 2) 

Using Jesus’ commissioning of his followers, Matthew provides a structure of HOPE upon which you can build a system for living into and equipping others regarding God’s mission. Although it is an imposed structure, it is one way to live into loving others as you have been loved in and through Jesus. 

HOPE is an acronym for Hospitality, Offering Christ, Practicing Faith, Engaging the Community. So, since it is God’s mission and you are invited to participate in it, Jesus sends you out to live into and to participate in God’s mission. He says, “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, you are in mission. 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. These are the times and places you live in the life of HOPE. 

Let’s look at the structure of HOPE. 

H – HOSPITALITY

Verse 19 notes, “make disciples of all nations.” The word “nations” literally means “ethnic” or “people.”  “All nations” is an all-inclusive word. At the risk of being over-simplistic, it includes all people. So, wherever you go, you are participating in God’s mission. At every moment you are working for the well-being of the people you encounter. 

Paul wrote to the church in Rome, “Welcome one another, therefore, just as Christ has welcomed you, for the glory of God.” You have been invited, called, and commissioned to be a person of hospitality, where you live, work, and play, for the purpose of loving others as you have been loved. 

You are a person of hospitality as you reach out and receive the people God sends your way. Why do you receive them? It is who you are as a follower of Jesus. Hospitality is God’s business. You reach and receive all of God’s people, loving each of them as you have been loved. 

As a Christ-centered leader, you are modeling hospitality for the people entrusted to your care so that each of them will become persons of hospitality by loving others as they too have been loved. 

You reach and receive all people, for the glory of God. 

O – OFFER CHRIST

 Verse 19: “baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit.”  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 by the way you receive them and care for them. But only that, you immerse them in the “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, or into “missio Dei,” God’s mission.  We are instructed to saturate them in God’s love as experienced in and through Jesus. 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 others. 

The movement of God’s grace and the mission of God’s love, agape, is made real in and through you and through your relationships with the people you encounter each day. 

As a Christ-centered leader, you are offering Christ, God’s agape, to the people you meet by what you say, how you say it, and by the way you receive and love them. Your action of agape is a greater invitation than your words. You become so immersed in the love, the movement, the mission of God, that all you say and do invites others to love as they are being loved. 

You offer Christ by the way you live your life and interact with the people you meet each day. By your living, you are inviting people into God’s movement of grace and God’s mission of love. 

P – PRACTICE

 Verse 20” “teaching them to obey everything that I have commanded you.” The word “teaching” for Matthew refers to what he wants you to do about “holiness.”  It is what you learn as a follower 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. 

This “holy living” or different living implies 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 into 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 regardless of their economic, social, or political status. 

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 taking the initiative in forgiveness.  It means to forgive as many times as it takes to restore the relationships that are being broken.  It is the relationship that is important. 

The words “to obey” mean “to observe” or to “pay attention to.”  To obey “these things” means to practice what you are learning. 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. 

As a Christ-centered leader, you lead others in practicing hospitality and in offering Christ in all they say and do. You practice faith by the way you love others. You practice faith by inviting others to practice what they are learning about “holy living” in relation to the people they meet each day. 

You nurture the people around you in God’s love and lead them into practicing God’s love in everyday situations and circumstances. 

E – ENGAGE

People are sent out into the community to live the life of love as they have experienced in and through you and other followers of Jesus. As they experience hospitality, they extend hospitality. As they are immersed in God’s love, they invite others to be immersed in God’s love. As they practice “holy living,” they are inviting others to experience and to practice God’s love and to live a holy life. 

Remember, you are sent out by Jesus. “Go” literally means “as you go.”  Wherever you are, you are set apart to live the life of love as experienced in and through Jesus.   

Verse 19: “make disciples.” A disciple” is a student or follower. You have been invited, called, and commissioned as a follower of Jesus. This is important. You have not chosen Jesus. Jesus has chosen you. You are a follower 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 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. 

Verse 20: “And remember, I am with you always, to the end of the 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, you have been given a structure of HOPE to help facilitate God’s mission in and through the church. The structure of HOPE equips followers of Jesus to live out God’s mission in the world. HOPE assists you to become who God created you to be, and who you are is how you lead. 

Respond

Today be aware of how you model HOPE for the people you lead. Be alert to opportunities to welcome others as Christ has welcomed you.” Take notice of the occasions you have to offer Christ by what you say and do. Be mindful of your “holy living” in your interactions with the people you meet. Begin to build a structure of HOPE by the way you model hope in everyday situations and circumstances. 

Prayer

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

Return

As you reflect back upon your day, give thanks for God’s call to follow Jesus. In what ways were you hospitable? Who did you invite into God’s movement of grace and into God’s mission of agape? How did you practice your faith? With whom did you practice? How did you engage your community in God’s mission, God’s love? With whom do you need to celebrate the love you experienced in and through them? What will you do differently tomorrow?

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

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

Mission: It Matters Where You Start

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

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

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

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

Read: Matthew 28:16-20 

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

Reflect 

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

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

Authority

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

Therefore

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

“Go and make disciples of all nations…” 

Go

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

Make Disciples

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

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

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

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

Nations

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

As you go

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

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

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

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

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

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

Holy Living

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

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

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

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

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

To obey

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

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

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

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

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

Respond 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Prayer

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

Return 

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

The beginning of a new year is an excellent time to refocus on the mission of the church and how you will lead others into focusing upon and living into the mission. As a Christ-centered leader, your primary purpose is to focus on that mission and to equip those whom you lead to do the same. The question is “What is the mission?” 

What is Mission?

Mission is the core purpose of an organization. It tells what an organization focuses upon and does for its customers. It is what sets you apart from other organizations. So, from the perspective of the church, what is the mission? 

To put it simply, the mission of the church is God’s mission. The idea of mission comes from the Latin term, missio Dei, which is a theological term translated “mission of God” or “sending God.” 

Using missio Dei, God’s mission, as a foundation, David Bosch believed that mission was an attribute of God more than an activity of the church. He said God was a sending God. Jurgen Moltmann believed the same. He stated that God’s mission included the church. He wrote, “It is not the church that has a mission of salvation to fulfill in the world; it is the mission of the Son and the Spirit through the Father that includes the church.” 

The Old Testament on Mission

There are numerous scriptures, in both the Old and New Testaments, that name and give support to God’s mission. In the Old Testament there are scriptures like Isaiah 6:8, “Then I heard the voice of the Lord saying, “Whom shall I send, and who will go for us?” And I said, “Here am I; send me!” and Micah 6:8, “He has told you, O mortal, what is good, and what does the Lord require of you but to do justice and to love kindness and to walk humbly with your God?” 

The New Testament on Mission

In the New Testament there are scriptures like Luke 10:1-11, “After this the Lord appointed seventy-two] others and sent them on ahead of him in pairs to every town and place where he himself intended to go…” Mark 16:15, “And he said to them, “Go into all the world and proclaim the good news to the whole creation” and Acts 1:8, “But you will receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you, and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem, in all Judea and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth.” These scripture references are focused upon God’s mission in the world that includes the church. 

With God’s mission for the church in mind, let’s look at a scripture that is accepted as a definition of 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 

Matthew’s mission was to let people know that God sent Jesus to teach us how to live a holy life. At times he called it “righteousness,” at other times, “holiness,” and once he called it “perfect,” as in “Be perfect, therefore, as your heavenly Father is perfect” (Matthew 5:48). From Matthew’s perspective, God sent Jesus to teach us how to live the life God created us to live. 

Set-Apart Life

For Matthew, being a follower of Jesus means you are “set apart” in your living.  You live differently because you see the world (your families, enemies, communities, etc.) and the people of the world differently. You love differently, relate differently, and interact differently because your orientation is different. As a follower of Jesus, you have been created by God, set apart, to live and love differently. 

So, the scripture for today is Matthew’s way of telling his followers how to live this set-apart life. Jesus is sending his followers out to love others into being his followers.  Now, before looking at this particular scripture, let’s look at the other gospels for similar themes. 

Loving Others

Although the context is different, John talks about the set-apart life, as loving others as God in Jesus has loved. John writes, “God is love.”  Jesus says, “…love one another as I have loved you” (John 15:12).  By this everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another.” (John 13:35). In other words, the holy life is to love as you have been loved by God. Holiness is to live and love as God has created you to live and love. 

Power to Witness

For Luke, the set-apart life is to receive power to witness beyond the barriers of race, gender, nationality, economic status, etc. In other words, God has provided what is needed to love and include all people in God’s love and community. You are sent out into the world, the community, to live and love as God has created you to live and love, empowered by God’s spirit.    

Love is the Center of a Set-Apart Life

At the very heart of the set-apart life is love, God’s love. The word used for God’s love is “agape.” This love grows out of the will to love. The will to love is not based upon feelings or emotion but upon the conscious and intentional decision to love as you have been loved by God. Love is an action rather than a feeling. So, the set-apart life is seen in your intentional actions of loving others as you have been loved. 

Wesley on Perfection

John Wesley understood this set apart life as Christian perfection. He wrote in his sermon “On Perfection,” “This is the sum of Christian perfection: It is all comprised in that one word, love.” 

So, the mission of the church, according to Matthew, is that wherever you go, love others as you have been loved, 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 into being followers of Jesus. 

In “What is Mission Part 2” we will take a deeper dive into Matthew’s mission for the church. Until then, your mission is to love others, wherever you are and in whatever circumstances, the way you have been loved by God in Jesus. 

Respond 

Even though Matthew does not use the word love, love goes to the heart of God’s mission, which is the very nature and purpose of the church. So, a working definition of mission for the church is a community of God’s people that defines itself, and organizes its life around, its purpose of being an agent of God’s love in the world. 

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 the true church. 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, 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.

Practice loving others as you have been loved. Keep in mind that you get to work for the well-being of those who might not think or act the way you do, those who are your neighbors as well as your enemies, and your family and friends.  

Practice receiving God’s love as you let others care for you in ways that allow them to be who God created them to be.

As you experience God’s love, you have the responsibility to share God’s love. Remember, love is not a soft, delicate, emotional gift, but the most healthy, transformative gift of all gifts. 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. 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? 


Distrust has become a serious problem in our culture. Watch any news program, peruse any social media platform, and you will become aware of the distrust that is informing our thinking and behavior. The lack of trust has become so serious that it now shapes the way we interact with one another in our communities and in the church.

Distrust’s Impact on Communities and the Church

Distrust has become such a problem that we treat people outside our circles with so much suspicion that our circles of trust are getting smaller and smaller. It is undermining the very foundations upon which we build relationships. It is destroying friendships and is causing psychological harm.

Statistics on Trust: A Troubling Decline

Kevin Vallier, Trust in a Polarized Age, points out that there has been a 40% decrease in trust in 50 years. In the late 1960s, half of the people in the United States said that most people could be trusted. Today it is less than a third. In the 1960s over 70 percent of Americans said they trusted the government most of the time. That number has collapsed to below 20 percent today. Even politicians don’t trust each other. Whether Republican or Democrat, 70 percent of both groups said they distrusted anyone who voted for the opposing candidate.

Root Causes of Distrust

The major underlying factors seem to be administrative policy, attitude, and control. We have become suspicious of anyone and anything we cannot control. Leaders are looked upon with suspicion, distrust, and fear because of the confusing cries of assumed theological and doctrinal changes.

At the very heart of distrust is the fear that we have placed our faith in the wrong place or person, revealing we are unsure of the grounding of our faith. As a result, our trust in God, God’s truth, and each other has broken down even while we deny it has happened. Distrust is seen in our fear of being hurt, misled, or looking silly.

Biblical Insights on Distrust: Genesis 3:1-7

There is a story in the scripture that gives insight to the distrust so prevalent in our culture today.

Read: Genesis 3:1-7

Now the serpent was more crafty than any other wild animal that the Lord God had made. He said to the woman, “Did God say, ‘You shall not eat from any tree in the garden’?” The woman said to the serpent, “We may eat of the fruit of the trees in the garden,but God said, ‘You shall not eat of the fruit of the tree that is in the middle of the garden, nor shall you touch it, or you shall die.’” But the serpent said to the woman, “You will not die, for God knows that when you eat of it your eyes will be opened, and you will be like God, knowing good and evil.” So, when the woman saw that the tree was good for food and that it was a delight to the eyes and that the tree was to be desired to make one wise, she took off its fruit and ate, and she also gave some to her husband, who was with her, and he ate. Then the eyes of both were opened, and they knew that they were naked, and they sewed fig leaves together and made loincloths for themselves.

Understanding the Origin of Distrust in the Scripture

Having set the experiment of joy into action, God showed the man and woman how things were meant to be in the garden. God said they were free to eat the fruit from all the trees of the garden except one tree. It was the tree of Knowledge of Good and Evil. God said the fruit of that tree was poisonous to their systems. It was placed there to serve a religious purpose rather than a nutritional purpose. 

God was pleased and saw that it was good. It was at that point the snake entered the picture. The snake addressing the woman asked, “Did God put you in the beautiful place and then prohibit you from eating all this fruit?” Notice the overstatement and false characterization. 

The woman replied, “Oh no. We can eat everything in the garden except this one tree. God said it is poisonous to us.” 

The snake shook his head and said, “That old scoundrel. God is threatened by you. God knows that if you eat that fruit, you will be like God. You know God cannot stand that. You were created to feed God’s ego. Holding you down builds God up. If you know what is good for you, you will call God’s bluff. You will eat the fruit and take over this place.”

Carelessness Brought Devastating Results

That one conversation put creation into a whole different light. There was no indication that such suspicion had ever entered their minds. There was no evidence for such an attitude of mistrust. Nothing up to that point had God done to give the humans reason to believe the snake’s accusations. So, without checking things out or going to the source trying to get the truth of the situation, the first humans bought into that unfounded suspicion. For no good reason, they embraced the rumor and began to act as if it contained the truth about God. Such carelessness brought about devastating results. 

That is the point of this story. Our forebears took the word of a snake over the word of God the creator when it came to interpreting life. Because of their carelessness, the world became a conspiracy rather than a creation of joy. God became a foe rather than a caring parent of love. This is the story that explains why we humans continue to take life apart and try to put it back together in ways that do not work. 

Culture of Distrust

The first humans drank the poison and got sick. That is how God got a bad reputation. It is based upon a flimsy accusation along with some sloppy careless assumption work. We humans, to this day, continue to build our assumptions in the same way. We have created a culture of distrust.

I confess that my earliest impressions of God were negative. I thought if I became a Christian, I would be giving up all the fun things in life. In my earliest impressions of God, I was convinced that if I did not live a certain way, God would send me to hell. The result was that I attempted to change my behavior, but my heart remained unchanged. Deep within, God suffered from bad press. I developed a culture of distrust in my heart.

So, how has God responded to our careless attitudes and distrust? Did God blow up in rage? Did God become defensive or strike back? Was God revengeful? No. The single most creative thing God could have done is heard in the words of Paul to the Romans, “God did not spare his own son but gave him us for us all,” It is while we are yet sinners, missing the point of God’s love and joy for us, that Christ died for us. It is in the midst of distrust that God’s love comes to us with its greatest force.

Reshaping Assumptions and Attitudes through Jesus

My assumptions were reshaped, and my attitude changed when I encountered God in and through Jesus. John Killinger said, “Jesus is God’s way of getting rid of a bad reputation.” In Jesus, I began to see and understand God’s love for us and God’s joy in sharing creation with us. It was over and against this confusion and suspicion, that God sent Jesus so we could see what God looked like in history and understand what God looks like every day. 

Can you trust a God like you see in Jesus? If so, will you let Jesus reshape your assumptions about God and your distrust of the people you encounter each day? To put it another way, are you willing to take the action of God, in Jesus, seriously enough to let it do its work in you? Will you allow the image of Jesus to penetrate your distrust so your attitudes will change? 

When you are shaping your assumptions about God, politics, race, gender, health care, etc., will you do it carefully and realistically? 

Jesus is God’s way of getting rid of a bad reputation. Will you let God do his redemptive work in you?  

Respond 

How do you respond to the distrust permeating our culture and church? Be a healthy, courageous, and competent Christ-centered leader who will encourage and sustain diverse conversations and communities. Be a trustworthy leader who will create environments of trust where promises are kept, and people feel safe to engage in conversation regarding faith, hope, and the future. 

In this time of polarization and distrust, model your commitment to be a follower of Jesus. Sit down across the table with those with whom you disagree. Drink coffee, tea, or Diet Coke with one another. Even though there might be disagreements, help people be encouraged and supported by the love and peace we know in Jesus. Be a model for the community of Jesus followers who are the evidence of God’s love and wisdom. 

Cultivating Trust in the Role of a Leader

So, as a Christ-centered leader, create a space, an attitude, a lifestyle where honest disagreement in love and care can take place. The writer of James said it this way, “First, it is pure, and then peaceful, gentle, obedient, filled with mercy and good actions, fair, and genuine. Those who make peace sow the seeds of justice by their peaceful acts” (James 3:13-18). 

As a follower of Jesus and a leader, you are called to cultivate trust. Promoting trust and stopping the constant decline into distrust is not easy. It will require critical reasoning and judgment. You are leading with love, just as Paul wrote to the Corinthians, “For love bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, and endures all things” (1 Corinthians 13:7). 

Model God’s redemptive work taking place in your life so that those around you will learn to trust God and God’s love for themselves and for others.    

Return: Giving Thanks

Give God thanks for the day and for the people you met and encountered today? In whom did you encounter God? How did you show your trust in them? What were your underlying assumptions? How were they formed? With whom do you need to confess your distrust? With whom do you need to celebrate God’s presence and love?  

It is my prayer that you will allow God’s love in Jesus to replace your attitudes of distrust with trust and compassion. Your trust and attitudes shape your leadership. Who you are is how you lead.

Prayer

O God, I am grateful for your grace when it comes to my careless distrust and attitudes toward you and toward the people you send into my life. In Jesus, I have experienced your extravagant love. Again, by your grace, help me let Jesus do his work in me so that I take more seriously the work of building and shaping trust in my life. By your grace, help me become more the person you have created me to be and become a conduit of your love and joy to be people entrusted to my care. I offer myself to you in Jesus. Amen 

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.

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.

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!

Well, we have reached the fifth blog in the series, “Reflections on 50 Years of Ministry.” So, enough is enough. I have been at this work long enough to know that you have been gracious with this old guy. As you might guess, I have more to share. It will come later. You’ll find the previous posts linked at the bottom of this page.

This blog will be in two parts. Part One this week and Part Two, which will conclude the series, will be next week. I am grateful for this opportunity to highlight and emphasize what I have learned to be important for Christ-centered leaders. I hope you have found this helpful and fruitful in leading people to become who God has created them to be.

It Matters Where You Start

One of the major learnings of the past 50 years is “It matters where you start.”  Early in my ministry, I came across a cartoon of a man who is intoxicated. He’s forgotten where he parked his car. He is leaning against a lamppost on a city street. His only hope is to call his wife and to ask her to come and get him.

When he calls, she is disappointed but sympathetic. She asks, “Where are you? I’ll come and pick you up if you can tell me where you are.”

The man looked to find the street name and replied, “I am at the corner of Walk and Don’t Walk.”

If you don’t know where you are when you start, the chances of giving misinformation or moving in the wrong direction are highly possible. It is difficult to get to where you are going if you don’t know and understand your starting place.      

How are you making decisions?

When you, as the leader, make decisions based on reliable information, communication, self-awareness, and examination, you are effective and courageous. When you make decisions based upon incorrect assumptions without research and communication, not understanding why you think and act the way you do, the consequences can be disturbing for you and for the people entrusted to your care.

Where you start makes a difference. All of us have internalized thoughts, behaviors, theologies, and practices that need to be examined and refined, if not transformed. If you start with your assumptions, values, and point of view, you will work to help people see your point and come over to your way of thinking.  If you start from a particular political position like progressive or evangelical, conservative or liberal, traditional or postmodern, you will spend your time and energy trying to get people to see things your way.

Faith or Politics?

Please hear me, I am not questioning your values or your point of view. But in a time when people are confusing Christian faith with political positions, our politics is informing our faith more than our faith in Jesus is informing our politics.   

It shows up in why people attend worship and participate in the life of the church. When you start with how the church can contribute to your professional life and financial success, you spend your time working on your preferences, trying to get what you want to your advantage. 

When you start with your personal preferences, whether theological, political, or social, your preferences are informing your faith more than your faith in Jesus is informing your preferences. 

Start with Jesus 

It matters where you start. When you start with Jesus, your values, point of view, and preferences are shaped by his influence in your living. When you start with Jesus, your values, point of view, and preferences can be transformed. May I say it this way? Your view is not as important as God’s view. Your preferences are not always God’s preferences. As a Christ-centered leader, as a Jesus follower, you start with Jesus. 

To start with Jesus means that Jesus informs who you are, what you say, and how you act. I am sure you are with me at this point.  But, over the years I have learned that people misunderstand what it means to believe, to have faith, or to live their lives in response to God’s love and acceptance.

Dynamic Faith

I have learned that people have replaced dynamic faith with a passive belief in beliefs. They have shifted their starting place from faith in Jesus to a list of what they believe about Jesus. Although the shift seems subtle, it reveals itself in the way people relate to one another. In reality, because of that shift, we are experiencing some painful consequences today. It matters where and in whom you place your faith.

As a child, when I did something to hurt one of my brothers, be disrespectful to my parents, or misbehave in some way, it would upset my mother. She would discipline me and tell me how disappointed she was. After a little time passed, I would apologize and say, “I love you, Mom.” And she would say, “I love you too. But, if you really love me, show me in the way you behave.”

Live What You Believe

Here is the key to believing. You show what you believe in the way you live your life. Think of it this way, when you say, “I believe in Jesus,” you are saying that you not only believe in the existence of Jesus, but that you trust and obey Jesus to be the leader of your life and living.

What you believe is important and reciting and remembering what you believe with creeds like the Apostle’s Creed, or the Nicene Creed are helpful in keeping you focused. But believing in Jesus is more than a belief system or adopting a creed. There is a danger of allowing what you believe to become passive. Passiveness creeps in when believing becomes intellectual acceptance. Again, hear me. I am not questioning your intentions, but when you take believing and make it a static list of propositions you are no longer talking about faith in Jesus. Your list of beliefs becomes your object of faith.

In the scripture, the word for believe and the word for faith come from the same word. To believe is to have faith. To believe Jesus, to have faith in Jesus, is to trust and obey Jesus. 

John Hendrick, in his book, Opening The Door Of Faith, defines Christian faith as a personal, relational, centered, response involving trust and obedience.

Christian faith is: 

Centered

Centered because it has a particular object. According to the scriptures, the object of Christian faith is the living God revealed in Jesus, whom we call the Christ, Messiah, Son of the living God.  This means that Christian faith is not faith in general. It is not a philosophy of life about which we speculate. It is not a system of ethical ideals about which we may argue. It is not the object of a set of doctrinal beliefs to which we might agree.   

Jesus says, “I am the way the truth and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me.” The implication is, if you have seen Jesus, you have seen God. Jesus is the way to understand the way, the truth, and life of God. 

Personal

Personal first because it is centered in a person, a living person, Jesus. The resurrection is true. It is not merely an event that happened over two thousand years ago. It means that Jesus is alive right now Second because it requires a personal response. Each person must own faith in Jesus for themselves. 

Jesus says, “If you have seen me, you have seen the Father.” The implication is, in Jesus you and I can see who God is and what God is like. 

Relational

Relational first because it makes possible a right relationship with God. Second, because it properly relates you to your neighbor. You cannot be properly related to God and improperly related to your neighbor. And third because it establishes a right 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.

Trust and Obedience

A response involving trust and obedience.  Life is transformed by God’s love in and through Jesus. Your response to God’s love is a response of faith seen in your trust of God and in your relationship with the people you encounter each day.

The Foundation of Faith   

The foundation of faith is not based upon your feelings toward God or upon what you have done for others as much as it is upon what God feels toward you and what God has done on your behalf.  The foundation of faith is not about your promise to God as much as God’s promises to you. Your commitment is a response to God’s commitment. It is a response that involves your whole being: heart, soul, mind, strength, and will.   

So, it matters where you start. The question is this: do you start with a list of beliefs of what you are supposed to believe, or do you start with Jesus, the presence of the living God? Let me say it again, starting with Jesus means there is a dynamic transformation that shows up in your relationships in the places you live, work, and play. Starting with Jesus means life changes as you trust and obey.

I want to love Jesus, but…

One of the writers who has influenced my ministry over the years is Henri Nouwen. In his reflection on the story of Nicodemus and the words “you must be born from above” (John 3:7), he wrote,

“I love Jesus but want to hold on to my own friends even when they do not lead me closer to Jesus. I love Jesus but want to hold on to my own independence even when that independence brings me no real freedom. I love Jesus but do not want to lose the respect of my professional colleagues, even though I know that their respect does not make me grow spiritually. I love Jesus but do not want to give up my writing plans, travel plans, and speaking plans, even when these plans are often more to my glory than to the glory of God.”

Nouwen realized that he wasn’t all that different from Nicodemus. He wrote, “So I am like Nicodemus, who came by night, and said safe things about Jesus to his colleagues.”

It matters where you start. And if you start with keeping Jesus at a distance and controlling your beliefs, whether focused upon him or not, there will be little or no transformation and little or no quality leadership.

Sharing the Love of God

It matters where you start. Tom Long, while teaching homiletics at Princeton Theological Seminary, attended a nearby Presbyterian church that prided itself on being an academic, intellectual church. He said early on he went to a family night supper and sat down next to a man, introduced himself, told the man he was new, and asked, “Have you been here long?”

The man replied, “Oh yes. In fact, I was here before this became such a scholarly church. I am probably the only non-intellectual left. I haven’t understood a sermon in over 25 years.”

Tom asked, “Then why do you keep coming?”

“Because every Monday night a group of us get in the church van and drive over to the youth correctional center. Sometimes we play basketball or play other games with the kids. Usually, we share a Bible story. But mostly we just get to know these kids and listen to them.

“I started going because Christians are supposed to do those kinds of things. But now I could never stop. Sharing the love of God at that youth center has changed my life.”

Then the man said, “You cannot prove the promises of God in advance, but if you live them, they’re true, every one of them.”

Over my 50 years of ministry, I have learned that it matters where you start. So, when you say you believe in Jesus is it intellectual acceptance or a response of trust and obedience?  Only you know. 

Part Two of “It matters where you start” comes next week. Until then, know that I am praying that you always start with Jesus and, as a Christ centered leader, who you are is how you lead.

Other Posts in the Series, Reflections on 50 Years of Ministry: