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rocking chairIf your church is putting the Boomers out to pasture, you are making a big mistake!

Yes, I am one of the oldest Boomers, and I’d like at least to speak out for almost forty million Boomers born in the first half of the Boomer years (1946-1955), and what I say is probably true for the other 40 million born in the last half of the Boomer cycle (1956-1964).  Almost eighty million Boomers!

Here’s how you will know if your church is putting Boomers out to pasture:

  • You move your preaching minister out at age 59 for someone younger to attract a younger demographic.
  • You decide to disregard the preferred worship styles of everyone over 50.
  • No one over 50 teaches anyone younger than 50 in your educational program.
  • Your “senior” ministry is mostly eating and social activities, carrying for the sick and home-bound, and singing “foot-stomping” gospel songs.

 One out of every four persons in the United States is a Boomer!  And the percentage in your church is probably much higher because the Boomers, though some wandered off momentarily during the 60s,  returned to their churches shortly thereafter and have been faithful, though less traditional than their parents ever since.  Can you really afford to dismiss one out four people in the general population?

Another reason not to dismiss the Boomers is because they aren’t going to quit working! Sixty-seven percent say they are either delaying retirement or will never retire!  Every church longs for more involvement and investment of time by its members. Who has more time?  The younger dads and moms with three kids under 12, trying to grow their career and their family?  The parents of teenagers, trying to both work while running between school activities and ball games?  Or the empty-nester Boomers?

Here’s another reason not to ignore your Boomers:  “The typical U.S. household headed by a person age 65 or older has a net worth 47 times greater than a household headed by someone under 35, according to an analysis of census data released Monday” (Pew Research Center 2011).   Another source cited, “Baby boomers control over 80% of personal financial assets and more than half of all consumer spending.”

So let’s talk about who gives!  And let’s talk about who will continue to give over the next 10-20 years!  According to the Convio study (2010), the average Boomer contributes $901 per year, whereas a Gen Xer gives $796, and a Gen Yer  $341 per year.  Even though the individual difference between the Boomer and GenXer is not amazingly large, when you multiply that difference by the difference in group numbers, it makes a big difference! The annual total for Boomers is 47.1 billion compared to $28.68 billion for GenXers.

What I’m saying is that if you are already dismissing the Boomers, putting them out to pasture, then you are ignoring or retiring the most numerous and the most charitable people in your church, and those who have the most disposable time!

These are likely people who invented the word anti-establishment but who are probably still loyal to their tribe!  Also, while being very sympathetic and eager to support the social justice causes about which their children care so deeply, the Boomers are still evangelistic and understand the need to carry the Gospel in word as well as deed.

Every generation has to pass the torch of leadership.  Boomers will continue to be available for service, for leadership, and for active, meaningful participation in their church for twenty more years—and that’s a good thing!

Younger church leaders would do well to capitalize on this demographic in their churches, not caricature it!   

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In 2005, Steve McCranie published a book called Love Jesus, Hate Church in which he addressed one of the most common manifestations of modern American Christianity. More than three out of five Americans identify themselves as being Christians, but over 40% of us don’t go to church more than once a year.

One Barna survey states that almost forty percent of unchurched Americans don’t go because they have had painful experiences with church or with church people.

Do you recognize any of these comments, all taken from articles about loving Jesus and hating church?

  • “You certainly don’t have to be a church member to go to heaven.”
  • “I like to express my faith through my hands,”
  • “I felt there was hypocrisy in the church, and I felt if I kept going, I would be a hypocrite.”
  • “If the church doesn’t meet my needs, I’m going to stop going.”
  • “Christians get on my nerves.”
  • “So much of American religion today is therapeutic in approach, focused on things you want to fix in your life. The one-to-one approach is more attractive. People don’t go to institutions to fix their problems.”

Having easily recognized the world we live in today, dare we ask if Jesus would go to church today?

Jesus didn’t have church, but he did have synagogue—not that much different!  Synagogues were places of assembly, probably begun during the Jewish Babylonian captivity after the destruction of Solomon’s temple. Synagogues were places for prayer and worship, for study of Torah, and for fellowship. As they evolved, they took on greater social and political roles, so that they were the basic organizational institution in Israel during the time of Jesus.

All of the gospel writers mention Jesus and the synagogue, so we have lots of material with which to work. Here’s what Jesus and they say about synagogues in the first century:

  • Synagogues were full of hypocrites, some who blew trumpets so all would know when they donated to the poor, and others made a huge show at synagogue when they prayed in public (Matthew 6:2,5)
  • Synagogues had good people flogged for breaking their rules (Matthew 10:17).
  • Synagogues had special places of honor for the “better” people (Matthew 23:6)
  • Synagogues were the home of special parties of Jews, like the Pharisees (Luke 11:43)
  • Synagogues had the authority to excommunicate those who did not conform to their understanding of God’s Will (John 9:22)
  • Synagogues were often organized around racial, national, or social distinctions (Acts 6:9).

This sounds pretty much like church to me!

Yet, here is what the writers recorded about Jesus and the synagogue:

  • Jesus went through all the towns and villages, teaching in their synagogues, throughout Galilee, teaching in their synagogues, proclaiming the good news of the kingdom, and healing every disease and sickness among the people (Matthew 4:3)
  • Jesus went through all the towns and villages, teaching in their synagogues (Matthew 9:35)
  • Coming to his hometown, he began teaching the people in their synagogue (Matthew 13:54).
  •  and on the Sabbath day he went into the synagogue, as was his custom (Luke 4:16)
  • And he kept on preaching in the synagogues of Judea (Luke 4:44)

Some would wish that Jesus had abandoned synagogues and started house churches with no rulers and no rules and no entanglements and not many obligations.

Some would wish that Jesus had only assembled with good people, preferably those that he liked to hang out with.

Some would wish him to just continue teaching by the sea or on the mountain, just anywhere in nature!  And he should only tell stories—and don’t draw conclusions—and keep them short.

Some would wish him to just stay at home in Nazareth and let anyone who wants to know what he teaches come to him.  If they wanted to start their own Facebook fan page, that’s OK, just keep it to virtual meetings.

Some just want to get a podcast of his sermons whenever they want to listen—that’s all.

I have no doubt that Jesus would be at church every Sunday! He would be teaching, healing, praying, loving people, and praising God!

STOP!

Wait a minute!

Jesus IS at church every Sunday!

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My dad bought me my first camera in 1956. It was a Kodak Brownie—very simple point and shoot. No flash! I took it to a TCU football game to watch Jack Spikes play. Later, I became the school photographer at Fort Worth Christian, so most of the snapshots in the 1962-65 yearbooks, I took.  Those pictures were taken with my dad’s Yashica camera, but all of them were on Kodak films.

Kodak has been as American as apple pie and Chevrolet—but Kodak is almost gone.

I recently read a very interesting article called “A Century On Film: How Kodak Succumbed To the Digital Age” by Ulrich Fichtner in Spiegel Online International.

In his article Fichtner shows how Kodak grew to be synonymous with the film industry over 132 years, how all of the Oscars from 1928 to 2008 were shot on Kodak film. In the 1970s, Kodak was making 90% of all of the U.S.’s film and 85% of the cameras.  In 1975, it was Kodak who developed the world’s first digital camera.

But around 1980, one of their own vice-presidents reported to the company that unless they made fundamental changes within about thirty years, everything that Kodak was doing would become obsolete and Kodak would be in danger of failing as a business.  That report must have sounded like words from another planet since the company was dominating, hugely profitable, and still growing.

Kodak never found its way into the digital age. The company tried out cheap digital cameras, making digital printers, apparently even thought about making wallpaper and sandpaper—since they were primarily a chemical company, but nothing really worked for them.

The author of this article then writes a very telltale sentence: Rochester was gripped by an understandable but still fatal attitude: They had given the world pictures from the surface of the moon, they reasoned, so someone else could give it wallpaper.”

I’m reminded of the Churches of Christ in the 1950s and 60s—the one that so many of our current elders and the most respected of our opinion leaders grew up in.  It was a booming religious group. We passed among ourselves statistics that described us as the fastest growing church in the United States. We were among the first groups into war-torn Europe, one of the last out of Saigon. Our Christian colleges had Olympic athletes, and we even had movie stars like Pat Boone who wouldn’t kiss anyone on screen! Those were glory years!

The last twenty years don’t feel like glory years to me. We feel more like a group trying to re-invent itself, searching for something new that will make us relevant.  We tried to become charismatic for a while, but we apparently are too Lockian for that movement to transform us. We have tried and succeeded in joining the worship wars, with some of our best churches even turning instrumental as the key to the future.  Others of our fellowship are abandoning evangelism in favor of redeeming the poor and destitute of this world—a false dichotomy in my view!  Our attempts to re-invent ourselves seem pretty ineffective.

Are we having a bad Kodak moment?  Kodak has not been able to come up with a radical enough solution, so they have now gone into bankruptcy and survive only as a shadow of their former greatness.

The Church is not Eastman Kodak.  While Kodak founder George Eastman shot himself in the head in 1932, the founder of the Church is still very much alive!  Resurrection is crucial to His story and, therefore, should be to ours as well.

You probably don’t like it that I have jumped from talking about the Church of Christ to talking about Christ’s church—but I did that quite intentionally.

Our historical position—and that of our founder as well—is that there is only One Church!  I believe Churches of Christ gave that theological position up sometime in the 1970s. We decided that we were just another denomination, something much less than what we had believed ourselves to have been.

I know why we gave up our claim of singularity! We had been much too exclusive in our claims, thinking that the sign above the door and the mode of baptism—but especially our worship—made us so right that we were the only members of the church of Christ.  Most of us, however, since then have repented of our proud self-righteousness which was our sin.

In our sack cloth and ashes, we, however, have mistakenly diminished His Church! In spite of our prideful abuse of the truth, the gates of hell still have not prevailed against the Church of God! And they never will!

Rather than re-invent the Church of Christ, perhaps we need to rediscover the Church of Christ—the only Body of Christ, the beautiful Bride of Christ. This is the community of faith that is undefeatable, that does not grow weary—and there is only One Body, One Church because there is only One Lord and One God and Father of us all!

Kodak may disappear, but the Church—the only one to which you and I truly belong—will never die!

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I have a feeling that many, if not most Christians do not plan to go to church on Sundays when they are traveling. Sometimes we haven’t, but most of the time we try to and I’d like to tell you why.

First, why don’t Christians go to church when they travel? Here are my top ten reasons:

  1. Don’t want to take the time away from travel, sightseeing, or relaxing.
  2. Don’t want to take the time to find a church.
  3. May not like the church you find, so then you will have wasted two hours.
  4. Don’t want to take Sunday clothes.
  5. Don’t like going to church with people you don’t know.
  6. You might bump into teaching, worship, or something that makes you uncomfortable!
  7. You might get invited to lunch or something else that would just take up more time.
  8. They might expect you to come to Sunday night or Wednesday night services and that would just be more time out of your schedule.
  9. They might not have anything for the children and we’d just have the kids on our laps for the whole time!
  10. It is not a salvation issue, so why should we?

As I said, we have used some of these excuses ourselves over the years, but we have also been blessed many, many times by finding a church and breaking bread with Christians on Sundays. Maybe I can give you some hints that will encourage you to look for these blessings as well!

  1. If it is part of your travel plan, then you are more likely to follow through. If you don’t plan to find an assembly of saints on Sunday, then you will not. Write it in to your travel itinerary from the beginning—just like tithing from the first fruits.
  2. Do a little research about the available churches. On a recent trip, I spent no more than thirty minutes on the internet, looking for churches of Christ in an unfamiliar city. I looked for things like location and time of services.  If churches are too far away or they start too early or late, then I look for alternatives. These are not deciding factors, but not unimportant.
  3. Try to learn the intangibles from the website.  Is this an open church or pretty closed? Is this a church involved outside of itself? Does this church have only traditional worship?  Almost all of these questions can be answered by looking at a church’s website.  If the church doesn’t have a website—well, that says a lot right there.
  4. Arrive at least 5-10 minutes before services begin, so you can meet a few people. Not only will you meet some nice people, but you will likely find a connection with some church or some person that you both know.  We recently went to church in Savannah, GA that was completely new to us. We didn’t find any relatives, but we did find out that the preacher was a cousin of a missionary that we had worked with in Kiev, Ukraine!
  5. Expect to give, not just to receive.  I find more and more truth in Jesus’ saying that it is more blessed to give than to receive. When we give concern, friendship, our fellowship in communion, our common worship, prayer, then we are blessed! If we attend only to receive, we can still be blessed, but maybe not as much!
  6. Communion is too important to miss! If Jesus thought that breaking bread was important, then….it doesn’t really make any difference what I think.  I must need that fellowship and koinonia often!  We always look for an opportunity to break bread with Christians!
  7. Worshipping with other Christians teaches us the breadth of God’s kingdom. Not every church building, not every worship style, not every sermon has to be the all-time best or even as good as the ones at home.  Being gracious is being Godly!

And your children will only complain about it if you do!  Spending that time with Christians on Sunday is a great discipline for teaching children to put God first—before vacations, before sleeping late, really FIRST!  And that is worth a lot!

Sometimes it just doesn’t work out—we used to call this being “providentially hindered!”  Sometimes we have to miss meals, and  sometimes we have to miss sleep, but we are healthier and feel better if we don’t.

Don’t miss the spiritual feast awaiting you when you travel!

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I regret that some people think that I have a low opinion of the church. I assume they think that because I have said that we as a fellowship could fulfill the Great Commission better by doing a number of things differently than the way we have done them.  I respectfully disagree with them and want briefly to show you why I think I have a higher opinion of the church perhaps than even those critics.

The church of Christ

In a recent conversation, a group of mission committee members were wrestling with the fact that several of their members had become full-time foreign missionaries without actually being a part of the mission budget of the church.  Many individuals of that congregation were supporting these member-missionaries privately, giving their money directly instead of to their local church. In this particular case, the church mission budget also contributes to these missionaries, so the mission committee certainly approves of and encourages these member-missionaries, even treating them like their own missionaries to a great extent, but still the committee wrestles with the feelings that somehow the individual supporters were bypassing the church’s system and the money given outside of the church contribution was in competition or lost to the church.

Many years ago, Sherrylee and I were new members of a congregation and were looking for something we could do. Sherrylee decided to start a young mother’s class in homes during the week, which met a great need and took off like a rocket.  Several months after this class had begun, one of the elders of the congregation came to Sherrylee privately and began apologizing! He said he wanted to apologize to her for the fact that the church leaders should have recognized this need among young mothers in the church and should have begun this class.  He went on to say how appreciative he was that Sherrylee had taken the initiative to start the class, but now the elders would like to assume responsibility for it and let the staff be responsible for it.

It was all kindly said and well-intentioned—but it broke Sherrylee’s heart because she had seen a need and invested herself in meeting that need, only to have it taken from her and absorbed into the official program of the church.

I believe the church is much more than the official programs of elders, deacons, and ministers. Why aren’t all the activities of the members, done in the name of Jesus the work of the church?  Are we sometimes guilty of thinking that if it is not a budget item, it is not really a work of this local church?

Sherrylee and I have fought for years—usually unsuccessfully—to keep people from describing Let’s Start Talking as a parachurch ministry.  By this, they mean an organization other than the church that is doing work similar to what the real churches do. So what’s wrong with this designation?

We have always argued that everyone involved in LST is a Christian and a member of a local church, so we are also church—not something other than church.  For most of our 31-year history, LST has been officially under an eldership. Only in the last few years was the ministry organized under a board of Christians as opposed to an eldership, mostly because of the size of our budget and because of Internal Revenue Service’s rules.  Still, we are doing everything we do as a ministry to advance the kingdom of God and to help people go into all the world. We are acting as members of God’s church—not as anything other than the church!

So I want to argue that I have a very high view of church and that those who misunderstand this may be locked into a view of church that is defined by bricks and mortar and by staffs, committees, and budgets.

Open the doors of our churches! Empower all members to initiate, to search for areas of service, to solicit others to join them in good works that advance the Kingdom of God!

I am not saying that we should do away with our collective works, but church leaders need to be careful about hearing their top-level decisions as the entire voice of the church.  Everywhere we go, we hear of churches working on getting their members to be externally focused! Congratulations to those churches that succeed in this worthy goal without it being controlled from the board room!

I love God’s church! 

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Fifth in Guest Series by Tim Spivey, senior minister of New Vantage Church (San Diego, CA)

It’s one of the most frustrating things in the world to have a deep passion for something and not be able to get leadership to care much or embrace it. Few places have I seen this frustration more common or misunderstood than when it comes to global evangelism. When you meet resistance proposing something to church leaders, it isn’t typically because they hate ministry or people or they want to be frustrating. The resistance you face is often based on stuff under the surface. Everything below is a generalization. However, if you are meeting resistance, some of these attitudes may be in play. Let the generalizations begin :)

In general, elders tend to fear conflict, ministers tend to fear failure. Church members tend to feel like the church is overstaffed and spends too much money on themselves. The minister feels like the church is under-staffed and under-resourced. None of this makes for easy persuasion or full buy-in from leadership.

If it were me, I would focus on getting the preacher on board first. Preachers tend to me more open to new initiatives and they know how to get the elders on board. Like it or not, they are also usually the functional leader of the church by virtue of having high visibility and an open mic for 30 minutes every Sunday. Some will disagree with this…but without the preacher’s support a ministry will have about half the octane it could have otherwise. The good news is that most preachers don’t know they have the power they have…and tend to care more about ministry than power-brokering anyways. However, when you propose something new, or want to go to the “next level” in global missions (or anything else), here are:

5 Things Your Preacher Won’t Tell You He’s Thinking (Some are reasonable, some aren’t)

  • “I think you might pitch the idea, and leave me with the workload.” Create a ministry that requires little more than vision-casting and cheerleading from him. Preachers enjoy these and do them well.
  • “I think you might blame me and the elders if it doesn’t work.” If it doesn’t work, don’t blame them.
  • “I think this will mean less money and human resources to carry out the work of the local church.” Most churches actually drastically underfund local ministry. I would recommend finding ways to get the job done without pulling additional funds out of local ministry. I would also find ways for the missions ministry to add value to the whole life of the Body…not silo itself.
  • “I need you to help me understand how this works, because people will judge the ministry’s success by the numbers.” This is sad but true. A ministry that doesn’t “work” will hurt credibility for all involved. Have a clear way to measure “success,” even if not by numbers–though numbers matter. Just make it clear.
  • “I’m always looking for new ministries that will work and bless the church, but ending ministries is nearly impossible. Offer to try it as a pilot or experiment, and have a concrete end game in mind.

If you can find a way to put these concerns (many of which are shared by elders) at ease…odds are…you’ll not only get leadership on board–you’ll have real champions for your area of ministry.

 

 

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Fourth in a Guest series by Tim Spivey, senior minister at New Vantage Church (San Diego, CA)

No-silosBuilding on the three previous posts, here are a couple of introductory steps you can take that will help your church more effectively embrace God’s call to global mission:

Seek alignment. Understand the church is like a mobile. Everything is connected, and this is a great blessing. Look at your existing ministries and see how your missions ministry can be properly aligned with what the church is already doing. In some churches, church planting, short-term missions, benevolence, long-term missions, etc. are all very separate ministries with independent objectives and marked territory. For the purposes of involvement perhaps this feels good. However, if ministries are organizationally, strategically and philosophically siloed, it will take twice the money and publicity to achieve half of the results with half of the joy.

“Alignment” means riding the wave of where the church is already going rather than charting your own course. It means building missions ministry around the broader objectives of the church, and with all church ministries in mind. This will not only bring the blessing and support of church leadership to missions more quickly, it will relieve “sideways energy” in the church system that creates a tug of war effect–lots of effort, little movement. If everyone heads in their own directions, the church will stuggle to make progress of any kind. With alignment, forward progress is much easier and results exponentially enhanced.

Here are some steps to this effect:

  • Seek a firm grasp on the mission and vision of the church. Ask, how can we build a missions ministry that affirms and accentuates that vision? If missions becomes a para-church ministry in the church, it will never soar, and those involved in it will find themselves wondering why leadership and the congregation don’t seem to care much about it.
  • Have those who lead ministries in the “externally-focused” areas meet together. Relationships are everything in the church. Knowing one another better and communicating what’s going on will help coordination and make it easier for people to give to one another when necessary down the road. Tomorrow’s post will talk more about the importance of relationships in global missions ministry.
  • Integrate those ministries by choosing to do things together. Could a short-term missions team be sent to build up and encourage your long-term missionaries instead of going to countries that aren’t a part of what the church is already involved in? Could some of the church’s benevolence money go to support the poor overseas? Here’s another one–can the global missions team play a part in helping further the cause of the poor and and reaching the international community around the building through a ministry like Friendspeak?
  • Trade out traditional “mission reports” for storytelling opportunities in sermons, giving time, communion, and other things that weave the narrative of what God is doing globally through all of church life. Consider having one of your missionaries video a communion thought or a brief thank-you for the morning and stream it to the screen. Now they aren’t a visitor from a faraway land. They are part of the church.

Those are just a few possibilities. There are many more. There are two more posts in this series. One with more practical ideas–and one talking about getting leadership on board.

How have you seen partnership between ministries rather than “siloing” pay dividends in furthering God’s mission in the church?

 

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World_face_north_america

Third in a series of guests posts from Tim Spivey, senior minister of New Vintage Church (San Diego, CA).

Today’s post offers some relatively blunt observations regarding the relative strength of a church and it’s ability to be a good “missions church.” I offer these with redemptive intent–wanting churches to become all God wants them to be.

  • My experience is that struggling churches struggle for good reasons. It usually has something to do with leadership issues, and those issues by nature permeate all aspects of the church. It’s important for the sake of missionaries these issues are dealt with. Typically (though not always), churches will do mission work with the same level of health and excellence they do local ministry. Bad local ministry, bad missions ministry. If they don’t show care for what is happening locally, they typically won’t care about what God’s doing half a world away. This is another reason to pay attention to local ministry…it buoys the eventual effectiveness of whatever happens overseas.
  • A lack of well-formed theology and ecclesiology manifests itself in silo thinking. In this mindset, church-planting, benevolence, global missions, local ministry, campus ministry, etc…are all completely different ministries needing their own advocates at the church leadership table. In this way of thinking, each ministry is separate and altogether disconnected. The silo mentality is one of the great enemies of global missions ministry and healthy ministry. The church is a Body, and each part is connected. Both practically and theologically, when all parts are working together for the common good of the Body according to their place, the church grows in unity, vibrancy, and effectiveness. We cannot just report on missions. Biblical teaching on the church, ministry and the nature of evangelism is an important part of becoming a good missions church.
  • Integrated ministry recognizes the symbiotic relationship between all ministries of the church. It leverages the strengths of all for the sake of all. This why effective global mission requires more ingenuity, a strong focus on integration with the ministries of the whole church and less initial funding than one might think.
  • Most churches still view “successful” mission works as those they have supported for many years…regardless of their effectiveness or the real impact of continual support for decades. This way of looking at missions bottlenecks resources at a national level and tends to build co-dependent relationships between congregations and mission points. Relationally, it’s wonderful to continue to support a particular work. However, the relationship can continue regardless of support…as a parent doesn’t cut off relationship with a child once they leave the house. It’s important that mission efforts become self-supporting after some reasonable period of time–for their good and that of the supporting congregation.
  • Here is a difficult one. Struggling churches usually have declining budgets as well. They often will only cut missions as a last resort and will thus kill the proverbial “goose” by first slashing local ministries, cutting salaries, etc. in draconian fashion–which often means more decline, which means less revenue, which means more cuts, etc. This is a noble impulse, but HUGE mistake. Sometimes this must happen–but not usually. More on that in another post. For now, I would recommend cutting what isn’t working wherever it’s located and moving the resources to where the most good for the Kingdom can be accomplished. That’s a delicate process of discernment…but a necessary one.
  • If the “goose” continues to be plucked or starved, at some point, the ministers of the church come to view missions as a competitor rather than an ally in what God’s doing in the church. This is never good…and isn’t necessarily all the minister’s fault. The minister may fear blame for the church’s decline when he or she didn’t have much to do with it–they simply had the ball taken out of their hands. The ministers need to be strong allies in building a vibrant global missions ministry. In fact, I would start building buy-in with them first.

Which brings me to the next posts in this series: Concrete steps to improve both your church and the church’s global mission efforts.

I would enjoy hearing to what extent to you believe world missions is separate or different from other ministries of the church? Why?

 

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Part Two in the guest series by Tim Spivey, Senior Minister of New Vintage Church (San Diego, CA)

 

Step one in becoming a good “missions church” is becoming a good church. I don’t mean churches should take care of themselves first, so to speak. I mean that true global vision emerges from an awareness of what God is doing everyday locally. Good churches have embraced God’s vision for reaching their community through them. This initiates a “flat earth” theology–in which God cares about all people, not just the people in my community. I have yet to see this work in reverse. Churches don’t usually come to believe, “Well if he cares about people in Africa, I bet He may even care about people here in Plano.” It usually goes the opposite way.

Embracing local evangelism is like learning the alphabet when it comes to becoming a globally conscious, “missions church.” If we don’t care about the people next door, we probably don’t care about the lost in Indonesia that much either. I’m not saying we don’t feel guilt about the lost in Indonesia. I’m saying we don’t really care about them the way God would want us to.

I’m defining “good church” (though I prefer “great”) theologically by its faithfulness to Christ and His mission. “Good church” practically means healthy and at least moderately effective in reaching its own community. You don’t have to be big to be a great church. But, being a good church is usually a prerequisite for building a strong missions ministry over time. As I said,  good “missions” churches have what God is doing globally in their DNA and awareness…not just in their budget. Many churches who give a high percentage of money to global missions don’t really care much about it.

Becoming a good “missions church” is actually quite similar to becoming a “good church,” because good churches think globally. Thinking globally, however, doesn’t make you a good church.

When a church is truly struggling, it can be difficult to build enthusiasm for visionary ministry abroad. Why? Sadly, the scarcity mentality embeds itself in the church psyche like a tick. It’s fair to say that sometimes new ventures abroad can defibrillate a dying congregation. Odds are, such ministries will never get the chance. The church can only think of survival. They cannot imagine new initiatives–like a family on the verge of bankruptcy has difficulty envisioning their dream home. If you’re in a church like this, trying to get buy-in from leadership on continuing to grow in global mission will be exhausting and depressing.

So, don’t.

Yet.

A more effective overall approach to the problem is to stay vigilant about local ministry while casting global ministry as akin to it–an extension of it. It’s all evangelism. God cares about all people. Global missions are not more important than local mission. It’s a vital part of being a Kingdom Church. Big difference. A healthy local ministry will allow for the funding, vision and “want to” for new global initiatives. It rarely works in reverse. Maybe it should. But, it usually doesn’t.

Do you agree?

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In exploring the very important question of Christian unity, I keep asking myself how Jesus really wants us to be ONE.  What does this Divine Desire for unity look like in our world?  And what keeps us from achieving this unity?

I fear that one answer to this last question might be that we live in such an individualistic, consumer-oriented society that the right to shop is considered God-given.  I know this from personal experience.

Sherrylee and I have left two churches and thought we might have to leave another. Two of these churches we had a hand in starting and were certainly part of the core group. In the third church we were very common members.

Church number three was a good, traditional church, full of wonderful people; Sherrylee and I were continually irritated, however, by what we thought was a bureaucratic though benevolent leadership and shallow preaching. We left peaceably when the opportunity presented itself to start the perfect church with a like-minded group of friends.

Church number two felt like the perfect church, just what we wanted church to be: close, intimate fellowship, challenging teaching where any question could be raised and seriously addressed, and communal worship that visibly flowed from heart to heart in songs and prayers that felt holy rather than enthusiastic.

In spite of many years in that community of believers, Sherrylee and I left that church because we had lost confidence in their commitment to core Christian beliefs that we held to be essential and because we ourselves had lost the confidence and trust of the church leaders in this tension.

We did not leave the first day we noticed these losses. No, for several years we tried to re-direct and lead the church along a different path, but when we felt we had lost our voice and even the goodwill of the community, we left.

This congregation continues to exist, and I want to be clear that my description of how we believed it was many years ago is not a statement of how the current community is or what they believe and practice.  Neither we nor they were as perfect as we wanted to be!

Church number one is really the one I want to focus on in this post because with this particular group of Christians, I learned lessons that continue to challenge my understanding of Christian unity.

In 1973, Sherrylee and I along with two other couples moved to Hannover, Germany, in order to plant a new church (to use a jargon that belongs to the current generation).  Planting a church is an extraordinary experience that challenges the essence of your faith. It draws on all of your experiences as a Christian as well as all you have learned, and it defies formulas and templates, so you are forced into arenas that you never knew existed.

(Wow! I just realized as I wrote that sentence how attractive that whole list is to me. Makes me want to do it again!)

Here are a few of the lessons I learned in Hannover about church unity

  • We really don’t have an inalienable right to choose with whom we worship. We had one older German couple that were “old German”—meaning that their norms for propriety were from their generation, not those of the younger people in our age group. They were constantly being offended, but they desperately needed the Lord! On many days they were an irritant in our small community of believers—but God had brought them there. We did not have the right to choose to divorce them or ignore them; our only choice was to love them, so we learned to love rather than leave—and became a little more like Jesus because of them.
  • What is “lively” to one person is “deadly” to another even within the same community. The first wave of what we today call praise music was big in the States in the 70s, especially among campus ministries. Since Sherrylee and I had been at Ole Miss prior to going to Germany, we were familiar and in tune with this new music. You can imagine our enthusiasm for translating and introducing it to our fresh, new community in Hannover. What could be livelier?? Except that it was not their music. As in any group, some people liked anything new and different, but others needed the continuity of familiar German hymns. There was no option about having a “worship war,” so we had to learn  not only to respect each other, but to worship together in unity of spirit—and the style became secondary to the love that required.
  • Those least like you may become those most like you. Hannover is in northern Germany which is historically protestant. Southern Germany is much more Roman Catholic. We began our mission in southern Germany, but expected when we moved to Hannover that receptivity would be greater in northern Germany among the protestants with which we had more in common.  We were completely wrong!

What we had yet to learn was that the modern German protestant is far removed from the theology of Luther. In fact, Protestantism in Germany only has vestiges of Christian faith remaining. Most pastors do not believe in the resurrection of the dead, do not believe in eternal life, and do not believe that Jesus is the Son of God. I’m sure there are some clergy who do—and certainly many of their members—but as a whole, we found the protestant church in Germany then to be post-Christian.

You can imagine our surprise as we discovered that we had much more in common with the Catholic church than with the Protestant.  We had been raised to understand Catholics as much farther removed from the presence of God than Protestants. But Catholics firmly believe in the Lordship of Jesus, in his death and resurrection, in eternal life, in the inspired Scriptures, in prayer, communion, baptism, and so much more that we share.

If unity is based at all on likemindedness, if unity is based at all on speaking the same thing, then we had much more unity with Roman Catholics than we had with German Protestants.  In fact, many of those who joined our little community of faith came from Catholic backgrounds and probably joined us, not as a repudiation of their past, but as their own attempt to draw even closer to God.

So, as you can probably tell, I really don’t believe that we have the inalienable right to casually shop!  At best, the opportunity to shop is a luxury of the rich who live among many, many stores!

I do believe that belonging to a community requires commitment and part of every real commitment is being able to trust that you will not abandon those to whom you have committed.

God hates divorce! I believe that He hates that which creates Disunity, that which destroys committed relationships—including church fellowship.

But I’m still working on what that means.  So I’m thankful for His grace and mercy that heals brokenness!

 

 

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