Tuesday, February 22, 2011

Missional is hard, but we can't go back, we won't!

A little setup if I may... We are a missional community that is about five years in the making. When we first began everyone was involved in everything. We were all in the neighborhood and experiencing the new life that is missionary life. It was fun, rewarding and tiring. Then we opened it up and invited new friends to come experience missionary life with us. As they came we began to need to organize and so we brought on some staff (not the staff that you would find at a church but daytime missionaries and people who coordinate our activities). Also, with the advent of new people we began to add new ministry. We 'adopted' apartment complexes and began to focus on those families as our primary mission field. We organized ways to get into relationship with our new neighbors and friends. Our new friends began to be part of our 'community' and we began to numerically grow. You could most visibly see this at our Gathering on Sunday evening where we invited friends and missionaries alike to come and sing and hear teaching that would further 'stir them up to love and good works'.

As we went along the staff began to give reports about the great things God was doing in our midst. We began to get people from neighboring churches and organizations who came and shared the fun caught the vision and went back strengthened and encouraged, many starting their own missional outlets in their denominations and churches. We inspired a couple of groups from other cities to venture out and begin missional life. Several of them are bearing much fruit.

And the neighborhood began changing. People professed faith in Jesus, families restored, addicts set free, jobs found, children went from failing to passing and all the things you would expect God to do as His people are about His mission. But then we began a drift, it's gentle and not overwhelming but we can all feel it. We are beginning to drift back into what we came from... and we don't like it.

We came from environments where the staff and a few members do all the ministry and the rest of us show up to the meetings with our Bible and our checkbooks. We don't want to go back to that.

We came from an environment where missions was something you did once or twice a year and usually in someone else's city or someone else's country. We don't want to go back to that.

We don't want to have to wait on the newsletter to find out what's going on. We want to write the newsletter with our lives.

We don't want God's mission to belong to a special few, the chosen, paid, educated staff. We wanna play too. It's our calling. Jesus told us to go too.

Listen, its hard work and way different from just 'being a faithful church member' to live a missionary lifestyle. You have to stay engaged with your community. You can't expect someone else to do your ministry. You are responsible. People need you. And yes we drift, we get comfortable, we take our eyes of the mission field and sometimes we just want to go to the meeting with our Bible and checkbook and let somebody else do the work.

But we're not going back to that. We're missionaries.


Thursday, February 3, 2011

Experiencing more of the Bible through mission

Gordon Fee wrote a book on hermeneutics (the art and science of Biblical interpretation) called "How to Read the Bible for All its Worth". In it he showed the Bible student how to discover what the first century writer meant by what he said, how to read a passage in its context, etc. etc. When you become a missionary, all those things still apply but we add one that I believe may be more important than them all...

You have to live a Bible passage before you 'get it', I mean really 'get it'.

Our little group consists of a awfully fun bunch of people. Last night for example, one guy was missing a leg, the other missing an arm, two handicapped children, one single father of three (less than a week off of crack), an ex-con waiting a parole transfer to another state as well as ...a surgeon, airline pilot, nurse, schoolteacher, etc... 34 of us in all different situations ...community.

When we meet together we have a meal. As you can guess that burden falls on just a few gals in our group. About half of our group don't have two nickels to rub together and are really making every effort just to survive. So those gals are experiencing missionary life in a really powerful way and consequently get to experience some Bible verses that others of us don't.

For example, In the much abused passage of 2 Cor. 8 (usually wrongly applied to a building campaign, yes I'm guilty) Paul is commending the saints of one city for helping the poor saints of Jerusalem. What made it even more special was that these saints didn't have that much themselves but they were sacrificially giving to help fellow Christians in their time of need. In this passage God tells them, "For I do not mean that others should be eased and you burdened; but by an equality, that now at this time of your abundance also may supply their lack - that there may be an equality." Paul is simply saying "you help them when you can and they need it and they'll do the same for you when they can and you need it." And then he speaks gloriously of the spiritual benefit of this type of giving to your neighbor in need. That it is to be done from the heart of compassion for your poor neighbor, cheerfully or not at all. When it is done from this Spirit-led motivation you will "sow bountifully" and there is a great spiritual reward in so doing.

Our 'food ladies' champion this in our ministry. Week after week they bring while others can't or sometimes just don't. And they do it out of joy and humility. They experience the Bible passage. For many of us, the only time we ever heard that passage was when we were in a building campaign or our annual giving pledges for tithes and offerings neither of which have anything to do with the story from which these spiritual principles are derived.

To experience what it feels like to give to the poor... you have to give to the poor. No, not have your church do it, you do it. No, not give in the benevolence offering, you do it. No, don't give to a local charity that does it (though we'd welcome your gifts :-)), you do it. Only then, can you experience it up close and personal like our girls do. And only then, can you experience the spiritual benefits Paul promises here.

And then there's this: It's a burden, even if you are doing it joyfully. Sometimes you feel like, "Man , we're carrying the freight for a lot of people." The gospel is that Christ carried the freight for us when were were without hope... but it was still freight. Jesus suffered for the "joy that was before Him" but that doesn't minimize the suffering one iota. Yes, the missionary service is service, it is work, it is sacrificial and it is many times without recognition, thanks and sometimes even with a sense of entitlement. That is the suffering that we share when we shoulder the burdens of our brokenness together.

We did have one option... we could've let the rich guys eat first and invite the poor to come later... oh yeah, there is a Bible passage about that too.

I love feeling the weight of the Scriptures administered by the Spirit on our lives as we advance the mission of God. Some Scriptures you'll never understand until you move your life out into the same streets the disciples lived in, helping the same people they helped.

When you do, His Word comes alive and you can finally, Read the Bible for All its Worth.