The Missional Church Movement

“Congregations are increasingly composed of people with little sense of the Christian story.” 
Alan J. Roxburgh
     Increasingly I hear members ask, “Where are our children?” “Where are our grandchildren?” Naturally, the question is asked about senior highs and older children. A lot of them are not in church. They were in Sunday school growing up. They participated in Vacation Bible School most years. Yet, it must not have been enough because today they’re not interested. What went wrong?
     These questions are being asked throughout North American churches of many denominations. Such questions are a central concern for a new movement that is growing with considerable force throughout the larger church – The Missional Church Movement.
     One answer that is emerging from this movement is that, for most families involved in church, church is either a place to be busy doing “church stuff” or a place where we, and our needs, are taken care of. The conclusion of our nearly grown and grown children is that their lives are busy enough without the church adding to their complicated lives. As for us, their needs are a concern, they can be meet in other ways – unfortunately sometimes in ways that are not always healthy. The one thing that would keep our children connected to the church, and with considerable vitality, is a compelling sense that they are a part of the Christian story.
     What gets in the way of this happening is complex – there are many obstacles, many layered upon one another. The largest among them is little evidence that parents are truly discipled – living lives that are ordered around the teachings of Jesus. More of the family financial resources are spent on comforts than used to advance the ministry of the church. Prayers are not a regular part of family life and little care is given to how we speak of others or behave toward them. Simply, our children don’t see transformed lives in their parents.
     Another obstacle is parents who see the church primarily for meeting personal needs. Rather than seeing a passion to reach people who don’t know Christ, our children see parents demanding more for themselves from the church. This reinforces in our children the message from the unchristian culture which is “it is about me!”
     Throughout this year, I will share reflections here in this blog and in our church’s newsmagazine what it means to be a missional church – a church that cares more about being a force for Christ in the community than “taking care of our own.” This doesn’t mean that the needs of the members are not important, only that they are placed in a larger context of lives continually be transformed to be like Christ and moving each member out to be witnesses for Jesus in the world.

The Pastor\’s Primary Role

“The pastor’s primary role is to keep the evangelistic temperature red-hot inside the church.” 
Nelson Searcy
     Nelson Searcy states that organizations of any kind, churches included, tend to become inwardly focused if no one has committed to keeping them outwardly focused. For churches in particular, an inward turning is natural and inevitable as a church’s self-interest work themselves to the forefront. Churches become busy taking care of the staff, ministering to those in the congregation with various needs, meeting the budget, preparing for the weekend and on and on with the consequence that they forget all about “the salvation of John and Joan in the coffee shop down the street.”
     The only hope for the world, writes Bill Hybels, is the local church and the only hope for the local church, states Searcy, is for the pastor to take on their proper leadership role and keep the church focused on reaching others for Jesus. The Bible is very clear: the primary purpose of the faith community, the church, is to reach the world for Jesus Christ.
     Though careful studies now indicate that only about 5% – 10% of church members in any local church have the spiritual gift of evangelism (presenting Jesus to an unbeliever in such a manner that their hearts are open to receiving Jesus as personal savior) all church members have some responsibility for evangelism. Remember, the Bible makes it clear that evangelism that results in disciples for Jesus is the single primary work of the church. Therefore, no one is excused from participating.
     So what are the other 90% – 95% who don’t have the spiritual gift of evangelism to do? As your pastor, I believe there are three things anyone of us can do that will impact our church’s efforts in evangelism. First, look for natural opportunities to talk about your faith with others. Use this template if it will help: My life before becoming a Christian, How I became a Christian and My life after becoming a Christian.
     Second, invite people to church with you. Research now shows that somewhere between 80% and 87% of new believers in Jesus Christ came to faith simply because someone they knew invited them to church. In fact, two people who joined our church this past Sunday specifically told me that they came at the invitation of another member.
     Invite someone to join you on a particular Sunday that you will be present and be clear that they are invited to sit with you. It doesn’t advance the cause of Christ to simply say, “I hope you will come to my church one Sunday.” Nor does it help for you to invite and not be present the Sunday they attend.
     Third, pray for specific people, by name, who you believe does not either believe in Jesus or have a church home. Ask God to work in their heart and through your relationship with them to create a longing for Jesus Christ and desire to learn more of Him through your church.
     I agree with Nelson Searcy, my primary work as your pastor is to keep the evangelistic and discipleship ministry of the church red-hot. Only then will First Presbyterian Church of Delray Beach be found faithful to the command of Christ to make disciples of all nations.

A New Way of Being the Church

“The financial world will continue to change. If you’re staying the course in this new landscape, 
you may be missing out on opportunities and jeopardizing your future. 
Because following the same old path can lead you in the wrong direction.”
Advertisement by BNY MELLON: Wealth Management in 
The New Yorker magazine, March 18th, 2013 issue.
“Nor is it enough to do the work of ministry if what you do is headed in the wrong direction.” 
IVP Praxis Publishing – excerpt from statement of purpose.
     In my early twenties my parents gave me the perfect birthday gift at the time, a state-of-the-art Panasonic Record Player. It was a slim, compact marvel packed with all the latest technology available. My favorite feature was the “electronic eye” that would scan the record, identify the position of each music selection, and then permit the programming of the selections to be played in any order. The feature also permitted the elimination of any selection that I didn’t like!  
     Today, records are difficult to find. The gift is obsolete technology.
     Similarly today, my son has seen the continued technological improvement of his favorite pastime, Nintendo. His first system was many years ago and provided one-dimensional graphics.  Then the N-64 System with three-dimensional graphics and a ton of new features became available. Today, I have simply given up on the name of the new systems he enjoys. I thought Nintendo had reached its apex. I should have known better than to underestimate a profit-driven, ever market-expanding corporation. Now my son wants the latest in video game technology. He can hardly bring himself to play the relic of former days that sits in his bedroom. Nor is there a market for him to sell his old equipment. No one wants it.
     State-of-the-art of yesterday is not state-of-the-art today. The same is true for ministry. What worked yesterday rarely works with the same results today. As popular author and Presbyterian Church leader, Ben Johnson, observes, “No longer can the church bury its head in the sand, pretending that the ‘old ways’ can reach a contemporary generation that does not understand the language of faith.”
     In his brilliant and absorbing book, New Day, New Church, Johnson examines the issues facing today’s church, proposes a new model for a New Day, and offers practical, how-to suggestions and patterns for a church in transition.
     My vision is that we will increasingly grow dissatisfied with yesterday’s technology and build together a new way of being the church for a New Day. The motivation for this is clear: to effectively reach hurting people and connect them with Christ. Old ways of being the church are failing to do this effectively.
     The question before us then is: Will we resist change because we are more committed to tradition and familiarity or are we committed to do what it takes to introduce increasingly more people to Christ? I hope we make the right answer.

A Question of Discipleship

“The fact is that there now is lacking a serious and expectant intention
 to bring Jesus’ people into obedience and abundance through training.”
     During my doctoral studies at Fuller Theological Seminary one of my instructors asked each student to give answer to this question: “What is the greatest obstacle to your church reaching a higher level of effectiveness?” Two students answered before it would be my turn.
     The first student, a senior pastor of a 1,200-member congregation in Toronto, Canada, responded, “The desire for the familiar and convenient beats out the desire for greater effectiveness in ministry. If it involves experimenting with something that might work better, the response is almost always resistance.”
     The second student answered, “A prevailing culture within my church that is defined more by the attitude, ‘It’s about me!’ rather than ‘It’s about God!’ Membership seems to be more about taking care of ‘my needs’ than a concern for the mission of reaching our community for Christ.”
     Then it was my turn. I wished that I had had more time to reflect before having to respond so quickly. The answer that pressed against my heart was, “The lack of a clear understanding of how to move from the shadow waters of faith to the deeper waters of discipleship.” Now, nearly five years later, it is clear to me that more time would not have changed my answer.
     One of the other pastors quickly turned to me, following my answer, and suggested, “Don’t you mean that the problem is the lack of discipline among your members?”
     I answered that such an assessment would be unfair. People must first understand a pathway for growing in their faith. Simply, people need to be shown “how.” It was then that I determined what I would do for my final doctoral project. After a year of reading, thinking, praying and conversations with many pastors of what they found working in their congregations, I developed one pathway for Christian formation: Practices, Solitude, Community and Sharing. This approach is detailed each month in the church’s news magazine, The Spire and fully developed in my book, Faith Journey. I imagine now that it is a question of discipline, isn’t it?

Advancing Core Values

“The problem for us today is that stability is no longer the norm.”
John P. Kotter
     A Princeton student once asked his professor, Albert Einstein, “Why are you giving us the identical test as last year’s?” The brilliant scientist answered, “Because this year, the answers are different.” Einstein’s lesson to his student is well taken. In our ever-changing world, what worked last year doesn’t necessarily work this year.
     Our ultimate goal as a church is to help persons become deeply committed Christians and participate in God’s ongoing work in the world. Yet, last year’s approach to realizing that goal may no longer be effective. Looking for new answers to effectively reach our goal is the heart of church leadership.
     Last week in this blog, I argued for the difference between “method” and “core value.” The two are often confused in many organizations, particularly in the church. The unfortunate result is emotional attachment to “method” rather than advancing a “core value” with energy, intelligence, imagination and love. If something in that last sentence sounds vaguely familiar then you have been paying attention in worship. It is one of the constitutional questions that will be asked this Sunday of your newly elected leaders.
     We worship a God who is constantly on the move. Through the lips of the prophet Isaiah God declares, “Look! I’m doing a new thing! (Isaiah 4319)” Throughout scripture, we see a God of tremendous urgency in advancing God’s purposes. Methods change but the mission doesn’t.
     Occasionally your leaders will try something new to advance God’s purposes in this place. It may be a change in the Bible translation used in our shared worship or in how we do the work of evangelism. And inevitably someone will say, “We have never done it that way.” If you will become quiet and listen carefully you may hear God’s response, “Precisely!”