Monday, June 19, 2017

Clergy Planning for the Next Year: Lectionary and Missio Dei

There are great possibilities using the lectionary readings, or any plan of biblical readings for sermons and worship, to emphasize the mission of God. Note that missio Dei is more than mission projects and certain practices or people of a congregation. This is a focus on the whole church in God’s mission following the ways of Jesus and depending upon the Holy Spirit. Missio Dei as a driving hermeneutical lens helps a preacher get beyond only offering individualistic spiritual advice and in many ways further helps a congregation reclaim its role as part of the mission movement IN the community.  Here are some ideas on flow, concepts, and momentum building which you might then easily adapt with title and content that matches your context.

For example:

The September 10- October 1 readings in 2017 offer a nice movement toward World Communion Sunday. What better day to remember this global movement of God in Church and community? Think of this as a “Community Building” series. This also offers a great way to build momentum toward church, challenge the church to stretch more and be even more invitational and hospitable in community, and align all the ministries of the church (prayer, discipleship, all age level ministries, etc.) toward a theme and BIG Sunday.  You come u with your own themes

September 10- Matthew 18:15-20 “Time to be Free” might focus on our being free from sin and how we might use that to listen to each other, agreeing together, and that heavenly power possible as we team well.

September 17- Matthew 18:21-35  “Time to Forgive” offers many options relevant to our day which one might narrow down for a specific community context or best next steps of a congregation in community.

September 24 Matthew 20:1-16 “Time to Work” delves into the Kingdom of God and the laborers, the generosity of God, and offers plenty of room to prayerfully discover what this might look like in the community as God continues to work with all sorts of people.

October 1 Philippians 2:1-4 “Time to Celebrate!” Create a party atmosphere, a fiesta, a celebration that is easy to invite the community to which models serving others. In this day of incredible technology some churches incorporate an international mission partner church into worship and enjoy a simultaneous interactive worship experience. There are many ways that worship and discipleship on that day might reflect the dynamic global church and the salvation of God that is alive in so many countries and cultures.

Later in the fall you might find that even the momentum culminating in a stewardship Sunday can revolve around the larger community rather than only the congregational needs. This emphasis lends itself to a focus on love of God and love of neighbor (as we love ourselves) thus calling on the full range of stewardship in study, praying, giving, and going. Check out the lectionary starting October 8 through October 29 and see if the Epistle readings lend themselves to Gospel Power, Gospel Living, Gospel Rescue, and Gospel Witness. Or a congregation will find similarly powerful stories in the Old Testament with faithful hearing, faithful memory, faithful action, and faithful legacy. The Kingdom of God stories in Matthew offer similar movement that calls for participation and action.

Or consider the block of time from January 7- February 11. The start to the year offers a solid time to focus on new beginnings, epiphanies, covenant renewal, and gain some momentum as individuals and group launching into new beginnings. Why not have a special Sunday, maybe even something from the “cultural” lectionary like Super Bowl Sunday, to be a big, fun, invitational, party for the community? This could be like a “Friends Sunday” and “Rivalry Sunday” (built in competition!) all rolled into one with the ready made Super Bowl Sunday. Dress casually, have food and fun, and create a dynamic environment.

Your big event might be a Mission Celebration culminating on either February 4 or 11. This would have a strong, strategic focus in community mission that would require more than just your congregation and be easy to invite others to because of the inspiring worship, dynamic teaching, and incredible potential as a larger team gathers together for a God sized calling. So, the “Stairway to heaven” would intentionally be BOTH an individual faith exercise AND a congregational and community movement that better reflects the Kingdom of God being established in your community. This would require much planning, could be advertised in early Advent and especially at Christmas, and would certainly be publicized even more aggressively in both church and community throughout January. Plus all the prayer, education, age and stage level ministries, and whole life of the church would point toward this throughout January.  Get the picture of the potential of such a big event? Throw in some element of Valentines if that helps you. February 11 is Scouting Sunday in many congregations and your local scouts to easily be part of this. The more the merrier! But don’t lose your focus in worship, nor your hospitality and engagement of everyone as the church reflects who you are and who God’s family is called to be.

In March 2017 I heard that block of lectionary Scriptures from early January to early February read aloud (check out Kindling the Fire and imagine a bunch of creative clergy hearing the texts and dreaming/ planning for their context. See http://www.ngumc.org/eventdetail/945463  ) I was drawn to the opposite imagery of the January 28 epistle reading from I Corinthians 8 about the stumbling block and wondered about a “Stairway to Heaven” worship series to start the year. You can easily create your own movement toward a big Sunday that engages and mobilizes your group to invite many others to the fun. For our “Stairway to Heaven” I thought about:

January 7- Genesis 1:1-5 with focus on “Our Creating God”

January 14- I Samuel 3:1-10 “Our Calling God”

January 21- Jonah 3:1-5,10 & Mark 1: 14-20 “Our Sending God”

January 28- Mark 1:21-28 marks a subtle shift with focus on Jesus as Lord with “God of Power”

February 4- Mark 1:29-39 “God of GO!” or “God of the City” (or Neighborhood or term that fits your context)

February 11- 2 Corinthians 4: 3-6 “God of Good News!” Mission Celebration

Missio Dei is a strong lens with which to develop sermons and worship, and can help with the development of congregational momentum and a call to action. As you reorient your congregation around missio Dei, and every member as a "sent" missionary, you will get beyond "business as usual" in your congregation and create a dynamic new chapter of mission and ministry. Give it a try, experiment in your context, and share your ideas and what you've learned with me.


Monday, December 5, 2016

Mission Reboot

Every now and then it seems I need to reboot, to start over, with my electronics. A return to a strong default setting is necessary and helpful with computers. If your computer is too slow, using too much memory, or has some conflicts, the reboot might just solve your issue. The reboot often fixes problems, gets the system back into alignment and communication, and allows for more effective power use. In fact, a lot of operating system and software problems actually require the restart.

So much of this make me wonder how a congregation might reboot (how ironic we apply Advent and Lent to the individual yet seldom bother the congregation with what God is doing or requiring of us). In particular, with most churches in mission, the program is a clutter of small system process (maybe too personality driven), historic activities, and seems to use a lot of energy and often it's not clear WHY the church is into particular mission promoting, giving, or serving. The activity seems rooted in some sort of church history or relationship, but may offer little rootedness or depth by way of theology, Methodist Christian witness, all church interest, or interconnection with the whole of church life or missional expression.

I've been pondering the dream mission plan if a church can start from scratch, or reboot their mission system, and have shared elements of this with a couple of clergy friends. The attempt is to have a strong foundation in missio Dei, great best practices which focus on love God and love our neighbors as we do ourselves, and the strong indigenous, contextual, sustainable hallmarks of a movement (rather than a program or project). Of course, some of this reset also has powerful implications for worship, discipleship, prayer, and all the ministries of individual and church as it draws us beyond ourselves, our expectations, and our traditions and renews the focus of both Church and Christian upon the Kingdom of God. If you are running an existing program you would do well to check out the following and consider how the church might advance in the missio Dei.

Now, it is important to say that this doesn’t intend to dismiss the "last chapter of mission" for the congregation, but it is an attempt to strategically focus the entire congregation on a bold next step of faith as we follow in the ways of Christ. Thus, by its very intention, it would be a major all-church effort at every level which would take time to unveil in both big and small ways for the church. This is why many churches may choose a word other than “mission” to define this next stage of congregational life, e.g. outreach, community building, compassion, etc. Or be ready to continually define, and redefine, this new lifestyle and practice of following the ways of Jesus.

This holistic reboot of mission would make sure it isn't projects for a small percentage of the church, but a way of life for individuals, families, and the corporate congregation. This is the church being the Body of Christ and expressing the Kingdom of God, and intentionally getting out of the building and typically closed system processes and taking the church into the street and neighborhood. So, we'd look to have local mission as the foundation, and then weave in state, regional, national, and international elements of practicing what it means for the congregation to love our neighbors as we do ourselves. We would build in some variety so that every age and stage in the church can learn, pray, give, and serve in these missional partnerships. We'd also make sure that all of these are very closely aligned to our United Methodist sensibilities and would have preference for partnering with Methodist Christian mission. While this wouldn't preclude other partnerships it would recognize that many organizations and missionaries would not have a shared theology or polity which would offer the most "take home" value for our congregation and our individual lives of faith.

You would need to do your own "community discovery" in your area, but here are a few key areas that would help many congregations awaken to their community and be of more use while also developing significant, transformational relationships. Do note that this is a two way transformation as the church needs the community and the community needs the church!

If I were designing local mission from scratch I'd emphasize 1-2 of these in EVERY congregation and perhaps all of them (& more along the same lines) in a medium to large membership church: 
  • Partnering deeply with the local public school/s nearest the church
  • Some element of local interest in Creation Care ministry
  • Being a Disaster Ready congregation ready at any moment to serve the community
  • A strong focus on Alcohol and Substance Abuse prevention & corollary ministries
  • Focus on consistently and intentionally building cross cultural relationships and competencies
  • Establishing a "Ministry With" approach with neighbors in poverty
Note there would be all sorts of "spin off" possibilities in mission based upon these relational, and ever growing relationships. Further, there can be a variety of opportunities ranging from simple to complex, from one time assistance to ongoing involvement. Of course, we'd also be advancing elements of "best practices" in mission. Do note we might partner well with organizations and groups in the community, but this is an expression of a church alive to the community, so we wouldn't rely on groups to do what the church needs to do and be in the life of the community. In the past, far too often, UMC churches have defined "missions" as giving money, doing projects, and tended toward some specialized skills, funds, time, or availability so that mission is done by a few who choose it. We want to avoid this and build deep relationships as we all follow the ways of Jesus, and give folk many opportunities to love God and love our neighbors as we do ourselves. 

In addition, in your town or a nearby city it would be helpful to establish a long term, sister church relationship with a congregation and community that is very different than your home area. This wouldn't be a hostile nor informal takeover! Instead, it would be a way to know and partner with a sister UMC in a collegial mutual partnership (50/50). This could effectively build upon developing cross cultural relationships and competencies, and may relate to other priorities a church explores locally or build around the gifts and calling of a congregation.

Note that all of the possible bullet items above and sister church partnership can then be built upon with missional partnerships in other geographic locations. So, your mission teams and disaster response teams are built at the local level where everyone is involved, and then district, state, regional, national, and international options may be added. This sort of connectivity between local, national, and international is seldom seen in the random patchwork quilt of congregational mission. It is essential for every church to have that complexity of opportunities as it is part of the biblical movement of missio Dei and the "sending" God.

Rebooting our mission system for a congregation allows us to better be in the missio Dei today and tomorrow rather than merely replicating old projects and a history of disconnected mission. A Mission Reboot can be an exciting advance toward what God wants and your community and world needs of your church!


Friday, December 2, 2016

Time Flies!

YIKES!

So, how was your fall?!

I continue working for the North Georgia Conference of The United Methodist Church with Connectional Ministries AND with our UMC Global Ministries with the Center for Mission Innovation. Think of me as a field agent with focus on the very best of mission. When I'm home I'm now on a 13 acre farm and there are usually plenty of little jobs to catch up on there when I do have some extra time. So, high demand job with lots of travel and meetings means things like a personal blog seem much neglected.

I've got some thoughts percolating today based on some of my fall work that I might publish later today. You know, if I can get enough coffee and not get distracted with the day job or farm work.

Friday, July 1, 2016

Against Congregation As Echo Chamber

This article recently made the social media rounds. The writer reinforces not demonizing folk, listening to people, and that the "other side" isn't stupid, but has experience and reason for their position. The "Controversial Opinion" game is especially useful to explore only asking questions as a way of dialogue on "hot topic" issues.

Earlier in my career, and occasionally today, I experience churches with a variety of people in the congregation who wouldn't be lockstep in their thoughts, but highly relational and effective in both church and community due to their ability to work together.

Today it seems more and more of our congregations reflect rather narrow perspectives with some sensibility that "we are all alike." Church often looks like our political affiliations, our social organizations, and our network of friends. Dig into the above article and consider the role false-consensus bias plays in your congregation and your communication of the gospel. This can also play to a "Holy War" mentality when combined with the way a group interprets faith and "the other." In our day when folk self select their media/ news, with tendencies to only partake in communicators who already state what the listener believes, it is important for churches to be aware of the dynamics as well as the challenges and possibilities. Yet, our community and world is rather diverse (and maybe even our faith or denomination if we get beyond our particular congregation).

What is the opposite of an echo chamber?

An echo chamber is a description of a closed system with limited views and voices which reinforce each other. There is little to no room for true dialogue, for variety of opinion, or for the tension of unresolved issues or what might be in a state of becoming.

If your church, or group, is an echo chamber you probably need to figure out how to get beyond that.

In my experience, church - think holistically of the living, dynamic Body of Christ in worship, discipleship, prayer, action, etc.- ought to be an ongoing relationship and dialogue with God, with one another, and with our neighbors. I'm not sure what the antonym of "echo chamber" might be, but I think of this with imagery like visiting with someone in great conversation on a front porch or in a coffee shop. It's more like the free flow of activity and conversation on a playground, at a festival, or in a concert. It gathers folk of the variety of political parties, the variety of experiences and expectations, the diversity of the community. It would look more like that odd bunch that Jesus gathered together long ago. Such a church would be a practical glimpse and everyday reminder of what heaven looks like.

In many respects a stronger theological and practical expression of church also seeks a congregation that is an oddball collection of sinners and saints. And the truth is this is both a corporate and individual reality! None of us have it all figured out, none of us have attained perfection, and none of us should be confused for God, Jesus, or Holy Spirit. Instead, we continue to practice loving God and loving our neighbors as we do ourselves, yet we are prone to sin, failure, idolatry, and seeking our own kingdom rather than the Kingdom of God. Imagine Jesus and his early entourage; the variety of people and personalities and expectations are a key part of the story which we too often overlook. We are much stronger together, and better able to be the Church God desires, if we allow this sort of tension to remain yet with a discontent that doesn't demonize the "other" and instead pushes us to continue following Jesus in the larger community. This variety of people following Jesus better allows us to communicate with and reach more of our neighbors.

The greater adventure is outside the walls of the echo chamber and in the streets of community where we follow the way that Jesus has shown us into abundant life!

Worship & Community Voice

In the last couple of years I have found myself in MANY different church and conference worship services. In recent months I have again been reminded of the power of having many people and voices as worship leaders. Often I may have a Sunday morning where I go from a suburban to an urban setting and I'm becoming more aware of some dynamics at play.

Sometimes I'm in church worship and it is dominated by one voice, one presence, one personality. I'm not sure if we fell into this with emphasis on preachers, or revivalists, or paid staff, but the "one talker" phenomena is a tough gig. It takes a lot of energy, presence, and work for one primary player to fill the role. It may be strong in some respects- continuity, expectations, control, etc. But it also has a down side in connecting to many people and personalities in a community. If the community is all the same this might work though eventually boredom is liable to set in. Even professionals with monologues tend to have a stable of writers, and take a lot of time (and time off) to keep up the creativity and sharpness of their work.

The solo voice also lends itself to worship being primarily a spectator sport. It's like attending a performance where the music is presented and then an actor shares a monologue.

Of course, theologically, there are serious deficits to this as well. How does one person, from their experience, intellect, and voice, adequately share a message from God in worship Sunday after Sunday? More voices, developed and working together, may better represent both God and community and therefore enhance our church communication. Practically, one voice seldom represents and communicates well with a community and all the sub-cultures and people groups that call the place home.

My experience in worship has been wonderfully stretched by my involvement with the larger Church. I deeply appreciate the variety of languages, musical styles, and voices which can enliven worship and our experience of God. Often you may only see this on a mission Sunday or at a large worship gathering that is multi-cultural, multi-ethnic. Again, this reminds us of the deficiencies of some of our practices which too quickly narrow the possible audience of the entire community to only one group or sub-culture of the community.

I recently attended a suburban church that had a somewhat typical format where a liturgist also served as the music director, and the preacher had most of the speaking parts in worship. There were a few hundred people present and a certain "sameness" to everyone in attendance. There was a time of prayer where folk from the crowd could share a joy or concern, but often in the sanctuary the sharing couldn't be heard. So, even this, proved not to be intimate and community building, and instead seems to reinforce the suburban isolation and separation. Of course, there was a choir, and the congregation shared music. It was all very routine, easily anticipated, and carefully scripted and managed. In this more formal setting a video of recent church ministry seemed to be the primary way to get more voices into worship. Such worship seems more like a production, more like a monologue, and is interesting yet predictable as a spectator sport.

I also recently attended worship in an urban church. Think tough, declining neighborhood and a church which has grown in recent years to match the folk from the immediate community. The church was formerly all white and is now about 50/50 black and white. In contrast to the highly scripted suburban church this was a little more like a "pick up" game of basketball. Now, don't get me wrong, some of the key players knew their role and had rehearsed for music, solo, readings, and sermon. But you could tell everyone had a voice here and so the banter, the invitation to talk, was modeled by many. This gathering of 60 people had most actively participating in some way. When there is a call to prayer the various individuals who spoke could be heard and got into details- e.g. challenges of a job, friend in prison, family with cancer, the state of the neighborhood, a recent ministry of the church, etc. In this less formal, highly relational setting there were a variety of voices which lent to a strong sense of worship flow and balance. While the preacher did have 20-25 minutes of the hour there was something about the authenticity and revealing of it all that was more like a dialogue which called for participation.

As I continue to hear what this is teaching me I'm drawn to concepts of worship better reflecting the community. Any church interested in greater effectiveness in reaching the community, especially multi-cultural or multi-ethnic individuals or families, would do well to always have a variety of people consistently active in worship and church leadership. This may run counter to some church cultures (e.g. "What are we paying the preacher for?"), or some clergy personalities (it takes more time and energy to engage more people in worship as opposed to it being a "one man show"), but there is a great power in this in terms of better reflecting the community and reaching more people.

A church culture which leans toward authentic following of Christ in the neighborhood, and reflecting God through the variety of people found in those streets, will greatly benefit from engaging everyone in the sanctuary in some element of active worship leadership. Giving the community voice in the sanctuary and church life will help people of the community to find God through the ministries of the congregation.

Tuesday, June 21, 2016

Church Mission Portfolio

Think of a "mission portfolio" as a range of partnerships which will advance your congregation in your current adventure of loving God and loving your neighbors as you do yourself. Of course, "the neighbors" are as Jesus would define them, so that's a range of folk like you and very unlike you, near and far, family/ friend and enemy, and to the extremes of your experience and imagination. Such a portfolio will represent well what the congregation is becoming, and the relationships and activities will have strong "take home" value as the church explores God's Kingdom and follows Christ in transformational ways.

As you think of your congregation you will definitely want a scope from entry level to advanced mission partnerships, engaging all age and stage levels, and intriguing to a variety of interests, hobbies, and skill sets. Yet, having said this, you want the right number that doesn't inundate your congregation with a lot of a little, nor do you want to hit a scale that is an easy challenge. Instead, this should be partnerships keyed to the current priorities of the congregation. You neither want to establish a "mission silo" of interest and engagement to a small percentage of the congregation, nor do you want a mission program so mired in the past that there is no future orientation. A strong mission portfolio will:
  • appeal to the whole life of the congregation, 
  • lend itself well to worship, discipleship, prayer, and the identity and practices of the church throughout the year, 
  • welcome assessment and evaluation in light of both missional best practices and where the congregation is headed in the future, 
  • weave together local, national, and international in ways which enhances each area,
  • is a way the whole congregation can experience and express the Body of Christ,
  • while continuing to respond to the call to love God and love our neighbor as we do ourselves.
Many congregations need to get beyond practices of mission which are too much like projects and too little like missio Dei. Too often congregational mission only appeals to a small number of church folk who have certain time, skills, and funding. Frequently mission is not a movement of the whole congregation, but the playground of a few who champion certain causes. Far too often, this has become the realm of non-profits and not of the church. 

Attention to this in a holistic way can create paths of mission for every age and stage in a church. A strong mission portfolio allows for education, action, and reflection. Developing a plan for a year helps to create balance and builds in assessment. This approach enhances strong theological grounding and church foundation so that the mission plan doesn't get lost in activity and repetition. 

Helpful background resources for a mission portfolio may include:
In addition, your church and conference will likely have focal points which will guide the portfolio. Here is a sample which can be adapted to your context. You also have resource people (like me in North GA and for Global Ministries) as you help your church become more strategic by using a portfolio approach to congregational mission. 

Monday, June 20, 2016

Congregational Capacity

Most congregations talk like they desire to add new and different people into the life of the church, but the reality is that most aren't equipped. Consider the news shared at the recent UMC General Conference that 70% of our churches didn't have a baptism last year. This is a shocking statistic, but one which can be turned around.

I've learned that many congregations tell the Story, yet seem to get stuck in patterns of their congregational history, replication of worship and program, and a rather serious disconnection from their community. Despite repeating the ancient words of faith, I often wonder if many congregations are serious about reaching their community or prefer to merely repeat what they have known with who they know. It's as if many churches have one or more major issues which render them incapable of accomplishing what they say. They lack the capacity to do, or to be, that of which they speak.

In my experience there are a number of factors which interact with one another to determine the capacity a congregation has to reach or impact their community. These are interrelated and in no particular order.

Theological Capacity: Most congregations have some sort of theological, biblical, and practical ecclesial focus. Now, truth be told, this is usually so intertwined with a cultural or social belief and value system that it may be almost impossible to disentangle it all. It may be lost, or somehow forgotten, buried deep within the fabric of the congregation. What are the expectations of your community of faith regarding the primary purposes of the church? Push deeper than the practices as you consider, and discuss this, otherwise you'll merely list worship, prayer, discipleship, outreach, etc. As you push deeper into the shared theology you may find a unified, deep theology. Or, perhaps you find a shallow and varied understanding which reveals fault lines and hints at possible fragmentation.

Leadership Capacity: Many congregations have limited themselves to be the size they are. This may be due to the community context, the style leadership, the congregational expectations, the theology, or some mix of the above. This isn't to say small church is bad and large church is good. In fact, I often find a powerful shared community and depth of discipleship in some small and medium membership churches. In terms of reaching your community, the key issue is if leadership of any size congregation has this as a key value and driver of the system. If it isn't as important to be in the community, developing relationships, and sharing faith, as it is to be "in" the church building, then you are likely developing leaders for the "last chapter" of church life and not for today and tomorrow.

Organizational Capacity: Too often it seems our churches begin to think that offering a presentation is our main objective. Many churches don't seem to want new and different people. Old classes and groups, concretized relationships, and set patterns become the norm. The ability to invite, engage, and retain numbers of new and different people may be a lost practice to such a church. How well do we create new, diverse leadership? Do we promote and free new leaders for service? Do we challenge existing groups to multiply or do we promote stability? Does our current organizational structure match well with our present community?

Communication Capacity: Many congregations have no idea what "tribe" they represent in the community, what people group/s the congregation effectively reaches, and which group/s the church has natural affinity with. Too often, in the past, this has been solely defined by socio-economic and racial criteria. This is worth honest, realistic examination as you consider who God is calling your church to know in your community. It may be likely that you need a local, a translator, and a missionary who is as comfortable in the community, where they are authentic in life and faith, as they are in the congregational setting. What music and language works in community life?

Integration Capacity: What room do you have in your individual life, and in the life of the congregation, for new and different people? Many groups within a congregation, and perhaps the congregation itself, is capped in its relationships. Their are skills and practices related to engaging and involving new and different people into an organization. Who is in charge of this at your church? Is it a movement, a culture within the church, or is it merely the work of one or two staff people? A church that is more of an open system with the community calls upon many to be guides, mentors, and helpers to "outsiders" becoming "insiders" and fully involved with the church.

Change Capacity: Congregational life today should look somewhat different than it did 20-30 years ago (if your community and culture has changed during that time). Is your organization capable of change? How quickly can you make adjustments? How many adjustments can you make in a year? Many congregations have placed such a high priority on repeating history and not rocking the boat that they have little interest or capacity in change. What year is it in your church? If all the momentum revolves around keeping the current "customers" happy you will never develop new constituents, customers, friends, members. You are well on your way to no baptisms, more funerals, and soon enough the death of the congregation. Talk about a change!

Consider your congregational capacity to reach or impact your community. Hopefully you can identify a few adventurous types who likely already know the community well and can assist you in opening the doors of your church to the community. Who in your church or community can help you increase your capacity to be an open congregation to your neighbors?

Tuesday, May 24, 2016

Church as Mission Center

I've recently had a number of clergy friends talking about what a congregation as a mission center looks like. Now, these are well read and well traveled Methodist Christian pastors, so I know full well they have pretty solid ideas of what such a creation looks like. But, it's an intriguing issue as many of us know what such a church should look like, yet it is a challenging church to implement. So, take this as a working draft and discussion starter which may be useful in your setting.

First, it mission must be defined. I find that everyone has a certain picture, certain concepts about mission. At this point a thorough study/ discussion regarding mission from scriptural, theological/ doctrinal, and historical perspectives may be helpful. Most will be prone to skip this crucial step as it may be seen as too pedantic. At a basic level, if we focus on the missio Dei we will help our cause of establishing the congregation as a mission center. The great challenge may be that we all bring our particular soap box and perspective to the table and don't focus on our call, as a group, to love God and love our neighbor as ourselves in the ways we must to become a mission center. It is most likely that we will repeat the great mistakes of the past if we skip this step.

The second issue is to do an honest assessment of our congregation and community. At this point it is useful if most US churches recognize we have leaned heavily upon models of attractional worship and program ministry as driving forces for the way we have done church over the last generation or two. The value of this will be to again focus us and reorient toward the individual and congregation in missio Dei. Our priorities have tended toward attracting people like us, keeping those folk happy and in the club, maintaining the property and finances of the club, and a certain style of worship and program that fuels everything mentioned above. Most churches do mission as project and as one programmatic option of church ministry. It could be possible to create a church as a mission center as one disconnected element of congregational ministry, but this will result in practical challenges which will only engage part of the church and likely create divisive tension. Creating a congregation as a mission center will be tougher work though it may have more transformational results for everyone touched by such a ministry.

The last issue I'd mention in this quick overview is that your congregational context and call should define who you are as a mission center. You can't possibly be everything to everybody. You don't have enough funding, skills, energy, or time to be that. Nor do you want to manage hundreds of non-profits. You are called to be the Body of Christ. What does that look like, sound like, and appear as a group process in your setting. This contextualization means that while there are certain consistent principles that mission centers will look different depending upon the setting. So, no easy cookie cutter answer to this.

I see church as mission center in many international settings. Here in the US there are a few mission centers separate from the way we do congregational life that are worthy examples for congregations. So far, my experience has been that small and medium membership churches are the ones most likely to become mission centers. It may be that they have run a certain course in their life cycle, or that is driven by the neighborhood situation, and they can't be an attractional or programmatic church. The congregation that dies to itself and gives itself away completely is one way of defining a mission center. Realizing a church is dying, or called to die, is still not an easy thing to accept and embrace.

I'd lift up Haywood Street Church and St. Luke as two different examples of mission center churches. I could mention a handful of others that are early in the process though it is uncertain if they will live or die at this point. A key element in the above churches is that they have partners and partner well. This can be a great challenge as the "other" can have some struggles to know and accept the context of the mission center church. That's an issue for another day.

A resource that may help your congregational leadership in this is a study of missiological principles as a guided study of your context. Check out Lazarus Church  and see if there might be a piece or two that lends itself to your context, to study or sermon, or in some way engages your church in the higher call of being a missio Dei center.

Friday, April 29, 2016

#GC2016 and Lazarus Church

Well, I'd intended to write something about #GC2016, but the every day work of mission and ministry has kept me preoccupied. As usual, there seems to be plenty of angst, and energy, and emotion around #umcgc. I suspect enough has already been spoken and written about this impending international UMC gathering. Let's get on with it, let the legislative branch do their thing, and we can keep at the everyday work in the field, and in our churches and communities. This is the tougher issue and the thing we can make a difference in! To me, that's where the challenge and fun is anyway as we seek to follow Christ and be the Church in our specific contexts.

I've got 18 months behind me now in my rather unique position of serving as a "field agent" for mission in North Georgia conference Connectional Ministries and as a consultant with UMC Global Ministries. Imagine church or conference coming to life through mission celebrations and a process of focus and broad engagement in great next steps in mission strategy. Over this short time I've been in hundreds of churches, in a half dozen countries, and learned much serving in a role of resourcer, trainer, networker, coach, and catalyst.

My experience in international mission has taught me so much about what is lacking in our US churches. In the last 25 years we have tended toward attractional worship, programmatic ministries, and keeping our church members happy as we meet their specific needs. Often we are owned by middle class or upper class cultural practices. I feel this contrast as much as anyone as my career spans the same time-frame and my work in church has often been as program director. Yet much of the international church has limited funding and resources, and must rely on working hard to engage their community, expressing incarnational ministry individually and corporately, and a high level of strategy at church and conference level.

In a couple of key conversations last fall I was debriefing some, and swapping ideas, with my North Georgia colleagues. One mentor on the connectional ministries team challenged me to write up what I was finding so more churches might be engaged in the conversation and adventure. Another challenged me to create some curriculum that could be useful to as many churches as possible. How do you adequately combine reflections from hundreds of conversations and contexts? These are solid challenges for a mission sensibility about contextual ministry!

The recurring conversation for me has been how many of our churches are caught in a loop of doing projects and finding it tough to get into the most challenging issues of their community. We can tend to prefer projects over transformation. In fact, many of the churches are rather disconnected from the larger community, like a small, closed system group which wants to have some flow between church and community, but manages to only talk and not act or follow Christ into the larger world. This lends itself well to our ongoing need for congregations to practice being the Body of Christ, and for both individuals and the church to have more focus on the adventure of loving God and loving our neighbors as we do ourselves. Oh, and this is neighbor as Jesus would define and not as we would.

Would you and your church, your mission committee, or your Bible study or discussion group dare to die to yourselves and follow Christ in the missio Dei? This is more than business as usual and calls us to study, prayer, and honest reflection of our church and community. Check this out as a resource that may be useful to sharing some missiological principles, engaging folk in church conversation, and rediscovering Christ who desires you follow his ways in your community.

Check out Lazarus Church, modify it to your context, and let me know how your adventure goes. Even better, let's join together in this shared adventure as we learn from one another and encourage resurrection.




Monday, April 11, 2016

Mission: From Lent to Easter to General Conference

Ugh, I can't believe a month has passed and I've again neglected my blog.

I can blame Holy Week & Easter. Plus, I live in Augusta, GA, so we have a little golf tournament once a year you may have heard about. The Masters is ALWAYS the first full week of April. So, that also brings with it spring break and a change of pace as many in town leave when the world shows up here for "a tradition unlike any other." Oh, and maybe a few days of nice weather and planting a garden distracted me.

I think I got off blog and onto all the other work around the time I helped host a mission celebration at LaGrange College. It was a phenomenal time as we enjoyed the hospitality of the historic United Methodist college, and brought in some great UMC Global Ministries staff to lead worship and discussions for the faculty, staff, and students around the topic of global engagement. See here or here for news on this exceptional mission celebration. If you have a teenager interested in a major in mission or ministry I'd recommend they check out LaGrange College. Also, I can help tailor a strategic event for your context- church, campus, district, or conference- if you want to get into some fun together.

In upcoming days maybe I'll share some of my hopes for #umcgc. Unless I get distracted with life, ministry, and circuit riding.