Tuesday, October 10, 2017

SPAR for Better Mission

Often I find that both discipleship groups and mission groups are somewhat anemic. They accomplish something, but there is a diminished vitality, force, spirit, that is less than expected. We all easily get locked into certain practices and fail to see how we are losing a step, don't have the energy we once had, and can't figure out what is wrong.

I believe that scripture and historic faith practices point to the more life giving, transformational ways of both discipleship and mission which we are called to live out. So, this isn't new to me or us, except it is new to all of us in that we must continually work out these practices in our context and in our following of Jesus as we love God and love our neighbors (as we do ourselves!).

I think of this as a SPAR approach, and hope I haven't heard/ read this somewhere in the distant past only for it to take root in my mind with loss of the originator. If you read this and think, "Oh, so and so, wrote that." please let me know so we get the attribution correct.

In my experiences our modern mission and ministry tendency is to do things. Often we end up with somewhat disconnected pieces of activity. If we read the ministry of Jesus and the early church there was a rhythm that was shown as they engaged in the everyday mission of God.  Now, in my reading there is a flow between these elements, so they build on each other and feed off of each other. Said another way, it isn't mandatory to start at any particular point, but it is essential that these pieces are networked, woven, interlaced, dovetailed, or pick you word/ concept that reinforces flow and interaction.

So, a person, or group could start with 3, then go to 2, then 1, and 4. And these wouldn't be awkward movements, but natural, organic, true to life, and to the Spirit in the moment. This wouldn't be reading curriculum cold for the first time in the group. Rather, it would be more akin to driving a stick shift car and a responsive, fluid movement that starts and stops where appropriate, avoids danger, maintains speed, picks up more travelers, and arrives at the destination. This isn't a stilted box step style dancing, and instead a joyous celebration alive to the music, to the crowd, to the expression of life.

Think of SPAR as study, prayer, action, and reflection. This is a life based missional approach that necessarily follows the ways Jesus lived. It's both individual and a group way of being. Further, it's seeking a balance so that a participant- or group- doesn't get lost in any particular element of the approach. This also helps avoid groups getting locked in to "we only study" or "we only pray or we only do things." Too many of our churches and individual Christians are "locked in" and that's part of our problem. It turns out that the fight isn't so much against others as it is against ourselves. We must continue practice dying to ourselves and being alive to Christ (choose from any number of verses as I point to Luke 9:23-24). SPAR is a helpful way for individual and group to die to self and conform to Christ. This also helps with a missional way of living, of praying and reading scripture, and creates a dynamic adventure of following Christ today.

The reflection element of SPAR is somewhat different than study as it is a way of bringing together the other pieces of the approach as a way of considering what this all means in the salvation of God- for individual, for group, for church, and for the world. In my experience, this is a critically missing intentional step of many discipleship and mission groups. Just as a preacher might apply the "so what?!" test to a sermon, this is a way of applying "so what?!" to our mission and ministry and placing our vulnerability before God and group member.

SPAR likely should be applied to all our church mission and ministry groups. This approach also reminds me of a few dynamic ministries which many churches have lost or failed to organize, which could have strong community appeal with certain groups, and which could open new relationships and potential for many churches. These sorts of ministries lend themselves to the SPAR approach. Consider:

  • disaster response
  • creation care
  • drug and alcohol abuse prevention
  • racial reconciliation
  • prison ministries
When I read scripture I most notice that Jesus, and those early disciples, turned the world upside down as they experienced the power of God and the present Kingdom of God. I think that can happen in churches today if we get out of our routines, beyond the institution and into community relationships and action, and give ourselves away to new habits and new ways of relating to our neighbors.

SPAR for better mission and ministry and let me know what happens in your world. 

Thursday, October 5, 2017

Church Budgeting for God’s Local Mission

As your church moves into the end of the year, be sure to connect mission and ministry assessment with your budgeting processes. There are some big and small questions which may be helpful as we live into this next chapter of church life. While a committee should tackle the separate areas of ministry with this sort of evaluative mindset I’ll share some thoughts specific to mission and outreach.

Some of the big questions include: What percentage of your church funding is spent inside the church or to serve the church insiders? How much goes outside to serve, engage, & relate to others? Why are we funding this project or activity? Answers to these questions may then spur all sorts of additional curiosities. Many congregations are closed system, i.e. completely are almost closed inward focused and cut off from their community, and in addition to other ways of finding this truth the funding picture will also reflect this. Reorient funding toward getting the church out of the building and creating momentum in community relationships and being the church in the community.  

I find many, many congregations are stuck, if not trapped, in the past. The history of what has been strangles the work of mission and ministry, and often leaves little room for new possibilities today and tomorrow. These patterns of “things past” are shown in the calendar and in the budget, and while obvious to the “outsider” may be a comfortable routine for the church and accepted rather than discussed.

As I’ve met with churches they’ve taught me that, more often than not, the way they view mission is a diffused smattering of financial giving and varied “do gooder” activities. Perhaps a denominational leader, or pastor, or laity spark plug in the church encouraged the support at some point. The response was relational, and perhaps not so strategic in terms of congregational mission. When most congregations write all of these “missions” down to show me the giving and participation it typically looks like a river that is a mile wide and an inch deep, except there is little to nothing to show any interconnectedness or strategic decisions making in the scheme. Further, it can be challenging for many in a congregation to show ANY relationship of the mission “plan” to the whole life of the church. Or for anyone in the group to share theologically the importance or prioritization of these activities for the whole congregation as they express what it means to be the Body of Christ.  Some churches even confess that as long as those “lone rangers” in mission don’t cause any trouble it’s best to leave well enough alone.

That’s fine, I guess, if a church has too many people and too much money! But for most congregations that’s not the case anymore. So, it’s more important than ever for congregations to have a laser focus in mission and ministry, to have great alignment of all the ministries pulling in the same direction, and for the church to let go of the past and live into the future that God is creating.

Better budgeting for mission would likely be built on:
  • A strategic plan for the whole congregation engaged as the Body of Christ which aligns mission with worship, discipleship, prayer, evangelism, and the totality of church life.

  • A prioritization of the mission of God with strong local foundation and solidly rooted in the church in community, i.e. not just giving church funds and people as volunteers to a non-profit.

  • A focused plan that engages every age and stage of the congregation in mission throughout the year through education, prayer, and participation and have sufficient funding for such a holistic approach.

  • A strong present and future orientation, which is built on the past but not trapped by it, which helps the congregation respond in active participation to the love of God and love of neighbor (as ourselves). This will have a practical, healthy evangelism and outreach component.   

  • Renewal of the church as a mission outpost with mission of God as a way to help the church be the church “in” and “of” the community. Escape the cloistered building, create the living church in the community, follow Jesus out in the streets, and help the congregation to be a movement that serves the community. 

In my mind such a budget might wisely focus on a few primary areas. Put most of the budget and calendaring emphasis on local community mission. Don’t only define local mission as giving funds and volunteers to outside organizations! Focus on the congregation being primary in God’s mission in the community. This is “home base” and where your congregation has the most access of time and interest. If you fail to develop this, or relegate it to specialized non-profits, you’ll undermine the appropriate, primary church mission field in your own community. This isn’t to say you can stop at only doing local mission, as we are challenged to practice mission and ministry from our local streets to the ends of the earth.

Locally I’d put emphasis on the following:

Partner in BIG ways with the nearest public elementary school. If you have capacity add the middle school and high school. Or partner with the community recreation department. This looks different in various locations, but most schools look for volunteers, for tutors, and for PTA & funding. Get to know the school, support the community efforts, and make the church available in consistent, and ongoing ways. If your congregation doesn’t look like these places the best conversation in church can be “why not” and “what must we do to change that” to become a community church.

Be a disaster ready congregation. Be trained, be prepared, and both partner well, but also serve those partners and your community well. This would engage a variety of skill sets ranging from sheltering/ feeding, counselors and ministers, to organizational and communication workers, to construction, chainsaw, and medical workers, to lots of helpers of all sorts depending on the type of crisis. This also prepares a congregation and makes you most helpful in a time of community need. Partnering well with the local Red Cross and EMA means they bring local assets, resources, and expertise to you, as well as connecting your congregation into the larger framework of disaster response across the state and region. 

Community Partnering- by this I mean for the congregation to be alive and active in the community. If you congregation isn’t the community center, are you either highly involved or a leader in community happenings? This doesn’t need to be something that detracts from being the church, and instead is the church alive in the community, building relationships, and breaking down barriers in order to be effective in ministry. In addition to enjoying what you can learn from the community as you sink deep roots in your local context, consider what the church should offer the community. What do you need to build into the budget as you live out a mission strategy of loving the community as much as you love your church? Be at the primary parade and festival, or help create a celebration.

In similar ways, a congregation can then create an expanded, holistic strategy for state, region, national, and international mission which builds on and interacts with local mission. Think of a flow in between those different arenas for mission so that they all enhance and feed the other geographies. For instance, if we have community neighbors from Mexico, I’d think in the direction of a range of ministries to know and engage those local neighbors, and additional experiences in the different geographies so that we are practicing the love of God, and love of neighbor (as we love ourselves!) both “here” and “there.” This is a much more dynamic, transformational, productive model of mission than most churches experience.

It’s often been said that our calendar and our check book reflect our priorities. Churches would be wise to embrace a new day of ministry which defines local mission in more dynamic ways. That will include reorienting our church budgets to focus greater percentages on outreach, relationship building, and community engagement, and doing well at this locally is an imperative. Change your budget to change your world! 

Monday, August 21, 2017




           and wonder...

at large movements
beyond your knowing,

at unusual spectacles
that demand attention,

at your smallness

and the passing of time

and measurements greater than years.

Find your place in the mysteries.

August, 21, 2017
Scott Parrish

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.