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!


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.

Tuesday, March 8, 2016

Secretary of the Future

Yesterday, I heard an interesting segment on the "Marketplace" radio show on NPR. The segment was based on Kurt Vonnegut's question about having someone leading national policy and sustainable actions with his children and grandchildren in mind. It's intriguing to imagine a Secretary of the Future at Cabinet level for a country. Many organizations are driven by folk rooted in history, yet with little strategic focus on "what is next?" and a futurist orientation. What are the threats and the opportunities today and tomorrow? Too often a country or an organization can get caught in replicating the past, and can be hard pressed if a new pattern emerges . In dynamic, changing times we need even more focus on tomorrow and how to best position ourselves. What about sustainability for a business? Or for a church or Church?

Check out the idea in more detail here.

Who is your church/Church Secretary of the Future? Who is on your church/Church sustainability team? How do you talk about the future for your church/Church, and how do you broaden ownership of a shared future beyond the futurist?

Monday, March 7, 2016

Lessons From an Aircraft Carrier Group, Part 2

So, I pushed my brother a little in his early response. After all, what are brothers for!

Regarding the plan and strategy I asked: "Would you say this is what it takes to 'move a fleet?' Does this pattern still hold if you are 'on the fly' or in the middle of a lot of changes... or maybe even a battle? Does urgency change the decision making process with a crowd or does it narrow the focus in any way?"

He replied, "... we 'fight as we train, train as we fight.' We try to stick to the plan, but like the saying goes, 'all plans change as soon as the battle starts and you meet your enemy.'"

Later Brother said, "... look at C5ISR- Command, Control, Communications, Computers, Combat Systems, Intelligence, Surveillance, and Reconnaissance. Yes, urgency can but does not always change the decision tree or process- which is why each commander (battle group commander, ship's commanding officer, airwing commander) have a staff of folks who specialize in rapid data analysis and decision processes (sometimes that works, sometimes not)."

I think there are plenty of implications to consider for both church and Church in these lessons.

How does church train in ways that match the reality of the mission? What are the individual and group implications for such a training approach? Or have we so lost, or muddled, our mission goals that we this is meaningless?

Who is doing rapid data analysis? Who specializes in decision processes? How do these various roles and systems share information and interact? How does the process change with urgency? What roles are most critical to your church/Church accomplishing the mission?

I've sometimes used the imagery of moving a church/Church being similar to moving an aircraft carrier. The more I think about it the more I wonder if many of our current US churches just aren't built for mission or for movement. 

Friday, March 4, 2016

Lessons From an Aircraft Carrier Group, Part 1

I've got two younger brothers who have done well in life, ventured away from Georgia, and have spent most of their adult lives outside the south. The middle one, who had the adjective "precocious" attached to him most often during our first 20 years, enjoyed a career with the Navy before his current government job. He spent many years on aircraft carriers (including USS Constellation [CV64], USS Kitty Hawk [CV63], USS Enterprise [CVN65] and others and concluding with USS Bush [CVN77]). After 20 years in the Navy he retired as a Lieutenant Commander. 

I asked him what it takes to move a carrier fleet and how they communicate and coordinate such movement. He's a person of deep faith, and we both recognize that we wouldn't want the Church to become a conquering, military operation. Instead, the curiosity is what might the church movement learn to become a movement again. It's not as simple a simple process as it is relational, contextual, and not a paid position. But in the complexity of people and roles and movement how do we function and can we learn from others? How does a complex organization with many people and a shared mission yet various roles arrive safely and fulfill the goals?

Brother said:
  • Create a plan (crawl, walk, run- the typical stages of planning). 
  • Communicate and get feedback on the plan.
  • Execute the plan. 
  • Learn from the event and plan for the next one. 
  • Use a multi-tiered approach throughout process including in person meetings, telephone/radio/email/newsletters/planning documents shared on computer, shared drive or internet; 
  • Keep up with changes to the plan and share the changes in enough time that people can react to them 
Most of this is standard systems operation though sometimes we get the stages out of order. I am reminded that too often the church/Church doesn't learn from a plan or event. We can fail to do evaluation and apply the learning to our next steps. It makes me wonder how many times a personality might dominate a plan instead of a group process which makes possible a larger mission and greater outcome. Further, I'm especially mindful that we sometimes don't share the changes in enough time for people to react. This sense of communication and timing seems even more important for Church and especially for a global denomination. And, again, while it may take one or two to lead and to facilitate the process there should be high levels of dialogue and input for mission effectiveness. 

While this may seem basic, in fact, it can be tough to keep up such practices and discipline the more complex an organization becomes. What do you see in this as you consider the way your church works the plan/s? We'll go a little deeper with this in Part 2 with more lessons from an aircraft carrier group.

Thursday, March 3, 2016

Lessons From a Marketing Campaign

I have an incredible circle of friends who are talented, hardworking, generous, and fun! One of these folk is a VO talent I got to know while serving Greensboro First United Methodist Church. I had no idea a few years ago that ""voice over" was even a job. It made sense once I thought about all those voices I hear on radio, in stores, on Pandora, etc. It's been fun to follow Kelley over the years and to listen more closely "at the voices" to hear if that's a friend talking to me.

Recently Kelley got my attention again as she launched a campaign directed at/for #Jeep. What is intriguing to me in this is that it's personal, matches Kelley's life, and somewhat blurs the line between typical advertising and a friend telling their story about a product. Kelley even got the attention of Adweek. She combined her interest, her friends and their talents, and reached out in a novel way with her marketing. Check out her risky, bold, authentic campaign. If you are a #Jeep person or #JeepFamily you may especially enjoy #KB4Jeep.

I told Kelley that I wondered what church could learn about running a marketing campaign. We both recognize a difference between an advertising company and the work of the church, but I've always thought the church can learn much from creative, generous, fun people that will make us stronger. So, while I wouldn't advise a church to lose it's distinctives I know that we must be savvy about reaching out to our community and world in risky, bold, authentic ways. It's a glutted market out there, with many aggressively reaching out to people, and the church must have a plan that embraces the individual and church need for connecting with the community.

I asked Kelley to share 3 principles of a creative campaign and she advised:
1. Research, research, and research your target some more.
2. Immerse yourself in your target's brand culture.
3. Make sure any marketing effort is reflective of the target's brand personality.

I translate this in some missional ways for a congregation as:
1. Learn the people, and the people groups, of your community. Don't think you are done learning!
2. Immerse yourself in the community. It may be that you, or your church, may only represent 1 or 2 people groups in the community. Go deep with community engagement to know the culture.
3. Learn to communicate in effective ways with the people group/s in your community that you know and can reach. Speak the language of the people so that the words, deeds, and community communication of the church are in alignment. Otherwise you are talking a different language.

This is intriguing as I think about who a congregation is and who we might be trying to reach in our community. Our challenge today, in our secular, cynical world, is building real relationships as we love God and love our neighbors as we do ourselves. As I transfer these marketing principles to the life of a church it opens up some good possibilities for a church. Sharing the Good News of Jesus Christ that meets people where they live is still our calling, and we can do that in ways that connect the congregation and our community.

Check out Kelley's campaign and then imagine what risky, personal, authentic marketing plan your congregation might develop.

Wednesday, February 3, 2016

What's Your Momentum?

I likely should call some of these "Coffee Diaries" as I jot down thoughts based on recent conversations in a rather unedited, stream of consciousness style. Perhaps some of this will flow, and not have too many grammar or spelling problems, and might be useful in your personal and corporate church ministry.

I'm now involved with many churches in a variety of locations. Rural and urban, small membership and large, in the United States and around the world, and all the "in between" descriptors are now my world. In my own home annual conference we have 912 congregations spread across North Georgia. In many respects learning about, and growing in relationship and partnership with so many congregations, is similar to getting to know thousands of people. There are many similarities, yet each church with it's own context, history, and personality.

What is your approach when you are getting to know a congregation in a visit? For me it is always interesting to learn who they are, what they do as a church, and how they present themselves and that vibe that they give off. Some congregations present as young and sassy (sometimes full of themselves!), and others seem old and frail. Most are somewhere between birth and death, but where?

Have you ever walked into a congregation and thought, "This seems like a dynamic place full of the Holy Spirit!" Or perhaps you've been to a church and sense gloom and doom and wondered, "YIKES, what is going on here?" But, more often than not, most congregations seem to be in their particular "groove," doing what they do, with a certain routine and normalcy that they expect and perhaps even demand. As a visitor or outsider it's sometimes a challenge to really experience and know the congregation and have a "clear read" on who the church is and who they are becoming.

No matter the "age or stage" of a congregation, I'm often curious what the momentum of the church is. Is the congregation stable, declining, or advancing? How long have they been in this movement, or lack of it, and how does this match with what God and the people expect? If a church has been in decline 10-20 years, and the "youngster" in the church is 75, and all the members live outside the immediate neighborhood of the church, how are they feeling and what are they expecting as a congregation?

Here's another image that might work for you as you think about your congregation. In some ways this is somewhat similar to boarding a ship and expecting a great journey, an adventure, and that everyone must be together, work together. Along the way you'll have opportunity to add others to the crew. It's a working crew experience! To "arrive" you'll need everyone to give their all, and to add new crew along the way. With such a visual where's your ship? Are you in the harbor ready to set out again? Do you have enough hands on deck to move the ship and get up some speed? Perhaps your church is more like a ship adrift, or maybe in even worse shape stuck on a reef or with a hole in the hull! In this we also recognize there can be negative momentum or positive momentum. Once the speed picks up, in either direction, the movement itself can take on a life of it's own which might not be easily controlled.

When I think about church momentum I'm reminded of the type advance, movement, growth, engagement, and Body of Christ found in the Acts of the Apostles. This is a living proclamation in word and deed. The church is in desperate need of experiencing this as more than an old story, but reclaiming again the experience and current redemptive story of God as our way of being. If you want to track some of this skim through the book again and consider what this might look like if alive in your church and community. For me, I'm always drawn to Acts 2:42-47, Acts 5:12-16, Acts 6:1-7, Acts 8:7-8 (healing and "much joy in that city"), Acts 9:31,  Acts 10 (proclamation and response from variety ethnic groups- an ongoing theme in Acts), Acts 12:12, Acts 13:48-52 (possibility AND challenge!), Acts 16:5, and you will find other passages that reinforce this idea and form a great study for a church. Note there can be/will be opposition and persecution in such a movement (& not just silly culture skirmishes but the real thing which our international Christian brothers and sisters know too much about! Read Acts 7-8, Acts 12, and other passages again if you doubt or minimize this reality).

As you continue to read in Acts realize that Paul and company were active, unafraid of tension, and in fact saw the value of a call to response, repentance, and following in this Way of Christ. Find MANY clues about momentum in church and community in the Acts of the Apostles that could well be lived out again today.

Tuesday, February 2, 2016

Evaluate Your Church Missions

Here’s a quick note on an issue that keeps coming up in conversations. I’ll return at some point to edit and make clarifications where needed. So, it’s percolating for me, but I’ve got to race on to something else…

Many, many churches have a struggle with doing any form of assessment or evaluation of their ministries. It is an uneasy proposition for many to evaluate in both quantitative and qualitative ways what is occurring. Of course, the alternative (which too many congregations fall into), is a rather haphazard ministry approach which ends up being built upon personalities and projects. Laity may have qualms about evaluation because they don’t want to upset friends or “rock the boat.” Or perhaps we’ve had bad experience with this before and it seems more like business than church. Or maybe we don’t want to accept the reality of our church situation. Does this rather typical church scenario sound familiar in your setting?

Over the years we’ve seen what can happen when we find a focus and get more intentional about strengthening ministry. Think about church music, or Bible study, or your favorite ministry area that exhibits vigor, growth, and a sensibility of “doing it right.” Once upon a time, I can remember when a church would be glad to get anybody to teach the middle school boys class. It’s a powerful change when a church moves to identifying someone who has calling, interest, time, and hones their skill and devotes themselves to doing their best. As a church adopts such a strategy it has impact across the life of the congregation.   

Often many ministry areas of a church may have some focus and goal/s by virtue of the defined task at hand. So, Bible studies or age level ministry or other ministries at the core of most congregational functioning may be rather prescribed in approach. It’s the ministry areas where there is less definition that a church can really get into a mess with a fuzzy, nebulous approach. Often these ministry areas may operate on the edge of an “all church” concern. In many situations such ministries may be well outside the primary interest of clergy or key committees, so as long as a group or individuals don’t disturb the “all church” functioning, or break some major rules of etiquette (formal or informal), the group/s will be allowed to continue. It’s likely that some personality driven character can make something happen, and when we lack that person everything crumbles.

For instance, many congregations do some sort of mission/missions. Now, this is one of those fascinating words as it can mean just about anything under the sun depending on who you talk to (that’s a topic for another day to compare the biblical or theological roots with our understanding and practice. Read up on “missio Dei,” the mission of God, as every mission committee and church needs to be encouraged to “go big” in this calling!). I find many churches where “missions” is a conglomeration of any and every “do gooder” activity imaginable. It’s as if all activity that is a helping action is on equal footing.  Perhaps this started out as the outside agencies being a “tool” or resource for a congregation, but at some stage a confusion in thinking and practice begins so that the outside organization seems on equal footing as the church. In such settings church is merely a vehicle for funding and volunteers for a range of other helping agencies from local, state, national, and international settings. We’ve lost the “flavor” of what it means to be church and to have our own church mission!

One element to the process of ministry discovery and advance can happen through evaluation each year in all of the church areas. I would strongly encourage a mix of key numbers (quantity which might compare quarter to quarter and year to year) and attempt to get a sense of the qualitative, redemptive, life giving characteristics of a church living for God. Some key questions would likely be: How have we been the church God is calling us to be this year through this ministry? How have we grown in our faith by following Jesus in this ministry? How have we relied upon the Holy Spirit in new, dynamic ways in this ministry? How many church participants have we had in this ministry? How many community members and neighbors have we gotten to know through this ministry? What have been the transformational effects of this ministry in our personal lives, church life, and community through this ministry? How many leaders do we have? How many leaders are we developing? What have been our great successes in the last year as we’ve been empowered by God (and what have we learned from that which we must remember)? What have been our great failures (and what have we learned from that which we must remember)? How is God leading us in new and different ways in this next season? How are we becoming the church God is calling us to be? Are we effectively reaching the people group/s (tribe/s) we are called to reach? What do we need to do/be differently this next season as we love God and love our as ourselves neighbor (locally, nationally, & internationally as God defines)?

If all the ministry areas do such a reflection there would likely be a new day for the church as there would be greater intersection and teamwork between ministries as we share in a common task of being the church and calling people to follow Christ. This would help us shed some baggage built up over the years and focus on the essentials.

If we continue to think specifically about mission, such an approach would certainly assist in going deeper in faith and practice and get away from some of the mission traps of the last decade or two. We may then lean more into the future than replicating the past. Mission ought to be the ministry advance of the church, the ship with a full sail set, and not an anchor only to the past. You probably want to cultivate a culture of this type sensibility, so that it is part of the ongoing strategy and discussion, while also having a set evaluation period to get into in-depth consideration of the state of missio Dei in your place.

Perhaps you or your team might find some of these questions useful. Note that I have intentionally not formatted this as a “scorecard” or excel spreadsheet and opted instead for a more conversational way of talking and praying over who a church is in mission. You could easily adapt this, plus add your own wisdom, into an approach that fits your church. The key is to get into an annual process of mission evaluation and discernment which helps your church to encourage the mission movement in your congregation and community.

When working with a mission committee discussing the “state of the church in mission” here are a few areas for consideration for evaluation:

What are the church key priorities (perhaps redundant to say "key" but we can't have 10 formal informal priorities!)? What are the few critical focal points that the whole church is working on/working out/living out? This might be a set of emphases for a year or multi-year period. Just be sure that the mission team is a vital part of the church team! Reinforce that the mission committee and teams serve under the umbrella of the church and are therefore our aim is to not create a silo, or small kingdom, or group/s of Lone Rangers or renegades.

How does mission intersect with these key church priorities? Where are the natural intersections with worship, discipleship, prayer, age level ministries, etc.? How do we more effectively interact with the whole church so that the mission culture of a congregation is as primary, and natural, as the main ministry areas?

What are the key mission partnerships and priorities for the congregation? Local? State/nation? International? Are there key mission groupings (e.g. hunger, housing, community development, church development, evangelism, children and youth, racial reconciliation, cultural immersion, etc.)  which we have, or which we lack, as we reflect on the last year? If we think of the church having a “mission portfolio” what does this look like? If we map this does it look like a shotgun pattern of many dots with little depth? Why is this so? Where do we have depth of mission? What might we give up that will make room for an “all church” focus on mission? Think in terms of engaging the entire church as opposed to only specialized skills in mission.

What are the entry points for the congregation and do we have a variety of offerings from entry level to advanced, from one time activity to long term commitment? What does this look like on an emphasis or activity calendar for a year? How do these various partnerships “feed” each other or reinforce each other? Or have we merely created different mission camps/silos within the congregation? Does this approach help us to create a church in the mission movement, and our congregation within the larger Church as a mission movement?

Do we have a current understanding and experience of the various mission partners? Is it a 50/50 partnership between our congregation and the mission partner? Or do they really only want our volunteers and funding? Perhaps there is a place for the partnership in the church “mission portfolio,” and if so, name what the partnership is good for in the functioning of the congregation and in the “next steps” the church is called to take in the next year. Is the mission partner effective and adding to our effectiveness in being the church?

How is our United Methodist congregation part of connectional mission in the city or county? In the district? In the conference? In the general Church in our country or internationally? If we are working with other groups (parachurch, nonprofit or for profit, other denomination, etc.) do we have appropriate accountability measures in place regarding our activities, funding, and partnership in case there are challenges or problems? Does the partner organization or group have appropriate “checks and balances” in place and do we have all the details for a mission committee to review annually? If we are working with another church or organization are we doing this in a location with an existing Methodist or United Methodist church (This gets complicated! But think how offensive and contrary this would be if an outside church or organization moved in on your location in your UMC conference. You can always check this at or or check with me if you need assistance. Please note that not everything called Methodist is actually vetted and in good UMC standing or they serve in some other capacity.)? Too often we have gotten looking in all sorts of places for the very relationships, resources, and opportunities that our “home team” provides.

How is the congregation in mission and part of the mission movement? How many church members are active in mission (think about both the formal corporate structure and the culture of mission)? How many folk are new in mission or have taken a step in mission? How many new leaders are we developing in mission? Are we known in the community as a “serving” church or some other descriptor which reflects who we are called to be as the Body of Christ? How might the church mission portfolio adapt to enhance what we have learned and respond to God’s call upon us in this next season?

An annual assessment of your congregation in mission can be a powerful way to listen to God and to one another if you are interested in helping your church with the next steps of faith in following Christ today. To choose not to do an annual evaluation is to choose a certain style of assessment which lends itself to maintaining the status quo and more individualist, small movement approach in mission. Choose an evaluation approach which helps your congregation to be strategic, have focus and alignment, work better as a team, and lean into the future God is calling your church into!

Wednesday, January 27, 2016

10 Things Your Church Is Doing Wrong In Mission. But You Won't Believe What Happens Next!

I've always wanted to write one of those outrageous "clickbait" style articles. This resolution from earlier this year has now been achieved. :)

I find the clickbait articles usually have some truth in them. Often I'm appalled at the simplicity of the title; I must click to see what they are talking about. Usually there will be one or two items that are strong and cause me to nod in agreement. Sometimes it seems like they just set off a bomb!

Hopefully my attempt at clickbait will offer some points to consider as you and your church assess how you do mission, who you involve, and put on the table some of the unspoken issues that seem to be lurking in many congregations. I DON'T want you to agree, or to discount, but hope you and your team will get into conversation and prayer, and reflect more deeply on who you are as a church in God's mission. I'm involved with hundreds of Methodist congregations, so this isn't from any one church, but reflects common themes from discussions I am having every day.

Here are 10 things your church is doing wrong in mission!

1. "I don't have the skills to be in mission."
Over the years I can't tell you how many times someone has asked, "I don't have construction or medical skills, so what would you do with me?" You can see it in many people's eyes as they glaze over, or retreat to some "happy place," when they fear I'm going to ask them to do something. Somehow the church has made being partners with God in the mission about our "doing" rather than about our "being." We've made it specialized and can easily give the impression that not everyone has the necessary skills. Of course, the wonderful truth is that we are called to follow Jesus, to share who we are, and to express an incarnational ministry like that of Christ. So, everyone has the skills to love God and love neighbor. Everyone, no matter the age or stage, is skilled enough to be part of God's team and partner in community. This can be both a church focus and a personal lifestyle.

2. "I'm not good enough to be on a mission team."
Now, I've only heard this from church friends who really trust me. I suspect it may be a sentiment that is more pervasive than we'll ever know. A friend in college referred to this as SSHC: Super Special Heavy Christian. Being in the mission of God isn't about being good enough to serve. Rather, it's making ourselves available; we become vulnerable and risk getting out of our comfort zone. I have had a few adults tell me this is really the issue. Adults like to have our organized, controlled, routinized world (whatever that may look like in our experience). The advantage for a church can be embracing what it means to be church for one another and for others beyond an hour or two on Sunday. It can also be a way of validating the "gifts and graces" of everyone within earshot of the congregation as we need everyone involved to begin to express God's love for the world. So, be honest, authentic, practical, and show that in real ways. This isn't polished Christianity, but everyday life in community with Jesus and people.

3. "Missions is about projects."
Don't most people talk about "missions," and then the conversation becomes about making sandwiches, or swinging a hammer, or going to some "poor" place and offering a medical clinic. Many churches are captivated by a WASPish (remember the White Anglo Saxon Protestant church ethic and value system) rather than a missional practice based in scripture and faith. This old approach is too loaded with colonial, institutional stereotype. So, the typical 10-20% of "do-gooders" in a church might make "missions" happen (refer to the earlier two entries to see where these problems feed each other). The rest of us aren't interested, or don't have the time or skills, or it's not a priority, or it doesn't stand out from the good we do through other organizations. Fact is, many clergy steer well clear of mission defined in these ways, and let laity do what they wish as long as it doesn't create any problems for the congregation (almost anything goes!). But, the fact is that this approach is a dead end road and a frail program in contrast to what could be an engaging church culture and Methodist Christian lifestyle. Mission of God is about people and not projects. Learning to be servants following the example of Christ is still an experiment worthy of Methodist individuals and churches.

4. "Missions isn't my calling." 
This is so biblically and theologically bankrupt I'm not even sure where to start! But I understand it if your experience looks more like the previous statements. It's really our fault as we've created a consumer-oriented style church in the last 20 years which defines "missions" as doing. So, we create a variety of "programs,' i.e. ministry areas that people dearly love and protect. The problem becomes that we can easily create "silos" as areas of the church become compartmentalized, and as our individual practices may focus on one area and not another. This leads to some folk staying in Bible study or prayer, and perhaps never getting involved in mission and outreach. Or we suppose you've got to have a certain size church with a missions department to do it right. Do you see the problem in all of this? To follow Christ is to be in the mission of God; to be the Church, as the Body of Christ, is to be a sent church, a going out church, a missional church. Read the baptismal and eucharist liturgy, read Scripture, read your Methodist history, and know that to be in the mission of God is our calling as individuals and as a congregation.

5. "Mission is about the past and not the future."
The missio Dei, this mission of God that the church/Church is called to be, has potential to be the leading edge of church life. It has the opportunity to be the Church active in the world, living in the way Christ taught and modeled, instead of merely continuing the "last chapter" of the various church ministries and projects. While long term partnerships aren't bad, we can get "stuck" in relationships, priorities, energy, funding, etc. to the point that we forget the big calling, the ultimate goal. We get trapped in the past, and can't continue the adventure in loving God and loving neighbor today. Mission ought to be the area of church that blazes the trail into the future! If you look over your mission partnership list can you track the years/decades? How many slots are new or are free to focus on what the church is becoming? It is scary, and risky, and a great adventure to follow Christ today and tomorrow. Many churches may be better off if we called a Jubilee year, discontinued the mission committee and all of our "doing," and established a few missional priorities tied into the core of the current church priorities which lean strongly into who the church is called to be tomorrow.

6. "Mission is about our relationships."
This element has some potential. Yet it only works if we focus on loving God and loving our neighbor as ourselves. Instead, too many churches make mission about a committee, or a person or organization that is supported, or replicating some project or "our" relationships. Our projects can quickly become a goal unto themselves. "If we don't support this it will die." "We need to continue this to honor brother/sister SoAndSo's memory." "If we don't continue this project brother/sister SoAndSo will leave the church." The mission of God has the potential to create multiple lanes of connection between the church and community. Mission can be a wonderful way to get church folk out of the building and into life! It can be a way of creating new relationships which help church people know individuals in their community, and for community people to find their place in the life of a church. This missional approach flings open the doors of a "closed system" church as the congregation expresses what it means to be the Body of Christ in the world, and as we become active in our community in redemptive ways. Mission will help your church get "unstuck" as you grow your world and your relationships. And, do note, this isn't a "one way street" of service as it creates healthy movement of a vibrant church within the community context.

7. "If only we could get more people involved."
Often the mission champions who favor a certain project or group, and dearly love their particular project/group are the "mission team." It is likely they even have a "uniform" and play certain positions on the team (mission t-shirt anyone?). Ever been to a mission committee meeting where it seems like everyone has a primary function to advocate for their favorite group? You may sense an awkward tension, or a sense of alliances and truce between various players. Even worse you may soon hit an impasse as folk advocate for their group and fail to embrace the larger missio Dei at work in church in community. Then we wonder why we can't get anyone else "involved," i.e. doing the things we love, want to continue, and want done like we want done. Let's discontinue the typical approach to a missions committee, the old expectations, and the old practices. Perhaps we'll find benefit in ceasing all the current partnerships, and listen more closely today to God and our neighbors in the community. Is there a movement at work, or does there need to be, in our community? As we read Scripture about the present salvation, and delve more deeply into our community, what are the priorities the Spirit is expressing for our congregation for us to love God and love neighbor? Now, how do we encourage that movement as church and community welcome such Good News and the messengers who make this a reality?

8. "I don't want to give to another special offering or make another sandwich!"
OK, I'm just sharing what I often hear and not trying to be hurtful! While there is definitely a place for our church to also be part of the Church (think response to natural disaster or deploying global missionaries) there is a danger that we make mission too small and meaningless a thing. If we make it too easy, too common, it can lose its priority (how many mission offerings does your church take up in a year? How many groups want your members as volunteers?). Where is the balance between a missional lifestyle of an individual and a congregation's focus upon the most necessary of priorities? I've heard this from church leaders- both laity and clergy- expressed in a variety of churches and said in a few different exasperated ways. Too many churches and denominations have gone through a time of mission either becoming a thing the experts do or something that only asks for a minimal exertion or funding. We should avoid the congregation becoming a funding and volunteer mechanism for all the outside groups. Our priority is for the church, and all the members and constituents, to be deeply engaged in following Christ in mission. Once upon a time church members were willing to write a check and have an agency handle business. Many congregations are finding a joy and usefulness calling every member to follow Christ in the mission of God; this likely means filtering out the scores of options and giving sharp focus to a personally engaged mission. This approach revitalizes worship, discipleship, prayer, and the focus of the entire congregation. As we reclaim the mission of God for the church in our community we will find opportunities to grow in love of God and love of neighbors in dynamic, transformational ways.

9. "Missions at our church is a mile wide and an inch deep."
Many churches seem to have far too many funding and volunteer opportunities which aren't directly related to the current priorities of the church. How many churches have 20, 30, or 40 mission partners? Perhaps a little funding here, and a little there, and occasional activities are the way we  once kept more people involved. In fact, it's as if every "do-gooder" deed and organization are on equal footing. As if we need more stuff to keep us busy! So, the local food drive, Habitat for Humanity, any and every sort of collection imaginable, and any other group needing funding or volunteers- or who have an advocate in a congregation- might all be viewed on the same level. Even the great variety of denominations and para-church groups might be viewed as equal. What?! It;s just too much noise that confuses and not enough depth. I'm shocked that some of the organizations supported are at times adversarial to Methodist and United Methodist groups! Not everything can be a priority nor essential to the core of a particular congregation. In many respects the church has been through a time when the role was to do good, and to do as many things as members brought forward to do. While I wouldn't advocate a "green light" to everything approach I wouldn't say "red light" everything either. But we are living in a different time, and the strength of the church demands a certain focus and teamwork today. We typically have older congregations, with fewer resources of funding and people, and need a "laser focus" on mission. We must claim a more strategic approach to being a church in mission.

10. "Our church is dying- or full of old people, or fill in the excuse- and we can't be in mission!"
This is one of the greatest paradoxes. As a church dies to itself it might be resurrected. As a congregation gives up selfish ways, and becomes servant of the neighborhood and world, there may be new life. As we yield what we have done to what we may become in Christ, we accept a new "script" for mission with new approaches. When a church deepens a life of outward living, rather than inward living, new relationships may be forged. Of course, human nature recommends we close ranks, preserve our resources, do what we know to do, and avoid risk. The mission of God calls us to follow the way of Christ, depend upon one another and Holy Spirit, and live as a new creation of God. This is easy to say and tough to live! Too many churches don't have much of a connection to their neighborhood or community. A church, or Sunday School class, or mission team, can easily become like a small club stuck in time. We become more isolated. Our numbers dwindle. We don't know our neighbors and don't know how to create new relationships. We have lost momentum and look back to some supposed "glory years." We don't know how to be church in the world today with the neighbors that are here. But if the missio Dei is to love God and love neighbor, we'll take on the adventure again and follow Christ in our community. Maybe we can learn from our neighbors. Could it be possible that through them God might bring new life to our congregation? Our great legacy may occur as we become a bridge in creating a new congregation through the relationships we grow in our community through mission.

As the church becomes more aware of the 10 things we are doing wrong in mission we may find greater opportunities to love God and love our neighbors as ourselves. And you, and your community, will be amazed at what happens next! 

Friday, January 22, 2016

Renewing Grace for Church, Community, and Agency

Have you heard that Global Ministries of The United Methodist Church is moving to Atlanta? It's an exciting time, a new chapter, as this takes place in 2016. Here's a report from Anne Nelson, with North Georgia Conference, as we celebrated groundbreaking at Grace UMC this week.

How Does Evangelism, Global Mission, & Racial Reconciliation Thrive in Your Church?

Here's a photo album courtesy of Ansley Brackin from the Networking event last Friday. We had excellent speakers present 30 minute sessions on evangelism, global ministries, and racial reconciliation ministries.

Winston Worrell of World Methodist Evangelism Institute had just returned from training in Haiti and shared a holistic Methodist understanding and practice of evangelism.

Judy Chung spoke to us about the move of UMC Global Ministries to Atlanta and what is happening in the our international denomination with missionaries- short term and long term- who go from "everywhere to everywhere."

Kevin Murriel offered practical insight into ways individuals and congregations can, and should, be active in racial reconciliation in our communities (here's one interview to give you an idea).

We'll share recordings of the day in the near future. Today, I'm thinking back to last Friday, and am once again thankful! These colleagues, and friends, are exceptional presenters, and your congregation would do well to consider them to help your congregation grow stronger in ministry.

Thursday, January 14, 2016

"Recycled, Renewed" Further Thoughts

This week our North Georgia conference "Monday Morning" shared my devotion based on our recent time in the Manila area of the Philippines. We've seen a good response to the story as the various themes of "Recycled, Renewed" has stuck a chord with folk.

You can easily pair the story up with any number of Scripture if you want to use this in a devotion, class, or sermon. Romans 12:1-3 or Ephesians 5:1-2 come to mind for me. The road to Emmaus passage in Luke 24 fits the scene of walking together and Jesus who is present. The ripple impact of Christian witness and the impact of our mission and ministry is another rich element to me in my brief story with Ronnel. Whether Great Commission, or cloud of witnesses (Hebrew 12), or another passage with focus on our place in the salvation drama today, we can be inspired and renewed in our commitment to active ministry in the community.

Of course, a passage which leaps out to match the story could be from Isaiah 40:28-31(NIV)
28 Do you not know?
    Have you not heard?
The Lord is the everlasting God,
    the Creator of the ends of the earth.
He will not grow tired or weary,
    and his understanding no one can fathom.
29 He gives strength to the weary
    and increases the power of the weak.
30 Even youths grow tired and weary,
    and young men stumble and fall;
31 but those who hope in the Lord
    will renew their strength.
They will soar on wings like eagles;
    they will run and not grow weary,
    they will walk and not be faint.

Discussion questions might be:

  •  how do you as an individual, and your congregation, engage in similar outreach ministry in their own community? 
  • who has your church adopted in the past into the life of the congregation by meeting needs and building relationships? who are you currently getting to know and reaching?
  • how are you personally being recycled and renewed today? how is your congregation being recycle and renewed today? is your congregation a community "recycling and renewing" place? If not, what would it take for your church to become known in the community as a people of life transformation? 
Enjoy the experience and participation you and your congregation may have as you learn from Ronnel and the Filipino United Methodists and experience this style ministry that fits your own community.