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.

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