Monthly Archives: March 2018

An Artificial Mission

IMG_1633We must stay on Mission!

Dictionary.com defines Mission this way:

  • the business with which a group is charged.
  • any important task or duty that is assigned, allotted, or self-imposed:
  • an important goal or purpose that is accompanied by strong conviction; a calling or vocation:

This is the “why” of what we do. Mission is our meaning, our purpose, that which drives us, the thing that keeps us moving forward. Mission is not just a group or organization thing. Every individual should be aware of his or her God-given mission. You’ve been put on earth for a particular reason. This is your “Mission.”

But, without doubt, all of us get “off mission” from time to time. We create our own “artificial mission.”

Inc. Magazine says: “As every company gets older and matures, especially around its tenth anniversary and after, it can be become difficult to remember the reasons why it was founded in the first place. When you look to those organizations that have been around 30 to 50 years and older, it can be really hard to believe you’re talking about the same place.”

This is true of companies, of churches, and of individuals.

We all experience “mission drift.” This is where we slowly and sometimes subtly veer away from our mission and lose sight of our intended goal.

So, What Happens to Mission?

For those who are called by God to do a work in the world, our Mission is sacred; it is a calling from God. Because of the nature of our Mission, it is perpetually under attack. There is an enemy of the Mission. He will do anything necessary in order to sidetrack you.

This is when what I refer to as the war of attrition can occur. After a season of resistance, pushback and opposition, the Mission can soften. We lose our edge. We can get sidetracked – defending the Mission, debating the details of the Mission or trying to validate how important the Mission really is. Rather than living on Mission, we tolerate substitutes.

Now, enter the concept of the subtle creep of the Mission. It happens one little decision at a time, where you go astray by just a bit. The drift is unintentional and difficult to discern, but it is persistent. And the results are just as devastating as an abrupt and intentional abandonment of the Mission.

“Getting eaten by a whale or nibbled to death by minnows results in the same thing, although one demise is easier to diagnose.” Steve Haas, World Vision

Peter Greer and Chris Horst wrote a great book entitled, Mission Drift: The Unspoken Crisis Facing Leaders, Charities and Churches. They say, “Without careful attention, faith-based organizations drift from their founding mission. It’s that simple. It will happen. Slowly, silently, and with little fanfare, organizations routinely drift from their purpose, and many never return to their original intent. Harvard and the YMCA are among those that no longer embrace the Christian principles on which they were founded. But they didn’t drift off course overnight. Drift often happens in small and subtle ways. Left unchecked, it eventually becomes significant.”

Here is the my main point today:

When we begin to fail in regard to fulfilling our Mission, we create an alternative mission.

Because we don’t know how to refocus on the Mission, we create a reactionary mission. We may feel guilty about our lack of progress. We may get frustrated about the lack of positive movement. We may feel pressured to produce something of substance. We need a break from the pressure. So we develop a “pseudo-mission.”

An alternative or reactionary or “pseudo” mission can look like: finances, politics, or the latest natural disaster. Granted, these things are important and should certainly be someone’s mission. But if they are not your God-given mission, don’t allow them to take over your focus.

When churches get off mission from the Great Commission (to make Disciples), they adopt another vision. This mission may be politics. It could be social justice. Perhaps homelessness or prolife issues or acceptable Bible versions can take center stage. But, even though these are important topics, they are not The Mission of the Church. Substitute or counterfeit missions succeed in one thing: to pull us off Mission.

I am learning a great deal about this topic from Todd Wilson’s book, Multipliers; Leading Beyond Addition. Todd discussed the possibility of having a substitute mission that becomes an idol. When we place a secondary issue above that which God prioritizes, we create false idols. Wilson reminds us that church historians have shown that every Christian has two callings: a primary calling and a secondary calling. All Christians share the primary calling of making disciples. The Great Commission in Matthew 28:19-20 details this. Our secondary callings, (passions, drives, interests and burdens) which drive our activism, must be kept in proper check – subservient to our primary calling.

I love the way Wilson explains this. God gives us our secondary calling to help fulfill our primary calling. It must never be turned around!

What this means to me is Christians must never focus only on:

Politics

Social welfare

Race relations

Pro-life movement

Homelessness

Recovery

Parentless children

Substance abuse

Addictions

Gun control

Elder care

Bus ministry

Feeding the hungry

Church Planting

Church growth

Leadership development

Education reform

Door-to-door witnessing

Divorce recovery

Youth Ministry

You get the idea.

These issues are all necessary and important and vital to our work. But they are not The Mission; they are part of the mission – perhaps a secondary mission.

The thing about substitute mission is it leaves you feeling empty. You work diligently to accomplish it, but once it is accomplished, there is no fulfillment. Or you work hard and expect everyone else to assist. But they don’t because they have their own secondary mission (and get frustrated at you for not helping them!) This is because the substitute is… a substitute. Only The Mission and the accomplishment of it will bring us to true completion.

There is One Mission: Make Disciples. That’s it.

You have one job. You have one Mission. You also have a secondary mission. I don’t know what your secondary mission is but I’m guessing you do. Whatever it is, do that. But please focus on the primary Mission. Don’t get sidetracked. Don’t allow your Mission to get hijacked. It’s too important. If God commissioned you with that mission, the world needs it.

No more artificial mission!

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Healing Between the Races: The Responsibility of the Church

design.pngAllow me to begin this article with a disclaimer. I do not claim to be an authority in race relations. While I have studied the issues and have worked in multicultural ministry for years, I realize my limited exposure to the concepts, simply because of my race. In my effort to learn more, I have recently read a variety of authors who more adequately address the topic. Among them are Sean Palmer who wrote Why Christians Are Incapable of Racial Healing http://www.missioalliance.org/confession-evasion-christians-incapable-racial-healing/, Mark Crear, PhD, President, Multicultural Division of AACC, who wrote Racial Healing, Reconciliation, and the Church https://www.aacc.net/2015/10/09/racial-healing-reconciliation-and-the-church/ and one of my long times favorites, Wellington Boone who recently published How to Pray for Racial Healing https://www.preachitteachit.org/articles/detail/how-to-pray-for-racial-healing/ I hope you can enjoy their works like I have.

Our politicians have failed in the area of racial reconciliation. Our country is deeply divided in several ways but one of the deepest breaches is race. Years of training, emphasis on sensitivity and awareness, and legislation has not provided what we need. In 2018, the United States in general and Illinois specifically (my context) is torn and divided by race. We are all hurting and people are wondering if there is any hope. Indeed, many have completely given up.

One of the results of a healthy local church in an unhealthy community is influence. Believers in Christ are commissioned to be salt and light in a broken culture. This basically means that we are not to blend in; we are to be difference makers. When we see illness in our towns and cities, the church has an opportunity and responsibility to display the solutions that are provided by the Gospel. We know that God created all people equal. We know that the Scriptures teach us that we must love others as we love ourselves even, and perhaps especially, when others are different from us. I believe that God is displeased when people discriminate based upon skin color, race or ethnicity. God does not tolerate racism in any form, nor should His Church.

So why haven’t we done better in regard to healthy race relations? We can blame our politicians or legislators. We can point fingers at other races, placing responsibility for reconciliation upon them. But I believe that the Church must do better. We have the opportunity to put on public display what healthy race relations looks like. What could happen if churches of various races came together in the name of the Lord? Most churches are segregated by race. What would happen if God’s children no longer accepted this as normal? Can we imagine the impact of a church that refused to allow race to separate it? How would the world respond to a church that was truly united?

I wish to extend a challenge to the churches in Illinois, as well as anyone I am connected with. I am asking our pastors, leaders and church members to make a concentrated and intentional effort to heal the racial breach in your community. Take the initiative. Accept the responsibility to reach out with grace and patience to people who are different from you. While we are not responsible for how others respond, we are responsible to share the love of God across racial and ethnic boundaries. It will require taking some risks. We will have to be willing to get uncomfortably, surrender some of our preferences and go the extra mile. Tolerating one another isn’t enough. Tokenism and disingenuous overtures won’t work, in fact, they will do further harm. But I honestly believe that we can make a difference and have a positive impact.

How will the world know how to heal the brokenness if the church is just as broken as the world? Our desperate prayer should be, “God, heal Your people!”

And, if you believe that there is no racial problems in our churches and communities, I strongly disagree. Be honest as you answer these rhetorical questions: Is the racial diversity your church reflective of the racial diversity in your community? Would you willingly serve under a spiritual leader (pastor or Bishop) of another race? Do you intentionally try to connect with and build relationships with people from a race different than yours? If your answers are “no”, you may have some issues to consider. Keep believing that there are no race problems among the church and the people around you will lose respect for you, and potentially your church. I agree with the assessment that says that the most racially divided hour in American is Sunday morning. We have to do something about that.

I challenge you – lead the way. Serve someone of a different race. Reach out with genuine love to someone of a different nationality. Find someone who is currently out of your comfort zone and become a true friend.

I recall the first church we pastored. It was all white. This troubled me because our community was diverse. I had seen an African American family living down the street. I did the unthinkable – I went down, knocked on their door and invited them to church. Guess what? They came and became treasured members of the church. It’s not that hard to be a reconciler.

While the problems of race relations will never be completely solved until we get to heaven, the church must offer hope and a better way through Christ.

We are one in the Spirit; The world will know that we are Christians by our love for one another.

 


Embrace Change

IMG_0072It’s been said, there are 2 things that you can count on for sure – death and taxes. Well, obviously, there are more things than this that are inevitable. The love of God, the power of the cross, and eternity are for sure. The Bible says, “Heaven and earth may pass away but the Word of the Lord remains.” I would like to humbly add one more thing to this list: CHANGE. Regardless of whether or not we like it, change always comes. There is no denying it, avoiding it, or outsmarting it. Change happens.

Some change is bad. Deteriorating morals, new definitions of right and wrong, and adding to or taking away from the Bible are most certainly destructive. What is socially acceptable, which is subject to change, is not the standard for believers. We must hold tightly to the standards of God’s Word and His expectations of holiness are never to be compromised.

We must never consider changing the meaning of the Scriptures. But not everything in our church is sacred. Not every method of our worship is holy. The Bible doesn’t indicate if chairs or pews are better, if the Holy Spirit prefers a particular version of the Bible, or what color the carpet in the sanctuary should be. The Message never changes but at times, the method of the delivery of the message must be adjusted. A good example may be music. Music in the church looks and sounds completely different today than it did 100 years ago. A few very large churches back then had pipe organs. The smaller churches had few instruments, but those that did featured primitive acoustic guitars, banjos, and an occasional out-of-tune piano. The fact that there were no sound systems changed the approach to worship, at least how we are familiar with it today. Crowds were generally smaller. People sang loudly because there were no microphones. No electricity or air conditioning created challenges we no longer have. Now, some people prefer things the way they were back then. But guess what? Things changed. Good or bad, times brought about advancements in technology and innovations that resulted in more people being presented with the opportunity to hear the preaching and engage in worship. Some changes are bad, but some changes are good. We must know the difference.

Those who refuse to change really have no choice, change comes to us all, like it or not. Digging one’s heels in only results in being left behind. And even worse, when we refuse to adjust our methods, our voice to the culture gets silenced because we lose touch with the people in the culture.

I encourage you, stay true to your convictions. Never compromise on the integrity of the Bible. Don’t sugarcoat the truth. But let’s not get stuck fighting for an opinion that is merely an opinion. If the Bible says that a particular behavior is sin, it is. But if there is room for interpretation, please respect others and their ability to make decisions as the Lord leads them. One of our fathers in the faith, Augustine of Hippo said, “In the essentials unity, in non-essentials, liberty; in all things, charity.” I interpret this to mean that we must stay together in the unquestionable issues – like the basic doctrines of our faith. But in areas where the Bible is not black and white (like preaching styles, types of worship music, or the design of our church buildings), we should allow people to choose their preference. And regardless of what other people think and do, we must love them. Let’s not go to war with one another over tastes, opinions and preferences.

I believe we have a responsibility to know how to apply the Bible to every generation. If I weaken the effectiveness of the Gospel by the way I present it (if no one ever gets saved or discipled), I am wrong if I don’t adjust. If what I am doing no longer works, I must seek God for the changes He wants me to make. My excuses of stubbornness or inflexibility will not stand on judgment day.

Once we die, things will finally quit changing. But until then, brace yourself for change, and lots of it. Don’t allow the pace of change in this world to leave you behind. The world needs us to share the eternal truth of God’s Word in new, creative and innovative ways.

The world is changing rapidly but the Truth of Jesus is eternally effective. Let’s do whatever we can to reach as many as we can for Christ!