Missional Monday: The Wisdom of Considering Your Community’s Calendar

mmCalendars reflect priorities. They reflect what an individual or an organization chooses to do with its time – a precious commodity. Most churches have a master calendar that contains all ministry events, facility reservations, service times, and ongoing ministries to its membership and others. Churches have leadership groups whose responsibility it is to coordinate these activities. An important task in planning is to ensure as little overlap as possible. The last thing a church needs is to schedule multiple ministry opportunities on the same day that cause the people to have to choose. There is another calendar, a calendar often overlooked by churches – the community calendar. Local communities have a calendar that lists events, news, festivals, and other functions unique to them. Town and city councils publish these calendars far enough ahead to the ensure the residents can participate.

Why does this matter? For far too long the church and its community have been content to exist and function as if they have no need for each other. This is simply not true. If a church believes their community matters, the two should work together as often as possible. The church needs the community. The community is the place and the people into which God has planted the church as agents of light and ministers of grace. God has called His people to their community to flavor and influence it positively with the good news of the gospel. The community needs the church. Whether they acknowledge it or not does not negate the truth. The community needs the influence and care the local church offers. The community needs the church to serve it and make a difference.

Please hear me closely. I am not advocating allowing the secular community to determine the actions and direction of the church. I do not believe that would be wise. I am certain the community would not allow the church to determine its activities and direction. Does the church have a responsibility to be involved in the life of their local community? Absolutely. Can both parties benefit when this happens? No doubt.

I have given a great deal of thought to this and the what I have found has shaped my ministry philosophy. When planning ministry opportunities, the church should consider what is happening in the community at that time. The purpose is to determine the possibility of the church’s involvement. When there are special events in the community, the church would do well to seek ways to involve itself. As the church involves itself in the everyday life of the community, trust is built and relationships are formed.

The goal for the church as it relates to the community is to be an agent of change and hope through the message of the gospel of Christ. When the community sees the church cares about the people and their future with no strings attached, credibility is earned. Must the community acknowledge the church for the church to be credible? Of course not. Jesus Christ established the New Testament Church and needs no secular approval. However, the old saying is true here, “Nobody cares how much you know until they know how much you care.” Credibility is a bridge by which the gospel travels. Consistent involvement is necessary if we hope to make a difference and a lasting mark on the community where the church has been planted. Why compete when we can cooperate?

 

Speaking Church May Be Hurting Us

Within every profession, service industry, and organization, there are secret languages understood only by its members. If you don’t believe me, just walk into a Starbucks and listen to the patrons order their favorite drink. You are likely to hear a combination of words and phrases that would lead you to believe aliens have landed from the far side of the moon. For example, my usual order at Starbucks sounds like this, “I’ll have a Venti bold with no room”. What I am saying to the barista is this, “I will have your largest and strongest coffee, and by the way, I do not need room for cream.” Businesses such as these have created an environment that requires the consumer to learn a language that is specific to the product they wish to consume. This may or may not be intentional. What they are saying is this “If you want to be part of our ‘group’ then you need to learn our language.” Sound unfair? Hold on. What about the church?

Before we blame the businesses for requiring us to learn a foreign language, let’s take a look at how the Christian church may be guilty. I believe many would agree that Christians have a specific lingo that we are comfortable with. We use phrases and words that we are comfortable with that may leave the first-time guest in our services scratching their head and asking “what are they talking about?” We use words such as advent, apostle, disciple, rapture, righteous, sanctification, elect, trinity, covenant, redemption, and salvation much like we would car, home, cheeseburger, chair, or grass. Phrases such as washed in the blood, give your heart to Jesus, profession of faith, and walk down the aisle roll off our church-influenced tongues the same way turn off the light, answer the phone, and wash the car do. Think of the questions that must run through the mind of the person who has never been in church before. Inside they may be asking, “Is that going to hurt?” “You’re asking me to do what?” “Is that legal?” I may be exaggerating a bit, but I think you get my point.

As a pastor, I believe the church has a responsibility to remove barriers that may keep individuals who do not have a personal relationship with Jesus Christ from coming to know Him. Barriers such as personal preferences, fear, and past hurts are hard enough to overcome without imposing a new language for which Rosetta Stone hasn’t even written software. I am becoming increasingly aware, and fearful, that the guests in our worship services have no idea what we are talking about. What should we do? First, it is important to acknowledge the fact that we are guilty of speaking “church”. Second, I believe that every ministry leader, when writing announcements, newsletters, and ministry promotions, should filter everything through this question; “Will the words that I have written and spoken be clearly understood by someone who has never been in church before?” We owe it to the first-time guest, the seeker, and the Christian desperately desiring to serve the Lord our commitment to remove the barriers that would hinder them, including our “church” talk.

Missional Monday : Love Gave 2015

mmSeveral months ago I was sitting with Shane Olsen, lead pastor of Decibel Church and Mike Green, lead pastor of the The Link at lunch. I do not remember the purpose of that meeting. Perhaps we were debriefing a past event or planning a future event. I simply can’t remember. I do remember that out conversation turned toward our city. As the discussion went on, one question seemed to emerge: How can our churches work together in order to show God’s love toward our city? We had already been serving our community in our own individual contexts. Collectively we were all part of large community-wide, non-denominational Thanksgiving event that fed hundreds and hundreds of families. Several questions helped to frame the above question.

What more could we do together?

Is once a year enough to make a real and lasting impact?

What resources could we pool and leverage to make a difference?

What is the best option for long-term and lasting impact?

It was out of this discussion that Love Gave was born.

So, what is Love Gave? Well, there is no formal mission and purpose statement. I guess you could call it an emphasis, a focus, or perhaps collaboration. My prayer is that it becomes a movement. We decided that over a 40 period (October 11th – November 22nd) that we would make it a priority to serve our city in a visible display of God’s love. During this 40 day period, each church will choose their individual emphasis. Port Royal Baptist will see 40 Days of Community. Collectively we will come together for two main community events in under-served areas; one in Beaufort (October 24th) and one in Port Royal (November 7th).  I believe a fundamental principle in community ministry is to ask agencies and city leaders how the church can help them in order to cut down on duplication and focus resources. We met with the mayor of Beaufort and Port Royal’s town manager to share our vision and seek guidance. Both recognized the need and welcomed the help. There are at least three goals we hope to attain through these events. First, it is our desire to show the cities of Beaufort and Port Royal a visible witness of God’s love through sacrifice and service. Second, it is our desire to show the community how beautiful and how strong the Body of Christ is. Lastly, it is our desire to give at least 1000 volunteer hours to our cities on each of the two city ministry days.  Although the details of each city ministry day are still coming together, we do know a few things for sure. The Beaufort ministry day will consist of park clean-up and painting, renovation work for a needy homeowner, and a carnival/block party in the Greene Street area. The Port Royal ministry day will consist of skate park repair/painting and other work in Veterans Memorial Park.

I would ask that you pray. Pray that our cities will see God’s love lived out in practical ways and that hearts will be softened to the gospel as a result. Pray for the approximately 10-12 churches that will be involved in Love Gave. Pray that their congregations will be strengthened as a result of serving their community. Please pray that this truly would be a movement that would be embraced as we partner with our cities to love the people who make them up. I would also ask that you volunteer. I would pray that you might embrace this opportunity to “be” the church.

National Night Out 2015

NNO15For the past three years, Port Royal Baptist Church has had the privilege of participating in a community-building event known as National Night Out. National Night Out is an initiative to develop and promote crime-prevention programs in neighborhoods involving watch groups, law enforcement agencies, churches, non-profit organizations, businesses, and individuals working toward one simple goal: safer and stronger communities. Our church has long had a burden for the multi-housing community that adjoins our campus and had been looking for ways to gain entry. In the years prior, we had not been allowed access to the property for a number of reasons. We approached the property manager with the National Night Out initiative and it allowed the crack in the door we had been praying about.

This is how it works. A church, business, or non-profit organization identifies a neighborhood to “adopt” and invites local law enforcement/fire safety agencies to join them. In our case, Port Royal Police Department, Beaufort County Sheriff’s Department, and Beaufort County Fire Department will provide staff and resources from their departments to communicate their anti-crime and safety message. This initiative allows police and fire departments an opportunity to show the positive side of their work that many in the community never get to see. Our part is to host a block party (bounce house, popcorn, sno-cones, etc.) including a cookout. The property manager provides the space, power, and internal promotion to more than 100 family units. Through this initiative, foundational partnerships have been formed that have led to current ministry opportunities of ministry and involvement. On August 4th, 2015, we will all come together again to do our individual part in collectively making sure our community knows that we care about them.

Earlier I mentioned foundations for future involvement. From the church’s standpoint, we have had the privilege to go back into this neighborhood and minister in other ways. Because of a “non-church” event, we have been allowed to come back to host “church” events including those related to Easter, Vacation Bible School, Back Yard Bible Clubs, and Family Fun Days. We were able to match our burden for the community with the command to reach all people with the gospel because we built trust and earned the right to be involved in their lives. How did we do this? How can you do the same thing?

1. We took advantage of a secular event in order to lay the groundwork for ministry. Check your community calendars and involve your church in those events. I will be writing on the importance of merging church and community calendars this coming week. Check back for that.

2. We actually believe that our community is our responsibility, not someone else’s. Remember, missional is not about doing. It is all about being. Don’t allow someone else to be the missionary to your community.

3. We were not afraid to be told “no”. Neither should you. Pray, identify, and ask. We were told “no” in this particular multi-housing unit for years. Seasons change. Administrations change. Persistence pays off.

Monday is For Missions : What Are You Doing For Others This Year?

mmThe Christmas season is upon us. Our city has begun putting up lights and decorations on the light poles that line the streets. Families have begun putting up their trees and are well into their Christmas shopping. Our church calendar is filling up quickly. Between class and ministry parties, choir celebrations, and Christmas-themed sermons, we are reminded at every turn that we have entered into a very special time in the life of the church; the celebration of the birth of Jesus Christ. It would be very easy for us to get lost in all of the fun and fellowship side of the holiday. There is certainly a place for all of these. I often tell our people that the priority in all that we do is life-changing ministry that leads others to worship the One True God and His Son Jesus. Don’t get me wrong here, I enjoy Christmas parties. I enjoy spending time with our various ministries/classes in times of fellowship. I enjoy the fun of the Christmas season. I am thankful that in the midst of all this, we prioritize ministry opportunities that intentionally introduce people to the love of the Savior. What does this look like for us?

1. Angel Tree Christmas Party

Angel Tree is a ministry program of Prison Fellowship which reaches out to the children of inmates who are incarcerated in our state prisons and their families with the love of Christ. Angel Tree gives us the opportunity to share the Savior’s love by helping to meet the physical, emotional, and spiritual needs of the prisoner’s family. Angel Tree works to connect the gift requests/desires of the inmate for his/her family and the need for the children to remain connected to their parent during an especially emotional time of year. All of this happens while maintaining the dignity of both the inmate and the family. We help to provide toy and clothing gifts to the children as well as hand-written letters and family pictures to the inmates.

2. Christmas Party at Local Multi-Housing Complex

Across the street from our church is a multi-housing complex that have been volunteering and ministering in for many years. We take time on a Saturday and provide a simple party for the residents and children. There is food, games, a small gift, and a gospel presentation through the telling of the Christmas story. The greatest present we give here is our presence. This party is a simple way for us to communicate that each one is important and that we care about them. We have found that this event, along with other seasonal events (Easter, back-to-school, etc.), are critical to building lasting and meaningful relationships.

3. Operation Christmas Child – Charlotte Distribution Center

We have some of our people heading to Charlotte to work at the Operation Christmas Child Distribution Center this year. Operation Christmas Child is a ministry of Samaritan’s Purse which delivers shoeboxes filled with toys, hygiene items, candy, etc. to children around the world who may not have any gifts this Christmas season. Once the shoeboxes leave local collection centers, they make their way to Charlotte to be prepared for their final trip to over one hundred countries around the world.

Allow me to leave you with a question today. What are you doing this Christmas season for someone who will in no way be able to return the favor?

Book Review : A Heart For The Community

heart4communityI am particularly interested in books and resources that deal with strengthening the local church for more effective community engagement. As a pastor I believe it is critically important for the church to leverage its corporate resources and individual member’s gifts and talents to engage and positively impact its immediate community surroundings. This engagement occurs through introductory methods such as community block parties and service projects and moves on to more complex efforts such as community impact centers and church planting efforts. I recently completed a book entitled “A Heart for the Community; New Models for Urban and Suburban Ministry” by Editors John Fuder and Noel Castellanos. Fuder serves as the director of community engagement at Park Community Church and Castellanos serves as the CEO of the Christian Community Development Association, both in Chicago, IL.

A Heart for the Community exposes the reader to the collaborative efforts of the Christian Community Development Association, Moody Bible Institute, and Moody Church to holistically change the city of Chicago through the power of the gospel. This book is actually a selection of essays from over thirty contributors who been involved in the trench work of urban and suburban ministry that have strategically planted churches in the urban and suburban areas of Chicago. This book is divided into four parts. Part One, Critical Issues, highlights the importance exegeting the community to better understand the who, what, when, where, and why of the people you’re ministering to. Part Two, Church-Planting Models, deals with the various models of churches being planted in Chicago as a result of the exegesis. These models include Latino, Hip Hop, Chinese, and Muslim along with ministries reaching to the homeless, drug addicts, and prostitutes. Part Three, Ministering to Suburban Needs, looks into the increasing diversity in suburban areas highlighting poverty alongside luxury and racial dynamics. Part Four, Para church Ministries, shows the importance of working alongside other agencies and ministries such as the Salvation Army and Young Life.

A Heart for the Community is practical and not overly-scholarly. Not only does it bring to the forefront the issues and needs facing churches today, but it offers strategies to tackle the problems head on. Fuder and Castellano’s work is not a “do this and you will be successful” book. It does however offer hope that communities can be reclaimed. This is a great work and I recommend it highly any church leader that is concerned about their community and wants to know the challenges and possibilities involved.

Disclosure of Material Connection: I received this book free from Moody Publishers as part of their Blogger Review Program. I was not required to write a positive review. The opinions I have expressed are my own. I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission’s 16 CFR, Part 255: “Guides Concerning the Use of Endorsements and Testimonials in Advertising.”

Monday is for Missions : VBS, Pastorally Speaking

AgencyAgencyD3_Badge-4color D3 is in the books. The investigation of the evidence surrounding the person of Jesus Christ has been completed. As I walked around the church building this past Sunday morning, I could not help but think that it looked as if Vacation Bible School had never happened. No more colorful decorations and screaming children. Vacation Bible School makes for a very long week around the church. If you take into account the weeks leading up to the actual teaching week, many long, long hours have been logged over the past three weeks. I heard one of our workers say this past week, “There is tired and then there is Vacation Bible School tired.” This is absolutely true. Although it is physically and emotionally draining, it is worth it. When it comes to Vacation Bible School, I’m all in. I’m sold on its ministry value. I fully understand how important this week is in the life and overall ministry of the church. Now that Vacation Bible School 2014 is over, allow me to make a few observations.

1. Attendance: For better or worse, this is often the marker by which Vacation Bible School is judged as a success or a failure. I am not completely sold on this. I am not exactly sure what our average attendance was for the week. I do know that is was down from last year. Although lower, I was encouraged by our attendance. I know that may sound odd. My reason for being encouraged is not so much about how many, but who was here. It is obvious that our people were active in inviting others this week. I know this because as the kids passed through the Missions Rotation that I was leading, they wanted me to meet their friends they had brought with them. Again this year our students met the same week as our children. I was encouraged to see the largest number in Youth VBS than I had seen in years, about 16 each night. This does not count the high school students who were assisting in other areas. We had the children who were members of other churches. That is perfectly fine. We are happy to have them for a week. We also had students who were unchurched and not affiliated with a local church. This is one of the markers by which I judge success. If I can answer the question “Were we able to have children with no church affiliation on campus with us for a week and be exposed to the gospel?” positively, then we were successful. Our Adult VBS was not only made up of our own church members. One of goals in Adult Vacation Bible School is to give parents who are not involved in a local church a place to go instead of dropping their children off and going home. We accomplished our goal here. Parents had the opportunity to interact and meet other people in a non-threatening manner and be exposed to the gospel message. I believe this was a success as well.

2. Volunteers: I am thankful to all of the volunteers who worked this week. As I mentioned earlier, it was a long week. It was also very hot. I am especially thankful and grateful to all of our teachers who worked full-time jobs who left work and came straight to church for five straight days. I want to especially mention and thank those who worked in the kitchen all week. During our Vacation Bible School, we skip the Snack Rotation. Instead, we choose to provide a meal for parents, children, and workers every night. Our kitchen workers came out early, set everything up, served the kids, and stayed until all was cleaned up. This year we had many new faces working in Vacation Bible School. This is always a good thing. I say to all of our 30 plus workers, thank you. I also want to thank the summer student missionaries who are a part of the Savannah River Baptist Association Low Country Ministries who came out and helped with our big kick-off event. To all those who worked so hard, your pastor wants you to know that you are appreciated.

3. Ministry: Any time you have kids on campus you have an opportunity to be engaged in real, one-on-one, life-changing ministry. It was good to be able to spend some time with these kids one on one. During our Worship Rally, our students take up an offering each night. There is anticipated and spirit-filled battle between boys and girls to see who can raise the most money for our designate ministry cause. This gives us an opportunity to further educate our students on the importance of missions. I am excited to report that this year we raised almost $300 for M28 Church in Atlanta, a North American Mission Board church plant that we have the pleasure to partner with. To the best of my knowledge we did not have any public professions of faith. I can’t explain it in human reasoning. For many who read this, you might say we failed as a church in Vacation Bible School. Nothing could be further from the truth. We are here to share a message and plant a seed, understanding that it is God who gives the increase. We trust God’s Word knowing that it will not return unto Him void. Real ministry takes place when you take time to listen, talk to, and show love toward a child in the name of Christ. This is what we did this week. If down the road a year or two or five, in God’s timing, a gospel presentation is given and a child responds because of something that was planted in their heart this week, then we were faithful to have done our part.

Overall, we had a great week and look forward to what comes out of the efforts of this week. Again I want to thank every teacher, worker, and parent who allowed their child to be a part of our Vacation Bible School. We are eagerly looking forward to Lifeway’s VBS 2015; “Journey Off the Map” in only eleven short months.