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?

 

Missional Monday: Missional Voices

mmI hope this collection of thinkers and ministries will further challenge you to live an on-mission lifestyle. Enjoy.

Read:  I recommend The Hole in Our Gospel; What Does God Expect of Us? by Richard Stearns, president of World Vision. It is the true story of a corporate CEO who gave up worldly success for something far more satisfying. God’s calling on his life removed him from his corner office at one America’s most prestigious companies and allowed him to walk with the poorest of the poor in our world. His journey demonstrates how the gospel – the whole gospel – was meant to change lives and make people whole in Christ.

Follow:  Tim Rice. Tim is the Missions Mobilization Director for the South Carolina Baptist Convention. He is passionate about assisting individuals and churches to live missionally and engage their communities, state, and the nations with the gospel of Jesus Christ. I know Tim personally and you will be both encouraged and challenged by what he shares with others. You can find him at @timricesc

Get to Know: The Sunshine Girls – a weekly outreach ministry to women who work in the Adult Entertainment Industry in Savannah, Georgia. Their goal is to shine the life-changing light of the Gospel into these dark places. The mission of the organization revolves around establishing relationships and opportunities for another way of life. You can learn more about them here. Pray for the work these women are doing in some very hard and dark places. I am thankful to know one of these Sunshine Girls personally.

Is Busyness Damaging the Church’s Effectiveness?

As Southern Baptists, we understand ministry programming. We have a program for everything. It is fair to say that ours is a program-heavy, program-laden denomination. These programs are plans or structures used to reach specific ministry audiences. Ministry programs such as Brotherhood, Women’s Ministry, VBS, Missions, Sunday School, Discipleship Training, Evangelism, Church Music, and WMU are designed to help plug children, youth, adults and senior adults into the life of the church. None of them are inherently bad. Para-church ministries further add to the busyness of the church – AWANA, Upward, Samaritan’s Purse, Community Bible Study, Cru, to name a few. These ministries do not have the same purpose as the local church, but their success and effectiveness are linked to the local church and add very specific help to churches in key ministry areas. Again, none are inherently bad. When other activities such as worship and Bible study, internal fellowships, and special holiday services are added to those above, the activity level within the church can become too much for some to navigate – not to mention the challenges of financing, staffing, and publicizing all this activity.

One of the books on my summer reading list is Barry Schwartz’s, The Paradox of Choice: Why More is Less. He advocates that whether we’re buying a pair of shoes, ordering a cup of coffee, selecting an insurance company, or deciding on which college to attend, everyday decisions—both big and small—have become increasingly difficult due to the over-abundance of choice with which we are presented. His belief is that too many choices lead to two pitfalls: decision paralysis and regret. Decision paralysis occurs because we are overwhelmed with all the options, resulting at times in no decision at all. If we manage to navigate the paralysis and decide, regret lurks in the background, calling into question whether our choice was the correct one. His work led me to consider the busyness of our churches today. Further, his work has caused me to consider my own approach to church ministry. If Schwartz is correct, the same two pitfalls (paralysis and regret) exist for churches having too many programs and activities.

Decision paralysis. In church ministry, a plethora of programs and activities make the next step unclear. In churches today, many things are presented as “opportunities for involvement” or “points of connection.” At times, it becomes hard to keep up with the barrage of announcements unloaded in a 3-4-minute window. As the number of opportunities increases, the likelihood that people will decide to do any of them decreases. How many times have you been shopping for a big-ticket item (car, furniture, television, etc.) and had to walk away due to an overwhelming number of options? Church members face the same dilemma when wading through the choices they are presented. When multiple events are scheduled on the same day or at the same time, this paralysis becomes even more intense.

Regret. An overabundance of programs, activities, and opportunities increases the busyness of a church but lowers confidence in what is offered. If everything is most important, nothing really is. Thus, when people go to A, they likely wonder if they should have gone to B. When people choose C, they often wonder if D would have been a better choice. How many times have you purchased that big-ticket item, took it home and began to wonder if “the other one” would have been better or more enjoyable. This is referred to as buyer’s remorse.

I have always advocated for a “more is better” approach to ministry. Based on recent ministry observations and conversations with different people, I am learning that more is not always better, it’s just more. I am learning that such a fast pace and aggressive approach is difficult to maintain. It’s almost impossible for churches to do everything excellently. When the church attempts to become all things to all people, offering every conceivable program, it can become wide and not deep. The downside of too many choices in the church, as I am now understanding, is that all the activity can pull people away from relationships, away from family, away from living on mission in the world around them. I am learning that activity does not equal spiritual transformation.

Before I am accused of saying something I did not say, I am not opposed to ministry programs and church activities. I do however believe that church leadership must know the body and its ministry context; then utilize the needed programming and necessary level of activity. Imagine for a moment your vehicle is in the repair shop to have the alternator replaced. The mechanic may have a large and extensive collection of tools at his disposal. That doesn’t mean that he/she will use every single tool in the box on your repair – only the necessary ones. Ministry programs are only tools. They are a means to an end – the spiritual transformation and development of the God’s people. To avoid decision paralysis and regret, and to bring about real transformation, a “less is more” approach may be in order. What do you think?

Missional Monday: Missional Voices

mmI am thankful for the many voices, resources, institutions, and ministries who are assisting the local church to live out a missional lifestyle. The purpose of Missional Monday is to raise awareness and foster conversations (whether here or elsewhere) around the need for the New Testament churches to be missionaries where they are. I regularly share my own thoughts about this subject, but mine is not the only one. Because we are involved in kingdom work, I want to connect the readers here to others who are speaking on the subject of missional living. I hope this collection of thinkers and ministries will further challenge you to live mission lifestyles. Enjoy.

Read:  I recommend Tradecraft: For the Church on Mission by Larry E. McCrary. As God calls missionaries to the field, they develop the necessary skill-sets for a cultural translation of the Gospel. Tradecraft pulls back the curtain on tools once accessible only to full-time Christian workers – tools that will enable the local church to be more effective in its ministry to the community.

Follow:  Henry Criss. Henry is the Lead Pastor of Ridgeland Baptist Church in Ridgeland, SC.  His approach to the revitalization work he has been called to is encouraging and insightful. You can follow him here – @HenryCriss.

Get to Know: Pure Water, Pure Love. PWPL is an initiative of the National Women’s Missionary Union, an auxiliary of the Southern Baptist Convention. The primary goal of PWPL is to provide missionaries with water filters and the people they serve with wells that offer clean water, free of disease and contamination. PWPL provides thousands of water filters to missionary families and helps fund clean water projects. You can read more here.

The Driving Force in My Life

Most people have favorite things: foods, colors, songs, books, authors, movies, coffee shops, etc. Having a “favorite” anything means you have experienced similar other things and have decided a certain one means more to you than all the rest. I am no different. I have favorite songs, authors, books, coffee shops, movies, and foods. It would be difficult for me to say I have a favorite Bible verse. I do however have what I would refer to as a life verse. It is a verse that speaks to where I am on my spiritual journey. It is a verse that provides a sense of motivation, clarity, and purpose. It sets the course for my days. The prophet Jeremiah wrote,

“And seek the peace of the city where I have caused you to be carried away captive, and pray to the LORD for it; for in its peace you will have peace.” (Jeremiah 29:7) 

The context for this verse is a letter written by Jeremiah to the Israelites who had been taken captive by King Nebuchadnezzar and relocated to Babylon. Jeremiah encourages them to make Babylon their home, go about their daily activities, and seek to be a blessing to their captives. A difficult charge indeed. It would be difficult to consider being a blessing to those who robbed you of your home. It would be difficult to consider being a blessing to those whom you have been enslaved. It would be difficult to consider being a blessing to the people who removed you from your familiar place of worship and introduced you to foreign gods.

I can relate to this verse. It says something about the way I approach life. I do not equate pastoring a church to being carried away as a captive to a foreign land. Quite the opposite. Serving the Lord through the gospel ministry brings great fulfillment, joy, pleasure to my life. I would not want to be doing anything else with my life. However, I can relate to how the exiled Israelites must have felt. I understand what it is like to move away from the familiar and comfortable. I understand what it is like to leave family and friends. I understand what it is like to have assurance of how long I may remain in a certain place. I understand what it is like to become familiar with new routines, schedules, and people.

Jeremiah told Israel the surest way for their city to prosper would be for them to pray for its peace and welfare. God Himself placed Israel in Babylon for a season and with a purpose. It may not have always been peaceful for them as captives. The assurance of God’s placement would enable them to find and live in peace. For a city to experience God’s blessings, the people of God occupying the city must, through prayer, seek its welfare and peace (literally its wellness and wholeness).

I believe with all my heart that God has placed me where He has for a reason and a season. I believe He has done the same in the past. It is my duty, privilege, and responsibility to pray for the peace of the city where I have been placed and to the best of my ability be a blessing to that city. I have committed my life to this end. This verse is more than just an obscure Old Testament verse. It fuels me to faithfully serve the cities and people God has allowed me to be carried away captive for Him.

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?

Of Church and Coffee; a Parable

Most businesses have a certain flow to them. Unique lingo, systems of seating, and flashy advertising are a few of the things that cause one to stand out over the other. Churches are no different. They have a certain flow. From the moment a person gets out of their car in the parking lot, they are confronted with the “routines” that we have put into place. We feel these routines help things move along a little more smoothly. It is not long after their arrival that they figure out there is secret “language” that needs to be learned. As a pastor I have always wondered that all of this looks like to the person who is coming to church for the very first time. Do we make things harder than they need to be? Could we do a better job of explaining ourselves? Could we be more “user-friendly”? I also wonder what it would look like if secular business conducted themselves like churches do. What would that look like? The video below is alight-hearted parable that answers my question above. While humorous, there is something painful about it. Enjoy. Leave your thoughts in the comment stream and we will discuss.