A few weeks ago, Terri and I were shopping along the waterfront area of downtown Beaufort. While walking along Bay Street, we happened across as a little storefront, Go Fish® Clothing and Jewelry. The name captured my attention and we went inside. We noticed there were many kinds of handmade items from artisans all around world, including hand-crafted wooden animals, blown glass figurines, hand-made clothing, and all types of jewelry. Alongside each display was a portrait of the family who had made the product, as well as a description of the country in which the family lives. Go Fish® purchases the items that are sold in stores from the indigenous peoples of developing nations. The prices that are paid for the items are never argued. Merchandise is bought at the family’s asking price. The mission of Go Fish® is to give the indigenous people dignity and respect by highlighting their creativity and skill, while providing a sustainable livelihood for the family. I found it refreshing that amid stores selling everything from swimsuits to real estate, a company living out its missional calling exists. You can read more about Go Fish® and their work here.
Disclaimer: In my sixteen years of vocational ministry, I have pastored both staying and sending churches. The characteristics that I share here do not come from a textbook. Instead, they are drawn from my own real-life experiences and observances.
Earlier this week I began writing about two types of churches: staying and sending. My intention was/is to the highlight the characteristics of each type of church. I know that using the phrase “versus” may bring to mind a battle or competition resulting in a winner or a loser. My use of the phrase “versus” has more to do with two different mindsets or priorities. Here is a quick recap of the first five characteristics of staying churches.
- The budget of a Staying Church reflects an inward focus.
- Staying Churches see the protection and preservation of the “church building” as being more important “building the church”.
- In Staying Churches, programs have become the “end” rather than a “means to an end.”
- Staying Churches prefer sending money so that other people may “do ministry” over involving themselves in ministry.
- Staying Churches are highly resistant to change.
6. Staying Churches believe the church exists to meet the physical, spiritual, and emotional needs of the membership exclusively. There are many church members today who believe that the church exists for them and that their comfort and needs are of primary importance. It was the German pastor Dietrich Bonhoeffer who wrote, “The Church is the Church only when it exists for others…not dominating, but helping and serving. It must tell men of every calling what it means to live for Christ, to exist for others.” If churches want to impact their community, the individual congregations must be willing to adjust what they do and what they think. There is a big difference between saying that we want people to come to our church and actually making room and allowance for them.
7. Staying Churches tend to spend more time talking about what is wrong instead of celebrating what God has accomplished. I’m not sure why it is harder to celebrate what God is doing (even if it is small things) than to focus on what is wrong, on what people are not doing, on failures in the past.
8. In Staying Churches, people perform tasks and duties out of a sense of obligation rather than out of a sense of purpose. Purpose is directly linked to service. If you understand your individual and corporate purpose for existence, you will view opportunities to serve and fulfill that purpose with excitement and enthusiasm. If you don’t understand what your individual and corporate purpose for existence is, then all service is seen as a job, an obligation, or an inconvenience.
9. Staying Churches spend an unhealthy amount of time dwelling on where the church has been instead of where the church is going. Notice that I said “an unhealthy amount” of time. There is nothing wrong with being proud of what the church has accomplished in years past. This can actually be helpful at times. However, if a church lives in the past, consistently looks back to past practices, pastors, and program, it won’t be long until the conclusion that “the best years are behind us” is made. Staying churches love the past and fiercely hold on to it.
In the next post in this series we will turn our attention to Sending Churches.
Disclaimer: In my sixteen years of vocational ministry, I have pastored both staying and sending churches. The characteristics that I share here do not come from a textbook. Instead, they are drawn from my own real-life experiences.
I recently led a conference for our local Baptist association entitled “Community Engagement”. The purpose of this conference was to introduce church leaders to principles and strategies for reaching their local communities with the gospel of Jesus Christ. The principles and strategies that I shared are the same ones that guide our aggressive community ministry at Port Royal Baptist Church. In addition to the fifteen principles, I shared the difference between sending and staying churches. Why mention this? Not every church is ready and willing to reach out and make themselves uncomfortable getting to know and minister to their community. Before any church can get serious about reaching the neighborhoods and communities around them, they must determine if they are willing to pay the price to do so. Over the next few days I will share the nine characteristics of both staying and sending churches. I will begin with the first five of staying churches.
Staying Churches are those churches who devote the great majority of their resources, time, and energy to keeping those who are already a part of the church happy and satisfied. These churches acknowledge their community but don’t necessarily feel responsible for them.
What does a Staying Church look like?
1. The budget of a Staying Church reflects an inward focus. It has been said that you can look at a person’s friends, calendar, and checkbook and be able to tell where their heart is. The same is true for churches. Churches budget what is important to them. The budget of a staying church reflects a desire, although not spoken, to keep the membership entertained and happy. In staying churches, budgets are heavier in the areas of fellowship and lighter in the areas of missions and evangelism.
2. Staying Churches see the protection and preservation of the “church building” as being more important “building the church”. I believe it is fair to say that the one of the largest expenses churches have is facilities upkeep and maintenance. Because of this large monetary investment, staying churches fiercely guard the church building from anything that might harm or hurt it. An unhealthy attachment to the physical building can certainly hurt the effectiveness of the church’s outreach and missions ministries. An example here is helpful. Think about children for a moment. Children are messy. Children spill things on the carpet. Children write on the wall. In order to prevent all of this from happening, a staying church makes the decision to not reach families with kids because they might “hurt the building”.
3. In Staying Churches, programs have become the “end” rather than a “means to an end.” If you have been involved in a local church for any length of time you have been exposed to all kinds of church programming. I can say that in our Southern Baptist life we have never had a shortage of church programs. Church programming is much live television programming. Cable companies offer shows and programs to satisfy the interest of the viewers in almost every conceivable way (music, fashion, hunting, cooking, sports, news, etc.) Church programming is much the same. We utilize programs to minister to a wide variety of people (children, students, young adults, military, senior adults, etc.) Problems occur when churches see the programs as the end and not a means to an end. Staying churches fiercely defend their programming. The real question is not “Do we need to add another program?” The real question should be “Are the programs we are using helping us fulfill our purpose or do we need to do stop and do something different?” A word of caution. Do you remember how you felt when your favorite television show was cancelled? The same feelings are true in the local church.
4. Staying Churches prefer sending money so that other people may “do ministry” over involving themselves in ministry. This is very common. Throughout the year, most churches take up missions offerings for various causes. Staying churches believe this goes far enough. Why? It’s easy. It’s clean. I had a former church member tell me, “that’s what we pay missionaries for.” It’s one thing to simply throw money at a cause. It’s something altogether different to involve yourself in the lives of others and get your hands dirty. There is one major problem with this practice. The majority of the missions offerings that churches collect are not for their immediate community. Who is reaching them?
5. Staying Churches are highly resistant to change. Not much to stay here. For a church to reach and impact an ever-changing and ever-evolving community, business as usual must go out the window. Staying churches prefer to bask in comfort than to inconvenience themselves for someone else. Staying churches prefer comfortable routines over missional uncertainty.
In the first two parts of this series, I have introduced you to a SENT lifestyle. Jesus sent His Son into our world for a very specific reason: to make the Father known and to show us how to know Him. To Live SENT means being sensitive to what’s happening around you. As we go about our daily business as spokesman for the King and messengers of the gospel, it is important that we take time to look around and see other people. SENT people are sensitive people. What do I need to be sensitive to?
1. The Condition of People:
When it comes to noticing the condition of people and responding correctly, Jesus is our model. We see a prime example in Matthew’s gospel: “Then Jesus went about all the cities and villages, teaching in their synagogues, preaching the gospel of the kingdom, and healing every sickness and every disease among the people. 36 But when He saw the multitudes, He was moved with compassion for them, because they were weary and scattered, like sheep having no shepherd.” Matthew 9:35-36. We can see here how Jesus viewed the people of His day. Matthew used words and phrases such as weary, scattered, without a shepherd to describe their lives. As we push through our daily lives we need to be sensitive as well to the condition of the people with whom we share parts of our days. We need to be sensitive to the fact that, although things may look good on the surface, people are hurting, lonely, scared, helpless, abused, and hopeless. We need to be sensitive to the fact that, as our North American Mission Board reports, three out of four people in North America have no personal relationship with Jesus Christ.
Being sensitive to other people may at times mean entering their world. Jesus, again, is our model. He worshipped with them, went to weddings with them, worked with them on fishing boats, laughed and cried with them. There is a difference between seeing and looking. Those who are hurting have had enough of people looking at them with false pity and contempt. They need to be seen, and when seen, loved on and cared for. It is a fact that Jesus did not give his life for a denomination, a building, or a program. It was people like you and me. Shouldn’t we look at others with the same sensitivity?
2. The Movement of God:
We all have an idea of what we want to do and we have found a comfortable routine in which to do it. I wonder if we have become slaves to the routine, prisoners to the programmed life, and enslaved to the calendar. I wonder if at times we don’t subconsciously try to calendar the movement of God in a way that suits us. I wonder if God Himself has our permission to shake up, rearranges, and stir our lives? I think about the apostle Paul here. He was sensitive to the Holy Spirit’s reordering of his personal plans. “After they had come to Mysia, they tried to go into Bithynia, but the Spirit did not permit them. 8 So passing by Mysia, they came down to Troas. 9 And a vision appeared to Paul in the night. A man of Macedonia stood and pleaded with him, saying, “Come over to Macedonia and help us.” (Acts 16:7-9)
1. Pray for a brokenness over the condition of those in our communities that are hurting.
2. Intentionally come along side someone you know that is hurting and be a friend.
3. Ensure that your plans are not set in stone. Give the Holy Spirit permission to move you.
In the introduction to this series, I mentioned several ways that a Christian could live the one life they have been given. Not to be dismissed is the commission that Jesus gave His followers to live a “sent” lifestyle. The word sent means “caused to go”. Think of it this way: someone caused someone else to do something. Every part of this equation is important. The someone is God. He is the ultimate Sender. What do we know of His sending nature?
1. God sent a flood upon the earth to destroy the wickedness of man who had chosen to walk in a way that was contrary to His perfect design.
2. God sent a rainbow as promise that He would never do the above again.
3. God sent Moses to deliver Israel from the slavery of Egypt after their cries rose to Heaven.
4. God sent plagues upon the nation of Egypt in order to bring the house of Pharaoh under conviction and demonstrate His power over creation.
5. God sent ravens to feed His prophet Elijah at Cherith to reinforce the truth that He cares for us in the most basic ways.
6. God sent His Son to this earth to redeem a fallen creation through the death, burial, and resurrection of His Son Jesus Christ.
The someone else is the Christian, we are the sent ones. Again, John 17:18 highlights this sending, “As You sent Me into the world, I also have sent them into the world.” Through our personal relationship with Jesus Christ, the mission of God has become our mission His love has caused us to love, care for, and pursue the lost, the hurting, and the broken. As you read through the New Testament you will quickly realize that it has a missionary spirit to it, especially the book of Acts. That missionary runs along three main avenues.
First, we see the people of God gathering and speaking.
Acts 2:46 “So continuing daily with one accord in the temple, and breaking bread from house to house, they ate their food with gladness and simplicity of heart.”
Acts 2:22 “Men of Israel, hear these words: Jesus of Nazareth, a Man attested by God to you by miracles, wonders, and signs which God did through Him in your midst, as you yourselves also know– 23 Him, being delivered by the determined purpose and foreknowledge of God, you have taken by lawless hands, have crucified, and put to death.”
Second, we see the Spirit of God directing and convicting.
Acts 16:6 “Now when they had gone through Phrygia and the region of Galatia, they were forbidden by the Holy Spirit to preach the word in Asia. 7 After they had come to Mysia, they tried to go into Bithynia, but the Spirit did not permit them. 8 So passing by Mysia, they came down to Troas. 9 And a vision appeared to Paul in the night. A man of Macedonia stood and pleaded with him, saying, “Come over to Macedonia and help us.”
Acts 2:36 “Therefore let all the house of Israel know assuredly that God has made this Jesus, whom you crucified, both Lord and Christ.” 37 Now when they heard this, they were cut to the heart, and said to Peter and the rest of the apostles, “Men and brethren, what shall we do?”
Lastly, we see the Church of God sending and commissioning.
Acts 8:14 “Now when the apostles who were at Jerusalem heard that Samaria had received the word of God, they sent Peter and John to them.”
Acts 13:1 “Now in the church that was at Antioch there were certain prophets and teachers: Barnabas, Simeon who was called Niger, Lucius of Cyrene, Manaen who had been brought up with Herod the tetrarch, and Saul. 2 As they ministered to the Lord and fasted, the Holy Spirit said, “Now separate to Me Barnabas and Saul for the work to which I have called them.” 3 Then, having fasted and prayed, and laid hands on them, they sent them away.”
These avenues help to us to understand the final part of the equation. The “to do something” is the work of the ministry. As Christians, we are join God in His work and spend our lives in the pursuit of gospel advancement. As this series continues, we will look specifically what “living sent” looks like. Stay tuned.
Each of us is given one life to live. The unwritten rules that govern that life are very clear. First, there are no do-overs. Life is not a game of golf. There is no such thing as a mulligan. Second, there are no extras. Life is not a video game where you earn extra life based on performance. Third, there are no extensions. For it was Job, speaking of man, who said, “his days are determined, the number of his months is with You; You have appointed his limits so that he cannot pass.” Lastly, there are no substitutions. Life is not a game of football where other players can play in the place of another. You can’t live another’s life and they can’t live yours. With these rules firmly in place, it matters how we live the one life we have.
How a person lives their one life is a personal choice. A life can be lived cautiously or recklessly, productively or destructively, privately or publically. Is there any guidance on how to live out this one life? Absolutely. Exhortation exists for the Christian to remember their Creator, to allow God to direct their paths, to find rest in the Good Shepherd, to seek the good of others before yourself, to forgive as we have been forgiven, and to trust in the fact that through Jesus Christ everything is possible.
I believe that an often overlooked directive for a Christian’s life is found in the seventeenth chapter of John’s gospel, commonly referred to as Jesus’ High Priestly Prayer. It is here that we see Jesus praying to His Father for the world to know Him through His life. As He prays to His Father, He also speaks of how He envisions each follower living out their single non-extendable, non-repeatable, and non-transferable life. His words of verse eighteen are simple yet powerful, “As You sent Me into the world, I also have sent them into the world.” This verse is for the Christian a life-mission. That mission; Live Sent.
In this series of posts, the Christian’s call to Live Sent will be examined. We will cover the definition, motivation, and practical application in living a S.E.N.T. life.
I am thankful for the many voices, resources, institutions, and ministries which are actively assisting the church and her people today to out a missional lifestyle. As our communities, cities, states, and nation evolve before our very eyes, it becomes more critical every day that the local church be the missionary for the gospel in their field. I hope this collection of thinkers and ministries will further challenge you to live mission lifestyles.
Read: Missional Moves by Rob Wegner and Jack Magruder. This book describes fifteen “shifts” that have the capacity to alter our understanding of the church and how its mission is carried out in the world.
Follow: Dr. Thom Rainer. Dr. Rainer is the president of Lifeway Christian Resources. He is the author of the books Simple Church, The Unchurched Next Door, I Am a Church Member, and Autopsy of a Deceased Church among many others. Dr. Rainer consistently publishes articles and blog posts that deal with church, pastoral, and ministry related issues. He is the consummate encourager. You can read his work here or give him a follow on Twitter – @ThomRainer
Meet: Heifer International. Their purpose is to “empower families to turn hunger and poverty into hope and prosperity”. Heifer brings sustainable agriculture and commerce to communities with a long history of poverty. This happens through the provision of farm animals that provide both food and reliable income in the form of agricultural products such as milk, eggs and honey that can be traded or sold at market. Families in turn pass on farm animals to other communities who have similar need. This sustainable income brings opportunities for building school and funding small businesses. You can find them here or give them a follow on Twitter – @Heifer
FYI: Statistics speak loudly.
According to the American Psychological Association, the top five ways in which teens today deal with stress are: play video games (46%), social media (43%), exercise (37%), watch TV (36%), and play sports (28%). What’s missing?
According to LifeWay Research, 46% of Americans say their religious beliefs impact their daily work.
According to Barna Research, 79% of practicing Christians say they want to know how their faith speaks to current issues they face.
According to LifeWay Research, 59% of churchgoers attend some type of small group Bible study at least once.