Community Outreach

How to Connect with the Vulnerable Among​ Us

 

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When my ministry began in Milwaukee our Christian day school was just embarking on a new chapter in our educational adventure.  Seven years before my arrival on the scene the state of Wisconsin passed the school choice bill.  School choice was: “Pioneering educational freedom: The Milwaukee Parental Choice Program was created in 1990 to provide educational freedom and choice to low-income parents in Milwaukee who did not have the financial means to send their children to private schools.  Grassroots growth: as the first school choice program in the nation, Milwaukee is a pioneer in educational reform. Beginning with seven schools and 300 students, the program reached its 15,000-student enrollment cap in 2005. Bipartisan legislation begun with a grassroots effort increased the enrollment cap to 22,500 and introduced standardized testing and accreditation requirements for schools.”[1]

 

Sounds like a great program, right?  Who would not want equal educational opportunities to all families? School choice was not without its detractors and even its abusers.  However, the greatest threat to our church was the attitude of the families whose kids attended the school before.  These were not bad people nor unchristian people.  The concern became one of safety.  All of a sudden, we were adding a foreign element into our once small, contained, safe school environment.  Our Lutheran trained teachers were not used to the kind of developmental issues we were suddenly facing, nor the discipline issues.  One by one we lost more and more tuition-paying customers replacing them with school voucher students.  We got all kinds of reasons for why they were pulling their kids out but, in the end, the culture and environment changed. It was no longer as safe.

The importance of a safe environment.

 

I covered this issue in a previous post but want to revisit the safety issue.  It is the number one issue for parents.  For those current parents and for future prospective ones as well.

The Barna research says,” A safe environment is the most essential feature when choosing a school for parents of both current (98% essential) and perspective (94%) Christian school students. Safety can mean anything from a toxin-free building or a padded playground to bullying prevention. However, it can also include “cultural safety,” such as feeling safe to ask questions or express doubt, learning to work through differences or a general sense of belonging and respect.[2]

 

With our new students, we struggled to regain our footing when it came to safety for our current parents.  For the prospective parents, our school was a huge upgrade over their previous public school situation.  But that issue of safety was one we continued to work on improving.

The Mission is coming to our Front door.

In August of 2017 Illinois made history with the passage of a Tax Credit Scholarship (TCS) program. This law which passed with both houses of the legislature under Democratic control has enacted an educational choice program. The law has the highest scholarship funding cap ($100 million) of any first-time TCS program.

Empower Illinois is based on a simple notion: every child has just one chance to get a great K-12 education; there are no do-overs. We seek to empower community members to assist parents to choose the best school for their child.

We support access to great public and private schools and educational opportunities. [3]

The question is how do we make use of the opportunity God has placed at the front doors of our churches engaged in Christian day school ministry?  One thing we need to do is overcome our fears.  Our fears can lead us to miss the opportunity to see these families as a threat to our need for safety vs seeing them as families who share a common goal, they too want to give their children every opportunity to grow and develop in a safe and loving environment.  Our schools offer that kind of safe, loving, and nurturing environment that after all is why we chose them.  Imagine seeing this as a mission opportunity to reach people and families that normally could never afford to take advantage of what you have worked so hard to build.  You have the opportunity to be salt and light those in need of grace and love.

This is our calling! 

“Truly I tell you, whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers and sisters of mine, you did for me” (Matthew 25:40, 45, NIV).

A bit of context here. What does the phrase “least of these” mean? It is often mistranslated.  It does not mean that these poor souls are of less value than others.  Jesus is not promoting some hierarchy of worth as far as human values are concerned.  He does not lift the wealthy and self-sufficient to the top, while the poor or the materially and financially dependent are at the bottom of the totem pole.

The phrase “least of these” is better translated as “however humble” (New English Bible). The least of the brothers and sisters of Jesus are those persons who are vulnerable. They are the socially, psychologically, or economically disadvantaged, such as the sick, the poor, the mentally and physically disabled. Jesus cares about the needs of the poor. As God brings the poor, the parents in need to our doors, Jesus says, “Whatever you do the humble among you, do you it for me.”  How you will make use of the opportunities God is placing at the doorsteps of your school?

 

[1] https://www.chooseyourschoolwi.org/history/

[2] https://www.barna.com/research/parents-look-christian-schools/

[3] http://nidlcms.org/wp-content/uploads/2017/11/Empower-Illinois-Overview.pdf

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Christian Family, Community Outreach, Parenting

The Secret to Retaining Youth in Church

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The church’s desire to connect and retain teens is an age-old battle.  However, as the church continues to suffer considerable losses in membership, this problem takes on greater significance.  The church may see youth as the one group that can rescue a bleak future. “If we can just stop the youth from drifting away after High School, then we have a chance to reverse the decline.”  Look around, this is a very different generation.  Their values have shifted.  What matters to them is different than previous generations. What matters to their marginally committed parents has changed.  This post will be based on some research by Barna on the different goals for youth ministry between senior pastors and youth ministers and the parents of those elusive teens.  But just look at the unexpected changes to culture and notice how little time it took for the changes to occur.

Surveys in 1986:

70% of high school grads leave the church, never to return
65% of evangelical teens never read their Bibles
33% believe religion is out of date and out of touch
40% of all teens believe in astrology
30% read astrology column daily
93% know their sign
58% of Protestant teens believe students should have access to contraceptives.
25% of high school students contract some form of V.D.
42% of protestant teens say there are many ways to God.
60% question that miracles are possible
28% feel the content of the Bible are not accurate.

According to surveys in 1990:

65% of all H.S. Christian students are sexually active
75% of all H.S. students cheat regularly
30% of all H.S. students have shoplifted in the past 30 days
45-50% of all teen pregnancies are aborted
3.3 million teens are alcoholics
1,000 teens try to commit suicide daily
10% of H.S. students have experimented with or are involved in a homosexual lifestyle.

-Bruce Wilkinson, 7 Laws of the Learner.

Imagine what the survey would discover today.  As church leaders what are you trying to accomplish with young people today?  When I asked this question of a young couple one striking observation was shared with me.  “After High School, the church had nothing for us to do.  We weren’t a part of their planning and strategy.  There was no space nor place for us or our friends.  So, we just drifted away.”  Church, what is your plan to reach post-High School students? Do you have a ministry plan for the youth you claim you desire desperately to engage? If you are not intentionally planning and preparing to connect with youth and their parents, it probably will not happen.

It is my prayer that this post and the ones that follow will give you encouragement and direction.

One of the questions the Barna researchers asked was: “What are the goals of the pastoral leadership team?”

The goals of the pastor and youth leadership team?

The Barna researchers found that senior pastors and youth leaders were fairly united with the goals they were seeking to accomplish.  Barna’s research discovered this:

  • The top two goals of youth ministry for a substantial majority of church leaders were: “discipleship and spiritual instruction.” Also, seven in 10 senior pastors (71%) and three-quarters of youth pastors (75%) say this is one of their top goals.
  • “Building relationships with students” is a primary objective for about half of youth pastors (48%) and two in five senior pastors (40%), while “evangelism and outreach to youth” is selected by roughly one-quarter of each group (29% senior pastors, 24% youth pastors). “Evangelism to the parents of teens,” on the other hand, does not appear to be as important (7% senior pastors, 4% among youth pastors).
  • Even if most church leaders don’t prioritize reaching out to parents, many express a hope that parents will reach in. One in six senior pastors believes “getting parents involved with spiritual formation” is a top goal of youth ministry (18%). And youth pastors are even more likely to say so: One-quarter identifies this as a priority for their ministry (23%).[1]

One of the shocking revelations is that most pastors and youth do not rank evangelism to the parents as a high priority.  This may explain why youth groups have become a safe house ministry more than an outreach opportunity.

Two other interesting facts came out of the research involving engaging youth in community outreach.

  • Similar percentages of senior pastors (12%) and youth pastors (10%) feel that providing a “safe and nurturing environment” is an important goal—which, as we will see, is a much higher priority among parents.
  • Senior pastors (17%) are more likely than youth pastors (10%) to emphasize “serving the community”— but “serving the church body” is at the bottom of both groups’ lists (6% senior pastors and 4% youth pastors).

Church, you are missing the boat if you ignore involving youth in service outside their church.  Studies also show that teens are flocking to churches that are involved in the community.

 One bright spot in the research is that teenagers are flocking to the local church when they feel the urge to volunteer. The desire to be a part of a community that is making a difference in the world is our doorway.  What are the most common forms of service for teens?

  • The most requested form of service is feeding the hungry/helping the homeless (35%)
  • Second are educational opportunities (31%)
  • Then environmental/cleanup (28%)
  • Less popular are volunteering with animals (20%), service trips (18%), social advocacy/political (11%), or medical or healthcare (10%).[2]

Retaining young people today is not low hanging fruit.  It will require the church working hard to find a way to connect with them and their families by creating a community that engages their passion to serve outside the walls of the church.  What a tremendous opportunity.  Here is your assignment:  Do you have youth ministry as a priority in your church?  If so, what are you doing to connect with them and their families?  If you don’t what will you need to change to make youth a priority?   Let’s start a discussion of what is working.

[1]https://www.barna.com/research/pastors-parents-differ-youth-ministry-goals/

[2]https://www.barna.com/research/teen-attitudes-toward-service/

Community Outreach, Rural Ministry

In Rural Ministry Relationships Are A Pastors Life-line

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After spending nearly fifteen years working is high-density urban areas the shift to rural America was a culture shock.  In the city, everything you need is a short drive away.  You are surrounded by people and you are packed into small spaces like sardines. Not so in rural areas.  You neighbors could be miles apart, and the excitement you may seek could be a two-hour drive away.  With that distance and lack of proximity, relationships take on a new level of significance. To minister efficiently in this setting, you need to shift your attitude and mindset. It can be very tempting since people are not always around to interact with or even check in on you. Consequently, they may think there is no real ministry to do in these smaller communities.  The ministry of nothing is a real danger to avoid.  It reminds me of this letter sent from a farmer to the federal government.

From the Desk of Don Genereaux

Honorable Secretary of Agriculture 
Washington, D.C.

Dear Sir,

My friend, Dan Hansen, over at Honey Creek, Iowa, received a check for $1,000.00 from the government for not raising hogs. So, I want to go into the “NOT RAISING HOGS” business next year. What I want to know is, in your opinion, what is the best kind of farm not to raise hogs on? And what is the best breed of hogs not to raise? I want to be sure that I approach this endeavor in keeping with all government policies.

As I see it, the hardest part of the “NOT RAISING HOGS’ program is keeping an accurate inventory of how many hogs I haven’t raised. My friend Hansen is very joyful about the future of the business. He has been raising hogs for twenty years or so, and the best he has ever made on them was $422.90 in 1968, until this year when he got your check for the $1000.00 for not raising 50 hogs. If I get $1000.00 for not raising 50 hogs, then would I get $2000.00 for not raising 100 hogs? I plan to operate on a small scale at first, holding myself to about 4,000 hogs not raised the first year, which would bring in about $80,000.00; then I can afford an airplane.

Now another thing – these hogs I will not raise will not eat 100,000 bushels of corn. I understand that the government also pays people not to raise corn and wheat. Would I qualify for payments for not raising these crops not to feed my hogs I will not be raising?

I want to get started as soon as possible as this seems to be a good time of the year for the “NOT RAISING HOGS” and “NOT PLANTING CROPS” business. Also, I am giving serious consideration to the “NOT MILKING COWS” business and any information you would have on the endeavor would be greatly appreciated. In view of the fact that I will be totally unemployed, I will be filing for unemployment and food stamps and was wondering how long that process takes.

Be assured, Mr. Secretary, you will have my vote in the upcoming election.

Patriotically yours, 
Don Genereaux

P.S. Would you please notify me when you plan to give out the free cheese again?

 

Overcoming the “There is Nothing to Do Mentality”

However, there is a real ministry to do, and it is based on developing and cultivating relationships.  I will explore two in this post.

  1. Make Mentoring young people a priority
In every congregation we are keenly aware that young people are essential to the vitality of any community. Sadly, however, in rural communities, they hold a place of higher significance because many of them will leave after their high school years are complete. Churches have their attention for such a relatively short period of time making the need to connect them to the life of the church and equip them early in life so vitally important. Too often pastors hesitate to invest the necessary time and energy in these young disciples because they know that most will not stay long-term in the local church.  This lack of investment in their future is a severe miscalculation of the vital role a pastor plays in their spiritual formation. Rural churches need to see their role as a church that prepares, equips and sends out missionaries into the world.  Don’t ignore those influential Christian young people in your congregations, they are the future leaders of our church. Take the time to make them a priority.
  2. Pastoral care is your lifeline. 
As I mentioned at the start of this post for country people, it’s all about relationships.  And one of the most crucial relationships a pastor can develop and nurture is the care for the sick and elderly.  Your relationships must extend beyond Sunday morning.  Learn to relate to each member of your small community. Keep in mind these folks meet regularly and often socialize, so bad pastoral care will spread quickly.  While a pastor who is good at caring for his people news of that will spread as well. In a small community, people know everything that is happening in each other’s lives, so a pastor who is out of touch with this will appear cold and uncaring to his members.

Excellent pastoral care is what connects the pastor to the lives of his flock.  It allows the pastor to be there in tough times and times of celebration.  Pastoral care engrains the pastor into the heart and fabric of the community. Like everything else, I advise leaders don’t do this alone.  Develop and train a caring team of people to join you in providing care for your members.  Rural people are looking for a church that cares and can be a family for them, teach your members how to be that welcoming community. People notice who turns up and who stays away when the chips are down. Helping at these times breeds a broad sense of loyalty from country people. Crises are powerful ways to connect right into the core of rural families in a way country people understand and appreciate.

Other posts in this series:

https://revheadpin.org/2017/11/14/rural-ministry-has-unique-challenges-and-opportunities/

 

Community Outreach

Is Hip-Hop the Key to Connect with Today’s Teens?

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An Interview with A Christian Hip Hop Artist?

A Brief History of Hip Hop

Becky Blanchard writes this about Hip Hops beginnings.

“Hip-hop music is generally considered to have been pioneered in New York’s South Bronx in 1973 by Jamaican-born Kool DJ Herc. At a Halloween dance party thrown by his younger sister, Herc used an innovative turntable technique to stretch a song’s drum break by playing the break portion of two identical records consecutively. The popularity of the extended break lent its name to “breakdancing”–a style specific to hip-hop culture, which was facilitated by extended drum breaks played by DJs at New York dance parties. By the mid-1970s, New York’s hip-hop scene was dominated by seminal turntablists DJ Grandmaster Flash, Afrika Bambaataa, and Herc. The rappers of Sugarhill Gang produced hip-hop’s first commercially successful hit, “Rapper’s Delight,” in 1979′.”[1]

Hip-hop has since evolved into a multi-million dollar industry.  It has an influence on teens of all races and economic backgrounds.  I may later delve into the influence or dangers of hip-hop on the psyche of young impressionable minds.  In this post, I want to focus on how one young white Lutheran teacher is using this music to connect teens to the Gospel of Jesus Christ.

Below is an edited transcript of my meeting and interview with Josh Atkinson, a teacher at Milwaukee Lutheran High School.

Keith:  So, Josh, when we talked you told me what motivated you to introduce hip-hop to chapel, was that the mostly black population at Milwaukee Lutheran was falling asleep and bored in chapel.  As we know any change in an institution comes with much difficulty.  So, how did you go about making a change to the way chapel was being conducted?

Josh: Different cultures have different languages. Sounds obvious, but what we don’t realize sometimes is that these different cultures could be right around the corner, or in our own backyards. I wanted to speak the language of teens through music, and that genre today is hip-hop. So, then the challenge was combining Jesus and hip hop. As a Lutheran school leader, sharing Jesus is our mission. So that is always the number one focus. And really it should be that in all that we do in ministry. But we must connect to get the message across. So, I did a few things to make Jesus the center. First, I found a cross that I wanted to use as the backdrop for the stage. This same cross is now a staple for all our chapel services. (I’ll put a picture of it at the bottom, it was covered in an inch of dust in our storage at school.)

I always have the lyrics of the song displayed on our screens. The message is number one and in rap music, it can be tough to understand or keep up with the lyrics. So, I always introduce songs by describing the lessons or teaching of the song.

I also wanted to create a concert type atmosphere. Lights, shows, and smoke machines are a major part of each performance.

Finally, I intentionally work to stay current with the lingo and language of hip-hop. It truly is an entirely different language. And if you can speak it, the kids will listen.

Keith: Why is hip-hop so popular with teens?

Josh: I could go on and on about this, but it’s extremely catchy and creates a ton of internal feelings. It creates adrenaline and excitement! It’s also cool! Hip-hop artists are some of the most famous people in the world. So, our youth look up these people as special. The problem with that is teens are exposed to extremely inappropriate lyrics and themes. Christian hip-hop is just as catchy and adrenaline boosting, but with the message of the Gospel!

Keith: You mention that hip-hop has some very inappropriate lyrics and themes how do those negative things effect our youth?

Josh:  Hip-hop is cool and most kids are listing to it, of all backgrounds. It has transcended race and has become the voice of younger generations. But there are 4 themes of the majority of mainstream hip hop. Drugs, sex, money, and self. Listen to any mainstream hip-hop radio station and that’s what you will hear. So, these messages are numbing the souls of those that listen to it over and over again. And to the minds of teens, it can easily become reality. Causing them to dress like them, talk like them, and act like these stars of hip-hop who only care about their bank accounts, not the souls of their listeners.

Keith: Now that you are producing and performing hip-hop what do you hope to accomplish with a positive message through your music?

Josh: Engage, engage, engage! If you can engage your audience, they will be listening with more intent. Focusing on your words and message way more than a traditional hymn or praise song. It’s your classic attention grabber. Leads perfectly into sharing the gospel with my students.

The other objective is to give my students who perform with me a positive outlet for their gifts. I have found students who are extremely talented rappers and singers who otherwise would be singing or rapping about sex, drugs, or money without this outlet. I have a crew of students that perform with me every show.

Every generation has music that their parents dislike or just don’t understand.  It is the allure of that something new.  The question for the church is how do you use that musical medium to connect with the heart language of that generation.  Josh is doing that by taking what can be negative and adapting it to a Christ-centered alternative.  A lesson for the church possibly?

 

[1]

https://web.stanford.edu/class/e297c/poverty_prejudice/mediarace/socialsignificance.htm

You can follow Josh on his youtube channel.  Here is a link that will lead you the page.

 

 

Community Outreach, Faith Conversations

Is Outreach Necessary?

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Yes, and here is why

This may sound like an absurd question. Many church people I meet with are disenchanted with the church, with America, and with the shifting society around us.  Those same individuals are encountering denominations that are dwindling in numbers and revenue.  There is a sense of desperation all around.  My response to this is you are right these are trying times for the church, but I have never been more energized.  It means the church is more important, more relevant, demands a bolder witness than ever before.

Outreach is not just needed; it is indispensable to the survival of our communities.  But not in the manner you may imagine.  I am not saying this will grow your church, but it will expand your capacity, your compassion, your heart, and you as a follower of Jesus Christ.  I believe outreach is more about using our God-given spiritual gifts than it is about church growth.  Churches may grow due to our outreach efforts, but that is a Holy Spirit thing, not a program thing, or an energy thing, or even a planned thing.

Our calling is to invite people to meet this Jesus Christ who has transformed our lives through His death and resurrection.  It is our opportunity to create an environment for people to take part in a foretaste of the feast to come.  Come and see the man who knows everything about you, yet still, loves you.  That’s why outreach is crucial, even more so, urgent.

Outreach is Necessary Because the Message is Powerful

Maybe this example will connect with you.

She was lying on the ground. In her arms, she held a tiny baby girl. As I put a cooked sweet potato into her outstretched hand, I wondered if she would live until morning. Her strength was almost gone, but her tired eyes acknowledged my gift. The sweet potato could help so little — but it was all I had.

Taking a bite, she chewed it carefully. Then, placing her mouth over her baby’s mouth, she forced the soft, warm food into the tiny throat. Although the mother was starving, she used the entire potato to keep her baby alive.

Exhausted from her effort, she dropped her head on the ground and closed her eyes. In a few minutes, the baby was asleep. I later learned that during the night the mother’s heart stopped, but her little girl lived. Love is a costly thing. – Love is a Costly Thing, by Dick Hillis

God in His love for us and for a broken world “spared not His own Son.” God gave the mission to the church to tell the world of the everlasting, all-encompassing love of God. But God’s love came at a significant cost.  Believers, we must tell the world regardless of any personal cost to us. Outreach is an expression of that love’s cost. Our faith costs parents and sons and daughters, relationships. Faith costs the missionary life itself. In his love for Christ, the missionary must give up all to make the Savior known. You are a missionary. The world needs to hear your message of the salvation.  Look around you, there is brokenness, there is hatred, there is racial division, and there is anger.  The only thing that breaks the hold Satan has on the world is the power of forgiveness offered to the world through faith in the Savior, Jesus Christ.  Jesus’ love breaks through hatred, division, and brokenness.  So, saints of God let your love for Christ, cost you something, and we will together live out the mission of inviting people to experience a foretaste of the feast to come.   Outreach is telling a lost and dying world of God’s costly love for us in Christ Jesus. Go, and be an outreach fanatic!

Community Outreach, Mission

Are We Missing the Mission Right Under Our Noses?

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There is this excellent illustration about Catherine Booth the “mother” of the Salvation Army. “Wherever Catherine Booth went,” said Campbell Morgan, “humanity went to hear her. Princes and peeresses merged with paupers and prostitutes.”

One night, Morgan shared in a meeting with Mrs. Booth. A great crowd of “publicans and sinners” was there. Her message brought many to Christ. After the meeting, Morgan and Mrs. Booth went to be entertained at an elegant home; and the lady of the manor said, “My dear Mrs. Booth, that meeting was dreadful.”

“What do you mean, dearie?” asked Mrs. Booth.

“Oh, when you were speaking, I was looking at those people opposite to me. Their faces were so terrible, many of them. I don’t think I shall sleep tonight!”

“Why, dearie, don’t you know them?” Mrs. Booth asked; and the hostess replied, “Certainly not!”

“Well, that is interesting,” Mrs. Booth said. “I did not bring them with me from London; they are your neighbors!”

The illustration above points out that often we overlook the mission possibilities in our backyard.

Don’t get me wrong I love mission trips abroad.  Christians can do great ministry in third world countries.  When I see the personal distress of children, my heart is stirred to compassion.   I applaud those people with the tenacity and determination of a missionary. God bless you and the work He has called you to do.   I wish I saw more people who have a passion for the mission field right under their noses.

Local mission work is not as sexy, but the demands are just as great.  And the cost is greatly diminished because you don’t need to board a plane, then take a bus and a bike to far remote places.  Instead, you get to hop in your car then drive to a neighborhood that you often drive through quickly on the way to somewhere else.  These communities often do not have a missionary agency asking for short-term missionaries, yet their mission needs are just as great.  The human hurt is just as heartbreaking.  The suffering, just as generational. The life transformational potential just as impactful.  What makes this possibility even more desirable is that it does not have to be a short-term mission it can be an ongoing missional relationship.

When we ignore the mission opportunities outside our doors, Christians are failing to live up to their full mission potential.  This example says it all. Imagine this: Jesus has come to earth on a special mission. And one day God speaks to Him and says, “Lay hands on this blind man and heal him.” But there’s a dilemma, Jesus has two withered hands. Then God says, “I want you to go and raise Lazarus from the dead.” But suddenly, Jesus collapses and can’t control His legs. Every time God tells Him to do something, something goes wrong. You’re probably thinking that that would never happen. But the church is a body of believers who are Jesus in the flesh on earth today. I wonder if God feels a little bit like that’s the way it is with the church when we don’t live out our local mission.  How powerful could our witness be if the people outside our walls saw and experienced the same level of missionary zeal that so many Christians practice in other countries?

Pray that God opens our eyes to the mission potential in our communities so we can make the most of that opportunity with dogged determination.

Community Outreach, Mission

Are Missional Communities a Threat to the Local Church?

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Missional communities continue to be an instrument by which we can live out what it means to be a missional church in the 21st Century.- Keith Haney

 The new standard for information, Wikipedia, defines “missional communities” this way:

“A Missional community is a group of people, about the size of an extended family, who are united through Christian community around a common service and witness to a particular neighborhood or network of relationships.”

I have to admit that is not a bad definition.  One congregation that has a robust mission community philosophy has the following as their definition and vision.  This plan comes from Christianity Today.

 

“What is a “missional community”?

 A community of Christ followers, on mission with God in obedience to the Holy Spirit that demonstrates and declares the Gospel of Jesus Christ to a particular people group.

Missional

  • They are committed to having spiritual conversations that lead to sharing the Gospel of Jesus and the Word of God with the people group.
  • They are committed to regular, passionate prayer for a people group.
  • They are committed to intentionally living among the people group.
  • They are serving the people group in tangible ways.

 Community

  • They are committed to sharing the Gospel of Jesus and the Word of God with one another.
  • They are committed to regular, passionate prayer for one another.
  • They are committed to intentionally sharing life with one another.
  • They serve one another in bearing burdens. ” Christianity Today

 

Sounds a lot like what the local congregation is commanded to do.  Are you perhaps reflecting on the realization that the very thing people are seeking in missional communities should be available in the ancient church?

Gathered around the mission

At first glance, two main factors stand out.  The local church today struggles with carrying out the mission. Churches are not assisting folks in substantive ways.  If you take a step back and analyze, many churches outreach plans appear to miss the mark of connecting with the needs of the community in a manner that affect people’s ordinary circumstances.  The simple explanation is that the church struggles to have meaningful contact with unchurched people.  Relationships have not been established to serving people in tangible ways.  Believers at times do ministry “to people” instead of in partnership with others.  Missional communities schedule regular meetings with people, with prayer, and spiritual conversations. During these gatherings, needs are dealt with and religious questions examined.   Building community is done deliberately.  Community happens on Sundays but how intention is our interactions?

 

Gathered around to form meaning communities

Secondly, these communities are gathered to live life together.  There was a powerful connection in Acts when the new church regularly came together to live life as in a community.  A community focused on prayer, mission, and helping those in need.  One could argue that mission groups are not some new-fangled, thing, rather, the church is just going back to its roots. Luke describes how mission communities functioned in Acts 2:42-47, “And they devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching and the fellowship, to the breaking of bread and the prayers. And awe came upon every soul, and many wonders and signs were being done through the apostles. And all who believed were together and had all things in common. And they were selling their possessions and belongings and distributing the proceeds to all, as any had need. And day by day, attending the temple together and breaking bread in their homes, they received their food with glad and generous hearts, praising God and having favor with all the people. And the Lord added to their number day by day those who were being saved.” 

 

Would it be wonderful if every congregation could have people living on mission in their homes?  Imagine how the gospel could spread as the number of seed spreaders increases.

To answer the question: “are missional communities a threat to the local church?” No, they are the local church doing the mission Jesus commanded among people who are not knocking down the churches doors to get in. Missional communities take the mission to the people.

Other posts in this series:

https://revheadpin.org/2017/07/19/how-missional-communities-are-not-your-fathers-small-group-ministry/

https://revheadpin.org/2017/08/01/what-void-are-missional-communities-filling/

 

 

Community Outreach

Two Ways to Bring Christ to Culture

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Christians are losing their power and influence … because they are losing their separateness.- Charlene Kaemmerling

When Robert Ingersoll, the famous atheist, was lecturing, he once took out his watch and declared, “I will give God five minutes to strike me dead for the things I have said.” The minutes ticked off as he held the watch and waited. In about four-and-a-half minutes, some women began fainting, but nothing happened. When the five minutes were up, Ingersoll put the watch into his pocket. When that incident reached the ears of a certain preacher, Joseph Parker, he asked, “And did the gentleman think he could exhaust the patience of the Eternal God in five minutes?” [1]

The world outside of God’s sheepfold is fond of playing this game of spiritual chicken.  “Come on God prove to me you exist.”  As Paul faced the religious skeptics in Athens, he explained a foreign concept to them, the patience of God.  People are familiar with the wrath of God, or so they think, but patience is a concept far from the mind of the skeptic.  In this post, we will cover the final two ways Paul turned their religious thinking on its head and left the learned spinning in their philosophical seats.

Jesus is the Savior (v. 30).

 The times of ignorance God overlooked, but now he commands all people everywhere to repent.  As Paul brought his arguments to a close, he summarized the clear evidence of God’s patience and the power of His grace. For centuries, God was patient with man’s sin and obliviousness.

“This was to show God’s righteousness because in his divine forbearance he had passed over former sins.” Romans 3:25

Let’s not get things confused here.  This by no means indicates that humanity was not guilty, as You will see below in Romans 1.

For what can be known about God is plain to them because God has shown it to them. For his invisible attributes, namely, his eternal power and divine nature, have been clearly perceived, ever since the creation of the world, in the things that have been made. So, they are without excuse. For although they knew God, they did not honor him as God or give thanks to him, but they became futile in their thinking, and their foolish hearts were darkened. Claiming to be wise, they became fools and exchanged the glory of the immortal God for images resembling mortal man and birds and animals and creeping things.  Romans 1:19–23.

What Romans 1, does reveal is that God withheld His divine wrath.  Does that fit the narrative of a God who wants to punish all humanity in a whimsical sort of way?  It instead exposes a different side of God that we Christians know all too well; God is a God of love.  In His time God sent a Savior, and now He commands all men to repent of their foolish ways. This Saviour was killed and then raised from the dead, and one day, Jesus will return to judge the world. The proof that He will judge is that He was raised from the dead.

Paul wipes away the prideful Greek culture by calling it “times of ignorance.” With all their knowledge and learned thinking, and being the height of culture, the Greeks failed to find the true nature of God. If humanity just repents and believes, God is ready and will forgive no strings attached.

Jesus is the Judge (v. 31).

 “…because he has fixed a day on which he will judge the world in righteousness by a man whom he has appointed, and of this, he has given assurance to all by raising him from the dead.” Acts 17:31

There will come a day when God will judge. God has appointed a day of judgment, and the Judge will be His Son, Jesus Christ. Why that should give us comfort is that this is not some distant judge, but one who understands our struggles and our temptations because he has experienced them Himself. For us as believer’s, judgment day is not a day of dread but a time of celebration.   If we trust Christ through faith in His death and resurrection, He will save us.  However, if we reject Him, tomorrow He will judge us.

The people of Athens responded with three different attitudes toward the Gospel. Surprisingly enough those responses are still relevant today.  1) Some people openly oppose the Word, 2) some will mock it and even openly challenge God to prove His existence as in the opening illustration, and 3) some receive the Word gladly and believe. We cannot control the response.  We are not called to, that is all the work of the Holy Spirit.  The Holy Spirit produces faith.

God calls us to be seed-planters and not to grow tired and discouraged.

“And let us not grow weary of doing good, for in due season we will reap, if we do not give up.”  Galatians 6:9

The proof of the pre-eminence of Christ is the resurrection. It is no unknown God but a risen Christ with whom we have to deal. And this Christ has died and risen from the dead for you and for me, and invites us to believe on Him and live forever with him in Eternity.  Does it make sense to the learned, NO?  It is a message and a gift that we receive by faith alone. The Holy Spirit makes the Unknown Savior, Jesus Christ the God of our Salvation.

[1]  Jones, G. C. (1986). 1000 illustrations for preaching and teaching (pp. 146–147). Nashville, TN: Broadman & Holman Publishers.

 

The other post in this series:

https://revheadpin.org/2017/05/24/where-did-we-come-from-and-where-are-we-going

 

 

 

 

Community Outreach

Outreach Begins On Bended Knee

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9 How can we thank God enough for you in return for all the joy we have in the presence of our God because of you? 10 Night and day we pray most earnestly that we may see you again and supply what is lacking in your faith. 11 Now may our God and Father himself and our Lord Jesus clear the way for us to come to you. 12 May the Lord make your love increase and overflow for each other and for everyone else, just as ours does for you. 13 May he strengthen your hearts so that you will be blameless and holy in the presence of our God and Father when our Lord Jesus comes with all his holy ones. I Thessalonians 3:9-13

The survey came in overwhelming for this week to cover the topic of reaching out to the community. Let me lay out this article of faith right out of the gate. We don’t bring anyone to faith, that is the work of the Holy Spirit. As the Apostle Paul points out in 1 Corinthians, “Because of this, neither the one who plants nor the one who waters is anything, but the only one who is anything is God who makes it grow.”

The place any outreach initiative begins, is on bended knee with prayer. You see that in the Apostle Paul’s words to the church in Thessalonica. There are three critical parts of this prayer that become the starting place for the church seeking to connect with its community.

  1. Paul prays that they might have their love increase (v.12) May the Lord make your love increase and overflow for each other and for everyone else, just as ours does for you.
  • Paul makes an interesting request. “May the Lord make your love increase”
  • What was Paul’s goal for asking this: so “he strengthen your hearts”
  • How is this goal accomplished? 12 May the Lord make your love increase and overflow for each other and for everyone else, just as ours does for you.

Our love increases by us showing love for others, both inside and outside the body of Christ, the church. Isn’t that the simplicity and the difficulty of the call to be a church engaged in the mission of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. You see love is not just some mushy emotion, but it is grounded in mercy and service, as a vehicle for the people of God to demonstrate God’s love to others.

What Paul clearly shows is that if you want your love to increase that happens as we first pray for the health and well-being of other people. This is hard because is to so contrary to our sinful way of thinking. The sinner in us says our needs come first, I have been in church meetings where I hear things like this “We need to get our act together before we can go out into the community and invite people into our fellowship” Or “We have to take care of our needs before we can help those unfortunate souls out there.” Now for some people who are dealing with some severe emotional trauma in life that may be true. But for most of us, one of the best ways to gain some insights into our own life is to pray for other people.

I should warn you though if you pray as Paul suggested that our love increase. It will transform the way you view hurting people. Some bible commentators added this to this section on love:

Heubner: Love should not be scanty, poor, but rich, exuberant.

Chrysostom: Love after God’s kind embraces all. If thou lovest this man, and that man not at all, this is nothing but a friendship after a human sort.

Matthew Henry: We are beholden to God not only for the stock put into our hands at first but for the improvement of it also.—The more we are beloved, the more loving we should be.—J. L.

In praying for our love to increase, it transforms how we perceive those outside the body of Christ. It allows us to see them through the eyes of Christ, to have our hearts like his broken for those who are discouraged by the Church, distanced from God, disenfranchised from Christian fellowship. And that view of them through Christ’s eyes changes the very way we do ministry. It moves us, compels us to reach in love as Christ would guide and direct us. As my partner in ministry would say, this view leads to an attitude change and attitude change leads to a change in action.

2. Paul prays for them in light of the future. (V. 13) 13 May he strengthen your hearts so that you will be blameless and holy in the presence of our God and Father when our Lord Jesus comes with all his holy ones.
Jesus lived in the present with an eye on the future.
5 All this is evidence that God’s judgment is right, and as a result, you will be counted worthy of the kingdom of God, for which you are suffering. 6 God is just: He will pay back trouble to those who trouble you 7 and give relief to you who are troubled, and to us as well. This will happen when the Lord Jesus is revealed from heaven in blazing fire with his powerful angels.

The future impacts the presence! As believers, we live in the assurance of everlasting life. We live in joyful anticipation of the second coming of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ because we know when he comes he we see us through the eyes of his sacrifice for our sins, His shed blood. However, for those outside this community of faith, Jesus sees their lifetime of sin, of bad decisions, their mistakes, their broken and destroyed relationships and their rejection of the forgiveness offered to them through His Son. So they face the full weight of that lifetime outside of God’s grace.

We have the supreme joy and opportunity to be used by the Holy Spirit to communicate to those outside of God’s grace that Christ has come, has suffered, has died, and rose again to repair the brokenness your sin has caused and reunite you with your Father in heaven. So that when Jesus comes again we can all stand together to meet him blameless on the day of his coming. That is at the heart of our mission. To be used by the Holy Spirit to see God perform the miracle of faith and turn enemies of God into friends of God.

3. Paul Prays out of his own deep and sincere love for others.

Why does Paul invest so much of himself in others?

6 We were not looking for praise from men, not from you or anyone else. As apostles of Christ, we could have been a burden to you, 7 but we were gentle among you, like a mother caring for her little children. 8 We loved you so much that we were delighted to share with you not only the gospel of God but our lives as well because you had become so dear to us.

He deeply and genuinely loved them. Serious prayer for others forces us to get serious about ourselves and our God. One congregation to live this out placed all the first names of unchurched people on a board as a reminder of Christ’s mission. As a reminder to place that burden of those outside of God’s grace in their hearts. If they are on God’s heart should they not also be on ours? Outreach begins with the church of God on bended knee praying for those hurting souls in our community.
May God bless you and may God bless His Church.