Tag Archives: mission

The American Church: Tempted in the Wilderness

Then Jesus was led up by the Spirit into the wilderness to be tempted by the devil. Matthew 4:1

The church in America is in the wilderness. That’s not such a bad place to be. It’s a difficult place, often a painful place, but it’s a place God often leads his people when He has some difficult lessons to teach them or preparations to be made. And the American church certainly has some difficult lessons to learn. Moses learned in the wilderness, as did Elijah. The people of Israel learned in the wilderness. And Jesus went there as well, where he experienced some critical “perspective builders” in the form of temptations. The American church, while in the wilderness, is experiencing temptations as well. If there were ever a story written about it, the way Jesus’ story in the wilderness has been written, the enemy’s temptations of the church might go something like this…

temptationsI. The devil said to them, “If you are the Church of God, tell these people to become members.” As bread represents a basic necessity for our body, believers (i.e., members) represent a basic necessity for the Church. There is not a church leader anywhere who, when describing the church he/she serves, is not tempted to describe it at some level in terms of number of members. It is one way we measure our effectiveness in mission. Every evangelistic outreach is measured this way. And since we all want to be seen as “successful”, the temptation here is to move as many bodies as possible from the “prospect” category to the “member” category as quickly as possible. The temptation is to use emotional pleas, scare tactics, or other forms of manipulation toward an all-important “decision”. And what the church is left with, especially over the long term, …

Gospel Centered Worldview: All Lives Matter

 I am under obligation both to Greeks and to barbarians, both to the wise and to the foolish. So I am eager to preach the gospel to you also who are in Rome. Romans 1:14-15

From now on, therefore, we regard no one according to the flesh. 2 Corinthians 5:16

For as many of you as were baptized into Christ have put on Christ. There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither slave nor free, there is no male and female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus. Galatians 3:27-28

all lives matterPerhaps nobody in Scripture went through a more radical change in worldview than the Pharisee named Saul. As a Pharisee among Pharisees, he thought he had the world figured out. He had the puzzle all put together and, though there were some inexplicable gaps in the picture here and there, it all made sense…basically, anyway. According to that worldview, the missing pieces would be filled in when the Messiah comes. And in that worldview, there were two kinds of lives in this world: Jewish lives (which mattered) and all the others (which mattered less).

Twenty years later, as a converted Christ-follower writing to churches in Corinth, Rome, Galatia, et. al., he would show astounding wisdom and a very different worldview…a gospel centered worldview. According to that worldview, the Messiah had already come and we already had all the pieces there are to have…and they all fit together more perfectly and completely than he could ever have imagined. No more inexplicable gaps. It was a beautiful and perfect worldview. And in this new worldview, all lives mattered.

In the 2,000 years since Paul’s written presentations of this new way of seeing the world, many other worldviews have come and gone. And today, in the U.S. alone, scores of different …

The Leader’s Problem with Pretense

Tuesday Re-mix:

For we do not have a high priest who is unable to empathize with our weaknesses, but we have one who has been tempted in every way, just as we are—yet he did not sin.  Hebrews 4:15

transparencyMy friend Scott is a gifted teacher.  I remember one of his illustrations using a bunch of unmarked tea bags.  He had everyone pass them around and smell them to see if we could tell what kind of tea each one held.  Then he said something really profound: “Tea bags are a lot like people…you don’t know for sure what’s inside them until you put them in hot water.”  It was a beautiful illustration about integrity and transparency.  Together, those are the currency of leadership in the church.

What was truly transformative about Jesus (and what has been transformative about Christianity for over 2,000 years now) is not the power nor the persuasion nor the perfection of Jesus.  Rather, it was the almost spellbinding “connection” he had with everyone he met.  He connected with the Samaritan woman at the well.  He connected with the Pharisee, Nicodemus.  He connected with fishermen and tax collectors and soldiers and prostitutes.  What changed people was his ability to see right into their souls, and at the same time allow them to see right into Him.

That was the founder of this revolution for which you and I are contending.  And we should reflect that same level of transparency and connectability.  It is important to our mission.  In fact, the revolution depends on it.

But in our efforts to work harder to do all the things good Christians should do, and in our efforts to manage our people’s perception of us, we often tend to lose the transparency.  In our churches’ efforts to elevate our leaders …

Churches Dying Well

Thursday Re-mix:

There on the mountain that you have climbed you will die and be gathered to your people, just as your brother Aaron died on Mount Hor and was gathered to his people. Deuteronomy 32:50

“None of us are getting out of here alive.”  Jim Morrison, Valerie Harper, Evel Kneivel, Colin Murphy, Hilary Swank, Jill Shalvis, Elbert Hubbard (and these are just from the first couple of pages of results on Google)

Life is terminal.  We all get that.  Dying is just a part of living, and that is an eternal truth.  We may not like it, we may not be ready to fully embrace it, but it is truth.  And eventually, it is a truth with which we simply must deal.

abandoned churchBut have you ever thought about it as it relates to churches (i.e., to local bodies of believers)?  Have you stopped to realize that there is not a single “local church” which has been around from the very beginning?  All those “churches” mentioned in Revelation 2 and 3? Gone.  Even the good ones.  And the church you serve right now will die one day as well.  It is the natural order of things.

Churches are, metaphorically speaking, living organisms.  They breathe, they multiply, they regenerate, they get sick, and eventually, they die.  They exhibit all the same signs of life (and of death) as any other living organism.  My perception of “church” changed pretty significantly once I began to consider the implications of this.

In the first place, churches need nourishment and exercise in order to be healthy.  The nourishment is the Word of God.  The exercise is the stretching and bending and reshaping that Word constantly calls us toward.  And it also is the challenges (even the persecution) which God permits us to experience.  Exercise only …

Corporate Prayer as a Means of Focus

So Jesus said to them, “Truly, truly, I say to you, the Son can do nothing of his own accord, but only what he sees the Father doing. For whatever the Father does, that the Son does likewise. John 5:19

And rising very early in the morning, while it was still dark, he departed and went out to a desolate place, and there he prayed. Mark 1:35

camera lensIf your church is anything at all like mine, there is a pretty limitless supply of human needs and desperation within a 5 mile radius of it in any direction. There are single moms struggling to make ends meet, there is poverty and homelessness, there are drug addicts and prostitutes, there are sick people and broken people…lots of reminders all around us that we live in a broken world. I wonder if all that brokenness causes you to lose sleep at night, trying to discern what needs are your church’s to meet and what ones are not?

You cannot meet them all. And even if you could, it is probably not God’s assignment for your church to meet them all. He is funny that way. Like a tornado which touches down on one house and leaves the one next to it standing, God’s assignments for us often have us meeting needs in one person (or one family or one group), without meeting the needs of scores of others all around them.

That was the disciples’ experience with Jesus in John, chapter 5 at the pool at Bethesda. A pool surrounded by a “multitude” of crippled and lame people. The disciples followed Jesus to the pool, watched him heal one man, and then watched him leave all the others behind. I don’t know about you, but that would have troubled me a great deal! …

The Church as the Sandwich Generation

Thursday Re-mix:

When the time drew near for Israel to die, he called for his son Joseph and said to him, “If I have found favor in your eyes, put your hand under my thigh and promise that you will show me kindness and faithfulness. Do not bury me in Egypt, but when I rest with my fathers, carry me out of Egypt and bury me where they are buried.”

“I will do as you say,” he said.  Genesis 47:29-30

I believe it was Will Rogers who came up with these four stages of life: First we are our parents’ child, then we are our child’s parent, then we are our parents’ parent, then we are our child’s child.  Right in the middle of those stages, there is a life stage, a generation (if you will), referred to as the “sandwich generation”.  It is that life stage where you find yourself not only still parenting your children, but also being a  caregiver to aging parents.  That is where Joseph found himself in Genesis 47-50.  He was a father to two sons born to him in Egypt, while at the same time being called upon to honor his dying father’s heritage.  I am grateful to God that I have two healthy parents and have not quite arrived at that sandwich stage (and I’m not sure either of my parents would ever permit me to), but I can only imagine it is wrought with difficulties and tensions.

three generationsIt seems that having our focus divided between raising a new generation into adulthood and, at the same, honoring an older generation is a real challenge.  Then again, as a church leader you already know that.  The sandwich illustration, you see, is a perpetual life stage for every local church…always raising up new leaders and …

Walking Slowly Through the Crowd

Tuesday Re-mix:

A large crowd followed and pressed around him. And a woman was there who had been subject to bleeding for twelve years. She had suffered a great deal under the care of many doctors and had spent all she had, yet instead of getting better she grew worse. When she heard about Jesus, she came up behind him in the crowd and touched his cloak, because she thought, “If I just touch his clothes, I will be healed.” Immediately her bleeding stopped and she felt in her body that she was freed from her suffering. At once Jesus realized that power had gone out from him. He turned around in the crowd and asked, “Who touched my clothes?” “You see the people crowding against you,” his disciples answered, “and yet you can ask,‘Who touched me?’ ” Mark 5:25-31


I have listened to so many John Maxwell talks and have read so many of his books, I do not even remember now where I heard or read some of the best leadership advice I’ve ever heard/read from him: “walk slowly through the crowds”.  It is outstanding leadership counsel because genuine leadership is, after all, entirely dependent upon relationships and people skills.  It is perfect for ME, because I get so narrowly focused sometimes (maybe especially on Sunday mornings) that I can walk right past hundreds of friends without even smiling or acknowledging them!  I am still working on this.  🙂

It is a challenge, isn’t it?  It is especially challenging when we get focused on the task at hand, on the ministry ahead, even on the relationships in front of us…but there are still people all around us who are hoping for our attention as well.  It is a delicate balance between competency for the task at hand and …

Parting and Going Our Separate Ways

Tuesday Re-mix –

Some time later Paul said to Barnabas, “Let us go back and visit the believers in all the towns where we preached the word of the Lord and see how they are doing.” Barnabas wanted to take John, also called Mark, with them, but Paul did not think it wise to take him, because he had deserted them in Pamphylia and had not continued with them in the work. They had such a sharp disagreement that they parted company. Barnabas took Mark and sailed for Cyprus, but Paul chose Silas and left, commended by the believers to the grace of the Lord.  Acts 15:36-40

I honestly cannot even imagine how difficult being on a mission trip with the apostle Paul would have been.  It seems to me you would be hard-pressed to find a more driven, intense “missionary” in the entire Bible than Paul.  He seems to have worked tirelessly through very long days and he seems to have pushed himself and his fellow laborers to extremes.  Being on mission with Paul would not be for the faint-hearted.  So, just between you and me, I don’t blame young John Mark one bit for bailing on Paul in Pamphylia.  I am sure that young man felt utterly overwhelmed by it all.

But oh what I wouldn’t give to have been a fly on the wall during that later conflict between the two teachers, Paul & Barnabas, over this very incident.  Paul would have argued vehemently that the mission field is no place for quitters and that he had no time to be babysitting when he could be out teaching.  He would have pointed out that John Mark literally left them holding the bag when he quit on them in the middle of that mission trip.  Barnabas, ever the …

Every Day is a Church Start!

Tuesday Re-mix –

All the believers were together and had everything in common. They sold property and possessions to give to anyone who had need.
Acts 2:44-45

All the believers were one in heart and mind. No one claimed that any of their possessions was their own, but they shared everything they had. With great power the apostles continued to testify to the resurrection of the Lord Jesus. And God’s grace was so powerfully at work in them all that there were no needy persons among them. For from time to time those who owned land or houses sold them, brought the money from the sales and put it at the apostles’ feet, and it was distributed to anyone who had need.  Acts 4:32-35

Here’s a test question for you as a church leader: which is more “successful”…ministering to the needs of 50,000 people by mobilizing 5 people…or ministering to the needs of only 500 people by mobilizing 500 people?

Some 15 to 20 years ago (suddenly feeling great surprise that it’s been that long now) my wife, our two little girls and I joined a small team of about 5 other families, all spending our Spring Break on mission in Ciudad Acuna, Mexico, doing Vacation Bible School at a small church there.  Over the ensuing 8 years, that same trip grew to become a church-wide Spring Break family mission trip of some 100-150 “missionaries” ranging in age from 6-months to 80-years.  We had medical mission teams, construction teams, music teams, drama groups, VBS on multiple sites, sports evangelism teams and even pastoral care teams.  We gathered everyone together at our campsite every night for worship and reporting.  As you might imagine, it was chaotic and fantastic all at the same time.  There was no childcare ministry…we all took care …

How Much Do You Trust Your People?

Tuesday Re-mix –

Jesus called his twelve disciples to him and gave them authority to drive out impure spirits and to heal every disease and sickness…As you go, proclaim this message: ‘The kingdom of heaven has come near.’  Heal the sick, raise the dead, cleanse those who have leprosy, drive out demons. Freely you have received; freely give.  Matthew 10:1, 7-8

I have a ministry.  Well, it belongs to God, not to me…but you know what I mean.  I have been entrusted with an amazing ministry and an amazing message about unity among God’s people.  I know the feeling of ownership of a ministry.  I know the pressures of stewardship of such a message.  And I know the stress of placing the reputation, the very name, of that ministry into other people’s hands.  I know what it feels like to send other people out in the name of Christian Unity Ministries, placing them in control of our reputation, and having little or no control over how they will exercise that stewardship.

So I am more than just a little bit amazed at what Jesus does in Matthew 10, sending out the twelve to perform miracles in His name.  There was no tutorial about casting out demons.  There was no dress rehearsal for any of them to practice raising the dead.  He just gave them the authority, gave them a few verses of instruction, and sent them out.  Surely they did not all take to this task naturally.  There had to have been some humorous “fails” (like the one at the foot of the mountain in Matthew 17:16…I brought him to your disciples, but they could not heal him).  Nevertheless, Jesus empowered them, authorized them, and sent them out to do His Father’s work, and he exercised virtually no …