Tuesday, October 28, 2014

Mission Creep and the Confusion of the Church

            This week I received a phone call from a lady wondering if I could send someone from the church’s Yard Mowing Team over to her place to cut her grass. She was surprised to discover we did not have a Yard Mowing Team and that we would not be sending anyone over. She informed me that her church had such a team (and I wondered to myself, “Why didn’t she call them, then?”). By the way, while this was the first time I have been asked about the Yard Mowing Team, it is a weekly occurrence for people to call the church asking us to do any number of things that have nothing to do with the mission of the church.

            Mission creep is the expansion of a project or mission beyond its original goals, often after initial successes. Mission creep is usually considered undesirable due to the dangerous path of each success breeding more ambitious attempts, only stopping when a final, often catastrophic, failure occurs. The phrase began circulating in 1993 in articles dealing with military operations, but since the reality of mission creep is familiar to anyone involved in any organization, it quickly spread to discussions in other fields. The church could be the poster child for Mission Creep!

            Here is Jesus’ statement of the mission of his disciples: “All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. Therefore go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you. And surely I am with you always, to the very end of the age.” (Matthew 28:18-20 NIV) That is a concise mission statement that allows little room for mission creep. But somehow between the mission statement and the actual practice of the church, there is a large amount of mission creep!  

            The gap between statement and practice, where mission creep spreads like wildfire, got me to thinking about what our mission statement might be if we based it, not on what Jesus told us to do, but on what we are actually doing. Here are some mission creep inspired Mission Statements: 

·         This church exists to keep the bills paid and the doors open.

·         The mission of this church is to provide activities for our members and any of their friends who might be interested in attending.

·         The purpose of the church is to promote a particular social and political agenda (you pick which one).

·         The mission of this church is to oppose certain sins (and other things we don’t like).

·         Our church seeks to be all things, to all people, in all places, at all times.

            While all of the above may have some merit, they cannot be replacements for the mission of the church as given by Jesus. When they are elevated to replacement status, we are not in danger of experiencing mission creep, we are neck deep in it! The only way out is to return to the mission given by Jesus. That mission will remove confusion (and inactivity) and position the church to be a tool in the hand of Jesus to show his love to a broken and needy world.

           Because Jesus has all authority, and he will be with us all the time, we can confidently go and make disciples! That is the mission of the unconfused church.

- Kenny Payne

Thursday, October 02, 2014

Jesus Spoke...

They went to Capernaum, and when the Sabbath came, Jesus went into the synagogue and began to teach. The people were amazed at his teaching, because he taught them as one who had authority, not as the teachers of the law. (Mark 1:21-22 NIV)


            People were eager to talk to Jesus. They would travel to hear him teach. They brought their children to be blessed by Jesus. They sought healing for both their bodies and their souls. They loved to bask in his mercy and to see him confront injustice. Jesus spoke with power and truth and his words changed lives.

            Jesus taught his disciples to speak, too. He taught them to love Scripture because it is the word of God that will transform lives. He taught them to pray – using their words to strengthen their love for and relationship with God. He taught them to teach – sharing the treasures of God with people using simple words and stories to convey deep and complex truth.

            People recognized that Jesus’ words had authority, and was not like the teaching of the religious leaders. There is great irony in this because the religious leaders liked to point out that Jesus lacked authority – he was not from their schools or institutions! Jesus had a totally different kind of authority.

            Jesus spoke with the authority of someone who knew what he was talking about. His ideas about God were not theories based on a combination of Scripture and philosophy, rather he spoke about God as one who had spent lots of time together!

            Jesus spoke with the authority of someone who lived out what he taught. One of the most devastating things that Jesus said concerning the religious leaders was this: “You must obey them and do everything they tell you. But do not do what they do, for they do not practice what they preach!” In contrast, Luke describes his gospel with these words: “In my former book, Theophilus, I wrote about all that Jesus began to do and to teach…” (Acts 1:1). One of the most attractive things about Jesus is that he precisely practiced all that he taught!

            Jesus spoke with compassion to all those who had been beaten up by others or beaten down by life. Jesus spoke with mercy to all those who knew the weight of their guilt and dreamed of forgiveness. Jesus spoke with hope to all those who had given up on life and faith. Jesus spoke with challenge to all those who promoted self over others and thought themselves somehow superior. Jesus spoke with anger to those who degraded God’s temple and robbed God’s people. Jesus, hanging on the cross, looked around at the soldiers who gambled for his clothes, the religious leaders who took pleasure in mocking him, the people who simply bought into the Roman/Sanhedrin story that he was a criminal, and the criminals who were mocking him as they died together, spoke with great difficulty: “Father, forgive them, they do not know what they are doing.”

            When Jesus spoke the world changed! He empowers his disciples with world changing words as well. Let’s use them!

To Love is to Serve, to Serve is to Love

Shortly before the Passover, Jesus stayed at the home of Lazarus, Martha and Mary. It had not been too long since Jesus raised Lazarus from the dead and returned him to his sisters. Understandably, they decided to host a dinner party to honor Jesus. The disciples were no doubt thrilled, because everyone loves a party.

            Mary had memories swirling in her mind as the meal was being served. “If you had been here my brother would not have died!” she once said to Jesus, as much accusation as statement of faith. She remembered Jesus not responding to her sharp words, but rather crying with her over Lazarus. She remembered the trepidation she felt as Martha warned Jesus not to open the tomb because of the smell. She remembered the struggle in her heart and soul as she wondered if life could really conquer death. She remembered the longest moment of her life – those seconds between Jesus calling Lazarus back from death and Lazarus responding. She remembered the joy of seeing Lazarus alive again and taking him home. She remembered how the time of mourning for Lazarus turned into an incredible resurrection party!

            Mary’s heart was full to overflowing with gratitude towards Jesus for all the ways he had blessed her life and those of her family and friends. Then Mary remembered that she had a way to show her love and appreciation to Jesus. She silently went to her room and retrieved the perfume. She silently began to pour the perfume on the feet of the man who had taught her both the joy and the meaning of life. As the fragrance of the perfume filled the room, tears filled Mary’s eyes and sobs of joy released from her heart. It was an amazing moment.

            Holy moments, however, are not for everyone and it made Judas particularly uncomfortable. So he objected: “Why wasn’t this perfume sold and the money given to the poor?” But Jesus would have none of this and he defended Mary. “Leave her alone, it was intended that she should save this perfume for the day of my burial.” Jesus said.  Mary loved Jesus and she knew how to express that love appropriately.

            A week later, Jesus wanted to show his disciples how much he loved them. He took a page from Mary’s playbook and washed the feet of his disciples - another holy moment. Judas was there, now with clean feet. The disciples were nervous about Jesus washing their feet, but despite Jesus telling them that they should do this for one another, no one took the towel or basin and washed Jesus’ feet.

            Every since then some Christians have simply ignored Jesus’ command and example to wash one another’s feet. Some Christians have turned it into a religious ceremony where people with clean feet (they know it is happening and come prepared) have their feet washed. Jesus, meanwhile, is still looking for disciples to show his love through their service – to serve is to love and to love is to serve. They cannot be divided. But when they are practiced – another holy moment happens.

The Practice of Service

Jesus said he came, not to be served, but to serve. He was very intentional about giving of himself so that others would be benefited and blessed by his service. Since service, like selfishness, depends on habits to be carried out, I noticed several habits that Jesus practiced which allowed him to do amazing things with his life.

            Jesus had the habit of being genuinely interested in people. He was willing to give time to everyone who approached him. He was kind and practiced the oft neglected skill of listening! This is especially amazing since he had the power to solve people’s problems – but he refused to just solve the problem and send people on their way without engaging them as human beings first. Everyone, no matter their standing in life, was welcomed by Jesus.

            Jesus saw “distractions” and “interruptions” as opportunities to practice service. While Jesus, no doubt, made plans for his days, as well as having a general plan for his ministry, he was not a slave to his plans! Many of the people Jesus healed interrupted what he was doing with their pressing needs, and Jesus paused his schedule to serve them. This is a difficult habit in our culture that says “time is money” and if we, as disciples of Jesus, are going to cultivate that habit we will have to believe that “time is love!” I think Jesus gives us an endless supply of interruptions on which to practice this habit!

           Jesus was willing to look past presenting issues to see the deeper needs of people. Jesus steered conversations, creating opportunities to address people’s deepest needs in ways that made them open to the intrusion! To be helpfully intrusive is a tremendous spiritual gift which frees people to trust and receive help. It stands in marked contrast to people who are annoyingly, but unhelpfully, intrusive. It also stands in marked contrast to the majority of people who do not want to intrude into your life, not out of respect, but hoping that you will return the favor and not intrude into theirs! Helpful intrusion is a great way to understand what God is doing both in the world and in your life.

            Jesus understood that God poured blessings into his life and that his responsibility was simply to pass them on to the people around him. He once told his disciples, as he prepared to send them out to minister without his physical presence: “Freely you have received, freely give!” When you understand that it is not the one who dies with the most toys who wins, but the one who has been generous with God’s blessings, you are well on your way to the habit of serving! Jesus called this habit “storing up treasure in heaven!”

            In Ukraine, I have noticed a phrase that is used a lot when I am busy working in the neighborhood: “God help you!” People say it with a smile and walk on by. I interpret it to mean, “May God help you because I certainly am not going to help!” I wish they would just walk by silently! Jesus understood that he had a part in being “God’s help” for people. Quite simply, Jesus saw need, understood he could help, and made the consistent decision to actually help. That is the heart of service. That is the heart of Jesus.