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Posts Tagged ‘Evangelism’

Neighbors from Flickr via Wylio

Saying hello at the curb.

When we think about sharing Jesus’ love and inviting people to follow him as disciples, a big part of it is simply being neighborly.  I once wrote a sermon called Front Porch Church reflecting on recovering the kinds of neighborly interactions that front porch living facilitated.  Often we work outside the neighborhoods where we live, and when we are home, we hang out on back decks and in fenced back yards.

Here is a post from the Slow Church blog entitled “Three Shifts Towards Neighborliness.”   I recommend the whole post, but here is a quote that I really resonate with:

“We need to give ourselves permission to waste time with our neighbours. When we choose to be present—around dinner tables, on porches, and in local parks—we create space for life-giving relationships to be deepened, for collaborative opportunities to arise, for creativity to be co-inspired, and for the cultural idol of productivity to be subverted.”

For more thoughts on neighborhoods and neighborliness, see my post “You shall love your neighborhood.”

Credits
Photo Credit: “Neighbors”, © 2012 Tony Alter, Flickr | CC-BY | via Wylio

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In a challenging post entitled Why Many Welcoming Churches are Dying Churches, Joseph Yoo explains why churches cannot sit back and wait for people to come to us.  We can’t assume any more that people even in the near neighborhood know where we are, who we are, and what we are about.

He describes a tendency in congregations to think that sprucing up the building and grounds will entice people to stop in.  He writes, “Not only do we assume that a majority of our neighbors know about church, we also look at outreach through the lens of the question ‘How do we get people into our pews’ rather than actually being missional.”

He adds, “We can’t just wait and assume people are going to show up — because they won’t. We’re also going to encounter more and more folks who don’t know the things about our faith that we take for granted. And that’s okay.

“What’s not okay is for us to mistake the words of Jesus to ‘Go’ for ‘Stay and wait for people to come’ — no matter how welcoming we may be.”

We’re trying to figure out how to “go” at Jesus’ direction.  Click on the title to read the whole post.

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Here is a link to an old story that has been on my mind as I think about ways to share Jesus’ life-giving and lifesaving love in the world and in our neighborhood as it is today.

http://cms.intervarsity.org/slj/article/4249/0.1

 

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'Pen and paper' photo (c) 2011, francois - license: http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.0/

‘Tis the season of New Year’s Resolutions, and I’ve been thinking about what congregational New Year’s Resolutions might look like.

Here’s one from Jan Edmiston’s post on the subject called New Year’s Resolutions: Church Edition:  “Remember that Jesus did not come to establish a a self-serving Christianity (e.g. I don’t like drums in church.  The color of the sanctuary carpet annoys me.  The church doesn’t have as many potlucks anymore and I love potlucks.)  Jesus established a movement so profound that it’s supposed to reflect heaven on earth. (e.g. Love your enemy.  Pray for those who persecute you.  Return violence with healing.  Share your stuff.)”

Here are some other possibilities, in no particular order:

  • Long-time members might resolve to spend time with one new person or new family and form a more-than-superficial friendship.  For example, couples that enjoy going out to eat together might invite a newer couple to join them.
  • Resolve to pray for the people and neighborhood around the church in a sustained way through the year.  Who knows what kind of community engagement this might lead to?
  • Go out in the neighborhood and do a random act of kindness as a group.
  • Resist the temptation to say, “This is how we’ve always done it.”  Resolve to try something new this year and not be afraid to fail.  God can used closed doors as well as open ones to guide us into the future.
  • Practice imagining how some aspect of your church’s life and practice comes across to a newcomer or a guest.
  • Think of the church building as a tool for ministry and find one new way to use it to bless others in the community.
  • Like Jesus talking with the woman at the well, take time to hang out with people who do not know Jesus, or who are unchurched.  Do something away from the building out in the community.
  • Take time to learn and sing at least one song or hymn that is cherished by a different generation in the church from your own, even if it isn’t your personal favorite.

What are some more possibilities?

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Slow Evangelism

'Sharing is Caring' photo (c) 2008, włodi - license: http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/2.0/Evangelism–sharing Jesus–is slow, painstaking work, like gardening and farming.  It takes time to make friends and cultivate relationships.

I came across this quote from Michael Frost, author of The Road to Missional: Journey to the Center of the Church:

“When we understand what it is to be truly missional – incarnated deeply within a local host community – we will find that evangelism is best done slowly, deliberately, in the context of a loving community. It takes time and multiple engagements.”

Frost notes that one thing that makes us shy away from evangelism is that we think we have to share the whole gospel with people in one encounter.  Sharing the gospel slowly, gradually over time in a relationship allows the deep beauty and breadth of the good news to be expressed.

Frost adds that people who don’t know Jesus yet need to experience hospitality and see how we embody the gospel in the life of our community.  They need to see how we practice love in our communal setting.

One thing that  Frost is getting at is that evangelism includes all the small, thoughtful things that we faithfully do over a long period of time.  May Christ open our eyes to the opportunities that come our way to do these small things in his name.  May Christ help us build new friendships even as we cherish the old.  And may Christ’s love fill us all!

You can read more here on the Sustainable Traditions blogsite.

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Flagon, ruby glass, silver-gilt mounts, stones...

Image via Wikipedia

In The Lion, The Witch and The Wardrobe Father Christmas gives Lucy a small bottle containing a healing cordial.    A few drops of this medicine can cure almost anything, and even bring people back from the brink of death.

Near the end of the book, after the battle against the White Witch, Lucy’s brother, Edmond lies near death.  The Great Lion Aslan, who is the Christ-figure in The Chronicles of Narnia, urges Lucy to act quickly with her cordial:

“Her hands trembled so much that she could hardly undo the stopper, but she managed it in the end and poured a few drops into her brother’s mouth.”

Notice what happens next:

“‘There are other people wounded,” said Aslan while she was still looking eagerly into Edmund’s pale face and wondering if the cordial would have any result.

“‘Yes, I know,’ said Lucy crossly.  ‘Wait a minute.’

“‘Daughter of Eve,’ said Aslan in a graver voice, ‘others also are at the point of death.'”

Lucy gets up and goes with Aslan to tend to other wounded folk.  When she is able to return to Edmund, she finds him “standing on his feet and not only healed of his wounds by looking better than she had seen him look–oh, for ages…”

I thought about this scene recently when I was reflecting on Mark 1:38.  Jesus has been caring for many people at Peter’s home in Capernaum.  There is still much more work to be done there, but after a time of prayer,  Jesus insists on moving on to other villages: “Let us go on to the neighboring towns, so that I may proclaim the message there also; for that is what I came out to do.”

Jesus and the disciples move out in mission, traveling throughout Galilee.  Yet in Mark 2 and again still later in Mark, they return to Capernaum and resume work there.  Matthew 4 puts it this way:  Jesus made his home in Capernaum. Jesus goes out to reach people, but he also comes back home to those who already love him, and who still need him.  Jesus does both.  Jesus’ mission is a dual mission.

This gives me food for thought as we face a dual calling: caring for our dear  “home folks” who have long been in our congregations while simultaneously reaching out to others.  Yes, we are called to go into all the world.  But caring for people already in the church is also a holy calling.  Chaplaincy and evangelism are both holy callings.  The resources of prayer and the power of the Holy Spirit are crucial as we seek to be faithful in both directions.

The grace and strength of the Lord Jesus Christ are sufficient for us all.  There is enough of the healing blood in his cup for us all.  Let’s practice our ministry as if we really believe that!

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Planting new churches has been an important outreach strategy in my denomination, the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) and in many others.  Who doesn’t rejoice at the birth of a new church?  But the way we have typically practiced church planting, at least in my neck of the woods, has long left me with a troubled sense of concern.

Typically a judicatory calls a pastor to plant a church, and the aim is to grow a congregation in numbers and resources as quickly as practicable.  The new church has succeeded when it is able to build a building and be a programmatic church that can support multiple staff.

I’ve always wondered: But what about poor people in poor and/or sparsely populated areas?  What about people who do not have the physical and financial resources to “do church” this way?  They need the gospel as much as anyone else, but it will be unlikely that they can “do church” they way affluent suburban churches do it.

Here is a bracing post entitled 9 Reasons NOT to Plant a Church in 2012 from a blogger named Andrew Jones.  I found this through Rachel Held Evans, who has one of the most helpful and enjoyable blogs that I read–highly recommended.

Jones outlines a number of important critiques of the way church planting is typically done, such as:

  • Focusing on numbers and momentum is too narrow and shallow a way to judge how a new church plant is doing.  It ignores signs of the Kingdom of God, such as transformation in people’s lives and in all the spheres of society.
  • The people who are most likely to join a new church plant already have some background with church.  What about people who are total outsiders?
  • Focus on people predisposed to favor church culture puts churches in competition with one another over potential members, and this can lead to “sheep stealing” and failure to reach people who have never been reached.
  • The typical model asks people to commit to church meetings and activities instead of making a commitment to the Kingdom of God.  It focuses on making church members instead of making disciples of Jesus Christ.  It encourages a consumer mindset.
  • And there’s this–echoing the concern I’ve long held: “Church planting normally thrives in wealthier areas or suburban areas but ignores the urban poor. Stuart Murray Williams addresses this weakness here. It also focuses on the functional people rather than the high-need people and so we end up with church that prioritizes the rich, something we are warned about in the Scriptures (see James).”

I would add that the poor aren’t only in urban areas.  Poverty is everywhere, and  sometimes it’s hidden amidst the beauty of our rural areas.  Poverty can also take many forms.

If the goal is to share the gospel and make disciples of Jesus Christ, there are many possible models for forming congregations and “doing church” just as there are many ways to farm and to garden.  (See my earlier post on Seed Catalogs and Church Planting.)  That also means that there can be lots of different ways of being faithful small congregations.  Amend that: there are lots of ways to be faithful congregations, period.

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P1070754

Image by dreamexplorer via Flickr

I love looking at the seed catalogs that fill my mailbox this time of year.  I especially enjoy the ones that offer unusual plants and varieties suited to particular conditions and locales, and heirloom seeds.   Heirloom varieties of vegetables are often the tastiest and most beautiful and interesting to look at.  They are a delight for small home gardeners and lovers of fresh produce.

Take tomatoes, for example.   Large-scale growers must depend on only a few varieties that have been hybridized to be able to withstand rough handling, long storage and long journeys across country.  Texture, and especially taste, are secondary.

Monoculture is the practice of growing huge quantities of a single crop or single species.  While this allows standardization and may lead to larger crops with minimal labor, it also causes problems.  If a disease strikes to which that species has no resistance, the entire crop can be lost.  Monoculture can also negatively impact the environment.  Polyculture is the alternative.  It involves techniques such as companion planting and–get this–the use of beneficial weeds.  Thank goodness there are people who are committed to preserving the genetic diversity of plants and animals, too.

heirlooms from baker creek

Image by tofutti break via Flickr

When it comes to planting and cultivating communities of faith, we can take some lessons from farmers and gardeners.

  • Test the soil.  Take local conditions into account and plan accordingly.  Develop a particular garden plan (new church model) for particular people in a particular context.  Consider the heirloom varieties, such as house churches and monastic communities.
  • Denominations should not rely on monoculture.  There are many possible models for communities of faith.  While it may appear that reproducing a particular model will lead to success, in the long run we may be able to produce a bigger, healthier, livelier crop (i.e. draw more people towards Jesus) if we practice polyculture.
  • Remember that there are lots of different methods for feeding and watering the plants.  Water cannons aren’t the only form of irrigation.  In some situations the most efficient and effective method is to bury a drip hose near the roots and administer a slow, steady drip.

And don’t forget what the Lord of the Harvest said:  Some seeds won’t produce, but others will–thirty, sixty, and a hundredfold.

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Want to hear a word of hope for the New Year?  Check out this hope-filled article from the December 2011 issue of Presbyterians Today about ministry with young adults.  It’s titled “If This Is Church, Bring It On.”

Author Mark Ray notes, “In many ways, young adults are looking for the same things as previous generations, including Spirit-filled worship, authentic community and meaningful service.”

No, it is not crucial to have a guitar and drums in your worship service.  What is needed is to be genuine and authentic and to do what you do well.   He quotes Roger Dermody, Executive Director for Mission of the PC(USA) General Assembly Mission Council: “Whether worship is traditional or contemporary, the goal is to avoid having it become “monotone or rote,” he says. “We want to infuse our rich traditions and forms of worship with meaning to touch the hearts and minds of the younger generation.”

Younger generations are looking for genuine, deep relationships, including relationships that cross generational lines.  In small congregations, this often comes naturally.  The article speaks of congregations doing this intentionally.  Call it the “Cheers factor.”  They want to be where “everybody knows your name.”

As for service, Ray advises finding out what ministries young people are passionate about and accompanying them in service.  What’s more, young people are looking for encouraging mentors.  Again, this is intergenerational.

Warm, Spirit-filled worship.  Deep caring relationships across generations.  Service that meets critical needs.  Small churches can do all this.  Mine does, and I’m so grateful.

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St Johns Church, Tismans Common. A tiny church...

Image via Wikipedia

Here is a letter to the editor that I sent to the Presbyterian Outlook in response to another letter.  You can read the original that sparked my interest here.  I really believe that being a small congregation can be a strategic advantage.  The small church is one of God’s strategies for reaching people.

I greatly appreciated O. Benjamin Sparks’ letter to the editor in the August 8 issue of the Outlook, as well as the Pentecost 2011 letter from the Committee on Theological Education that inspired it.  Twenty-one years into a small church pastorate, I still find it exciting, challenging and rewarding.

The facility-rich, money-rich, resource-rich, staff-rich and program-rich model is not the only faithful way to “do church.”  It is not the only good structure for the work of drawing people into the embrace of Jesus Christ.  It is not even the appropriate model for every context, culture, or population group.  What if we stopped seeing small size as a problem or a failure and viewed it instead as an opportunity and even a strategic advantage?  What if we saw small, strong congregations as one of God’s strategies for reaching people?  At the moment, the PC(USA) is rich in small congregations, and just maybe God wants it that way.

Many people will not be reached through models of church that require affluence.  What is required is a model that is rich in faith, rich in prayer, rich in relationships, and rich in simplicity, creativity, and flexibility.  It is a blessing not to have large facilities and too many things that must be maintained.  Trusting God, a small church can move quickly to meet people on a personal level.

Yes, some small congregations are unhealthy and may need to die by closure, but larger congregations can also be unhealthy.  Yes, many small churches need transformation, but doesn’t every church need God to transform it?  Isn’t every congregation called to be reformed according to the Word of God and the call of the Spirit?  And this, too, is certain: whatever its size, every congregation is called to lay down its life, take up the cross and follow Jesus.

Initiatives such as “For Such a Time as This,” which pairs small congregations with recent seminary graduates, are a step in the right direction.  Imagine what could happen if working through small, strong congregations became one of the PC(USA)’s respected and cherished strategies for reaching people in the name of Jesus.  Imagine the greater diversity of people we could reach out to and the greater number of communities the PC(USA) could be active in.  Imagine if we developed creative ways to support the faithful indigenous leadership that is in the small churches we already have.  Simply inviting small church folk to come to a leadership event here and there is not enough.  This is going to require personal, onsite attention in the small church’s home territory, and the best mentors will come from small churches. And imagine what could happen if we started new congregations that will deliberately be small, whose goals may well NOT include owning a building or accumulating wealth.  Think of the flexibility they would have in responding to God’s call to mission!

If the PC(USA) hopes to share the good news of Jesus, and if we want to deploy our small congregations in that effort, then we must fulfill our ordination vow to serve with energy, intelligence, imagination and love. As the COTE letter notes, this includes making imaginative use of our money across the church.  And it includes loving our small congregations.

Small churches are a great place to learn to be a pastor, and a great place to learn to be a Christian.  Remember that they are also a great place to meet Jesus in the first place.

 

 

Photo by Andy Potter, Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike 2.0 license

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