My wife and I get a form of this question asked weekly. Often, more than once.
It's not uncommon for parents of a collegian to be asked such questions. We received the same questions regarding our daughter when she began college.
Our son is living away from home and at a large university in our state. He's close enough that we could get to him in less than two hours (or vice versa) but far enough away that he is experiencing the freedom of faux independence.
Like many in our situation, there's not a lot of communication going back and forth. Therefore, as with most, there's more we don't know than do.
Often, I have answered the questions with any number of these responses. . .
"I have no idea."
"I hope he's okay."
"Good, I guess."
or something like that, it often seems like we don't care. That is far from the truth.
There are many dynamics regarding the question and the past two years have been anything but smooth.
It seems odd, but my wife and I KNOW that God opened a door and provided the opportunity for our son to attend this university. It was not my first (or second, third or fourth) choice, in that like most state universities, there is a spiritual void there where godless lifestyle choices and beliefs are celebrated. Oh, and just because another college or university is designated "Christian" that does not always mean that it is much different than the state universities.
Yet, even upon this campus that could be categorized as spiritually blank, there are many who love the Lord, seek to serve Him, make His name known and push back the darkness. So, as a side note, pray for our collegians and campus ministries seeking to impact lives for the sake of the Gospel. They have a daunting task ahead of them.
Nevertheless, last night it was revealed to me by God that not only are people asking "How's your son doing?" because they just can't think of anything else to say, but because they truly care for him and his heart.
These questions aren't being asked by acquaintences that met him or my family in the past month. These heart-felt inquiries are coming from men and women in my church and others in ministry who understand the challenges of pastoral life. Many of the men and women asking love my son and have known him from the day he was born. This is family and God is reminding me that no Christ-follower journeys alone.
So, how is my son?
Thank you for your prayers.
Keep praying for him. Keep praying for my daughter as well. And, while you're at it, lift up all our collegians who are expriencing "freedom" for the first time. Pray they experience true freedom. This generation is not too far gone. I beleive they will be a generation that will "turn the world upside down" for the Gospel. Let's do our part to ensure that happens.
I purchased the book and began reading it a few years ago.
Here's how the Preface (non-fiction) begins. . .
The title of this book, Who Stole My Church?, springs from a conversation a few years ago with a distraught man who felt betrayed by the church he had invested in for most of his adult years. From his perpective everything had changed - overnight, he said - into something that made him feel like a stranger in the place he'd always thought of as his spiritual home.
I listened to him describe what sounded like ecclesiastical carnage. Programs had been dumped, traditional music trashed, preaching styles and topics revolutionized, symbols of reverence (appropriate clothing, crosses, communion tables, and pulpits come to mind) thrust aside.
His anguish (and his anger) began with a young pastor who had been appointed with a challenge from the church's leadership to "stir things up with a new vision." His mandate: make the church grow like the Willow Creeks, the Saddlebacks, the Mars Hills, and all the other megachurches that have appeared during the last decade.
According to my friend, most of the church members - in particular, the older generation - had no idea what they were getting themselves into when all the growth talk began. Who would protest against, he asked, the idea of finding fresh ways to evangelize the unchurched? But what people expected was merely a fresh voice in the pulpit and a program or two imported from more successful churches.
Here's what I heard him saying. What he and his fellow church members had not anticipated was a total shift in the church's culture, a reinvention (a favorite word of mine) of ways to love God and serve people. What they did not see coming was a reshuffling of the church's priorities, so that lost and broken people rather than found and supposedly fixed people became the primary target audience. In summary: virtually everything in the life of their church under new leadership became focused on reaching people who were not yet there.
It was during this part of the conversation that my lunch partner finally said, "Our church has been stolen out form under us. It's been hijacked." His solution to the problem? To leave and search for another church that "appreciated" the older and better church ways his generation was familiar and comfortable with.
As I recall the conversation, my friend was less than delighted when he discovered that I wasn't completely sympathetic to his cause. I tried to find a kind way to say, "Get used to it," but I wasn't very successful."
My parting comment that day was something like this: "You need to think about the fact that any church that has not turned its face toward the younger generation and the new challenges of reaching unchurched people in this world will simply cease to exist. We're not talking about decades - we're talking about years."
What is unfortunate is that the account shared by MacDonald in the Preface to his book is not fiction and has been replicated over and again in churches throughout our nation.
There are numerous churches in the city where I serve that have experienced the very same challenges. Some have called pastors, over and again, seeking to find the right fit. Unfortunately, some of these churches have now been tagged "Pastor Killers" based on the reality that they have left many wounded shepherds in their wake. Many of these wounded warriors have either stepped out of ministry or strongly contemplated it.
Granted, there are some pastors (and friends of mine) who have sought to lead their church through needed change too quickly. You just cannot turn a ship on a dime. Therefore, incremental change is needed with continued vision-casting by the pastor and leaders reminding the church of the bigger picture. All change must be done not based on a model of the latest megachurch, but solely on the discerned will of God for said congregation.
Pastors easily slide toward egotism. It's the nature of the calling, I guess, partnered with personality traits, most often High "D" or "I" categorizations on the DISC profile along with the stress of the role. No excuses here, just an acknowledgement of reality. Therefore, let me be clear that God does not honor prideful egos, whether from the pulpit or the pew (or in today's vernacular - from the tall table or the cushioned chairs).
I have yet to meet a pastor called to lead an established, or legacy, church through transition who has not been accused of wrong-doing. In most cases, the accusations stem from the loss of perceived sacred cows within the church.
Often the frustrations come from a perceived shift of focus from self, a specific demographic, or program or even worship style.
The church I have been called to serve is a wonderful one because of the godly people here and a clear focus on Jesus Christ. As I think back over the previous twenty-one years, I am encouraged by all that God has done. In fact, just contemplating the miracles of new life, Kingdom focus and celebrations of victory lead to a personal worship service themed by "Thank You" to our God.
The work done prior to my leadership was ground-breaking for a church solidly and proudly (unfortunately) inwardly-focused. As we moved through the early years of the 21st century, it became clear a shift was needed. Not everyone understood or believed this, but I applaud and thank previous leadership for not being satisfied with status quo.
It is clear today that if the shift from inward-only ministry had not occured, or at least begun to occur in the early 2000s, this church would be seeking a merger with a church on more solid ground financially and likely would be seeking ways to keep the doors open here. This is not a dystopian, doom and gloom statement, but one based on what we have seen occur in our own county and in churches in Jacksonville.
Thankfully, we are a church who became like the men of Issachar, who "knew the times" and sought to impact the world God has placed us for His glory.
This has meant change. It's not been dramatic. It's been slow. As best we could, we have sought to keep everyone on the boat while making the turn. Perhaps we have not always been successful in that, and for that I am sorry. However, I cannot and will not apologize for leading a church into the culture of lostness so that we may fulfill our Great Commission, push back the darkness, engage the lost and make disciples.
Yes, I've been accused of hijacking this church. It hurts when the accusations come, because. . .well, I'm human and those arrows always seem to penetrate areas thought impervious to pain.
While I didn't eat lunch with the same friend that Gordon MacDonald did, I too have had a discourse with a friend as well. This statement was then shared, "If you want to dedicate your life to church planting, and missional work, that is very commendable, but if that is your choice, go to work with the Convention and let us have our church back."
I responded that my life is dedicated not to the church, not church planting, not a program or event, but to God alone. He rescued me. He gave me life through Jesus Christ. He called me. Therefore, He's the center and main character in my story. In fact, "my" story is not about me. It's His story and I'm blessed to be invited into it.
Regarding missional work, that's a misnomer, I fear. The reality is that it is impossible for a true church or follower of Christ to be anything but missional. It's not a fad or descriptor of process, but a characteristic of a disciple.
As for the Convention. I've not been called by God to serve in that capacity at this time in my life. Therefore, to go work for the Convention (either SBC or Florida Baptist Convention) apart from a calling would do a disservice to this church, my family and all churches within our denomination.
Then, the kicker "Let us have our church back." I found it interesting that this came from a friend who has been a member of this church about ten years less than I have. Most likely, he's echoing others. I pray it's a quiet minority. Here's why - when a church slips into believing it's "my church" or "our church" God may just allow that to happen.
Believe me, you don't want a church to own. You don't want a church that is identified as "yours." Christians do not own a church. Christians are the church. The ownership is based solely on the one who has paid the price - God alone.
So, be careful to ask for "your church back." Back from whom, God? We do not wish God to remove his lampstand from our presence.
Though my answer was thought out and carefully worded, I'm not sure it swayed him. For that reason, I grieve.
My Recommendations for Other Pastors
For other pastors who face these situations, seek counsel and pray intently. Be prepared to admit poor leadership and vision casting when it's apparent. No one is perfect and leadership is a tenuous thing. Be holy. Be humble. Be caring. Be loving.
Pastor the full church (yes, I'm using the word "pastor" as a verb) from preschool to senior adult and every demographic within. Develop lead teams, deacons and ministers to come along side to aid in this. Keep the vision clear. Stay focused and remember the big picture.
But, don't ever apologize for doing the will of God.
A week ago my mother received a phone call from a young man claiming to be my son. My son is a university student here in Florida and yet, the gentleman on this call told my mother he was stuck in Las Vegas.
Red flags go up immediately.
However, to be honest, there was a sense of "This could be true," so my mother engaged in the conversation trying to discern if this was her grandson. He called her "Grandma" which is not odd, but in an world of "Nanas," "Mimis," "Grannys" and other such child-derived names for the family matriarch, "Grandma" is not as common as you'd think. Nevertheless, that is what my children call my mother.
The young man on the phone shared that he was arrested in Las Vegas and had been drinking, got in a fight and needed money to get bailed out of jail. Yes, it's an old scam and many have been taken in, but my mother's antenna went up at this point.
Even so, there was a lingering question in her mind, "Is this true?"
The man on the phone then said, "Promise me you won't tell Dad."
To which my mother responded, "I'm not promising you that." (Yea, mom!)
The caller then said that a public defender would then be calling her with more details about sending money and hung up.
At that point, my mother called me and began our conversation with "Do you know where your son is?" It was tinged with fear and foreboding and I assured her he was at school. After calming her down, I then contacted my son to verify this. . .because. . .well, anything is possible I guess. I also called the Sheriff's Office in Clark County, Nevada and searched the "inmate" list for the county and the city of Las Vegas just to be sure. My son wasn't answering his phone, so the mind goes to the worst possible scenario.
Fortunately, he finally rolled out of bed and called me back to affirm that he was not in jail in Vegas.
It's a somewhat funny story. . . now . . . maybe.
Well, not really. It's troubling. Many people, especially grandparents, have been scammed this way. It's troubling in that the phrase, "Please don't tell my Dad" resonates with many.
Why not tell Dad?
Simple, because Dad won't be happy.
Dad won't be pleased.
Dad will be disappointed.
Based on recent news reports and those related to professional athletes, the role of Dad as disciplinarian is now on the front page and trending in the news. Some Dads are absent. Some are present, but not there, if you know what I mean. Then, there are the many who seek to be the best father they can and many who know Christ and live under the truth of the Gospel, just trying to do the best they can for their children.
Yet, here's the rub.
Children often disappoint their Dads (and Moms, too.) It's heart-wrenching and terrible.
We have all been there. I dare say that even the godliest person has had an instance in their life they'd just as soon Dad not know.
As children of God, we live this way as well.
"Just don't tell Dad!"
But, Dad knows. He knows not only the action, but the motivation behind it. He knows the thoughts. He knows the secret sins. He knows the unholy choices that have been made. He knows the willing disregard of truth.
And, yet. . .he still loves.
To the child of God, our Heavenly Father is the ultimate "Abba" or "Daddy."
Yes, we hurt Him.
Yes, we embarrass Him.
Yes, we drag the "family name" through the mud at times.
Thankfully, our Father. . .our Dad. . .is a God of grace, love and mercy. Oh, he's a disciplinarian as well, but then again, true discipline cannot occur void of love (that become just punishment, not disicpline.)
So, what do we do?
I'm reminded of the story of the Prodigal Son. The Son did all that was unholy, ungodly and humiliating and embarrassing to the family, but the Father remained steadfast. So, too does our Father.
"Don't tell Dad" is not the answer. He already knows, but tell him anyway. . .in repentance. Forgiveness is waiting.
If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness. 1 John 1:9 (ESV)
As for your earthly Dad, he too probably knows more than you're giving him credit for knowing. Just remember this truth - love and affirmation are not the same thing.
Oh, and the "public defender" from Las Vegas never called my mom back.
Not too long ago, I wrote a post about the danger of buidling silos in ministry within the church. It garnered a number of hits and created some talking points among other ministers, ministry leaders throughout the world and members of the local church.
As a local church, we now find ourselves at a place of decision regarding ministry roles and purposes.
Over the past few weeks, I have had some one-on-one meetings with ministry leaders and church members regarding the future of the church in our community and culture. We have had numerous pastoral/ministry leader meetings where vision-casting tempered with cautious optimism about next steps reigned. Most recently, I had the privilege of sharing with our Deacons and then our Children's Ministry Leaders about the future of ministry and programming.
A few weeks ago, our Associate Pastor of Discipleship & Students preached in my stead a message that reaffirmed the role of parents as being the spiritual heroes in the lives of their children.
GOOD IS THE ENEMY OF BEST
Like most evangelical churches in the west, we have grown and developed ministries based on the very same metrics every other church has used over the past forty years or so. It's not that those metrics were wrong, but over the long haul, the good ministries established have become what every long-standing ministry becomes when the bigger picture is blurred or never clearly defined - ministry silos.
In other words, we have built some incredibly good ministries over the years (i.e. children's, student, collegiate, single adults, married adults, women, men, senior adults, etc.) but the "goodness" of these programmed ministries have led to an inability to experience and offer the "best."
We are a culture that outsources everything. I do. If there's a plumbing issue in my home and the 2 minute YouTube video cannot help me fix it, I have to outsource the work to a professional. When we had carpet installed in our home years ago, I outsourced the installation to a professional. When I need work done on my car, I have to call a professional. There are skills I have and am comfortable with, but in many cases, I must find an expert to help.
The problem in the Christian family and in the church is that we have borrowed this "outsourcing" from our culture and implemented in the church. Therefore, when our children have spiritual questions, most parents feel ill-equipped to respond and answer and must call the "expert" which in many cases is a deacon, minister, pastor, small group leader, etc.
While it is a good thing to gain wisdom from others who have journeyed a similar path, the truth is that parents cannot outsource the discipling process to others for their children and be obedient and effective.
We must live out the truths of Scripture.
You shall teach them diligently to your children, and shall talk of them when you sit in your house, and when you walk by the way, and when you lie down, and when you rise. Deuteronomy 6:7 (ESV)
This is a command to parents and to God's people. Ultimately, it is our responsibility to lead our families in faith. The church then is to come alongside the parents and the families and give encouragement, offer helps, pray for and give moms and dads clear handles of leadership. In those cases where parents are not believers, or there are no parents in the story, the church stands in the gap. It's an incredible model. In fact, it's best.
Our Associate Pastor of Discipleship, Dave Paxton, will be spearheading our strategy shift to this biblical model of family discipleship. He will be overseeing the full model and implementation with ministry leaders and families.
While there is nothing new under the sun, sometimes we need to be reminded of the basics. In that moment, it seems that the old is new again.
Over the years our church, like many, has offered numerous studies and resources for families and for personal growth. However, it seems that never have we connected all the strategies as they should be for an overarching movement and ministry. It has been like trying to put together a jigsaw puzzle without being able to see the cover of the box. In other words, all the "good" ministries and resources were just that, but not best because the end was never clarified.
If the goal of the church is to make disciples and develop fully devoted followers of Christ, which it is, we must realize that everything we do must be evaluated and judged by this criteria.
A sister church in Texas has been developing a strategy for years and under the theme "Legacy Milestones" has been fruitful in connecting these dots. We have communicated with them about their strategy and have been given permission to use what they have developed as needed.
The truth of the matter is that what works in the south Texas culture will be different than what will work in the northeast Florida culture, so understand clearly. . .our framework is still being built.
Once the framework is built, we will then be free to staff positions as needed in these areas of ministry to lead families forward and to ensure that all within the church are engaged in the process.
Some of the milestones that must move from being just "age-graded celebrations" to full-church body events and celebratory moments are:
Parent/Child Dedication (more than just a photo op with the babies and a gift of a certificate and a keepsake Bible that will never be read.)
Salvation & Baptism
Preparing for Adolescence (a strategy for pre-teens as well as their parents)
Pathway to Purity (leading students to live biblically pure before & after marriage)
Rites of Passage (an biblical event for those stepping into manhood and womanhood, rather than a culturally-defined passageway such as getting a driver's license, getting to vote, or being legal to buy liquor)
High School Graduation (more than just a photo op with students wearing the caps and gowns and receiving a gift book they'll never read.)
Disciple's Life (the lifelong journey of faith as defined by Scripture and enforced through our Grow, Serve and Engage groups)
At these key times in a person's life, moms and dads speak Truth into their lives clearly. Effective and proper handles, or next steps, are provided for families and the church as a whole walk through the journey as well.
WHAT ABOUT SINGLE ADULTS, SENIOR ADULTS AND OTHERS?
This is not a ministry strategy for a specific ministry, but is holistic discipleship where every person is led to understand their role in the story. Parents, aunts, uncles, cousins, siblings, friends, mentors, grandparents, etc. all play vital roles.
It is the responsibility of the church to give the handles, walk the path, keep the focus on the Gospel and Christ and make disciples.
That means. . .everything that's "good" must be put on the table. Change will happen. It will be worth it, eventually.
WHAT IF NOTHING CHANGES?
More to come regarding how this will work at our church. In the meantime, consider your church, your ministry, your area of service. Are you settling for "good?"
In other words, if your church does everything exactly how you're doing it today and never adjusts, what will you look like in five years? Ten years?
The Gospel is never-changing.
The Truth is never-changing.
The strategies are always changing.
Live like a missionary. Study your culture. Don't compromise your faith. Don't compromise the Gospel. Go. Make disciples.
Last night we hosted our small group in our home. Our group is growing - over 20 in attendance. This is a group primarily made up of millenials (college students and young adults between ages 18-29.)
We meet together on Sunday evenings and have some snacks. Then, we dig into the study of the evening, told in "storying" format.
Last night the teaching was titled "Jesus and the Ten Sick Guys." It was based on the Luke 17 account of Jesus healing the ten lepers near the village between Samaria and Galilee.
As we discussed the story and went through our Q & A time, it became clear that there were many teachings and truths in this short passage of Scripture. Here are some of the good things and things that raised questions in this passage for our group:
God is healer
God has power over incurable disease.
Jesus always finds the teachable moment.
Faith brings hope.
Faith brings healing.
Jesus observed and fuflfilled the Old Testament law.
Bummer that nine out of the ten didn't come back to thank Jesus.
Were the nine who didn't come back to Jesus being obedient? Jesus did say, "Go to the priest," and they did.
Was the one who came back being disobedient because he didn't make it to the priest?
Jesus affirmed the one healed man's faithfulness.
Jesus pointed out that the one who came back was a Samaritan (a "foreigner.")
A five minute lesson lasted an hour and a half as discussion and more questions developed. Amazing how just a small passage can elicit so much discussion. And, as you can see, this group isn't afraid of questions.
It was good.
Then, I posed this question, "Was the point of this story to squelch the racism of the Jewish followers around Jesus?" It was agreed that this was a point, even if not the main point. It was, in fact, one of many, but definitely one of the major reasons for the healing of the Samaritan.
Our group last night was a mix of culture and races. So, I asked this question, "What about church? Is there still a sense of discomfort or racism within the church in the west?"
For the millenial generation, this is a BIG DEAL and the discussion was healthy and powerful.
These young adults spoke up, gave their opinions and agreed that we have come far, but have far to go as the American church. What I found exciting was that their opinions on this issue were biblically-based and not just culturally-defined.
THE COLOR-BLIND GENERATION
This generation, which may be as "color-blind" as any in our American history, truthfully shared their realities.
A BI-RACIAL MAN
A bi-racial man shared how when first invited to our church as a teenager, he was hesitant. He wanted to know if there were any people in our church like him? I asked "What do you mean 'like you?'" He clearly expressed that he was referring to race. He said, "I didn't want to be the only black man in the room." He explained that he was seeking to come, but not be stared at or looked down upon because of his biracial culture. (BTW - He's one of our worship leaders now.)
A HISPANIC WOMAN
A Hispanic girl shared how some friends of hers just cannot understand why she would attend a "white" church. She eloquently explained that to her the church wasn't "white" but was solidly teaching the Word of God and serving Him well.
A HISPANIC MAN
A Hispanic man shared how he is proud of his heritage and though English is not his heart language, it is what he speaks most often now and since he went to public school in our community ever since he was six years old, he has been "Americanized" (his term) and feels most comfortable in English-speaking churches.
AN AFRICAN-AMERICAN WOMAN
An African-American woman in our group then spoke up. She began with this phrase, "I don't want to offend anyone. . ." to which we said collectively "Go for it. Speak the truth."
She explained how she was first invited by her friend to come to our church and the fear that welled up inside her. She wanted to attend, but was afraid that she would be ostracized, stared at, looked down upon, etc. because this was a "white" church and she is black. Her candor was refreshing and opened up dialogue within our group about this very real issue.
The Jesus story of healing a Samaritan was used by God to lead this group of young adults to speak truthfully and authentically about the issues that are often ignored.
WHAT WE DISCOVERED TOGETHER
Here are some points that were agreed upon (in no particular order):
No one can say to another "I know how you feel" unless you've walked in their shoes. In other words, a white man cannot say to a black man "I know what you're going through regarding race and acceptance." It's offensive to pretend to fully understand.
The church has been called the last great segregated entity in America. It's a stereotype that unfortunately is built upon truth of the past.
Our "white" church isn't as white as some think, yet it is predominantly so and the perception of many in the community is that we're a "white" church. That has to change. There really shouldn't be "black" church, "white" church, "brown" church, "red" church, "yellow" church, etc. There's just CHURCH. It seems that God addressed this on the Day of Pentecost. (No one was debating the veracity and beauty of different cultures and worship styles, so don't hear what we're not saying.)
Fear is perhaps one of the greatest tools of the Enemy. However, love always defeats fear. Jesus showed love to the Samaritan and expected his Jewish followers to do so as well. In our day, Christ-followerrs are to do the same (and the "Samaritan" to us is anyone not like us.)
Millenials value authenticity. Regardless of skin tone, heart language or cultural identity (which are all good things) just "be real."
As the old pastors used to say "The ground at the foot of the cross is level." We're all sinners in need of rescue, regardless of race or cultural background.
Heaven is not segregated, therefore the church cannot be.
Loving people is not easy. We're not called to the easy.
We have come far as the church, but we have far to go.
Oh, and as discussion continued, it became clear that skin tone and cultural heritage weren't the only elements that lead people to fear coming to church. It seems that many fear being ignored or worse yet - looked down upon. Sometimes these fears are based on other factors than race, like economic status, chuirch heritage, personal reputation, etc.
The enemy has used the weapon of fear often. Therefore, we must fight bravely and strategically.
As we closed out our study and prepared to finish off the rest of the snacks, I asked "So, what made you come back and stay?"
The answers were reassuring and hopeful.
"I realized you accepted me."
"I felt comfortable."
And at that point, it seems that we discovered how "Jesus and the Ten Sick Guys" was a story for our day, not just a good history lesson from the Bible.
Oh, and apparently the oneness of the church was experienced last night because they all stayed for quite some time, just talking, laughing and sharing stories with old and new friends. . .and the smaller groups weren't segregated!
It is hard to believe that this tragedy occurred thirteen years ago.
That means the students in seventh grade this year were not born until after this event.
So many things happened in 2001 and while there are timelines and websites listing all the many global events, they all pale in comparison to the one event that cemented this date in United States history to forever to be known simply as 9/11.
On this day, as many of us were just working through another weekday, we were shaken in an instant and as the day wore on, the tragic reality that our nation was under attack by overt terrorist action.
Two planes crashed into and ultimately destroyed the World Trade Center towers in New York City.
One plane crashed into the Pentagon.
One plane was diverted due to a group effort by passengers, from an imminent attack on the nation's capital and crashed in Shanksville, Pennsylvania.
This day of tragedy united our nation in a way unseen for decades.
Unfortunately, it seems that the unity was fleeting as Americans consistently poll as being more divided than ever.
May today be a day of remembrance for us as Americans. May we remember how others throughout the world came to our support and grieved with us. May we remember as followers of Christ, how God renewed our strength and comforted us in our grief.
May we remember those directly involved in the story.
Images of heroes, those in the planes, those in the Trade Center and Pentagon and especially those who willingly went into soon to be destroyed buildings and dangerous areas in order to help and rescuse others come to mind.
And this is good.
It is good to remember.
In the Old Testament, the children of Israel were instructed by God to set up special feasts and memorials to remind them of His provision and rescue during difficult days. However, it seems that over time, the moments of remembrance became routine for many. . .if not totally forgotten.
To know 9/11 apart from remembering (even remembering vicariously through reading accounts of others) the events of this day and the events leading up to it can be tragic. To know things, but not really understand leads to the potential of repeating history.
May we remember.
May we always remember.
May we always be resolute.
May we never have another 9/11 type day.
I remember that shortly after 9/11, as the nation unified, flags unfurled in record numbers, police, firefighters and public servants were acknowledged and thanked for their service. All the sudden, we were not taking for granted the day. We were treasuring our time with our children and families. We were intentionally celebrating our freedoms by packing churches, worshipping together, enjoying picnics, baseball games (the World Series!) and resolutely declaring that our freedoms that offended some in the world, would remain.
We resolved to "Never Forget!"
Those who died that day have been memorialized, rightly so, and each American should know the intrinsic value of a life.
So, on this day, on this September 11, let us remember. Let us remember with more than a flippant acknowledgement of an event, but let us remember how when life seems to be routine, there is always a bigger story. Let us remember that life matters. Let us remember that evil exists, but God reigns and is never startled.
Where was God on September 11, 2001?
The answer is simple, but truly deep. God was in the same place He has always been and is today. He is not unloving. He is not disconnected. He is, and always has been and will be, totally engaged and in control.
May He reign in our hearts as Lord and in our collective grief and remembrance, give us peace.
May He especially be experienced today in the lives of family members and survivors from those connected personally to 9/11.
Thank you again to all police officers and firefighters who serve in large cities, suburbs and rural areas. May we never take you and your service for granted.
"Can a church be too missional or too focused on global missions?"
Every so often I hear the murmuring. It's natural. No church of any size, seeking to engage its community and and the world for the Kingdom is immune to the this.
Terms become buzzwords all to quickly in our world, so just to clarify. . .
WHAT IS MISSIONAL?
Perhaps it is best to begin with explaining what “missional” is not. Missional is not the latest in a long line of church growth strategies. It is not a new program for evangelism. It is not a way to mobilize church members to do missions more efficiently and effectively. Neither is it a fad created by postmodern Western Christianity. It is not the same as being “mission minded.” It is not an effort to increase mission giving or support within the church.
In the western church, we have been trained to use a scorecard that validates event attendance and participation in church programs as evidence of congregational health. The reality is that by focusing so intently on this man-made scorecard, the church has drifted from fulfilling its commission to make disciples. There are a number of theological distinctions that help undergird the theological foundation of living and conversing missionally. Without a biblical foundation to terms used within the culture of the church, we run the risk of simply attaching the word “missional” onto everything the church is already doing, and therefore ignoring the necessary paradigmatic shift.[i]
In an attempt to make the shift to the new paradigm, pastors and churches often misuse terminology. As Alan Hirsch states, “The word ‘missional’ over the years has tended to become very fluid and as it was quickly co-opted by those wishing to find new and trendy tags for what they themselves were doing, be they missional or not. It is often used as a substitute for seeker-sensitive, cell-group church, or other church growth concepts, thus obscuring its original meaning.”[ii] This is why missional is often viewed as just another phase or program. In this case, since “missional” seems so hard for many to define clearly, the word is misapplied. Consequently, the missional theology we have been called to live out becomes nothing more than a watered-down retread of previous attempts to be relevant in a changing culture. When the term is used in a way to mean anything that is evangelistic or contextualized or relevant (often viewed as being edgy or “cool”) its meaning is then lost in the method employed.[iii] Missional then, becomes difficult to define. Therefore, we are left describing what it is not. We are then relegated to describing its uses.
In our effort, as a church, to live missionally, we have strategically sought places of impact outside the walls of the church facility. Whether it be a school, a nursing home, a hospital, a community gathering place, coaching at the Y, serving the community, or anything else that offers us opportunities to be the hands of feet of Christ in the midst of the community where we have been placed, missional living becomes the new normal.
As Southern Baptists, global missions has always been a big part or our identity. The thing about global missions is that it begins in our "Jerusalem" and extends throughout the world. Our focus is not to complete our mission efforts here (our "Jerusalem") and then move to the next outlying area ("Judea, Samaria, etc.") before going throughout the world. The mission of Acts 1:8 is concurrent.
Over the years, since before I was called to be Lead Pastor at our church, leadership has led the church to engage globally. This has been done through short-term mission trips and through the partnerships with missionaries on the field, not to mention our financial support given directly to missionaries, through annual missions offerings as well as consistent giving through our Cooperative Program.
As God has blessed us, financially and in other ways, we have been able to send teams to places throughout our city, state, nation and the world.
We have been able to play a strategic role in seeing Kingdom growth throughout the world.
It's a joy to get a message from a church planter in Tucson, Arizona or Greensboro, North Carolina or even Burlington, Ontario relating God-stories regarding services, gatherings, small groups, life change, salvations and baptisms. We celebrate with our partners knowing God has used us in a small way in this great story.
When our missionaries in the UK let us know of a young man in their post-Christian culture who surrendered to Christ as Lord, we celebrate because we are part of this!
WE'RE DOING TOO MUCH REGARDING MISSIONS?
Sometimes, it's easy to forget the mission. It's easy to forget what really matters. It's easy to get worried (i.e. temporary atheism) about church finances and property and worship times and other things and come to the conclusion that "We need to take care of things here rather than worry about those churches and missionaries 'over there.'"
Yes, I have heard this.
It grieves me to hear it.
Here's my premise - we can never do too much.
Oh, I know, we (as one local church) cannot fund every missionary fully. We cannot provide everything for everyone. I understand that reality. However, I believe partnerships are more than financial (though finances are vital, and I don't apologize for reminding people to give.) Prayer for and with church planters, missionaries and those in the community we serve is tangible.
Prayer is not passive.
We must remain focused and remember that God has blessed us so that we may be a blessing. When we are engaged in the larger story, God's story, He is pleased. When we settly for small stories where the kingdom is more about us than God, sin is the result.
Do you ever wonder what happens to churches who refuse to live generously, model prayer and proper stewardship, refuse to give and partner with those "over there" for the sake of the Kingdom?
Some have been dead for years. They still have buildings. They still meet. They survive on the financial gifts of club members who have voted God out of the story, but they're dead and eventually. . .even the building will be empty.
YOU CAN NEVER BE TOO MISSIONAL OR FOCUSED ON MISSIONS.
[i] Brisco, Brad. "What Is Missional?" Web log post. Missional Church Network. N.p., n.d. Web. 27 Dec. 2012.
[ii] Meigs, Rick. "Friend of Missional - What Is the Missional Church?" Friend of Missional - What Is the Missional Church? N.p., 30 Jan. 2010. Web. 27 Dec. 2012.
[iii] Thomas, Scott. "What Is Missional?" Web log post. Acts 29 Network: Flower Mound, TX. Acts 29 Network, 15 June 2010. Web. 27 Dec. 2012.
Most likely, you know his songs. For years, churches have been singing songs by Dennis Jerinigan. Some of his most noted songs are sung in the church I pastor regularly. They are powerful and lead me to the throne of grace. Dennis has been called a modern-day psalmist.
Dennis' journey begins in a small town in Oklahoma. An encounter as a five-year-old boy led him down a path of questions and confusion.
"I wasn't like other little boys," he says.
Prior to his surrender to Christ, he lived a destructive homosexual lifestyle. Like many, he sought friendships and relationships. This, as is often the case, led to more and more pain and loneliness.
God used true friends and music to lead him to peace. To God.
Jernigan says that through music, God changed him in ways he never could have imagined. He surrendered to Christ fully in his mid-20s and began a ministry recording music, sharing his story, and leading others to freedom.
It's a story of hope.
It's a story of redemption.
It's a true story and can be so many others' story as well.
A documentary of Dennis Jernigan's journey is available in full on YouTube. I've linked it below. You'll need to carve out time to watch, but it is worth it.
Some great quotes by Dennis. . .
In an instant, I was made a brand new creation. I don't identify myself as a recovering homosexual. . .never have, never will. . . I am signed, sealed, delivered, utterly, irrevocably who my Father says I am - a new creation.
I've been duped, all these years. I really have been duped. I've been going to man to find out what a man is supposed to be. I've been going to human thinking as if it's the highest thought ever, when I needed to be going to my Creator all along for my true identity.
I'm not going to let the gay community tell me any longer who I am. I'm not going to let the temptations that I experience, because they didn't stop right away, define me.
Temptation defines nobody, so stop letting it define who you are Jernigan.
My past failures will no longer define me.
My present circumstances will no longer define me.
I'm not even going to define me.
I'm going to let my Father in heaven tell me who he says I am.