Tuesday, May 28, 2019

Welcome to the Team Edward!

Today we get to put our missional theology discussion on hold for a great reason: we're welcoming a new local missionary to the Burning Bush Communities family!

Say hello to Edward Ekwa everyone!

Edward is originally from Cameroon, and he moved to the US in 2009. He has served in a variety of ministries and leadership roles in Cameroon, Nigeria, Liberia and here in southwest Florida as well. Edward has a passion for revealing the love of God and the gospel through ministries and outreach events in the marketplace, and then walking with new disciples as they learn the way of Jesus. We are thrilled that Edward will be joining our community of local missionaries, and we look forwarded to receiving the blessings from his deep love for Jesus and his rich experiences as a ministry leader.

Please join me in praying for Edward, and for the community he is planting, Faith in the Word!

Thursday, May 23, 2019

Excursus: The Mission to Reveal and Invite

In the previous post I shared my take on the mission of the church as:

1. Embrace the King and the Kingdom of God,
2. Embody the King and the Kingdom of God,
3. Reveal the King and the Kingdom of God, and
4. Invite all people to come to the King and join into this Kingdom mission.

Today, as I was finishing up The Sermon on the Mount and Human Flourishing, an excellent book by Jonathan Pennington, I came across this passage regarding the mission of the people of God, and I am compelled to share it as a similar perspective on our mission, and far more eloquently said:

As the church awaits the return of the risen Savior, the disciples of Jesus are invited into a way of being in the world that leads them into an experience of present-but-not-yet-full human flourishing, aligning them with the reason God created the world as the place of life and peace for his beloved creatures, and empowering them to be engaged in bringing flourishing to the world. Jesus is the sage and king who is inviting hearers into his coming kingdom of flourishing and life. The Sermon is at the center of this message. (309, italics my own)

In Pennington's view, disciples of Jesus we are invited to embrace and embody Kingdom life (which is the place of flourishing, in Pennington's words), and through the Spirit we are empowered to manifest this flourishing life in and into the world. This "bringing flourishing to the world" is what I refer to as "revealing the King and Kingdom." It's not making the world flourish, but rather demonstrating the flourishing Kingdom and blessing others with its presence, and then following in Jesus' footsteps to invite others into this "kingdom of flourishing and life."


Tuesday, May 21, 2019

Getting Down to Business


Before you do anything else and lose focus (shiny object!) read the list below:

Point #1: God is on a mission (which flows out of the love intrinsic to His nature).
Point #2: The church is a product and expression of God’s mission and exists for that mission.
Point #3: We don’t get to determine the mission, God does.
Point #4: We don’t get to determine the methods for mission, God does.
Point #5: Mission is the organizing principle of the church.
Point #6: Mission is for all disciples of Jesus.
Point #7: Success or failure can only be determined by reference to the mission.

What do you think about that list of missional claims? Do you agree with those claims?

If you disagree with that list, that's cool. You should probably stop reading this and read something else. Maybe the bible, since you seem to have missed some key parts of the story... Just kidding! Seriously, it's okay to have theological disagreements, and now you know exactly where I stand as we move forward.

If you agree with the above list, then it's time to get down to business, because you have work to do. Whether you  agree with my view of the church's mission (below) or not YOU are called to insert your definition and then ask the hard questions about what applying the the aforementioned missional claims would entail.

Up until this point I have declined to define the mission of the disciples of Jesus (aka the church, or the people of God, or however you want to say this). I chose to do that to avoid a battle that would distract us from the task of understanding the logic of missional theology. But now I'm going to lay my cards on the table so that you have a clearer picture of how I see these ideas coming together in practice. This is, for the record, one working definition for the church. It is not THE definition. And, I didn't come up with this; it is a synthesis of other people's ideas.

The mission of God's people is to...

1. Embrace the King and the Kingdom of God,
2. Embody the King and the Kingdom of God,
3. Reveal the King and the Kingdom of God, and
4. Invite all people to come to the King and join into this Kingdom mission.

My conception of our mission is directly related to my understanding of the Gospel. I believe that through the incarnation, life, death, resurrection and enthronement of Jesus, sin and death have been decisively defeated and the Kingdom of God has been made available to all who will give Jesus their allegiance (repent and believe). This comes with the promise that Jesus will return someday to establish the Kingdom in power, resurrect the dead and rid the world of evil (judgment).  

Because I believe these things I don't think it's our mission to change the world, to "build the Kingdom," or something along those lines (shout-out to my friend Michael Bare who wrote a great FaceBook post on this the other day). That's all God's job, and frankly we don't have the knowledge or power to do it very well. Change for the good is a good thing, but it's a fruit of mission, and not the mission itself.

However, it's also not our mission to just "save souls" for a disembodied heavenly existence. God's Kingdom will reign in this world; God will not abandon His creation!  This world will be regenerated by God. So we don't preach escapism and we don't just hold on until death to get out of here. We faithfully live under the reign of Jesus and help others to do so while trusting in the eventually victory of the King and His Kingdom.

Now that I have laid out my definition of the mission we can move on to thinking about what the implications of applying the seven missional claims I've made to that mission would be. In the next few blogs we'll look at arguments and perspectives from several sides the issue, and consider what changes might help us stay closer to the mission that God has given us.

I want to close today by sharing how this thinking impacts Burning Bush Communities. What we strive to do is to partner with disciples who have embraced and embodied (always in process, of course) the King and Kingdom, to then go and reveal the Kingdom and invite others into it. We believe that in many local churches disciples are not called, equipped and empowered to carry out these tasks (usually it's left to the ministry professionals). We believe that God has called us to step into this gap and serve as a community, resource provider (material, theological, etc.), coach and cheerleader for disciples who are ready to fulfill these tasks of revealing and inviting.

Recommended Reading: The Forgotten Ways, by Alan Hirsch

Recommended Reading Bonus: Endangered Gospel, by John Nugent


Wednesday, May 15, 2019

Mission: Accomplished or Forgotten?

Today we arrive at our last major points of the missional movement! But first let's restate the missional points we've made thus far:

Point #1: God is on a mission (which flows out of the love intrinsic to His nature).
Point #2: The church is a product and expression of God’s mission and exists for that mission.
Point #3: We don’t get to determine the mission, God does.
Point #4: We don’t get to determine the methods for mission, God does.
Point #5: Mission is the organizing principle of the church.

Flowing out from these points we get our final two points:

Point #6: Mission is for all disciples of Jesus.
Point #7: A ministry's success or failure can only be determined by reference to God's mission.

Let's take a look at these last two points one at a time...

Mission is for all disciples of Jesus.
If the church (the community of disciples) exists for God's mission, and that mission is the organizing principle of the church, then it follows that every disciple should be engaged in mission. Of course, many in churches today would agree with this, and yet, frankly, few disciples are currently engaged in mission. So why is that? Here are a few of the causes:

1. They are too busy serving on church committees or in ministries serving church-members.
2. They are too busy participating in discipleship programs that are inwardly focused, because...
3. Mission has been broken off from discipleship, and there is no integration of learning and doing.
4. Mission is portrayed as a program or service activity to be occasionally engaged in.
5. Mission is portrayed as something for the elite few.

The first three causes listed above plague the traditional church. I have a lot of compassion and mercy here, because so many followers of Jesus are taught this model and are so busy sacrificing to make their church's programming run that they don't have time for mission. Of course, there is a place for serving the body Christ and participating in some interior-looking ministries and learning about our scriptures and theology. But when disciples of Jesus cannot fulfill the mission He gave them because they are over-loaded with other church programs or duties there is a problem. And when our bible studies and teaching and classes contain no missional impetus or integration, there's a problem. If we are not forming disciples who can carry on the mission Jesus gave us then we're not actually forming disciples. We're forming Christian consumers of Christian programming instead. If mission is not a priority over programs for members, and there's no plan to integrate it into our discipleship then it just won't get done. Mission requires too much of us to be done as a secondary task.

The last two causes are more offensive. Honestly, it kills me for churches to check the mission box with one special event a month or less. I don't have time to discuss here why this is a total theological fail, but when Jesus said, "As the Father sent me I send you" (John 20:21) He wasn't telling the disciples to go and do some pain-free, social media covered service projects. And as for mission for the elite few, that's usually the product of ministry super-stars who would prefer for their followers to celebrate their success and perform supporting tasks for them than to equip them to do mission themselves.

Success or failure can only be determined with reference to the mission.
If the mission is God's, and the method is God's, then the standard for success must also be with God. Therefore we cannot use our culturally determined standards (in America it's size, money and speed) to judge ministry success. I believe that Jesus' most chilling words speak to this point:

Matthew 7:21-23
“Not everyone who says to me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ will enter the kingdom of heaven, but only the one who does the will of my Father who is in heaven. 22 Many will say to me on that day, ‘Lord, Lord, did we not prophesy in your name and in your name drive out demons and in your name perform many miracles?’ 23 Then I will tell them plainly, ‘I never knew you. Away from me, you evildoers!’

In the end, it will be our obedience to God's command- our faithfulness to His mission- that will be the measure of ministry success. The missional movement calls out the contemporary church for substituting culturally defined success for faithfulness to the mission, and seeks to develop new metrics for success that are aligned with God's mission. (Much of this has to do with tracking output instead of input. For example, don't measure how many people come to a program, but how many people implement what they learned to serve as witnesses in their spheres of influence.)

Book Recommendation: The Church as Movement, by Dan White and JR Woodward 


Thursday, May 9, 2019

One Big Mission Umbrella

Fearless readers, today we are plunging ahead in our series on what missional is and why it matters!

Thus far we have laid out these key points from the missional movement:
Point #1: God is on a mission (which flows out of the love intrinsic to His nature).
Point #2: The church is a product and expression of God’s mission and exists for that mission.
Point #3: We don’t get to determine the mission, God does.
Point #4: We don’t get to determine the methods for mission, God does.

So, drum-roll please for Point #5: Mission is the organizing principle for the church.

In other words, mission is the big umbrella under which all activities of the church take place. This stands in contrast to the mindset of mission as one ministry among many others (kids, youth, discipleship, worship, etc.) in the church. The diagram below (from ReThink, by Brad Brisco) is one way to picture this shift:

This point usually ruffles the feathers of many who believe that (corporate) worship should be the the organizing principle of the church. Certainly corporate worship has the pride of place as the organizing principle of most strains of traditional Christianity. However, the missional movement reminds us that worship is not a program, but a lifestyle ("offer your bodies as a living sacrifice..." and all that good stuff). As such, worship is not in anyway lowered in importance by organizing around mission. Further, our corporate worship is an expression of our mission; it is one critically important way that we witness to each other and to the world. So worship isn't threatened by mission here. Rather, we're ensuring that our corporate worship is aligned to, and reflects the mission we've been given by God.

At this point it's difficult to proceed without a lengthy discussion of what the mission of the church is, and I don't want to go there yet. Rather, I want us to grasp that this should be the outcome of believing that we (the church) are the/a fruit of God's mission, and that we exist for that mission (however we define it). If we exist for mission, we ought to organize ourselves around it, and everything we do should be clearly connected to it.

Organizing around mission is a big deal for three reasons:

1. It strikes a blow at institutional inertia. 
We all know that after a while churches, like any other institution, simply do things because of preference and history and inertia. These programs and activities are no longer connected to God's mission, and distract from the mission. They are usually not bad in and of themselves, but we must always evaluate our activities and programs for their connection to the mission. Are these activities and functions helping us faithfully carry out the mission, or are they distractions?

2. It strikes a blow at institutionalism.
Worse than disconnected programs are institutions whose mission is simply to keep existing. If we're more concerned to keep the form of our institution going than God's mission then the game is lost.  By organizing around God's mission we remember that our institutional existence is always of secondary importance to God's purposes: His mission continues even if our institution dies. (And we should remember that the true Church, the Body of Christ in the world, is not an institution.)

3. It gives priority to the commission we received from Jesus.
There are some people who believe that missional Christians are unbalanced by the focus we give to the commission that Jesus gave His disciples. So be it! All of our gospels end with a commission: "Go make disciples... You shall be my witnesses... As the Father sent me so I send you." Jesus organized His life and ministry around God's mission, and so should we. Our mission is not exactly the same as Jesus', to be sure, but arguments against making Christ's commission our organizing principle fall short. Yes, there are other scriptures and important theological issues to consider, but when the God-incarnate, resurrected Lord gives you one final task it should go to the top of the list! (For the record, I believe that the whole New Testament reflects this focus on God's mission, even if it looks different in different writings. But we'll save that for another time!) 

Book Recommendation: Missional Church, edited by Darrell Guder

A classic for the missional movement!


Monday, May 6, 2019

Whose methods?

For the last couple of weeks we've been exploring the missional movement and its implications. By way of reminder, the missional movement began as a response to the decline of cultural and institutional Christianity in the West. The movement essentially named the problem that God's mission was not at the center of the life of the church in the West, and asked what it would look like if that mission was returned to the heart of the church.

Let's start our conversation today by reviewing first three points of the missional movement:

Point #1: God is on a mission (which flows out of the love intrinsic to His nature).
Point #2: The church is a product and expression of God’s mission and exists for that
Point #3: We don’t get to determine the mission, God does.

Today's point should come as no surprise...

Point #4: Since it's God's mission, He also gets to determine the methods.

You might think that this point would be obvious and hardly warrant mentioning. However, this point is often the deal-breaker when folks are considering joining the missional movement. All too often people like the idea of returning to God's mission as the organizing center of church, and are excited about discovering their calling in the scope of that mission, but are ultimately unwilling to make this next step.

At this point you might ask, "Why is that the case, John?"

Well, let's consider what God's methods for pursuing His mission look like in the New Testament (brief survey here!):

- absolute trust and reliance upon God's power and provision
- constant attention to developing loving relationships and a loving community
- the slow work of training, equipping and empowering others to whole-heartedly love God and seek the Kingdom first
- on-going sacrificial service and risky witnessing as the means to engage with outsiders
- humble leadership that gives itself away to lift up others

If we're honest, that's a very difficult set of methods for us to adopt. Culturally, we're inclined to pragmatism, which means seeking the biggest result (or the "most effective strategy") for the least amount of sacrifice. Unfortunately for us, pragmatism is antithetical to God's methods of pursuing His mission. Adopting His methods requires embracing our limitations, embracing slowness, and embracing sacrifice. (Of course, the upside here is that we're also embracing God!) 

Now, let's ask, "What methods do we like to employ to pursue God's mission?"

- trust and reliance upon our natural abilities and available resources
- constant attention to developing programs that will entice others to join our community
- attempting to quickly socialize newcomers to live as respectable, nice, well-balanced individuals who have room for Jesus in their busy lives.   
- large scale projects that make us feel like we "made an impact" without jeopardizing our lifestyle
- charismatic and powerful leaders who make us feel excited

Now this is what we like: make a plan, get the right people, get the resources, and make it happen baby! We do good and we're doing good at the same time!

Down the road I will explain how I see our methods supplanting God's methods in typical American churches (always good to save the controversy for the end!). But for now, I simply challenge all of us to consider our methods in whatever ministry we're involved in. Are we committed to employing the methods we see in New Testament (not that we can't use the OT, but that requires a little more interpretive work), or are we committed to using the methods which are prevalent in our culture and which we believe will bring us the most success?

Book Recommendation: This is a special one for me... The House of Jesus, by my father, Charlie Halley! I'll give you a full review on this down the road, but it's all about how we've adopted our culture's methods for growing the church and how we can return to Jesus' methods... Way to go Dad!

Image result for the house of jesus charles halley

Baby Steps into Mission: Presence, Part 2

Faithful readers, I apologize for the long delay in getting this blog up. Between summer vacation, official cross country practices starting...