Friday, June 28, 2019

Baby Steps into Mission

I have spent a fair amount of time on this blog critiquing individual Christians, churches and
If Bob can do it, so can you!
ministries for failure to engage in mission. However, I recognize that I have not offered much in the way of help for folks who want to do mission but aren't sure where to start. Over the course of the next few blogs I'm going to try to remedy that, and lay out a few baby steps for you to take if you are ready to move into mission. (Of course, if you live in Fort Myers and are ready to dive in you can just write or call me!)

First, a couple of disclaimers:
1. I'm assuming that you are already praying about this... keep praying!
2. I'm assuming you are attached to a community of disciples.
3. When I say mission, I mean revealing the Kingdom of God to people who are not disciples of Jesus in word and deed, with the goal of inviting them to become disciples of Jesus.

Okay, now that we've got that out of the way let's get to it.

The number one question we need to answer is: who is God sending you to?

I'm assuming you're not sure about that (otherwise you'd be doing something already, I hope). That's totally normal. That is the baseline question though, and one that we will come back to again and again. So start praying about it.

As we begin to think about that, let's take on a couple more questions:
1. What people are currently in my life?
2. What sort of relationships do I have with them?

A great way to answer this question is to create a relational network map. Here's are instructions on how to do this:

1. Put your name in a circle in the middle of your paper.
2. List your different network “locations” in other circles (work, neighborhood, gym, etc.).
3. List all the people you have a relationship (of any sort) with around these circles.
4. Determine (roughly) how many hours a week you spend in each circle.
5. Create a simple ranking of relationships. Like 1 for an acquaintance, 2 for casual friend, 3 for close friend, etc.

Now, look at your relational network. What names on the paper stand out? Who is a believer without a community? Who is a nominal Christian? Who doesn't know anything about Jesus?

What needs or issues do you see in your network?

What common interests or passions do you see in your network?

The reason we do this is because, more often than not, God sends us to the places we already are. And this is a good thing for a variety of reasons. One, because we already have an insider's level of understanding in most of the places we inhabit. Two, because we are a known entity (and hopefully in a good way!) in these places. And three, because most of us lead busy lives and are not ready to make the scheduling sacrifice necessary to engage a new mission field. (See previous post. Of course we will be looking hard at our schedules in future posts, so be prepared!) By going on mission where we are we don't need to add a whole new program- we just change our focus in the places we're at.

Note: However, if your relational network has very few people in it who are not already disciples of Jesus then we're going to need to get you in some new places! 

So, start working on your relational map, start praying over it and asking for God's leading, and I'll be back next week with next steps!

Tuesday, June 25, 2019

No time for mission?

The number one excuse given by otherwise obedient disciples as to why they can't engage in mission? Surely you know the answer already... too busy! Of course busyness is the answer we give to everything today, as it is the most polite way to decline an invitation in our society, and it is a way for us to signal our virtue. After all, if we're busy we must be doing something worthwhile and productive with our lives! (There's an interesting new book, Seculosity, by David Zahl that explores busyness as our culture's new version of "righteousness.")

Unfortunately for us, in the light of history it seems the numbers just don't add up. This morning a favorite blog of mine, Jesus Creed, shared some fascinating evidence and statistics put together by Robert Whaples, a professor of economics at Wake Forest University (( Essentially, Whaples demonstrates that those of us living in the present time have far, far more leisure time than anyone living in history. For example, if you lived in the 1800's, there was a good chance you worked 60-70 hours a week on average (six days a week, at ten to twelve hours a day). The average man at that time would have had 1.8 hours of discretionary or leisure time per day, averaged over the course of the year. Today, the average working man averages 5.8 hours of discretionary or leisure time per day, averaged over the course of the year. 

Here is a chart with the implications of this over the course of a lifetime:

 Estimated Trend in the Lifetime Distribution of Discretionary Time, 1880-2040
Activity 1880 1995 2040
Lifetime Discretionary Hours 225,900 298,500 321,900
Lifetime Work Hours 182,100 122,400 75,900
Lifetime Leisure Hours 43,800 176,100 246,000
Source: Fogel (2000)
Notes: Discretionary hours exclude hours used for sleep, meals and hygiene. Work hours include paid work, travel to and from work, and household chores.

Pretty amazing change! We're supposedly the busiest generation ever, but it's not because of work!

The reason I'm sharing this is not to guilt trip anyone, or because I begrudge people their leisure hours. It's simply to make a few points. First, our busyness is self-imposed; it's not because we're working ourselves to the bone to survive. It's a choice we make. Second, we don't manage our time well, and we blow it on the internet and social media and entertainment. Finally, if we can't "find" time to faithfully engage in mission it most likely means that it's just not a priority to us... Which means that being a disciple of Jesus is just not a priority to us.

Please note, if you are one who does work 60-70 hours a week, and/or are swamped with babies or other desperately needy persons, this blog entry was not meant to target you. Of course workaholism is an issue too, but that's not what this post is about. This post is about those of us who fit into the average categories for work but want to claim we're strapped for time... Don't believe us!

Thursday, June 20, 2019

Welcome to the team, Peggy!

For the last two years I have consistently prayed for God to connect Burning Bush Communities with local disciples who are full of His love and passion, and who desire to reveal the Kingdom in our city. Disciples who are both ready to go, and recognize their need for support and community from like-minded brothers and sisters. This blog has testified again and again to how God has answered, and continues to answer that prayer!

Today it is my pleasure to introduce you to Peggy Welch, a new member of the Burning Bush Communities family, and the leader of Justified, a ministry dedicated to walking with and discipling women as they come out of jail and prison. Peggy was incarcerated for five years herself, and her experience in coming to faith and the difficulty of navigating life after exiting the justice system has inspired her to pursue the call that God has placed on her.

In her own words:

Justified was implanted in my heart about 8 years ago while sitting in the Florida Department of Corrections. At the time I was a new Christian and did not even know what that word meant. Now I do. Now I understand. Justified is when we are in right relationship or standing with God. We are His. It is the foundation that we are building from that point. Everything in life emerges from our relationship with Jesus.

I would never have chosen this for myself. I can honestly say that this is not my desire but a desire placed in me by God. I have actually tried to fight it, run from it, but there is no fighting or running God unless you want to have a miserable existence. The ministry or vision came from a place of pain, sin and stupidity. But He will use my mess for His message, and to equip and empower women to be the women that God has called them to be. To release them from the bondage that holds them back. To discover a healthier path to life. To allow them to cultivate the life God intended for them.

Justified will be a place for women that were previously incarcerated to locate the tools necessary to live a life of stability. To move pass the labels. To give them hope that they can accomplish amazing things even though they chose to go down a difficult road. It’s not too late for them. Justified will offer biblical crisis counseling, credit and financial counseling, career coaching, and health and wellness programs. These tools and skills will empower them and give them the confidence that they can achieve success. For those who decide they want to change—Justified will be there to offer direction and a plan action for them to follow!

Tuesday, June 11, 2019

Cultivate at Busch Gardens!

When we started Cultivate (our youth mentoring program) at the beginning of the year we set a variety of goals and incentives for the students. They earned points by attending Cultivate, getting A's and B's on tests and report cards, and for service hours in the community. Each month and quarter there were different prizes to win based on the amount of points the students earned. But we also set a grand prize for the year, a trip to Busch Gardens, for any student who attended 75% of Cultivate meetings and who had a 3.0 grade point average.

This year we had four students who won the grand prize (woohoo!), and this past Saturday a small group of us (unfortunately life events prevented two of our winners and a couple of leaders from joining us) went to Busch Gardens to celebrate! While the rides were fun, in my opinion the best part of the day was simply enjoying the relationships that God created through Cultivate. At this time last year we were just starting to get to know some of the students in the neighborhood, and on Saturday we talked and related as spiritual family. And that in turn made me reflect on all the different people we met, the friendships that were birthed, and the significant moments that God orchestrated through our rag-tag ministry. So thank you Lord for your provision for Cultivate, and below are a few pics of fun at the park!

A tired but happy bunch!
Super proud of these two young ladies!

Wednesday, June 5, 2019

A Missional Critique

Today we're jumping back into our series on the missional movement and its critique of both "traditional" and "contemporary" churches. Much ink has been spilled on this subject, and there is far too much for me to cover in this blog, so I'm going to limit this to what I believe are the five most potent and pressing criticisms.

1. Christendom is over!
For hundreds of years the key to "church planting" in the western world was simply to build new churches. After all, Christianity was the privileged belief system and the church was the source for spiritual guidance and succor. Obviously, this is no longer true, and most people understand this point. However, many churches still operate under the illusion that if they get their worship and programs and aesthetics right (good youth group, good parking, good preaching, a great band, etc.) then people will come to the church and they can participate in God's mission without strategically reorienting their focus, resources and people into the community. They are wrong! The statistics demonstrate that most of these techniques simply draw Christians away from their previous churches, and do not reach many non-Christians. The truth is, non-Christians aren't looking for a church! If they are going to be reached, it will be through disciples who know them and have put forth the effort to love them. Mission today requires sending disciples out; it cannot consist of simply trying to attract people to worship services!

2. Mission- not institutional health- should be the driving and organizing principle for the church.
Everything that a church does should be an expression of, and driven by, God's mission. One of the biggest issues in the institutional church is making decisions about "what's best for the organization" based on: protecting the institution, culturally determined metrics for success, and keeping members happy. As soon as our priority is on survival, success, and institutional serenity our goose is cooked. By making God's mission the organizing principle we don't allow (or at least put up a better line of defense!) our institutional ties and loyalties and comforts to distract us from participating in the mission. And if we organize around mission we are less likely to spend ourselves attempting to please consumers of religious services. Instead we free up the necessary space and resources to equip and empower disciples to lead out in mission. (As opposed to offering our missional people the organizational left-overs.)

Also, by making mission the organizing principle we pave the way for authentic worship and community to happen. Worship is about obediently offering our lives to God. Therefore, our corporate worship is false if it's not flowing out of mission and into mission, since we are called and sent by God into mission. And worship grows in fervor as a response to witnessing God move as we're on mission. Christian community without mission is just a Christian club; enjoyable but often superficial. But if we allow mission to create community we'll discover a deeper fellowship made through mutual sacrifice and shared effort.

3. Discipleship and mission are inseparable.
Disciples are made in the mission field and are made for the mission field, as the goal of the disciple is to carry on the Master's work. Any cursory reading of the gospels will show that Jesus trained his disciples while on mission, and a reading of Acts shows that Paul followed suit. Without a balance of learning, going and reflecting (with the aid of spiritual practices) we don't get disciples. Rather, we get educated Christians, which isn't a bad thing in itself, but is not our goal. Furthermore, when we make mission the end of the classroom-style discipleship track we ensure that people will have lost all momentum and initiative by the time they are released, and many will not even make it to the end. I understand the fear of releasing untrained disciples, but the reality is that mission more often than not serves as a catalyst for learning. We learn about our ignorance and incompetence when we engage in mission, and that directs us to where we need to learn and grow in non-missional settings. And, local mission badly done is usually a product of lack of love and character, and not lack of knowledge.

4. Mission is for everyone, not just a select few!
As everyone is called to be a disciple, so everyone is called into mission. Mission is not to be left to a committee, or to the "super-spiritual," or to the paid professionals. And it's not a program for people who have time left over in their busy lives. It's simply a commitment to revealing the Kingdom of God to the people God has sent us to (i.e. the people in our lives). Of course that requires some specific practices, but it doesn't require a program or formal ministry.

5. Our metrics and methods should be determined by God's mission, and not by our culture.
I've written about this on previous posts, so I won't belabor this point. As mentioned above, if we're determining our success by our culture's standards then we're already toast. Plus, what we win people with, we win them to, so if we're not winning them with Christlike mission then we'll lose them when we call them to discipleship anyway.

Recommended Reading: Untamed, by Debra and Alan Hirsch

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...