Every year a pair of Porch Finch raise a family in a hanging basket on the front of our house. This year there are 5 baby finches being raised in a hanging basket of strawberry plants. I have watch this pair since they arrived a little more than a month ago, scouting out the best place for a nest, busily gathering materials and building their nest, mom laying her 5 precious eggs, then staying on her eggs for a month, and now finally 5 healthy little baby finches!
I was out in the yard today enjoying some sunshine and watching the mom and dad fly back and forth feeding their 5 hungry little mouths. As I watched them I began to think about Christ's church. In some ways the church of Jesus Christ is like my little finches, raising their family and sending them out into the world to make and multiply more finches. Sound familiar?
The Christian and the Christian congregation are similar to my finches in that each is designed, has a mandate from our Creator, to create an environment where multiplication takes place. In finches we call this reproduction, in the church we call it making disciples. "As you are going, make disciples of all nations..." The act of making disciples is to be one of on-going doing and multiplication.
Many congregation today buck the mandate of the Creator. Instead of making and multiplying disciples, many have somehow been fooled into complacency and have come to think of the church building, and the worship and activities that go on inside the church building, as being the life of the church. When in fact, the life of the church is much like the life of my little finches; it is the ongoing, repetitive, intentional reproduction and multiplication of disciples. If we are not reproducing disciples, we are dying. When that happens in nature it is called extinction, when it happens is our individual Christian walk, and in the life of our congregation, it is called sin. Not making and multiplying disciples is contrary to the revealed will of God, and is therefore sin. Plain and simple.
God has created his Church to reproduce, to make disciples. Here is what I've learned from watching my finches. The work of laying the foundation for a safe place in which to make disciples takes intentional dedication, and creates a temporary sanctuary from which to be launched into the world. The finches are dedicated to creating as safe a nest as possible to raise their young, knowing their work is temporary. The finches don't expect to put down roots and stay in the safety of their sanctuary for long. In just a couple of weeks the babies will grow and be ready to leave the sanctuary of the nest. This is the purpose of the nest, to provide for the babies in preparation for them to leave.
When the baby finches leave they go out into the world with one purpose, to make and multiply more finches. We have rented our house for 5 years, and each year the finches come back to raise another family. I have no idea if the finches here this year are the original mom and dad, or if we are playing host to one of their children. One thing is clear, the cycle will continue again this year with the multiplication of new finches being raised up and sent out into the world, to multiply and raise up more new finches. If the finches ever decide that they would rather put down roots and stay in the sanctuary of their nest, they are doomed.
God shows us in nature what he intends for His church. Like the sanctuary of my finch's nest, the church of Jesus Christ is designed to be a safe place where disciples are raised, multiplied, and then released out into the world to continue the cycle of multiplication. If we decide to stay in the safety of our sanctuary, we are doomed.
I believe that Jesus is calling his church to repent for refusing to follow his mandate to reproduce and multiply disciples. We are being called to repent of making the sanctuary our permanent place of safety and rest, rather than a temporary place where we are safe to be feed and strengthened for the real work of multiplication. I pray each of God's people, lay and clergy, would have soft hearts, eyes to see and ears to hear, so that we may repent and return to our first love who is calling us to leave the sanctuary of the nest and multiply disciples.
If you desire to see your congregation multiply disciples, and see disciples multiplied in your own life, I'd love to talk to you about ways you can begin to make that happen. You can Contact
me for more ideas and ways to make and release disciples.
Jesus said, you will receive power when the Holy Spirit comes upon you and you WILL BE MY WITNESSES.
We confess what Scripture says in Acts 2:38, that in our baptism into Christ and his church we receive the Holy Spirit. We also confess what Scripture says in Acts 1:8 that one of the things the Holy Spirit does is give us the power to be witnesses. Looking at the church today do we see the power of the Holy Spirit in the witness of his people?
Tomorrow Christians around the world will be celebrating Holy Trinity Sunday, the one special Sunday each year that we celebrate and contemplate the mystery of the Holy Trinity, Father, Son, Holy Spirit, three persons - one God. We confess with the whole church that the Holy Spirit proceeds from the Father and the Son. The Father has given the gift of the Holy Spirit to the church to multiply the mission of Jesus through every baptized follower of Christ.
Proceeding from the Father and the Son, the Holy Spirit empowers every baptized follower of Jesus to be witnesses. To be witnesses in Jerusalem, Judea, Samaria, and to the ends of the earth. I look at it this way: Jerusalem is your congregation. Judea is your neighborhood, it's your territory outside of the walls of your church building. Samaria are those who are near your neighborhood, but people you don't have much contact with. Ends of the earth are just that, all of the world that is outside the territory where you live. Lets look at each one in a little more detailJerusalem is your congregation: Jerusalem, your congregation, is where God gathers his people around Word and sacraments. Jerusalem is where our God, Father, Son, Holy Spirit, is freely worshiped by his followers. Jerusalem is where the holy things are, where we feel safe and secure, where we find "sanctuary". Jerusalem is where things are familiar and predictable, where everyone believes, teaches and confesses the same things we believe, teach and confess and we are all happy and blessed. Jerusalem is our Mighty Fortress. We feel comfortable being "witnesses" in our Jerusalem, especially when it's the pastors job to witness from the pulpit. But our missionary God doesn't want us to stop and stay in Jerusalem.
Judea is your neighborhood: It's your territory outside of the walls of your church building. This is where you live, where you work, and where you spend most of your time. In Judea there may be other Christians, but it is here that you are surrounded with a lot of people with whom you share a lot in common, but where many do not know Jesus. Judea is your mission field. Judea is where a lot of Christ followers start to get uncomfortable. In your neighborhood, where you live, work and play, being a witness can be unpredictable. In Judea, in YOUR neighborhood, you are no longer in the comfortable domain of Jerusalem where the pastor does the proclaiming of the Gospel from the pulpit. No, Judea is where God has placed you to be a witness to your family, friends, co-workers, and neighbors.How can YOU be a witness in your Judea? It can be scary and awkward to "witness" to your neighbors and friends, so I'm going to teach you a simple way to be a witness that is neither scary or awkward - simply be a good neighbor. Be the neighbor that other people like. Go out of your way to develop a good reputation in the neighborhood. Put the garbage cans out for the elderly lady down the street. Help the single mom with yard work. Prepare a meal when you know someone is sick. Smile and wave at people in your neighborhood. Say Hi to people. Stop and ask people about their day. Ask questions about them, and listen. Simply develop good relationships and God will do his work in and through you. It's that simple!After you have developed a good reputation in your neighborhood, stretch out a little bit and begin inviting neighbors over for a summer BBQ, or dinner. Throw a BBQ for the entire neighborhood. Sponsor a 4th of July block party. Become known as the party place where neighbors can meet and develop relationships with you and each other. You don't have to force Jesus down peoples throats, you don't have to memorize a "witnessing dialog" you don't have to do anything more than be the person Jesus wants you to be in your neighborhood. Just be a good neighbor. Simply love your neighbors and watch what God does. Witnessing in your neighborhood, your Judea, is that simple. As you develop a good reputation in your neighborhood, and as you begin to invite people over, pray that God would do his work in their lives through you.God is at work in every human heart. Everyone in your Judea, your neighborhood, is being pursued by God. God is actively pushing their buttons and pursuing them in relationship. Your job is to make yourself available for God to use you in whatever next step a person needs with God. As you get to know your neighbors and intentionally develop a good reputation with them, God will open natural opportunities for you to encourage people, pray for people, and if you are really blessed you will get the chance to lead someone to faith, baptism and discipleship in Christ!Being a witness the way I've laid out is not hard, and you have the Holy Spirit on your side empowering you with the power of God Almighty who is already at work in their lives! Contact me, I'd love to help you take baby steps in being a witness to your neighborhood.Samaria: Are those who are near your neighborhood, but people you don't have much contact with. These are people who probably live on the "wrong sides of the track" who need Jesus but you don't see them very often. After you have mastered being a witness in your Judea, you can move on to Samaria. Being a witness in Samaria requires a little more work than it does in Judea. Samaria is full of the "wrong" kind of people. These are people who are broken in addiction to drugs, alcohol, sex. They are people who have been abused, forgotten and discarded. They are lower income people who don't live by the same morals you do. They are people who wouldn't darken the door of your church building, but who desperately need Jesus. The best way to reach Samaria is through Missional Communities. If you Contact me, we can talk about Missional Communities and I can help you get started with baby steps to help you get out into the harvest!The ends of the earth are just that, all of the world that is outside the territory of your immediate space. Ends of the earth could be foreign missions, but it could also be mission close to home to people who come here from foreign lands.If you want more I'm here to serve. I would be happy to help you learn how to step out in simple, easy ways to engage your neighborhood with the love of Jesus. Contact me I'd love to talk mission with you.
Every church leader I talk to wants their church to grow. They want to reach more people for Jesus, they want their worship services to be full again, they want Sunday School to once again overflow, they want more people in Bible study.
If Jesus wants his church to grow, and he does, and if church leaders want their churches to grow, and they do, why do we see so much decline? There are some very complicated issues as to why. One of those is that we are in an historic cultural shift, one of those earth moving times that happens every 500 years or so. Our culture has rapidly shifted from churched to post-church and if you are in an area like mine, you're culture has shifted to pre-church. Besides the historic culture shifts that we have no control over, the main reason we don't see growth is because we most often do nothing much to connect with people outside our church walls.
Several years ago a pastor provided me with life changing lesson. The congregation was wrapping up a successful VBS and had invited the kids and their families to a closing assembly followed by a BBQ. At the end of the assembly the host pastor said, "Well that's it, we had a great time learning about Jesus, see you next year." See you next year! Oh My Gosh! See you next year? You have connected with these kids and their families and you are going to wait a whole year to try and connect again? Sadly, many well meaning church leaders and congregations fall into this trap. We invite people to come to us, even provide high quality programs, but miss out on connecting with people on a regular basis. Many leaders who have been brave enough to be truthful tell me that they just don't know what to do, and that their people are afraid to step out of their comfort zones. Well, if that is you, do I have some Good News to share with you!
Being "Missional", engaging your community with Jesus doesn't have to be hard, scary or difficult. In fact since being missional isn't a program but a natural way of just being who you are in Christ, reaching out to your community can be LOW RISK and HIGH GRACE. What's that mean? Simply this, you can lead your people out of the church building and into the community to touch people where they live without extensive evangelism training, without forcing Jesus down people's throats, without any real risk but full of grace. We like grace, don't we?
How? Baby steps. Begin by taking baby steps. Let me give you an example that we do. One of the most important things we have learned about reaching people in our pre-church culture is consistency. We have to provide people with consistent, regular, positive contact. They won't come to us so we have to go to them, and we can't wait a year in between touches. So we do a regular mini-vbs at a mobile home park on a monthly basis. We go there every month and we have a BBQ, we invite the family's to come we have crafts, games, prizes and we tell the story of how God loves them through Jesus. Low Risk/High Grace.
Or, we throw regular parties at our adopted mobile home park, or local city park. We throw a big free (free is a key point because everyone thinks the church is always asking for money) family BBQ with lots of food, games, jumpy castle and lots of fun. We get a chance to rub elbows with people who wouldn't normally come to church, we do it regularly so we begin to develop relationships and people begin to feel like they like us and can trust us. And there are always people who are on different places in their journey with God so there are always people who are just getting on the road to thinking about God and we can help them have a positive experience with the idea of God just by having a positive experience with us. There are others who are further along on their journey and we get a chance to have substantive "God" conversations. Others want prayer, and others will begin to come to worship and to faith, baptism and discipleship just because we took the time to develop regular, consistent and positive experiences in order to get to know them.
We don't have to jump right in and shove Jesus down their throats or ask them to make a commitment to Jesus right on the spot. We do get the chance to talk a lot about Jesus and people regularly come to faith, but it happens naturally in relationship. It happens when there is LOW RISK and HIGH GRACE for both us and those we are trying to reach.
Suggestion: Get together with a few people in your congregation who have a heart for the lost and talk about what you can do. It doesn't have to be a big program, it could be something simple like giving away free water at a soccer game. Find some way that you can serve people in your community, some what that is LOW RISK and HIGH GRACE, then begin to take baby steps out into the community. Just do it and you will be amazed at how God shows up and the wonderful things he does in and through you and how he connects you with people he is working on in the community. So get out there and try something really simple. Feed some homeless people, read to kids at your local school, give out free soda or water at a sporting event, throw a BBQ in your neighborhood. Just step out and do something and you will see God act.
If you want more ideas, or would like to talk about how to get started in this kind of outreach, please let me know and we can talk. You can contact me through our Contact form, leave your name, phone number and brief description of what you want to talk about and I'll connect with you
Bill is a young dad, divorced, and an MMA fighter. I met Bill on an airplane flying from Omaha to Las Vegas.
I am not usually a chatty person when on a plane. I am focused on the job at hand, I have a task to accomplish and that task is to get through my time on the plan and get to where I am going. Sometimes, for me, it's not about the journey but the destination and in so doing I forget to pay attention to people.
I have determined that I will not go through life heading toward destinations, but to slow down and pay attention to people. I believe that God is at work in every human heart. He is furiously pursuing everyone you and I know with his endless love in Christ. God wants to bring all people to himself, and graciously partners with us to do it. That in and of itself is an incredible mystery!
Upon boarding the plane, I was tired from a week at PLI Missional Leader seminars and really just wanted to be left alone. The very first row was occupied by a large woman sitting in the window seat, so I took the aisle seat hoping that no one would be adventurous enough to sit between the large man and the larger woman! As the flight attendant was closing the door for our departure, this guy sat down. Dang!
As the flight got underway I noticed that Bills fingers looked like large sausages and his hands appeared hard and calloused. So I asked Bill what he did for a living. Turned out he was an MMA fighter. Pretty cool, I've seen these guys on T.V. but I've never talked to one in real life.
I have learned that the best way to build rapport and engage people in conversation is to ask them questions about themselves, their jobs, their family, their passions. As I showed interest and asked probing questions, Bill loosened up and began to spill his whole life story into my lap. He has two kids, he loves his kids, his ex-wife is a psycho and he believes in the "spirit" of Mother Earth. As I showed interest and asked Bill questions, while praying in my mind that God would work through our conversation, the discussion began to turn to spiritual things. Bill had never been to church, except for a funeral and didn't want anything to do with religion. This was my opening, I teach our people that a relationship with God through Jesus is not about rules or religion but about relationship. I agreed with Bill that religion was a problem, then told him about this rebel named Jesus who had a problem with religion too. We talked about what Jesus said and did, Bill had never heard about Jesus in this way. I shared as compelling a story as I could, as winsomely as possible, about the Jesus who came not to condemn the world but to save the world.
Bill wasn't ready then and there to profess faith in Christ. But by listening and asking questions God had opened him up to the possibility. I gave Bill my card and told him to call me whenever he wanted to talk, no matter what he wanted to talk about, I'd be there. I pray every day for Bill and his two children. I trust that God is pursuing Bill and his family and that I was just one positive touch along the road that God was walking with Bill.
For many the word "Missional" is vague, misunderstood, and even misused. I've gone to conferences where the word "Missional" was used to describe a new program for the church. I've also been to conferences where the word is used to mean house church type communities often called "Missional Communities". Yet others describe "Missional" as a lifestyle. Whose right? Alan Hirsch, one of the pioneers of the "Missional" movement, has some important things to say in this article from Christianity Today. Please click on the link then come back here to let me know your thoughts.http://www.christianitytoday.com/le/2008/fall/17.20.html?
The best time to sow seed in your community was 10 years ago, the next best time is right now.It takes time for anything you plant to take root and grow. The truth revealed in Scripture is relevant to us today in that not all seed you sow will take root and grow. Those seeds that do root and grow produce an abundant harvest far beyond the individual seeds potential. But in order to have a harvest, lots and lots of seeds have to be sown. If your congregation hasn't been sowing seeds for years, no matter how hard you pray, you won't reap a harvest.During seminary I served a congregation that at one time had 450 members and had dwindled down to just 32 elderly people. They lamented the decline of their congregation. Many of the elderly had raised kids and grandkids in that church. As the kids and grandkids moved away, the congregation began its long decline down to 32 elderly souls. This congregation had been planted 60 years earlier down the street from their current location in a small converted house that had a maximum capacity of 65. As they grew they moved up to the middle of the block and built a small building that could seat 120, then finally they moved up to the corner and built a lovely sanctuary that seats 200 with a large two story education wing and a large fellowship hall. Their first church building was purchased by another church and is bursting out the seams. The sanctuary that seats 65 is packed with people having to stand in the narthex. The church in the middle of the block was purchased by another congregation and it too is bursting at the seams. The once large Lutheran church with its large sanctuary, education wing and fellowship hall sits almost empty. Why? The answer is, they stopped sowing seed in their community years ago. Though they lament their decline, and pray regularly for God to revive their once lively congregation, they continue to long slow decline toward death because they refuse to engage their community and sow seed.I talk to pastors and leaders of congregations who question God's faithfulness because instead of growing they are declining and dying. Often I hear pastors say that they are faithful to the Word and sacraments, then ask why isn't God blessing their congregation with growth. The truth of the matter is, if you are not out in the community sowing seeds you will not, you cannot, expect a harvest. Being faithful to Word and sacraments inside your church on Sunday is only one part of faithfulness. The other part of faithfulness is faithfully following Jesus out of your church building and into the community where He is actively seeking and saving what was lost.Pastors have to follow Jesus out of the church building and into their community first before they can lead God's people to follow. St. Paul said, "Follow me as I follow Christ." This would be a good thing for pastors to learn. Get out of your office, get into the community. Volunteer one day a week with a local organization that is serving your community. Rub elbows with people in your community, get to know people who don't go to church. You will be amazed at how easy it is to get out of your church building and into your community. Then, after you have learned how its done, you can begin to lead God's people in your flock out of the building and into the community. The best time for you to have done this is 10 years ago, the next best time is right now.If you need suggestions on how to get out into your community, I'd be glad to help with some practical suggestions. Use the contact form to connect with me.
It might take years for the seeds you plant today to grow and bear fruit. You have to plant seeds in order to reap a harvest. Get busy planting seeds of the Gospel wherever you go!