Tag: mission

Sermon: The Significance of Small Gifts

Tomorrow I’m preaching about Jesus sending the disciples out to do great things — heal the sick, raise the dead, and cast out demons.  But to that list of great things, Jesus added giving a cup of cold water to a little child.  Small gifts have great significance in God’s Kingdom.

The Significance of Small Gifts

Matthew 10:40-42

“He who receives you receives me, and he who receives me receives the one who sent me. 41 Anyone who receives a prophet because he is a prophet will receive a prophet’s reward, and anyone who receives a righteous man because he is a righteous man will receive a righteous man’s reward. 42 And if anyone gives even a cup of cold water to one of these little ones because he is my disciple, I tell you the truth, he will certainly not lose his reward.”

Don’t Wear Out Your Welcome

When I was a boy of about 8 or 9, I loved to go to my friend’s house and play.  We would get busy riding our bikes, exploring the creek at the bottom of our street, or playing ball that sometimes, often, I would stay longer than I had intended.   Invariably, when I got home from my friend’s house, my mother would tell me not to stay so long next time, because “you don’t want to wear out your welcome.”

Like many of those wise parental sayings, I wasn’t entirely sure what that meant, but I knew it had something to do with my friend’s mother getting tired of having me at her house.  It was good advise then, even if I wasn’t entirely sure of its full meaning, and it still is today.

Here in these three short verses we just read, Jesus has some words about “welcome.”  And apparently he wants his disciples to understand the significance of welcoming others, and of the significance of being welcomed in turn.

But to understand that, we have to go back to the beginning of chapter 10, and look at the setting.  Jesus isn’t just randomly tossing out some “here’s how you ought to behave when you’re traveling” advice.  No, there is a specific setting, a context in which Jesus offers these closing words.  We know they are the closing words of instruction, not only because they come at the end of the chapter, but because Matthew begins chapter 11 by saying, “Now when Jesus had finished instructing the disciples….”

Jesus Sends Out The Twelve

But what was he instructing them for?  Jesus was equipping and preparing the disciples to go out and do exactly what he had been doing.  They were to go and do exactly what they had seen Jesus doing.  The disciples were to go and proclaim, “The kingdom of heaven has come near.”

Remember that last week we talked about Matthew’s Gospel being the Gospel of the Kingdom of God?  Well, in the next few weeks we’ll have an opportunity to look at Matthew and at the teaching of Jesus as Matthew presents it.  Each gospel writer has a unique message and approach, and for Matthew the Kingdom of God is it.

So, let’s look at the words of Jesus as he gets the disciples ready.  Here’s the setup in Matthew 10:1-4:

“1 He called his twelve disciples to him and gave them authority to drive out evil[a] spirits and to heal every disease and sickness.

2 These are the names of the twelve apostles: first, Simon (who is called Peter) and his brother Andrew; James son of Zebedee, and his brother John; 3 Philip and Bartholomew; Thomas and Matthew the tax collector; James son of Alphaeus, and Thaddaeus; 4 Simon the Zealot and Judas Iscariot, who betrayed him.”  — Matthew 10:1-4 NIV84

Okay, that’s the setup.  Jesus called the disciples together, then gave them authority to do what he had been doing – drive out evil spirits, heal sickness and disease.  These are signs of the presence of the Kingdom of God.  Jesus has been doing these very things, plus others, to not only announce the Kingdom of God as a present reality, but to demonstrate what life in the Kingdom of God is like.

Remember last week when we talked about the Great Commission, we said that the verses that precede Matthew 28:19-20 were important.  Why?  Because Matthew 28:18 says, “All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me.”  Here, prior to Jesus final instructions to his disciples, he gives them that same Kingdom authority, although limited to evil spirits and healing diseases.  In other words, this is a trial run for their ultimate mission.

Luke’s Gospel has a similar account, coincidentally found in Luke 10, where Luke records the sending of the 70 or 72, depending on your translation.  The number is not so important as the idea that here a multiple of 12 – 6 x 12 – is being sent out.  Luke’s version tells us that now there are more than 12, there are 70 or 72 who have the same authority, are given the same instruction, and who go to proclaim and demonstrate the same kingdom.

And, of course, getting back to Matthew’s Gospel, this becomes the ultimate mission of the disciples, and the last instruction Jesus gives to them, before he ascends back to heaven.

So, this idea of mission, of being sent, of a divine decree directed toward the disciples is a key point.  Jesus is not just the Messiah, he is the Messiah with a mission – let everyone know that the Kingdom of God is inaugurated!

The Specifics of the Mission

But, they are not just to run willy-nilly all over the place in their going.  No, the sending has specific instructions.  There are ways the disciples are expected to behave, there are things they are expected to do.  This is not make-it-up-as-you-go, but a well-defined mission.  For that we have to read the next verses, Matthew 10:5-15:

“5 These twelve Jesus sent out with the following instructions: “Do not go among the Gentiles or enter any town of the Samaritans. 6 Go rather to the lost sheep of Israel. 7 As you go, preach this message: ‘The kingdom of heaven is near.’ 8Heal the sick, raise the dead, cleanse those who have leprosy,[b] drive out demons. Freely you have received, freely give.9 Do not take along any gold or silver or copper in your belts; 10 take no bag for the journey, or extra tunic, or sandals or a staff; for the worker is worth his keep.

11 “Whatever town or village you enter, search for some worthy person there and stay at his house until you leave. 12As you enter the home, give it your greeting. 13 If the home is deserving, let your peace rest on it; if it is not, let your peace return to you. 14 If anyone will not welcome you or listen to your words, shake the dust off your feet when you leave that home or town. 15 I tell you the truth, it will be more bearable for Sodom and Gomorrah on the day of judgment than for that town.”  — Matthew 10:5-15 NIV84

I don’t have a lot of time to spend on what all of these instructions mean, but some are pretty straight-forward.  Here’s a quick run-down:

Don’t go to the Gentiles or Samaritans.

Do go the “lost sheep of Israel.” By the way, the lost sheep of Israel weren’t lost because they were morally inferior to the Pharisees or other overtly righteous Jews.  They were lost because they were the marginalized, the outcasts, those who were lost to the way God was being worshipped, and the Torah was being observed.  They weren’t lost due to their own sin, although they were sinners; they were lost because no one in positions of religious authority wanted to have anything to do with them.

Proclaim the good news, “The Kingdom of heaven is near.”  That was the message, and to demonstrate that this message was true, they were to perform the signs of the Kingdom.  We call them miracles today – healing the sick, raising the dead, cleansing the lepers and driving out demons.  These also are all theological problems that keep the lost sheep of Israel from worshipping God, that marginalize them and push them to the outskirts of respectable society.

Obviously, being dead keeps you from attending Temple, but raising the dead demonstrated that God’s power reached even to the world of the dead, to the other side of death.  Of course, God would demonstrate that most tangibly and dramatically in raising Jesus from the dead.  But, being sick either prevented you from traveling to the Temple for worship, or made you ceremonially unclean.  The same thing applied specifically to lepers, who had to proclaim in a loud voice and with the sounding of a warning bell that they were unclean.  Leprosy wasn’t just a bad disease that in the first century was uncurable; leprosy separated a person from family, friends, and most importantly, the worshipping community.  Finally, casting out evil spirits or demons did two things:  first, it demonstrated God’s power over evil; and, secondly, it reclaimed those thought to be not in their right minds, like the Gadarene demoniac, for service to God.  So, all of these instructions on what to do were for the lost sheep, the outcasts, the marginalized, the despised, the unwanted in society.

In contrast, the disciples are to bring the peace – the shalom of God – to the homes which receive them.  For those who do not receive them, the judgment of Sodom and Gomorrah, and more, awaits them.  And, with these words, Jesus turns the disciples’ attention to the the unpleasant side of their journey.

Conflict and Persecution Are Part of the Assignment

You would think that with the ability to heal the sick, raise the dead, and cast out demons, there wouldn’t be a downside.  But, just as Jesus encountered opposition and persecution, so will his followers, even on this preliminary training mission.  Listen to some of what the disciples will encounter:

17 “Be on your guard against men; they will hand you over to the local councils and flog you in their synagogues. 18 On my account you will be brought before governors and kings as witnesses to them and to the Gentiles.

21 “Brother will betray brother to death, and a father his child; children will rebel against their parents and have them put to death. 22 All men will hate you because of me, but he who stands firm to the end will be saved.

34 “Do not suppose that I have come to bring peace to the earth. I did not come to bring peace, but a sword. 35 For I have come to turn

“‘a man against his father,
a daughter against her mother,
a daughter-in-law against her mother-in-law—
36 a man’s enemies will be the members of his own household.’[e]

37 “Anyone who loves his father or mother more than me is not worthy of me; anyone who loves his son or daughter more than me is not worthy of me; 38 and anyone who does not take his cross and follow me is not worthy of me. 39Whoever finds his life will lose it, and whoever loses his life for my sake will find it.”

This does not sound like a picnic, does it?  So, here is this grand mission to proclaim the Kingdom of God, and to demonstrate its power by healing the sick, raising the dead, and casting out demons.

The bad news is that the opposition is strong and on a mission of its own – to stop Jesus from spreading the ridiculous notion that he, Jesus, is the Anointed One, the Messiah, the Savior promised by God.

Because if Jesus is all of those things, and if the Kingdom of God is really coming, then obviously the religious leaders are not in the lead.  They are being passed over.  God has not included them in this Kingdom revolution that is taking place.   Their power is threatened, their prestige is at stake, their livelihood is at risk.  Oh, and by the way, the Romans won’t be too happy either, if an insurrection breaks out.

This is pretty dramatic stuff.  Majestic in its scope, cosmic in its design, eternal in its duration.  This is the greatest drama the world has ever witnessed.  And, the disciples get to be part of it.

It’s Not Just About the Drama

But, it’s not just about the drama.  For as this chapter closes, and we finally return to our text for today, Jesus has some very simple, calm, and plain words:

“He who receives you receives me, and he who receives me receives the one who sent me. 41 Anyone who receives a prophet because he is a prophet will receive a prophet’s reward, and anyone who receives a righteous man because he is a righteous man will receive a righteous man’s reward. 42 And if anyone gives even a cup of cold water to one of these little ones because he is my disciple, I tell you the truth, he will certainly not lose his reward.”

To get in on this grand Kingdom epic, you don’t have to be a disciple.  You just have to welcome one.  Jesus promises that anyone who receives his disciples receives (welcomes) him; and anyone who welcomes him welcomes God, the one who sent Jesus.

But, it gets better.  Anyone who receives a prophet in the name of a prophet (which means because he is a prophet, or out of respect for a prophet) will receive the same reward as the prophet.  So, the widow of Zarephath who gave food and lodging to Elijah received the same reward as the prophet Elijah, who stood up to 450 prophets of Baal, among other things.  Jesus even mentions her in Luke 4.  So, this lowly widow gets a prophet’s reward for welcoming a prophet.

In other words, her obedience to God was just as important as Elijah’s obedience to God.

The same thing happens when someone welcomes a righteous person.  They receive the same reward as the righteous person, because they are being used of God in the same way.

In other words, it’s not just about the drama.  We often mistakenly think that unless we can do something big, something grand, something great, that God will not be pleased with us.  Part of that I attribute to William Carey, who in his zeal to get English pastors to support sending missionaries to India, said, “Expect great things from God; attempt great things for God.”

But maybe Jesus wants us to rethink that.  Of course, some will continue to do great, dramatic, world-changing things.  But not everybody.  The last instruction Jesus gave to his disciples in this passage was for the rest of us.

“And if anyone gives even a cup of cold water to one of these little ones because he is my disciple, I tell you the truth, he will certainly not lose his reward.”

And, here is where the rest of us come in.  Most of us haven’t healed the sick, raised the dead, or exorcised demons.  Most of us haven’t even seen anyone who was demon-possessed.  Personally, I’m thankful for that.

But all of us have seen little children.  All of us know how good a cup of cold water tastes on a hot, dusty day.  And all of us can do that – we can all give a cup of cold water to a thirsty child.

Mother Theresa, who certainly did great things, said, “There are no great deeds, only small deeds done with great love.”

So, if those of us who believe that we’ll never do great things like the disciples did for God, that’s absolutely okay.  Because even the disciples tried to run off the little children who wanted to see Jesus.  Even the disciples tried to turn away the most fragile and least regarded members of their own society, little children.

Of course, it does take some effort. A cup of cold water in Jesus’ day didn’t come from the water fountain, or the refrigerator dispenser.  There was no ice to cool the water, and water sitting in the sun quickly grew tepid and brackish.

No, to get a cup of cold water, one had to draw from the well, or a deep spring.  In either event, effort was involved.  So, I’m not saying small things don’t take effort, I’m just saying that Jesus thought they were pretty special.  And a cup of cold water gets lumped right in there with disciples on a mission to heal the sick, raise the dead, and cast out demons.

I could go on and on, explaining in detail what I think this means, but really, that’s it.  You know what cold water is, we know who children are.  You can make the translation to any situation in life.  Small gifts, given with great love in the name of the One who loved us, have great significance in the Kingdom of God.

Sermon: Sent By Jesus

Here’s a look at today’s lectionary reading from John 20:19-31.  I am focusing on verses 19-21, and looking at Jesus sending the disciples as the Father has sent him.  This is not a full manuscript, but I hope you’ll benefit from the notes that follow each of these verses, particularly verse 21 where Jesus gives the disciples the ministry of forgiving sin.  This passage is still the ministry of the church today, and I hope you find this both helpful and encouraging.

Sent By Jesus
John 20:19-31 NIV/84

19 On the evening of that first day of the week, when the disciples were together, with the doors locked for fear of the Jews, Jesus came and stood among them and said, “Peace be with you!” 20 After he said this, he showed them his hands and side. The disciples were overjoyed when they saw the Lord.

21 Again Jesus said, “Peace be with you! As the Father has sent me, I am sending you.” 22 And with that he breathed on them and said, “Receive the Holy Spirit. 23 If you forgive anyone his sins, they are forgiven; if you do not forgive them, they are not forgiven.”

24 Now Thomas (called Didymus), one of the Twelve, was not with the disciples when Jesus came. 25 So the other disciples told him, “We have seen the Lord!”
But he said to them, “Unless I see the nail marks in his hands and put my finger where the nails were, and put my hand into his side, I will not believe it.”

26 A week later his disciples were in the house again, and Thomas was with them. Though the doors were locked, Jesus came and stood among them and said, “Peace be with you!” 27 Then he said to Thomas, “Put your finger here; see my hands. Reach out your hand and put it into my side. Stop doubting and believe.”
28 Thomas said to him, “My Lord and my God!”
29 Then Jesus told him, “Because you have seen me, you have believed; blessed are those who have not seen and yet have believed.”

30 Jesus did many other miraculous signs in the presence of his disciples, which are not recorded in this book. 31 But these are written that you may[a] believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God, and that by believing you may have life in his name.

Notes:

20:19:  “Peace be with you!”  
The disciples are anything but at peace.  With “doors locked for fear of the Jews” the disciple band huddles in secret on the evening of the resurrection.  They are confused, afraid, disoriented, and grief-stricken.

“Peace” is the greeting that Jesus taught the disciples in Luke 10 to bring to every home they entered.  And, so the mission of Jesus continues as though nothing has happened.

“Peace” is the shalom of God which encompasses well-being and confidence in God.  God’s shalom means things are as they should be.  This is not what the disciples believed at this moment.  Things were not as they should be:  Jesus was gone, dead, and now even his body was missing.  Into this chaos, Jesus reassures the disciples that things indeed are exactly as they should be.

20:20 After he said this, he showed them his hands and side. The disciples were overjoyed when they saw the Lord.

Two things are going on here:  first, Jesus shows them his pierced hands and side.  These wounds are the visible evidence that Jesus appears to them just as they had seen him on the cross — wounded for our transgressions.  This is no memory of Jesus before, but the continuing presence of Jesus after the crucifixion.  The resurrection of Jesus did not change the sacrifice of Jesus.  Even a week later when Jesus appears again with Thomas present, his wounds validate his real presence.

The disciples were overjoyed because before them stood Jesus, but alive.

20:21 Again Jesus said, “Peace be with you! As the Father has sent me, I am sending you.”
Now things begin to change.  The disciples are about to enter the next phase of their work.  This phase of being sent has been tried out in Luke 10 when Jesus sent the 70 into the surrounding region.  They were to do what he had just done — bring God’s shalom, heal, restore, share table fellowship, live among people, demonstrate God to and for them.

Again, the shalom of God as greeting means, Things are as they should be.  My sending you is as it should be, this is the next step.  The disciples sending follows the model of God’s sending Jesus.  They are sent with authority, they are sent out from themselves, they are sent to serve, they are sent to live out the new kingdom of God among men, they are sent to demonstrate the salvation (health, wholeness, forgiveness and reconciliation) of God toward creation.  Sent in the same manner, with the same mission, by the same Master.

20:22 And with that he breathed on them and said, “Receive the Holy Spirit.
But they are also sent with the same Spirit that overshadowed Mary, descended upon Jesus at his baptism, drove him into the desert, empowered him for service, and would be his presence with them from this point forward.

On the day of Pentecost, this same Spirit manifests itself to announce a new beginning to the world that has witnessed the evil of the Roman empire.

20:23 If you forgive anyone his sins, they are forgiven; if you do not forgive them, they are not forgiven.”
This passage, regardless of what we think it means, surely cannot mean that we possess the ability to forgive or not, the sins of others.  I looked at several old commentaries on this passage, and most said just that — Only God can forgive sins, and therefore this means that when the gospel is preached and people respond, God forgives them.

Unfortunately, that is not what this passage says.  In this appearance of Jesus, we have some of the most direct and clear language of any we see in John.  These are simple sentences, as though the disciples cannot take in complex, symbolic concepts.
I believe that Jesus meant exactly what he said.  Now, those who wrote years ago that this does not mean that the disciples or we have the ability to forgive sins, probably were writing (and one stated this explicitly) in response to the priestly practice of the Roman Catholic church.  One confesses to the priest, who after imposing penitential tasks, absolves the confessor of their sin.  But that is not what Jesus is referring to here.

One of the big things that got Jesus into trouble was forgiving the sins of the common people.  And, we talked about the reason for that several weeks ago.  The Temple was the only place in first century Judaism that sins could be forgiven.  The entire Temple enterprise, and it was very much that, was predicated on the idea that the Temple was the residence of God, and that a forgiving encounter with God could only happen there.

Feast days, festivals, and the high holy day of Yom Kippur — the Day of Atonement — were the elaborate occasions for communal confession and repentance.  But, commoners like Mary and Joseph also went to the Temple to offer the smallest offering — a pair of turtledoves — for her purification.

So, when Jesus spoke of forgiving sins, he was at odds with the entire world of Judaism, including the chief priest, the Pharisees, the Sadduccees, the Council of the Sanhedrin, and most of all, the economic bounty that flowed to the Temple.

So, by telling the disciples that they now have the ministry of forgiveness, Jesus places them in the same position he was in — an adversary to the entrenched religious practice and practitioners of his day.

The most striking example of this is Jesus forgiving the sins of, and healing, the lame man.  Here’s Mark’s version, but the account appears in all three synoptic gospels —

A few days later, when Jesus again entered Capernaum, the people heard that he had come home. 2 So many gathered that there was no room left, not even outside the door, and he preached the word to them. 3 Some men came, bringing to him a paralytic, carried by four of them. 4 Since they could not get him to Jesus because of the crowd, they made an opening in the roof above Jesus and, after digging through it, lowered the mat the paralyzed man was lying on. 5 When Jesus saw their faith, he said to the paralytic, “Son, your sins are forgiven.”
6 Now some teachers of the law were sitting there, thinking to themselves, 7 “Why does this fellow talk like that? He’s blaspheming! Who can forgive sins but God alone?”
8 Immediately Jesus knew in his spirit that this was what they were thinking in their hearts, and he said to them,“Why are you thinking these things? 9 Which is easier: to say to the paralytic, ‘Your sins are forgiven,’ or to say, ‘Get up, take your mat and walk’? 10 But that you may know that the Son of Man has authority on earth to forgive sins…”He said to the paralytic, 11 “I tell you, get up, take your mat and go home.” 12 He got up, took his mat and walked out in full view of them all. This amazed everyone and they praised God, saying, “We have never seen anything like this!”  – Mark 2:1-12 NIV84

So, the objection to Jesus’ healing was the same as the objection to this verse by some commentators — only God can forgive sins.  But Jesus obviously countered that by forgiving the lame man’s sins, and by healing him.

Actually, there was an old rabbinic saying, “No one can be healed unless first their sins are forgiven.”  So, healing, wholeness (salvation both physical and spiritual) involve forgiveness.

Jesus is conveying his ministry to the disciples.  First, he assures them of the shalom of God. Next he announces he is sending them as God as sent him.  Then, he equips them for their new mission by breathing into them the breath of life, the Spirit of God.  And, finally he tells them what their ministry is — forgiveness.

To understand what that means, we need to look at forgiveness for a moment.  First, this ability or ministry of forgiving (or not forgiving) sin is given to the community.  Jesus is not saying, and never intended, that the ministry of forgiveness become the solely the function of an elite group of priests.  He was actually removing the function of pronouncing forgiveness from the priests of his day, and giving it into the hands of his followers.

Rather, forgiveness is given to the community of disciples.  And, remember, at this point all the disciples, and Jesus’ entire ministry has been within Judaism.  So, the disciples become the new community of practice that now holds the keys to the kingdom:

18 And I tell you that you are Peter, and on this rock I will build my church, and the gates of Hades will not overcome it. 19 I will give you the keys of the kingdom of heaven; whatever you bind on earth will be bound in heaven, and whatever you loose on earth will be loosed in heaven.”  (Matthew 16:18-19 NIV84)

Which also means that when God’s will is done on earth, it is reflecting what has and is being done in heaven.  Remember the Lord’s Prayer — “thy kingdom come, they will be done on earth as it is in heaven”?  That’s exactly what we have here — God’s forgiveness being expressed through his followers on earth even as it is and has been expressed in heaven.
All of which means that the ministry Jesus has given to the disciples is also our ministry. But, you might object, we can’t go around forgiving people’s sins.

Well, forgiveness does two things.  First, it recognizes and makes a judgment that something has gone wrong in a relationship.  Secondly, it deals with the wrong appropriately, and restores the relationship within the community.

Forgiveness is the ministry of reconciliation — of bringing people back to God and back to each other in the community that follows God.

Paul said, 17 Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation; the old has gone, the new has come! 18 All this is from God, who reconciled us to himself through Christ and gave us the ministry of reconciliation: 19 that God was reconciling the world to himself in Christ, not counting men’s sins against them. And he has committed to us the message of reconciliation.  – 2 Corinthians 5:17-19 NIV84

On this the second Sunday of Eastertide, we are not only celebrating the risen Christ, we are also receiving our mission from Jesus.  That mission is to be a community of forgiveness, practicing reconciliation, before a world which knows nothing of God’s peace — things as they should be.

Early in his ministry, Henri Nouwen was the chaplain on an transoceanic ship.  One night, surrounded by fog so dense that the ship was operating by radar, the captain was pacing with great agitation on the deck.  As he turned, he ran into Nouwen, who was standing near the wheel house in case he was needed.

As the two collided, the captain cursed, and said, “Get out of my way.  I don’t need you here.”  Nouwen began his humiliating retreat, when the captain gruffly called back to him.

“On second thought, stay.  This might be the only time you’ll be of use to me.” (A Peculiar People, Rodney Clapp)

The world may not need Jesus or his disciples, or his church, for a lot of things.  But they do need us to demonstrate and practice forgiveness and reconciliation.  This might be the only way we are of use, and it is the ministry Jesus has given to us.

Strip down the church and start over

John Temple, former editor and publisher of the Rocky Mountain News, blogs about what newspapers must do to survive.  Temple should know because the 150-year old Rocky Mountain News folded this past February, the victim of a sagging economy, the digital revolution, and journalism’s failure to adapt.  What does this have to do with churches? Listen to Temple’s advice to newspapers:

Strip down the newsroom and start over with this mission (serving as public watchdog) in mind. Reconstruct the entire news operation on all platforms to make sure the newsroom has this mission at its heart. This will be difficult. Many internally will ask, ‘Well, how can we stop doing this?’ Or, ‘How can we stop doing that?’ The answer is if newspapers don’t perform their central function well, nothing else will matter. If it’s not clear by now that things have to change, the battle may be lost anyway.

Sound familiar?  Substitute the word “church” for “newsroom” and Temple could be offering good advice to churches.  And, of course, he’s right — it will be difficult to stop doing some things we’ve always done.  But we have to.  Just like newspapers, churches that fail to adapt will be as obsolete as newsprint in the age of the Kindle.

Of course, the problem we have in church is deciding what our mission is.  For some it’s evangelism, for others worship, for others service.  But whatever you think your church’s mission is, ask yourself the same question Temple asked of newspapers — “What are you spending your money on?”

If the most of your church budget goes to something other than your mission, then you’re not serious about your mission, whatever it is.   Agree or disagree?

Be clear about your outcome

When our church led the way in building the new $3-million community center in our town, we did not expect the outcome to be new members for our church.  We did expect the community center to become a gathering place for the community.

When we helped start the local Boys and Girls Club by hosting them in our building, we didn’t expect to get new members for our church.  We did expect to provide a safe after-school program for underserved kids.  

When we worked to establish a community music school that is headquartered at our church, we didn’t expect it to increase membership either.  We did expect it to provide quality music instruction for children. 

When we partnered with artists and educators in our community to start Soundcheck, the monthly teen open mic night, we didn’t expect it to bring new members to our church.  We did expect Soundcheck to be a venue for artistic expression, and to increase arts awareness in our town.

Because we understood going in to each of these projects that there probably would not be an immediate payoff for our church in increased membership, our congregation was not disappointed when no new members joined from any of those programs.  

Be clear about your desired outcome before you start a project.  Don’t try to sell every project as a membership project.   Churches can be on mission to transform their communities, too.

Where were the pastors?

empty-seat-at-the-table.jpg I just returned from a meeting of community leaders and agencies that work with children and youth in our community.  About 18 people were there including the superintendents of both the city and county schools, and representatives from Social Services, Community Action, Habitat for Humanity, our local community college, Boys and Girls Club leadership, Big Brothers/Big Sisters, and others.

The chairperson noted those in attendance, and commented.  “I also invited several local pastors, but I see none of them here.”  (I was invited as representative of the new community center in our town.)

My question is — “Where were the pastors?”  Why wouldn’t a pastor consider a joint meeting of every child advocacy group in our area a good thing to attend?  I know it’s Holy Week, but I made time to attend with more than a week’s notice, so I’m sure others could have also.  If we as pastors are not willing to sit at the table with others in our community to solve our common problems and share a common vision, how will we win a world?

What do you think?  Would you attend a meeting like this?  If not, why not?  Maybe there’s something I’m missing here, and if so, I’d like to know what it is.