Categories
Christian Living

LTM trips

I love short-term mission trips. Many of my most significant spiritual break throughs, both as a participant and as a pastor, have come on trips to far away places doing exotic things.

But I can’t run from the fact that Jesus has called me to a Long-term Mission trip right in my neighborhood.

To love him with all your heart, with all your understanding and with all your strength, and to love your neighbor as yourself is more important than all burnt offerings and sacrifices.

Mark 12:33

Try as I might– wish as I might– I can’t get away from the plain instructions of Jesus. Next to loving God with all my heart Jesus tells me, oh and it hurts, to love my neighbor as myself.

Jesus didn’t tell me to love my church as myself. Or love the people I like as I love myself. Or love my kids/wife/dog/cat/garden/golf clubs/Notre Dame Fighting Irish like myself.

He said I should love my neighbors as I love myself.

Some annoying facts about the Long-Term Mission trips

  • If you’re lucky you get to pick where you live. But you don’t get to pick your neighbors.
  • There’s a high likelihood that Jesus, being God and all, picked your neighbors.
  • He knows how annoying some of them are. And how grumpy that one guy with the lawn mower is. And just how hard to find that one family is.
  • I’ve tried it so I can confirm that it is impossible to love your neighbors if you don’t know their names. You should rectify that. Like today.
  • In order to love your neighbors your going to have to re-prioritize your time. This might be a good time to remind you that Jesus said this was like the #2 thing in his eyes. Yes, even above being in a small group.
  • I don’t know what you consider an “act of love.” But if someone just waved at me for months without even stopping to say hi, I wouldn’t feel all that loved.
  • You’re probably going to have to meet in the middle to love your neighbor as yourself. As in, you’ll need to love yourself a little less in order to love your neighbor “as yourself.”
  • Unlike a short-term mission trip, this thing is going to cost you money and you won’t be able to send letters to your friends asking for reimbursement. Well, you can try.
  • The longer you know someone the harder it is to love them as you love yourself. Amazingly, I’ve known myself 35 years and I’m pretty good at loving myself.
  • As much as I’ve looked at the Greek and read commentaries, I can’t find wiggle room in Jesus’ words for “convenience” or “waiting for the right time.” Instead, I’m pretty sure that Jesus’ society, built on close-knit communities, knew exactly what a neighbor was and how hard it would be to love them.
  • Speaking of comparisons to ancient times. Be thankful for indoor plumbing. At least you don’t have to love your neighbor despite the fact that their outhouse is upwind of your house.
Categories
Church Leadership Good News

The God of My Neighborhood

We want to change the world!

We want our church to reach this whole community!

God is the God of this city!

[The crowd raises to its feet and cheers as the band begins to play…]

These are guaranteed anthems to bring a church to its feet.

But I’m left wondering if our ecclesiology is a little too big?

It looks like your eyes were bigger than your stomach.” That’s what my mom used to say when I put too much food on my plate at dinner.

And I think that’s the strategic error of many churches.

I know it’s the strategic error of most believers.

Most churches mission statements tell the people the goal is to reach the world… and when we aim at that we get nearly nothing because it’s too big.

Isn’t our job to love our neighbors as ourselves and put God first? (Mark 12:28-31)

Isn’t my job, then, to love my neighbors? Like the ones who live next door? Or down the block? Or maybe as far as around the corner? Isn’t that why God, in His infinite wisdom, placed me in my neighborhood?

Yes, it is. That is the business God has clearly called you to. He has called you to be good news to your neighborhood.

Every other type of ministry you do is secondary to that. To take it a step further… every other ministry you have which gets in the way of what Jesus calls the second most important command, is unnecessary. Until you can love your neighbors as yourself you have no business doing anything else. (Yeah, including those who work in churches. I’m looking at you.)

Step 1: Get to know your neighbors

Loving your neighbors isn’t hard. You were created in Christ Jesus to do it. It takes no training. And it takes no special skills. This is what you need to do.

  • Get to know your neighbors names. If your yard touches theirs get to know their names. If they are across the street they are your neighbors, too. Each neighborhood is a bit different. But just start with the people immediately around your residence.
  • When you see them… stop and say hello. Talk to your neighbors. These are people God foreknew you to know. You don’t need an agenda, just be friendly.
  • Keep your eyes open and your ears open. When you can see they need help, do what you can.
  • When you need help, ask your neighbors. Sometimes exhibiting some dependency is the perfect open door to getting to know someone.
  • Over time, learn to depend on one another. Maybe your neighbor is a little older and you have a snow blower. Start shoveling the walk. When you go out of town, ask them to pick up the mail.

As you do this process, the Holy Spirit will begin to reveal to you next steps. Maybe it’ll be to host a neighborhood BBQ? Or maybe it’ll be to help find a lost dog? It could be any number of things… but it probably isn’t to invite them to church or to give them a flyer. God didn’t ask you to bring people to hear the Gospel at your church. He empowered you to bring the Gospel to your neighbors through your love for them.

What are you waiting for? The power of the Gospel will prevail when you set out to be Good News in your neighborhood.

Categories
Church Leadership

Churches don’t reach people…

Time For Plan B Photo by Bjørn Giesenbauer via Flickr (Creative Commons)

Churches don’t reach people… People do.

Maybe that’s a statement of the obvious for you. But if you read enough church blogs or look at enough books or listen to a bunch of pep talks you may begin to believe the lie that churches, their leaders, and their programs reach a lot of people.

They don’t.

Less than 5% of our culture is actively involved in church. That’s a lot of smoke and not much fire.

Neighbors loving neighbors reaches people. Which involves talking and getting to know people who live next door to you. Which involves you being home and not hiding in your house.

Here’s a little secret I learned from working on church staff.

It feels good to keep people busy.

It makes you think you’re being productive. It makes you think that they are keeping your ministry a priority. You look really good with lots of things going on and people running around like busy little bees.

Having a lot of people involved in your programs is a powerful temptation as a church staff member. The bottom line is that you feel like its your job to grow a program. Heck, there’s a good chance it IS your job to grow a program.

But if you step back for a minute and think about it– For every moment you are keeping a person at the church “doing ministry” you are actually preventing them from doing the one thing we know works. And the one thing every believer, including your pastor, is called to do universally.

Love your neighbor as yourself. Matthew 22:39

A lot of church involvement is actually counter intuitive to your church actually reaching a community.

It might feel good to keep people busy. But in the end it is killing your ability to grow the church.

Reality Check

For Kristen and I it took stepping out of a busy bee church and into a situation where we could simply say no to everything but church attendance to have this truth awakened in us.

Believing in the “churches reach people” paradigm is really just an excuse for me to not reach out in love to those in my neighborhood. I might feel pretty good about keeping busy in the church. But my life ends up with a lot of smoke and not much fire.

We try to do the bear minimum and I still feel like we are over involved. We have church on Sunday. Community group on Monday night. And youth group on Tuesday night. (I’d skip church and youth group over community group, by the way. Community group is our lifeline.)

And it still feels like too much.

Wondering

What if community service became the program of the church? What if you had a simple service on Sunday morning and then sent the people of the church out to apply what they’ve learned in their life?

What if the role of the staff is to go out with the people of your congregation and work alongside? Not as a program overlord, but as an encourager and equipper.

Wouldn’t that be a biblical expression of church?

Or have we bought so firmly into the current paradigm that we don’t think simple expressions of faith in action will work anymore?

Categories
Church Leadership

Brainstorm: Neighbors loving neighbors