Wednesday, May 30, 2007

Reaching Our Communities For Christ

I am involved with a venture in Cedar Rapids called "Serve The City." This has been and still is a rather exciting work among around 40 churches of various denominations and fellowships geared to reaching this community through three primary emphases: prayer, care, and share. The kernel of the concept comes from cooperative interchurch outreach ventures in places like Little Rock, AR; Cochella Valley, CA; and El Paso, TX. We spend about a year enlisting people to pray for their families and neighbors, the second year we do tangible actions to demonstrate our care for our families and neighbors, and the third year we work together to provide meaningful and relevant services to our communities. The idea is to reach out to our communities with love in demonstrative ways so that we build credibility. With this credibility, we hope to utilize these connections with our communities as bridges to share the Good News of Jesus with those who do not yet know Him as their Lord and Saviour.
Now, as my own congregation has participated in this endeavor, I have noticed a correlation between the effectiveness of the congregation in reaching out with the kind of leadership each church experiences. This may be one of those "duh" observations, but this cooperative venture has produced some anecdoctal evidence for much of what we read about in today's "missional" literature. So, here are some of my thoughts on what makes ministers and congregations more effective in reaching their communities with the Gospel.
Now, obviously the lead pastor is an important catalyst for leading, teaching, and inspiring a group of believers in living out the Gospel. Yet, effective pastoral leadership must come out of a passion to share an experience of God’s grace in Jesus Christ with as many people as effectively as possible. Any motivation less than this in the pastor will undermine and hamper the efforts of even the best equipped and motivated members of a church body.
So, my first step for leading a congregation in reaching the community is to make sure I am acting and leading from my own place of seeking the grace and presence of God. I must be able to speak of vision and strategy out of my own sense of need for Spirit and Truth, and my own experience of receiving these as undeserved gifts through walking with Jesus. Otherwise, we would end up promoting just ourselves and seeking our own glory rather than acting out of a heart for inviting lost people into the kingdom of God.
Nevertheless, as crucial as good, authentic leadership is for a congregation, reaching our community with the Gospel grows out of our courage and creativity as a covenant body of disciples who care and support one another in service to God. As Mark Brewer of Bel Air Presbyterian Church is fond of saying, "It is hard to lead if no one is following." Who and how we reach in the various communities will depend on the calls that God gives to those in our congregations. We must be reaching those whom God wants our particular church to reach, and God will provide individuals and groups among us with the right passions and the proper gifts for reaching particular peoples (as long as we pray, listen to God’s Word, and follow the Spirit).
Obviously, God wants all people to be reached, but it is God who reaches all people through calling disciples to be passionate about reaching particular groups of people. A recovering and redeemed alcoholic may be gifted to reach fellow alcoholics, or a former gang member may sense an affinity with those lost in that lifestyle, but we don't expect each member of our churches to reach out and relate to everyone with equal effectiveness.
This means ministry that is truly missional and led by the Spirit emerges out of a covenant life together. So each disciple will find and develop with one or more others a team for doing a project or activity that connects with their target group in an engaging and relevant way. Maybe for college students, the team would offer a college-oriented Alpha course in a popular coffee bar. A group called to address poverty issues may form a cooperative to work with poor residents to refurbish their homes, or even have a group from the church take up residence in a low income neighborhood to have a missionary presence (with a satellite worship service there as well).
My role as a missional pastor is to make sure the church body I am leading is providing the structures for equipping people in their ministries. This involves making sure the overseeing elders are enabling and encouraging the leaders of the various ministries under their care. It also means developing an atmosphere of imagination and risk-taking that will give people the sense of courage and freedom to attempt whatever God is calling them to do, while at the same time providing the nurturing structures of accountability that enable people to discern their call in light of the Scriptures, the guidance of the Spirit, and the wisdom of fellow disciples.


Thursday, May 17, 2007

Is There An Exodus From The PCUSA, And How Does One Recognize It?

I hear from many fellow evangelicals and read in many articles and letters that a major exodus has began, which will result in many congregations leaving the Presbyterian Church USA. Most of those expressing this opinion see most of these departing congregations becoming part of the Evangelical Presbyterian Church denomination. Obviously, this is certainly true to some extent, especially with the New Wineskin congregations who are joining the EPC. And the rationale for leaving provided by some, especially Robert Gagnon, has been especially sobering and persuasive. However, I am not sure if the exodus is as large and as potent as what some are saying.
Oh sure, it is certainly noteworthy when Kirk of the Hills in Tulsa or Memorial Park in Pittsburgh recuse themeselves to the EPC, and such moves certainly gain the attention of all of us who call ourselves evangelical. But at this point, I do not see the grand exodus or realignment that I hear others talking about. No offense intended to churches like Kirk of the Hills, but no church that really carries the weight of evangelical leadership in the PCUSA has indicated that it is leaving. No such church, like Peachtree in Atlanta, Menlo Park in California, First in Colorado Springs, Bel Air in the LA area, or University Place in Seattle, has given the slightest indication that they are seriously entertaining a change of denominational affiliation. Plus, no major evangelical voice has announced his or her "exodus." We have not heard (up to this point) the names of Joe Rightmeyer, Vic Pentz, Mark Brewer, Andrew Purves, Jerry Andrews, Roberta Hestenes, Mary Holder Naegeli, Jim Berkeley, Bill Young, or even Parker Williamson mentioned in any list of those who are seeking refuge by opting out of the PCUSA.
A few weeks ago, I was in a conversation with a friend who is pastor of a PCUSA church in NW Washington state. He is part of a covenant group of pastors from throughout the USA who gather together periodically for fellowship, encouragement, education, and accountability. Out of 12 pastors in his group, three were in churches leaving the PCUSA for the EPC. A significant number --- Yes! But indications of a mass exodus starting --- I'm not so sure.
At this point, it SEEMS TO ME that most of us evangelicals are staying the course in the PCUSA, and it SEEMS TO ME that this perserverance by the evangelicals will yet yield a quite orthodox and missional future for the PCUSA. Oh yes, I think some of the more militant liberals in this ecclesiastical community smell evangelical blood and are making plans for a victory feast as we hear of a theologically conservative church here and there leaving for the EPC. But sometimes the facts do not fit what we are sensing or hearing, and the facts (at this time) overwhelmingly support the continuance and growth of a strong and vital evangelical presence in the PCUSA.


Tuesday, May 15, 2007

Let The Blogs Begin

I am just entering the blogosphere, so I'm still learning my way around. Basically, as one who makes his living through preaching to others, like St. Paul preaching til Eutychus fell out the window after he fell asleep, these blogs will be a feeble attempt on my part to communicate in a less captive and numbing manner. I will mainly comment on issues and topics related to Christ and the Church, but may venture at times into topics and issues far beyond my knowledge and expertise. Fortunately, few will ever see my more foolish ruminations.