Bridge Building in the Church

I often feel a stress about how infrequently I am blogging right now.  However, a couple of years ago I began to feel called to administrate a men’s retreat for affiliated churches in my area.  This has been where all my extra energy has been going. 

Today I have something on my mind in relation to church politics.  So, I am preparing to discuss it under my ‘Politics Monday’ category. 

One of the strongest choices a church can make is to find ways to build bridges to the community.

But what exactly does that mean? Simply put, it is finding ways to connect with people who do not have a church, and possibly would not normally consider setting foot on church grounds. If a congregation’s only chance to evangelize is to witness to those folks who happen to visit, they will be missing the entire point of the great commission.

When people talk about bridge building they will often center on whether an outreach event is on the grounds of the church or not.  And this does have a point to it. A lot of the people we should most want to reach would never attend an event on the church grounds.  Not in the fellowship hall, not in the parking lot and absolutely not in the sanctuary. But some will.

Those who would be willing to visit an outreach on the church grounds might well be the low hanging fruit of the great commission, but low hanging fruit needs to be picked too. For this reason, I am not in agreement with those who assert genuine outreach and evangelism cannot take place on church grounds.

However, doing events off the church grounds has tremendous value. Not only will you have a chance to meet people who you will not meet on the grounds, but you will also see the church’s faith stretched and the community’s hearts opened. The church that is seen by community involved people as also being community involved will be their most likely place to land. Furthermore, If you are always standing on the safe ground, were exactly is the faith in that?

But before you dismiss me as being a Pollyanna let me explain that both claims have another side.  When you see into the hearts of the community you might well have that tattooed biker chick who wears her pierced earrings everywhere except her ears dropping in on the senior ladies sewing circle.  It might mean having a perfectly normal looking teen boy bring his boyfriend on his first visit.

This is about the time when you begin to find that a congregation’s faith can crack or break when it is stretched too far too fast.

I suspect to many people it sounds a little bit like compromising with the world.  To others it sounds like polluting the purity of the church with the effluence of unregenerate souls.

So, bridge building is not for the faint of heart.  But then again, no part of faithful Christianity is. Real people have real problems and sometimes we get too accustomed to our view of the church as a trouble-free zone.  But it was real people for whom Christ died.  People with fears; people with flaws.  People like you and me.

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Understanding Mission Funding

Theology should be practical. It should never be a purely intellectual exercise. Instead the things you believe should always find an expression in behavior. Whatever settles into your mind, will in some manner, also leak out your toes and fingertips. Doctrine hasn’t completed its purpose until it changes your work and walk.

One of the areas on my mind right now is how we fund missions. When I say it like that, it probably draws to mind the missionary offerings we take at this time of year. Whether your church has a missionary society or a board or whatever, Christmas is a great time to raise funds for missions. I love the Lottie Moon offering, which is my denomination’s major funding event for International Missions.

But special offerings have a serious weakness. After the Christmas offering is done missionaries need to continue their work from January to November, not just in December. So there needs to be a means of funding missions the rest of the year too. The need is year round, so the giving also needs to be year round. For my church this means giving a percentage of the churches income to missions.

But don’t forget that the work of the local church is also a part of the mission. The tithes of the church members pay for the work of the pastoral staff, and a whole lot more. The buildings, grounds, teaching programs, potlucks, and fellowship groups all are part of that mission carried out by the local church on the local level.

Yet I don’t think any of these are the most important way that missions are operate and are funded. Spreading the gospel is the heart of our purpose, and its best fulfillment is in the witness of individuals who personally sacrifice to tell others. In today’s world witness is very seldom a chance encounter but instead is developed through a personal relationship. The wise Christian will intentionally build bridges with their neighbors and acquaintances in order to earn the right to tell them about Jesus.

Every believer in the church should see themselves as a part of the purpose. They learn about it, they develop a pattern of giving to it, but also they begin doing it, and this where the mission really takes shape. A Christian man volunteers in a local school. A Christian woman takes neighbors out for coffee on a regular basis. A believing senior pays for his bushes to be trimmed, but also pays for the widow next door to have her bushes trimmed. All of these things are done intentionally in order to one day have the opportunity to share the gospel.

This is how it becomes a reality that every believer is a missionary. The most important and effective work of our mission is done by a believer reaching whomever happens to be right next to them, whether that person lives in rural America, the Bible belt, a great urban center, or anywhere else along the way to the ends of the earth.

 

The Centrality of Missions

One of the Biblical passages which is commonly talked about in missionary minded churches is Matthew 28:18-20, commonly referred to as The Great Commission.

Then Jesus came near and said to them, “All authority has been given to Me in heaven and on earth. Go, therefore, and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe everything I have commanded you. And remember, I am with you always, to the end of the age.”

In this passage Jesus is instructing the disciples, immediately prior to the ascension, to make a concerted effort to reach all nations with the gospel message. Notice also that the instruction is specifically extended to the end of the age, verifying we are to keep at it until He returns. This process of trying to spread the message, church and life practices of Christianity to all the world is commonly called missions.

I have a very high view of missions.

I believe that a church which ceases to work toward missionary actions and purposes has ceased to be a church. Yes, I know that is a very strong statement. Just as we would say a person who does not believe the Bible and will not submit themselves to Jesus is not a Christian, a congregation that is not interested in reaching their neighborhood nor their world, is not a church. Of course there are other things a church needs too, but for this discussion on missions I will confine my evaluation of the church to this one qualification.

In the same, ‘by their fruit you shall know them’ way that we evaluate believers, we can evaluate groups of believers. A group which is not interested in missions is fundamentally defining itself as having different purposes, or at least different priorities, than those assigned the church by its founder.

For my readers, here is what I want you to take away. When your church is meeting, teaching, planning, budgeting, worshipping, and whatever else they happen to do, be a strong advocate for missions. You will do a great deal to protect your congregation by keeping it busy on the task assigned to it by our Savior. As a rule of thumb, it is when a congregation loses this missionary focus that they begin to fail.

Theology of Missions

Every believer should consider their theology of missions.

Most of us can quote a few verses, the great commission and so on. We can tell a few stories, for example, we probably know about the man of Macedonia signaling Paul to come over.

But these tidbits hardly make for a thorough understanding. And more importantly they do not motivate us to action. This is what we really need, something to jumpstart our hearts and motivate us to action. Christianity was never meant to be so passive.

For example, if we believe our efforts make an eternal difference in the lives of others, they may go to heaven rather than hell because of our efforts—then we would care enough to act.

Or if we loved God so much we wanted Him to be glorified by our actions. If we wanted the heavenly choir singing His praises to be larger, and for more people to know how great He is—then we would act accordingly

Perhaps if we thought God would incorporate us into His plan for expanding the kingdom. So our actions on mission for Him would be the one thing which gave our lives true meaning—then we would joyfully respond.

Every believer should consider their theology of missions. But before you say you don’t need to, before you claim these issues are already settled in your mind and heart, take note—your actions or your lack of action reveal your true theology.