I had a bad week.
OK, not a completely bad week, but I got a little cranky. I woke up on Thursday morning at 3:40 a.m. and could not get back to sleep. A series of events made me realize that if we as a church, do not move boldly and clearly in the direction of mission and outreach NOW, we are not going to make it.
There is an old story about the vikings landing in northern Great Britain in the dark ages (who knows if the story is true). While the men slept on the shore at night, the captain burned all the ships that would have taken them safely back to their comfortable homes in Norway. The next morning when the men awoke, he told them, "if you want to go back home the only way to do that is to fight your way forward." Now, I agree that the metaphor has all kinds of problems, but the point is, when you have no other choice but to go forward, you have much more zeal.
We need zeal in the area of mission, outreach and evangelism.
In the past week, I listened to a series of disconnected stories that were not so disconnected. One was from a pastor describing her frustration with her congregational council as they spent almost 90 minutes debating what kind of food to offer at a church fair, when they had before them a proposal to open their church to an AA group that got tabled to the next month. (You people that need a place to stay sober you'll just have to wait while we choose between cupcakes and brownies) Another was a collection of churches who are located in an area undergoing dramatic multicultural demographic shifts, yet none of the congregation's wants to reach out to the new immigrant communities. A third event centered around a pastor interested in coming to our synod for a new call, simply told me that outreach/mission/evangelism was not a top priority. (The pastor might need a new ear drum after I filled it with...well, let's just leave it at that, and know that a statement like that will not get you consider for calls in this synod)
If we don't get up off our duffs, and start to engage this rapidly changing environment, we are sunk. If there were ships to burn, I'd start burning them, so as to force us forward.
In taking my own medicine of not simply whining, but putting forth some options, here goes a few:
1. Consider a churchwide reading and discussion of Alan Roxburgh's book Missional: Joining God in the Neighborhood.
Alan will be our speaker at the Bishop's Convocation this year, and our clergy along with AIM's, Deaconesses and Diaconal ministers will have a chance to hear him speak.
Use this study not for navel gazing, but for action. End every conversation with the question: What's one thing we can do? Now, Next Week, Next month. Then do it!
2. Pericope Study groups - I'm all for them, but what about including people who are not going to church. How could you include those not yet in your church in conversation with the scriptures. (FYI - Pericope study groups are typically weekly gatherings of area clergy to discuss the coming scripture lessons for sunday preaching)
3. Form a WTHIGOAU group. This stands for What the Hell is Going On Around Us. Start conversations with local school principals to find out how you can help solve a problem in your community. Believe me the local public school leaders know what they are, because they deal with them everyday. Find a need, not thirty needs, find one and tackle it. Making it the defining characteristic of your congregation. Build that and people will come.
4. Embody the true meaning of Grace. Pr. Tim Roser, Pr. Santiago Rodriguez and Pr. Dave Rinas recently reminded in three different conversations that lifelong Lutherans take the meaning of grace for granted. Yet, almost everyone that I know, who has come into the Lutheran flavor of Christianity from the outside, has been simply blown away by God's grace. I know that has been true for myself. You also see it Nadia Bolz-Weber's writings, as well as the conversations happening with our Latino Mission Developers. Now when I say, emphasize Grace, I don't mean theological pontifications on confessional writings, and I don't mean Hallmark cards with puffy white baby angels - I mean narratives of redemption. People whose lives have been profoundly impacted by receiving the good news of God's grace in Jesus Christ.
5. Preach and talk about mission and outreach and evangelism everywhere and always. Celebrate when and where you see it.
The thing is, the ships are burning as we speak, so we might as well get going anyway, cause staying where we are ain't working.
More to come on this topic...