Saturday, March 15, 2008

Mission: Proclaiming the Gospel of Jesus Christ in a New Century

We boast in our hope of sharing the glory of God...because God’s love has been poured into our hearts through the Holy Spirit that has been given to us. (Romans 5.3,5)

The Gospel is the light which salvation throws ahead of itself. It is nothing less than the arrival of the coming of God in the Word. (The Way of Christ , Jurgan Moltmann)

The essential work of the Church is the glory of God through the proclamation of Jesus Christ. All ministries flow out of this notion and our unity is dependent upon this most ancient theology. (Ephesians 4.1-7 )

As Moltmann reminds us, when we proclaim the Gospel, we are making incarnate the very real presence of Jesus. The Diocese of Texas has mission in its DNA. We were founded as the first foreign missionary field by The Episcopal Church. From our earliest bishops to our most recent, mission has been a perennial focus of our efforts. Today we are challenged to renew our missionary efforts within a culture no less daunting than planting churches in the wilderness of the fledgling Texas Republic.

Today, "Christians are now the foreigners in a post-Christian culture, and we have got to wake up to this reality if we haven't." (Dan Kimball, author of They Like Jesus But Not The Church)

Research, conversations, and mountains of experience are offered to us about just what people who don't belong to churches are looking for and expecting from us. I have been studying this new culture, and book after book has the same message and themes.

People outside our churches want us to talk about Jesus and the Bible. Some Episcopalians are comfortable with this, many more are not. We cannot afford to be uncomfortable talking about our faith. These days, it is not politically correct to talk about Jesus. Miss Manners says don't talk about religion or politics. We all love Emily Post and want to use the right fork, but we must be willing to talk about our faith. People who are seeking a relationship with God expect those who say they have a relationship with God to be able to speak about Jesus. We have to be able to speak about Jesus and listen like Jesus.

People outside the church want our churches to be places with discussions rather than just sermons and lectures. We have to respect the intelligence of those who come to us. (This is especially true as we attempt to work with young people and other cultures.)

We must get beyond the church building, and get the Gospel out into the world: book shops, restaurants, coffee shops, homes, offices. We are literally, figuratively, and financially trapped within our buildings! At the same time, we will always need traditional churches, where belonging is so important. Our places of worship must be places where people can gather, think, pray, be quiet, sit together. Imagine churches as urban retreat centers where people can wonder, and be at home, and find sabbath and peace. I wonder how many of our churches and church yards are places of retreat and open to the public.

The church must be a loving place. We must understand our unity and love for one another is essential if we are to love those outside our church walls. In a denomination where almost 75% of congregations report moderate to major conflict within the parish in the last five years, we have a long way to go in this spiritual discipline of love. Yet Jesus was clear, we may have a great commission, but the commandment is to love God and others. (Matt. 22.37-39).

The Church must be proactive in its mission. Today mission includes local outreach, foreign mission, and mission to our environment. This key component of being stewards of God's love and grace for the world means we have a Gospel imperative to take our proclamation of the Gospel and make it incarnate in acts of mercy.

We really don't have to change much of our way of following Jesus. After traveling around the diocese, I have come to understand that there is no single expression of Episcopal liturgy. In fact, we enjoy an abundance of ways to worship in the Anglican tradition. There is a place in our missionary field for the 1928 Prayer Book, Rite 1, Rite 2, Rite 3, contemporary, blended, emerging and any other style we can come up with. It must, however, be authentic. New generations will not be attracted to churches doing the "new-now" worship for the sake of commercializing the Gospel.

To be missionary in this age means that we must review, rethink, and figure out funding for this work. The Diocese must plant churches. The churches must plant churches. We must give permission and room for congregations to plant different kinds of congregations. These needs and the financial costs must be thought out, planned out, and we must venture out. We must look at the cultural and ethnic surroundings, and get into the mission field.

We also must be prepared to try church plants that don't work. Too often we read the parable of the sower and think the work of the church is to ensure that 95% of our planting efforts are seeds only thrown on fertile ground. The gospel message for us from Matt. 13.1-8 is that we must scatter the seeds, knowing full well some will take root and some won't. This is modeling Jesus' own ministry: sowing the word everywhere allowing it to take root as it may.

JoAnne has a beautiful garden. (I just haul dirt and dig big holes.) But she can only prepare the soil, plant the seeds, water, prune. God handles the growing, and we are often surprised at what we get, versus what we expected.

It is going to take vision, creativity, energy, unity, fearlessness, and hope to spread the Gospel in our new age.

Questions for meditation and conversation:

When is the last time you had a conversation about your faith with someone who does not go to church?

If you were raised outside the church and hadn't met a Christian who represents Jesus in a good way, do you think you would like Christians?

How difficult would it be for a 25 year old to get involved in your church in a significant way?

What specific stumbling blocks can you list that prevent people from ever reaching the gospel?

(Questions are from: They Like Jesus But Not The Church.)

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  • "Christianity is not a theory or speculation, but a life; not a philosophy of life, but a life and a living process." Samuel Taylor Coleridge
  • "Most people are willing to take the Sermon on the Mount as a flag to sail under, but few will use it as a rudder by which to steer." Oliver Wendell Holmes
  • "Perfection, in a Christian sense, means becoming mature enough to give ourselves to others." Kathleen Norris
  • "Do all the good you can, by all the means you can, in all the ways you can, in all the places you can, at all the times you can, to all the people you can, as long as ever you can." John Wesley
  • "The Christian ideal has not been tried and found wanting; it has been found difficult and left untried." G. K. Chesterton
  • "One of our great allies at present is the Church itself. Do not misunderstand me. I do not mean the Church as we see her spread out through all time and space and rooted in eternity, terrible as an army with banners. That, I confess, is a spectacle which makes our boldest tempters uneasy. But fortunately it is quite invisible to these humans." C. S. Lewis
  • "When we say, 'I love Jesus, but I hate the Church,' we end up losing not only the Church but Jesus too. The challenge is to forgive the Church. This challenge is especially great because the church seldom asks us for forgiveness." Henri Nouwen, Bread for the Journey
  • "Christians are hard to tolerate; I don't know how Jesus does it." Bono
  • "It's too easy to get caught in our little church subcultures, and the result is that the only younger people we might know are Christians who are already inside the church." Dan Kimball