The Five Most Important Questions

When Jesus formed the church, he had at least two aims in mind. Church would first of all be about loving God with heart, soul, mind and body (or strength) and, secondly, that this group of people would love their neighbors as themselves (Mark 12:28-34). While “neighbor” might include other church members, Jesus nearly always used the term to push us toward those who are different from us. Given the centrality of this teaching for Jesus, it would be hard to suggest that the church should be doing something other than fulfilling these commands.

Since Jesus says these are the most important commands, any other command we find in the Bible must somehow fit under these. Additionally, any understanding of any of the lesser command that ignores or bypasses these two must be seen as an misinterpretation of the lesser command.

So, if these are the core values of Jesus for the church, how are we doing?

I have found Peter Drucker, the well-known business specialist, to be helpful in this regard. He once framed what he called “The Five Most Important Questions” any organization must ask if it wanted to remain true to its mission. I think you might find them instructive as we seek God’s specific missional vocation for Tammany Oaks.

  1. What is our mission?
  2. Who is our customer?
  3. What does the customer value?
  4. What are our results?
  5. What is our plan?*

I have found these questions very helpful in thinking out where God might be leading us. While the church is not a business, it is in the business of announcing the kingdom of God and our “success” can be measured in how well we are doing that and lives that are transformed because of it.

So what is our mission? While each congregation needs a specific focus, we can be sure that it involves loving God and loving “other” people. So who are the church’s customers? Again, Jesus helps us here: God and “other” people. When the church views her members as the primary “customers,” her mission will always get redirected to “our” perceived needs. Members should see themselves more as customer service representatives who are eager to please God and serve others.

The final two questions are the hard ones, and as such, deserve more of our attention than I can give here. However, we should be able to see that the answers lie near the two greatest commands.

What are the markers of a “successful” church? Two of the makers, of course, would be that a successful church loves God and other people.

So what is the church’s plan? While the answer to this question needs to have specifics based on where God has placed each congregation, we can be sure the plan should be the outworking of loving God and others.

__________

* Peter F. Drucker, The Five Most Important Questions You Will Ever Ask about Your Nonprofit Organization (San Francisco: Jossey-Bass, 1993).

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The Continuing Conversion of the Church

Church is suppose to be the place (people?) of new life, but so often we experience it as the place of old habits—both personally, because our habits are rarely challenged, and, corporately, because “running” the church trumps “being” the church. Furthermore, in so many places, saving the church has replaced the church’s mission of saving the world. Many have commented on the malaise found in the churches today.

For example, Darrell Guder in a book entitled The Continuing Conversion of the Church (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 2000) charts how the church came to be in this place. In sum, it has to do with the church’s confusion between church member recruitment and making disciples. After years of recruiting members to maintain the institution of church, there should be no surprise that Jesus’ call on our life sounds strange and demanding.

Guder further suggests that most ministers should first focus on the conversions of the church before embarking on the mission of converting the world. Rob Bell may be right that “God wants to save Christians, too.”

Back in the colonial period of American history, a revivalist preacher named William Tennant had the nerve to preach a sermon entitled “The Danger of an Unconverted Ministry” which was aimed at ministers of established church who had exchanged comfortable salaries for preaching the way of Jesus. Of course, there was a considerable backlash—but that is the way it is for prophets, right?

It may be the time for the sermon “The Dangers of an Unconverted Church.”

So what is the path forward? It really is quite simple. Be re-converted. God’s goal is to transform each of us to the image of Jesus. While there are instantaneous moments along the way, Jesus usually works through the ordinary and mundane tasks of life. However, for those who like steps, Jesus began his ministry with these action words: Repent (for the kingdom of heaven is near); Believe (the good news); and Follow (me). And when we get off track: Repeat.

I’m ready to begin again. Are you?

The Missional Church and God’s Mission

There are quite a bit of misunderstanding about what is meant by the phrase “missional church.” Some emergent church leaders take it as a badge for the founding of non-traditional, anti-institutional church projects.

However, the missional church conversation is not about church planting per se, though it could fuel the planting of new churches. When I speak of missional church, I’m not primarily speaking about any church growth or church planting scheme. I’m not talking about a plan or a scheme at all.

The missional church conversation is primarily a biblical and theological conversation that starts not with the church or our culture, but with the mission of God as revealed in the Bible and then carried out throughout history through God’s gracious guidance of his people, the church.

Through the influence of many voices in this conversation, I have come to summary the mission of God in three steps. From the beginning of the biblical story, God’s mission has always been (1) to call a distinct people (2) to live his life (3) for the sake of the world. This mission is deeply rooted in the nature and character of God and those who join this mission will look increasingly like God.

To call a distinct people. Whether we are in the Old Testament or New, God seeks to call a people to be his own. In the Old Testament, God called the Israelites to live a life distinct in the Ancient Near East. True many of Israel’s practices were similar to the nations around them. However, what was distinct about Israel was their commitment to YHWH and to him alone. In the New Testament, we have a continuation of this story in the distinct life which Jesus lived and which he passed on to his disciples. Thus, the church was born to live out this life until Jesus returns.

To live God’s life. Part of the uniqueness of the Christian life is that at root it is a renunciation of our lives so that we can take upon the life of Christ. With the rhythm of the death, burial and resurrection of Jesus, our lives participate in the life of God by living, suffering and even dying for the good of others.

For the sake of the world. There are perhaps plenty of Christians who really do want to be part of God’s distinct people and think they want to live God’s way. However, the missing link is often today that we, in line with the culture in which we live, don’t understand that our lives are now dedicated to do good in this world and for this world.