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Starting with the Local Congregation – or with Me

Starting with the Local Congregation – or with Me

Dave Black responded to my previous post on the United Methodist Church by referring to some thoughts he has had on his own denomination. I want to quote them here, since Dave’s blog doesn’t make linking to a particular entry possible.

7:55 AM Noted Methodist blogger Henry Neufeld ponders the question, How to cure the UMC? He asks:

How much time needs to go into preserving the organization? Is such time well spent? Those are questions that concern me these days.

For what it’s worth, Henry, I once pondered a similar question regarding my own denomination. The bottom of the bottom line for me?

I came away from the convention with a new realization that a Great Commission resurgence will not begin at the denominational level. It will end there. A Great Commission commitment must begin in our homes and marriages, and then in our local churches, each one of them. This is clearly the pattern of the book of Acts. The church at Antioch, the world’s first missional church, is proof of that.

I hope that all of this gets sorted out at the denomination level (and I predict that it will, eventually). But even if it doesn’t, there is nothing to keep me and my local church from doing all we can to help advance God’s kingdom on earth. (From Dave Black Online)

I have found that the concerns of people who are seeking to be servants and missionaries in different denominations are remarkably similar. We have some doctrinal differences, but we struggle with issues of getting the church active. I believe that if we get people studying the Bible, praying, and seeking the unity of the Spirit, doctrinal differences will tend to fade to the background. They’ll either be found to be non-essential or we’ll discover where we each need to change. I think we can be very patient with “erring brethren.” After all, we are ourselves erring brethren, almost by definition!

What I must keep in focus is simply this: God hasn’t called me to solve all the problems of the church. He hasn’t called me to make sure everyone else is fulfilling the great commission. He has called me to be transformed by looking to Him, and to fulfil my call to service.

I don’t mean that I can “be the church” alone. Rather, I can do a much better job of being part of the body if I’m spending more time correcting my own manifold flaws than I spend trying to correct those of others. Much more time, in fact!

Of Evangelism, Missions and Other Bad Words

Of Evangelism, Missions and Other Bad Words

The tragedy of the American church is that we have the greatest resources ever in the history of Christianity and for the most part we’re sitting on them, doing nothing. When we are doing something, most of what we do is for ourselves.

The question, I’m told, is what we should be doing and how we should be doing it. A close second is how we motivate people to go into action and do whatever it is we should be doing.

But I think that’s the wrong question. If we’re going to be Christians, we know what we’re supposed to be doing, and it falls somewhere amongst the bad words I use in the title. The gospel commission in Matthew tells us to go and make disciples. It is repeated elsewhere in the New Testament in different words, but the essentials remain.

This is why I continue to insist on using the words “evangelism” and “missions” no matter how bad they may sound to some people. I’ve been told that I will turn people off by doing so. I’m well aware that there have been many things done under the heading of these words that have likely driven people away from Christ rather than drawn them to him.

There have been missionaries who spread a “gospel” of American culture rather than the Gospel of Jesus. There are been those who were very destructive to those with whom they came in contact. I’ve seen the occasional distant look, or heard the silence when I tell people my parents were missionaries. But I can tell you that my parents carried medical care and the love of Christ where they went, not American culture. The word (“missions” or “missionary”) is not the problem.

Similarly I continue to use the word evangelism, proclamation of the Good News. There have been many whose “good news” was that the hearer should come to my church, follow the norms of my “church culture,” and pay tithes into the church budget, thus avoiding hell. But that isn’t the Gospel, and we know it, whatever we may practice.

I have had a number of conversations with pastors who told me their churches looked good on paper. They had the right numbers. But at the same time, these pastors told me, things were not going well. The church wasn’t carrying out its mission. People were not becoming active.

There’s a great debate amongst Christian scholars as to whether missions should consist mostly of care for the physical needs of people or whether it should be primarily about their spiritual needs. The big problem here is that the debate is often conducted between people who are actually doing neither one. More importantly they represent groups and denominations who, in overwhelming numbers, are doing neither.

I would like to suggest that we don’t need a change of words. I want to say we need a change in the way we understand those words, and that our understanding should turn back to scripture. But that would be to get back into the very same debate. What I really think we need to do is replace the words with actions.

We often think we need to straighten out our beliefs first, and then base our actions on right beliefs. I believe that in many cases this process needs to be reversed. Obey the obvious commands, and the more obscure ones will begin to fall into place.

I was showing a pastor from overseas around the Pensacola area. He was a very activist evangelist in his homeland. He had planted many churches. He had built orphanages and schools. He had carried out both the mandates of caring for people’s physical needs and also addressed their spiritual needs. As we were driving he suddenly said to me: “You know, Henry, how you can hear the voice of God more often?” “How?” I asked. “Just obey what you’ve already heard and you’ll hear more from God.”

I think that could apply to following the commands of God received through Scripture. How can I learn more of God? Act on what I have already learned.

That isn’t a command for pastors, teachers, or for those who own publishing companies. It’s a command for all Christians. I often tell people that all Christians are witnesses. The question is what type of witness you’ll be. Will you be a good witness or a bad one. Even if you just warm a pew you are a witness. The testimony you give in that case is that Jesus is really not that important, and can be ignored by people who have serious things to do.

To be a missionary you have to go. It may be a few feet. It may be a few thousand miles. If you’re a missionary, you’re also going to be an evangelist. You’ll be proclaiming good news. It’s a commission you get when you accept Christ in the first place. If you’re part of the church, you’re called.

Will You Join the Cause of Global Missions?Because of this, I’m delighted that my company, Energion Publications, has just released a new book, Will You Join the Cause of Global Missions? by David Alan Black. I try to write a few notes on each book I publish. I view my business as a ministry, and there is a reason for the manuscripts I choose to publish, a reason beyond whether I think I can sell them. In this case I wanted to give some of my own thoughts on missions before discussing the book.

For this book I’ve worked closely with the author and planned the way we’d publish and market it to make sure we can offer it for the lowest price possible, especially in quantity. It’s just 32 pages including front and back matter. Quantity prices at Energion Direct get this down to $3.24 each if you’re ordering 50 or more copies. (I’ll tell you why you want to order in quantity below.) But right at the moment you can beat that price through B&N, which is still (February 9, 2012) offering the book for just $2.57.

Why do I emphasize the price? Because we’ve pared this price to the bone to make the book as accessible as possible. Over the next few days watch for a Kindle edition, and we’ll follow that shortly with one for the Nook. The Kindle edition will be sold for just 99¢.

So why buy this book in quantity?

To put it simply, this isn’t a book for you to read and put on your shelf. It’s a challenge to action, and it’s a tool for Christians to use in leading other Christians to become active. Let me quote a few lines:

“If churches in America were truly committed to the Great Commission, it would show in a lifestyle that matches our response to a lost and dying world” (8).

“The most important principle to keep in mind is to employ material things for the kingdom of God rather than for ourselves” (9)

“Kingdom Christians have found the pearl of great price. Like Jesus, they refuse to separate doctrine from practice, word from power” (10).

“Under God’s great grace, we are called to be one with one another. What can create this kind of community? Community cannot be preached. It can only be practiced and the place to start is with oneself” (16).

Now those are little snippets taken out of the context of a carefully planned presentation, but I think they give a taste.

But the book ends in an unusual way. It asks you, the reader, to sign on the dotted line. Will you join the cause of global missions? If so there is a specific commitment, and a place to sign and date your commitment.

Dave is a Baptist, and I’m a Methodist. I’m sure someone will find something “Baptist” about this book and point it out to me. That will be an excellent sign that they haven’t gotten the point. There is nothing in the commitment requested in this book that I, as a Methodist should not already be committed to. Dave doesn’t tell you in this book just what mix of social, physical, and spiritual you’re supposed to try for.  The Holy Spirit will guide you in that. And I’m convinced that, as that visiting pastor once told me, if you obey the clear things you already know, other things will become much clearer.

This isn’t about denominations or the numbers on church rolls. It’s not about the amount of money in the offering plate. I believe all of those things will be impacted by our obedience to the gospel commission, but I believe it is dangerous to make material things the goal. This is about being sent into the world as the Father sent His Son.

If you need a copy of this book to evaluate, let me know. If you’d like a copy to review, let me know that as well.

But above all, act on what you know.

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