KOH2RVA: Day 144

View from a Sports CarOn Tuesday I asked our staff to think about the relationship between “mission” and “institution.”

I was still working on the question of how we measure success and it occurred to me that institutional success might look different than missional success. In other words, you could have a church full of people and offering plates full of money without ever doing the things Jesus told you to do. The institution would be successful, but the mission would not.

On the other hand, you could have a church so radically committed to the mission that its members never came to church or put their money in the plates. They would all be out there on the mission field, bringing heaven to earth. The mission would be successful but the institution would not.

Ideally, there would be a balance between institutional and missional success: the church would be full of people who came gladly, gave generously, and then went out onto the mission field to do what Jesus told them to do.

So I said to the staff, “See if you can fill in the blanks: ‘Mission is to institution as _____________ is to _____________.’” And then I let them think about it. Let me ask you to think about it for a minute before reading any further. What is the proper relationship between the mission and the institution?

(sound of ticking clock)

Got it? OK. Please post your answer below by clicking on the word “comments.” And then consider some of these responses:

“Mission is to institution as education is to school.”

“Mission is to institution as transportation is to car.”

“Mission is to institution as baking is to oven.”

“Mission is to institution as fun is to games.”

So, can you imagine a big, beautiful school where nobody ever learned anything? Or a shiny new car that simply sat in the garage? Or a $10,000 oven that never baked a cake? Or a game that felt like more work than fun?

Ideally, there would be a perfectly balanced relationship between the mission and the institution. So you would have a big, beautiful school where lots of learning went on. A shiny new car that would get you where you were going. A $10,000 oven that baked the best cakes in town. A game that left you panting and sweating and laughing out loud.

And, ideally, a church full of happy, healthy people, who came together to worship, love, and learn, and then went out to turn the world upside down.

KOH2RVA: Day 143

Here’s a terrific article by Nancy Mairs about how First Baptist brought the KOH2RVA on Martin Luther King Day.  I couldn’t have said it better myself. –Jim

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Martin Luther King Day of Service – Bringing the Kingdom of Heaven to Richmond VA

January 29, 2013 by Richmond’s First Baptist Church online magazine

By Nancy Mairs. Photos by Susan Brown.

Martin Luther King day of serviceWhile most folks were looking forward to a day off from school and maybe even work, a group from Richmond’s First Baptist Church decided to use that day to help bring the Kingdom of Heaven to Richmond Virginia (KOH2RVA). It all started with one member’s question to the administrator of the Anna Julia Cooper School a few months ago. The school, located in Church Hill, is an independent, tuition-free, faith-based middle school for students of limited resources.

Melissa Brooks, a member at First Baptist since 2009, discovered the school through an article in a community newspaper. Wanting to be part of the church-wide effort to bring the KOH2RVA, Melissa decided to ask if there was anything she could do for them. As Melissa puts it, “This is a great question to ask when you’re trying to bring the Kingdom of Heaven to Richmond, VA, or at least it’s a great place to start.” Melissa began helping out each week at the school. As she explains, “I fell in love with the mission and vision of the school, the kids, their stories, and the faculty.”

As Melissa was dropping off her son, Sawyer, at his class in the FBC Weekday Preschool, she approached Mary Hiteman, Minister of Weekday School, with the idea of the preschool sponsoring the Anna Julia Cooper School as one of its monthly community mission projects. From this conversation, FBC’s involvement in the Martin Luther King Day of Service Project began.

Martin Luther King day of serviceWhy was Martin Luther King Day selected? Dr. King spoke often about love being the way to overcome the problems of the world. What better way to honor Dr. King’s vision than to help a school that is committed to the academic, social and spiritual development of children who might otherwise live a life unfulfilled and in despair? And as the school’s namesake, Anna Julia Cooper, said, “Jesus believed in the infinite possibilities of an individual soul.”

Mary Hiteman facilitated the FBC Staff’s involvement. Others heard about the project and by the third Monday in January, not only had most of the First Baptist ministers agreed to participate, but other members of the church and several of the families of children who attend the FBC preschool had joined in. Their work started in the morning at the Anna Julia Cooper School with painting; putting up bulletin boards where more than 500 photographs were displayed; sanitizing tables, chairs, and door knobs; and even climbing up on the roof to sweep out the gutters.

Martin Luther King day of serviceThe group then traveled to the Essex Village Apartments, a public housing project in the East End of Richmond, for the second part of their King Day Service Project. Through an invitation from FBC member Len Morrow, a special guest provided a dramatic portrayal of Dr. King. This guest, Rev. James D. Daniely, a dynamic and inspirational speaker who is also the Director of the Pace Center for Campus Ministry at VCU, helped bring Dr. King to life for the children.

As Mary Hiteman explained, “Most of the children do not know why they have the day off – our intent was to change that through Dr. Daniely, and then follow-up with art activities and, of course, birthday cake to celebrate Dr. King’s birthday.” The final activity of the day was picking up trash throughout the area.

And how does Melissa, whose question started this project day at First Baptist, sum up the activities? “My hope is always to continue to shine the bright light of Jesus to our community so that others will see good and glorify God. It’s not a ‘me’ thing or a ‘First Baptist Church thing’ or even a ‘Martin Luther King Day thing’. This is a God thing. All we have to do is show up!”

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Nancy MairsNancy Mairs joined Richmond’s First Baptist Church more than 20 years ago and is a member of the Disciples class. She works in the Regulatory Affairs group at Dominion Virginia Power, and enjoys hiking, canoeing, traveling, and spending time with her husband, Jim, and son, Jack.

KOH2RVA: Day 142

Kim and KarenDo you remember Karen, the woman who was looking for a way to “get off the bus” and onto the mission field?  After the tragic shooting in Newtown, Connecticut, she made up her mind to do whatever she could for a local elementary school, and chose the school First Baptist has partnered with this year: Glen Lea Elementary.  Karen took the principal, Kim Lee, a small gift bag that included some Shenandoah Valley apples (that’s where Karen grew up), and made a promise to visit the school once a month and pray for the school every day.  Apparently she is making good on that promise: I got this email from Karen while I was in Arizona last week.

Hi, Jim. I hope you are having a nice trip. It is cold and snowy here. But I’m not complaining. I visited Kim Lee today. I took her a pretty mug and hot chocolate. Future visits include having lunch together, reading to a lower level classroom, and helping at a game night sponsored by the PTA. She enthusiastically told me about the success of a behavioral cart and a similar initiative dealing with homework all to encourage and build model students. Not sure who felt more blessed as I left. Regards Karen

I’m really proud of Karen.  Even though it hasn’t come easily or naturally for her she is finding her way onto the mission field, step by step.  The last time she wrote to me I told her:

Karen, this is wonderful news. But be careful (smile). These things have a way of getting into your heart and then you know what happens…

I think she’s about to find out.

KOH2RVA: Day 141

bus-off-cliff-259x300I’m back from Arizona, and a meeting with pastors of other large churches who were interested in this whole “bringing heaven to earth” thing. I got a chance to explain what we were up to in Richmond, and I saw some of them taking notes. But they did want to know a couple of things in particular:

1. Have you seen an increase in attendance?
2. Have you seen an increase in giving?

Because this is how we’ve learned to measure success.

Pastors of large churches are considered successful because their churches are large, and if they want to stay successful they have to think about how to keep them that way. I don’t blame them for asking if our year-long, every-member mission trip has stimulated growth and giving.

But the answer is no.

In the 141 days that we’ve been working to bring the Kingdom of Heaven to Richmond, Virginia, I’ve actually noticed a significant drop in attendance. And at the end of last year we were nearly $200,000 behind in our giving. If our KOH2RVA mission bus keeps heading in that direction someone may start screaming, “Abort! Abort! We’re headed over a cliff!”

But we’re only 141 days into this mission.  Anything could happen.  We could begin to see a huge surge in attendance and giving.  I wouldn’t be surprised if we do.  But just in case we don’t I’ve been searching the instruction manual for that place where Jesus says success is measured by how many people come to church on Sunday morning and how much money they give.

I can’t find it anywhere.

I’ll keep looking, but so far I’m finding things like loving God with all our heart, mind, soul, and strength; things like loving our neighbors as ourselves; things like caring for “the least of these”—Jesus’ brothers and sisters. That’s how success is measured in the Kingdom, and it shouldn’t surprise us. Jesus told us a long time ago that in God’s Kingdom the yardstick is turned upside-down—the last are first and the least are great.

As that Kingdom comes closer and closer to Richmond, Virginia, we may have to start measuring success in a whole new way.

KOH2RVA: Day 136

airplane1I’m up early this morning, headed to the airport to catch a flight to Phoenix where I will be meeting with a group of other pastors to talk about the particular challenges faced by large Baptist churches. Since I won’t be in Richmond for the next few days, I’m going to take a break from my daily blogging about bringing the KOH2RVA, but I hope you won’t let that keep you from bringing it. I’ve seen so many good examples lately–more than I have time to write about: the group that taught peacemaking to children at Essex Village on Monday, the warmth and intimacy of the deacon ordination service on Sunday afternoon, the crazy, chaotic, loving embrace of Upward Basketball on Saturday…the list goes on and on. Maybe you will be a part of it this week. Maybe you already are. Write to me and tell me about it at somerville@fbcrichmond.org. And when I get back from Arizona…

…we’ll have stories to share.

KOH2RVA: 136

R0916_FLR_MIKE4First of all, let me apologize to the staff of Richmond’s First Baptist Church:

When I said that you were doing a “service project” yesterday I didn’t mean to imply that you weren’t on a mission, or that you weren’t trying to change the world, I was just thinking about how some people do service projects because they make them feel good, or because they think they ought to, and not because they have some bigger goal in mind.

You do.

You’re trying to bring the Kingdom of Heaven to Richmond, Virginia, and yesterday you came close. As Steve Blanchard put it—heaven was “hovering” just above the ground.

Thank you for your good work.

But back to that other question: Is there a difference between doing a service project and being on a mission? Yes, there is. We did a little painting at the Anna Julia Cooper School yesterday. We put up a gigantic photo collage, and moved some furniture, and cleaned out the gutters. We did a service project. But Mike Maruca, the founder of the school, is on a mission. He says, “Helping to ensure that our students are on a path toward a full and decent life is our fundamental reason for being here.”

I heard a story about Mike that made that clear. A member of the staff said that Mike greets the students as they enter the building in the morning and calls each one by name. If one or more of them is missing he says, “I’ll be right back,” and then gets in his car and drives to those students’ homes where he knocks on the door and asks if they are all right.

He not only knows their names; he knows where they live.

That tells me something about his commitment to this mission. He’s helping to ensure that his students are on a path toward a full and decent life. Everything he does has that bigger goal in mind.

A service project can contribute to a mission. If we hadn’t done what we did yesterday Mike, or someone else, would have had to do it. But here’s another difference, and it’s a big one: when you finish a service project you can go home and get some rest, but a mission never really ends. Mike Maruca will never be finished “helping to ensure that his students are on a path toward a full and decent life.”

And we may never finish bringing the Kingdom of Heaven to Richmond, Virginia. But there are days when you can tell it came a little closer, just as I’m sure there are days when Mike knows he’s making progress. I heard that all of his graduating students from last year got into good local high schools.

Just think how he will feel when he hears that they all got into good colleges.

KOH2RVA: Day 135

R0916_FLR_MIKE2Today the entire staff of First Baptist Church is going to the Anna Julia Cooper Episcopal School in Richmond’s East End to see if we can bring a little heaven to earth.

This may have started a few years ago, when I asked why the church offices were open on Martin Luther King Day. I had just come from Washington, DC, where the church offices were always closed on national holidays and this was a national holiday, but there we were, tallying up the previous day’s offerings and recording attendance as if it were just another day.

So, we started talking, but instead of talking about taking a day off we talked about taking a day on, about doing something on that day that would honor Dr. King’s dream of a nation where children “will not be judged by the color of their skin but by the content of their character.”

The Anna Julia Cooper Episcopal School shares that dream.

The school is an independent, tuition-free, faith-based middle school for students of limited resources primarily from Richmond’s East End neighborhood. It started with 25 students in September of 2009, operating out of a house owned by the Peter Paul Development Center. In 2011 it moved into a school building on N. 29th Street, and now has 62 students enrolled in 6th-8th grades.

It also has a dog.

I hope you will visit the website to learn a little more about the school and about Anna Julia Cooper herself, who was a remarkable woman. Our involvement has come about mostly because of Melissa Ansley Brooks, one of our members, who lives on Church Hill and who is, herself, a remarkable woman. She and her husband, Justin, made a very deliberate decision to live in a part of the city that needs some love, and as they have gotten to know their neighbors and their neighborhood they have found a number of ways to bring heaven to earth.

Loving the Anna Julia Cooper School is one of them.

I’m not ready to write about it yet, but I’m thinking about the difference between doing a service project and being on mission. Today the staff of Richmond’s First Baptist Church will do a service project, but tomorrow Melissa will still be on a mission, because she’s not only trying to do some good,

She’s trying to change the world.