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Jay McNeal3I had lunch with Jay McNeal yesterday, my former intern, who is now a fully ordained Master of Divinity. I told him shortly before he graduated from seminary that I couldn’t afford to hire him, but I could give him a job, and that’s how Jay became First Baptist’s “Microchurch Pastor.”

I’ve been talking about Microchurch for a few years now. Here’s the way I explained it to our television viewers in October, 2010.

Often when I’m out and about I bump into someone who says they watch our worship services on TV. Sometimes they tell me that they go to the early service at their own church and then hurry home to watch, and although I’m honored, I secretly wonder if that’s not overdoing it a little (smile). But sometimes they tell me First Baptist is their only church, and although they never actually come to our building, they watch every week. If you are one of those people, then this message is for you.

I want to invite you to take part in something we’re calling “Microchurch,” a bold new initiative of Richmond’s First Baptist Church. Here’s how it works. Before next Sunday, think of one or two friends who might be able to come watch the broadcast with you. Invite them to bring food—something simple and easy—so that after the service is over you can sit down and eat Sunday lunch together. After lunch take time to share your concerns with one another, and then ask someone to lift those concerns up to God in prayer. Finally, take up an offering, and talk about how you might use it to put God’s love into action right where you are—in your subdivision, your retirement center, your apartment complex, or your neighborhood. If it works, try it again the next week, and then the week after that. Make it a regular habit. Give it a name. And remember, it doesn’t have to be big to be church. Jesus said, “Wherever two or three are gathered together in my name, there I am also” (Mt. 18:20).

Our hope is to start 200 new Microchurches in the next year, and I’d like to ask for your help. I’m not asking for your money, just your participation. I believe that when Jesus asked his disciples to pray that God’s kingdom would come, and that his will would be done, on earth as it is in heaven, he really meant it. But it’s going to take all of us to bring heaven to earth, and not just the people who come to worship in our building. I understand that some 20,000 people watch our services on Sunday morning. If only one percent of those people would accept this challenge we would have those 200 Microchurches I’m talking about, and we might have them not by next year, but by next week. As those churches start working with us to put God’s love into action I believe heaven will come a little closer to earth, and that those of you who join us in our mission will become part of the answer to the Lord’s prayer.

That was in 2010. What I’ve learned since then is that we don’t have any way of knowing how many Microchurches are out there. There may be 200. There may be 2,000. And so I’ve asked Jay if he can help us figure out how many there are and how we can encourage and sustain them as they work with us to bring heaven to earth. I’ve challenged Jay to start 500 new Microchurches in the next year, almost as a dare, and he has accepted the challenge. There was a moment during yesterday’s lunch when I realized he was serious. I had asked him to visit a Microchurch next week and maybe another one the week after that. He said, “But there are 52 Sundays in a year. If we’re trying to start 500 new Microchurches I’m going to have to visit a lot more than that.”

You go, Jay.

I’m sure he’ll figure it out, but in the meantime consider this. If you looked at a map of Central Virginia next year and saw 500 new dots on the map—500 more places where people are working to bring heaven to earth—wouldn’t you be encouraged? Wouldn’t you think that it was beginning to happen, that God’s kingdom was coming, and God’s will was being done,

On earth as it is in heaven?

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Wilfredo de JesusTime magazine recently published its list of the 100 most influential people in the world, complete with brief essays on each one written by other influential people. For example: New York City mayor Michael Bloomberg wrote about hip hop artist Jay Z; Academy Award winner Jodie Foster wrote about this year’s Best Actress, Jennifer Lawrence; and Mega-Pastor Rick Warren wrote about Wilfredo De Jesús, a “transformative Christian voice.” This is what he said:

Wilfredo De Jesús, better known as Pastor Choco, embodies the true definition of what Christ said the church should be. As the senior pastor of New Life Covenant Ministries, one of the fastest-growing churches in Chicago as well as one of the largest Assemblies of God congregations in the nation, Pastor Choco encourages others to go out into the community not just with words but with his own actions. Under his leadership, New Life is reaching out to the outcasts and forgotten in our society — the homeless, women suffering with addiction and prostitution, and young people in gangs.

But his influence spreads far beyond the Chicago area as vice president of social justice for the nation’s largest Hispanic Christian organization, the National Hispanic Christian Leadership Conference. With Hispanics playing such a large role in the expansion of the evangelical church in the U.S. and their vast influence on the political landscape, Pastor Choco is and will continue to be a strong, ardent voice on the direction of our country.

What got my attention, of course, is that part where Rick Warren, arguably the most influential pastor in America, said that Wilfredo De Jesús, one of the 100 most influential people in the world, “encourages others to go out into the community not just with words but with his own actions. Under his leadership, New Life is reaching out to the outcasts and forgotten in our society—the homeless, women suffering with addiction and prostitution, and young people in gangs.”

I sometimes say, “If you’re trying to bring heaven to earth, just look around for anything that doesn’t look like heaven, and then roll up your sleeves and go to work.” It sounds as if Pastor Choco and his congregation are doing exactly that in Chicago. In their own way, the people of First Baptist Church are doing exactly that in Richmond.

And who knows what kind of influence they may have?

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handshakeThanks for your good feedback on yesterday’s mission/institution analogy quiz. I got some excellent responses. The one I was thinking about during my run this morning was Douglas Johnson’s, which I remembered as: “Mission is to institution as electrical current is to electrical cord.” That wasn’t it, exactly, but it was enough to remind me how important the mission is to the institution. Without an electrical current an electrical cord is useless (except maybe to tie a mattress and box springs onto the top of your car). Without an electrical cord the electrical current can’t flow.

So, the church needs an institution that can carry the mission, and the question every church may need to ask is: “Do we have one?” Do we have a mission, that is, and do we have an institution that can carry it?

After our meeting on Tuesday one staff member asked, “So…congregational care…is that part of the mission or part of the institution?” I answered quickly, “It’s part of the mission. It’s that part where Jesus says, ‘Love one another as I have loved you.’ It’s one of the clear commands of Christ.” And even as I said it I remembered the experience I had on Sunday.

I didn’t preach last Sunday. Knowing that I would be flying in from Arizona late the night before I had asked Bart Dalton, our minister to students, to preach in my place (Bart did an outstanding job, by the way, and if you haven’t heard his sermon yet click HERE when you have time to give it a listen). But I woke up in time to make it to the 8:30 service and found a place on the pew just before Ralph Starling’s welcome. Ralph always asks us to stand and say hello to the people around us, and I was pleased to find Jerry Michael on my pew. I’ve written about Jerry before. He’s the one who comes to the 8:30 service and then goes home to cook breakfast for his “Microchurch,” which includes his whole family and a few others he invites. They watch the 11:00 service on television and Jerry does his best to help them “be church” to each other.

So, I greeted Jerry, and told him how nice it was to just sit in church for a change and worship with everyone else. It was nice. I loved it. And I loved the message I got from Jerry that afternoon:

Hi Jim,

Today I felt even closer to FBC than ever. I was sitting and reading the bulletin before service when I heard “Hello Jerry!” My initial thought was who knows me here…especially by name. I can name many from seeing them on TV but who knows me? To my delight it was you, Jim. When Ralph did the stand up and greet people thing I started to cringe as usual but then I thought…Jim is in my pew. I know someone to say hi to. Furthermore, Bart’s sermon spoke to me. He said all are welcome, all have a blessing they can pass on. I felt at home today at FBC.

I first chose to physically attend FBC to give thanks and praise to our Lord for everything he has blessed me with. I had an epiphany last summer. God healed me and I thought I can do better to praise him than TV church and our micro church. That’s why I come every Sunday. I’m working on getting the micro church to just show up one Sunday. When they do there will be no room for you in my pew, you’ll have to take the pulpit that Sunday.

God Bless You Jim!

Your friend,

Jerry

Is making people feel welcome at church a way of loving one another, of bringing the Kingdom of Heaven to Richmond, Virginia?

You bet it is.

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Bob CrawfordThis is Bob Crawford.

Some of you may know him. He’s a fine art and antiques broker who owns a beautiful little shop just around the corner from First Baptist Church. I was on my way back from lunch with Ralph Starling at Arianna’s yesterday when Bob called out, “Did one of you leave your sunglasses?” He had been at Arianna’s, too.

He hurried up the sidewalk to catch us and, sure enough, in the distraction of paying for my lunch Ralph had forgotten his sunglasses. Bob handed them over and introduced himself to Ralph. I had met him before, and we had talked about his connection to First Baptist Church.

Bob’s grandparents were pillars of the church. His grandfather (or was it his great-grandfather?) had once been chair of the deacons. Bob himself had been baptized by Ted Adams and is still a member of the church, although he confessed that he didn’t get there very often these days. He is, however, a faithful member of our television congregation and, as I learned yesterday, he’s more than that:

“I’m part of your K-O-whatever-it-is,” Bob said. KOH2RVA. Kingdom of Heaven to Richmond, Virginia. “Right,” he said. “That.” And then he told us how.

Bob’s shop is right across Park Avenue from the small parking lot where we keep the church vans. He said, “I’m the one who’s been keeping these hedges trimmed, and picking up the trash around this lot.” I noticed how neatly the hedges had been trimmed, and how the ground beneath them had been raked clean of any debris. In fact, the whole parking lot was as tidy as your grandmother’s flower bed.

Bob said, “I think this would be a great way for the church to bring heaven to earth. Just get some T-shirts with the church’s name on it, and then round up a group of volunteers who wear those shirts and go out into the neighborhood picking up trash.”

I told him I had tried that same thing once at my church in DC and it had worked well. We had gone up 17th Street, with all its sidewalk cafes, and people had asked us what we were doing. “We’re from First Baptist Church, just down the street,” I would say. “We’re just trying to be good neighbors in a great neighborhood.”

“That!” Bob said. “If a group of volunteers would do that, wearing First Baptist T-shirts and carrying big, orange bags so they would stand out, it would be a great way to bring heaven to earth.”

I appreciated that. I appreciated Bob and the good work he’s doing. I appreciated the idea that people we don’t see in church every Sunday may be out there quietly bringing in the Kingdom.

I’d like to think that someone who reads this post today, who may not live in Richmond or have anything to do with First Baptist Church, would pick a piece of trash up off the street, throw it into a nearby trash can, and make the world a tiny bit more beautiful by doing so, a tiny bit more like heaven and a tiny bit less like that other place.

Thanks, Bob.

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I’ve been asking the staff of First Baptist, Richmond, to answer the question: “What is Church?”  Here are some of the answers I’ve received so far.

Phil Mitchell says: “For the biggest portion of my life, I thought of the church as a place where Christians went to worship, fellowship, be resourced and trained, mobilize to do and give to missions, and find personal support. Though I don’t believe any of that is untrue, I believe it is less true. I now believe church is a movement of the Body of Christ to make earth look like and function more like heaven, that place where God’s reign is clear and evident. As the church embodies the mission of God, its heart is changed. As the church changes its heart, the mission of God becomes increasingly real and present. So, the church is about changing the world and its heart for God’s sake.”

Lynn Turner says: “Having just returned from the BWA Congress, I am reminded once again that church is so much more than our little corner of the world in Richmond Virginia.  The church as Christ intended it to be, is the living, breathing, moving, presence of the Holy Spirit that sees the needs of people through the eyes of every believer and causes us to do something that will have an eternal impact in the life of another. With Christ as her foundation, the Holy Spirit as her power, the church of Jesus Christ has no limits of sharing the love of God in a world that desperately needs hands of compassion and a message of hope! Now that is something I can get excited about!”

David Powers says: “My thinking and feeling about church have been heavily influenced in recent months by Eugene Peterson’s newest book Practice Resurrection. It is essentially a study of Ephesians. In his translation of 1:23, Peterson has Paul saying, “The church is Christ’s body, in which he speaks and acts, by which he fills everything with his presence.” Our function, as members of Christ’s body, is to help one another to grow up into mature disciples (4:14-16). That sums up what church means to me. I am part of God’s body, his family. As such, I am responsible for contributing to the nurture of other members of the family. And I strive to remain open to and responsive to the nurture provided to me. Together, we hear Christ speak and see him act. This mutual feeding and being fed leads to deep love and respect among the family. The result is that we begin to mimic what we see Jesus saying and doing among us: we act out Christ’s love in the world – we become his voice, hands and feet.”

What about you?  What do you think “church” is?  How big does it have to be?  Does it have to happen in a building?  Do you need a preacher and a choir?  If you had invented the church, what would that church look like?

I’d love to hear your thoughts.  Why don’t you click on the word “comments” below and tell me what you’re thinking.

Jim

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