I enjoy going to preaching conferences, but the kind of preaching conference I enjoy the most is the kind where someone tells me that the way I’m doing it already is the right way.
I had that same pleasurable rush of confirmation at the annual meeting of the Baptist General Association of Virginia this week. Reggie McNeal was the featured speaker, and as he talked about the missional church I heard him saying some of the same things I’ve been saying for the last several years, but in a way that was funny and disarming. You’d be laughing out loud about something he said and then suddenly, umph, he’d slip the truth between your ribs like a knife blade.
Let me share with you some of those pointed truths:
- Church is not “it” but “us.”
- Our job is to bless the world, just as God told Abraham (“In you all the families of the earth shall be blessed” Genesis 12:3).
- We used to think it didn’t count unless we clubbed it, dragged it across the finish line, and threw it into a church pew. We’ve got to relax about this thing—just bless people.
- Leaders tend to look at what they’re working on. In John 4 Jesus was looking at the fields that were “white unto harvest.” What about you? Are you looking at the church or are you looking at the world?
- Go to Wal-Mart and watch people for an hour. Say, “Lord, help me see what you see.”
- The church does not have a mission, the mission has a church.
- We are all on a mission trip.
- We are not members, we are missionaries.
- If I can’t bring church to my neighbors, my neighbors are not going to get it. Put your focus on people, not church.
- Use your building to bless the community.
- Get involved in your local schools.
- As the bride of Christ, can we allow what captures his heart to capture ours? Can we allow what breaks his heart to break ours?
- The missional church follows the path of brokenness. Whatever breaks your heart is how God wants to use you.
Click HERE for a video that will give you a good taste of what I heard at BGAV. It’s funny, mind-boggling, and (umph!) true.
For the past few weeks I’ve been telling the congregation that the church in America is in trouble. It is. Church attendance in America has been on the decline for decades, and if things keep going the way they are a time will come when nobody goes to church.
But I’m not worried.
I’m not worried about the church of Jesus Christ in the world, that is. This mission is too important to him, and he will not let it fail. If it dies out in one place it will surely spring up in another. If it falters in this country it will flourish in Asia, or Africa, or Latin America. In fact, it is. 28,000 people a day are coming to Christ in China. A dozen new churches are started each week in Cuba. In some parts of India the church is growing at an almost unbelievable rate.
So, the question I’ve been asking the congregation for the past few weeks is this: if the church is going to thrive somewhere, why not here? I’ve been talking about the things those thriving churches have in common, how people come, and give, and pray, and serve, and telling them that while only the Holy Spirit can bring about genuine revival, all of these are things we can do to help.
But on Sunday, after the early service, I saw Maron El-Khouri, who told me how his daughter Emma respoded. Emma is four years old, and after three weeks of hearing this same pitch she asked her dad, “Why does Pastor Jim keep saying the church in America is in trouble?” “Because people in America aren’t coming to church like they once did,” he said. To which she replied, “I’ll come! I’ll come every Sunday!”
Now…that’s the spirit. I’ll bet she would give, and pray, and serve as well. And if we can raise up a whole generation of Emmas, I think the church in America will be just fine.
I mentioned in worship last Sunday that a $6 mosquito net will keep an average of two children in Africa from dying of malaria. That means that $3 could save the life of a single child. The question is: is it worth it?
T. Thomas, who has served as a foreign missionary with both the Southern Baptist Convention and the Cooperative Baptist Fellowship, is now heading up a non-profit called “His Nets.” I heard T. speak in Oklahoma City last week, and he talked about asking a group of women in Ghana how many of them had lost a child to malaria.
Every hand went up.
“Now think about the church you serve,” he said. “If you asked your congregation how many of them had lost a child to malaria, how many hands would go up?”
That story, and that question, have haunted me in the past week. Instead of spending dollars I’ve been counting lives. Coffee on Tuesday was $1.85, or a little more than half a life. Lunch today was a little more than $7, or just over two lives. The fleece cap I bought this afternoon to keep my head warm while I’m backpacking in the Guadalupe Mountains? Nearly seven lives.
I know there are thousands of good causes to give money to, and I’m not trying to get you to take up this one. I’m just telling you how it has affected me. I’m probably going to put a jar on my kitchen table and start collecting loose coins and bills, giving up a cup of coffee or two during the week (ouch!), or skipping lunch from time to time and using that time to pray for Africa.
I have two daughters. Thank God, they are healthy and strong. But what if they’d been born in Africa and I couldn’t afford a mosquito net? And what if somebody in this country didn’t think it was worth $6 to send one?
God help us.
Click HERE to download a free brochure from “His Nets”
Today is World AIDS Day.
I know because I just went to Starbucks where all the baristas were wearing red aprons and where five cents of every purchase went to help people around the world living with HIV/AIDS.
I was a little embarrassed that it took Starbucks to remind me. For years in Washington I participated in the annual AIDS Walk. Our church would put together a team of walkers, and together raise as much money as we could to help the Whitman-Walker Clinic. We would all walk together, enjoying the camaraderie and the feeling that we were doing something to help. One year I raised over a thousand dollars and earned a snazzy fleece vest. Another year I ran the course early because I had to catch a flight later that morning. But the year I remember best is the one where they asked me to write down the name of the person I was walking for.
I can’t mention his name here, but he was a member of one of my churches who had contracted HIV through a blood transfusion years earlier. He was a happily married man—a father and grandfather—and the thought of dying of AIDS terrified him. He didn’t want anyone else to know about it, but he talked to me confidentially and—very confidentially—we made some tentative plans for his funeral.
That was back in the day when AIDS almost always led to death. These days things are better. Being HIV Positive is not necessarily a death sentence. Thanks to fund-raising efforts like the AIDS Walk and what Starbucks is doing today, people can live with AIDS almost indefinitely. It’s not cheap, but it can be done, and because it can my former church member can rest a little easier.
Of course we haven’t solved the problem. AIDS continues to ravage the continent of Africa, where there are millions of deaths each year and millions of children who have been orphaned. I remember the Sunday in DC when I visited with an articulate young man from Nigeria who eventually admitted that he was one of those people—an AIDS orphan. He showed me the statistics and they were heartbreaking. A million orphans in his country alone, with millions of others across the continent.
So, I’m embarrassed that it took a trip to Starbucks to remind me that today is World AIDS Day. I should have known that when I woke up this morning. It should have gone off in my head like an alarm clock, accompanied by the picture of that young man’s face, and my friend and former church member, and all those people who live in the shadow of this devastating disease.
Please don’t let me forget it again.