The Kingdom Just Keeps Coming!

partnershipRecently I challenged the staff of Richmond’s First Baptist Church to help me take our mission to the next level.  For a year the whole church was working to bring the Kingdom of Heaven to Richmond, Virginia (KOH2RVA).  By the end of the year it was obvious that the job was too big for any one church to do alone, so we began a year of mission called KOHx2 (Kingdom of Heaven Times Two), with an emphasis on partnership.  In the same way that Jesus sent his disciples out two by two to do the work of the Kingdom, it made sense to us to work with other individuals, churches, agencies, and organizations to bring the Kingdom of Heaven to Richmond and beyond.

I call this new mission “KOHx2: Bringing It Together.”

I challenged the staff to collect pictures and stories that would illustrate this mission, and to share them with me so I could post them on my blog.  A few days ago I got this email from Senior Associate Pastor Lynn Turner:

Jim

I don’t know if you can use this or not in your blog, but felt compelled to write it just as a reflection from my heart this past week.  It has caused me to think about this partnership thing in a totally different light.

Lynn

What Lynn wrote came out of her regular work at church, which reminded me that church work at its best IS the work of the Kingdom, and sometimes church people step up and help out in ways that truly bring heaven to earth.

Take a look at what Lynn wrote:

Reflections on KOHx2: Partnership and Generosity

It began with phone calls this past week of various needs within our church family: One family, out of full time work, medical needs, and needing some help catching up on bills; Another family, having faced extraordinary medical circumstances, still in the hospital, and their heating system out in their home with no funds at this time to get it fixed: Another family moving into an apartment with need of furniture and the basics to get them on their feet; all members of our congregation and all legitimate needs.
And thus the partnership and generosity wheels began turning…

An anonymous gift to help with current bills, a heating company stepping in to donate a used system and time to install, and an envelope of money given to me by a church member this past week with the words, “Sometimes ministers just need some discretionary funds to help folks out, use this as the needs arise.”

I have been overwhelmed this week with the way God has revealed to me that bringing the kingdom comes with partners….all kinds of partners…with a spirit of generosity that just points to Jesus.

KOHx2 has been hard at work this week. Blessings abound!

KOH2RVA: Day 323

overflowing-cupI like to go to church
I like to go to church.
I like the happy songs we sing,
I like to go to church.

I don’t know when I learned that song but I was humming it as I walked home from church yesterday. It had been a good morning in worship, with an emphasis on prayer that pervaded the entire service and made me want to say, “Amen!”

And speaking of prayer…

Since I started talking about the missional church at First Baptist five years ago there has been some discussion about where that mission takes place—inside or outside the building. Sometimes the people who are on mission inside the building—teaching Sunday school, working with children’s choirs, serving Wednesday night supper—complain that all the attention is being focused on the mission outside the building—helping the homeless, building Habitat houses, and tutoring in the elementary schools.

Well of course it’s not either/or, it’s both/and, but in an effort to get us thinking outside the walls of the church and get us working in the community I have necessarily drawn attention to that part of our mission, and the church has responded enthusiastically, so enthusiastically that in my less faithful moments I begin to wonder if there will be anybody left inside the building to sing the hymns or teach Sunday school.

So, here’s the prayer I’m praying these days:

Lord, I want you to fill up the pews of this church until they are overflowing with people who love you and love to sing your praises.

I want you to fill up the offering plates until they are overflowing with gifts given back to you in tearful gratitude.

I want you to fill up the classrooms with disciples who are eager to learn, leaning forward in their seats, open Bibles on their laps.

I want you to fill up the hallways with people who greet each other with hugs and laughter, where every Sunday feels like a family reunion.

I want you to fill their hearts with love, fill their souls with faith, fill their minds with truth, and fill their lives with every good thing you have to give until it overflows this building and spills out onto the streets of this city and into every surrounding suburb.

I want you to pour yourself out through your people until your Kingdom comes, and your will is done, in Richmond as it is in heaven.

Now, that’s the kind of prayer that gets at the “both/and” problem, and gets at it in a Kingdom way.  There is no lack of abundance in God’s kingdom.  We don’t have to choose between being on mission inside the building or outside.

We can do both.

Amen?

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.

Wheelbarrows Full of Money

This economic crisis just doesn’t seem to let up, does it?

The Dow Jones Industrial Average was down for the seventh straight day yesterday, the worst slide since 2008.  In the conversations I overhear at the hardware store people speak in hushed tones about how hard it’s been and wonder when things are going to get better. On the evening news analysts speculate that the jobless rate is down only because many people have simply stopped looking for jobs that aren’t there.  And on the back of the worship bulletin I see that even Richmond’s mighty First Baptist Church is not immune: we’re showing a deficit that’s nearly five percent of our annual budget. 

As pastor (which some people think of as “CEO”), I’m concerned.  I’m concerned mostly about those people who have had to cut back on their giving because they’ve suffered a reduction in income.  I wonder what kind of conversations they’re having around the dinner table, and what worries keep them up at night.  But I’m also concerned about this institution we call First Baptist Church.  Like many of our members we may have to make some hard decisions about where the money goes when there’s less of it, and I wonder how our mission and ministry will suffer because of it.  

I’m not concerned about the church of Jesus Christ.  I believe that it will thrive no matter what becomes of our earthly institutions.  If European churches empty out and American churches go broke, revival will break out in China, or Ghana, or Chile.  This movement lives because Christ lives.  Nonetheless, if it’s going to thrive somewhere, why not here?  Why not water the roots of the church right where we are?  

I’ve been wondering what would happen if the people of Richmond’s First Baptist Church doubled up on their attention to the institution and made sure it was ready to carry out the mission of Christ.  What if the buildings were immaculate, gleaming, and smelling of fresh paint?  What if the lawns were manicured and the hedges freshly trimmed?  What if there was plenty of free parking, and shuttles running smoothly from a covered garage?  What if our worship services were broadcast across the greater metropolitan area?  What if the staff was capable, well-compensated, and eager to do its work?  What if the ushers came down the aisle pushing wheelbarrows full of money?  What if lives were touched and changed by our ministries?  And what if the people were so full of Christ’s spirit that the Kingdom of Heaven came to Richmond, Virginia, every day of the week?  It sounds good, doesn’t it?  And the truth of it is that most of those things are already in place: the only difference between that picture and what actually exists is the wheelbarrows full of money and the Kingdom coming day after day.  

I don’t know if we will ever have wheelbarrows full of money, but I believe that even when we have empty pockets we can fill our souls with the abundant spirit of Christ.  If we do that, then maybe even before the economy recovers revival will break out,

And the Kingdom will come.

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Photo illustration by Daniel Hurst, acclaimimages.com