KOH2RVA: Day 74

I need your help with something.

I got a comment on my blog a few days ago that has troubled me ever since. It’s from a woman named Sally who challenged the very foundation of our year-long, every-member mission trip. As I’ve said repeatedly, Richmond’s First Baptist Church is on a mission to bring the Kingdom of Heaven to Richmond, Virginia, but Sally says that’s not what Jesus would do, and suggests very strongly that it’s not what Jesus would want the church to do.

Here’s where I need your help.

Is she right about that? Because if she is, we’re wasting our time and energy. We should probably give up on this mission trip, turn the bus around, and head back home. I’m going to paste her comment below, and then ask you to comment on the comment. Let’s have a conversation about what Jesus did and what he wants us to do.

In response to an article about the future of the church Sally said: “I, too, worry about the future of those churches in America that follow the ’emergent church’ path described in this article. While I do not deny biblical instruction to help the less fortunate, that is not why Jesus said he came into this world. Jesus said he came to seek and to save the lost who are headed for eternal Hell. That’s why he died on the cross. He didn’t come to fix our world, to eliminate poverty, to put an end to slavery. Jesus didn’t even try to fix the world he lived in. A social agenda was not his focus. We should never take our eyes off heaven or the theology of sin, righteousness and judgment. Jesus did not ask us to bring heaven to earth. He asked us to believe in him, to join him in heaven for eternity and to bring as many fellow believers with us as we can.”

Is that the church’s mission? Click on “Leave a Comment” below and join the conversation.

What is “Church”?

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.



purposeI used to teach a fifth and sixth grade Sunday school class where we used the church constitution and bylaws as our curriculum.  Just what a fifth or sixth grader is hungry for, right?  But there was a lot in that little booklet, including the church covenant, articles of faith, and a statement of purpose.  When I taught that last item I would say “SO FEW people know the purpose of the church,” and then I would tick off those five letters on the five fingers of my right hand: “S.O.F.E.W: Service, Outreach, Fellowship, Education, and Worship.”

In my study of dozens of church mission statements and purpose statements since then I have discovered that these five things make up the essential purpose of every Christian church.  Although they say it in lots of different ways, every authentic church seems to be occupied with service, outreach, fellowship, education, and worship.  I think that’s because we all look to the same New Testament, and to the same Lord, for cues as to what the church should do. 

For example: Jesus said the greatest commandment was to love the Lord your God with all your heart, soul, mind, and strength and to love your neighbor just as much as you love yourself (Mk. 12:30-31).  From that “Great Commandment” we derive the purposes of worship (loving God) and service (loving others).  Jesus also told his disciples to go into all the world and make disciples, baptizing them in the name of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, and teaching them to obey all that he commanded (Mt. 28:19-20).  From that “Great Commission” we derive the purposes of outreach (making disciples) and education (teaching them to obey all that Christ commanded).  Finally, Jesus told his disciples to love one another as he loved them (Jn. 13:34).  From that “New Commandment,” the only commandment Jesus ever gave, we derive the purpose of fellowship

As the writer of John’s Gospel concludes, “Now Jesus did a lot of other things that aren’t written here” (Jn. 20:30), and he said a lot of other things that haven’t found expression in any church’s purpose statement, but these things have, these five things, and it’s a shame that “SO FEW people know the purpose of the church.” 

I hope that from now on you will.

I’m Not the Only One!

I’ve been talking about the mission and purpose of the local church lately and saying that at its simplest it seems to be a matter of “bringing heaven to earth.”  I get some blank looks when I say that.  People have heard other things.  So, it was reassuring to hear someone saying the same things I’ve been talking about as I read the testimony of a California pastor named Denny Bellesi in a book called “The Kingdom Assignment.” 

9“Like many of you, I was raised in the church and grew up believing the Christian faith was only about getting to heaven,” Bellesi writes.  “As an active child, I had no interest in death and dying, let alone heaven.  I pictured clouds, harps, angels, that kind of thing, and believed it held no relevance whatsover to my life.

“No surprise that church attendance was not a priority for me back then.  it was boring and irrelevant.  As a young teenager, I remember waking up early on Sunday morning and doing all I could to keep my sister quiet and the television sound turned down low.  I even tried setting all the clocks back in hope my parents would oversleep and forget about the whole thing.

“Heaven could wait, as far as I was concerned. There were many more important things to do.  It wasn’t until my high school years that Jesus Christ had any real impact on my life.  Even then, heaven wasn’t the driving motivation.  Heaven was just the frosting on the cake.

“What captivated me was the everyday practicality of trying to live like Jesus.

“I began noticing how often the Kingdom was mentioned in the Gospels.  How people related and worked and played and loved one another in the Kingdom.  And eventually I began to realize that the kingdom Jesus was referring to wasn’t some faraway heavenly place. 

“It was right here, right now.

“Suddenly, everything became clear.  Being a Christian wasn’t about getting to heaven, although that was a benefit.  It was about becoming part of the Kingdom among us, the one that is far too easy to miss unless we’re looking.  I understood for the first time that the Kingdom of God wasn’t a place in the clouds or a dot on a map, but a reality that begins deep within us as we give our lives over to Jesus” (The Kingdom Assignment, Denny and Leesa Bellesi, Zondervan, 2001).

What if heaven could be more than “pie in the sky, by and by,” as the old preachers used to say.  What if it could be “something sound, on the ground, while we’re still around”?  Wouldn’t you do anything you could to bring heaven to earth?  And what’s keeping you?

What’s a Body to Do? (Part II)

Hear or download this post (mp3 file – 3:55): What’s a Body to Do? (Part II)


I’ve spent the last few days at the annual meeting of the Baptist General Association of Virginia, held this year in beautiful, downtown Roanoke.  It was a great meeting, with challenging, prophetic messages from Tony Campolo and David Coffey, and soul-stirring music from Kate Campbell (Wow.  That girl can bend her voice like a guitar string!).

I hurried home in order to lead the second session of “What’s a Body to Do?” a three-week series on the mission and purpose of the local church.  Last week we searched the Gospels for the clear commands of Christ, thinking that if Jesus really is Lord (and he is), then his body–the church–should do what he wants us to do. 

This week we started with the Ten Commandments. 

It’s my contention that those commandments were meant not only to keep God’s people from killing each other and committing adultery, but to create the kind of community where you didn’t have to worry that someone might kill you, or steal from you, or bear false witness against you, or covet your possessions.  I think God wanted to create the kind of community where nobody had to lock their doors, or guard their things, or be afraid.

And then Jesus took things to the next level.

“You have heard that it was said by men of old, ‘Thou shalt not kill,’ but I say unto you don’t even be angry with your brother.  You have heard that it was said, ‘Thou shalt not commit adultery,’ but I say to you don’t even cast the lustful look.”  As we talked about some of the clear commands of Christ we had identified the week before someone mentioned the one about loving one another as Christ has loved us.  “That’s it,” I said.  “Jesus wants to take us from a community where people don’t kill each other to one where they lay down their lives for each other”; in other words from the Covenant Community to the Kingdom of Heaven.  He did it by issuing clear commands, by calling and training disciples, and by telling parables of the kingdom. 

And then I talked about my favorite Walter Brueggemann quote, the one that says: “The central task of ministry is the formation of a community with an alternative, liberated imagination that has the courage and freedom to act in a different vision and a different perception of reality.”  I think that’s what Jesus was trying to do.  He called some disciples and formed a community.  He told some parables that liberated their imaginations.  And finally he gave them the kind of clear commands that would move them to courageous action. 

The Lord’s Prayer seems to sum it up.  In that prayer Jesus teaches his disciples to pray that God’s kingdom would come and God’s will would be done on earth as it is in heaven.  This is not just wishful thinking; it’s a call to action.  It’s the kind of prayer a soldier would pray before going on to the battlefield, the kind of prayer a missionary would pray before going on to the mission field.  You can tell by the next part of the prayer.  Jesus teaches his disciples to pray for daily bread, because this is a big job, and they’ll need their strength.  And then he teaches them to pray for forgiveness, because those sins will weigh you down on the mission field, and also to forgive others, because grudges are too heavy to carry.  He teaches them to pray for deliverance from temptation, from anything or anyone that would distract them from this important task.  And then, right at the end, just in case they begin to succeed and try to take credit for it, he reminds them that the kingdom, the power, and the glory all belong to God.   

Next week: Part III

What’s a Body to Do?

54091211_12051421The first session of our discussion on the mission and pupose of the local church last Wednesday night began with a question about who’s in charge.  Who gets to make the big decisions at First Baptist Church?  Is it the pastor? (I was kind of hoping the answer would be yes, but it wasn’t). 

No, it’s the congregation. 

The cherished Baptist principle of local church autonomy, exercised through a congregational form of government, means that we get to determine our own mission and ministry, but that doesn’t mean we get to do whatever we want.  We are the body of Christ, as Paul might say, and individually members of it, but Christ is still the head, and in the same way your own head gets to determine what you will do and where you will go Christ gets to determine the mission and purpose of the local church.  So instead of doing whatever we want, we try to do whatever he wants.

But what does he want?  On Wednesday night I asked each table to take one of the four Gospels–Mathew, Mark, Luke, or John–and search through it for the clear commands of Christ.  After twenty minutes of diligent searching I asked each table to report, and by the end of those reports we had written twenty five clear commands of Christ on the flip chart.  Yes, he wants us to go into all the world and make disciples.  Yes, he wants us to love God and love our neighbors.  But he also wants us to wash one another’s feet, love our enemies, and abide in him. 

And that was just the beginning.

When our staff did this exercise a few months ago we talked about all those clear commands of Christ and eventually determined that when you put them all together you get a picture of what “life in the Kingdom” looks like.  In the Kingdom people make disciples of every nation.  In the Kingdom people love God and love their neighbors.   In the Kingdom people wash one another’s feet, love their enemies, and abide in Christ.  And so the first answer to the question “What’s a Body to Do?” is to live the Kingdom life

Next Wednesday night we’ll try to find the second answer.  If you think you already know what it is, please click on the word “comments” below and tell me.  I’d love to have your input.