Missional Church

  • Discipleship Defined: The Tortoise and the Hare

    blogpics thetortoiseandthehareI shared this message on 4/10/16 with Zion Lutheran Church in Ferguson, MO as they enter a pastoral transition.

    When our children were little, we loved to show them Living Books on the computer. This was early in the tech era and these books came on a CD. We could click on different parts of the page for some action to happen, like birds singing, the doorbell ringing, and so on. Our favorite Living Book was based on Aesop’s Fable, The Tortoise and the Hare.

    You know the fable, the Tortoise and the Hare engage in a race. The Hare is over-confident in his speed and he gets distracted during the race. He forgot to eat, so he stops to eat breakfast, he takes a nap, and he stops to tell on-lookers how great he is. Of course he’s so distracted and full of himself that the Tortoise crosses the finish line while the Hare is racing to catch up. At the end the narrator asks the crowd around the finish line, What is the moral of the story? The crowd pipes up with
    The journey is the reward?
    • Don’t act like such a big shot?
    • Always eat a good breakfast?
    No, says the narrator, Slow and steady wins the race!

    I think the disciples in Jesus' third resurrection appearance described in John 20:19-31, are learning some of the same lessons as the Hare in Aesop’s Fable.

    Peter and the disciples are at a loss; they don’t know what to do. The resurrected Lord has appeared to them 2 times, Jesus has breathed on them the Holy Spirit and sends them out—As the Father sends me, so I send you. If you forgive the sins any, they are forgiven, if you retain the sins of any, they are retained.

    There it is. There’s the call. The disciples are sent out, scars and all, with a Gospel to proclaim, sins to forgive, peace to offer, and a church to build—the only problem is they don’t seem to know how to get started. They’re at a loss for what to do, exactly. Following Peter’s lead, the disciples go fishing.

    Ironic, isn’t it? It was not long ago that Jesus called them away from their boats to fish for people. But now, despite the miraculous resurrection of Jesus from the dead, the disciples have returned to their old way of life. They’re almost like the Hare in the fable—the disciples are easily distracted from the path that Jesus has set them on. Instead of sharing the incredible news of God’s power over death, they stayed hang up a sign that says, “Gone Fishing.”

    As a congregation, you may feel like the disciples in this passage. You have a mission and ministry in this community, but now you’ve entered a time of pastoral transition, and you are still grieving the loss of a very beloved and key member. You may feel at loose ends—at a loss for what to do, what’s going to come next, what the future holds. What’s the next step and how do we take it?

    We can feel this way in our personal lives as well. This last year, I have been unsure myself of what God wants me to do. My husband and I were working very hard at new mission development and we had to stop due my chronic migraines. I was at loose ends—I was not sure what to do, what was going to come next, and what the future was going to hold.

    Our temptation in these situations of uncertainty is to join the disciples in going backwards—to re-tread the past—to go back to what we were doing before, rather pay attention to what new thing God might be doing. I would encourage you to resist this temptation because you’ll notice that this did not work for the disciples. They were experts at fishing –and they fished all night and caught nothing! They’re totally flunking. Going backward hardly ever moves us forward. We can learn lessons from our past, but our future is not there.

    But then the story in John shows four practical ways to move forward on the path in front of us, even when we don’t know what to do, nor what the future holds.

    1. Jesus gets the disciples set back on the right path by appearing on the beach that morning. He invites them to cast their net on the other side of the boat—we know that the sides of the boat are port and starboard, but I might call this the forward side instead of the backward side of the boat. And they caught 153 fish—it strained the net, but it didn’t break!

    It’s an odd number- 153. It doesn’t appear anywhere else in the Bible, so why 153? One hundred fifty three is the known number of species of fish during the first century! Jesus did call them to fish for people, so perhaps this is John’s way of foreshadowing that the good news of Jesus is to be proclaimed to all “species” of people to the ends of the earth. Everybody’s in! The net won’t break because God can hold us all! You are in! Ferguson is in! The journey is the reward—and being part of God’s great plan to love and redeem the world is blessing enough! You may be in transition, or at a crossroads, but the mission is the same—reach everyone with God’s love no matter what. The journey is the reward.

    2. Then the funniest part of the story comes—Peter is fishing naked, and when he sees Jesus, he puts on his clothes to jump in the lake and swim ashore. Don’t we usually work while clothed and strip down to jump in the lake? (In the first century the one who saw someone naked was dishonored, so Peter is actually honoring Jesus by putting on his clothes, but it seems all backward to us!) But the point is, Peter is naked. John wants us to see Peter in all his vulnerability. He denied Jesus three times, and even though Jesus has given him a new mission since the resurrection, Peter has reverted back to his old profession and he’s failing miserably at it.

    Jesus sees right through Peter—he can put his clothes back on, but none of us can hide ourselves from God. Jesus sees us and knows us in all of our failings, fears and falling backwards. So stop trying to hide. Don’t act like such a big shot. You’re not so bad God can’t love you and you’re not so good you don’t need Jesus! Peter gets to Jesus as fast as he can—he got this part right! Come to God in prayer, talk with Jesus throughout your day—rant and rave if you need to, cry if you feel it, dance when you’re moved—just don’t run the other way from Jesus because he already knows all of who you are and all of what you need and all of what you’re capable of. Don’t be such a big shot—join Peter and come to Jesus as fast as you can. Take it all to the Lord in prayer.

    3. In the midst of this complete, stark-naked-knowing, Jesus invites Peter and the disciples to join him for breakfast on the beach. Jesus feeds them, body and soul with the physical food and the spiritual relationship they need to run with perseverance the race he has set before them—to carry the good news of God’s love throughout the world. Always eat a good breakfast. We can’t survive on this journey of faith, this mission of good news without proper nourishment. We need to be fed and loved at this table, where Jesus appears to us in Communion—our breakfast on the beach—to be loved, forgiven and strengthened for the day, even and especially when we don’t know what’s coming next. Always eat a good breakfast physically as well. We can’t carry out the mission of peace and love when we do violence to our own bodies by over-functioning as if the kingdom depended on us while not taking care of ourselves! This has been the hardest lesson for me to learn.

    4. Jesus re-establishes a relationship with Peter and all the disciples based not on their good behavior, not on getting everything right, but based on love. Peter’s 3-fold denial is redeemed when he affirms that he loves Jesus 3 times–which he can do only because Jesus has already loved and nourished and forgiven and blessed him. It’s not just about how much Jesus loves us, it’s about how much we love Jesus! Slow and steady wins the race. Take time to experience Jesus’ love and let Jesus know you love him! Slow and steady wins the race. You don’t have to rush to prove yourself. You don’t have to rush to find an interim. You don’t have to race and around and make sure everything is done just so. It’s about love; it’s about being as much as doing. Feed my lambs. Tend my sheep. Feed my sheep. Order your life around love: love of God, love of each other, love of all 153 species of God’s people, love of your community, love of Ferguson.

    Even when we don’t know what to do, our faith gives us the daily and weekly practices we need to remain faithful in the in-between times of transition. I was off work for a year—but I knew I wasn’t forgotten, because like all of us, I ‘m part of God’s mission in this world, part of the 153 species! I came to Jesus in prayer, I ate a good breakfast and came to worship and Communion, and because church’s like you asked me to preach, I knew God still loved me, so thank you, Zion! Thank you for helping me.

    God loves you Zion as an important and valuable part of God’s mission in this world. The repetition of your faith practices will serve you well as you use them to discern the next task, the next month and the next chapter of your life together! All you have to do is the next right thing. So fear not, Zion! And remember that

    • You are part of the 153 species that God loves, so the journey is the reward!
    • God knows you fully and completely, so come to Jesus in prayer and don’t act like such a big shot!
    • Nourish yourself in worship, Communion and in your physical well-being - always eat a good breakfast!
    • Your mission is all about love-how much God loves you and how much you love God, so remember that slow and steady wins the race!
  • Falling in Love with Church Again

    Bishop Elizabeth A Eaton Select 05We can get so cranky about the institutional church today as loyalty to such organizational structures continues to diminish. But this past weekend, as I attended our Synod Assembly (like a District, Diocese or Presbytery in other denominations), I fell in love with Jesus and my church more deeply. It’s not that I was out of love with either, but our human tendency is to look at and even seek out the mistakes, the failings, and the sins of our institutions. Of course, it’s true that brokenness exists in the church as in everything that human beings do alone and together. But through the power of the Holy Spirit, we also bring remarkable gifts of grace, healing, and empowerment to people in need of all the gifts of God we are blessed to share.

    That was the message of our Presiding Bishop, Elizabeth Eaton, our special guest speaker at this gathering of pastors and lay leaders from Missouri and Kansas, as we observed the 500th Anniversary of the Reformation. Bishop Eaton is such a gift! So genuine, so humble, so real, and so passionate about the message that through the gift and grace of Jesus Christ, God sets us free—free to serve our neighbor generously, free to love God passionately, and free to live whole-heartedly.

    I came away thinking that helping people fall in love with Jesus and with their church is the most powerful goal for every church-related gathering, be it our local council and committees, regional coalitions, or national gatherings. This is the effect Presiding Bishop Eaton has wherever she goes! Fall in love with how your church is sharing Jesus’ grace in the world! What we can do together as church is so remarkable, and so much greater than anything we accomplish alone.

    God is working through us, even as sinful people; God is blessing the world through our churches, even as broken institutions. Hold fast to the big picture! We are reducing hunger in 63 countries through ELCA World Hunger! Lutheran Social Services is the largest social service agency in this country! We have over 240 missionaries in over 40 countries! We sent 79 women from 38 countries to the International Women’s Leader seminar in Germany! Lutheran Disaster Response is the last to leave communities affected by natural disaster whether it is an earthquake in Haiti or flooding in the Midwest; we accompany people until the job is done! The ministries go on and on!

    At this assembly, we were reminded that the church does not have a mission in the world, but rather, God’s mission has a church in the world. Jesus sets us free and blesses us with all we need to accept this mission, and to carry it out with wholehearted generosity, faith, and love.

  • The Butterfly Effect, God-Sightings and Missional Church

    blogpic IwoJima2 butterflyIf you find a small piece of art placed in a public space, especially a butterfly, pick it and read it for you’re in for an experience of hope and transformation!

    My Dad and I just returned from a trip to visit both my sons at college: Jacob in Washington DC and Daniel in Sarasota, FL. Our last activity before departing for the DC airport  and heading to Florida was a visit to the Imo Jima Memorial in Arlington, VA. As we approached the memorial from the parking area, I noticed a decorated cardboard butterfly leaning against the stone railing alongside the steps. It looked like a collaged piece of art and I wondered why someone would leave it there and if it was related to the upcoming Veterans Day holiday.

    While Jacob and my Dad walked around the memorial, I picked up the butterfly art and found instructions on it. I was asked to take a picture with it in the location where I found it, email, text or instagram said picture to the address listed, and they would donate $250 to a charity of my choice! But the email address was for a school; how could a school be involved in a philanthropic effort like this? I responded to the instructions immediately by emailing my picture (at right) and was excited to learn more about this butterfly project and its spirit of joy, generosity and philanthropy.

    The Butterfly Effect project was founded by Tasha Wahl, spouse of artist Erik Wahl who distributes free art in a treasure-hunt like fashion: he places his art in different locations with clues on where to find them on social media; the person who finds the art becomes the new proud owner. Tasha, who was nick-named, “Butterfly” as a child expanded on this idea when she combined her favorite phrase first uttered by Mahatma Gandhi, “be the change you wish to see in the world” with the 1963 theory presented by Edward Lorenz which stated, “a butterfly can flap its wings and set molecules of air in motion, which would move other molecules of air, in turn moving more molecules of air—eventually capable of starting a hurricane on the other side of the planet.”

    Tasha wanted to be the change that would “hopefully set into motion molecules of hope that will set into motion molecules of faith that will set into motion molecules of love.” Once a week during her global travels and at home, she leaves a butterfly somewhere with clues on social media and the instructions I found on the Veteran’s Day butterfly. The butterfly is the finder’s art to keep, but the gift to charity in their name creates “the molecules of change that will bring hope, rebirth, faith and love to the world!!"

    Middle School educator Jennifer Cauzza of a Julian Charter School in southern California discovered Tasha’s mission and has made the project the theme of this school year. The goal is to teach the students that like a butterfly, the small acts that we take to help others can effect big change for someone else in the world! They have garnered sponsors for their philanthropic gifts, and every week during the school year, they too are dropping a decorated butterfly in a public spot to encourage the finder to join them in being butterflies who change lives around the world through love and generosity. You can follow their butterflies and gifts on Facebook and their website. You can see by reading their Butterfly Stories the wonderful effect and learning that is taking place! The sponsor of the Veterans butterfly that I found is Telacu Construction Management (if you live in Southern California, please commend and patronize them!). 

    After we left the Iwo Jima Memorial, we dropped Jacob back at school and Dad and I were off to the airport and were in Sarasota, FL for Veterans Day. As God would have it, we went to a Veteran’s Day picnic with a group for whom Daniel works called, Florida Veterans for Common Sense, which serves disadvantaged veterans. Daniel has helped them start a farm project for both training and income purposes. My $250 contribution from the Veterans Day Butterfly Effect project will be donated to them! It's a wonderful God-sighting to be in one state and encounter a "butterfly drop" and a few days later, be in another state having a picnic with a non-profit celebrating the theme on that butterfly.

    This really got me thinking about missional churches (which needs to be every congregation) who ask, “what is God up to in our community and how can we help?” Just imagine what wonderful connections could arise through a congregation participating in this project with a focus on their own community! The butterfly is often used as a symbol of Jesus’ resurrection, after all. There are such rich opportunities to expand hope, faith and love in one’s town or county by building relationships in person and on-line with individuals, artists, businesses, schools and others who want to “be the change” along with charitable organizations that serve our communities and need our concentrated support. The Butterfly Effect puts hands and feet on God’s work of hope, resurrection and new life. Contact Tasha Wahl if you'd like to find out more about being another Butterfly Effect project site: shoutout.wix.com/so/cL3vBudA!

  • The Church in Fluxx

    blogpic fluxxOver Christmas break Dan and I played a card game with our kids called, Fluxx. It’s not like anything we’ve ever played before because with each play, the rules of the game shift. One is dealt five cards and when played, some of the cards change how many cards you have in your hand, how many you can play, whose hand is yours, and even changing what wins the game. The goal is not to have a flawless strategy, but to have a flexible mind that can keep adapting strategy as the game changes with each card played.

    We played Fluxx two times in a row, and in both instances the winner almost accidentally won—they kind of backed into it and winning came more as a realization rather than a well-planned and executed victory. We laughed hysterically trying to keep track of the play and Dan and I both noticed that the point of the game is not the winning, but the experience of being together when everything was in flux.

    Afterward, Dan and I talked about how much this game is a mirror of being church in our current culture—everything is in flux. As soon as we think we have a handle on the norms, the technology, the way to do ministry or what we expect to be doing in the next six months, it changes and we find ourselves scrambling to catch up to the latest cultural shifts.

    The church that I grew up in was based on established rules, patterns and expectations; when one followed the norms, one would usually get measurable results—good worship attendance, a balanced budget, growing numbers of children in Sunday School, Confirmation and Youth programs, adults engaged as programmatic volunteers. Pastors (myself included) and church members operated with the unspoken rule that as a member of the church, you would receive competent, attentive ministry from the hired staff (pastoral care, preaching, education classes, funerals, weddings, baptisms and so one, done all to your general liking). “Good” pastors would get the measurable results named above in this almost fee-for-service model.

    But now in the “postmodern” era, all of this is in flux. We have thankfully shifted our understanding of the Christian church in that ministry is not “done” by the hired pastor and staff, but takes place in the lives of the people who the staff empowers and equips. The church members are the missionaries, rather than the recipients of ministry. The community, the city, the nation and the world make up the location of the mission carried out by the laity in the local congregation. Such mission is often harder to measure than the “butts and bucks” we so love to count, share, compare, and publish in our national church directories.

    I think if the young Millennial generation experienced church more like a game of Fluxx, they would be more inclined to participate in doing good in the world through it. How flexible and adaptable is our leadership? Are we willing to ditch what no longer helps people deepen their relationship with God, even though we’ve always done it that way? Do we really incorporate new ideas from younger leadership or just want them to run a committee the way the last person did it and do we even need that Committee? Can we begin to experience the power of the Spirit in ministry experimentation in our neighborhood and let go of needing measurable results that can beef up our annual report?

    Jesus did this very thing when he sent out the seventy in Luke 10. They were sent into the community in pairs to experiment with sharing God’s peace, love, and healing, and to experience the power of the Spirit who responds in the moment—in the flux of daily life and changing culture.

    Play a game or two of Fluxx at your next church retreat or at the beginning of your meetings throughout the New Year as a way to practice adaptive, ever-changing, frustrating, hilarious community (there is even a Christian Fluxx!). It’s the way of the 21st century and it’s already 2016. Oh, and people like being a part of communities, even churches that have fun while sharing God's love.

  • The Hokey-Pokey of Ministry Today

    blogpic.HokeypokeyCharge to the Congregation for the Installation of The Rev. Dr. Daniel R. Anderson-Little as Pastor of Legacy Presbyterian Church, Frisco, Texas; October 1, 2017

    Ministry today is often more about asking good questions than providing answers. Recent research says that congregations who, like Legacy, want to reach out to Millennials and their families need to ask themselves some good questions—questions such as:

    • Is our church authentic? Younger generations are looking for transparency and honesty.
    • Does our church embrace social media and communicate digitally? Another good question.
    • Does our church create space for rest? We love to get stuff done. Feeding the hungry and building habitat houses is wonderful and important work. But in our fast-paced, fragmented culture, people are equally in need of spirituality and a space to let go of their burdens and stresses.

    When I first met the members of the Nominating Committee last May, we went to Babe’s for dinner. The family-style meal embodied the characteristics found in these three questions. It gave us a chance to build authentic relationships and to communicate our needs, as we decided upon and shared our food. We took pictures so we could connect with others on social media. The occasion provided a respite from the stresses of the job interview and our respective daily lives, as we got to know one another at a deeper level.

    At one point, I excused myself to find the restroom. On my way back to the table, a whole line-up of waitstaff were doing the Hokey-Pokey. Not realizing that this was a staff-only performance, I jumped onto the end of the line and joined them in singing and dancing the Hokey-Pokey. You remember that last verse, don’t you, put in your whole self in? I need you get up and sing it with me!

    You put your whole self in, you put your whole self out, you put your whole self in, and you shake it all about. You do the Hokey-Pokey and you turn yourself around, that’s what it’s all about!

    This begs one more question as we engage in the mission of the church: What if the hokey pokey really is what it’s all about?

    • You’ve gotta put your whole self in, Legacy, your whole, authentic, transparent and honest self—successes and struggles, hopes and fears, convictions and questions.
    • You’ve gotta put your whole self in, Legacy, with social media, creating multiple points of connection throughout the week rather than just on Sunday mornings.
    • And you’ve gotta put your whole self in, Legacy, with being as well as doing, engaging in your own spiritual growth, and creating space at church for rest and sabbath.
    • Most of all, you’ve gotta put your whole self in, Legacy, and shake it all about—shake out and shake off what doesn’t work, learn from it, move on, and try again. Jesus Christ is the same yesterday, today and forever(Hebrews 13:8), but everything else can be reimagined.

    For we believe in a turnaround God who turns blindness around into sight!
    We believe in a turnaround God who turns sinners around into disciples!
    We believe in a turnaround God who turns death around into resurrection and new life!

    So my charge to you is simple, Legacy Presbyterian Church of Frisco, Texas: Do the Hokey-Pokey—because today, that’s what ministry is all about!

Login