Tag Archives: mercy & justice

Missional Community Success: Gospel, Not Mission

I have heard many people say, “What you celebrate, you also cultivate.” It’s absolutely true, which makes storytelling and defining success a huge deal whether it is in a business environment, a classroom, at home, or in the church.

For missional communities, the idea of a group of Christians being a gospel-centered community on mission, it is most definitely true. But this forces us to question what we are celebrating. Is success in a missional community only multiplying that community into two or three communities? Is success only celebrating baptisms? Is it a service project?

What you celebrate, you will also cultivate.

If the above list is what you are celebrating, you will likely see more of it, but if they are the only things you celebrate, what are you creating in the process? What aspects of a gospel-centered community on mission suffer when these are the only measures of success?

I’ve been really impacted lately going back to look at how Christ developed His disciples to eventually lead a movement that would change the world. One of the most impacting passages on this for me lately has been Luke 10:17-20. This follows the disciples being sent in pairs with some brief instructions. They go out in pairs, meet with the leaders of the community and based on receptivity stay or leave. They come back to Jesus and have this exchange.

“The seventy-two returned with joy, saying, “Lord, even the demons are subject to us in your name!” And Jesus said to them, “I saw Satan fall like lightning from heaven. Behold, I have given you authority to tread on serpents and scorpions, and over all the power of the enemy, and nothing shall hurt you. Nevertheless, do not rejoice in this, that the spirits are subject to you, but rejoice that your names are written in heaven.” Luke 10:17-20

Celebrate & Cultivate Gospel as Success

That last sentence is impactful. They came back with joy and were celebrating their mission success and Jesus does celebrate with them, but then redirects their rejoicing to the reality that they know God in the gospel of Jesus Christ. He tells them not to celebrate their mission success, but celebrate their salvation in the gospel.

There is no doubt that Jesus desired to see the things they accomplished in mission, but the mission was not the end in itself. When we only celebrate mission as success, we set ourselves up for failure. There is only so much control we have over the “success” of investing in a cause or sharing our faith with others. What happens when the success dries up and that which you celebrated has disappeared? For some, they will be fine, but I’ve seen many times where it completely wrecks people.

There’s pressure to maintain great mission to be seen as a successful Christian, there’s the potential for burnout because the focus has shifted from loving God to doing for God, and we begin to depend on ourselves and our effort rather than trusting and depending on God. Christians are called to faithfulness to God to bear fruit, not just a focus on mission.

Power of God & Purpose of Mission

This is why Jesus celebrates with them, but then immediately points to what they should be celebrating. He places their focus upward on God and the gospel because it is the power of God and the ultimate purpose of the mission.

The gospel is the power of God that motivates mission. So celebrating and loving the gospel is the only way to sustain mission. By the gospel we know, experience, and rest in the love of God that is rooted not in our efforts, but the work of Christ in His life, death and resurrection. We are reminded that it is ultimately God who gave us the gospel, gifted to us a great salvation providing and empowering us to accomplish His mission through His message. It also places us back on the right purpose for our mission.

Mission doesn’t end on serving your community or extending the love of Christ to your neighbor, the end is that Christ is exalted and worshipped as He should be. The final result should be that what is most valuable (Jesus) becoming most valued.

Seeing a merciful God that has chosen to punish Christ on the cross instead of us, exchanging His righteousness with our sin and rejoicing in God because of it is the aim for the Christian on mission. The purpose that all might see Jesus as the resurrected King and a good King at that.

Widening the Lens of Success

We must widen our definition of success in gospel communities on mission. We have our favorite stories that we share, but why not share and celebrate the messy side of community? A community that is messy is usually the result of the gospel sinking in deep into the lives of the people in the community. They believe there is hope for change, a way out from their hurt, their anger, their addictions, and they’ve been told they won’t be defined by them anymore because of Christ. Is there any more comfortable environment to share these things than a community centered on the gospel?

But the lack of celebrating the messiness makes leaders feel like they are failing if there are sins, errors of judgments, addictions, etc. when it’s the very reason we have the gospel! This is success in the gospel and not failure in mission.

Widening the lens of success means that you get to rejoice often. You get to rejoice with the community when people seek to live near the community  and how they seek God together and find an apartment. We celebrate when we see the gospel setting people free from addictions, or fear of man. We celebrate when conversations no longer center on ourselves and our thoughts, but on Jesus and His scriptures. We get to celebrate so many things that express the love of God being extended to other through the community.

We still rejoice in the mission, but it’s always in light of the gospel and not on its own. Mission gets put in its rightful place, a byproduct of the gospel of Jesus Christ and not our grounds for celebration.

In celebrating the gospel, Jesus becomes our foundation for hope, joy, approval, and freedom. He never gets replaced by the work of our hands. He deserves the reward of His suffering, a people praising His name, not just their work for Him.

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Filed under Community Groups, Missional Communities

Kony 2012, Sex-Trafficking, & the Christian Response to Justice Issues

I’m not sure there’s a more amazing piece of storytelling than the Kony 2012 video. It’s worth the 30 minutes as long as you are prepared to cry, be angry, and get fired up.


As I’ve spoken with a few people about the Kony video and how Christians should respond, I’m struck by a few thoughts.

There is so much brokenness in the world, how can you ever identify where to get involved? It seems that various winds of doctrine have been joined by various winds of mercy & justice initiatives. Paul obviously has negative connotations for the winds of doctrines and it is rare, though not unheard of, to have heretical justice initiatives. Nevertheless, being tossed about by doctrines or justice opportunities can make us completely ineffective if we do not assess ourselves before jumping in.

Every day we are confronted with a terrible issue in our world, whether it be sex-trafficking locally and globally, the Invisible Children, the global orphan crisis, racial inequality, and global poverty. Every time we see a new issue we could jump at the need to get involved but constantly be shifting our focus.

Living in New York City with 8.5 million people, it is easy to both see and be overwhelmed by the need. How should we respond? How should we approach involvement? Are we supposed to be involved in every justice issue? How does the church or the individual Christian approach these initiatives?

The Gospel Motivates and Empowers us to Mercy & Justice

Imagine pockets of people giving themselves to seeing brokenness restored, injustice ended, and local/global issues resolved. This is not our creation of the church, this is Jesus’ vision and mission for the church. We are inspired by these issues because we were created to embody our God’s character toward these issues. When we engage the brokenness of the world we are reminded of God the Father who sent Jesus, publicly declaring His passion in action to initiate the end of brokenness, suffering, and ills caused by the selfish desires that live inside of us. (Ed Stetzer has some good scriptural evidence for us)

Christian faith gives us a view towards the Kingdom of God where Jesus is King and eliminates all tears, pain, and injustice. There is no greater motivation or means of empowerment.

It also means we have responsibility. None of us can stand on the sideline and avoid issues of justice and needs for mercy. We must engage and we must do so led by the gospel of Jesus Christ.

Don’t just “Like” everything, settle on and Do something

Now that Facebook is integrated into everything in the world, I am guily of hitting the “Like” button and settling into armchair advocate of a cause. Causes aren’t changed simply by web-interaction. It helps with exposing people to ideas, making an idea viral, but personal involvement and engagement of the issue is what rallies people to a cause. So choose a cause and focus on it.

Get Informed Beyond a Moving Video

Joe Boyd had a great article about a Christian response moving beyond emotive acceptance to informed action. Storytelling is powerful, so we must be careful to not enter an issue naively assuming we know the simple solution to an often complex reality.

Invest Deep more than Wide

Real change happens over a generation. The moving video of Kony 2012 was a decade just in the making and could be a decade in accomplishment.

A sustaining impact comes from commitment to the idea which requires that we move our excitement and emotions to lifestyle-changing action.

The diversity of the body of Christ allows for us to find peace in addressing deeply a few issues rather than addressing broadly every issue on a surface level. We need to encourage people to develop discernment in line with their gifts, talent, and passions to mobilize more people for more issues.

These types of movements make me excited about heaven where we will get to celebrate Jesus’ destruction of injustice. I can’t wait.

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Filed under Church Life, Life

Verge Day 1 Recap

The Verge Conference started today and it was amazing. I said it was the only conference that I feel like was worth attending for its theology and its practice.

It did not disappoint at all. I really love the way it is arranged this year with Pre-Conference Breakout Sessions for Missional Communities & Mercy/Justice all on one day. This provides a great opportunity for any church member to take a day off and attend so that it’s not just a pastor’s conference.

Today, I spent half the day at the Missional Community Pre-Conference & half the day at the For The City (Mercy & Justice) Pre-Conference. I’m so thankful to have been at both.

Missional Community Pre-Conference

I missed the first panel discussion thanks to Austin traffic and fog, but I made it to Brandon Hatmaker’s breakout session, Serving Through Missional Communities: Seven Steps to Moving Beyond the Event. It was very helpful and practical for how the gospel of Jesus Christ develops a community to be merciful and compassionate. It was also helpful in leveraging service events to be more than a social justice activity to become an opportunity for Christians and those outside of the church to be educated on the full meaning of the gospel.

One of the more impacting parts was the idea of letting go of the return on investment we get from serving. Brandon told the story of feeding the homeless and the homeless consistently asking about when the church was and how he began to understand that was their way of paying him for his service. They had nothing to offer him, but the hope that they might come to his church. This is important because churches can often use social justice to get people to come rather than to extend the love of Christ without expectation of anything in return.

It challenges us to check our motives and come to serving others and meeting needs with no expectations but to extend the love of Christ.

It was really refreshing to hear how God is using Brandon and his church to display the gospel of Jesus Christ. He wrote a book if you want to learn more: The Barefoot Church (Primer)

For The City Pre-Conference

As much as I enjoy missional communities, I could not have been more thankful to be a part of the For The City Pre-Conference.

I think it could potentially be the best part of Verge for me this year. Time will tell.

I arrived right before Bob Lupton spoke and it was absolutely amazing. I’m sure much of it is in his book Toxic Charity, but to hear someone who has empowered the poor rather than kept them dependent on handouts was challenging and so encouraging.

Some quotes that challenged me:

“The poor can pay a heavy price for our goodness.” – Talking about how our handouts create dependency which continues the cycle of poverty.

“One way giving keeps the needy in the needy role and the giver in the giving role. It diminishes relationships.” – This was incredibly challenging in regards to how the giver can often relish their position and never relinquish it to those they give to. We can participate in giving olds clothes and gifts in a way that removes the dignity of the poor and disempowers them. So challenging.

I also got to lead my first breakout session at a conference. How to get those who care about you to care about your mission. It was fun to share what I’ve learned (and continue to learn) about meeting people where they are, helping them understand the mission God has called you to, and how you invite them to participate and engage needs with you.

But nothing really compared to listen to Dr. John Perkins. I was able to meet him and just thank him for his life, his love for Jesus, and his faithfulness in ministering for the gospel of Jesus Christ. He has been a slave, fought for civil rights, created the Christian Community Development Association, and participated in discipling and creating many leaders to continue the work of restoring broken communities.

Some quotes from Dr. Perkins:

“We have deified capitalism to the point that the church is unable to speak prophetically into the system.” – He was discussed how capitalism is the best system in the world, but making it a god makes us slaves to a system that was meant to serve us. For the church, we are unable to talk about the brokenness of America’s abuse of capitalism because Christians have replaced Jesus with the system as well. A challenging thought for sure.

Listening to him talk about 50+ years of knowing and serving Jesus was such a powerful testimony to the worth of giving your life to serve Jesus and display Him through restoring brokenness in neighborhoods as well as systemic brokenness.

In the middle of Bob Lupton’s talk, I asked one of our church staff to buy the digital access for the Verge content because I know I wanted to hear it again. It’s worth it.

I ended the night with dinner and beverages with great missional community thinkers that challenged and encouraged me tremendously. It was a great day 1.

Tomorrow starts the Main Conference sessions that you can watch on simulcast if you want. It will be well worth your time.


Filed under Church Life, Community Groups, Missional Communities, Small Groups, Verge