A New Church Expression

New Church Ministry

Mark 6:6-13

When I think about following the way of Jesus, I am drawn to Mark 6. It is the account of Jesus sending his new friends out into the world for the very first time to be disciples, to do the very same things he had been doing. It has been called: “The first mission trip.” I believe it should also be called: “The way to be church.”

6aAnd he was amazed at their unbelief. 

I wonder if Jesus is still amazed at our unbelief. Having served on a church staff for 30 years, I am often amazed how many in the church today do not seem to believe that we are called to live, love and serve like Jesus. And believe that living, loving and serving in that way has the power to change the world.

6bThen he went about among the villages teaching.

Jesus never stayed in one place for very long. He was constantly on the move, going from village to village, teaching, healing and restoring. He never set up shop in a building and expected people to come to him.

7He called the twelve and began to send them out two by two, and gave them authority over the unclean spirits. 

Jesus didn’t go on mission trips by himself. He called and gave authority to disciples to go on mission trips and do the things that he did.

8He ordered them to take nothing for their journey except a staff; no bread, no bag, no money in their belts; 9but to wear sandals and not to put on two tunics. 

Disciples are to travel light, to keep it simple and to stick to the basics. They are adopt a minimalist approach. Disciples do not need unnecessary funds or line items, and they do not need to carry any baggage that might slow them down, make them forget about their mission, or enable them to get too comfortable in one particular place. Jesus said that they need to leave some things behind if they want to be his disciples in the world. It is a selfless journey. And notice that Jesus said they are to take no bread. Could that mean that Jesus wants them to go out and share a meal with others?

10He said to them, ‘Wherever you enter a house, stay there until you leave the place. 11If any place will not welcome you and they refuse to hear you, as you leave, shake off the dust that is on your feet as a testimony against them.’ 

Disciples can expect failure. If disciples are following Jesus and taking his inclusive love out to the people, they will not be received by everyone. But they should peacefully keep moving and keep doing what they have been called to do.

12So they went out and proclaimed that all should repent. 

Disciples go out and proclaim that all should repent of their selfish, self-centered ways. However, that is difficult to do if the disciples are not willing to repent of their own self-interested ways.

13They cast out many demons, and anointed with oil many who were sick and cured them.

Disciples were sent out into the world big things. They stand up and speak out against evil. They restore, and they heal. They are a literal movement for wholeness in a fragmented world.

The Challenge

I believe this account of Jesus sending the disciples out on a mission trip raises several questions for the church today:

  • What if a church’s annual “Mission Trip” was not just one week a year, but it was 52 weeks a year? What if church itself was a Mission Trip?

 

  • What if the church truly left the building to move from village to village to teach the selfless, restorative, healing love of God to all people? What if the church stopped talking about getting outside of the walls of the sanctuary and the church literally had no walls? What if the church proclaimed the love of God, not in one town, but in several towns?

 

  • What if the church left behind all of its baggage—its old structures, old frameworks, and old models? What if the church left behind its love for the nostalgic memory of the way things used to be? What if the church stopped its pining to return to the good old days, and instead, dreamed new dreams and embraced a new vision, and moved freely forward into good new days? What if the church simply kept it simple by sticking to the basics, like loving others as Jesus loved others?

 

  • What if the church was a courageous, risk-taking, wall-breaking, peace-making venture that was never afraid of going to new places, even to those places it is not welcomed? What if the the church felt free to move around to multiple locations to do the work it has been called to do?

 

  • What if the church repented and changed its ways from a selfish faith that focused on going to heaven and receiving a blessing? And instead, what if the church embraced a faith that focused on being in the world and being a blessing to the world? What if the church was able to catch a new vision of how to be church, how to be on a mission to follow Jesus wherever he leads it to go?

 

  • What if the church was a literal, living movement for wholeness in this fragmented world? And what if church was about making new disciples instead of keeping old members happy?

I believe the answer is: “We could change the world!”

 

Northshore Disciples: A Movement of Selfless Love

Beginning January 1, 2020, I will begin working in partnership with the Great River Region of the Christian Church (Disciples of Christ), New Church Ministry of the Christian Church (Disciples of Christ) and Grace Disciples of Christ Church, to create and lead a new expression of church north of New Orleans, Louisiana called, Northshore Disciples: A Movement of Selfless Love.

We will bring together a diverse group of people who believe that selfless love, the kind of love that Jesus taught and embodied, is what gives our lives meaning, purpose and direction, and believe that this love has the power the change the world.

When Jesus commanded us to love one another, he never said to build a building with a steeple at a certain address and invite people to come and get some love. He said to go out to the people and love them (Mark 6). Thus, we want to find a group of people willing to gather weekly in different places on the Northshore.

We will gather on Friday nights for a dinner party (either inside a community building, outside in a park, or in someone’s backyard) with food, drink, music and conversation about the way Jesus loved others. During the “love feast,” several opportunities for hands-on service projects will be presented that we will execute sometime during the week in that community. The projects will range from small projects that can be completed by one or two persons in an hour or less, to much larger projects that will take more time and people. Instead of renting or purchasing a building and paying expensive maintenance and utility bills, we will have an enclosed cargo trailer for all of our supplies. This minimalist approach will allow us to spend our donations on service and enables us to be mobile.

We will end each dinner party on Friday nights with Communion. Communion will be optional and always open to all. The bread will remind us of Jesus giving himself and the wine will remind us of Jesus pouring himself out. However, it will also be a symbol of our commitment to give ourselves and pour ourselves out to make this world a better place.

There is an important reason that we will gather on Friday. For the the first 500 years, Christians met on the Jewish Sabbath which begins at sundown Friday. When Christianity became the official religion of the Roman Empire, their meetings were moved to Sunday because that was the day Jesus was resurrected. Every Sunday is said to be like a “little Easter.” Unfortunately, the only reason some people seem to be Christian today is because they want to be resurrected like Jesus and go to heaven. Therefore, we will gather on Friday, the day Jesus selflessly gave himself away, to give of ourselves, to bring a little heaven to earth.

Every Sunday for the past 20 years, I have concluded each worship service I have led with the same words. Before the pronouncing the Benediction, I say: “Let us now leave this service of worship to go out into the world to worship with our service.” This will be the mission of Northshore Disciples: A Movement of Selfless Love.”

 

Core Values and Mission

Values

Love, Service, Inclusion, Humility

Mission

A movement of selfless love following the inclusive, self-expending way of Jesus.

Strategy

Mobile Weekly Gatherings, Weekly Service Projects

Measures

Lives transformed, Community Created, New Disciples Made

 

Foundational Beliefs

 

Gather Together. We were created to live and serve in community. Community is where we find our meaning, purpose and fulfillment and are connected to the life-changing love of God.

Focus outwardly.Discipleship is not about getting people to come to our buildings, participate in our programs, believe our creeds or support our institutions. It is about making other disciples by going out and loving others where they are.

Follow Jesus.We are disciples of Christ. And everyone will know this by our love because we are going to live, love and serve like Jesus.

Make Disciples. When did Jesus say “go and make Christians?” or “go and make church members?”

Welcome all.Jesus never discriminated against anyone, nor should we. We must be Open and Affirming, because followers of Jesus have no business being closed and condemning.

Love unconditionally. We are to love others without reservations expecting nothing in return. Jesus never said to love someof our neighbors if… We are to place no limits on the power of God’s love to forgive, to restore and to welcome.

Do Justice. We must be pro-reconciling, anti-racism and anti-every-other-horrible-ism and phobia. As followers of Jesus, we must have a heart for people who are poor, marginalized and oppressed and do all we can to bring them freedom, restoration and peace.

Practice forgiveness.Love demands that we be a movement of grace, because love keeps no account of wrong-doing.

Be ministers.We don’t pay clergy to be ministers for us. We all have been given gifts to be caregivers, grace-givers and hope-givers to one another. Clergy with training and experience can lead us to be ministers, but all are called and gifted to serve as ministers.

Live authentically.God created human beings. Thus, we should not be afraid to act like one. We must openly confess our shortcomings and never act like we are better than anyone else.

Embrace mystery.No human being can grasp the full meaning of God. If we think we can, then our concept of God is too small. A safe environment should be created for questions to be freely asked, and doubt freely expressed.

Serve Ecumenically. We partner with all who believe in the Golden Rule and in the greatest commandment to love our neighbors as ourselves. Interfaith relationships and partnerships should also be fostered.

Communicate Transparently. Fully disclose where every dollar goes and how every decision is made.

Go Green. We will avoid plastics and Styrofoam by using washable or biodegradable dinnerware. Plant a community garden. Serve fair-trade coffee (Disciples Exchange). Limit and recycle paper. Share documents via Google Drive and email.

Take risks.Jesus’ love for others got him killed. If we make this new venture about sanctuary, comfort, safety and security then we have missed the whole point of who Jesus calls us to be, where Jesus calls us to go, and who Jesus calls us to love.

Stay flexible. The ministry plan is always subject to change. When we fall or falter, we must be ready to bounce back up to keep patiently moving forward.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

An Extended Mission Trip

New Church Ministry

On the Sunday we recognized our graduates this year, I shared some disconcerting statistics. According to a recent Barna Research poll, 59% of Millennials (22-35 year olds) who were raised in church have since dropped out of church completely. Only 2 in 10 Americans under 30 believe that attending a church is worthwhile. And 35% of Millennials believe the church today does more harm in the world than it does good.

Nearly all church growth experts agree that this means that church, as we know it today, will slowly cease to exist during the next 50 years.This is the reason that mainline denominations are encouraging the planting of “new church expressions.” The Christian Church (Disciples of Christ) is committed to “become passionately involved in birthing, nurturing, engaging and encouraging sustainable new churches in as many ways as possible” (https://www.hopepmt.org/plant/new-church-movement/).

Believing that I possess the gifts, passion, vision and call to give birth to a new church expression, I have accepted a position to work in partnership with the Great River Region of the Christian Church (Disciples of Christ), New Church Ministry of the Christian Church (Disciples of Christ) and Grace Disciples of Christ Church, to create and lead a new expression of church north of New Orleans, Louisiana called, Northshore Disciples: A Movement of Selfless Love. I will begin this work January 1, 2020.

In another recent study, Pew Research reported that 26% of Americans self-identify as “religiously unaffiliated.” This is up from 17% just 10 years ago. However, the number of people who identify as “atheist” or “agnostic” has risen only slightly. This means that although people are leaving the church, they are not leaving the faith. In other words, they may be giving up on church, but they are not giving up on Jesus.

Therefore, I believe that looking like the authentic embodiment of Christ in the world is what is most needed today. You may have heard me say that we need “to overdo it” or “go overboard” to love like, serve like, and live like Jesus. Northshore Disciples: A Movement of Selfless Love will seek to do this by following a model inspired by the first biblical account of Jesus sending the disciples out to do ministry (Mark 6:6-13). The vision is to be a mobile, first-century expression of church that will offer weekly Dinner Gatherings (with Communion) and Service Projects (for more on this expression see: A New Church Expression).

Although I am resigning as the Senior Minister of First Christian Church in Fort Smith, I do not understand my resignation as leaving this church, and I am by no means giving up on them. I see it more as: “going on an extended Mission Trip” to do what I can to help First Christian Church and the larger Church discover new models that will enable us to continue sharing the love of God with the world. I will always be grateful for the opportunity to lead First Christian Church to be the hands and feet of Christ in Western Arkansas, as I am grateful for this new opportunity that will hopefully help us to proclaim the love of God in the River Valley for generations to come.

I will also have the opportunity to continue to push for inclusion as the new Ainsley’s Angels Ambassador in New Orleans. Ainsley’s Angels in NW Arkansas is in capable hands as Lindsey Berg has agreed to enter the Ambassador in Training program. Lindsey and Rob Berg are fortunate to have a team of Angel Runners and Guardian Angels to help them continue the mission of Ainsley’s Angels in Western Arkansas.

I will miss my service with Fort Smith Kiwanis and my place on the boards of Antioch Youth and Family and the Sack Lunch Program. I will also miss literally “running this town” with the Western Arkansas Runners and the True Grit Running Company. I will forever be grateful for my time in Fort Smith. I am not saying good-bye as I will be back in 2020 for the Regional Assembly of the Great River Region hosted by First Christian Church, for the Ainsley’s Angels Arkangel 5k, and hopefully for a Pub Run, and of course for a Beer and Hymns!

A Movement of Selfless Love

As you may have noticed, I have changed the name of my blog to: “A Movement of Selfless Love.” The reason for the change is simple. I believe a movement of selfless love is what our world needs now more than anything else.

 

We need a movement.

Not a gathering of good people;

not a philosophy class;

not a social club;

not an assembly of worshippers;

not a group of day-dreamers;

not a church of well-wishers.

We need a movement.

We need a movement of goers and doers, going and doing all that we can, when we can, where we can, with all that we have been given

working for wholeness in a world that is broken;

working for justice in systems of inequality;

working for mercy and grace in a society of bigotry;

working for peace in a culture of violence;

working for truth in a nation of politics;

working for hope in a state of despair;

working for love in a world of hate.

And the love we work for must always be selfless.

Not a love that expects anything in return;

not a love that is conditional, prejudicial, exclusive or elusive;

not a love that is self-seeking, self-regarding or even self-interested.

But a love that is always self-expending, self-giving and self-denying;

a love that is forbearing, forgiving and free;

a love that is gracious, grateful and generous;

a love that is encouraging and empathetic;

a love that never gives in, gives up or gives out;

a love that is positive and pure.

It is a love that is forward-thinking and forward-marching, going out to give hope to those the world leaves behind.

It is the love that Jesus modeled, taught and commanded.

It is the love that is God.

It is the love that can heal sick religion, restore a distorted morality and rebuild a broken world.

It tears down walls that divide and barriers that exclude.

It is the love that has the power to change the world.

 

Thank You Angels

Roll with the Wind Logo

I am grateful for the opportunity to be a local Ambassador of an amazing organization called “Ainsley’s Angels of America.” I am also an ordained minister. I have been a student of the Bible and a minister for over 30 years. I have a Masters of Divinity and a Doctor of Ministry Degree. So, when I speak about Angels, I like to believe I have a certain level of credibility and authority to do so.

Faith was born when Abraham met some strangers by the Oaks of Mamre. Although Abraham was unaware that these strangers were actually Angels sent by God, Abraham and Sarah welcomed them into their home with an extravagant hospitality. They graciously included the strangers, treating them as if they were family. And in doing so, they became part of the Divine plan. Abraham and Sarah became educated to what God was up to in the world, and they joined God in that mission. They themselves became messengers of God. Abraham and Sarah became Angels who changed the world.

So, here are three things I know about Angels:

  • Angels are messengers sent by God. They are holy gifts to the world.
  • Angels first appear in our lives as strangers, and when we include them and love them as family, something miraculous happens.
  • Angels educate us on the importance on inclusion. When we include others in our lives, we become a part of what God is up to in this world. When we include others, we discover that we are the ones being included in something divine. We ourselves become Angels on a mission to change the world.

Therefore, I do not use the word Angels casually or haphazardly, but I use it with careful theological justification and authority when I say:

“Athlete Riders, thank you for being Angels.”

“Angel Runners, thank you for being Angels.”

“Guardian Angels, thank you for being Angels.”

“Sponsors who give to support our mission, thank you for being Angels.”

“All volunteers who made the Arkangel 5k possible this past weekend, thank you for being Angels.

If you think you have it takes to be an Angel, please register today at www.AinlseysAngels.org.

Join us on a mission of selfless inclusive love, and together, we shall change the world.

It’s Not Complicated: Don’t Be Terrible

love it or leave it

People asked the prophet, “What is the one thing the Lord requires?” He responded: “He has told you, O mortal, what is good; and what does the Lord require of you but to do justice, and to love kindness, and to walk humbly with your God” (Micah 6:8).

Is that all? Really?

People asked Jesus, “What is the one thing, the one commandment that is above all other commandments?” He responded: “‘You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind, and with all your strength.’ The second is this, ‘You shall love your neighbor as yourself.’ There is no other commandment greater than these” (Mark 12:30-31).

Seriously? That’s it?

Micah and Jesus say: “Yes!”

Could it be that they understood when we make life more complicated than justice, kindness, humility and love, then terrible things tend happen?

When we make it more complicated than kindness, then we might excuse racist chants of “send her back.”

When we make it more complicated than justice, then we may ignore the harm done to the brown children of asylum-seekers who have been separated from their parents.

When we make it more complicated than humility, then we could overlook and perpetuate racial privilege.

When we make it more complicated than love, then we might defend hate, bigotry and discrimination.

When we make it more complicated that the main things that the prophet and Jesus said that it was all about, then we may be apathetic and silent when the President imitates the Ku Klux Klan by saying: “Love it or leave it.”

So, let’s stop making it so complicated.

Let’s be just. Let’s be kind. Let’s be humble. And let’s love all our neighbors.

And then, maybe, we will stop being so terrible.

Time to Get the Hell Out

 

get the hell outIt is time to get going. It is time to move. We need to get the hell out of this country now.

It is difficult to leave behind what we have always known, but we need to do it, and we need to do it now. It is time to go. It is time to get the hell out of here.

We need to get the hell that is racism out of this country now.

We need to get the hell that is sexism out of this country now.

We need to get the hell that is selfishness and greed out of this country now.

We need to get the hell that is xenophobia, Islamophobia, and homophobia out of this country now.

We need to get the hell that is hate out of this country now.

We need to get the hell that is demagoguery out of this country now.

We need to get the hell that is White Christian Nationalism out of this country now.

We need to get the hell that is denial, silence and apathy out of this country now.

We need to protest it out, pray it out, preach it out, run it out, vote it out, or impeach it out. We need to love the hell out of this country. We need to love every anti-Christ part of it out. Now is the time for good people to get going, to start moving, to work together, to get the hell out of this country now.

Go Back to Where You Came From

go back to where you came from

Go back to where you came from.

Go back to that time before the Civil Rights Act of 1964. Go back to the time of Jim Crow when discrimination and segregation was the law. Go back to that place where people of color were terrorized with cross-burnings, church-burnings and lynchings.

Go back to where you came from.

Go back to that time before women had the right to healthcare, the right to vote and the right to work outside the home.

Go back to where you came from.

Go back to that time in history when human beings were sold and treated as property. Go back to that place where human beings were chained, shackled and whipped.

Go back to where you came from.

Go back to that time when indigenous Americans were considered to be soul-less creatures who could be hunted, killed and displaced like animals. Go back to that time women like Pocahontas were kidnapped and raped by colonizers without remorse.

Go back to where you came from.

Go back to that time when the state controlled religion in order to control people. Go back to that place where Christianity was used to support slavery, genocide, the castrations of gay people, and the hanging of women suspected to be witches.

Go back to where you came from.

Go back to that time when Christians terrorized anyone who did not fall in line with their understanding of God and the world. Go back to that place where they put free-thinking women like Jan Hus and Joan of Arc on a stake and set them on fire.

Go back to where you came from.

Go back to that time before Jesus said that the greatest commandment was to love our neighbors as ourselves. Go back to that time before the prophet Micah proclaimed that the one thing God requires is to do justice, love kindness and walk humbly with God.

Please, go back to where you came from. Because this is 2019. It is not 1919, 1819, 1619 or any other dark time in human history.