Tag Archives: Mission

Sacrificing your kids on the altar of missions?

origin_6989065271What’s the best thing about having kids?

No, not the cute antics or the learning to speak or walk or the hugs or total undying obedience to your every whim (ok I made that part up)…

Body shields!

Kids make the most incredible body shields.

When you don’t want to seriously consider or God forbid, actually do something that makes you feel scared or uncomfortable just hide behind your kids!

Imagine this highly improbable, never happened to me before situation… You are enjoying a nice robust discussion over a drink of your choice with a sincere and thoughtful Christian friend. The discussion turns to the issue of say… I don’t know… public schooling, urban mission, downward mobility… Good, healthy discussion ensues.  But then the debate starts to spiral dangerously out of control… out of the theology books…off the blogs…into our city…into our lives… But don’t fear good citizens our intrepid Christian has packed with him his trusty “Get out of Jail Free” card. With a merry glint in his dilated pupil he pulls out of his back pocket the trump card, the discussion-ender, the obedience crusher and with great relief places on the grand table of ideas “Yes I see the importance of these things but really I am not about to sacrifice my kids on the altar of missions!”

*crickets*

*awkward*

End of discussion

I mean who can possibly be in favour of child sacrifice right?

If the alternative is say dead kids or public schools then lets rather keep our kids alive right?

But honestly what does this quasi-spiritual, pious sounding phrase actually mean? Oh I know we have all met the kind of pastors who are so busy running around with their underpants over their trousers trying to save the world as some kind of subordinate Holy Spirit that they give off the impression that kicking a football with their kids is somehow beneath their high spiritual calling.

So perhaps if at this point we can all just start off by agreeing that kids are important. And looking after your kids in a healthy environment is important too… right… yes… we all heard that. I am firmly in favour of loving and protecting your family! I love my family and am truly humbled and shocked that God would entrust such an incredible responsibility to a knucklehead like me. I get it… I’m terrified I’m going to get it horribly wrong and screw them all up… badly…

But where does this fear come from? For that is surely what underlies this non-offspring sacrificing purported spirituality? Fear of obedience. Fear of public schools. Fear of messing up our kids. Fear of our kids getting hurt. Fear that we won’t be able to protect them. Or give them all the stuff we never had. Fear that they won’t follow Christ. Fear that they will get confused. Fear that we may have to sacrifice our own comfort or respectability. Fear of… trusting God with our lives, our family, our future…

I am by no means suggesting that all of the issues raised above are not real, complicated and nuanced. Nor am I suggesting that there cannot be legitimate reasons to answer questions of schooling, housing or area to live in either way. But please let’s stop hiding behind our kids as some kind of get out of conviction free card.

It is arrogance to think that you can protect our kids through home schooling. It is foolishness to think that you cannot equally sacrifice your kids on the altar of suburbia or comfort or status or achievement.

We, as a family, have made our choices about where live and where to school our kids. We want to be self-aware when it comes to the choices we have made. I want to deal with my idols and my fears when making decisions for my kids. It is difficult some days to send my kids to public schools in our area. I envy my friends whose choices have allowed them to send their kinds to private Christian schools. But I am not sacrificing my kids. We are intentionally choosing as a family to engage on mission in this community and that means going to the schools the kids in our area go to.

When we decided to follow Jesus we did decide to “sacrifice our lives” on the altar of mission. Our lives are now caught up in God’s greater, bigger and more beautiful story. This is what it means for us to no longer be king of our own lives. This is what it means for us to no longer idolize family. We have intentionally chosen to sacrifice some of our preferences and comforts in order to serve others. So no we don’t get to sacrifice our kids but we are as a family called to model and practice sacrificial living.

Honestly I am not sure how else I raise kids to be live sacrificially, generously or intentionally except by living, sacrificially, generously and intentionally myself. How else do I show them the character of the King who gave up all the glory of Heaven to serve and redeem us? How else do I teach my kids that Jesus came to rescue us and liberate us from our own selfish desires except by daily choosing to put to death my own desires for comfort, security and playing it safe? How else do I teach my kids that we find life when we give it away in service to the weak, the poor, the lost and the broken except by doing just this? How else do they fall in love with the beauty, grace and passion of God’s mission except by tasting it and living it?

We spend our whole lives protecting our kids, serving them, providing for their needs and their desires. Keeping them safe, comfortable and happy. And then we wonder why they grow up to be exactly what we trained them to be.

And they walk away from a Jesus who does not serve them…

Or they apathetically warm a church building designed to serve them…

And their children…

And the world dies a little bit more each day.

Photo Credit: rejik via Photopin

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When our heroes have become too small

Every culture, organisation and church has a prevailing myth that tells the story of who we are and what we value.  And every myth is held up and carried along by its heroes.  These are the human vessels that carry our ideals, our dreams, our aspirations.  These are the men and women who put flesh onto our values.  They are the ones who have succeeded in living the ideals and the dreams we hold to in some significant way.

What is the prevailing myth in your church?  Who are the prevailing heroes in your church? Meditate on this for a while.  The question is not what should be the prevailing myth in your church or who should be the heroes in your church.  The question is; what IS the myth and who ARE the heroes?

We say mission drives our church but yet we spend most of our energy and time on maintaining our existing structures and programmes.  We say we want to see our community reached for Christ but yet we employ numerous staff members whose primary responsibility is to care for us and our needs through teaching, youth work or kids programmes.  We say we serve Jesus and not money and yet we create an elaborate system of church which requires a large amount of money to keep it going.  We create a system that actually hinders us from mission rather than propels us forward into mission.  We speak about what we think ought to be the prevailing myth but yet so often our lives are driven by a darker, less obvious shadow myth.

Who are the heroes in our church communities?  The dashing youth leader?  The talented musician?  The eloquent preacher?  The brilliant exegete? The successful business man? Any defining myth we create is carried forward by its heroes.  If you truly want to know what the defining myth of your community is then ask yourself who are your heroes?

The bible teacher as hero betrays the myth that knowledge about God is our functional salvation story.  Bible college is seen as the ultimate experience for young Christians.   The worship leader as hero betrays the myth that the high that shared experiences bring is our functional Saviour.  The successful business man as hero betrays the myth that we will find happiness or significance through money and success.  The family man or stay at home mom or home-school parent as hero betrays the myth that family is the most important thing in the world.  All these heroes and myths contains some truth but as is the case with all great lies, the object of truth has been stretched to breaking point, beyond it’s ability to hold the disproportionate value we have placed upon it.

What if the myth that defined our church really was the gospel.  The gospel of Him who left all the security, the pleasure and the comfort of heaven to lay down His rights, his preferences, His desires in order to serve us.  To become one of us.  To die for us.  What if the myth that defined our values, dreams and aspirations was this gospel story?  What if our goal was sacrifice and not comfort?  Risk and not security? Service and not pleasure?

What if our lives were defined not by our rights or our pleasures but instead were marked as those who joined their story with the great Story, who laid down their lives for the True Myth, who become heroes in the Ultimate Adventure and who risked it all for a share in the Kingdom of our Great King.  What if we really were known as the friend of sinners, the defender of the vulnerable, the light in the darkness, the peacemakers, the kind and the just?

What if we really did believe that a man’s life did not consist in the abundance of his possessions?  What if we really did believe that it is more blessed to give than to receive?  What if we really did believe that our Father in heaven will clothe and feed us as he does the flowers of the field and the birds of the air?  What if we really did believe that our God is a good God and that his Kingdom is better than all the pleasures and joys the kingdom of this world has to offer? What if we really did believe that the gospel is true?

I am not reaching for some utopian ideal of church.  I know that anything we touch this side of Jesus’ return will be marked by our brokenness and sin.  What we need though is honesty, an honesty robust enough to admit that our defining myths are too small.  We have shrunk the kingdom vision into easily containable chunks that we can use to control our lives.  Our heroes have become too small and our dreams are too reasonable.

We have shrunk the Kingdom to a coke lite, kid friendly version of the world, without the sex, drugs and swearing.  We need an honesty that leads us not to self-inflicted lynchings of guilt but an honesty that admits that we have been living for the wrong myth and inspired by the wrong heroes.  Our myth is sadly most often the coke-lite version of the world, without the sex, drugs and swearing.

We need an honesty that inspires us to join our story with the Great Story, to give up our small ambitions and our small dreams.  We need heroes that inspire us not to greater church attendance but who lead us to far wilder, less safe and more beautiful places where only our faith and our hope in the Great King can ever hope to sustain us.  For it there that we will win glory for His Name and find the life we so desperately crave.  “ For whoever wants to save their life will lose it, but whoever loses their life for me and for the gospel will save it.” (Mark 8:35)

It seems like a lifetime ago… part four

Don’t forget we where still homeless, we were not a part of a church network or a denomination… not even a book club really! So what were we to do? The guys we loved theologically were a bit hesitant about what we were up to… really no Sunday service (although I did hear someone refer to The Story as a Sunday service… epic fail!), no preaching (more correctly no monologue but shall we save that for another day?). Basically it felt like we love you and you have good intentions but you are going too far… Why are you trying to do church differently. After all it has been working fine all these years. Look at all the people just like me that have been saved.

The guys who do get what we were trying to do, are the guys who are a bit trickier theologically, very broad, a bit slippery on some key questions and just a little bit fruity (love you guys!). Mostly they longed for church to be different not for the sake of mission but for the sake of their (and their tribes) preferences or desire to see more social action, more authentic worship (by this they normally mean singing), better community or less autocratic authority.

Honestly I can relate to a lot of this – sometimes the happy Hillsong crowd drives me balmy. And if I hear one more vision about the new building I might just vomit. But yet all of this is pretty much just about me. What would me and my friends prefer? What are my pet peeves, well let’s create a new community that does worship/social justice/ teaching / community better?

What we are trying to do is to not make church all about us. I could quite happily (so I think) be plugged back into the matrix and just become a “church guy” again. Lock me in my study with my books, preach some moderately interesting sermons, be a part of a loving community (except when it’s not), send my kids to Sunday school and enjoy being a part of a bigger group of men and women who are working to keep churches running faithfully and hopefully see a couple of people come to Christ. Sounds quite nice actually… But I feel like I took the red pill and now I know too much to ever go back

Our community must be shaped by mission. It is not our preferences or ways of doing things that are considered firstly, but those who we are trying to reach. Our community life and community rhythms must be shaped around the life and rhythms of those we are trying to connect with. It may be that Sunday morning is a terrible time to connect with your community? So why then do we persist on Sunday as the only day that the church can meet…

What if Monday night was the best time to get together as a community… would you really give up Survivor? What if the time that you could best connect with the people you are trying to reach is not a convenient time for you… would you do it anyway? If the answer is no, then who is your church community really for anyway? You and your tribe? Or those who are lost, broken and without hope in the world? Seems like Jesus told a few stories about those who were lost… But then he did get nailed for it, so probably not the best plan right?

You may also want to read part one, part two and part three of these ramblings.

It seems like a lifetime ago… part two

In hindsight I am not sure why we started doing The Story at all… I had seen and read about story-telling a number of times before and always been intrigued by it.  So when we saw it how it was done in Loughborough I remember thinking… “This could actually work.”

 As a result when we came home we decided to give it a go.  Looking back I am not altogether sure who we thought would come or why?  But we got a few people who committed to coming along, at least for a couple of weeks…

16 stories later, we have had about 26 different people (including children) come to at least one evening, a core group of about 15, at least 5 different languages and 4 different nationalities, and an age range from 4 to 51.  We have had old friends come visit, spiritual seekers, people who have lost their way, people who are learning to find their way again, people who love Jesus and people who do not, homeless people, recovering addicts, cynics and saints.  We have shared food, strong coffee and something of our lives.

We have sung prayers, said prayers and listened to prayers.  We have questioned, challenged, rejoiced, got angry, got frustrated, laughed, and on more than one occasion simply sat in awed silence.  We have learnt how good and gracious God is, how rebellious we are.  We have contemplated the fruit of our ways and the fruit of His ways.  We have seen a God who despite the mess we make is simply not finished with us.  We have seen hope, we have seen grace, we have seen the good life and we have yearned for it.  We have been stunned by our inability to grasp it and left wondering what is God up to in this the greatest story ever told..

It was never meant to last this long but somehow the stories have pulled us in and we have stopped being in a rush to finish the whole story in 8 weeks.  Will we continue with this forever? Not sure… probably not.  Sunday night will morph and change and take on a new life and a new direction.  Possibly once we have finished the whole Bible story we will revert to a twice a year 8 week story set (Spring and Summer possibly)?  Maybe get an outside venue this? Maybe an Acts story set or a Luke story set or even more ambitious an Ecclesiastes reading (I’m thinking like a poetry reading) set.

I don’t know where it will end up but I rejoice that I no longer feel like I must have all the answers… as a community together we can determine where it is that God is leading us, as we grow in him and as we engage with our community on mission.

You can read part one here

God does not call you to settle down

This past Sunday at The Story we heard the story of the Babel Builders (entitled: Settle Down”) found in Genesis 11.  Often the Babel builders get a bit of a bad rap for being all about their own glory and power.  What they really wanted to do was to make a name for themselves and be famous and somehow take God’s place.  Well yes, sort of… but when we read the narrative what we find though is that their desire to make a name for themselves is not the goal.  They want to build this great city in order to make a name for themselves SO THAT they will not be scattered over the face of the earth.

The thing that they want most is not fame or power or prestige; that is what they seek as a means to the end, which is not being scattered.  Significantly this is exactly what God has commanded them to do.  In Genesis 1:28 the first humans are told to be fruitful and increase in number and fill the earth.  After the flood in Genesis 8&9 Noah is given a similar command.  Implicit in the command to fill the earth is to fill the earth with God’s glory.   It is as human’s created in the image of God take up the raw materials of His creation and “create and shape” his world that we display his goodness and his majesty.  There is of course also a literal filling of the earth with people, as the commands to be fruitful and multiply imply.

Why do the Babel builders not want to be scattered?  Ask yourself what would you prefer, being scattered over the face of the earth; or safety and security as a part of some great enterprise or some great city?  What does the great city of Babel offer?  Safety, security, provision, communal enterprise, prestige, comfort, a sense of belonging… stable work, safe place for the kids to grow up, good schools?

What does God’s command to scatter and fill the earth bring?  Uncertainty, instability, insecurity, an unknown future, unknown provision, loneliness, fear of hostile neighbours or bandits and numerous other drawbacks.  Life would certainly be easier in Babel.

Was it wrong for the Babel builders to desire these things?  No.  But they sought to be their own source of security, safety, provision, rest and certainty for the future.  If they would instead choose to embrace the life of scattering they would have to find their security, their rest, their future hope, their provision and their name in God and God alone.  As an aside: note that all the Babel builders attempts at self-preservation and self-provision are wiped out with one simple action by the God who spoke the world into being.

The God-following life today is still the life of scattering over the face of the earth.  Was it not Jesus who told his disciples to “Go and make disciples of all nations”?  Our calling is still to fill the earth with the glory of God.  Our call is still to scatter into all the unreached people groups of the world.  Our call is still to scatter as communities of light into all the forgotten places and the dark corners of our cities and our communities.

But if we are honest most of us are more like the responsible, wise, Babel builders.  Most of our parents would be delighted if we got a job with the ambitious, forward-thinking, innovative, new urban centre of our world.  Stable income, pension, good schools, medical aid, good career prospects, safe neighbourhood for your kids, wise use of resources.  Let’s be honest the Babel builders plans make sense.  Of course they do they are our plans, our dreams our ambitions.

But everything we have seen in the story so far tells us that God is a good and a gracious God.  In the midst of sin and chaos – he constantly shows mercy, provision, salvation, patience, goodness, peace, rest and hope for the future. The legacy of man’s ambitions are deceit, anger, jealousy, murder, boasting, snatching for power, shame, blame-passing, back-breaking labour, cursed ground and broken relationships.   It might make rational sense to follow the example of the Babel builders and seek to secure our own future, but by faith we seek instead to follow the one who has secured both our future and our present through the death and resurrection of His Son, Jesus.

Sadly, we mirror Babel not only in our private lives but in our church life too.  Rather than being scattered into all the dark and broken places of our community, instead we choose to build our own sources of comfort and security.  Our obsession with buildings betrays our unwillingness to scatter and fuels our need for legitimacy and respectability.  We design our programmes and structures around the things we enjoy and our felt needs.  We meet at times and in ways that suit us and our schedules.

Often we barely know the community surrounding us and our lives are filled up with Christian activities and Christian friends.  Is it possible that just as the Babel builders refused the command to scatter and fill the earth with God’s glory, so we too have refused the call to scatter and fill up our communities and cities with the glory of God.  Babel looks so much more respectable and legit than the scattered community of a Moving God.

Why do you place such an emphasis on eating together?

Steve Timmis of Acts 29 Western Europe and The Crowded House speaks about the importance of eating together for the mission of God. Really not bad for a Man U fan!

Mike Breen: State of the Evangelical Union

This is a very interesting article by Mike Breen of 3DM. Lots of food for thought. Does anyone want to start a conversation on some of his thoughts?

Here are a couple of quotes I will be chewing on:

“You get a missional movement by starting a discipling movement. For too long we’ve had the missional conversation in lieu of the discipling conversation.”

“If you do discipleship, it means you’ll be creating leaders. Creating leaders rather than managing volunteers will make you re-think your Leadership conversation. And releasing Leaders into the missional frontier to make disciples will make you re-think you Missional conversation.”

“One of the things we try to ask worship leaders is this: “If you didn’t have an instrument and couldn’t sing, would everyone still see you as a leader in your church?” The sad fact is this isn’t often the case. Many worship leaders are hired guns and without the talent of their instruments or vocals, they would be little use to the church.”

“There has been so much talk about Missional Communities and discipleship in the last year, but people forget one grounding reality from the scriptures: In the New Testament, discipleship and mission always find their flourishing in an extended family. But in the last 100 years, we’ve really lost the extended family and we’ve lost the oikos on mission. (Oikos being the Greek word used in the New Testament for “households” that refers to the extended families existing as households on mission for the first 300 years of the life of the church).”

“If you don’t have Family on Mission, discipleship, leadership and mission aren’t possible. Family on Mission is the context needed for the rest to flourish. And at the end of the day, I want to be part of a movement that puts missional discipleship back into the hands of every-day people. You get that by learning Family on Mission.”

You can read the whole thing here