Category Archives: mission

Christ is Risen! So what?

So Easter happened. Many people say that means Jesus is alive and God has defeated the powers of darkness. But what’s different? It isn’t a different world than it was on Saturday… Every year we celebrate Easter, and every year the same problems abound and then we celebrate it again. So Christ is risen? What’s changed?

This is a huge challenge that needs to be taken seriously and as I wrestle with it here’s what I come up with… This isn’t a question that we should fling at God. Like, “Come on God,  make the world more like your kingdom now!” Rather, it is the question that God persistently and hopefully and powerfully puts to us. Like, “I have empowered life and love and forgiveness – now I need you to trust them and go and start making the world more like our kingdom!”

What if… that was how we understood Easter and therefore what we did as followers of Jesus? What if… making that happen was why people got together to be a church?

That is a vision of the church that I can get excited about!

It’s not about what it means, it’s about doing it.

It seems that the challenge of the bible isn’t what it means. Okay, that is tough. It’s hard to understand what the bible is saying in lots of places. But the basic message is pretty clear. The bible is talking about loving and caring for our neighbor. It is about recognizing God as the only feasible center of our lives. Stuff like that. The question isn’t ‘What do all the individual passages about this mean?’, it’s ‘How will I do that?’ And that isn’t a debate question, it’s an action issue. Just do it. Afterward go to bed thanking God for a chance to try,  asking forgiveness for what you messed up or missed, and a hint about how to do it tomorrow.

What do you have to know to follow Jesus? If you know that God loves you, and everyone else in the world, then you know enough to be dangerous.

Go be dangerous.

Finding a church that meets my needs

Shopping Cart or part of the Body of Christ?For those looking for a church, or trying to decide if they are part of the right one or not, this is the question. “Does this church meet my needs.” It’s the right question, we just don’t understand what it means. We move into church life looking for music and a style of worship we like, programs that are about what we want them to be, good stuff for our kids (if we have them), a theology we agree with, people we would want to hang out with, and probably one that fits in our schedules.

Let me go on the record and say that I understand this. I’m not against this attitude. It is natural. It is the ‘looking for something’ part of people that gives a church the chance to say, “Let us help you with what you are looking for.” But it is also something that a church has to help people redefine sooner or later or we are all in trouble, unhappy and unsatisfied.

We should always be looking for a church that meets our needs, what we have to understand as we grow in spiritual maturity is that our needs need to change from things that fill us up, to things that we can do. It is the job of a church to help people see and begin to experience that they need their church because in and through it they can exercise their gifts. Our need is to be a functioning part of the Body of Christ, not a shopping cart. That we don’t get what we want (a theology and worship style I like), but what we need. That is, where faith is challenged, where we’re led to a deeper understanding of God’s role in our life and our role in the community and the world.

At Jacob’s Well when we tell people they can come as they are, we don’t just mean in jeans and t-shirts. We don’t just mean with your recovery, financial, relational, personal and whatever-al other issues. We mean as a consumer. Bring it. We’ll let it encounter God and see if that isn’t one more thing from which God will free you.

Launching a ‘not very good church’ on purpose

Cover of mailer for Jacob's Well Longfellow preview

Is this anyway to attract people to our church? We think so. Obviously not if you were trying to get people who already think church is just fine. But why would we do that? They are probably going to church already. What about all those people (a majority today?) who think there is something basically wrong with ‘church’?

From the very beginning Jacob’s Well was designed to speak to people who have given up or are ready to give up on church, God and faith. It seems ridiculous to try to interest them by claiming what a good example of church we are. The copy on the back of our mailer says, “If your image of church is like most people’s, we’re glad not to be a very good example of it. So instead of being another church, we’ve tried to be a “what if” church. One known for being honest, thinking, relevant and casual so people can be themselves – you know, their real selves.”

We believe that life needs God at its center and Jesus in its heart, but we also believe that for that to happen people need churches that are authentic to who they are. People want their church to be in their own  neighborhood so it resonates with, pulls together and speaks to people with whom they already share community.  That’s why we’re in the process of starting Jacob’s Well Longfellow just 4 miles from Jacob’s Well Field in this densely populated urban neighborhood of south Minneapolis.

We had our first monthly  “preview” service on Sunday at Anne Sullivan School on Sunday (Jan. 24, 2010) and had a great time. The school and district have been great partners and the building is wonderful. Most of all, the team of people, many brand new to the Jacob’s Well community, have been incredible. A little over 100 people attended, nearly half of them new to Jacob’s Well. A great start. But it is just a start. We want to add value to the Longfellow neighborhood and be part of the struggles and joys of the community and individuals. We don’t just want to expand, we want to fulfill what God has in mind for us. And we need to let them know we are here. As I’ve said a thousand times, “It doesn’t do any good to start a church if no one knows about it.”

Starting another church is a lot of work. Being an authentic presence is a much bigger task, but that is what it is all about.

[Want to know more about why we would do this? Read “Most of us aren’t here yet.”]

Jacob’s Well in Sioux Falls

I’m in Sioux Falls today (Thursday, 10.23) and tomorrow at a “Churches Planting Churches” conference. I’m speaking about Jacob’s Well as a congregation that was launched by another church two years ago (Bethlehem Lutheran Church) and as a church that is launching a new church. We are planning our establishment of a second site in 2009). But while I’m sharing some of our learnings I am mostly just trying to learn everything I can. Keep me and all these people thinking brave thoughts about birthing new churches in many and various ways. Thanks!

Political as well as Personal Relevance

The paragraph below is part of reader Jenna’s very articulate comment on my post “Being Christian isn’t a good thing anymore.”

“...what about bigger problems like racism, poverty, and lack of access to education? Many churches focus on these issues at the global level, but problems like these are very present in Minneapolis…”

Boy, I know what she means. I’m going to try to respond and I’ll bet my response won’t be wholly satisfactory to anyone, including myself. So I’d love more people weighing in on this.

1. Yep, we do have to raise our voice as followers of God. The Bible consistently balances (if not trumps) the personal impact of faith with the societal impact of it. I do not think the societal (or political) is anymore important, but that God is highly suspicious of any manifestation of faith that doesn’t start reshaping the world around it.

2. Politics are dangerous in church. Here’s why. Not because we aren’t supposed to be political, but because politics tries to regroup us according to our stands on issues and stake its claim on us as its adherents. That isn’t the job of politics, that’s God’s job. Our only unwavering adherence should be to the gospel and its transforming power in us and through us. When church bodies (local, regional, national) have taken political stands on issues they have usually done it badly. They take votes that make losers and winners, dividing the unity of Christ. Losers either leave, alienated from the dialog that might have furthered understanding and growth; or they retreat until they can mount their forces to overthrow those who won last time.

3. One of the core values of Jacob’s Well is “We value unity and diversity. We focus on the mission that unites, rather than the details that divide.” How do we do that? It isn’t easy, but we already hold a large range of diversity in our community with almost no conflict. If we only do that by avoiding issues it is bankrupt, but I don’t believe that is the case. My vision is that the church is called to convict people with God’s desire for justice and compassion. The church has to be ‘prophetic’ about what the real issues are. The action, however, is a response of faith. It is individual and we are called to be tolerant of and engaged with each other despite our varied approaches. Face it, we never know for sure when we are right. It is the church’s place to say, “Racism is a problem. Here are some of the things the Bible says about it. Here are questions that we as people who carry Jesus’ cross with him are called to figure out and act on.” But it is not the church’s place to say, “This is the only right response to racism.” Or “This is the right stand on the issue of racism.”

4. I will freely admit that this is a growing area for me to learn how to walk the precarious edge of calling a community to action in the political/social sphere, but not endorse policies or candidates. We are trying to learn, however. We did a series (IMUR) some months ago working from Jesus’ “I am” statements in John’s gospel. Two weeks focused on local justice issues with expert guest speakers. One dealing with poverty and race issues in our neighborhood, and another with Muslim/Christian relationships. Two Muslim speakers helped me with deliver that message. This summer we did a series (Is God Green?) dealing with environmental issues and capped it off by having our worship one Sunday be actually working on projects that improved the environment. We gave everyone a dvd afterward with a message from me (and another for kids) to help interpret the experience. (If you want a copy of the dvd, let me know.)

5. We believe everyone should have a ministry within the church and a mission beyond it. That will be a goal for Jacob’s Well forever. That ‘mission beyond’ will be different for every person, but we will try to help everyone see that their voting, their voices to elected and appointed government officials, their volunteering, their influence over friends and neighbors, and their mere presence in the community should be understood as part of their mission.

Sorry for so long a response, but Jenna hit a hot button for me that I wrestle with a lot.