Seward United Methodist Church
Wednesday, July 18, 2018
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Transforming Church- Being Missional

Matthew 28:18-20 and Luke 9:1-6

 Two of the most important things Jesus ever said we call the Great Commandment and the Great Commission.  We heard the Great Commission earlier from Matthew’s Gospel:  “Go and make disciples of all nations.”  The Great Commandment is “to love the Lord your God with all your heart, soul, mind, and strength, and to love your neighbor as yourself.”  Many people consider these to be the very essence of Jesus’ earthly teachings.  One of them governs our interpersonal relationships with God and each other, and the other provides a framework for the mission of the Church.  We should also notice that both of them are outwardly-focused:  Love neighbor as self and go and make disciples of all nations.  

 And yet, when we look around at churches in our society today, I think it’s pretty clear that most of them fail to be outwardly-focused.  The tendency of most churches is to cloister.  To cloister means to shut away the world and to focus inward.  

 I think that tends to become rather self-destructive.  When a church loses its urgency to focus outward, it often seems to turn against itself.  The reason is that it has bought into one of the great lies of our culture:  Consumerism.  Consumerism is the belief that happiness comes from possessing and consuming and clinging to things.  Too many people look to their church and expect it to meet their needs, to satisfy their desires, to exist for their sake.  

 But that just doesn’t work.  The more self-absorbed a person is, the more they think only about their own wants and needs, the less likely they are to be happy.  And the same is true of a church as of an individual.  Churches that focus their energy inwards do not tend to be “happy” churches.  Churches that cut themselves off from the world tend to be unhappy and unhealthy places.  

 When a church’s code, its essence, its passions, is turned inward, it becomes a prison that holds the church rather than an identity that propels it forward.  What often happens is that all of the church’s energy that might be used for constructive purposes gets turned into destructive energy.  People begin to fight about personal agendas; they become fixated on what they want rather than on what God wants.  Or they have turf wars; they struggle to hold onto their piece of the pie.  

Over the years I’ve heard a number of stories about church kitchen wars.  You have a group of folks who regard the church kitchen as “their territory,” and if someone

else tries to use it, especially not in the way that they approve of, then they will fight tooth and nail to preserve “their turf.”  All that over a kitchen, but it happens.

 Every church has a certain amount of energy.  The question is:  Where is that energy going to go?  Ideally, it should go into creative community, into creating a community of faith that changes the world around it.  But if there’s no bridge, if there’s no way for the church’s energy to be focused out into the world, then its energy is turned into isolationism:  us and them thinking, turf wars, and personal agendas.

 Several times in his ministry, Jesus said something along the lines of Matthew 10:39:  “If you cling to your life, you will lose it.  But if you give it up for me, you will find it.”  The great lie of consumerism is that we will be happy if we cling to what we have and if we have more and more of it.  The great irony is that true joy can only be found by letting go and giving up.  Satisfaction comes from losing ourselves in things that are greater than ourselves.  

 But fear holds us back.  Fear holds us back from “losing ourselves” and “letting go.”  Fear says “Hold onto what you have.  Don’t give it up!”

 We fear for our own security.  We fear that if the church does focus outward, then our own voices will be silenced.  If new people come in here, they might not listen to us, and then we’ll just fade away?  

 We fear incompetence.  We’re afraid that we can’t do meaningful ministry.  “What can I do?  What gift can I bring?  What do I have to offer?”  

 Reaching out beyond ourselves always involves loss.  And loss creates fear.  And fear holds us back.  

 But the Bible teaches us that fear has an opposite, which is love, and love is greater than and casts out fear.  Love is the essence of community.  And reaching out is about building a larger community.  

 Being a missional church means building community outside the “walls” of the church, whether those walls are literal and physical walls or emotional walls or social walls or imaginary walls.  

 And I think this is where many churches, even those that genuinely want to do outreach, fail.  Being in ministry with the world must be more than just “doing events”

or “offering programs” or “opening our doors.”  It must be about building relationships.  Over the years I’ve seen a lot of examples of churches “doing outreach,” opening up to the community.  But what often ends up happening is that the church’s members all “cloister” themselves away, again, often in the kitchen, and don’t interact with the “outsiders.”  That kind of strategy is doomed to fail.  Unless we build relationships with the people that we are trying to connect into the Body of Christ, it just isn’t going to happen.  

 Being a missional church must first and foremost be a mindset, a mindset that says we exist for the sake of the world, not for the sake of our members.  Being a missional church must be more than just another “thing we do.”  It’s very easy to say, “Oh, we do outreach,” and leave it there.  Doing outreach and being missional are not the same thing.  

 Being missional means turning the church’s collective identity and collective passions, its code, outward.  And the fact that each church has its own unique code means that we don’t have to try to be everything to everyone.  We are free to be who we are and who God has called us to be.  If it is God who has brought together this church, and we believe it is, then God is the one who has given this church its own unique identity for being missional.  We just have to live into it.  

 But it has to be intentional. It just doesn’t happen by accident.  By accident, we turn inward.  By accident we become a cloister.  By accident we shut away the world and lose ourselves in many things that do not build up the Kingdom of God.  

 I think that deep down we all long to be a part of something greater than ourselves.  But fear holds us back.  Fear tells us that we will cease to matter if we lose ourselves.  Fear tells us that we can’t do anything important.  But God loves us perfectly, and his perfect love casts out fear.  So don’t be held back by it.  God has great plans for us and what he can do through us to build his Kingdom.    

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