Monday, September 30, 2013

Ministry in the Marketplace

There is a world of possibilities that can expand the ministry reach of any organization when business and church work together. Add to that dynamic the interaction of a person's vocation and faith and we see the potential more clearly.

Churches have long operated day cares and thrift shops and some have, even, started moving and landscape businesses to provide jobs for their members. The merger of business and ministry in these instances provided a sustainable way to use existing resources to benefit the community by providing needed services.

A growing number of churches are tapping into the business expertise of church and community members to create new opportunities. They ask the question, “What kind of business can we start that will benefit our community by providing jobs and meeting real needs?”

The types of businesses started by churches include coffee shops, bakeries, landscaping, print shops and more. The chronically unemployed can be hired and trained. Further training in such life issues as financial management can be offered, as well. The businesses provide a profit that can be used by the church for overhead, missions or reinvestment in other business ventures.

One pastor of a congregation that had stagnated after building their small church came up with a creative solution. He and his wife started a daycare and payed the church rent for use of the facilities during the week.

The church could not afford to pay him a full time salary, so they expected him to have a job. The daycare kept him close to the building and put him in direct contact with families who were prospects for his church. This is certainly an easy model to follow in just about any community.

Starting a cleaning or landscape business is a little more complicated. These are often started to help men and women coming out of incarceration. A nonprofit group can start such a business with the help of a group of churches and businesses that will agree to use their services. Although it is complicated, there are groups that use this model.

At the other end of this spectrum are businesses that either operate as ministries (publishers, bookstores, AWANA, etc.) or use their business as a tool to support Kingdom objectives. Examples of the latter include using profits to support ministries, hiring people who come from job training programs, and providing free services.

The church in the marketplace creates many opportunities to do good.

Tuesday, September 24, 2013

Getting Small

We need humility to achieve greatness in God's eyes. To be bigger, we have to get smaller.

In his book, All I Really Need to Know I Learned in Kindergarten, Robert Fulghum wrote, “Wisdom comes not from graduate school but in the nursery school sandbox. These are the things I learned: Share everything. Play fair. Don’t hit people. Put things back where you found them. Clean up your own mess. Don’t take things that aren’t yours. Say you’re sorry when you hurt somebody. When you go out into the world watch for traffic, hold hands, and stick together.”

Fulghum is not far from the teaching of Jesus that we must become like little children to enter the Kingdom of Heaven. (Matthew 18:3)

Nowhere in the Bible do you see the Apostles asking each other, “How are you? Can I get you anything?

Instead, we see them pushing people away as when they were bringing children to Jesus or keeping those outside their group were ministering in Jesus' name. Now there is conflict about who among them is the greatest. (Mark 9:33-34)

For many the idea of greatness comes from position, prestige, and power. Like children who race and push each other to get a better position in line, the Apostles are arguing about how they should be lining up.

Jesus straightens out their thinking by saying, “If anyone wants to be first, he shall be last of all and servant of all.’” (Mark 9:35)

While they're trying to figure out what that means, Jesus scoops up a toddler and makes a connection between the one who receives this child in His name, and the one who receives Christ Himself and God His Father.

The greatest are those small enough to serve people forgotten by others. Those who befriend the person nobody likes. The ones who give to those who cannot give back.

Wednesday, September 18, 2013

The church that came back to life

Church leaders initially decided not to reopen the 169 year old Episcopal Church of the Annunciation after it flooded in the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina. In fact, the entire Broadmoor neighborhood of Uptown New Orleans was to be cleared and turned into green space. Instead, the residents decided to stay and rebuild their community. The Church of the Annunciation reopened and became a partner in the effort.

I had the opportunity to enjoy the hospitality of one of the ministries hosted by the church (AnnunciationMission) during my stay in New Orleans last week. The Annunciation Mission houses 84 people dormitory style. Hot breakfast and authentic New Orleans dinners are included for $25 per night. So are sack lunches, showers and WiFi.

Katrina survivors, Jean and James, provide tender loving care to all their guests, ensuring all are well-fed and comfortable. Everyone connected to the mission were kind and generous and committed to New Orleans' comeback.

My dorm included a diverse group of 7 guys from all over America in New Orleans for the CCDA conference. We traded stories and ideas which made the trip so much more valuable for me.

The mission and a daycare have brought purpose to a church that was declared dead. And, on Sunday, they worship the Lord who died and rose again.

Monday, September 16, 2013

We Need More Faith

Mark 9:14-29

Faith (even weak faith) helps us with life's trials--if it is right faith.

Jesus returned to the Apostles after a brief separation (see: From the Mountain to the Valley) and walked into a commotion. The Apostles were surrounded by a crowd and arguing with teachers of the law.

A man from the crowd explained that the Apostles were unable to cast a demon out of his son. Their power failure fueled the fire for these teachers of the law. They had a chance to to turn the crowd against Christ's followers.

The Apostles were baffled. Jesus had recently given them the power and authority over demons when he sent them out into the towns and villages. They successfully drove out demons from people. They had the power but they could not drive the demon from this boy.

Jesus declared them to be a faithless generation. The Apostles had some faith but they did not fully understand the true nature of Jesus' and his power. Like some church goers their faith was limited by an incomplete understanding of what it means to follow Jesus.

The Apostles (and some church-goers today) had a self-centered faith. They liked to be around Jesus and hear him teach. They liked the miracles and the possibility of becoming important but the idea of servant hood and sacrifice were not on their agenda.

The boy's father had a faltering faith. He believed in what Jesus was able to do, but struggled with doubt. Jesus said, "Everything is possible for him who believes."

Faith is an active force in the accomplishment of miracles. Jesus said, "I tell you the truth, if you have faith as small as a mustard seed, you can say to this mountain, ’Move from here to there’ and it will move. Nothing will be impossible for you." (Matthew 17:20)

The father's faith was mixed with doubt. "I do believe; help me in my unbelief," he said.

Jesus' response to this man's imperfect faith was to cast the demon out of his son. It is encouraging that our faith does not need to be perfect. On the other hand, our reliance on God must be complete.

Unbelief has no power. It can block miracles: “And so he did only a few miracles there because of their unbelief.” (Matthew 13:58)

Unbelief can bring discouragement among God’s people: “But the other men who had explored the land with him answered, 'We can’t go up against them! They are stronger than we are!' So they spread discouraging reports about the land among the Israelites.” (Numbers 13:31-32)

Power comes to the people of God when there is faith. Jesus told the woman with the issue of blood, “Your faith has made you whole.”

...all things are possible to him who believes.” (Mark 9:23)

Thursday, September 12, 2013

From the Mountain to the Valley


Life's mountaintop experiences can prepare us for the inevitable valleys that will follow. A mountaintop experience is something to celebrate and remember like a graduation, wedding or the birth of a child. At these times faith comes easy. There’s no doubt in your mind that God is blessing you.

But life has valleys, too. These are difficult moments of disease, death, and loss. Faith is more difficult when you’re in the valley. Doubt creeps in.

The disciples were experiencing one high-point after another with Jesus. He had performed great miracles and crowds of people gathered to hear his teachings. It seemed clear that he was the Messiah; the chosen one of God.

But right around the corner loomed the valley of the shadow of death. The crowds would soon turn against Jesus. He’d be betrayed, arrested, tortured and executed. The disciples would be fearful and doubt that Jesus was the Son of God.

Right before the valley, Jesus takes Peter, James and John to a mountain. He wants to strengthen them for the difficult road ahead and lets them catch a glimpse of his glory. He was transfigured before them. His clothes became dazzling white. (Mark 9:3)

Peter wanted this moment to last forever. He wanted to build a monument but Jesus had more work to do. He came down from the mountain and set his face toward Jerusalem and the cross. Jesus went to the mountain to be transfigured but came down the mountain to be a savior.

Our circumstances can change faster than Texas weather. Jesus did not promise us a stress free life. He said, “I have told you these things, so that in me you may have peace. In this world you will have trouble. But take heart! I have overcome the world.” (John 16:32-33)

A mountain top experience with God brings us closer to Him. We can take what we learned on the mountaintop into the valley below to help carry us through to the next mountaintop.

The Apostle Paul wrote, “For I am convinced that neither death nor life, neither angels nor demons, neither the present nor the future, nor any powers, neither height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God that is in Christ Jesus our Lord. (Romans 8:38-39)