Thursday, August 24, 2006

Mission - Clarity (continued)

Should be PCUSA be sending out HIV/AIDS workers? Yes. Should the PCUSA be sending out seminary instructors and college professors? Yes. Should the PCUSA be sending out folks to build water systems so villages will have a stable source of good drinking and irrigation water? Yes. Should the PCUSA be sending out people who will serve as coordinators between indigenous churches, mission/relief organizations, other denominations and congregations? Yes. Should the PCUSA be working to end poverty and hunger? Yes. We just shouldn’t call these efforts mission! (By the way, my wife partly disagrees with me on this!)

World Vision does great work all around the globe. The web page describes World Vision as: “World Vision is a Christian relief and development organization dedicated to helping children and their communities worldwide reach their full potential by tackling the causes of poverty.” What a powerful statement!

The point of this series is not to shoot holes in the PCUSA’s mission efforts! I believe that we would raise more money for doing the work of the church worldwide if the PCUSA was clear about what it is doing and why it is doing it. The church I serve is a good example. There are four churches in our area that assist people when they are having trouble paying their rent, utilities, etc. We use Love, INC as our screening agency. Our church is the smallest of the four, by far. We consistently help more people with more money than the other churches. We have people working at the local food bank. We help more families with Thanksgiving dinner, Christmas presents and Christmas dinner than any church in the area. Why do our people give so much? They give because we are clear about how the money is going to be used. The PCUSA has a “per capita” side of the budget and a “mission” side of the budget. There would be less confusion if the “mission” side of the budget was renamed “mission, relief and development.” The denominations web page could reflect these areas and communicate the good things that our folks are doing.

People will give $$$ to fund water projects. People will give $$$ to educate children and adults. People will give $$$ to improve health care for expectant mothers in Africa. People will give $$$ to train indigenous pastors and church leaders. People will give $$$ to have the Bible translated into a language that has never had a Bible. Clarity and communication are the key.


Note from Pastor Lance: We just signed an agreement to sell our house (praise God!). The buyers want to close in 1 week (it’s a cash deal). For that reason there will be no Friday edition of Full Court Presby (August 25). I have to have the septic system pumped and inspected and then getting the paperwork to the County offices ASAP. I would covet your prayers during this next week as we rush to sell the house.

Wednesday, August 23, 2006

Mission - Clarity Needed

Wade through the PCUSA web site and you will stumble across the mission co-workers main site called Mission Connections. Click on a country name and the user will be taken to a list of all mission co-workers in that country. Click on a name and it goes to a mission co-worker’s particular page (way cool). The page will give some background on the person and describe their work for the church. Starting with countries beginning with an “A” you would find:
  • Teaches at a Pentecostal seminary
  • Site coordinator for Young Adult Volunteer program
  • Health advisor
  • Bridge between partner churches and mission co-workers
  • Coordinators of congregational twinning projects
  • Facilitators for the Joining Hands Against Hunger Network
  • Seminary instructor
  • Professor
  • Planting churches
  • Trains and supports staff who care for children
  • Regional liaison and theological education consultant
  • Music professor at seminary
  • Seminary professor and works with planting churches
  • Seminary instructor
  • Seminary instructor (him), human rights lawyer (her)
  • PCUSA central Africa liaison
  • HIV/AIDS worker
  • College instructor
  • Human rights legal advisor
  • Computer science instructor at seminary
  • University instructor
  • The list goes on, and on, and on

I am positive that these folks are committed to the church and are excited about their work. The jobs that they do are important. I also know that their web pages cannot communicate everything that they do and say. Most of these people are not “missionaries” based on the information on the Mission Connections web site. Now I see why we call them “mission co-workers.”

Last weekend Fox News ran a special on Rick Warren and Saddleback’s ministry in Rwanda. His church is going to work with the President of Rwanda to battle HIV/AIDS, poverty, educational needs, hunger, health care concerns, etc. All of those efforts are backed by the upfront message that it is only in Jesus Christ that we find life and purpose. Everything they are doing in Rwanda has Jesus as the central message. My guess is that mission dollars will free flow into the Saddleback ministry effort in Rwanda.

The local church I serve has a “mission” component in its budget. People want to support mission. Our mission dollars given to the PCUSA go to support mission co-workers. If I showed the list of what our mission co-workers do to the session and congregation (and I plan on doing exactly that) there would be strong support to NOT give this mission money to the PCUSA. I do not consider a university instructor or professor a mission worker—he/she is a professor/instructor. The work is important; however, a professor at Princeton Theological Seminary isn’t a missionary so why is one in Brazil? A health advisor is not necessarily a missionary. A human rights legal advisor isn’t a missionary. A HIV/AIDS worker isn’t necessarily a missionary. Can they be? Yes, they can. However, from their web pages it is difficult to tell.

The PCUSA needs clarity if it plans to be involved in the mission field. People will support mission work/activity that centers first and foremost on spreading the good news of Jesus. Until the PCUSA recognizes that there will be a shortage of mission dollars flowing to Louisville.

Tuesday, August 22, 2006

Mission--Two Suggestions

Yesterday I asked the question: “Is it mission if the Gospel isn’t communicated?” The answer would appear to be obvious. However, the answer is not so obvious when a denomination, presbytery or local church doesn’t have a strong definition of mission. Social justice work is not necessarily mission. Feeding the poor is not necessarily mission. Providing housing for the homeless is not necessarily mission. The church of Jesus Chris must be involved in all of these endeavors. Just don’t call it mission unless the saving grace of Jesus Christ is communicated.

“I witness to Jesus through my actions.” Have you heard someone say something like that? I have heard those words come from too many Presbyterians. Do we need actions? Yes, we do. The problem is that actions alone do not communicate the good news of Jesus Christ. Years ago I met a person named Guy. He was a great person. He cared for people. He helped people. He was not a Christian—in fact, his parents had raised him to believe that Christianity was not true and that Christians were not to be trusted. He did as many, if not more, acts of kindness than any Christian. His actions did not communicate the good news of Jesus Christ; they communicated that he was a compassionate person. What are we as Christians (and Presbyterians) communicating?

One thing that has troubled me as I read through the multitude of web pages for our mission co-workers is how few of those pages mention anything about spreading the gospel. I realize that not all mission workers can be “open” about sharing the gospel lest governmental authorities kick them out of the country or imprison them. Yet, I do not see that as being the issue in most cases of our Presbyterian mission co-workers. The vast majority of countries where our people are serving are not in those types of hostile countries. Our co-workers could very well be sharing the gospel. If they are, why don’t they tell us so? Evergreen Presbyterian Church (the church I serve) supports a mission worker in Chile (not a Presbyterian). His primary work is in the field as he supports indigenous pastors. He is very vocal on how the lives of people are transformed when they give their lives to Christ. He shares about how his ministry is helping build up the Kingdom of God in Chile. If we found out today that he needed $10,000 by next Monday for a critical aspect of his mission/ministry I am confident that the people of our 100 member church would come up with the money. He is on the front lines of mission and communicates it to his supporters.

I have two suggestions for the PCUSA if it wants to tap into the flow of mission dollars coming out of our congregations. First, make sure that our mission co-workers are involved in sharing the gospel. We have to be different from the Red Cross and other relief agencies. We are a part of the Church of Jesus Christ! Secondly, the PCUSA needs to get much better at communicating what our mission co-workers actually do. The PCUSA needs to pull at the heart-strings of the people in the pews. An example of this type of communication is one couple who are mission co-workers. Meet Reyna and Ricardo Green (they are stationed in Brazil). Their web page clearly states that he is a seminary professor and works with planting churches. Supporting a seminary professor does not necessarily pull at the heart-strings of the average Presbyterian; planting churches in Brazil excites the average Presbyterian. Following these two suggestions will go a long way in ensuring a constant flow of mission dollars to the PCUSA.

Monday, August 21, 2006

Is it Mission if the Gospel isn’t Communicated?

I continue to work my way through the denominational pages of the 250 fulltime mission co-workers. It is taking MUCH longer than I had hoped. I am not going to hint at what I have been finding.

In thinking about “mission” I have come up with a question: “Is it mission if the Gospel isn’t communicated?” A lot of groups feed the hungry, work with AIDS patients and build homes for the poor. Are we different from any of these other groups if we do not clearly communicate the good news of Jesus Christ?

Its just a thought…