Missional in the Midwest

Midwest culture has adopted the “this is how we have always done it” mentality and it is proving to drive people from their faith at an alarming rate

One of the most challenging things that I have ever encountered was truly living a gospel led, missional existence and attempting to infuse that into a Midwest culture. A culture that is at the very least resistant, and at the very most combative.

I do not place blame anyone for this, but it is continually being propagated by traditional and repetitive nature of religion that does not really line up with God’s word. I have searched the history of this and found a couple of things to be true.

1. This great Midwestern land of ours was settled by some wonderful God fearing people. They settled on the East coast and slowly moved through our great land. When they landed in and around the Midwestern states they found themselves still bound by the ways of the king and what they knew was the liturgical church. Due to a combination of seasonal weather, including those harsh Wisconsin and Minnesota winters they had no choice but to build buildings and settle right where they were. A roof over their head would provide the needed shelter to continue the Lord’s work no matter the weather outside. They got comfortable and they started life.

2. While the colonization of America occurred in the early 17th century, people had already been exposed to a very stringent, Christ-less Christianity. It was about rules and regulations and stepping out of line and the punishment from God for doing so. Then came the California Gold Rush in 1848. This was a time when about half of the prospective prospectors would come from across the sea and the other half would travel West from their nice cozy shelters in the great Midwest. Those that were saddling up to head West and find all the riches waiting for them found themselves accompanied by men and women who were anointed with the Holy Spirit and led by that Spirit to take the word of God with these “forty-niners” West to a new land. The gospel was moving across the country as fast as the wagon trains would carry it.

The reason I show these two comparisons is that if you look closely you will see that the early movements of God that were occurring in the name of the Holy Spirit were spurred on by such leaders as Aimee Semple McPherson, Charles Parham, and William Seymour, all who were on the West Coast. These men and women were, in my opinion, products of an earlier leading generation that threw caution to the wind and decided to GO. This remains to be the call of the men and women of faith today, but unfortunately, the vast number of Midwestern churches are not teaching the greatest charge ever given, GO and make disciple of all the nations.

Midwest culture has adopted the “this is how we have always done it” mentality and it is proving to drive people from their faith at an alarming rate. According to a recent Barna study, nearly three out of every five young Christians (59 percent) disconnect from church life, either permanently or for a long period of time after the age of 15. I am not saying this is just in the Midwest but I have lived here all of my life and I can say that it appears that these numbers are pretty spot on. The number one reason for the mass exodus that Barna gives is the fact that churches seem overprotective and that they tend to demonize everything outside of the church. Hence, “this is the way we have always done it”. The traditional model of church will always preach fire and damnation for things that they do not understand (i.e the Bible), mostly because people have never been told that they could understand it and that it is for them personally. It is better to keep them under the gun so that they keep returning every week and stuffing those envelopes.

Now don’t get me wrong this is not just a liturgical community thing. Evangelical’s have built their fair share of palaces and settled down here as well. The relevance of the Bible and the call to make disciples and go into all of the nations to proclaim the good news of Jesus Christ seems to end at their doorways just as much as it does at the other places in town. The issue that I see most I think is that those that are pastoring those types of “hospital” churches are doing everything in their power to turn those hospitals into hospices by simply ignoring what God has called us to. They preach love and grace and redemption and some even are Spirit filled and Spirit led families of God. However, their backgrounds and their heritages are steeped in the tradition of the culture that they grew up in. It becomes a matter of “this is what I grew up in and this is how I will do my church today because of it”. There are quite a few of us these days that grew up in some other form of faith and what we witnessed was what could be considered the “old-liturgy”. That “old-liturgy” has shown to tie us to that same way of thinking even after encountering Christ fully. The result is evangelicals sitting in the same building every week praying for a change to happen and that God would show Himself mightily to their congregation. The only problem is, A. He already has shown Himself and 2. people are still being told that place that they go to every week is God’s house and His dwelling place, all the while murmuring “can we please wrap this up in under an hour?”.

Then there are those of us who have had a radical transformation by the Holy Spirit presence. I mean a full on encounter with the Lord of biblical proportion. Life changing, life altering, come to Jesus moment. That moment where you realize that while you may have been saved 4 years earlier in a neighborhood church at a place far from your current location, it was not until a group of men prayed over you to receive the baptism of the Spirit that your life truly was altered. When this happens you will never look at God’s word the same again. It now has meaning and purpose and you feel that God is moving you to greater purposes. This becomes a Acts 2 moment. You will experience an undesirable call to serve those around you and experience the supernatural presence of God, that no one ever told you about in Sunday school in the Catholic school you attended. The fact that God is asking you to make disciples who make disciples who make disciples is now a charge that can’t be denied in your life. There is no pull in the world that can take you from the Missio Dei “mission of God”. You are called to live a gospel existence that is not spoken of for the most part in the Midwest because it goes against the grain of what people have always known.

Being missional is the Christ infused gospel of Jesus Christ and realizing that the church does not have a mission but rather God’s mission has a church. It is realizing that the way of doing things like we have always done them is antiquated and in need of an overhaul. Missional is a change of paradigm to understand that when we are fully submitted to the Lordship of Christ we have no choice but to look different than our predecessors. The old has gone and the new has come.

I have lived this missional call in my life for ten years now in good ole Wisconsin and I can say that it has never got any easier. The winters get every bit as cold as the people can be when it comes to change. The idea of change is still foreign to people. The amount of those that are good right where they are stays the same. Although in the middle of it all God’s voice is beginning to take hold of those that are turned from the liturgy of the church and they are turning to the life of Christ. They are seeing a God that does not judge them or tear them down but only desires a relationship with them. They see a Church (capital C for the body of Christ) that will care about them no matter where they have been, their social afflictions, their strengths or their weaknesses, their background or their short comings. These folks are encountering the gospel and Jesus in the lives of the men and women of God that have embraced new wine offered and deiced not to put in back into old wineskins. When they decide to make a decision for Christ it will be because someone took the time to invest in them and listen to them and share their journey. Does that sound like anyone we know? Even though my wife and I are not fans of the Midwest natural climate and we would love to be somewhere else, God has made us followers of Him and we will continue to answer that call and be Missional in the Midwest.

Faith, not wasted on the Youth

There are no chubby bunny contests and special “youth group rooms” on a college campus

So recently I posted on Youth Ministry. Let’s take a deeper look at some statistics that should cause you to pause, but probably not be surprised.
 
LifeWay Research Study
LifeWay Research and Ministry Development (2007)
 
Study Findings: 70% will leave the faith in college. Only 35% eventually return. 7 in 10 Protestants ages 18 to 30 – both evangelical and mainline – who went to church regularly in high school said they quit attending by age 23. 34% of those said they had not returned, even sporadically, by age 30. That means about one in four Protestant young people have left the church. “The most frequent reason for leaving church is, in fact, a self-imposed change, ‘I simply wanted a break from church’ (27%).” “The path toward college and the workforce are also strong reasons for young people to leave church: ‘I moved to college and stopped attending church’ (25%) and ‘work responsibilities prevented me from attending’ (23%).”
 
There was another study, by Youth Ministry Architects, that says that the appropriate investment for youth in the local congregation is $1000 per student, per year.
 
SO….
 
Some easy numbers for ya.
– Student begins youth group as a 6th grader
– That is 7 years at $1000 per student per year = $7000 over the life in the church.
– Baseline for youth ministry is 10% of worship congregation (not including rolls that have people that are members but do not attend regularly)
– The average church attendance (Barna Group) is about 89 adults so we are going to round that up to 100 for argument’s sake.
 
SO…
 
On an average, we have invested $70K in these 10 students over the last 7 years, only to have them walk away from their faith at a 70% clip.
 
If this were a business, because mostly it is, we would expect a 5:1 (500%) ROI (return on investment). In reality, we are left with a $49,000 loss leaving us with -170% of our initial investment. (check the math please, it is not my strong suit)
 
Why do I say all of this? Well, it is because I believe that young people hold the key to the future of the body of Christ. I believe that they have every advantage and tool already given to them through the power of the Holy Spirit, but they are hindered by the promise of “bring a friend to youth group” and “you can help in the nursery this Sunday”.
 
I believe that not only will they be given vision from the Lord, but I submit that they already are but they are being told that their “level” of “church experience” would not lend them to sharing that in BIG church, so they shove it down and believe that what they are receiving is not real. They are relegated to youth group worship team and maybe once a month getting to be in front of BIG church. They are banished to an entirely different part of the building for crying out loud. Nothing makes you feel less than saying, “alright all the kids can now leave”. It’s like saying everything that comes next does not apply to you and the adults would like to talk now. 
Paul said this to Timothy…
“Do not rebuke an older man but encourage him as you would a father, younger men as brothers, older women as mothers, younger women as sisters, in all purity.” (1Tim 5:1-2 ESV) 

This call from Timothy is really a call for us to be a family and I believe that means on Sunday and Wednesday and every other day for that matter. We should certainly honor the older generation, but the younger generation matters.

I guess I just believe that if we invested in the young people the way that God has invested in all of us, we might see a different trend in those young people leaving the church as they continue to do. Honestly, I believe they leave the church because they have no idea what it really means to be a part of it in the first place. There are no chubby bunny contests and special “youth group rooms” on a college campus, and if there are they probably involve alcohol or some form of humiliation for standing for your faith. One of the top reasons given for kids leaving the faith is this. They never personally owned their faith. What would that say to the way that we treat them in our local congregations?

It may be time for a change or are we okay with dooming our young people to repeat the errors of those that are walking in faith. Sure, according to the statistic above 35% will return to their faith, but are we willing to take that chance? I for one am not. Will you follow the Lord or will you throw good money after bad? Think about that before you dismiss your young people this Sunday to leave the large group setting.

The Remnant highway

there will be a highway for the remnant of HIS people

I have heard some things recently that drew me to think. I have heard it said that wherever I attend a gathering on Sunday morning as “my church” I have heard it said that I can do what ever I like because it is “my life”, I have even heard it said that people like to put ownership on Jesus as “my Savior”, as if yours is different than mine.
 
Well the scripture says,
The earth is the LORD’s and the fullness thereof, the world and those who dwell therein, Psalm 24:1
and Paul told Timothy specifically that Jesus was the Savior for all people, saved and unsaved,
For to this end we toil and strive, because we have our hope set on the living God, who is the Savior of all people, especially of those who believe. 1 Timothy 4:10
So I ask you when Paul instructed the people in Ephesus in this way…
4 There is one body and one Spirit—just as you were called to the one hope that belongs to your call— 5 one Lord, one faith, one baptism, 6 one God and Father of all, who is over all and through all and in all. 7 But grace was given to each one of us according to the measure of Christ’s gift.

Why do we see that as an ownership thing?

 
I submit that it is because God has and is creating a remnant among the men and women of faith just as He did among the Israelite’s. Isaiah speaks of a time that the Lord will set His hand a second time to recover a remnant and that there will be a highway for the remnant of HIS people. That means that he will pull that remnant from those that call themselves saved.
Now before you start sending hate mail and throwing accusations out that I have a corner on the market for who gets in and who doesn’t, let this just be a call to all of us to get to a rallying point of Jesus Christ. If our focus shifts from self to the larger unit then maybe, just maybe, we will see a shift in our world. What ever will be will be though, because God is sovereign and His glory and reign will endure forever. It is what happens in the snapshot of time, that is our lives here on earth, that we can make a difference for the gospel.
Make no mistake that God’s word is true and a remnant will be pulled from the people of God, so while we are here and laboring for sake of the gospel let’s make that highway clear and remove all stumbling blocks and make clear a path for the Lord. Love one another, rally around the cross and be a good steward of the things that God has placed in your charge.

Pokemon? Whoa!!

Don’t believe the lies that the enemy will put in your path by exchanging bad for something worse and cloaking it in good.

So yes the latest craze in the world is Pokemon Go. The children’s game lived out in virtual reality in attempts to grab those millennials that grew up with the game and wire them into their smart phones or other electronic devices. I have some opinions on this but then I started to think about the fact that it is not my opinion that matters but rather how God sees these things and it caused me to start to search the scripture to find out that very thing. I started in Genesis, and saw that Eden was deceived by evil that was masked as good.

So when the woman saw that the tree was good for food, and that it was a delight to the eyes, and that the tree was to be desired to make one wise, she took of its fruit and ate, and she also gave some to her husband who was with her, and he ate. Genesis 3:6

Outside of the occasional robbery, local police departments having to warn citizens to stay out of private property and the fact that people are wandering into oncoming traffic because there may be a charizard hidden in the middle of a four lane highway, the game itself is pretty harmless, (FOR NOW). However I have seen many folks that call Jesus their Savior attempt to justify the craze by saying that they are using it as a discipling tool. Now, I totally believe that God can use everything for His glory and His will be done in all things. However, are we a vehicle for the gospel or a vehicle for the enemy?

There is a way that seems right to a man, but its end is the way to death. Proverbs 14:12

Let’s not forget how Jesus discipled. He went to men and asked them to walk with him and he invested 3 years of his life with them. He went where they went and he slept where they slept. He ate the same food and met the same people. Discipleship is the giving away of your life for the furtherance of the gospel message. Discipleship is going out of your way to be uncomfortable so that others can see the love of a Savior. Discipleship is an investment in lives around you.  Is this being accomplished when the conversations among 5 people standing in a park together centers around what level or team you are on in this game? Are we doing as Paul instructed the people in Colossi?

17 And whatever you do, in word or deed, do everything in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God the Father through him. Colossians 3:17

Then out of this you invariably have the “lesser of two evils” side. “At least people are getting out of the house and getting active”, has been a rallying cry for proponents of Pokemon Go. So it took this game to get the people of God to be active in their world? The charge to disciple and preach the gospel and go out to the ends of the earth is as old as history, yet the lure of electronic gratification has pulled us out of the house. We cannot be lead away from the truth at any cost.

…’For the time will come when they will not endure sound doctrine; but after their own lusts shall they heap to themselves teachers, having itching ears; And they shall turn away their ears from the truth, and shall be turned unto fables. 2 Timothy 4:3-4 

So is this article about shaming Christians into acting like Christians? Heck no. However, we all have the charge upon our lives, to choose wisely the path in which we will travel. If this helps even one person then it has hit the mark.

They say that Pokemon Go has surpassed pornography as the most engaged activity on your phone. Interesting that they keep that statistic isn’t it? Don’t believe the lies that the enemy will put in your path by exchanging bad for something worse and cloaking it in good. Moses saw it and we can see it too.

24 By faith Moses, when he was grown up,refused to be called the son of Pharaoh’s daughter, 25 choosing rather to be mistreated with the people of God than to enjoy the fleeting pleasures of sin. Hebrews 11:24

In the end do what ya gotta do, but always remember that without Christ at the center of every thought and decision we can be lead easily away from the things of God and into the realm of virtual gratification and accomplishment, and you really do not have to “Catch ’em all” for Pokemon but you should try to catch ’em for Jesus.

 

Why do I care?

Did ya ever get those times when you ask yourself, “Why do I even care?”? The times that you wonder why the things that bother you bother you. I mean you are secure in your faith and you hold God in high regard, you are suffering those around you and your desire is to see life lived out in the context of the gospel. That seems to be a pretty good start on why you would not see fit to ask the “Why do I care?” question. Yet we find ourselves asking that question.

Recently I had a friend of mine tell me how he visited a church where he used to go and proceeded to tell me that over the years not much has changed there. The messages are pretty much the same, the people are pretty much the same, and the open pleadings for money have not changed much. He was surprised that this was the case. The Pastor routinely posts publicly about the financial woes of the church and that there is a need to get people to give or they will not be able to pay the bills. He also told me that the number of people in the Sunday gathering was approaching 11 or 12, (people, not 11 or 12 hundred or thousand). Upon hearing this I almost instantaneously went to “why do they insist on making this so hard?”. Then I asked myself “Why do I care?”.

Then another friend of mine told me about how a church he was attending went with a snow producing machine for a Christmas service, that was not to be outdone by light shows and smoke machines on Sunday morning. That was not the part that made me scratch my head though. It was the part where he lamented over the fact that he has people there that he truly loves and have played a pivotal role in his walk with Christ, yet he has not personal relationship with them. I mean how much relationship can you truly have with someone if you have never been to their house right? We are family ya know. I ask myself “Why do I care?”.

Lastly there are the churches near us that have referred people to us, rather than helping them on their way. We heard things like, “they are more suited to people in your situation” or “they have a very good homeless ministry”. They are right in that we do have a good homeless ministry and we are suited to “those” people, but that is only because Jesus had a good homeless ministry and cared about “those” people. We spent time with those people that sometimes were in other congregations all together, yet had never or very rarely even stepped foot in the home of the Pastor of that church. I ask myself “Why do I care?”

Some of the answers started coming to me over the weekend. We hold a Sunday evening basketball training, bible study, fellowship, relational, character building, loving, sharing, growing kind of thing that is really proving to open my eyes more and more to the gospel of Jesus Christ. We have been studying in the book of Titus and it has been such a great time of growth for the men involved. This week something stood out to me and leaped off the page.

he saved us, not because of works done by us in righteousness, but according to his own mercy, by the washing of regeneration and renewal of the Holy Spirit,whom he poured out on us richly through Jesus Christ our Savior, so that being justified by his grace we might become heirs according to the hope of eternal life. Titus 3:5-7

He saved us because of his own mercy, we are being regenerated with the Holy Spirit, and he is coming back again to get us. The gospel of Jesus Christ demands that we embrace those things. Without them we are children tossed to and fro by any means of doctrine or light show or plea for money or indoor snow storm, okay so I added that last part to Paul’s letter. Speaking of Paul’s letter, the charge in Ephesians 4 is for us to grow up into the fullness of Christ and not be infants forever. There in lies the reason I dislike the reasoning, “I am just a baby Christian” (for the last 10 years), when it comes to serving the Kingdom of God.

It is my assertion that the reason churches find themselves in these positions of pleading for money or directing people away from their own church family is mainly because the gospel message is not released in their midst. They preach it, they believe it, they trust completely in it, but the folks that are attending regularly on Sunday have not been released to embrace the gospel on their own. The Pastor has been held up as the only one that knows what is going on. If it were not so why would we give themselves names like Senior Pastor or Head Pastor? If it they were not believing that they needed to be elevated, why would they build stages and quite literally keep the attenders in the dark while the light shines only on them in a Sunday morning gathering. The prophet Isaiah puts it this way.

A voice cries:
“In the wilderness prepare the way of the Lord;
    make straight in the desert a highway for our God.
Every valley shall be lifted up,
    and every mountain and hill be made low;
the uneven ground shall become level,
    and the rough places a plain.
And the glory of the Lord shall be revealed,
    and all flesh shall see it together,
    for the mouth of the Lord has spoken.” Isaiah 40:3-5

The very ground that we walk on should be made even so that we shall see it together. Think about that. What if we treated people with that same vision? What if we allowed the Spirit of God to speak through the people gathered and scattered into our world? Would there be a need to beg for money on a Sunday morning? Would there be a need to refer widows and orphans to other fellowships because you are “not equipped” to handle them?

So the question remains, “Why do I care?”. Well I care because God cares. I have prayed Lord, break my heart for what breaks yours, and He has listened and responded. Do I run ahead sometimes? Sure Do I get it wrong sometimes? Yep Am I a broken man in need of a Savior EVERY SINGLE DAY? Absolutely! The thing that I can say for certain is that he loved us first and he guides and directs my path. I am righteous because he is righteous. I am loved because he loves. I am saved, I am being saved and I will be saved.

That’s all I got to say about that, (in my best Forest Gump voice).

Moved by the story

So one of the most interesting thoughts I have had come through my mind over the last 12 years of living life on mission with God, is that the story of God matches up with mine so well. Ya see God’s story has all the pieces that make up a best seller, wait He already has a best seller. Anyway the story that He has laid out was one of creation, a fall, redemption and finally restoration. Yep, it is the story of the gospel, the “good news” for both the Jew and the gentile.

For I am not ashamed of the gospel, for it is the power of God for salvation to everyone who believes, to the Jew first and also to the Greek. Romans 1:16

That power that I felt was so real when I started to experience the Spirit of God moving through me. Now, I had been in some very dark places in my lifetime and I had very good reasons to be distant from God. You name it and I had been a part of it. All of the things and reasons people use for not being close to God, I was part of that very thinking.

Burned by the church? CHECK
Burned by people? CHECK
Lead by desires of the flesh? CHECK
Seeking gain for personal pleasure? CHECK
Chasing the almighty dollar? CHECK
Bound in addiction? CHECK
Gonna pull myself up by my own bootstraps? CHECK

Ya see in those things is the very nature of God’s story to proclaim hope to a lost and struggling world. God would not have sent me through those things if He did not desire for me to use them later. God’s story has a plan and a purpose that is solely HIS. My story was wrought out of confusion and chaos and the presence of a distant God whose son only existed hanging on the cross of the Catholic church I attend (or told my parents I attended) for most of my adolescent years.

The gospel story is retroactive.

but God shows his love for us in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us. Romans 5:8

Even while I was in my sin all those years ago, God showed His love for me by sending His son to die. Take minute and think about that one. The God of the universe sent His son to live a perfect life and encounter all the trials and tribulations of a human existence, be accused by people who once called him friend, be betrayed by the closest of those that would deny they even knew him then give up the ghost so those very people could live forever with Him. Because the story is retroactive we get the opportunity to receive the same gift 5 minutes after you read this and then say “You mean that the sin I will commit tomorrow is already taken care of?” YEP! For those that are already submitting to the Lordship of Jesus you still chase the flesh and will always have a sin nature, BUT the scripture says that the Holy Spirit dwells inside you to give correction and aid you in your journey. Think about this one time. What if every time that you sat down at the computer to look at porn or every time you lied or every time you lusted, you would actually thank Jesus. I mean sit there at the screen and thank him for the cross. Think about what He did so that you could sit there and watch porn. Think about what He did so that you could check out some girl/guy at the check out counter at the grocery store. If we took Jesus at His word and we knew His redemptive story and it became normal for us and those that we are walking with, what a difference that would make in our world.

Take a minute today and go over the story of God. Use your own words to talk about it, then find out how your current story matches up with it.

Please always know that we are praying for everyone in our city and community regularly and there are those that are at the point to receive a message that is entirely Jesus’ and entirely yours but they need to see it through a different lens. They are not filing into church on Sunday to catch the latest worship tune or waiting to put their money in the basket, they are in your school at your work place and maybe even in your home.

Share your story and be moved.