Do Churches Contribute to Their Communities – a report from the Barna Group

Barna Group - impact of churches infographic

Barna Group - impact of churches infographic

This report from The Barna Group on how Americans perceive the impact of churches in their communities is interesting.

Although public skepticism of religion has become increasingly commonplace, a new Barna Group study shows that most Americans remain relatively upbeat about the role that local churches play in their communities.

The nationwide study shows that three-quarters of U.S. adults believe the presence of a church is “very” (53%) or “somewhat” positive (25%) for their community. In contrast, only one out of every 20 Americans believes that the influence of a church is negative—either very (2%) or somewhat so (3%). That leaves about one out of six adults (17%) who are indifferent toward the role of churches.  Read the entire article

What is particularly interesting is that what many Christians perceive as the purpose of a church –

There seems to be a disconnect for most Americans between serving the community and helping individuals find their way to God through Christ. Ministry-related goals – such as teaching the Bible, introducing people to Christ, and bringing people to salvation – are infrequently viewed as a primary way to serve the community. Even among many churchgoers, contributing positively to the community is perceived to be the result of offering the right mix of public service programs. Yet, this seems to miss an important biblical pattern: you change communities by transforming lives.

One thing that seems obvious to me is that most Christians perceive the impact of the church to occur within the church building whereas the community focuses on what the church does outside the building.  And if we change communities by transforming lives why isn’t the community aware of this transformation?

I wonder if part of the problem is what we understand by a transformed life.  Christians tend to focus on an inner transformation that has little to do with how we engage in the community.  But in Jesus day a transformed life meant community engagement too.   Individual transformation was not disconnected from the community as we tend to make it.  Perhaps if we became more like that first century church our communities would once more sit up and take notice.

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From Anywhere to Everywhere – The Future of Missions is Global

The January 2011 MSA Seed Sampler is out.

The future of missions is global! Not global in the sense of the old bastions of Christian power and missionary efforts from the Western Church, but rather global in the sense that it is now “from anywhere, to everywhere”. In 2010 the Seed Sampler explored several global trends providing the church with “New Challenges and New Opportunities 2010-2020”. All of these global trends impact the future of missions. Whether we’re talking about global power and economic shifts from the North and West to the South and East, the ever-growing global youth culture, turbulent economic times and issues swirling around food and water security and an environment in crisis, or ethnic shifts to a new majority future which, in turn, propels us deeper into issues of pluralism and multiculturalism, there is one clear fact: the mission of God through the church cannot go on as if nothing has changed.

In this edition we look at just a few of these areas and what they mean for missions into the future.

Andy Wade
Seed Sampler editor


January Articles

Poem | Neon Nights – Andy Wade
Reflection| We Have Come, We Have Seen, Now We Must Follow – Christine Sine
Lead Seed | The Changing Paradigm of Missions – Eldon Porter
Seed Share | Still Waiting – Global Disciples
Seed Share | Globalization: The Challenge – Os Guinness
Seed Share | Media’s Influence – Joseph Vijayam
Resources | Resources

 

Eve of Epiphany – We have Come, We Have Seen Now We Must Follow

It is the Eve of Epiphany, and we are entering the season during which we celebrate the many ways in which Jesus both was and is still revealed in our world.  This season brings with it an important challenge – our need to consider what it really means to be not just followers of Jesus but revealers of Jesus in our world.

Church attendance in most of our Western nations has fallen dramatically over the last 20 – 30 years and it is easy for us to blame the culture around us which pulls people in so many different directions.  But are we to blame too?  Can the people who live and work around us see Jesus revealed through our words and actions?  Are we more loving, more compassionate more generous because of our faith?  Are our lives really committed to God’s mission of transforming a broken world?  These are good questions for all of us to ponder during this season of Epiphany.

How often in the last year has someone asked you about your lifestyle and why you live differently from those around you?  When I worked in Africa and the refugee camps of Asia people often asked “Why are you doing this?”  They knew that we could have been at home in comfortable houses and comfortable lives and yet we had chosen to live differently because of our faith and it impressed them.  They saw something of Jesus revealed in our lives and it opened many doors to witness to the love of a God who cares for all the lost and broken people of our world.

Today I am not sure how often that is true.  Yes we live more simply than many of our neighbours and we live as a community that seeks to love and care for each other. We grow as much of our own produce as possible and try to live sustainably.  We also practice a daily spiritual rhythm of prayer and mediation and reach out to others with generous hospitality.  But how different are we really from the people around us?

It is easy for us to become complacent about our faith and not consider the true challenges that becoming a disciple places on us.  The wise men came to see Jesus and they returned home “by another way”.  Their lives had been changed and the old ways no longer worked for them.  Of course we do not know what those changes were but they must have been life transforming.  For us too the events of Christmas should be life transforming.  Following Jesus is not meant to be some cursory assent to the question “Do you believe in Jesus?”  Following Jesus is meant to turn our lives around so that we go out and live differently in a way that draws others to the God in whom we live and move and have our being.

Doing mission is not for the few who choose to serve in distant countries.  The mission of God calls all of us to step out of our comfort zones into another way of being and another way of doing.  It calls all of us to accept the challenge of Epiphany to live and serve joyfully in a way that reveals Jesus to others so that they too hunger for the One who has transformed us.

Austerity Measures – What Would Jesus Do?

Tom and I are now in Britain where the entire population is staggering under the drastic budget cuts that have just been announced.   These are the most severe cuts since the 1920s.  Some programmes have been cut by 10% others by 30% and still others have been annihilated completely.  A few people are breathing a sigh of relief thinking they have escaped the devastation.  Some are trying to hoard their existing resources and maintain a semblance of security.  And though the situation in the U.S. has not reached this stage I suspect that it might not be far behind.  I believe that we are in the midst of a major societal upheaval and we will never be the same again.

This is not all necessarily bad news though.  Jesus constantly instilled his followers with hope and expectation in a time that must have seemed as uncertain as our own.  His proclamations about God’s kingdom gave them confidence in the future – not just for some vague after life future, but for their very real future on earth too.  And as a result they radically reoriented their lives and reinvented their priorities.   In the midst of societal upheaval Jesus established a new community of love and mutual care.

In the midst of this challenging transition there is so much that gives me hope and much that excites me because it seems that God is doing something new, something I can imagine Jesus doing so that we catch wonderful glimpses of God’s kingdom.

First I love the new understanding of Christian mission that is emerging –  not as programmes that help or convert people but as relationships founded on mutual love and concern.  And out of these relationships new intentional Christian communities are evolving with spiritual formation and spiritual disciplines at their centre.

Second I believe we are seeing a re-definition of generosity – not as a giving of our leftovers to help those at the margins but as a willing turning away from self centred living towards simplicity that frees up more resources to share.  The increasing popularity of One Day’s Wages, started by Eugene Cho is a great example of this.  And as I travel I run into a growing number of people who voluntarily accept challenges such as the $2 challenge.  Others are living on minimum wage for several weeks in order to free up resources.

Third we are seeing a reconnecting to creation that is not just a wonderful way to provide fresh produce for ourselves but it is often a way to reach out and help others too.  In my post Is This A Move of God I talked about the community garden movement that has not just provided food for individuals and families but that has stocked food pantries and fed the homeless in amazing ways.

We are all facing challenging economic times but I do believe that God is still in control.  And God still provides us with hope for the future no matter how challenging the transitions may seem

 

MSA May Seed Sampler – Social Entrepreneurship & Microfinance

The MSA Seed Sampler for May is now available.  it addresses issues of social entrepreneurship and microfinance

When many people think about entrepreneurship they think “small business”. Some may also think about how business entrepreneurship can help those in need. But what if social entrepreneurship was even bigger then that? Our theme for this year’s Seed Sampler is “2010>>>2020, New Challenges— New Possibilities” and we’re looking at major trends in the coming decade and how they affect our lives, churches, organizations, and society. The exciting thing about social entrepreneurship is that, depending on the entrepreneurial focus, it may address any of these major trends headed our way!

Read all the articles here

Friendship at the Margin: a Book Review

A couple of weeks ago I commented on the fact that I had just started reading Friendship at the Margins by Christopher Heuertz and Christine Pohl.  I don’t usually take two weeks to read a book, but this one has been extremely impacting for me and I have enjoyed taking time to reflect on all they are saying and pray about the implications for my own life.

Chris Heuertz is the international director of Word Made Flesh (WMF), whose people live and serve amongst the most vulnerable of the world’s poor.  Christine Pohl is a theologian and ethicist.  She is professor of social ethics at Asbury Theological Seminary in Wilmore Kentucky.

I love the approach to mission laid out in this book.  They contend that:

…the ways God works in and through us are much more connected to tender hearts and open hands than to personal assets and skills.  Our completeness is found in Christ and community where distinctions in status or resources mean much less. (p21)

It is as we befriend people at the margins – prostitutes and drug addicts, street kids and those in extreme poverty – through the practice of hospitality and relationship, we create communities in which our eyes are opened to recognize the for righteousness and justice to be lived out.

Heurertz and Pohl give a fresh look at the meaning of both community and mission.  They do not do this in a judgmental way that makes us retreat, but in a compassionate loving way that has me longer for more intimate relationship with those at the margins who have so much to teach us all about life, faith and and what it means to be followers of Christ.

Friendship at the Margins is I think the most important book I have read for a long time.  It is challenging, convicting and life giving.  It is easy to read with lots of stories that bring to life the true meaning of friendship and mission.  It is a must read for anyone interested in community or in mission.  It is also an important book for those who are concerned about how to move deeper into intimacy with God.

Let me end with one of its most compelling quotes about discipleship:

One of the ongoing surprises in mission is experiencing how the gift of friendship contributes to discipleship.  Many of the women and children with whom WMF works have suffered unspeakable trauma, abuse, violence and exploitation.  And yet many continue to find the courage to pray.  Their faith is resilient.  They live with gratitude and hope.  From their poverty they practice abundant generosity, giving freely and with joy.

We grow together in discipleship, learning from one another as we draw closer to Jesus.  We do not bring the same experiences or the same resources into community, but through our friendships those experiences and resources are shared, and they become the clay out of which faithful discipleship to Jesus is fashioned.

Mutuality does not come from everyone doing the same thing or making the same contributions.  It comes from shared humility, respect and appreciation for the other person, and some sense of share vision or purpose.  (p79)


What Are We Witnessing To?

This weekend I was in Pasadena CA at the West Coast Health Care Missions Conference.  Unfortunately I spent most of the weekend feeling miserable with a headache, temperature and nasal congestion.  It is the first time I can ever remember cancelling a workshop because of health.  And I received little sympathy from my medical friends all of whom took a few steps back each time I came near because of their fears of H1 N1 flu.

In spite of that it was a great weekend reconnecting to friends old and new.

I was particularly impacted by a talk given by Bryant Myers, now a professor at Fuller Seminary who worked with World Vision for many years.  His question Do we point people towards our organization, towards money, towards, power or toward Christ? really had me thinking.  He talked about how the effectiveness of World Vision projects often pointed people towards World Vision as the saviour rather than towards Christ and it made me aware of how subtle the difference can be.

Bryant talked about the fact that the go and tell evangelism we so often practice is deeply flawed because the power of conversion and of discipleship remains outside the community.  It is people outside the community who bring the message and hold the answers.  It is often even the people outside the community who ask the questions – the community members themselves are often seen as passive receptors of our message rather than active participants in it

In the gospels the questions about the reality of Christ are always asked by the community itself in response to the acts of God in their midst.  The Gospel message is so much more powerful when it is proclaimed in response to acts that make people aware of a new reality and challenge them to ask questions that point them beyond what they already understand.

The challenge of the gospel is not in what we say but in how we live.  To be truly spiritual people we must live our lives and do our work so that we bear witness to the spirit of God that dwells within us and not to ourselves and our own ambitions.  We must live in a way that can only be interpreted in the light of the spirit that is within us.  It is only then that we will find people respond with questions that point them not to us and our organizations but to God and the reality of Christ.  Only then will we authentically bear witness to Christ and draw people into a living relationship with God.

Makes me think of Mother Theresa who said – I bear witness to Christ at all times and occasionally I use words.