Spill on Aisle 3

This morning I walked into my local grocery store…not a big box all purpose store that also sells groceries…but a grocery store. The first end-cap I encountered just inside the main entrance was covered with a cell phone display. Evidently my grocery store is now in the cell phone business.

For some reason this bothered me all the way to the dairy case. (where I picked up 12 gallons of milk for the coffee shop) It stuck with me all the way to the church where I’m working today. And even after crossing a few things of my ‘to-do’ list, it still bugs me. Being the twisted person that I am, I googled the grocer’s home page and searched for their mission statement.

  • Our mission is to be a leader in the distribution and merchandising of food, pharmacy, health and personal care items, seasonal merchandise, and related products and services.

I’ll be the first to admit I don’t know much about business, marketing, the food industry, or macro economics. But I do know that a mission statement is to guide an organization as they fulfill their purpose and it allows those organizations to say ‘no’ to things that would take them off course. Somewhere along the way the higher ups have decided that selling cell phones will help them be a leader in the distribution and merchandising of food, pharmacy, health and personal care items…that there is a connection between wireless communications and bananas, broccoli, and bratwurst.

All this draws me to reevaluate the mission statement of the organization I participate in: the Church. Not the local one. Not the denominational one. But the capital “C” one. The global family who claims a relationship with Jesus and attempts to follow him.

In Brian McLaren’s new book, A New Kind of Christianity, he talks about the mission of the church. “Of many possible answers [of what our mission is] there is one to which I am continually drawn, embarrassingly obvious and simple to understand, but also embarrassingly challenging to do: the church exists to form Christlike people, people of Christlike love. It exists to save them from the great danger of wasting their lives, becoming something less than and other than they were intended to be, gaining the world but losing their souls.”

It seems so simple, so straight forward and yet we complicate it. In Antioch people were first called “Christians” or little Christ’s. They didn’t give themselves that label. Others did. They were marked by a single characteristic: LOVE. Their prayer was to love. Their mission was to love. Their actions reflected love. Unfortunately my life reflects more of an attitude of tolerance than a heart of love. NT Wright said, “Tolerance is a cheap low-grade parody of love.” Ouch.

So now hours after I visited my cell phone selling grocery store, I wonder about the guests who will enter our facilities this Easter Sunday. Hopefully they won’t scratch their heads pondering what we have strategically placed on our end-caps but rather encounter a people of love & acceptance.

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Maywin Socket

Today is St. Patrick’s Day. Most people don’t know much about it beyond; you’d better wear green or you’ll get pinched, at some point we’ll see a clip of the Chicago River dyed green, and the places we go for lunch or dinner will be serving green beer. I didn’t know much about St. Patrick’s Day either…until about ten years ago.

I had the opportunity to hear George Hunter III speak. Hunter had just written a book called, The Celtic Way of Evangelism: How Christianity Can Reach the West…Again. That day he unpacked the life of a boy named Maywin Socket. Kidnapped as child by pirates. Sold to a man to watch livestock in the Irish fields for long periods at a time. He learned the language. Through something called natural revelation he grew close to God. After six years he had miraculous escape and returned to England.

Maywin went into the priesthood and his name was changed to Patrick. He felt compelled to return to Ireland. Unfortunately the church in Rome had determined the celtic tribes were barbaric and unreachable. How ironic – he was denied permission to go to the “unreachable” while the church was on the edge of collapse due to corruption. Patrick was undeterred. He was convinced that all that had happened in his life was preparation to take the good news of Jesus to Ireland. Eventually the leaders of the church consented and Patrick, accompanied about a dozen others, departed on their missionary journey.

When they landed they did not use the Roman way of evangelizing (provide people with information then give them a chance to respond and if they choose to believe then you welcome them in to your fellowship). Does that sound familiar? It should. It is the way many evangelicals are taught to “evangelize.” Believe > Become > Belong.

Patrick used a much more relational way. He and his group would find a village and ask for permission to set up their camp outside the village. They would then build relationships inviting the Celts to know them, eat with them, and participate in each other’s lives. Through the relationship they shared their faith in Jesus and helped those where receptive to understand intellectually what was going on in their hearts. He reversed the Roman way to: Belong > Become > Believe.

During Patrick’s lifetime, Ireland went from the most barbaric arm of the far reaching Roman church to the most Christian. All during some of the darkest days for the church back in Rome. God used Patrick’s mission and method to save Christianity in the west.

The church in the west is in trouble again. What do we do? How can the tide of our irrelevance and others’ disinterest? I believe it starts by our rejection of the Roman way and our embrace of Patrick’s way.

Updates

If you’ve been following me for very long you’ll appreciate these updates:

  • I sold the coffee shop. Well, 11/12th’s of it. I’m still a partner and will work a couple shifts a week.
  • I’m a part time staff member at Williams Lake Church of the Nazarene. My responsibilities have increased to 20-25 hrs a week. I will continue to pastor Fresh Ground and will now be giving direction to small groups.
  • I still speak at leadership events and retreats, as well as consult with churches and other groups every month.

That being said, Brennan Manning is one of my favorite authors. His most recent book, The Furious Longing of God, begins with a chorus that I have come to love and appreciate. “I’m Brennan. I’m an alcoholic. How I got there, why I left there, why I went back, is the story of my life. But it is not the whole story.” He continues through the other hats he’s worn and roles he’s had; Catholic, priest, married, etc.

I feel incredibly connected to Brennan and share his song. “I’m Darrel. I was a pastor. How I got there, why I left there, why I went back, is the story of my life. But it is not the whole story. I’m Darrel. I was married man but I’m no longer married. How I got there, why I left there is the story of my life. But it is not the whole story. I’m Darrel. I owned a coffee shop. How I got there, why I left there, why I went back, is also the story of my life. But it is not the whole story.”

For a long time my world was neat and tidy. I had a title that explained my job: pastor. I lived in a way that reflected my roles: father and husband. If I ever got confused or out of sink I could look around and remember, “Ah, this is what I do so this must be who I am.”  But the last couple years of wading through muddy water has shown me that my formula was wrong. While those things were part of the story of my life, they are not the whole story.

Today it is very difficult for me to answer the standard guy question, “What do you do?” Well…I’ve been invited to do some pastoring. I get to serve coffee. I have the privilege of walking along side some wonderful people. I do my best to love my kids and be kind to my neighbors. And even in saying those things I fight against the temptation for them to define me.

Manning concludes this section by saying, “I’m Brennan. I’m a sinner, saved by grace, That is the larger and more important story. Only God, in His fury, knows the whole of it.” And so I conclude similarly. I’m Darrel. I’m a sinner, saved by grace, That is the larger and more important story. Only God, in His fury, knows the whole of it.

Meals

This past week I decided to sit in on a different Sunday School class than the one I usually attend. It’s a large class led by a friend of mine who is great at asking tough questions and facilitating thoughtful discussions. My intension was to spectate but he kept drawing me into their conversation that centered on church visitors, outreach, and hospitality.

It was interesting to hear the variety of views and comments. At one point I thought it would be helpful to read something from a book I contributed to. It was quote from a friend who does not identify himself as a Christian and it seemed to be very applicable to our topic.

“I would never describe Nazarenes as people who are comfortable eating (let alone opening their homes) with just anybody. I know how “you all” (clergy and laity alike) talk about us sinners, and I know that an invitation to your “home” is more like being invited to “learn about a tremendous business opportunity (i.e. AMWAY)” than to a party.  I’m sure everyone is not like this, but it is the exceptional and not the normal Nazarene who doesn’t see the “lost” as projects or opportunities or offensive.

“Christians have small tables where only close family is invited to come and sit without fear of embarrassment or correction or judgment. You all may think you set a big table, but your actions and attitudes convey a different message. We know that our preferences, political positions, and social choices offend you and in turn encourage you to tell us how we need to change or risk going to hell. So, why would we want to sit at a table with you? In other words, we know you don’t like us for ourselves, just as we are, so we’ll take the lead and prevent making you any more uncomfortable than you already are.”

The passionate rebuttals began as soon as I stopped reading. I think the reactions ranged from shocked to offended to angry to hurt. When the conversation finally came back to me I asked how many in the room had shared a meal with someone who claims no connection to Christ or the church in the last week, two weeks, month, or six months.

That entire experience has stuck with me this week. And it has left me with some questions that I don’t want to forget anytime soon.

  • Why is it that many of the people who can dissect the significance of Jesus eating with the people he chose to eat with, rarely follow his example?
  • Does it really matter if I can exegete passages of scripture if I don’t  have a sandwich with someone with a different world view?
  • Do my table conversations sound like a sales pitch?
  • How big is my table?

After the worship service a new friend pointed out to me that there are two barriers to eating with people. (which is the same thing as opening up your life and getting involved in someone else’s) Those barriers are comfort and convenience. He’s right and I need to put more energy into overcoming them. How about you?