We used to call it missions.
Now it’s called Cross-cultural ministries or World Evangelism. For centuries the church reserved a special category in their budgets and calendar called World Missions. In traditional churches in America there are still missionary services in which missionaries are prayed for, mission fields are introduced and offerings are taken. In traditional Christian homes in America refrigerators are covered with missionary cards so that you remember to pray for “the missionaries.”
In the last twenty to thirty years there has been a major shift in our country. While most churches predictably are still approaching missions in the same old way there have been some startling developments. For years the system was one of most Christians staying home and living the American dream while a few were called and supported to go to the “heathen” around the world.
Picture: Tom Friedman’s book, The World is Flat
In the last couple of decades or so the world, in Tom Friedman’s words, the world has become flat! In other words the playing field has become even and flat. The walls that once separated us as a world are down or coming down in rapid succession. Technology has made advancements into second and third world countries. Robe wearing terrorists now use the internet to blast their message of hate around the world. Crank powered laptops are in use on the mountains of New Guinea and other remote areas of our planet. Cell phones, solar phones, satellite TV, and global access to the internet have decreased the advantages of living in America and increased the possibilities of connectivity for people around the world.
In the midst of all of this global change, our own nation is in decline. Talk to school teachers from the inner city or even right here in Newark in certain schools and they will express their fear for what’s coming. This week the discussion in Chicago has been the unusually high murder rate and the call by two state representatives to add the National Guard to the streets to assist the police. In Columbus, this spring the murder rate is in double digits ahead of last year at this time. Drug usage is out of control in the major cities and in the small towns of America. What role does the church play in this drama of increasing crime, violence, addictions and disintegrating families?
• In 1900, there were 28 churches for every 10,000 Americans
• In 1950, there were 17 churches for every 10,000 Americans
• In 2006, there were 10 churches for every 10,000 Americans
“Seventy percent of the population is un-churched. Christians are not working to get people to come back to the church; they are working with generations who have never been to church.” —Kennon Callahan
We are in trouble. Nobody wants to hear this to be honest. Most people that have the income to do so in America just move away from the troubled people and neighborhoods. Most churches in the last forty years or so have moved to suburbia as quick as they possibly could to avoid having to deal with declining neighborhoods, drugs, abuse, anger, fighting, gangs, and all the other ugliness that comes with increased sinfulness. In the midst of this shift away from areas of need these same churches have been legalistic in their commitment to missions as long as missions was a long way from where they lived, went to church or involved weekly or daily interaction with. (With the exception of the refrigerator cards! Somehow we seemed to interact daily with our stocked refrigerators)
I have mentioned it before and to me it is the most startling of statistics that most people either can’t process or choose to ignore, but while American Nazarene churches have held on to past methodology of doing church and continued to lose people, the church around the world has exploded. 75% of the membership of our denomination is now outside the US and Canada. While we have piddled and trifled with fights over church music, pews versus chairs, screens versus hymnbooks, and a host of other silly non biblical issues our country has declined and is disintegrating around us.
While churches have “fiddled” our country has become a mission field full of pagan and unreached people. The church (universal) by and large has very little credibility and is seen as ineffective and full of bickering and ignorant people that can’t get along with each other. We have exhibited an arrogance that belies description toward Christians around the world. Most American Christians still believe that the North American church is bigger, better, more educated, more powerful and more spiritual and nothing could be further from the truth.
In fact as to being bigger let me give you this quote: “According to the respected World Christian Encyclopedia, some 2 billion Christians are alive today, about one-third of the planetary total. The largest single bloc, some 560 million people, is still to be found in Europe, Latin America, though, is already close behind with 480 million. Africa has 360 million, and 313 million Asians profess Christianity. North America claims around 260 million believers. (The Next Christendom, Philip Jenkins.)
Picture: “Oscar Muriu, senior pastor of Nairobi Chapel in Kenya, has named America the third largest mission field and the third largest pagan country in the world.” I watched a sermon this week preached by Oscar and then went to his church website. They are more progressive and most churches in America. The very people we often think of as foreigners and being less progressive and sadly even as intelligent as us, by and large know two languages while most Americans barely speak correct English. We have been celebrating our “freedoms” (lack of morality, anything goes, teachers and administrators in schools have little or no respect, if it feels good do it) and getting dumber while the world around us is on the fast track to educating their children and preparing them to excel in this new and flattened world.
How does all of this affect the church?
In leading Newark Church of the Nazarene for the last nine years, I have been a bit reactionary to all of the above. This is one of the main reasons we stayed on Williams Street and why the Firehouse and Real Life were invested in given their similar locations.
Conscientiously I could never walk away from declining neighborhoods where are people are struggling with all kinds of devastating issues. On the other hand, people at all socio economic levels need the message we proclaim. We should be about sharing this in every direction. The rich, the poor and the middle class all need to see and hear about Jesus Christ.
I still believe that we should be right where we are and there are families in our churches today that would not be here receiving help if we had moved away. There are people and families in our neighborhoods that would not see the love of Jesus demonstrated in practical ways like giving school supplies away, community blitz, free sports camps, food pantry, and providing toys at Christmas. Just this last week we helped a family in one of our neighborhoods take a very large tree down that was threatening to fall and damage their home. In other words we have been very locally focused in our approach to missions and building relationships that demonstrate Christ’s love.
We believe that America is the newest and fastest declining mission field on the planet. Because of this we have not placed and emphasis on possessing a global view. While our mission in America and in particular Licking County will not change, although we may very well do a multi site church in a community with a different type of demographic in the future, we are also going to be very intentional about increasing and enhancing our world view as a church.
Sometimes this will mean giving you information through videos and directing you to media that will be helpful. It will mean we give above our tithes that support our local church and stretch to partner with those answering the call to go to the ends of the earth. I am pledging to show you how God is moving around the world and we will benefit from it if we humble ourselves and accept our need to learn from others.
My prayer is and will be in the future that we become a generous people. Tithing is essential to the ongoing ministry of this church. We can’t operate without it but I believe there are other things we also need to be doing both at home and abroad. So while I am holding my breath and trying to prepare for the summer financial slump we have had to endure the last couple of years I am challenging you to be faithful in consistent giving and even more.
I believe that we can do more with our resources and make a difference in our community and in the world.
Here is what Jesus said to His disciples shortly before ascending to heaven and ending His time on the earth.
“Jesus came and told his disciples, “I have been given all authority in heaven and on earth. 19 Therefore, go and make disciples of all the nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit. 20 Teach these new disciples to obey all the commands I have given you. And be sure of this: I am with you always, even to the end of the age.”
Matthew 28:18-20 NLT
In this scripture we find the mission Christ gave the church to accomplish. It is plain and simple and to the point. It is the next to the last recorded conversation of Jesus with His disciples before He ascended back to heaven.
Go and make disciples of all nations
Teach them to obey all the commands I have given you.
Picture: Discipleship 2010
The church in America has become fat, lazy and misguided in its mission. We shouldn’t think that this is a new phenomenon. In his book The Naked Church, Wayne Jacobson writes these words, “Throughout the third and forth centuries persecution against Christianity declined. Through the reign of Constantine the church was granted freedom of worship. Further privileges followed until in 380 Theodosius I made Christianity the state religion of the Roman Empire. But what looked like a great victory for Christianity proved to be its greatest challenge. Though its new position brought truth and morality to the Roman culture, the arrogance of political power subverted the church’s spirituality. It even degenerated into spreading the truth by force, first over the barbarians and in later centuries through the Crusades and the Inquisition. The persecuted became the persecutor.
Even a cursory look at church history demonstrates that wherever the church has undergone persecution and martyrdom its vitality has risen sharply; and wherever it finds social acceptability and comfort, though its statistics increase, its potency diminishes rapidly. It becomes ensnared in institutional concerns to the distraction of intimacy with God.”
Back in 2004, I shared this description with you of a healthy and lively church.
A lively church has parking problems;
a dead church doesn't.
A lively church has lots of "noisy" children and young people;
a dead church is fairly quiet.
A lively church often changes the way things are done;
a dead church doesn't.
A lively church often asks for more program and mission money;
a dead church tries to keep plenty of money in the treasury.
A lively church asks people to open up and risk involvement;
a dead church plays it safe and never risks.
A lively church sees challenges and opportunities;
a dead church sees problems and dangers.
A lively church apologizes, forgives, and seeks forgiveness;
a dead church never makes mistakes.
A lively church uses its tradition and facilities to serve people;
a dead church uses people to preserve facilities and traditions.
A lively church believes in God's future and "lets go" with faith;
a dead church believes in the past and "holds on."
A lively church is filled with committed givers;
a dead church is filled with tippers.
A lively church dares to dream great dreams for God's kingdom;
a dead church has nightmares
I would like for Buddy Busch/Don Gessner to join me here as a representative of our church leadership board. Over the next church year which runs from March to February, we are going to challenge you to be involved in local and global missions. For this church year we are going to be intentional about partnering with organizations in our community as well as taking on a global initiative.
Let us introduce you to two projects for this summer.
American Missions: Philadelphia
World Missions: Croatia