A Bit of Joy Goes a Long Way

Bob and Celia Munson

I have been teaching a modular class on Church History in a Bible School near where we live. I usually teach mission courses, so it was an interesting challenge to broaden myself.

One of my students came up to me and said, “Sir, I think we met before.” It was certainly possible, I have lived in Baguio for 11 years. But he went on to say,

“I used to be involved in a children’s ministry in the center of town, “Kids for Christ.”

Ahhh… sure. It was a ministry that we were involved in for a couple of years early in our time in the Philippines. Some Korean friends of ours had a ministry with the “City Market Kids”… a group of children that would typically be described as “at risk.”  They, and a local church in town did most of the work, but we partnered with a medical mission…

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Jacob (An Allegory)

In the middle of a mighty ocean was an island, with strong tall cliffs that have long held firm against the relentless waves crashing against its shore. Other islands nearby had long succumbed to the  waters surrounding them, slowly pulled under the surface, to be seen no more. This one island remained in defiance to her beauty and power.

You might imagine that this great sea could destroy the island at any time. If she drew together all of her might— all of her great ocean currents, all of her storms— she could conquer this lone opponent as a sandcastle in a typhoon.

The ocean, for whatever reason however, contents herself to challenge the island one wave and one tidal cycle at a time. You further might imagine this to involve a stalemate with neither making headway, but you would be mistaken. Occasionally a bit of the cliff would collapse into the ocean. The pile of rubble might even increase the area of the island momentarily and lengthen its shoreline. It seems, briefly, that the island is winning. But the ocean patiently picks up each bit within her reach and slowly draws each into her depths. Time will come when the last bit of stone peaking above the surface will be worn down, invisible to any nearby onlooker.

The slow battle rages on and on. Day after day, Year after year. Century after century. If you were able to observe this contest for millennia, you might assume that the ocean hates that island… that this battle is driven by anger.  But, again, you would be gravely mistaken..

The ocean cares for that island like no other. Her patience, her perseverance, with this defiant pebble in the midst of her infinite domain is her testimony to patient love.

“There is scarcely any passion without struggle.”  -Albert Camus

The Lost Book (or “Why Do We Write?”)

Thought #1           Our Purpose
“Writing is a form of therapy; sometimes I wonder how all those who do not write, compose or paint can manage to escape the madness, melancholia, the panic and fear which is inherent in a human situation.”                    –Graham Greene
Is it possible to write a book and forget that you wrote it? A few months ago I was digging through my old data CDs and found a file titled “Bob Mission Book.doc”. I had no idea what that was so I opened it, and found a book that I had written back in 2008. I did not remember writing it. Technically, that is not true. When I opened up the file, most all of it looked familiar… things I had written at one time or another… but how could one forget putting it all together into a book that is over 200 pages long? Essentially, I guess, I wrote it for catharsis of sorts. The end product was not the goal, the process was the goal. Looking at the book, I was pleasantly surprised that it had a lot of good insights… even if it is wholly unpublishable (I do have a copy of the book… still rather rough… under My Books.  It is called “Mission Living”). It is an odd mix of blog type mission insights interspersed with biographic sections.
The point is, there is in writing, potentially at least, a healthy role in bringing one’s thoughts through self-reflection and self-review, into the open.
 Thought #2               Our Person
“I don’t like the taste of other people’s words in my mouth.”
                                        -R. Munson
I used to do a fair bit of writing when I was in the Navy. Some of it went on Compuserve. Some were handwritten in notebooks. Little of it I am highly proud of, and most of it has disappeared, even from cyberspace. But about 5 years into my marriage, I was looking over some old handwritten papers that I had not thrown out. One of them was a bit of experimental writing— some fiction. It was just over a page long… meant to be much longer, but I had stopped for some reason. Looking at it, I realized that I really wanted that to be destroyed. Was it really that bad? No, I don’t think so. But I realized that the writing was not me, it was me being someone else. I want to feel that whatever I write, good or bad, is me. Perhaps that is why I stopped on that one story so many years ago. Anyway, I tore it up, and now 15 years past that, I can’t even remember what it said. Maybe I would feel different now. Don’t know.
I have never wanted to go into acting. A lot of people want to, apparently. Not sure why. For me, when explaining why I don’t want to act, I say, “I don’t like the taste of other people’s words in my mouth.” Essentially, that is true… and even for actors, I think that is true to some extent. Most of us want to feel that what we write and what we say are connected to who we are… at least on some level. It is part of who we are as persons.
Thought #3.                 Persona
Most people are not like Emily Dickinson who seemed to be willing to write and write and write (high quality) poetry for, pretty much, herself. Few are able to offer their best to themselves, or to God, without it being observed and critiqued by others. While others’ advice may be good or may be bad… the very potential of critique can drive one to take writing more seriously.
Blogging has that quality since people read, or potentially read, what is written. Tweets can be thoughtlessly and foolishly and sloppily sent out, but a blog post needs to be better than that. In fact, I accidentally pushed “PUBLISH” on this post before it was done. So now I am scrambling to finish this post because I don’t want people to open my blog and see a rough, messy post. (I suppose I could have deleted it and corrected things later.)
We want our writing and communication to express our person, but also our persona. We want people to think of us certain ways based on what we write. Judgments are made (intentionally or otherwise) by what a person says, writes, and reads. The very act of deciding what will be on my blog, and how it will be, helps me grow… and helps me to determine who I am in the world… or who I hope to be.
Thought #4.             Passion

“Writing a book is an adventure. To begin with it is a toy and an amusement. Then it becomes a mistress, then it becomes a master, then it becomes a tyrant. The last phase is that just as you are about to be reconciled to your servitude, you kill the monster and fling him to the public.”          -Winston Churchill

It does seem to me best that writing is first of all self-therapeautic. But writing is still an art. And it can still be a profession. Last week for the first time, I put up a book for sale. Self-published through Amazon   (Here if you want to see the page. It is the latest revision.) Will it sell many copies? Doubt it. I will most likely sell more copies to myself for giving copies to friends and supporters.
But the process of intentionally writing for others does definitely change the dynamic of writing. The need to write and to congeal one’s thoughts in the form of written words, moves from person, to persona, to passion as one writes to impact the world… to change the way people think. That is exciting, but also frightening. I will be teaching three classes very soon (starting today, in fact). One is Cultural Anthopology, one is Church History, and one is Introduction to Clinical Pastoral Care. I have written a rough draft of a book on cultural anthropology, and am part way through one for Intro to Clinical Pastoral Care. I will leave the Church History to the experts. But as a text to instruct and guide, one is forced to put an even higher investment into it. It is not just about self… it is not just about money (or lack of it). It is about passionately expressing what one believes is important and seeking to express those ideas to others for change.
Thought #5.         People
As he (Jesus) was speaking, the teachers of religious law and the Pharisees brought a woman who had been caught in the act of adultery. They put her in front of the crowd.
“Teacher,” they said to Jesus, “this woman was caught in the act of adultery. The law of Moses says to stone her. What do you say?”
They were trying to trap him into saying something they could use against him, but Jesus stooped down and wrote in the dust with his finger. They kept demanding an answer, so he stood up again and said, “All right, but let the one who has never sinned throw the first stone!” Then he stooped down again and wrote in the dust.
When the accusers heard this, they slipped away one by one, beginning with the oldest, until only Jesus was left in the middle of the crowd with the woman. Then Jesus stood up again and said to the woman, “Where are your accusers? Didn’t even one of them condemn you?”
“No, Lord,” she said.  And Jesus said, “Neither do I. Go and sin no more.”                  – John 8:3-11
Public speaking is quite similar to writing since it also takes thought and purpose, expressing the person and persona of the person with passion. My son won a national award here in the Philippines for oratory (public speaking). He is very good at it. I can also tell you it takes a LOT of work… it is not chitchat, it is not chicka.
Jesus crafted stories and preached sermons… that takes work. There is, however, only one place in the Bible where it said that Jesus wrote something. Some have argued that Jesus was illiterate. While it would be okay if He was… His family’s job and the educational priorities of devout Jews suggest that He probably could read and write. The John 8 passage says that Jesus wrote in the dust. Many like to ask “What did Jesus write?” Some like to speculate, conspiratorially, that Jesus was writing down infidelities of the religious leaders (trying to add a miracle where none is actually apparent). But… if anyone else other than Jesus was doing this, we would know exactly what he or she was doing and why. In the US, we see this behavior at some college sporting events. When the home team comes out in the field, all the hometown fans cheer. When the visitors come, some will pull out a newspaper and pretend to read. The idea is that one is so uninterested in the visiting team, that it is time to do something completely different.
The John passage shows Jesus being asked what to do about this legal case. Jesus starts doodling on the ground. When pressed to make a judgment, He says, All right, but let the one who has never sinned throw the first stone!  Then He goes back to doodling. It is not until the religious leaders wander off that He gets back up and says the first important thing in the story. “Where are your accusers? Didn’t even one of them condemn you?”  “No, Lord,” she said.  And Jesus said, “Neither do I. Go and sin no more.” I believe Jesus’ was not writing a message. Rather, the act of writing of itself was the message— that His concern is PEOPLE, more than Law or Judgment… or the written word.
Purpose, Person, Persona, and Passion all are good. But more important in what one says and what one writes is… People.

Missional “Surface Area”. Part 2

I like to take the idea of church impact as related to what I think of as “surface area”. In chemical reactions and heat transfer (to name two things) the rate is proportional to surface area of the relevant bodies (warm versus cold bodies, or reacting chemicals). This goes back to the organic idea. If the boundaries of an organism is its membrane, that is where it interacts with the outside environment. One might say that the church also has such a membrane. Take a fairly extreme case. Case A might be a communal closed society which interacts with the outside environment only through goods and services.

Case A,       Church Building Focused Ministry

Church AMinimal Interaction with Outside World

Case B.  Church with Modest Local Outreach

Church Building Focused Ministry  Moderate Interaction with outside World

Church B

Case B may be a more typical church. It meets at one place and has members that have a certain amount of interaction with neighbors and businesses. They may send money to local ministries or mission boards and such (as shown by the greater surface area).

Case C.  Multisite or Cell Group Church

Church C

Local church with outlying sites 1, 2, 3, and 4

Case C may be a multisite church or a cell group church or a church with members doing ministry work at a distance from the church.Church Multiple Local Points of Ministry Work Greater Involvement with Local Community

Case D. Church with Multiple-Levels of Outreach, Local, Regional, International

ChurchWe can take the case D where the church is actively involved in ministry work throughout the world.

 

Which case has more effective interaction with the community and world? All else being equal, it would be the one with the greater “surface area”. One can, of course, imagine exceptions, but Case D is set up to have more impact wherever it is.

Missional “Surface Area”, Part 1

<I wrote this something like 8 years ago. I think I still agree with it.  But I also now see the challenge of maintaining it. The greater the distance the harder it is to maintain connections. Even though we live in a “wired” age, most of us don’t think that way… we don’t feel close emotionally, viscerally, when separated by distance. That separation can lead to drifting apart of church and missionary whether or not there is a mission agency assisting (or getting in the way). Some things are… whether they should be or not. NOTE: The concept of “surface area” gets covered mostlly in Part 2>

I have been a big supporter of the Missional Church Movement. I am disappointed that missional churches have often chosen a path that is often anti-missionary. It seems ridiculous to me that it should be so. Some of the problem, in my mind, is “sociological” or “anthropological”. We have a tendency as humans to decide who is “US” and who is “THEM”. Churches, ideally, identify members serving on 1000, 5000, 10000 miles away as “US”… but the human tendency identify people so far away as “THEM” is powerful. The disconnection starts out subtly, relationally. Eventually, it drifts to financially and organizationally..

Yet Missionaries, historically, have been arms of the church… either being sent out by a church, or an association of churches. Paul and Barnabbas fit this type. Some missionaries have gone out independent of other Christian groups. Bruce Olsen (author of the book “Brushko”) would be one example, as well as tens of thousands of “tentmaker missionaries”. However, most often when we think of missionaries, we think of people who are not sent out either of these ways, but rather sent out by a parachurch organization.

Parachurch organizations are a beneficial alternative for sending missionaries. In some cases it can even be the ideal environment for a missionary, due to their experience and connections. However, I believe that it is ideal for a church to have missionaries who are sent out by the church.

Consider two options.

Option 1. “Local Community Church” (LCC) has 10 mission families that they support at approximately 20% each, sent through a mission agency. These mission families have never been part of LCC. But they get reports back on a regular basis, and they get occasional furlough visits.

Option 2. LCC has 2 mission families supported 100%. These two families are members of LCC. They get reports back and visits as well.

  1. Involvement. In Option 1, LCC has limited direct involvement with missions. Money leaves the church and goes to an external mission agency and goes to people who are not members of the church. In Option 2, LCC has direct involvement. Money does not actually leave the church since it is going to church members. Work done by the mission families is now actually the direct work of the church at a remote site. All members of the church can look at the mission work as their work, and they can be part of the team in a real way.

  2. Accountability. In Option 1, the missionaries are accountable to no one church. As long no single church provides too large of a monthly support, the missionaries are really accountable to the mission board. Likewise, no church is really accountable to missionaries, since they are minority members of the relationship. In Option 2, the missionaries are accountable to the church they are a member of. Likewise, the church is accountable to their missionaries/members. The relationship necessitates prayer and vigilance.

  3. Relevance. What is the church supposed to do. Take the following quote.

The Church in the West has sacrificed so much of what she is supposed to be about that her relevance is lost to the lost. Parachurch organizations, such as seminaries, mission agencies, Christian counseling agencies, and evangelistic ministries, have risen to accomplish so much of what God intended the Church to do. She expects others to do evangelism, leadership development, and social care.”      –by Neil Cole in “Organic Church” (p. xxiv)

I believe it is not just the lost that question the value of a church. Is the church a social club? Is it a fund-raising entity?

  1. Organic Relationship. This requires a bit of explanation. This goes back to Dr. Christian Schwartz and his work in the area of Natural Church Development. It also is related to the work done in small group networks and multisite churches. Consider a church like a living creature (maybe a tree, maybe an amoeba). A living has a surface where interactions take place between the “inside world” of the organism and the outside world. An animal takes in water, food, and air, and excretes various wastes across that interface. Inside that interface, oxygen, sugars, and nutrients are shared throughout the organism for its growth and health. Just as an organism is greatly different in its functions within itself and external to itself, the church is also greatly different in how it (ideally) functions within the body, and external to the body.

    1. Consider church planting. A church starts another church and provides help (money and an initial group of core members, for example). But in the case of multisite, a church starts something that looks like a new church. Its members are still part of the original church, and its leaders are still leaders within the original church. Its budget it part of the greater budget of the original church. Its success or failure is directly related to the success or failure of the church as a whole. With a church plant, often the original church eventually forgets that it had planted a church (the church historian would hopefully know). In that situation, there is not much concern about the long-term viability and growth of the daughter church (after the honeymoon relationship subsides in a few years).

    2. Consider missions. A church pays money to a mission board who supports a missionary. Whether the church recognizes this or not, this is strictly an external relationship. It is like paying the heating bill. One might even look at it like paying a company to come in and go door-to-door sharing the Gospel in the neighborhood of the church. A missionary falls? He can be replaced by another… there are lots of missionaries on deputation, correct? However, as members of the sending church, the missionary has ties that go back to the church that go beyond money. It is relational. It is organic. It is visional.

Quote on Caring

“From the standpoint of faith, genuine caring is grounded in affirming others as persons of sacred worth, loved by God and destined for a future of God’s making. The shape of our caring is anticipated in the life and ministry of Jesus Christ. Caring means serving God’s desire and design for the other, helping the other to become the best that he or she is capable of becoming, in God’s sight. By contrast, in today’s narcissistic culture, people ask fervently: ‘How can I be sure that I will get what I want?’ The more important question to ask about life is ‘How shall I remain open to sacrificing for others and at the same time grow to become the kind of person God wants me to become?’ The answer to this question inevitably takes the form of a paradox: people who care about each other, genuinely and mutually, will find themselves by losing themselves for the sake of the other and for the Christ in the other.”

<Leroy Howe. “A Pastor in Every Pew: Equipping Laity for Pastoral Care”>

While the typical goals of outreach missions is SOMEWHAT different than that for pastoral care, the common need for genuine sacrificial caring is a common prerequisite to faithful service to God.