Saturday, January 30, 2010


This past weekend my congregation partnered with an important community ministry, Hope Within. Hope Within, based in Elizabethtown, Pennsylvania, seeks to help provide medicine and medical care for families in Dauphin and Lancaster County who have no medical insurance. Our partnership involved sponsoring a concert by At the Well, a Celtic American Band made led by Bill Stine, our church's choir director. Many people love the lively and poignant sounds of celtic music with its varied instrumentation and winsome lyrics. Only about 70 people made the concert on a cold Saturday afternoon, but they generously contributed $900 to this important community outreach.
(This was actually the second such concert we sponsored, the previous one raising well over $1200 for Hope Within).

In 2002, when my congregation began to move toward being an outward focused church, we developed a very intentional philosophy of outreach and evangelism. One of the foundational values was that we would not attempt to duplicate any effective established ministry; we would partner with it. Another was that we would make our church available to community groups without charge, seeking to affirm those community groups (religious and non-religious) who were trying to strengthen the quality of life in our community. The third is that we would seek out ministries, such as Hope Within, and be very intentional about helping them tell their story and generate income for their ministries. We would do this by involving our people in this support effort, not simply sending a budget contribution. We wanted our people to have a practical hands-on experience in kingdom work--not just church work. We also wanted to provide manpower and gifts that were sometimes unavailable otherwise to often budget-limited groups like Hope Within.

Partnering has helped those groups get the word out and get the job done. It has broadened our own people's vision for kingdom work and exposed them to ministry opportunities that would not have been generated by our own church programs. And it has been one more way to make outreach by which people know the Church of God of Landisville.

Saturday, January 16, 2010


Back in the 1970s and 1980s churches attempting to market themselves to persons turned off or bored by the traditional church emptied their sanctuaries of overtly Christian symbols. Most notably, many took down the Cross. There were a variety of reasons - a symbol of violence, the sign of the conquering armies of Christendom, or just too specific for people who were not prepared to deal with the exclusive claims of the church about the salvation. Get them in the door by being nonthreatening--then tell them about Jesus.

That always seemed a whole lot like "bait and switch" to me. But more problematically, it gave tacit permission to separate contemporary Christianity from its ancient moorings and in some way stopped being much more than a diluted form of "the faith once delivered unto the saints."

Likewise, some emerging churches and contemporary churches have tried to downplay the biblical doctrines that form the truth that is represented in Jesus Christ. Kevin Harney in his excellent book Organic Outreach for Ordinary People--Sharing Good News Naturally makes this observation:

"People in some Christian circles today seem to think we can't confidently know truth. They think doctrine is old-fashioned and confining. They are more comfortable reimagining or repainting the Christian faith. Rather than looking to God's Word and discovering eternal truth that can shape and guide our lives, they seem more interested in dissecting, debunking, and questioning the doctrines that have been embraced by Christians for the past two millenia. Core teaching and doctrines of the Christian faith are being treated like garnish on the side of a plate in a fancy restaurant. Some are suggesting that we toss these beliefs out like a sprig of parsley. They serve a decorative purpose but are not essential to our faith.

"What these 'innovative' and 'revolutionary' thinkers fail to recognize is that they are tossing out fundamental beliefs that define the Christian faith. Without these truths intact we are no longer the church of Jesus Christ. We become a social club of do-gooders who longer embrace or share the core truths of the Christian faith. But what we believe really does matter! The core, unifying beliefs of the Christian faith have always been founded on the inspired written Word of God-the Bible.

"Our beliefs matter to God because he is the one who breathed the very words of scripture (2 Tim.3:16). Our doctrine matters because what we believe determines how we live, love, and reach out to the world. The core beliefs of Christians are also of intense interest to those who are not yet believers in Jesus Christ. They arewatching us and wondering if we really believe what we say we believe."

Friday, January 1, 2010


Inward focused churches do have an outward focus-missions. Traditionally this is thinking in terms of world or overseas missions. Support is built into these churches' budgets for places like Haiti and India. In some sense this is a proper value because it helps remind such churches that there is more to ministry than maintaining the building,being sure there are regular worship times, and pastoral visits to their own sick and needy.

Unfortunately these churches may have little relationship and little impact on the immediate neighborhood around them. They put up a sign "come one, come all" but often act in ways that would make such a visit a temporary one.

These churches also tend to think of their nation (even if they are fearful of their own immediate neighborhood) as a Christian nation. At best they see their society as only a few steps off God's mark. Now only a good piece of political activism or a dose of religion in the schools will set that right and they can go about living comfortable lives until our Lord returns.

What they fail to realize is that our own country is not essentially a political version of the Kingdom of God. It is a mission field--where Christianity is a counter-cultural entity. Only about 14-15% of Americans in 2009 could be found in a Christian church on a Sunday morning. People go about their business of living with little reference to a biblical faith. Organized Christianity is often viewed with suspicion--as if Christianity would undermine the larger pluralistic and relativistic values of the prevailing culture.

Those who recognize this tend to focus on something they perceive has been lost, circling their emotional wagons and digging in lest any more be lost to an immoral surrounding society.

What such a reality provokes (and it is reality for most communities)in outward-focused and missional churches is the admission that the mission field begins at the front door. On a mission field in a foreign land, the missionaries put their best efforts of changing hearts of non-Christians one-by-one by reconciling them to God through Jesus Christ. They engage in practical ministry towards the physical needs of their target community through things like medical care, quality eduction, irrigation projects and clean drinking water. These are done to bear witness to the target community that the God they represent is concerned about the needs of the whole person and to develop a level of trust for the deeper need of helping people find Jesus Christ.

The mission field in America now starts at the front door--and outward focused churches take their cue from their mentors in cross-cultural missions.