Sunday, November 29, 2009

The Promise Isaiah 53:4-11 2 Corinthians 1:19-20

Susan stood in the middle of their small apartment. She did not know what to do. The rent was due. Her paycheck could cover part of bill. But she needed her husband to come through. When he walked through the door, she could see it in his eyes. She knew that that look. Her lips began to tremble and she felt the tears pooling in the corner of her eyes. She looked at her husband and with words that struck his heart like a knife she cried out; “but you promised that this time it was going to be different. The kids and I were counting on you.” Ted meant well. He really wanted to come through for his family. But, it seemed that something went wrong every time.

It is amazing how many people can remember who has broken a promise to them. Most can tell you the exact circumstances and the moment they knew they were going to be let down. I hear their stories. I can feel the hurt these seemingly endless streams of broken promises have on their lives. They find it progressively harder to trust anyone. For many who have lived lives of broken promises, it seems almost impossible to trust God.

This word, “promise,” carries weight. When we hear that word we assume that there is something special, more substantive to this commitment. For some in the room, it reminds us of a time when a handshake was as good as a contract and when a person’s word was their bond. For others in the room it reflects those moments when parents or friends made a commitment to us that we could count on – that we could plan around – that we simply knew would be true. This is probably why it impacts us so profoundly when a promise is broken. This kind of emotion is not unique to our time. The Apostle Paul found the same kind of emotion in the people in Corinth. He wanted them to understand that regardless of their history, they could trust God’s promises. Hear how he speaks to them in 2 Corinthians 1:19-20. 19For the Son of God, Jesus Christ, who was preached among you by me and Silas[a] and Timothy, was not "Yes" and "No," but in him it has always been "Yes." 20For no matter how many promises God has made, they are "Yes" in Christ. And so through him the "Amen" is spoken by us to the glory of God.

Every time I read this scripture I think about one of my college professors. His name was Dr. Dean Martin and I took him for classes like: Introduction to Philosophy; Ancient and Medieval Philosophy and Theology; and the like. They were classes when you asked big questions and found dramatically different answers depending on which philosopher or theologian you were talking about. There was this remarkable predictable moment that occurred again and again in Dr. Martin’s class. A student would raise their hand and ask a question. Dr. Martin would smile a devilish smile and walk to one side of the room and put his hand on his chin and stroke it a few times and pronounce an unequivocal “Yes!” And would then wander slowly to the other side of the room and pronounce with equal fervor, “and No!” We would spend the next half hour working through the both sides of the answer. It was an educational – but a very frustrating experience. This stands in sharp contrast to what Paul wanted the church in Corinth to experience. He wanted them to understand that 19For the Son of God, Jesus Christ, who was preached among you by me and Silas and Timothy, was not "Yes" and "No," but in him it has always been "Yes." 20For no matter how many promises God has made, they are "Yes" in Christ. YES! Paul wanted them – and by extension us – to claim the absolute certainty of the fulfillment of God’s promises found in and through Jesus. When we come to a promise of God it is not a “maybe,” or “possibly,” and “with some reasonable possibility.” When we hear a promise that God makes to us the answer is an absolute, unequivocal, rock hard, steel strong, unshakeable “YES!”

There is no season in the year when the certainty of God’s promises is more important. As we move toward Christmas we come celebrating the grand fulfillment of God’s promise of a Messiah, the one who would save the people from their sins. We proclaim with boldness that the babe in a manger in Bethlehem is the Son of God, the savior of the world. This proclamation is born in the Old Testament prophecies of promise of the one who is to come. The Prophet Isaiah voices an essential part of the promise. He tells the story of the coming suffering servant – the one the Hebrews understood to be the coming one from God. We heard he promise read earlier in our service. We now look here it again and consider what this promise means to us.

We start in the book of Isaiah, found about three fourths the way through the Old Testament. Our passage is in Chapter 53, beginning at verse 4. The poetry of Scripture can be moving and melodic. But sometimes in hearing the poetry we miss the heart of the message. Earlier in our service we heard a traditional reading of our focal passage. Now hear it in a simplified English form from the New Living Translation. The promise reads 4 Yet it was our weaknesses he carried; it was our sorrows that weighed him down. And we thought his troubles were a punishment from God, a punishment for his own sins! 5 But he was pierced for our rebellion, crushed for our sins. He was beaten so we could be whole. He was whipped so we could be healed. 6 All of us, like sheep, have strayed away. We have left God’s paths to follow our own. Yet the Lord laid on him the sins of us all.

7 He was oppressed and treated harshly, yet he never said a word. He was led like a lamb to the slaughter. And as a sheep is silent before the shearers, he did not open his mouth. 8 Unjustly condemned, he was led away. No one cared that he died without descendants, that his life was cut short in midstream. But he was struck down for the rebellion of my people. 9 He had done no wrong and had never deceived anyone. But he was buried like a criminal; he was put in a rich man’s grave.

10 But it was the Lord’s good plan to crush him and cause him grief. Yet when his life is made an offering for sin, he will have many descendants. He will enjoy a long life, and the Lord’s good plan will prosper in his hands. 11 When he sees all that is accomplished by his anguish, he will be satisfied. And because of his experience, my righteous servant will make it possible for many to be counted righteous, for he will bear all their sins.

I like Isaiah 9:6 better. It is a happier promise. It pronounces; 6For unto us a child is born, unto us a son is given: and the government shall be upon his shoulder: and his name shall be called Wonderful, Counsellor, The mighty God, The everlasting Father, The Prince of Peace. Or maybe Isaiah 9:10 that reads; 10 In that day the Root of Jesse will stand as a banner for the peoples; the nations will rally to him, and his place of rest will be glorious. These are happy promises. These call me toward the Christmas manger with joy and excitement. They fit the mood to this season of expectation. But, the prophet paints are much darker image in Chapter 53. It brings the babe in the manger together with the Good Friday cross. It moves us from For God so love the world to 5 But he was pierced for our rebellion, crushed for our sins. He was beaten so we could be whole. He was whipped so we could be healed. 6 All of us, like sheep, have strayed away. We have left God’s paths to follow our own. Yet the Lord laid on him the sins of us all. It tells me that the Christmas story of God come to earth is a personal story. My story is tied to The Story. It is for me he comes. And it is for me he will die. And it is for me Jesus will raise again. This is one of those places we hear the divine “YES!”

Cultural anthropologist and missionaries serving across the globe will tell of how tribes in the Amazon, in the Pacific Islands, and in the heart of Africa have found ways to try to deal with the idea of reconciliation – of finding peace with God and each other. ” Missionary historian Ruth A. Tucker tells of the story of Don Richardson: As he learned the language and lived with the people, he became more aware of the gulf that separated his Christian worldview from the worldview of the Sawi: "In their eyes, Judas, not Jesus, was the hero of the Gospels, Jesus was just the dupe to be laughed at." Eventually Richardson discovered what he referred to as a Redemptive Analogy that pointed to the Incarnate Christ far more clearly than any biblical passage alone could have done. What he discovered was the Sawi concept of the Peace Child. Three tribal villages were in constant battle at this time. The Richardsons were considering leaving the area, so to keep them there, the Sawi people in the embattled villages came together and decided that they would make peace with their hated enemies. Ceremonies commenced that saw young children being exchanged between opposing villages. One man in particular ran toward his enemy's camp and literally gave his son to his hated foe. Observing this, Richardson wrote: "if a man would actually give his own son to his enemies, that man could be trusted!" From this rare picture came the analogy of God's sacrifice of his own Son.[i]

This same kind of understanding had a long history with the Hebrew people. They brought to their hearing of this passage a cultural tradition of the scapegoat. A scapegoat is a goat let loose in the wilderness on Yom Kippur after the high priest symbolically laid the sins of the people on its head. We find its foundation in Leviticus 16:8, 10, and 26. What makes the promise of God in Isaiah 53 so remarkable is that it is not a symbolic act of a village or a cultural tradition designed to let the people feel better about themselves, but is instead an act of God that makes the way for the forgiveness of sins. It makes it possible for us to become Children of God. The great Methodist preacher, John Wesley proclaims; “For it is God alone that is able to fulfill these promises.”[ii]

So now, as we begin our Advent journey toward Christmas, let us come in the full assurance that with God’s promises there is no “maybe yes” and “maybe no.” There is only “YES!” God is making a way. Come with hope and expectation. We come to remember and to celebrate that the long promised Messiah was born in Bethlehem. We come to remember and celebrate that those who had gone their own way have a way back home. We come to remember and to celebrate that when we were yet sinners – separated from God because of who we were – and how we acted toward God and one another – that God loved us first and made the way for us to be forgiven and to claim our place in real relationship with God. God promised. God’s answer was “YES!” Let us go into the Advent season as the people of the promise – loved and claimed by God. Amen.


[i] Tucker, Ruth (1983). From Jerusalem to Irian Jaya A Biographical History of Christian Missions. Grand Rapids, Michigan: Zondervan
[ii] Wesley, John, “Wesley’s Notes on the Bible: 2 Corinthians” available online at http://www.ccel.org/ccel/wesley/notes.i.ix.ii.html%20on%20November%2025, 2009.

Thursday, November 26, 2009

Thanksgiving Day Reflections

Aaron is home from college. The leaves drift slowly from their perch on the pecan tree toward the ground. The smells of our upcoming Thanksgiving Day lunch now fill the house. The table is already set; it sits waiting for the banquet that will soon define it. The Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade passes by via the television screen in the den. The house is peaceful, but a sense of anticipation stirs the air. It is good to spend a Thanksgiving with family. I am glad for this special time with my family. I am thankful for the people that my children are becoming. I am glad for the joy I find in my marriage with Beth. Perhaps my sense of thankfulness is particularly heightened this time of year as I remember that it was in this season eight short years ago they put me in a medically induced coma in an effort to save my life. While the long journey into darkness would claim my family and me for some time, the light of life and joy on this side of the journey is more profound. It makes me more thankful for the smaller things like claiming an hour to watch “Fox and the Hound” with my nearly grown children. Joy claims me when I simply have he opportunity to watch my family laugh and play together. There was a time when doctors came with a dark and difficult prognosis. This is now a distant memory. Life and the simple things of life now claim my heart and draw me toward an authentic sense of thankfulness. This sense of thankfulness is multiplied when I think about the church staff that I get to work beside each day. It echoes in my heart when I look at the congregation at First Baptist Church of Oklahoma City who have been willing to stretch beyond their comfort zones act as the hands and feet of Christ to touch our community and our world. It sings out in my soul when I come into worship each week and experience the power of God’s word and way in how we worship together. It still me when I realize again and again that this same congregation gives me the freedom to be me, to speak what I believe to be true, and to lead where I believe God is calling us to go. It leaps in my heart when I think about the developing collaborative network of churches that are working together to empower each other in mission and ministry that together we might have a great impact in our world for God. I know that the great gifts of family, of friend, of colleagues, and congregation begin at the feet of God. So this Thanksgiving Day I join the Psalmist and declare:

Know that the LORD is God. It is he who made us, and we are his ; we are his people, the sheep of his pasture. Enter his gates with thanksgiving and his courts with praise; give thanks to him and praise his name. For the LORD is good and his love endures forever; his faithfulness continues through all generations. Psalm 100:3-5 (NIV)

Happy Thanksgiving! Tom

Monday, November 23, 2009

Markers in the Changing Baptist Missions Landscape

A week ago I posted the first five of ten markers I saw on the changing Baptist missions landscape. They were fairly brief and intentionally direct. I had planned to post the second five within a day or two of the original posting, but the email response to the first five made me pause and take a second look at the document I had been developing. I was asked to expanded some of the earlier thoughts. Others offered input on what they hoped would be addressed in the second five. I took the initial document I had been working from and expanded it to address the questions and issues that were being raised. In the process, the breadth and the length of the document expanded. I asked a couple of friends to help me do some friendly editing to make sure that I was clear and that causal grammar did not get in the way. The result is a fairly length post. I invite you to wade in if the topic is on interest to you. I would love to hear your reactions. God is moving. Grace and Peace, Tom

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In the last weeks the International Mission Board of the Southern Baptist Convention announced that it “will be forced to draw down their overseas missions force in 2010 by as many as 600 missionaries.”[i] Cooperative Baptist Fellowship Global Missions has had to trim the breadth of what it would like to accomplish and refocus its missionary sending methodology because of budget constraints. American Baptist have already had to make difficult decisions regarding the streamlining of their missionary force. For those who have been raised in the midst of the paradigm where national and global missions are channeled exclusively through denominational or denomination-like structures these headlines are harbingers of the closing of an era. We are witnessing significant changes in the landscape of Baptist missions. In a recent conversation with a friend who serves as a pastor in another state he asked what I thought I saw happening in Baptist missions. That conversation has made me pause and take a more careful look at what is emerging and caused me to listen more closely to what is being said. As I look out at the emerging landscape, I believe I see ten markers that seem to point the way toward some of what will define this next era in Baptist missions in the United States. This list is not born in the ivory towers of academia but instead emerges from the missional life of a local congregation and living relationships in the global church.

1. The Great Commission still matters. The drop in giving to denominational structures in not an indicator that the local church has given up on the Great Commission. It is more an indicator that the local church is choosing more deliberately who they are funding and how they are funding them. The Great Commission still matters. The local church is still engaged in missions. It is just doing it a different way.

2. The congregation is called to be at the center of missions. When Barnabas and Saul were sent out as missionaries, it was because of the movement of the Holy Spirit and the act of a local congregation. The Great Commission has always belonged to the gathered community of believers. Our choice to organize and institutionalize the missions delivery system invited congregational cooperation but somewhere along the way diminished congregational involvement. The church was and is called to be at the center of missions. Bill O'Brien, one of my favorite Baptist missiologist, introduced me to one of his favorite quotes. It says, "missions is the church as flame is to the fire." When the congregation claims its place at the center of missions it is restored to its right and rightful place in the fulfillment of the Great Commission.

3. We are coming to the end of the single-provider centralized model. In my youth, if you wanted to watch the national news you had to watch one of three television networks at a specific time. You knew each of the anchors by name. If you were caught in traffic, or at a ball game, and you were not in front of your television at the specified time, then you missed it. You had to wait for the next network news broadcast to hear what was happening in the world. The old model would never work now. We can now get our news from a wide range of networks and Internet options. We can choose the time, the place, the technological means, and the focus of the news we receive. I do not remember the last time I watched the evening news on one of the three old networks. I cannot tell you the name of a single news anchor on any of the three networks. That era has begun to fade from sight.

In my youth, the denomination was expected to be the single provider of all missions resources and relationships. The church became a veritable franchise of the denomination. The local church had to have the denomination because its capacity to communicate with one another and the global church was very limited. It was an appropriate model for an industrial/institutional era. Just as technology has changed the way we get our news, it has also changed the capacity of local congregations to communicate with one another and with the church around the world. It is no longer limited to doing missions and ministry through a single provider centralized model. The era of the church acting as a primary funding and mission personnel mechanism for the denomination and denomination-like structure is coming to an end. While the model was effective, its unanticipated outcome was that it distanced the local church from the personal and active participation in the fulfillment of the Great Commission. The industrial/institutional era is over and the church is rediscovering its unique voice and its place in the center of missions. Many congregations are seeking ways to more directly engage. What began with the movement of short term mission teams next calls the church into the sending and supporting of longer term missionaries. The separation between the missionary and the mission of the church to reach the world vanishes. Churches are beginning to leverage multiple relationships and multiple organizations to fulfill their mission vision. In the process, the place of the denominational single provider centralized model will begin to close. The irony for Baptist is that this shift away from the single provider model means that the denominational structures have been effective at keeping the missions flame alive and distilling its heart back into the local church. The autonomous Baptist congregation is again finding its place in the Great Commission and in the process is joining others who have already begun this corrective journey.

4. God has created a multitude of tools to empower the local congregation in missions. There are now a wide range of organizations that are designed to help congregations discover and develop their unique missions vision. Still other organizations are prepared to help congregations send short term and long term missions personnel to the field. Local congregations can now work within denominational bounds where it helps the church fulfill its missions – and beyond it – when that is the better choice for a local church family. God has given the church a wide range of organizations and tools to empower its global efforts. In addition, research and resource tools like the World Christian Database, making critical information available that can help the church focus its global efforts strategically. The local church is being unleashed to fulfill its missional call.

5. It is better for congregations to work together than in isolation. While the tight denominational institutional boundaries are falling away, the need for the local church to work in community and cooperation with others remains. Historically Baptist congregations have found ways to work together. It has leverage different cooperating models based on the era and the culture that defined it. This principle of cooperation will not vanish. The question is not whether the church will need to work together with others, but how?

6. Collaborative Collectives/Networks are emerging to help the church fulfill its missional call. Churches are finding ways to connect together. You witness it in networks born at Willowcreek and Saddleback. You see it in the Acts29 Network wither churches are working together to start new churches. You see it happen on the community level when local congregations choose to partner together where they share a common passion or to meet a specific need. You see it when congregations choose to work together on a global project or in reaching out to an unreached people group. Globally, you see the emergence of Ethnê. Ethnê is a decentralized movement built on the strength of various global, regional, national and UPG-focused networks. It changes its facilitation leadership as it meets in different regions of the world. It transcends denominational, cultural, regional, and theological boundaries. The shape of each of these networks and collaborative collectives are different, but the two things they have in common are: they are driven by common mission or ministry objectives rather than common doctrine or denomination; and they are more relationally focused than structurally focused.

I witnessed the birth of a new collaborative collective in Oklahoma City just a few weeks ago. I had the opportunity to be one of those that extended invitations to a group of Baptist pastors coming from a diversity of church sizes, church life stages, and ministry settings to spend a couple of days together in a missional conversation. The group also offered an interesting blend of denominational relationships. Many of them did not know each other before the meeting, but they quickly connected with one another. In their diversity they are better understood as like-hearted Baptists than like-minded Baptist. They are people who are actively engaged in creative missions and ministries. Their time together focused on how they might connect together – share information and resources with one another – so that they and their congregations might be more effective at fulfilling their respective missional calls. The result looks more like an intentional web of missional relationship than any traditional Baptist organization. It does not ask nor anticipate that any of us will give up our relationships with our larger Baptist families of choice, but instead invites us to leverage our relationships with one another for the greatest missional impact. It empowers us to pick and choose among a wide range of organizations, resources, and relationship as each is helpful to our congregation, in fulfilling its unique sense of call. It is the kind of collaborative collective that I believe will become more common in the emerging era.

7. It is more important to be Like Hearted than Like Minded. The old adage is true; “where two or more Baptist are gathered, three or more opinions exists.” The expectation of doctrinal homogeny that emerged in the last half of the twentieth century resulted in a growing fragmentation of the Baptist community. This fragmentation has had a profound impact on the way churches could and would partner together. It seemed that the goal became to work exclusively with “like minded” Baptist. The problem is that Baptist in the United States have rarely been truly like-minded.

Our historic reality is that Baptist have always been a diverse people in the way we worship and the way we see our place in the world. General Baptist and Particular Baptists disagreed on the nature of atonement. Charleston tradition Baptist congregations claimed a more formalized worship pattern and a tendency toward a more educated clergy, while Sandy Creek tradition Baptist congregations were more informal in their worship patterns with a tendency toward a less educated clergy. We witnessed open communion Baptists and closed communion Baptists. It seems that when you look at almost any era or any major issue, the reality that Baptist have never been very good at being “like minded.” The only area where Baptist have been comfortable agreeing and working together for long periods of time has been missions. This simple historic pattern seems to have been forgotten by many in the last three decades.

The emerging generations of congregational leaders are less concerned with working with those who are “like minded” and are more focused on working with those who are “like hearted.” Most of the younger congregational leadership were not a part of past Baptist battles and are more focused on what needs to be done than what separates one Baptist from one another. Many congregations and congregational leaders have quit checking for whether one bares Baptist battle scars and are ready to find ways to partner together with congregations who share a common heart or passion, a common mission vision for a specific work or people. While some expressed theological and missiological commonality will still shape the developing networks and collaborative collectives, missional relationships will be at their core.

8. The Global Church is a ready partner and a potent leader in the changing world missions landscape. There was an era when the face of the “missionary” was primarily Caucasian coming out of the European and North American church. That era is over. The question on whether Baptist in America should be partnering with the global church is almost comical. As Philip Jenkins reports in his ground breaking text, The Next Christendom: The Coming of Global Christianity, the greatest places of growth and energy in the church today are found in South and Central America, Africa, and Asia. The global church is no longer just receiving missionaries; it is sending them in record numbers. The small nation-state Singapore has become known as the Antioch of Asia, has sent out more than 1000 missionaries. A Christianity Today article from 2006 reported; “South Korea today sends out more missionaries than any other country except the United States. In terms of missionaries per congregation, Korea sends one missionary for every 4.2 congregations, which places it 11th in the world. (The U.S. does not rank in the top 10.)”[ii] Comiban is a Latin American missions sending structure that empowers churches of diverse theological indentity in South and Central America to sending missionaries focused on unreached people groups. They are a catalyst for sending an ever increasing stream of missionaries across the globe. As of 2006, over 10,000 missionaries have been sent from South and Central America by over 400 different organizations. These examples reflects the broader picture of a global church moving cross-culturally for the sake of the gospel. "The day of Western missionary dominance is over, not because Western missionaries have died off," says Scott Moreau, chair of intercultural studies at Wheaton College (Illinois), "but because the rest of the world has caught the vision and is engaged and energized." [iii] In the emerging era the global church will not only serve as a participant in the world missions endeavor, it will find its place in leadership in meaningful missional movements.

If Baptists from the North American church are going to be relevant in the emerging congregational missions era then they/we must choose to come along side the global church in missional partnerships. Field mission teams will become a blend of missionaries from across the globe, each bring their unique gifts and unique cultural and theological/missiological presuppositions to the table. Missions sending organizations that are exclusively structured for the sending and support of the white, North American, Baptist missionary will slowly but surely fade from existence. The Baptist organizations and congregations in the United States that are going to be effective they must not only talk about partnering with the global church, but also actively engage in meaningful partnership where missional strategy and team priorities are set in common. This will also create a climate for congregation to congregation partnerships that reach across national, cultural, and linguistic bounds.

9. There will be a better balance between Word and Deed. A false dichotomy has emerged in Baptist life in the US. Those on the theological right have gravitated toward a ministry of the word, focused on evangelism through proclamation. Many have steered away from more humanitarian ministries, fearing that they would deteriorate into social gospel. Those on the theological left have gravitated toward a ministry of the deed, defined by how they love and treat others. Many have steered away from direct proclamation fearing an abusive or manipulative evangelistic methodology. This dichotomy is particularly evident in denominational life, where the tugs of theological/political activists have the greatest impact. The fatal flaw of both perspectives is that they are not consistent with the Biblical model found in the ministry of Jesus. Jesus preached and fed, taught and healed, often as a part of the same act. This dichotomy has isolated congregations who desire a balance between Word and Deed. The fail to find a missiological home in either perspective. The right will have to rediscover a passion for spiritual and physical healing both for the body and the soul. The left will have to rediscover an passion for evangelism so that the deep care for the physical condition of the body also draws them into a deep care for the spiritual condition of the soul. It will not just be the cup of water to fill the body’s thirst. . It will not be just a religious proclamation to touch the soul. It will be the cup of water in Jesus name to touch the whole of the person with the love and the grace of God. Those who have claimed the ideal of a “ministry of deed” expressed in Frances of Assisi’s "Preach the Gospel, and, if necessary use words" will have to remember that he was also known as a fervent preacher.[iv]

This dichotomy is dramatically less prevalent in the global church. They are culturally less impacted by the spiritual dualism that has claimed Western thought. Services that move freely between preaching and healing are more common place. As the Baptist church in North America acts in missional partnership with the global church I believe it will discover a more holistic understanding of the ministry that brings together Word and Deed. For much of the world there is not separation between the physical world and the spiritual world, between body and soul. The missional expectation will be that partner ministries touch the whole of the person and the whole of the soul. This will stretch and correct the flaw of the US Baptist mission perspective. It will draw them toward a better balance, a healthier balance, between Word and Deed.

10. The mission for denominational and denomination-like structures born for a different era will change. One can argue on whether we have begun to enter a post-denominational era or not, but it is clear that the place of the denomination is changing. We have clearly entered into a congregational era. There was a season where when denominational and denomination-like organizations could speak to the local church with more authority and with an expectation of response. While this remains true in some congregations, it is clear that for a growing number of congregations and congregational leaders this era has begun to fade – and for some – fade quickly. More and more congregations are reclaiming their sense of congregational autonomy and their place at the center of missions. One of the places where you see this demonstrated is in the change in congregational giving/funding patterns to denominational structures and denominationally related mission organizations. Fewer dollars are being sent to national bodies. More dollars are staying in the hands of the congregation to be expended on the missions and ministries that best resonate with them. As the change in congregational funding and identity patterns becomes more pervasive it will trigger the need for the mission of denominational and denomination-like structures born for life in another era to change. Their role will need to be more focused on becoming true resource centers for congregations within their faith/identity community. This does not speak of the production and promotion of programs and resources it develops on its own. It means that its focus will shift toward acting as a resource tool to help congregations connect with one another and to resources developed in the broader faith community. Payrolls and employee headcounts will have to be dramatically reduced. The structures will have to be dramatically streamlined. The focal point will return to its historical moorings in the local church.

This change will have the most profound impact on denominationally related mission organizations. Their role as primary sender and educator is already beginning to change. It will become one of the sending tools congregations will leverage in sending the called from within its midst based on the shared vision and mission strategy of the congregation and its missionary units. The mission organization core purpose will mirror the shift in the broader denominational and denomination organization. Its primary purpose will need to serve as a resource point for congregations within its community; connecting them together, introducing them to global partners, providing strategy development support, and empowering congregations in the missional endeavors.

The denominationally related mission organization’s expectation of congregational funding based on denominational identity or special annual offerings will have to pass. Funding and personnel will be born in a shared sense of vision and purpose. A unique role that the denominationally related mission organization could claim in sending would be to act as a prophetic voice, inviting congregations to work together to address a specific need or a particular strategic opportunity. There will be limited motivation for congregations to work together with denominationally related mission organizations for more general or generic mission strategies.

I recognize that this offering is far from infallible. It represents my best effort in this particular moment to deal with the dramatic changes about us. The ten that I offer are the ones that I think are the most important that I see. I am sure that there are many others that could and should have been noted. This is where I eagerly await hearing from you. What would you challenge? What do you see that I missed?

I think the days ahead for Baptist missions will be grand ones. I can hardly wait to see what God will do next in and through us in the coming days.

Grace and Peace, Tom Ogburn
November 16, 2009

[i] Baptist Press article posted on November 13, 2009 on IMB Trustee meeting.
[ii] Rob Moll, “Missions Incredible” Christianity Today, March 2006 available online at http://www.christianitytoday.com/ct/2006/march/16.28.html%20on%20November%2010, 2009.
[iii] Moll, Ibid.
[iv] From “Excerpts from the Little Flowers of St. Francis” found in Devotional Classics by Foster and Smith, (HarperSanFrancisco, a division of HarperCollinsPublishing: New York, 1993),pp.314-315

Sunday, November 22, 2009

A Meal of Thanksgiving Mark 14:22-26

It is only a few days right now. For some in our midst, their mind automatically raced to Black Friday, the biggest shopping day of the year. The day stores open at 5am, when the mall has parking lot gridlock, and when even the sweetest person becomes a kung fu expert to get the best bargain and to preserve their place in line. But, no, that is not the day I am talking about. I am talking about the day just before. Thanksgiving Day – the day for family, turkey, and some really bad football, and the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade. It sometimes seems like for many Thanksgiving Day has become that day that has become sandwiched between Halloween and the Holiday Shopping Season. It seems like in the blink of an eye stores switch their decorations from pumpkins and skeletons to Christmas trees and lighted reindeer.

It seems every year I want to stand in the middle of the mall and yell for people to put on the pause button and reclaim Thanksgiving Day. Not the Thanksgiving Day defined by a traditional Thanksgiving menu featuring turkey, stuffing, sweet potatoes and pumpkin pie and images of pilgrims dressed in black and white. Because, regardless how many people think otherwise it is not about the meal. Besides, this was not even close to the menu those who first gathered for that first feast would have claimed. On the first feast turkey was any type of fowl that the pilgrims hunted. Pumpkin pie wasn't on the menu because there were no ovens for baking, but they did have boiled pumpkin. Cranberries weren't introduced at this time. Due to the diminishing supply of flour there was no bread of any kind. The foods included in the first feast included duck, geese, venison, fish, lobster, clams, swan, berries, dried fruit, pumpkin, squash, and many more vegetables.”[i] This is probably not what will be on your table on Thursday. And as much as we enjoy getting together, it is not even just about time with family. While our Thanksgiving celebrations brings us together, at its heart, it brings us together to as a time to remember what God has done and claim a spirit of day as a day to be thankful, truly thankful to God.

The Bible talks about a day of thanksgiving. It was to be a time when the people of God were to gather together to tell stories of God’s faithfulness; to take time to remember and celebrate; to claim a time for real thankfulness. Each year the Hebrew people would claim the Feast of the Unleavened Bread – the Passover – to remember the acts of God that brought them out of slavery in Egypt. In Mark 14, we hear the story of Jesus and his disciples heading into Jerusalem for their time of celebration and remembrance together. We pick the story up in verse 12. 12On the first day of the Feast of Unleavened Bread, when it was customary to sacrifice the Passover lamb, Jesus' disciples asked him, "Where do you want us to go and make preparations for you to eat the Passover?" 13So he sent two of his disciples, telling them, "Go into the city, and a man carrying a jar of water will meet you. Follow him. 14Say to the owner of the house he enters, 'The Teacher asks: Where is my guest room, where I may eat the Passover with my disciples?' 15He will show you a large upper room, furnished and ready. Make preparations for us there." 16The disciples left, went into the city and found things just as Jesus had told them. So they prepared the Passover.

It is clear that Jesus has made prior arrangements with the owner of the house. Some of you may remember we asked Sue Long some months ago to create a dramatic monologue where she played the role of the wife of the man. In her presentation she reminded us that rooms like the upper room would have rented for a premium. The fact that this man not only makes the room available but also had it furnished and ready for them was remarkable. Can you imagine how the disciples must have felt when they heard what Jesus said to them? What he is describing was probably more than these simple men could have been able to conceive. It would be like going into one of the beautiful homes in our city and telling them that you needed a there dining room, kitchen, and all the food and equipment you would need to prepare a Thanksgiving meal for you and your friends. Despite what they must have been thinking, they did exactly as they were told. They found the man carrying water. He would not have been the owner, but rather one of the servants of the house. They followed him home and everything was ready, just as Jesus said. They went in and finished the preparations. The disciples would come with an expectation of celebration, only to learn that this night would change their lives -and the world -forever.

We pick the story back up in verse 17 and hear Jesus bring them a difficult word. 17When evening came, Jesus arrived with the Twelve. 18While they were reclining at the table eating, he said, "I tell you the truth, one of you will betray me—one who is eating with me." 19They were saddened, and one by one they said to him, "Surely not I?" 20"It is one of the Twelve," he replied, "one who dips bread into the bowl with me. 21The Son of Man will go just as it is written about him. But woe to that man who betrays the Son of Man! It would be better for him if he had not been born."

They were together and it must have felt great. They were in Jerusalem, the City of David, and the home of the Temple. They were together, celebrating the Passover Feast. They had come for a time of remembrance and celebration and now the words of Jesus turn to a prophecy of betrayal. If you have ever experienced an awkward conversation over the table you could claim just a hint of the difficulty of this moment. It seems that we sometimes forget that these disciples were not just Biblical heroes; they were first and foremost followers in this one named Jesus. They walked with him, talked with him, listened to his teachings, watched him perform unexplainable miracles…they ate together, slept together, laughed together. This band of disciples was those closest to Jesus. This promise of betrayal was almost more than they could bear. But remember it was this band to which Jesus would entrust the future of the Church. He had more for them. They will soon realize that they are sharing what will be their last meal together. But there is one more act Jesus must lead them through together; one more symbol he would give them to sustain them – and us.

We pick back up in verse 22. 22While they were eating, Jesus took bread, gave thanks and broke it, and gave it to his disciples, saying, "Take it; this is my body." 23Then he took the cup, gave thanks and offered it to them, and they all drank from it. 24"This is my blood of the covenant, which is poured out for many," he said to them. 25"I tell you the truth, I will not drink again of the fruit of the vine until that day when I drink it anew in the kingdom of God." Jesus takes the images and elements from the Passover story and recasts them so that his disciples, so that we who follow after them, might understand the remarkable thing he was about to do on the cross. He wanted them to understand that he was going to be the lamb, sacrificed for the sake of others, for the forgiveness of sin, to be Savior of the world. Jesus tells his disciples that his body will be broken, that his blood will be shed for the many. The word used for “the many” in the Greek is best understood as the mass of the ordinary – every day kind of people. People like us. Jesus transforms the Passover Feast to a meal of thanksgiving for the great act of God that breaks the bounds of slavery and gives new hope and new life – is now for us!

In a few moments we will move together to the table and claim a service of remembrance and celebration. There is no turkey and dressing, no football or parades. It is a simpler table, set with bread and wine to help us gather to remember what God has done. We will remember: This is how God showed his love among us: He sent his one and only Son into the world that we might live through him. 10This is love: not that we loved God, but that he loved us and sent his Son as an atoning sacrifice for our sins. (I John 4:9-10) We will remember that in John’s account of Jesus’ baptism we hear John the Baptist proclaim; 29The next day John saw Jesus coming toward him and said, "Look, the Lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world. We will remember that because of Jesus we can know forgiveness and redemption. We will declare with I John 3 1How great is the love the Father has lavished on us, that we should be called children of God! In moments we will come to a meal of thanksgiving. It is time to remember. It is time to celebrate. It is time to claim an authentic moment of thanks to God.

The passage closes in verse 26; When they had sung a hymn, they went out to the Mount of Olives. In the hours and days ahead the disciples will witness the words of Jesus come to fruition. They will witness his trail and crucifixion. They will see the wonder of Jesus’ appearances after the resurrection. They watched as God moved. They watched as God made the way of redemption and salvation. And later, when they gathered as the church, they remembered. Come to a meal of thanksgiving. Our time of remembrance and celebration awaits us.

[i] Near quotation of Wikipedia entry on “Thanksgiving (United States) and verified with articles from History.com, available online on November 20, 2009.

Friday, November 20, 2009

The Changing Landscape in Baptist Missions in the US

A week ago I posted the first five of ten markers I saw on the changing Baptist missions landscape. They were fairly brief and intentionally direct. I had planned to post the second five within a day or two of the original posting, but the email response to the first five made me pause and take a second look at the document I had been developing. I was asked to expanded some of the earlier thoughts. Others offered input on what they hoped would be addressed in the second five. I took the initial document I had been working from and expanded it to address the questions and issues that were being raised. In the process, the breadth and the length of the document expanded. I asked a couple of friends to help me do some friendly editing to make sure that I was clear and that causal grammar did not get in the way. The result is a fairly length post. I invite you to wade in if the topic is on interest to you. I would love to hear your reactions. God is moving. Grace and Peace, Tom

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In the last weeks the International Mission Board of the Southern Baptist Convention announced that it “will be forced to draw down their overseas missions force in 2010 by as many as 600 missionaries.”[i] Cooperative Baptist Fellowship Global Missions has had to trim the breadth of what it would like to accomplish and refocus its missionary sending methodology because of budget constraints. American Baptist have already had to make difficult decisions regarding the streamlining of their missionary force. For those who have been raised in the midst of the paradigm where national and global missions are channeled exclusively through denominational or denomination-like structures these headlines are harbingers of the closing of an era. We are witnessing significant changes in the landscape of Baptist missions. In a recent conversation with a friend who serves as a pastor in another state he asked what I thought I saw happening in Baptist missions. That conversation has made me pause and take a more careful look at what is emerging and caused me to listen more closely to what is being said. As I look out at the emerging landscape, I believe I see ten markers that seem to point the way toward some of what will define this next era in Baptist missions in the United States. This list is not born in the ivory towers of academia but instead emerges from the missional life of a local congregation and living relationships in the global church.

1. The Great Commission still matters. The drop in giving to denominational structures in not an indicator that the local church has given up on the Great Commission. It is more an indicator that the local church is choosing more deliberately who they are funding and how they are funding them. The Great Commission still matters. The local church is still engaged in missions. It is just doing it a different way.

2. The congregation is called to be at the center of missions. When Barnabas and Saul were sent out as missionaries, it was because of the movement of the Holy Spirit and the act of a local congregation. The Great Commission has always belonged to the gathered community of believers. Our choice to organize and institutionalize the missions delivery system invited congregational cooperation but somewhere along the way diminished congregational involvement. The church was and is called to be at the center of missions. Bill O'Brien, one of my favorite Baptist missiologist, introduced me to one of his favorite quotes. It says, "missions is the church as flame is to the fire." When the congregation claims its place at the center of missions it is restored to its right and rightful place in the fulfillment of the Great Commission.

3. We are coming to the end of the single-provider centralized model. In my youth, if you wanted to watch the national news you had to watch one of three television networks at a specific time. You knew each of the anchors by name. If you were caught in traffic, or at a ball game, and you were not in front of your television at the specified time, then you missed it. You had to wait for the next network news broadcast to hear what was happening in the world. The old model would never work now. We can now get our news from a wide range of networks and Internet options. We can choose the time, the place, the technological means, and the focus of the news we receive. I do not remember the last time I watched the evening news on one of the three old networks. I cannot tell you the name of a single news anchor on any of the three networks. That era has begun to fade from sight.

In my youth, the denomination was expected to be the single provider of all missions resources and relationships. The church became a veritable franchise of the denomination. The local church had to have the denomination because its capacity to communicate with one another and the global church was very limited. It was an appropriate model for an industrial/institutional era. Just as technology has changed the way we get our news, it has also changed the capacity of local congregations to communicate with one another and with the church around the world. It is no longer limited to doing missions and ministry through a single provider centralized model. The era of the church acting as a primary funding and mission personnel mechanism for the denomination and denomination-like structure is coming to an end. While the model was effective, its unanticipated outcome was that it distanced the local church from the personal and active participation in the fulfillment of the Great Commission. The industrial/institutional era is over and the church is rediscovering its unique voice and its place in the center of missions. Many congregations are seeking ways to more directly engage. What began with the movement of short term mission teams next calls the church into the sending and supporting of longer term missionaries. The separation between the missionary and the mission of the church to reach the world vanishes. Churches are beginning to leverage multiple relationships and multiple organizations to fulfill their mission vision. In the process, the place of the denominational single provider centralized model will begin to close. The irony for Baptist is that this shift away from the single provider model means that the denominational structures have been effective at keeping the missions flame alive and distilling its heart back into the local church. The autonomous Baptist congregation is again finding its place in the Great Commission and in the process is joining others who have already begun this corrective journey.

4. God has created a multitude of tools to empower the local congregation in missions. There are now a wide range of organizations that are designed to help congregations discover and develop their unique missions vision. Still other organizations are prepared to help congregations send short term and long term missions personnel to the field. Local congregations can now work within denominational bounds where it helps the church fulfill its missions – and beyond it – when that is the better choice for a local church family. God has given the church a wide range of organizations and tools to empower its global efforts. In addition, research and resource tools like the World Christian Database, making critical information available that can help the church focus its global efforts strategically. The local church is being unleashed to fulfill its missional call.

5. It is better for congregations to work together than in isolation. While the tight denominational institutional boundaries are falling away, the need for the local church to work in community and cooperation with others remains. Historically Baptist congregations have found ways to work together. It has leverage different cooperating models based on the era and the culture that defined it. This principle of cooperation will not vanish. The question is not whether the church will need to work together with others, but how?

6. Collaborative Collectives/Networks are emerging to help the church fulfill its missional call. Churches are finding ways to connect together. You witness it in networks born at Willowcreek and Saddleback. You see it in the Acts29 Network wither churches are working together to start new churches. You see it happen on the community level when local congregations choose to partner together where they share a common passion or to meet a specific need. You see it when congregations choose to work together on a global project or in reaching out to an unreached people group. Globally, you see the emergence of Ethnê. Ethnê is a decentralized movement built on the strength of various global, regional, national and UPG-focused networks. It changes its facilitation leadership as it meets in different regions of the world. It transcends denominational, cultural, regional, and theological boundaries. The shape of each of these networks and collaborative collectives are different, but the two things they have in common are: they are driven by common mission or ministry objectives rather than common doctrine or denomination; and they are more relationally focused than structurally focused.

I witnessed the birth of a new collaborative collective in Oklahoma City just a few weeks ago. I had the opportunity to be one of those that extended invitations to a group of Baptist pastors coming from a diversity of church sizes, church life stages, and ministry settings to spend a couple of days together in a missional conversation. The group also offered an interesting blend of denominational relationships. Many of them did not know each other before the meeting, but they quickly connected with one another. In their diversity they are better understood as like-hearted Baptists than like-minded Baptist. They are people who are actively engaged in creative missions and ministries. Their time together focused on how they might connect together – share information and resources with one another – so that they and their congregations might be more effective at fulfilling their respective missional calls. The result looks more like an intentional web of missional relationship than any traditional Baptist organization. It does not ask nor anticipate that any of us will give up our relationships with our larger Baptist families of choice, but instead invites us to leverage our relationships with one another for the greatest missional impact. It empowers us to pick and choose among a wide range of organizations, resources, and relationship as each is helpful to our congregation, in fulfilling its unique sense of call. It is the kind of collaborative collective that I believe will become more common in the emerging era.

7. It is more important to be Like Hearted than Like Minded. The old adage is true; “where two or more Baptist are gathered, three or more opinions exists.” The expectation of doctrinal homogeny that emerged in the last half of the twentieth century resulted in a growing fragmentation of the Baptist community. This fragmentation has had a profound impact on the way churches could and would partner together. It seemed that the goal became to work exclusively with “like minded” Baptist. The problem is that Baptist in the United States have rarely been truly like-minded.

Our historic reality is that Baptist have always been a diverse people in the way we worship and the way we see our place in the world. General Baptist and Particular Baptists disagreed on the nature of atonement. Charleston tradition Baptist congregations claimed a more formalized worship pattern and a tendency toward a more educated clergy, while Sandy Creek tradition Baptist congregations were more informal in their worship patterns with a tendency toward a less educated clergy. We witnessed open communion Baptists and closed communion Baptists. It seems that when you look at almost any era or any major issue, the reality that Baptist have never been very good at being “like minded.” The only area where Baptist have been comfortable agreeing and working together for long periods of time has been missions. This simple historic pattern seems to have been forgotten by many in the last three decades.

The emerging generations of congregational leaders are less concerned with working with those who are “like minded” and are more focused on working with those who are “like hearted.” Most of the younger congregational leadership were not a part of past Baptist battles and are more focused on what needs to be done than what separates one Baptist from one another. Many congregations and congregational leaders have quit checking for whether one bares Baptist battle scars and are ready to find ways to partner together with congregations who share a common heart or passion, a common mission vision for a specific work or people. While some expressed theological and missiological commonality will still shape the developing networks and collaborative collectives, missional relationships will be at their core.

8. The Global Church is a ready partner and a potent leader in the changing world missions landscape. There was an era when the face of the “missionary” was primarily Caucasian coming out of the European and North American church. That era is over. The question on whether Baptist in America should be partnering with the global church is almost comical. As Philip Jenkins reports in his ground breaking text, The Next Christendom: The Coming of Global Christianity, the greatest places of growth and energy in the church today are found in South and Central America, Africa, and Asia. The global church is no longer just receiving missionaries; it is sending them in record numbers. The small nation-state Singapore has become known as the Antioch of Asia, has sent out more than 1000 missionaries. A Christianity Today article from 2006 reported; “South Korea today sends out more missionaries than any other country except the United States. In terms of missionaries per congregation, Korea sends one missionary for every 4.2 congregations, which places it 11th in the world. (The U.S. does not rank in the top 10.)”[ii] Comiban is a Latin American missions sending structure that empowers churches of diverse theological indentity in South and Central America to sending missionaries focused on unreached people groups. They are a catalyst for sending an ever increasing stream of missionaries across the globe. As of 2006, over 10,000 missionaries have been sent from South and Central America by over 400 different organizations. These examples reflects the broader picture of a global church moving cross-culturally for the sake of the gospel. "The day of Western missionary dominance is over, not because Western missionaries have died off," says Scott Moreau, chair of intercultural studies at Wheaton College (Illinois), "but because the rest of the world has caught the vision and is engaged and energized." [iii] In the emerging era the global church will not only serve as a participant in the world missions endeavor, it will find its place in leadership in meaningful missional movements.

If Baptists from the North American church are going to be relevant in the emerging congregational missions era then they/we must choose to come along side the global church in missional partnerships. Field mission teams will become a blend of missionaries from across the globe, each bring their unique gifts and unique cultural and theological/missiological presuppositions to the table. Missions sending organizations that are exclusively structured for the sending and support of the white, North American, Baptist missionary will slowly but surely fade from existence. The Baptist organizations and congregations in the United States that are going to be effective they must not only talk about partnering with the global church, but also actively engage in meaningful partnership where missional strategy and team priorities are set in common. This will also create a climate for congregation to congregation partnerships that reach across national, cultural, and linguistic bounds.

9. There will be a better balance between Word and Deed. A false dichotomy has emerged in Baptist life in the US. Those on the theological right have gravitated toward a ministry of the word, focused on evangelism through proclamation. Many have steered away from more humanitarian ministries, fearing that they would deteriorate into social gospel. Those on the theological left have gravitated toward a ministry of the deed, defined by how they love and treat others. Many have steered away from direct proclamation fearing an abusive or manipulative evangelistic methodology. This dichotomy is particularly evident in denominational life, where the tugs of theological/political activists have the greatest impact. The fatal flaw of both perspectives is that they are not consistent with the Biblical model found in the ministry of Jesus. Jesus preached and fed, taught and healed, often as a part of the same act. This dichotomy has isolated congregations who desire a balance between Word and Deed. The fail to find a missiological home in either perspective. The right will have to rediscover a passion for spiritual and physical healing both for the body and the soul. The left will have to rediscover an passion for evangelism so that the deep care for the physical condition of the body also draws them into a deep care for the spiritual condition of the soul. It will not just be the cup of water to fill the body’s thirst. . It will not be just a religious proclamation to touch the soul. It will be the cup of water in Jesus name to touch the whole of the person with the love and the grace of God. Those who have claimed the ideal of a “ministry of deed” expressed in Frances of Assisi’s "Preach the Gospel, and, if necessary use words" will have to remember that he was also known as a fervent preacher.[iv]

This dichotomy is dramatically less prevalent in the global church. They are culturally less impacted by the spiritual dualism that has claimed Western thought. Services that move freely between preaching and healing are more common place. As the Baptist church in North America acts in missional partnership with the global church I believe it will discover a more holistic understanding of the ministry that brings together Word and Deed. For much of the world there is not separation between the physical world and the spiritual world, between body and soul. The missional expectation will be that partner ministries touch the whole of the person and the whole of the soul. This will stretch and correct the flaw of the US Baptist mission perspective. It will draw them toward a better balance, a healthier balance, between Word and Deed.

10. The mission for denominational and denomination-like structures born for a different era will change. One can argue on whether we have begun to enter a post-denominational era or not, but it is clear that the place of the denomination is changing. We have clearly entered into a congregational era. There was a season where when denominational and denomination-like organizations could speak to the local church with more authority and with an expectation of response. While this remains true in some congregations, it is clear that for a growing number of congregations and congregational leaders this era has begun to fade – and for some – fade quickly. More and more congregations are reclaiming their sense of congregational autonomy and their place at the center of missions. One of the places where you see this demonstrated is in the change in congregational giving/funding patterns to denominational structures and denominationally related mission organizations. Fewer dollars are being sent to national bodies. More dollars are staying in the hands of the congregation to be expended on the missions and ministries that best resonate with them. As the change in congregational funding and identity patterns becomes more pervasive it will trigger the need for the mission of denominational and denomination-like structures born for life in another era to change. Their role will need to be more focused on becoming true resource centers for congregations within their faith/identity community. This does not speak of the production and promotion of programs and resources it develops on its own. It means that its focus will shift toward acting as a resource tool to help congregations connect with one another and to resources developed in the broader faith community. Payrolls and employee headcounts will have to be dramatically reduced. The structures will have to be dramatically streamlined. The focal point will return to its historical moorings in the local church.

This change will have the most profound impact on denominationally related mission organizations. Their role as primary sender and educator is already beginning to change. It will become one of the sending tools congregations will leverage in sending the called from within its midst based on the shared vision and mission strategy of the congregation and its missionary units. The mission organization core purpose will mirror the shift in the broader denominational and denomination organization. Its primary purpose will need to serve as a resource point for congregations within its community; connecting them together, introducing them to global partners, providing strategy development support, and empowering congregations in the missional endeavors.

The denominationally related mission organization’s expectation of congregational funding based on denominational identity or special annual offerings will have to pass. Funding and personnel will be born in a shared sense of vision and purpose. A unique role that the denominationally related mission organization could claim in sending would be to act as a prophetic voice, inviting congregations to work together to address a specific need or a particular strategic opportunity. There will be limited motivation for congregations to work together with denominationally related mission organizations for more general or generic mission strategies.

I recognize that this offering is far from infallible. It represents my best effort in this particular moment to deal with the dramatic changes about us. The ten that I offer are the ones that I think are the most important that I see. I am sure that there are many others that could and should have been noted. This is where I eagerly await hearing from you. What would you challenge? What do you see that I missed?

I think the days ahead for Baptist missions will be grand ones. I can hardly wait to see what God will do next in and through us in the coming days.

Grace and Peace, Tom Ogburn
November 16, 2009

[i] Baptist Press article posted on November 13, 2009 on IMB Trustee meeting.
[ii] Rob Moll, “Missions Incredible” Christianity Today, March 2006 available online at http://www.christianitytoday.com/ct/2006/march/16.28.html%20on%20November%2010, 2009.
[iii] Moll, Ibid.
[iv] From “Excerpts from the Little Flowers of St. Francis” found in Devotional Classics by Foster and Smith, (HarperSanFrancisco, a division of HarperCollinsPublishing: New York, 1993),pp.314-315.

Sunday, November 15, 2009

Foundations Matthew 7:24-27

The sermon below is offered as a part of First Baptist Church of Oklahoma City's 120th Anniversary celebration and building rededication service on November 15, 2009

This is one of those stories that sound too good, too Hollywood to actually be true. But the Hyde County Historical Association did the careful research required to validate the story. It is not a preacher’s tale, it really is true. Hear the story of a church moved by the hand of God;

In 1874, members of the Methodist faith in Swan Quarter decided it was time to establish a permanent church building and abandon the temporary place where they had been holding services. The location of the church became a matter of concern. Benjamin Griffin Credle, leader and promoter, and his committee picked out a perfect site for a church in the heart of town on its highest spot. They approached the owner of the lot, Sam Sadler, one-time clerk of Hyde County Superior Court, regarding the purchase of the land. Mr. Sadler response was clear, he would not sell it. The Methodists then accepted a gift of a lot offered by James W. Hayes, some thousand feet in rear of the present courthouse, and in a short time began building operations. When the church, a modest structure on brick piers, was barely shut in, people began to worship in it…..September 16, 1876, on the eve of the dedication of the church, a storm broke out and began to brew. Rain fell and wind blew until on the morning of September 17, 1876, the wind had reached such a height and the tide had risen to such depth that the force of the water moved the little Methodist Church from its temporary location into the road--now called Oyster Creek Road.

A miracle was happening--the church was floating down the road. It went straight down the road to a corner and bumped into a general store owned by George V. Credle. The corner is now Oyster Creek Road and U.S. 264 Business. Then a curious thing happened! The building took a sharp right turn and headed down that road for about two city blocks until it reached the corner of what is now Church Street. Then it moved slightly off its straight line course, took another turn to the left, crossed the Carawan Canal directly in front of the place where the people desired the church to be, and settled exactly in the center of the Sam Sadler property, the site which had been refused. After seeing the mighty work of God and realizing there was a mightier power than man ruling the universe, Mr. Sadler immediately set about to secure the title for the land and gave it to the church.[i]

The first time I heard this story years ago it struck a chord within me. I think that God places a church at a particular place at a particular time for a specific reason – to fulfill a specific mission for the Kingdom. As we gather here this morning to celebrate the rededication of these facilities – as we celebrate the 120 years of ministry that have come before us – and look to our future together in ministry, I come with the confidence that as surely as if God has picked this church up with moving currents of flood waters and placed us here, that we are in the right place at the right time to be the church that God calls us to be.

I am thankful that First Baptist Church decided to stay downtown. I believe our location gives us a unique opportunity to impact the whole of our community and become a model for other congregations to follow. I am thankful for this congregations’ choice to give sacrificially and make the renewal of this facility possible. I am thankful for the Renew First Task Group, for Rick Lippert, and Mike Jones, who each served their part to restore this grand facility. I am thankful for a grand history and faith heritage that shapes us and for the future that awaits us.

At the close of the Sermon on the Mount, Jesus offers a short parable that is often referred to as the parable of the good and foolish builders. Jesus wants the people to understand that the foundation you build on matters. We find the parable in Matthew, Chapter 7, and verses 24-27. It begins; 24"Therefore everyone who hears these words of mine and puts them into practice is like a wise man who built his house on the rock. 25The rain came down, the streams rose, and the winds blew and beat against that house; yet it did not fall, because it had its foundation on the rock.

I had seen pictures, even video clips, but nothing prepared me for the scale and the grander of the Great Wall of China. We took a taxi ride from Beijing. The road rose slowly from the city bounds to a semi-mountainous area about an hour of out of town. We came around a rather sharp curve and you could begin to see it in the distance. The stone walls and guard towers seemed to rise from the depths of the earth. When Jesus talks about building a house of the rock; my mind races to the undeniable strength found in the stones that held the great wall together. Following Jesus is not easy. It is not the path of least resistance. It calls us to deny ourselves and to give ourselves wholly in loving God and loving others. But, this kind of followship is like building a house on the rock and when the storms of life blown in, we can not only survive, but thrive in strength found in Jesus the Christ.

Jesus then paints the picture of the contrasting way of life. He finishes our passage by saying; 26But everyone who hears these words of mine and does not put them into practice is like a foolish man who built his house on sand. 27The rain came down, the streams rose, and the winds blew and beat against that house, and it fell with a great crash."Benjamin Reaves tells the story about a wealthy man who laid blueprints before his assistant (who had served him for many, many years) and told him, "I'm leaving on an extended trip and I want you to build a house for me in that location above the lake. I'll be gone for ten months. Here are the plans and specs and funds to cover the cost."

The astute employee saw a chance to feather his own nest. He hired a crooked contractor, employed unskilled labor whenever possible, and put cheap, inferior material into the building. When it was finished, it had the appearance of magnificence, but was really a poorly constructed, insubstantial shell. When the employer returned and went with the assistant to see the building, which looked quite beautiful overlooking the lake, he asked the secretary, "What do you think of it?" "I think it's wonderful," the assistant replied. "I'm glad you like it. I'm retiring from business; I won't need your services much longer and I want you to have a nice house in your retirement. This house is yours."[ii]

I remember the sand castles I built along the beach on the Carolina shoreline. I remember the fun of building them, but the reality that when the tide came in the castles would crumble and disappear. Jesus wanted his followers to understand that there are no short cuts, no sand castle construction, in claiming the life of faith he is talking about. We have to choose to claim the words and the way of Christ as the defining nature of our lives.

We come to this day with an amazing history behind us. For 120 years a litany of names and a diversity of life stories have claimed these halls as their venue for missions and ministry. They have given us a grand spiritual legacy. But, we cannot linger looking backwards too long. It is good to remember and to celebrate days gone by. But, we cannot be the church defined by what it once was – but rather must move forward toward what God is calling us to be.

It is good and worthy to celebrate the achievements of this season of ministry. The renovation of this facility deserves a rousing cheer. The recapturing of a focus on church planting, the commitment to community missions, and the renewed passion for world missions is worthy of song. But, we cannot sit down here and be satisfied. When the cheers and the songs have ended, we must lift our heads and look forward, looking and listing for where God is leading us next.

I can almost see them. That group that gathered in the sanctuary on Broadway walked out the door, closing one era of ministry, and began the slow but steady march that carried them into this room for the first time as a church family in March of 1912. I can imagine the looks in the eyes as the first saw the stained glass windows and the joy they must have felt as they took their places in these pews. I can imagine Reverend Jones taking the pulpit and reading Psalm 24. I can imagine the fond memories they carried of the white wooden structure that the church first called home, and then for the White Temple church what had been their home for the past five years. The latest book on the church’s history, First Family, observes; “There was still debt to be paid, there were still differences of opinion within the church, but in general, when First Baptist moved into the new building at 11th and Robinson, there was a sense of purpose that the problems could be overcome. The vision of the church was in focus once again.”[iii] They were ready to look forward. They were ready to move into a new season of ministry with God.

As we come to this service of celebration and rededication, let us come with that same heart. Let us celebrate the history that has shaped. Let us relish in what God is doing in our midst right now. But then, on the firm foundation of faith found in the word and way of Jesus, may we step boldly into the future that God has for us. The way will not always be easy or comfortable. We know from experience that the storms of life and economics can rage in the life of an individual and a congregation. But when our foundation is built on an unswerving commitment to go where Jesus calls us – to serve who Jesus calls us to serve – to follow as Jesus calls us to follow – to be the people and the church that God calls us to be – then we will know the blessing of God.

What is clear to me is that we need to make sure that our future is built on the strong foundation of an unbridled commitment to follow this word and way of Jesus. The words from the Sermon on the Mount hang in the air;”You are the salt of the earth…you are the light of the world…..love your enemies…..pray like this, forgive us of our trespasses as we forgive those who trespass against us….For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also…..don’t worry about anything…..don’t judge others….ask, seek, knock….Jesus tells us that those who hear these words and put them into practice build their house on the solid rock that can withstand the storms of life. These words we are suppose to hear and follow will continue to call us out of our comfort zones and cultural satisfaction. It will not let us be to sit back and relish in our accomplishments or be satisfied with the status quo. It will draw us toward a future where our church truly becomes salt and light for our community and our world. As surely as if the flood waters had picked us up and guided us here - God has placed us here. We are in exactly the right place for this moment – for this new season of ministry. We have been given a great foundation of faith to build upon. What does the future hold for us? I have some ideas, but my choice is to wait with eager anticipation to see what God has for us next. Come, go with me into the season of ministry that awaits us with God.


[i] Available online at http://homepages.rootsweb.ancestry.com/~jmack/photos/providen.htm%20and%20at%20http:/www.hydecounty.org/attractions/ProvidenceChurch.htm%20on%20October%2020, 2009. (Core story from first citation, words in italics are based on nterpretation of the second citation.)
[ii] Reaves, Benjamin, “Building a Life” available online at http://www.csec.org/csec/sermon/reaves_3613.htm on November 14, 2009. (the word “secretary” has been replaced with the word “assistant” to fit the current title of that role so that it can be best understood by the congregation.)
[iii] Blackburn, Bob L. First Family, (Savesport Pub: OKC, 1989), p.43.

Friday, November 13, 2009

The Changing Landscape in Baptist Missions

This morning the International Mission Board of the SBC announced that it “will be forced to draw down their overseas missions force in 2010 by as many as 600 missionaries.”[i] Cooperative Baptist Fellowship Global Missions is not currently appointing organizationally funded missionaries due to budget constraints. American Baptist have already had to make difficult decisions regarding the streamlining of their missionary force. For those who have been raised in the midst of the paradigm where national and global missions are channeled exclusively through denominational or denomination-like structures these headlines are harbingers of the closing of an era. We are witnessing significant changes in the landscape of Baptist missions. In a recent conversation with a friend who serves as a pastor in another state he asked what I thought I saw happening in Baptist missions. That conversation has made me pause and take a more careful look at what is emerging and caused me to listen more closely to what is being said. As I look out at the emerging landscape, I believe I see ten markers that seem to point the way toward some of what will define this next era in Baptist missions. Let me start by sharing the first five I see. I will add the second five in the next few days.

1. The Great Commission still matters. The drop in giving to denominational structures in not an indicator that the local church has given up on the Great Commission. It is more an indicator that the local church is choosing more deliberately who they are funding and how they are funding them. The Great Commission still matters. The local church is still engaged in missions. It is just doing it a different way.

2. The congregation is called to be at the center of missions. When Barnabas and Saul were sent out as missionaries, it was because of the movement of the Holy Spirit and the act of a local congregation. The Great Commission has always belonged to the gathered community of believers. Our choice to organize and institutionalize the missions delivery system invited congregational cooperation but somewhere along the way diminished congregational involvement. The church was and is called to be at the center of missions. Bill O'Brien, one of my favorite Baptist missiologist, introduced me to one of his favorite quotes. It says, "missions is the church as flame is to the fire." When the congregation claims its place at the center of missions it is restored to its right and rightful place in the fulfillment of the Great Commission.

3. We are coming to the end of the single-provider model. In my youth, if you wanted to watch the national news you had to watch one of three television networks at a specific time. You knew each of the anchors by name. If you were caught in traffic, or at a ball game, and you were not in front of your television at the specified time, then you missed it. You had to wait for the next network news broadcast to hear what was happening in the world. The old model would never work now. We can now get our news from a wide range of networks and internet options. We can choose the time, the place, the technological means, and the focus of the news we receive. I do not remember the last time I watched the evening news on one of the three old networks. I cannot tell you the name of a single news anchor on any of the three networks. That era has begun to fade from sight.

In my youth, the denomination was expected to be the single provider of all missions resources and relationships. The church became a veritable franchise of the denomination. The local church had to have the denomination because its capacity to communicate with one another and the global church was very limited. It was an appropriate model for an industrial/institutional era. Just as technology has changed the way we get our news, it has also changed the capacity of local congregations to communicate with one another and with the church around the world. It is no longer limited to doing missions and ministry through a single provider model. The era of the church acting as a primary funding and mission personnel mechanism for the denomination and denomination-like structure is coming to an end. While the model was effective, its unanticipated outcome was that it distanced the local church from the personal and active participation in the fulfillment of the Great Commission. The industrial/institutional era is over and the church is rediscovering its unique voice and its place in the center of missions. Many congregations are seeking ways to more directly engage. What began with the movement of short term mission teams next calls the church into the sending and supporting of longer term missionaries. The separation between the missionary and the mission of the church to reach the world vanishes. Churches are beginning to leverage multiple relationships and multiple organizations to fulfill their mission vision. In the process, the place of the denominational single provider model will begin to close. The irony for Baptist is that this shift away from the single provider model means that the denominational structures have been effective at keeping the missions flame alive and distilling its heart back into the local church. The autonomous Baptist congregation is again finding its place in the Great Commission and in the process is joining others who have already begun this corrective journey.

4. God has created a multitude of tools to empower the local congregation in missions. There are now a wide range of organizations that are designed to help congregations discover and develop their unique missions vision. Still other organizations are prepared to help congregations send short term and long term missions personnel to the field. Local congregations can now work within denominational bounds where it helps the church fulfill its missions – and beyond it – when that is the better choice for a local church family. God has given the church a wide range of organizations and tools to empower its global efforts. In addition, research and resource tools like the World Christian Database, making critical information available that can help the church focus its global efforts strategically. The local church is being unleashed to fulfill its missional call.

5. It is better for congregations to work together than in isolation. While the tight denominational institutional boundaries are falling away, the need for the local church to work in community and cooperation with others remains. The question is not whether the church will need to work together with others, but how?

I hope these first five stir you to thought. Are there places where you find yourself in agreement? Other places where you disagree? I would love to hear your reactions. I look forward to sharing the next five with you soon.


Grace and Peace, Tom


[i] Baptist Press article posted on November 13, 2009 on IMB Trustee meeting.

Monday, November 9, 2009

Final Thoughts Before the Flight Back Home

In a matter of hours we will begin the journey back home. This trip has been everything we hoped it would be and more. We were able to meet with the leadership of each of the Chin organizations we will work beside in our efforts to improve the life of the Chin refugees in Malaysia. We were able to identify the two sites where we will hold medical clinics and were able to see the more than half of the schools where we will do teacher training. We have been able to identify the kind of translators we will need for the team to be successful. We now have a clear idea of exact the kinds of things the team will need to do to be of the most help to the Chin community. Two of the issues that became much more clear in our discussions are the need for pastoral care and the need for media resource development so that the Chin story might become better known. We have already written one person we hope will join the team to help create some of the needed media resources and the and help develop a corresponding media strategy. It is clear that multiple short term teams are needed to help address the long term needs of the Chin refugee community. We will be reaching out to other congregations to invite them to join with this in this effort.

Logistically, we were able to secure the host hotel where mission teams will base. The hotel is comfortable but by no means excessive. In addition, Beth comes home with plans in place on how the team will handle ground transportation, has identified ideal restaurants where the team will eat, and has some target sites for the team to experience life and culture in Malaysia. Now that the core logistics are in place, we are ready to project what we believe to be an accurate working budget.

We are pleased with what we could put in place in this rather quick excursion. We are now anxious to get back to share what we have learned in fuller detail with those who might have an ear to hear and a heart to become involved. Thank you for your prayer support over the duration of this trip. We believe that your prayers made it possible for all the pieces to come together so quickly. Do not forget us now. Pray for safe travel home. Pray for the stories we share to strike the heart of our congregation and others. Pray for the Chin refugee community living in and around Kuala Lumpur. Their needs are profound and their challenges numerous. Pray for those who have allowed to migrate to the US and other host countries - pray that their transition to their new home and culture is a good one.

Thanks again for joining us on this journey. We will see you soon.

Grace and Peace, Tom and Beth