Often I wake up in the morning with 100 ideas running through my head, a growing “to do” list, and wondering where to begin. Now I realize I’m not the only one with a busy life. Whether you are a church planter, pastor, stay at home mom, professor, custodian, salesman, grad-student, single mom, or corporate exec, life is busy. In the middle of my busyness, though, I need a base-line to go back to. What is my God-given mission and focus? What should be the focus of my time, energy, and resources as I seek to start a church and serve the city of Burlington? Over the past few weeks God has given greater clarity to my prayers and helped me discern what my “strategic priorities” need to be:
- Developing leaders who model the message and mission of Jesus. Luke 4:18-21, 9:1-6, 10:1-12
- Reproducing Home Fellowship with an ethos of sacrificial service. Acts 2:42-47, 4:32-37
- Launching a community service platform that mobilizes Christians to serve Burlington. Jeremiah 29:4-7, Matthew 20:25-28
In this post I’ll deal solely with strategic priority #1…
One of the many things that stands out to me about Jesus is that He was incredibly clear about His identity, His mission, and His message. He knew who He was and what He was about. Chapter 4 of Luke’s gospel finds Jesus in the synagogue in His hometown of Nazareth. He’s recently survived a 40 day fast and temptation battle with Satan. He’s just beginning His public ministry. Word about him is spreading as people are blown away by his teaching. We can imagine it’s a packed house on the sabbath as people are trying to figure out what’s going on with this hometown son of a carpenter turned rock-star rabbi…
17 And the scroll of the prophet Isaiah was given to him. He unrolled the scroll and found the place where it was written, 18 The Spirit of the Lord is upon me, because he has anointed me to proclaim good news to the poor. He has sent me to proclaim liberty to the captives and recovering of sight to the blind, to set at liberty those who are oppressed, 19 to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor. 20 And he rolled up the scroll and gave it back to the attendant and sat down. And the eyes of all in the synagogue were fixed on him.
They sat in stunned silence—they are amazed that this teacher is the son of a local carpenter—and then Jesus takes it one step further….
21 And he began to say to them, Today this Scripture has been fulfilled in your hearing.
Jesus is in essence saying: I am the Messiah and this is what I came to do. Something Jesus comes back to over and over and over again with statements like…
The Son of Man came to seek and save the lost.
Those who are well have no need of a physician, but those who are sick. I have not come to call the righteous but sinners to repentance.
There will be more joy in heaven over one sinner who repents than over ninety-nine righteous persons who need no repentance.
Truly, I say to you, as you did it to one of the least of these my brothers,you did it to me.
But whoever would be great among you must be your servant, and whoever would be first among you must be your slave, even as the Son of Man came not to be served but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many.
If you scan the gospels, it’s not difficult to see how Jesus prioritized His life and ministry:
The sinful over the righteous.
The sick over the well.
The least over the greatest.
The lost over the found.
Simply put: Seek the lost. Serve the least.
SO to really develop leaders who model Jesus’ mission and message, there are a few things I and the leaders I’m developing need to understand:
1. The difference between religious moralism and the gospel. As Christians we can often try to show off our “superior” morals as a means of earning credibility. Any time we approach following Jesus as a list of religious dos and don’ts, we’re embracing the same mindset as the Pharisees and missing the point of the gospel. Although Burlington is not a particularly religious city, the local progressive, environmental, socially tolerant, save the world mentality serves as a “works righteousness” substitute for organized religion. I’m convinced that one way not to reach people here is by having a competition comparing who has better morals. The message of the gospel seems pretty clear that no matter what standard we’re trying to live up to- whether defined by the Old Testament law, modern evangelical Christianity, or the local progressive culture- we’ll eventually FAIL in our attempt. In the end, we are all fallen people in need of a serious dose of God’s grace.
2. Sharing the gospel is about sacrificial service and speaking truth. Addressing the obvious physical issues is what gives us opportunity to address the deeper unseen spiritual issues. We see this throughout Jesus’ ministry—it was not an either/or approach but a both/and approach. This is why we see Jesus healing someone with physical disabilities—the blind and the lame—and at the same time forgiving them of their sins. This is why we see Jesus feeding 5000 hungry people while teaching them about the kingdom of God. It is very difficult to tell someone we care about their invisible spiritual needs if we don’t show concern for their more obvious physical needs. It just so happens that we live in a community where there is no lack of physical or spiritual needs.
3. Social justice issues provide a huge area of common ground. In Burlington we have a rapidly growing homeless population and an international refugee community approaching 5000 (many of who have experienced hell on earth). Our community cares a great deal about these issues and it just so happens that Jesus cares about these issues too- that’s some serious common ground. The difference should lie in our motivation, which should not be rooted in either an attitude of self-righteous moral superiority or some form of white-middle-class guilt. Our motivation for social justice (and worshiping God in all ways) must be rooted in the fact that we are wretched, pitiable, poor, blind, and naked people who have experienced God’s radical grace (see Revelation 3:15-20). Christians have no excuse to not be the pace setters in the arena of social justice.
Please pray that God will teach us how to raise up gospel-centered leaders as we seek to plant this church and serve Burlington.