The Mission Driven Church, Matthew 28:16-20
First United Methodist Church, October 28, 2018
Pastor Toni Carmer
Some of you may remember that moment in the movie "City Slickers" when the old cowboy (played by Jack Palance) tells the visitor from New York City (played by Billy Crystal), "you've got to know the one thing."
"What is that?" the young city slicker asks.
"Oh," Curly says, "that's for you to find out."
We all need to figure out what our life is all about.
Thankfully, the church doesn't need to go on a cattle drive to find out its mission. Jesus makes it very clear for us. He tells us in Matthew 28: "Go make disciples." That's what he has been doing for 3 years, that's what he has been teaching those first disciples to do all through their time together. He's about/they're about making disciples, teaching people lessons about the kingdom. Letting people know that sin doesn't hold them, that God's grace is big enough to save them, that they can be healed and made whole. They can find a new and better way of living.
There's another place in the New Testament, in the book of Acts, where Jesus tells the disciples that they will be his witnesses in Jerusalem, in all Judea and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth. For us that would mean that we are to be his disciples here in Plymouth, in Indiana and throughout the Midwest, including Henderson, Kentucky, Pawnee, Illinois…all the way to Panajachel, Guatemala, and to wherever else you might identify as the ends of the earth. Between that place and here, we are to be his witnesses.
Another important piece of the mission Jesus lays out for us comes from Matthew 25. There we are reminded to welcome the stranger and to feed the hungry. We're to care for the sick and to visit the imprisoned.
Jesus is very clear about this. He invites men and women to follow him and to catch people for God. It's about the Kingdom of God. It's about teaching and healing and welcoming people into the fold of God's grace. In Luke 4, Jesus makes it clear that he has come to announce Good News.
Here in the church we know this. We study this. We consider how we've done it in the past and how we can do it better in the future. We say and really mean that we want to be a part of what God is doing, we want to make a difference, we want people to know Jesus, to see Jesus in us, to experience blessing through the work of the church, through the different things that we do. The problem is "mission drift." The church drifts away from its core mission. We start making it about us and not Jesus. What is it that I like to do, that I want to be a part of? We can turn the church into a self-serving religious association.
Sometimes we can see it better when we view it from someone else's perspective. Have you heard the story about the life-saving station? The place started out as a hut, with only one boat, and a few devoted members who kept a constant watch over the sea, without thought for themselves, but who would go out night or day tirelessly searching for the lost.
Many lives were saved by this wonderful little station, so that it became famous. Some of those who were saved, and various others in the surrounding areas, wanted to become associated with the station and give of their time and money and effort for the support of its work. New boats were bought and new crews were trained. The little life-saving station grew.
Some of the new members of the life-saving station were unhappy that the building was so crude and so poorly equipped. They felt that a more comfortable place should be provided as the first refuge of those saved from the sea. So they replaced the emergency cots with beds and put better furniture in an enlarged building. Now the life-saving station became a popular gathering place for its members, and they re-decorated it beautifully and furnished it as a sort of club.
Less of the members were now interested in going to sea on life-saving missions, so they hired life boat crews to do this work.
The mission of life-saving was still given lip-service but most were too busy or lacked the necessary commitment to take part in the life-saving activities personally.
About this time a large ship was wrecked off the coast, and the hired crews brought in boat loads of cold, wet, and half-drowned people.
They were dirty and sick, and some of them had a different color skin, and some spoke a strange language, and the beautiful new club was considerably messed up. So the property committee immediately had a shower house built outside the club where victims of shipwreck could be cleaned up before coming inside.
At the next meeting, there was a split in the club membership. Most of the members wanted to stop the club's life-saving activities as being unpleasant and a hindrance to the normal life pattern of the club.
But some members insisted that life-saving was their primary purpose and pointed out that they were still called a life-saving station. They were finally voted down and told that if they wanted to save the life of all the various kinds of people who were shipwrecked in those waters, they could begin their own life-saving station down the coast. So that's what happened.
As the years went by, the new station experienced the same changes that had occurred in the old. They evolved into a club and yet another life-saving station was founded.
If you visit the seacoast today you will find a number of exclusive clubs along that shore. Shipwrecks are still frequent in those waters, only now most of the people drown.
Mission drift. Surely that couldn't happen in the church. There's a UM congregation in a city in North Carolina with a 3 story educational wing that refused to let children in the neighborhood use it. They declined the request to host a Head-start program. They surely had their reasons. And then, there's the congregation of 700 with only one baby in the nursery and very few children—what's that about? Perhaps related to saying no to serving kids in the neighborhood because those kids were the wrong color? Mission drift. Sometimes mission drift happens as the result of new carpet. Don't want anybody to mess that up!
Where there is mission drift, there is no focus. Limited influence. And there can be a constant tug and pull as groups argue about budgets, buildings and programs. Things can become preference driven. This is what I think we should do. You think we should do something else. Okay, who decides? It's like bringing your whole extended family together for the day with no plan for food or any particular activity. But what if somebody gets hungry? What are the kids going to do? What will keep the menfolk out of trouble? It could be a real mess!
There is power in knowing our mission and then focusing on that mission. Think about Habitat: they build houses and provide low income families with homes. Think about the Boys and Girls Club: it's about boys and girls. Think about the Blueberry Festival: it's about blueberries. There's not a debate each year as to whether it will be about strawberries or peaches instead.
In "Canoeing the Mountains," the writer talks about adaptive leadership. Mission always trumps preference or culture or personality. It's not about what's easiest or what we've done or what other people in town thinks make sense, or what pleases your pastor. The question is: will this help us make disciples of Jesus Christ and transform the world?
To be focused on mission allows us to say "no" to good things that get in the way of the best—that distract us from our mission. Habitat does shelter: it leaves early childhood health clinics and tutoring to other organizations. We churches are notorious for not wanting to say "no," but sometimes we should so we can say "yes" to the best—to those things that move us forward in the pursuit of our mission.
To be focused on mission contributes to deeper unity. Imagine a group of kids at the park where some are trying to play soccer and some on the same field are playing football while some others are playing baseball. All at the same time. Balls are flying everywhere and kids are running into each other. They're going to spend their time and energy being frustrated with each other and most likely getting hurt! But when you agree on the game and on the rules, there is joy in playing together. Or think what would happen if (Tom is playing O For a Thousand Tongues, and we're all singing Take My Life and Let it Be.) (Kay is playing Beethoven's Ode to Joy and the choir is singing Ray Orbison's "Pretty Woman"). It's going to be a mess. An agreed upon mission allows us to focus and work together in unity.
Being focused on our mission will attract newcomers where confusion over mission (along with the conflict that can bring) will repel others. People don't want to be a part of a community or organization that doesn't know what it's about or what it's doing.
The Early Christian statement of faith proclaims "Jesus is Lord." In too many ways and in too many places, we have put our own comfort and agenda and preferences in the place of Jesus, and what he calls us to do.
I remember a lay leader of the church where we were discussing the proposal for a contemporary service saying, "I don't like that kind of music. I don't like that style of worship. I don't like that it will happen during the hour on Sunday morning where I have worshipped for years. But I think that it is exactly what we need to do because Jesus wants us to reach people we're not reaching."
And, I remember not so long ago, sitting here in this sanctuary with a group of you as we discussed changing the time of worship for our first service. What I heard a number of you say is this: "I like the time we're meeting now. It suits my family's needs. But if it will make it easier for others to attend, we should do it. Let's go for it." And that's what we did.
Does what Jesus loves matter more to us than what we love? Does what Jesus calls us to do matter more than our comfort and our traditions?
Are we willing to keep our mission ever before us in every decision we need to make?
Are we keeping the main thing the main thing and giving God our best?