January 27 – But, Please, No Slides

Forget ordination standards or mode of baptism. Nothing causes heated conversation and sharp division among pastors like the debate over children’s sermons. Some pastors so dislike the children’s sermon that they would rather preach rank heresy than sit on the chancel steps with the children hoping for some cute “kids say the darndest things” moment.  Others love the moment as they get to showcase their Bill Cosby-like way with the young disciples in their congregation. And some of us have made our peace with whatever objections we may have, believing that this “you belong and we care about you” moment overrides whatever disruption to the flow of worship the children’s sermon may cause.

Of course, we all know that many children’s sermons make their points more clearly to the parents in the pew than to the kid on the steps.  I think I was guilty of one of those children’s sermons last Sunday.

If you were with us during the 9:45 service, you may remember that after calling the children forward and asking about snowmen and sleds, we began to talk about missionaries.  One of the older girls had the perfect conventional wisdom definition of a missionary, “Someone who goes to a far-away country to tell the people about God and Jesus.” Precisely. And then they come home with three carousels of slides to show us after the potluck dinner.

I asked the kids if any of them knew a missionary and none of them could say that they did.  One of the members of next week’s Guatemala Mission “Away Team” was sitting in the front row and I pointed to her as being a missionary and asked her to stand. Then I asked if there were any other missionaries in the room and, if so, would they stand as well. It was a shameless moment of manipulation and it worked perfectly.  About a dozen or so of you were on to me and dutifully stood up.  With a little bit a cajoling I got the rest of you to stand and finally the children, too.

In the missional church, we are all missionaries.  Our mission field is the workplace and the campus, our neighborhoods and family circles.  We share the gospel in what we say and show the gospel in what we do.

“Missional” is the most overused and misunderstood word in the North American church today. In fact, the word is less than 20 years old, having been coined as a way of describing a gospel-shaped reality the church had forgotten. Because we had limited missionaries to pith helmet-wearing, savage converting, slide show presenting saints – and usually a little odd – we had forgotten that Jesus knows nothing about such a definition of mission.

Our English word “mission” comes from the Latin word for send or sent. Followers of Jesus are always sent, all of them are always sent.  They are sent to share and show the gospel.

They are sent by Jesus, which means we must listen for his sending voice.

They are sent to share the gospel. That is, they are sent to put the gospel into words. That means that words like God and Jesus, love and grace must be a part of our everyday vocabulary. It means that we must learn how to ask and invite.

They are sent to show the gospel.  That is, they are sent to put the gospel into action. That means that actions like feeding the poor and visiting the sick, insisting on justice and practicing holiness must be a part of our everyday tasks. It means we must learn how to care and love.

The followers of Jesus, every one of them, are called to be missionaries.

The missional church is not a church with a large mission budget or a compelling mission program.  It is a church full of people who know they are sent every day, every one of them, to share and show the gospel.

Next Saturday a group of sixteen of us will be sent by Jesus to share and show the gospel in the highlands of Guatemala. One small particular piece of mission.

Today every single one of us is being sent by Jesus to share and show the gospel in the workplaces, schools, communities, families and friendship he has given us. That’s the missional church.

I won’t see you Sunday as I will be on retreat with the LPC men.  Lewis will be preaching on “Come into My Job, Lord Jesus.”  Sounds kind of missional.