Mission Statement

Lately I have been part of a number of discussions about mission statements.  DOOR, the organization I lead, has a tag line, “See the Face of God in the City,” and we have a Philosophy of Ministry, both of these have helped to shape and guide DOOR for the past number of years, but we still need to develop a mission statement. According to one of my colleagues, a good mission statement clearly defines the services to be performed and the compassion driving the people who provide those services. The best mission statements are clear, memorable, and concise.

I have a friend, Anton Flores, who leads a ministry called “Alterna” in La Grange, GA.  He has done much to influence my understanding of Scripture and the call of God.  His take on Exodus 3:7-8, is fascinating.

Then the Lord said, “I have observed the misery of my people who are in Egypt; I have heard their cry on account of their taskmasters. Indeed, I know their sufferings, and I have come down to deliver them from the Egyptians and to bring them up out of that land to a good and broad land, a land flowing with milk and honey…”

In this passage we gain insight into how God approaches ministry.  I cannot help but think that a mission statement tied to God’s approach to doing ministry might be a good starting point.

In this passage God lets Moses know four things:

  1. God has observed the misery of his people who are in Egypt
  2. God has heard their cry on account of their taskmasters
  3. God knows  their sufferings
  4. Because of all of this God will come down to deliver them from the Egyptians, and bring them up out of that land to a good and broad land, a land flowing with milk and honey…

Is it possible that this passage provides a model for engaging in ministry?  Before ministry can happen we must see the need - kind of obvious.  Many of us trip up after seeing; it is almost instinctual to jump from seeing to fixing.  It usually goes something like this: we go on a mission trip, see the hungry children, and immediately start a hunger relief program.  It is interesting to think that this is not how God works.

After seeing the need it is important if not critical to hear the stories.  Listening comes before doing.  As we listen and share stories the possibility of knowing each other emerges.  It isn’t until we know each other that a space for doing is created.

Can you imagine how this type of approach changes almost everything about service, mission and the statements we develop?

Boxes

My job requires me to field all kinds of questions.  From the ridiculous, I remember receiving a call form a pastor inquiring if Denver had urban squalor; I am still not sure what “urban squalor” looks like.  To the soul searching, what is God calling me to?  And even the demanding, why? It is not often that I am caught off-guard.  Yesterday I was confronted with an unusually direct question.  So are you a liberal or a conservative?  At that moment I began to understand with new eyes what Jesus must have felt at the religious leaders attempted to back him into a corner by asking if he should pay taxes.

I do not think this person was intentionally trying to trap me, but I certainly felt boxed in.  And I don’t like boxes, they are limiting and confining and give me a sense of theological claustrophobia.

Now it is true that I was raised Mennonite Brethren (MB), and still claim them as my own.  It is also true that many MB’s would understand Southern Baptists to be their more “liberal” brothers and sisters.   Part of my faith struggle for the past 20 years has much to do with this tension between the faith of my youth and an unwillingness to be painted into a corner.

So, how did I respond?  I think I had one of those rare moments of insight.  You see I have come to a place where at least the contemporary ideals of liberal and conservative no longer have any appeal to me.  In the end both groups have people, or groups of people, who cannot belong.   The exclusion of people just doesn’t seem to be very Christ like.

The implications of rejecting liberal and conservative and seeking a third way of radical inclusion have the potential to alienate one from both sides of the church.  You see, radical inclusion means that the primary task of the church and the Christian faith is to find new creative ways to filter people in.   For too long, people of faith have hidden behind denominational distinctives and statements of faith as justifiable excuses for excluding those who are different.

Back to the question, am I liberal or conservative?  I choose “C,” none of the above.

10 years

Have you ever experienced a moment when your perspective changes forever? The birth of my children and death of my mother fit into this category. Another similar moment happened on my first day at this job. We were at one of the helping agencies DOOR partners with, almost 20 years ago, and I was being introduced as the new DOOR city director. It was a time when I was full of all kinds of "creative" ideas for making DOOR a more effective urban program. Then one of the ladies, we will call her Christine, to whom I was being introduced stood up, walked around her desk, came right up to me, looked me up and down and said, "so you are the new DOOR director (long pause), don't tell us anything until you have been here 10 years." After which she turned around, walked back to her desk and went back to the work. Later on we became good friends, but that first day and the advice she gave have haunted me ever since. In one sentence Christine put me in my place and began a process that reshaped my understanding of mission, service and the role of people who come to participate in these acts. I can best explain it this way. On my first days of work I believed that I had been called to urban Denver to make a difference. Children were going to be tutored, the hungry were going to be fed, houses would be repaired, the homeless would be loved and everyone would be grateful for the changes I was engineering. Until I met Christine those dreams and visions seemed God ordained. What I had forgotten is that Christianity is about relationship. Relationship, in its purest form, is always mutual. My “day one” vision wasn’t mutual; it was paternalistic. At best paternalism stinks; at its worst it destroys communities.

What Christine was trying to tell me on that first day in her own special way was that mission, service and ministry don’t make much sense apart from relationship. In her mind it would take at least 10 years for me to understand the community and at least 10 years for the community to learn to trust me.

I realize that we live in a world where everything happens quickly from overnight shipping of goods across the world to fast food. Telling people that patience and time are needed to accomplish anything almost sounds antiquated. So I will risk it and sound antiquated – if you want to serve then hang out a bit, get to know us, earn the right to speak into our lives and together we will make a difference.

Living in an Inter-Cultural World

A number of weeks ago I a spent a day with a group of pastor’s from southern California. Most of our time was spent listening to stories of what God was doing.

As the day progressed I became increasingly fascinated by the diversity around the table.
· A Korean pastor
· An Indonesian pastor and his wife
· A couple of ethnic Mennonites
· A Swedish pastor with a strong French accent
· An African pastor
· Some denominational staff

Near the end of our time together, the Swedish pastor raised his hands in frustration and said, “you people need to learn how to use simple English.”

Those around the table for whom English was a second language all nodded in agreement.

My initial reaction to this exchange was that we need to provide programs that help recent immigrants better understand North American English Culture.

The more I thought about this the more uncomfortable I became with the arrogance of my thinking. Is the solution to all miscommunication teaching people to think like me? I hope not.

Finding ways to communicate across multiple cultures will not be easy. How do we train for this? How do we conduct meetings when multiple cultures are represented? Is it possible to have a group of inter-cultural friends? Can church happen in an inter-cultural setting? I hope so.

To be honest, I am not sure how we arrive at a place where inter-cultural appreciation and understanding is normal. That is where I want to end up. It is certainly the kind of world I want my boys to live in.