Monday, June 28, 2010

Gospel Unity and Gospel Mission Go Hand in Hand.

This week, I'm in Gulfport, Mississippi with about 40 volunteers from eight of our churches. We have been at work down here helping rebuild the Gulf Coast since Hurricane Katrina essentially washed the entire city away five years ago.

Our association is at work doing missions in nine different areas of the world, and our work in Mississippi serves a two-fold purpose. First, our work here is part and parcel of a larger partnership we have with the Gulf Coast Association, and we are delighted that the churches in Mississippi and Maryland will be serving each other until this partnership concludes in 2013. Second, for many people who have never served in volunteer missions this trip provides an entryway that we hope will lead to other things. Over half of our group this year are first-timers, and the next step for them after returning to Maryland is to come to our "Frontliners" event and have their awareness raised of the global scope of our work together. Our hope is that this event, combined with the experience in Mississippi, will "hook" them so that their next stop will be Mexico, or Asia, or India.

Yeah, its shady. But its for the Kingdom, so we are unabashed in our efforts to railroad people into going to the nations. :)

Along the way, I've also found another great side-benefit of this trip. The western church, like the western culture in which it resides, struggles with multicultural unity. For many churches, MacGavran's "Homogeneous Unit Principle" is treated less like a sociological observation and more like an excuse not to be intentional about reaching out to those different from themselves. This is also true when it comes to the various generational groups within the church. We have largely "departmentalized" those at different stages of life to the extent that 1 Timothy 5:1-2 cannot possibly be honored in our churches.

Yet last night I noticed that, strangely enough, these barriers seem to breakdown when God's people are on mission together. The eight churches that are represented on this trip vary greatly in terms of their worship styles and ministry processes. Some have greater numbers of younger people, and others boast great "senior ministries." A senior adult minister talked about his 50+ year marriage as a young Korean-American high school senior listened with awe-struck attention. Parents and children played cards together, older and younger men spent time looking at home improvement books together to learn more about the drywall project they will be taking part in this week. I too listened, and learned, as a parent with children slightly older than my own taught me (without realizing she was teaching me) how to best guide my boys through the next stage of their lives.

Last night--and for the rest of this week--all of these are moving together as one, helping to rebuild the Gulf Coast and sharing Jesus along the way. Last year, a young girl from New Orleans told our group that she had never heard of Jesus Christ. No one seemed to care how old everyone else was, or what color everyone else was, when her conversion was reported to the group. The Gospel caused all those distinctions to dissapear.

There is a history to this phenomennon that goes all the way back to the first century. As Paul closes out his letter to the church at Rome, you see a stark picture of a group of men who defy the class and race distinctions of the Empire in which they lived. A former rabbi, his secretary, a wealthy benefactor, a powerful government official, and the number two and number three household servants are all in the room as Paul completes this letter. Each is from a very different background. Each has nothing in common with anyone else in the room--except the Gospel of course; which is why these men are calling one another "brother."

My point? If you want to unite the various groups in your church that the news media, shopping malls, gerrymandering politicians, class and race-related activist groups, and demographers seek with all their might to keep separated, get them on mission together! Gospel Unity and Gospel Mission have a symbiotic relationship in that one always begets the other, and the Kingdom of our Lord Jesus grows in more powerful ways than we could possibly imagine!