Tag Archives: Missional

Edgar Bazan ~ The Trinity and the Mission of God

Rev. Edgar Bazan has written for Wesleyan Accent on transformative mission, the purpose of the Kingdom of God, and the shalom nature of God’s Kingdom.


Let’s explore how we are called to engage in the mission Dei through a Trinitarian lens.

Lesslie Newbigin uses the theology of the Trinity to offer a theological ground for the understanding and practicing of the missio Dei. He explains, “He is the Son, sent by the Father and anointed by the Spirit to be the bearer of God’s kingdom to the nations. This is the Jesus who was proclaimed by the first Christians to the world of their time.” (Newbigin, Chapter 3)

In Ministry in the Image of God: the Trinitarian Shape of Christian Service, Stephen Seamands further explains the Trinitarian paradigm to express the missio Dei in more practical and tangible ways. He describes the Trinitarian ministry as, “the ministry of the Son, to the Father, through the Holy Spirit, for the sake of the church and the world.” (Seamands, Chapter 1) If the ministry of Jesus is to the Father through the Holy Spirit, argues Seamands, then as we follow Jesus’ command of teaching everything he taught us, ministry “is not so much asking Christ to join us in our ministry as we offer him to others; ministry is participating with Christ in his ongoing ministry as he offers himself to others through us.” For Seamands this is what it means to be in ministry: Christ offering himself to others through us.

Is the ministry to the Father through the Holy Spirit a ministry offered for the sake of the other? If so, then one may assume that the missio Dei exists for the sake of humanity. This complements John 3:16, “For God so loved the world that he gave his only Son…” It is in God’s nature, in his intrinsic character, to be self-giving for the sake of the other as demonstrated in Jesus Christ. This approach to ministry or being in mission centers around what God has done and continues to do, and what God has said and continues to speak: “…so that everyone who believes in him may not perish but may have eternal life.”

The ministry of the church – the mission that God has given to the church – is meant to be a continuation of the “ministry of the Son, to the Father, through the Holy Spirit, for the sake of the church and world.”

These Trinitarian observations by Newbigin and Seamands point out that Jesus is not the initiator or founder of God’s mission, but the bearer and herald of God’s kingdom. This approach to the mission of the church, through Trinitarian theology, helps us see the Christian mission in three ways: as proclaiming the kingdom of the Father, as sharing the life of the Son, and as bearing the witness of the Spirit. If in Jesus we see him accomplishing and submitting himself to the Father, listening and doing as he hears from him through the Spirit, then the church has no other option but to do likewise.

Newbigin expresses this when he says,

From the very beginning of the New Testament, the coming of Jesus, his words and works are connected directly with the power of the Spirit. It is by the Spirit that Jesus is conceived, by the Spirit that he is anointed at his baptism, by the Spirit that he is driven into the desert for his encounter with Satan. It is in the power of the Spirit that he enters upon his ministry of teaching and healing (Luke 4:14; Matt. 12:18).(Newbigin, Chapter 5)

Jesus did as he heard from the Father through the Spirit. (Jn. 12:49) So what then is Jesus doing today to the Father through the Holy Spirit?


Edgar Bazan ~ Transformative Mission and the Purpose of the Kingdom of God

For more on this subject from Rev. Edgar Bazan, read his first post, “Transformative Mission,” here.

How do we understand and define what the church is constituted to be? To answer this question, one must first ask: what is the mission of the church?

The Missio Dei

The first thing to notice in this question is the assumption that the mission is of the church. Here lies significant misunderstanding and misplaced value: the mission is not of the church but of God. To answer the question, “what is the mission of the church?” we need to learn that the mission is of God, who invites and commands the church to accomplish it together. Proclaiming Jesus as Lord, sharing his teachings and doings – this is an act of God that the church undertakes as a witness.

From here, we can say that the church is constituted to be an agency of God’s work in the world. To further explore what this agency looks like, we start by studying what is it that God is doing in the world, his missio Dei.

In The Mission of God’s People: A Biblical Theology of the Church’s Mission, author Chris Wright explains, “It is not so much the case that God has a mission for his church in the world, as that God has a church for his mission in the world. Mission was not made for the church, the church was made for mission –God’s mission.” (Wright, Chapter 1)

The mission of God precedes the church, and the church came into being for the sake of accomplishing such mission. Missio Dei refers to “all that God is doing in his great purpose for the whole of creation and all that he calls us to do in cooperation with that purpose.” (Wright, Chapter 1) There must be a fundamental understanding that the mission of the church does not belong to the church, nor does it proceed from the church; it is the acting of God through the church.

This is deeply significant because it shows us that the church does not define its mission, but rather learns it, and assumes it by discerning what God is doing.

More Than a Ticket to Heaven

For example, the church has vastly appropriated what the mission is by defining it merely as an act of sharing the gospel, often disregarding many other aspects of peoples’ lives that need healing and formation. Consider that when we use the words “missions” or “missionaries,” we tend to think mainly of evangelistic activity; however, if the task is to procure God’s mission, this understanding must be expanded. God does not only care about the salvation of peoples’ souls, but also for their feeding, care, healing, liberation, protection, defense, and justice.

In this framework of the mission of God, everything the church ought to be doing must be mission-oriented, for there is no other task for the church but to carry the works of the kingdom of God.

This definition of the mission of the church as the missio Dei sets Christianity apart as intrinsically a missionary faith, one that exists for the purposes of accomplishing the works of God in this world. This is what Jesus did as he was sent; he left succinct and character-defining instructions for the church when he sent it by saying, “Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and teaching them to obey everything that I have commanded you.” (Matt. 28:19-20)

The “command[ing]” of Jesus refers to much more than just the salvation of souls, but indeed to all the acts of healing, reconciliation, liberation, and justice that Jesus heralded in his life and throughout his ministry. This “command[ing],” is precisely the inauguration of the presence of the kingdom of God: now we know what God wills and does for humanity (a reconciled, healed, saved, and new creation born again of the Spirit through faith in Jesus Christ).

The missio Dei, therefore, is not a specialized ministry of the church, but the realization of the kingdom of God on earth as it is in heaven. And what is in heaven is life and not death; wellness and not illness; fullness and not brokenness. Hence, the kingdom of God, the missio Dei, can be explained in the brief statement that Jesus made: “I came that they may have life, and have it abundantly.” (Jn. 10:10)

If Jesus’ arrival initiated the kingdom of God on earth as it is in heaven, and if his mission was to bring life, then the mission of God as revealed and demonstrated by Jesus (and that he has entrusted to the church to embody) is characterized by bringing life and everything needed to sustain it on earth right now, and not just salvation for tomorrow as an eschatological provision.

God’s Will on Earth as It Is in Heaven

This missio Dei is not a new movement or cause, but the sovereign rule of God over all people and nations, interjecting into history and each person’s story, giving and sustaining life. It is the manifestation of what God always intended for the earth since the beginning of time and now has been brought back by Jesus into the alienated and broken humanity in order to restore God’s order (kingdom).

In this regard, the purpose of the kingdom of God is to bless everyone, and to bring into completion the Father’s will: “Thy kingdom come; thy will be done on earth as it is in heaven…” The kingdom of God is the reality of God’s continual work in the world, not leaving it behind or to its own devices, but effectively engaging in its redemption. Thus, the Father sent his Son to manifest this kingdom and to open it to the eyes and ears of mortal human beings; and the Son sent his church to do likewise.

In The Open Secret: An Introduction to the Theology of Mission, Lesslie Newbigin explains this imparting of God’s kingdom by saying,

Mission seen from this angle, is faith in action. It is the acting out by proclamation and by endurance, through all the events in history, of the faith that the kingdom of God has drawn near. It is the acting out of the central prayer that Jesus taught his disciples to use: “Father, hallowed be thy name, thy kingdom come; thy will be done on earth as it is in heaven. (Newbigin, Chapter 3)

If the mission of the church as the missio Dei is fundamentally about bringing and proclaiming the kingdom of God to restore life in humanity, what does this look like? Newbigin talks about it as love in action. (Newbigin, Chapter 5) This love in action refers to the proclamation of the gospel of Jesus as not just a matter of words, but the very presence of the kingdom of God which is revealed and experienced through redeeming acts of compassion and reconciliation. The proclamation of God’s kingdom is in the embodiment of the teachings of Jesus in everyday life. Those who follow Jesus, calling him Lord, are sent into the world to carry on this mission as the bearers of his kingdom teachings.

If we know Jesus as Lord and do what he says, that makes us the church, a constituted body for salvation and healing in the world.

Jesus said, “Peace be with you. As the Father sent me, so I send you.” His statement requires us to ask the question: what is it that Jesus was sent for? What did he do? How did he relate to people? How did he treat people? How did he speak to people? What did he say? What was his behavior around those in need, his friends, and his enemies? These questions are paramount to our understanding of why we are sent and to what we are sent.

If we are sent as he was sent by his Father, then it is critical for the church to assess the life of Jesus not only in relation to God but in relation to humanity. If we believe who Jesus is, if we do what he says, then we are on a mission alongside him. And this sending has a particular purpose: to bring peace.

Edgar Bazan ~ Transformative Mission

The church has always been challenged in maintaining an effective and healthy witness of the faith beyond the walls of its buildings. Every revival throughout the history of the church was started because the fellowship of believers was awakened by the Spirit to witness to their faith in public settings. This movement from the private (or inward) faith behavior to an intentional engagement with the needs and wellbeing of the secular community is what has kept the church alive, bringing renewal and revival to the body of Christ. Without the public witness of the faith, the church has no purpose other than slowly dying.  

This writing aims to start the conversation about what it means to be a missional church. It addresses the theological question of what it means to believe in Jesus and follow his teachings; the end purpose of the mission of the church; and the challenges that the church faces regarding the privatization of the faith. These topics will be presented in a series of six reflections. 

Do As I Say 

In Luke 6:46 we read, “Why do you call me ‘Lord, Lord,’ and do not do what I tell you?” Jesus said this to a crowd that was following him, questioning how they were witnessing to their faith. This, indeed, is a hard question that lands with a punch. Jesus was challenging his audience not only to believe in him but also to do what he was teaching them and live in the way he was modeling because by doing what he said, we will find life and wellness for ourselves. Jesus uses an example: those who listen to what he says are like a strong and well-built house, and those who ignore him are like a weak house poorly built on the sand. 

This statement reveals that acknowledging Jesus as Lord is not the whole of the gospel – hence the challenging question. These people were claiming to know Jesus but were failing in doing what he was telling them. Evidently, this bothered Jesus, for his mission was not just so we may be saved, believe rightly, or have the right religion, but to show us the way and truth towards the fullness of life through his teachings and doings (Acts 1:1). Jesus is not only concerned about what we believe about him but about what we do with what he has given us.  

Do You Know Me? 

To grasp the significance of this passage further, consider why Jesus repeated the word “Lord” two times. There is a reason for this within the context of the whole Bible. When the Bible repeats a person’s name it is to imply a sort of intimacy. This is both a cultural and Hebrew language dynamic. Examples of this are found in stories like God speaking to Abraham at Mount Moriah; as Abraham is about to plunge a knife into the breast of Isaac, God says, “Abraham, Abraham.” When God encourages Jacob to take the trip to Egypt in his old age, God says, “Jacob, Jacob.” When Moses was called to free his people: “Moses, Moses.” And when God calls Samuel in the middle of the night, “Samuel, Samuel.” We also have Jesus’ cry of desperation from the cross, “My God, my God.” In each case the names are repeated for intimacy’s sake, strongly implying: “I know you.” 

So when Jesus asks the question, “Why do you call me ‘Lord, Lord,’ and then do not do what I say?” it seems like maybe he was trying to say, “Why do you act like we are close, why do you pretend to have this deep relationship with me and then do not do what I say?” This was a question for those who claimed to follow Christ yet whose actions showed differently or at least did not go far enough. 

From Salvation to Spiritual Formation 

This is also reinforced by Jesus choosing the name “Lord” to refer to himself. It is theologically significant. The title “Lord” refers to someone who has dominion, control, and influence over others. For someone to call Jesus “Lord” implies that Jesus has dominion, control, and influence over his or her life; that one has surrendered wholly to him. In other words, the title of Jesus as “Lord” needs to be more than a word on our tongue because calling him “Lord” only and without doing what he says doesn’t make him so in our lives.  

This is one of the most critical and consequential lessons for our faith: God is not only concerned about our salvation but also about our formation and wellbeing. Of course, one must confess Jesus as Lord and Savior, but then this confession must also be followed by doing what Jesus says. His lordship is not only for confessing what is right but for living rightly. Jesus is basically saying: “You got me right, I am ‘Lord, Lord.’ You believe and confess right. But, come on, now you have to live up to it!” The confessing is for our salvation, but the following is for our formation (sanctification) and accomplishing God’s mission.  

One of the main struggles of the church is believing and doing. To talk about the impact of a theology of transformative mission in the life of the church – public and private – is to challenge our understanding of what it means to be in mission not just for the sake of salvation (believing/confessing right) but for the sake of transformation (living/doing right).  

It is a critical concept. Many churches seem to be mostly concerned about the salvation of people, and because of this, they struggle to be relevant to the everyday needs of their secular community. One may argue, “but isn’t salvation the most important aspect of our mission?” It is, indeed, but by looking at Jesus, we learn that he was also fully engaged in meeting the needs of all people whether they care about his message or not. What he said and did were one and the same thing. His speech and deeds were congruent. 

The question to ask is this: is the church called to be and do more than salvation? In the next post, we will explore the purpose of the church in relation to its mission. 




Addison, Steve. Pioneering Movements: Leadership That Multiplies Disciples and Churches. IVP Books, 2015. Kindle. 

Branson, Mark and Martinez, Juan F. Churches, Cultures and Leadership: A Practical Theology of Congregations and Ethnicities. Downers Grove, IL: IVP Academic, 2001. Kindle. 

Breen, Mike. Leading Kingdom Movements: The “Everyman” Notebook on How to Change the World. 3DM, 2013. Kindle. 

Newbigin, Lesslie. The Open Secret: An Introduction to the Theology of Mission. Revised Ed. Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Co., 1995. Kindle. 

Newbigin, Lesslie. Truth to Tell: The Gospel as Public Truth. Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Co., 1991. Print. 

Okesson, Greg. “Why Public Theology (PPT-Class).” 2017: n. pag. Print. 

Seamands, Stephen. Ministry in the Image of God: The Trinitarian Shape of Christian Service. Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 2005. Kindle. 

Seamands, Stephen. “Trinity Ministry (PPT-Class).” 2017: n. pag. Print. 

Volf, Miroslav. A Public Faith: How Followers of Christ Should Serve the Common Good. Brazos Press, 2011. Kindle. 

Wright, Chris. The Mission of God’s People: A Biblical Theology of the Church’s Mission. Zondervan, 2010. Kindle. 



Cole Bodkin ~ A Better Place: The Embassy of the Kingdom of Heaven

What is the better place?

As seen in the last post, the three most popular sketches of the Christian “better place”—heaven-centered, human-centered, and world-centered—have been various soteriological attempts to depict both our hope and mission. (Soteriology, as you may remember, refers in theology to the theology of salvation.) However, as John C. Nugent argues in his book Endangered Gospel: How Fixing the World is Killing the Church, these are incomplete visions of the biblical picture and a better alternative is the kingdom-centered vision.

Through the dystopian prism, I argued that the kingdom-centered vision could be likened to a heterotopia: a counter-site reflecting a utopia in the midst of the larger dystopian world. This place of othernessis like a miniature kingdom embedded inside a foreign territory. Switching metaphors slightly, let’s turn to 2 Corinthians 5:17-21 to flesh out this kingdom-centered vision of the better place:

If anyone is in Christ, there is a new creation: everything old has passed away; see, everything has become new! All this is from God, who reconciled us to himself through Christ, and has given us the ministry of reconciliation; that is, in Christ God was reconciling the world to himself, not counting their trespasses against them, and entrusting the message of reconciliation to us. So we are ambassadors for Christ, since God is making his appeal through us; we entreat you on behalf of Christ, be reconciled to God. For our sake he made him to be sin who knew no sin, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God.

God inaugurates a new creation in Christ, that is, the people of God. We are the better place, the new social reality that God has created in Jesus! That means we aren’t called to create the better place, but to receive it, to embrace it, to become it. But this also doesn’t mean that we sit around on our hands. We are the means through which God has chosen to make his reconciling appeal to the world. How? We have been entrusted as God’s ambassadors.

That is God’s strategy: to make his reconciling appeal to the world through his ambassadors. This imagery of ambassadors is such a rich metaphor. Ambassadors are citizens of one kingdom who represent their citizenry or government to other kingdoms. A great present-day illustration is the concept of an embassy. Ambassadors live in other parts of the world, but their loyalty or allegiance belongs to their home country. Nugent expounds that,

God has already revealed a better world, a new creation. Christians are its citizens. We have already entered it. But creation isn’t new for everyone. It is only new to those who are in Christ. The present form of this world is passing away, but most people are oblivious to it (1 Cor 7: 31). That is why God calls us to declare and represent his better world to others. Even though God sits enthroned over all nations and works among each one, he does not claim them as his kingdom. His kingdom is still a minority movement in this world. We are its ambassadors. Rival kingdoms, even hostile ones, still exist.* 

As ambassadors of Christ we are the embassy of the Kingdom of Heaven. Each local church is an embassy of the kingdom of heaven and we as its ambassadors are extensions and representatives of the better place in the midst of the world that is passing away.

An 82-year-old Czech widow, Ludmilla, gets it. Let your imagination wonder and take five minutes to watch her story here.

What does this mean for our practice? How do ambassadors of the kingdom of heaven represent the King and his kingdom to the world? We do so by embracing, displaying and proclaiming the kingdom.

Embracing the Kingdom

To help us more fully welcome and receive this new reality of the church as the better place, Nugent lays out seven categories so that we might live into it:

We have entered a new era in world history. (See Matt 4:17; 10:7; 12:28; Mark 1:17; Luke 16:16-17; 17:20-21; Acts 2:14-21; Gal 4:4-5; 2 Cor 6:2; Col 1:26; 2 Tim 4:1; 1 Pet 1:10-12, 20)

We have entered into a new world reality.(See Gal 6:15; 1 Cor 7:29-31; 2 Cor 5:17-19; Col 1:20; 2:13; 3:3; 1 John 2:8, 17; Jas 1:18)

We have entered into a new life.(See John 3:15-16, 36; 4:10, 14; 5:24; Rom 6:4, 11; Eph 2:1–6; Col 2:12; 3:1; 1 Tim 6:12, 19; Jas 1:18; 1 Pet 1:3, 23)

We have entered into a new social reality and set of relationships.(See 2 Cor 5:16, 18; Gal 3:28; Col 3:11; Acts 2:18; 1 John 1:7; Heb 6:4; 1 Pet 4:17)

We have entered into a new way of living.(See Col 2:10; 3:9-11; John 15:3; 1 John 1:7; Gal 3:27; Titus 3:5; 1 Thess 5:4-5; 2 John 1:2; 2 Cor 4:16)

We have entered into a new status.(See Luke 7:28; 19:19; 1 John 2:5, 6; 3:1-2; Jas 1:9-10; Phil 1:10; 3:20; Eph 1:19; 2:5-6, 8; 1 Cor 3:21-23; Rom 8:19, 21; Gal 3:29; 4:4-5)

We have entered into God’s abundant blessings. (See Mark 10:29-30; Luke 4:18-21; 18:28-30; John 8:32, 36; Rom 8:1-2, 21; Gal 1:4; Col 2:20; 1 John 3:24; 4:13; Heb 6:4-5; 12:28)

Displaying the Kingdom

Not only do we accept this new life, reality, and world that God has inaugurated in Christ, but we also display it, like a model home in a new subdivision development. People can come check it out and imagine and envision what life would be like here. So, too, the life of the church ought to be to curious onlookers. The church’s life is “the model home of God’s kingdom.”** This is, in fact, God’s design to magnetically draw in those living in the “dystopia” into the “heterotopia.” The most effective strategy of evangelism that God has provided is the embodied life of love displayed in the embassy of the kingdom of heaven: 

A new commandment I give to you, that you love one another, just as I have loved you, that you also love one another. By this all men will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another. (John 13:34-35) 

Love for one another is where emphasis lies within this community. Priority is placed first and foremost within. That comes as a shocker and seems too insular; however, more prominence is given to in-house living in the New Testament, which is why Paul and others focus so much attention on the “one anothers” – life lived together withinthe household of faith.

What will come as a contentious statement for many is the overwhelming fact that in both the Old Testament and the New Testament, primary attention is given to the care of fellow believers. The possible exception to this rule is the love of enemy and neighbor (neighbor then generally referred to fellow Israelite). This can come across as inwardly focused, irresponsible, reprehensible, and embarrassing. If God cares so much about the world, wouldn’t God want his ambassadors to “infiltrate” other governments with their superior knowledge and persuade the powers-that-be to do things their way?

Though that might be what we would expect, that’s not what we see in the Bible itself. God’s strategy, his task for his church is to be such a beacon of light and love that others are drawn towards it like bugs to a bright light at night. When we shift our focus away from what God desires, we usually tend to look more like the world that is passing away than displaying the new world that God has already created. And sadly, sometimes the world does it better than us in many instances in trying to make this world a better place.

Proclaiming the Kingdom

Embracing and displaying the kingdom doesn’t mean a counter-cultural separatist group that lives in the mountains away from civilization. The counter-site of the heterotopia is lodged firmly within the overall culture, not cloistered away from it. But neither does embracing and displaying the kingdom mean becoming activists or humanitarians (though there is nothing wrong with that). Central to the Christian mission is the proclamation of the gospel of the kingdom of God.

Yet, this proclamation is most fully encountered and observed within the context of a community. “By this all people will know you are my disciples, if you have love for one another.” Evangelists and apostles were sent out, but with the purpose of gathering non-believers into the fold of God, to see and taste that God is good. Think of it from this point of view: God cares so much about nonbelievers that God wants believers to place a priority on their love for one another so that the nonbelievers can encounter the better place in action, in flesh and blood, which is completely different than the surrounding culture. If the church is no different than the surrounding culture, why would someone want to switch their allegiance to Jesus?

In the next post, I’ll look a little closer at the uniqueness of the church’s task – and how fixing the world may be killing the church.

*Nugent, John C.. Endangered Gospel: How Fixing the World is Killing the Church (Kindle Locations 1427-1431). Cascade Books. Kindle Edition.

** Ibid., Kindle Location 1596

Christian Community: Why I Can’t Give Up on Church

There are certain parts of Christianity where I find it difficult to bring my head and heart into agreement. There are some things that I know I should believe with my head, but I struggle because I don’t experience them in my heart. What I am trying to describe is the gap that exists sometimes between my theology and my experience.

If I am honest, the biggest gap that exists for me between my head and heart, theology and experience, relates to the church. I was taken to church from when I was a few weeks old and apart from a couple of teenage years have attended all my life and attended lots of churches of different “flavors” – Pentecostal, Presbyterian, Baptist and Wesleyan. I have served in the Church of the Nazarene as a lay leader, a pastor and denominational leader for 24 years. (I ain’t no bunny Christian, who hops from church to church.) My experience of church has been wide and deep. For academic work I have read widely and thought deeply about the church. 

The result is that I am convinced now more than ever about the importance of the church, of Christian community and its aberration: privatized and individualized Christianity (which is in fact no Christianity). The scriptures are clear: God exists in a communal way; the Trinity is a loving “commune.” When God created humanity in his image, it was created in and for community. In biblical terms, to be human is to be connected to others in authentic loving relationships that echo the Trinity.

The stories of Abraham, Moses, David and the others are not stories about individual heroes of the faith but the story of God’s love, grace and power in creating a community, a people through which he could restore his intention for creation. Jesus came to create a new people, a Kingdom people; he died not so much for individuals as for “all.” Pentecost wasn’t about people having individual spiritual experience, it was God keeping his promise to pour out his Spirit on all people. It was a community that was baptized with the Spirit and it was a community that was commissioned and empowered as a result. The whole point of Jesus’ statement about there being “many mansions” in his Father’s house has been totally misunderstood. It should be translated “rooms.” The point is not that in heaven we all live the life of the rich and famous, but that there is enough room for everyone; heaven – the Kingdom of God – is a communal experience. The New Testament ends on the note that Jesus is coming back for his people.

I really believe in the importance of the church. I am convinced that there can be no spiritual maturity out with it. I believe the church is indispensable to every believer and every believer is indispensable to the church. I believe that the church is a God-created, God-directed and God-empowered revolution of love before which the gates of hell cannot stand. I believe that the church has the power to change and transform us so that collectively we grow to be more like Christ. I believe that as we look at the problems of the world – violence, poverty, hunger, injustice and meaninglessness – that the Church in the power of the Spirit could help change the world.

I believe all of that. My problem is that I so rarely experience it. My experience of church has all too often been one of pettiness and politics. Pettiness can be found in making small issues hugely important and what should be big issues unimportant. I have encountered people in church leadership with strong opinions about architecture, about singing from hymn books, about whether you wear a tie at worship, about sitting in pews rather than seats. The point is that the Bible is absolutely silent on all of those matters. Yet all too often those selfsame people were not involved in any sort of authentic fellowship, ministry or mission and were rarely if ever seen praying, things which seem fairly important to God. In all honesty I was involved in a church where changing the color of the carpet in the ladies’ loo stirred up more passion than God’s call for the church to change the world. I hate the pettiness of the Church; why can’t we make what is important to God important to the Church?

And the politics, the power plays, and even the bullying. I know personally of a church where a woman with dementia who was house-bound was brought to the annual general meeting of the church to make sure that her vote was made to ensure the family’s seat on the church board remained in their hands. Why does the Church have to be more like a human-controlled political institution than like a God-inspired radical revolution so much of the time?

I really understand why people leave the church but still believe in Jesus. I have experienced the same temptation. But I have always resisted the temptation to abandon the church as a hopeless cause for a couple of reasons.

Here’s why.

I know that Scripture says that Jesus loved the church and gave himself for her. If Jesus can accept the pain of the cross because of his love for the church, I think I can work on liking it a bit more and enduring the times of frustration.

I have read enough of the New Testament and church history to know that there was no real golden era when the church was consistently all it should be and could be. The Corinthians were immoral and cliquish, the Galatians were legalistic, the Ephesians were devoid of passion, and the Laodicians were so spiritually apathetic and ineffectual they made God nauseous. Augustine’s church had other believers persecuted, the Catholics thought up the Spanish Inquisition, Luther encouraged anti-Semitism in his part of the church and Calvin, far from loving his enemies, had one burnt alive for disagreeing with the theology of his church. I could go on and on. We are worse than some eras in church history and not as bad as others. But if believers in those eras could stick with the church, then so can I. I sometimes feel like someone holding on to a cliff by the tips of my fingers, but if others could hold, so can I.

I also stay with the church because I have had glimpses of what the church can be. Glimpses of what God intends it to be. I have seen glimpses in church history, as the early church spread around the Roman Empire by the power of love. I have seen glimpses in the Methodists as they transformed a nation on the brink of violent revolution. I have seen glimpses in Anglicans who fought the vested interests of the rich and powerful and so killed Atlantic slavery. I have seen glimpses in the German confessing church that refused to bow to Hitler when everyone else did, even when it cost them everything. I have seen glimpses in contemporary churches in my country and around the world which are being transformed by the love of God and helping bring the Kingdom of God in here and now. I can’t give up on the Church because I have had glimpses.

Lastly, I can’t give up on the Church because I looked in the mirror this morning and saw that I am not perfect either, yet despite all my imperfections (of which there are many), my parents, wife, children, friends, and my church haven’t given up on me.

What about you?

Have you given up on the church?


Have you had “glimpses” of what the church can be?

What were they?


Photo by Hans-Peter Gauster on Unsplash

James Petticrew ~ Kodak, Hirsch, and the Future of the Church

Over a shop on the little island of Gozo in the Mediterranean where we often go on holiday is a faded yellow sign which is a monument to one of the biggest and most unexpected bankruptcies in recent corporate history. It reads KODAK. Kodak, remember them? Up until the end of the last century most of us would have owned a Kodak camera at some time in our lives and probably, whatever camera we had ,the likelihood is that it would have Kodak film inside and would be printed onto Kodak photographic paper. Kodak was a corporate giant that dominated its industry. Now just about all that remains are faded signs in out of the way places. So what went wrong?

Futurist Dr. Bob Goldman describes the demise of Kodak like this ….

In 1998, Kodak had 170,000 employees and sold 85% of all photo paper worldwide.  Within just a few years, their business model disappeared and they went bankrupt. What happened to Kodak will happen in a lot of industries in the next 10 years – and most people don’t see it coming. Did you think in 1998 that three years later you would never take pictures on paper film again? Yet digital cameras were invented in 1975. The first ones only had 10,000 pixels, but followed Moore’s law. So as with all exponential technologies, it was a disappointment for a long time, before it became way superior and got mainstream in only a few short years.

The demise of Kodak, when you think about it, happened because its leadership kept carrying out its mission in the ways that had been successful in the past and realized too late that digital photography was going to take over the market and their film and photographic paper was appealing to an ever-shrinking section of the population, those really serious photographers who wanted the look it created and those older people who didn’t want the newfangled digital stuff and would stick to the their box brownie.

I remember at least 10 years ago Alan Hirsch passionately warning church leaders, as he still does, that they were making the same mistake as the directors of Kodak.   What I mean by that is they were persevering with a form of mission which, whilst it had been successful in the past, was destined to appeal to an ever-shrinking section of the population. Here’s how I think the Kodak catastrophe is being played out in the church in the West right now.

Basically, the church in “Christendom mode,” the church that had operated in a culture which had some sort of Christian “home field advantage” carried out its mission predominately by reaching out to the so-called “fringe” around the congregation. As a newly minted pastor in the 1990s I followed my training and the advice I got from church growth books of the time and made my prime focus in mission those who came for my church for “hatches, matches and dispatches” – people who approached us for religious “services” and so were at least open to coming to church.

Around the turn of the century I attended a Purpose Driven Church conference in sunny California and was urged by Rick Warren to focus my efforts in evangelism on moving people from the crowd (the fringe) into the congregation. That strategy worked in the U.S. and to an extent in the UK; the problem is that its success was like the corporate success in 1998 for the Kodak corporation: it hid the upcoming technological  tsunami that would all but wipe out Kodak’s business model.

If you Google (who uses Yellow Pages these days? It was another company that didn’t see the technology tsunami coming) “civil celebrants” you’ll see numerous people offering to do secular versions of “hatches, matches and dispatches.” Ask any undertaker and they will tell you that the number of humanistic funerals are surpassing the number of religious funerals. This year in Scotland more people have been married in places as diverse as hotels and on the top of mountains than church buildings. As for “christenings,” for those who aren’t church members they are now rarer than a Scotland appearance in international football competition.

The problem as I see it is that in the face of this cultural tsunami, which is often described as “post-Christendom,” most church leaders are still acting like the directors of Kodak at the end of the 20th century. Fundamentally most established churches I know of are still committed to mission in the way that has been successful in the past, attracting the fringe of the church to attend events in the church building. The church now, like Kodak should have done over a decade ago, needs to face up to the fact we live in a changed and changing world. The stark truth is that the number of people seeking religious services from the church is becoming on a par with those who still prefer to use film and photographic paper rather than digital cameras on smart phones, that is, shrinking and probably soon all but gone.

The implications of this is that in the UK there are too many churches fishing in the shrinking pond of people who are still open to be attracted to church for that form of mission to be effective. The result is that congregations are having to become more and more competitive in attracting the diminishing number of people who are open to being attracted to church. I suspect this is why were are seeing growing numbers of “larger churches” if not megachurches in cities in the UK. It may also explain the success of the so called “megachurch franchises” like Hillsong and Saddleback which have sprung up and grown rapidly in London and other major European cities in the last decade.  With the high profile, huge resources and training of their parent congregations these “franchises” can put on a better show than local smaller congregations and so are more successful at attracting those open to coming along to church. It seems to me evangelical churches in the UK are becoming increasingly like the fishermen of the North Sea: we are overfishing a diminishing stock, not of haddock, but of church fringe people, and the foreign megachurches and their clones are like the huge foreign factory trawlers; they fish more effectively and so will ultimately diminish the stock more quickly.

I had a conversation with the representative of a UK mission organization recently and he talked about how they were helping churches be more missional. When I questioned him further it was pretty clear what he meant by that was helping churches attract more people to their fringe who would eventually start attending church and hopefully eventually come to faith. To him “missional” meant being more committed to evangelism, being better at attracting unchurched people to church events, and of course we have just described the problem with that.

I doubt there is a more used and less understood word in the contemporary church than “missional.” Missional is not about being better at being Kodak in a digital photograph world. I don’t think anyone has done more to help the church understand what “being missional” is all about and is currently more frustrated by how the word is being used than Mike Frost. He writes in his book The Road to Missional:

My call and the call of many other missional thinkers and practitioners was not for a new way of doing church or a new technique for church growth. I thought I was calling the church to a revolution, to a whole new way of thinking and seeing and being followers of Jesus today. I now find myself in a place where I fear those robust and excited calls for a radical transformation of our ecclesiology have largely fallen on deaf ears. (p 16)

Mike Frost hits the nail bang on the head. Missional is not about new ways of doing church, better techniques for attracting those open to coming to church to actually walk through the church doors – it’s about a fundamentally different way of being church in a culture. I was walking around Motherwell recently, a bit of a down-in-the-heels Scottish town, when I saw a church building boarded up and decaying.

It reminded me of that Kodak sign in Gozo.

My prayer is that the current generation of church leaders would avoid the mistakes of the Kodak directors. That they would recognize that commitment to past successful methods in evangelism may be the biggest danger to effective contemporary mission and instead explore with the Spirit’s guidance what it means to be God’s people shaped by God’s mission in our world today.

James Petticrew ~ Don’t Say It Unless You Mean It

“Your kingdom come, Your will be done on earth, as it is in heaven.” I have uttered those words probably hundreds of thousands of times. But a question has been nagging my mind recently about them. This is it: what do we actually mean when we pray those words?

I don’t know of a better explanation of the implications of praying for God’s Kingdom to become a reality in the world around us than how Chris Wright describes it in his book The Mission of God:

The reign of YHWH, when it would finally come, would mean justice for the oppressed and the overthrow of the wicked. It would bring true peace to the nations and the abolition of war, the means of war and training for war. It would put an end to poverty, war and need, and provide everyone with economic viability (under the metaphor “under his own vine and fig tree”). It would mean satisfying and fulfilling life for human families, safety for children, and fulfilment for the elderly, without danger for enemies and all of this within a renewed creation free from harm and threat. It would mean the inversion of the moral values that dominate the current world order, for in the kingdom of God the upside-down priorities of the Beatitudes operate and the Magnificat is not just wishful thinking.  (p. 309)

So when we dare to pray those words as a believing community or as an individual believer we are asking for this God-intended future to invade our world here and now through us. We are asking God to use our individual lives and our communal life as the raw materials from which to create in our contemporary culture a multi-media demonstration of his alternative and inevitable future for humanity and creation, that is, his Kingdom. Praying those few simple words should mean that our contemporaries look at our lives and our communities as God’s people and they should see the values of God’s kingdom described by Chris Wright embodied and expressed in who we are and what we do. That makes these famous words not just a prayer of aspiration for God’s Kingdom but one of commitment to God’s mission in this world of seeing his Kingdom grow.

Michael Frost puts it like this in The Road to Missional:

If mission is alerting people to the reign of God in Christ, our mandate is to do whatever is required in the circumstances to both demonstrate and announce this Kingship. We feed the hungry because in the world to come there will be no such thing as starvation. We share Christ because in the world to come there will be no such thing as unbelief. Both are the fashioning of foretastes of that world to come, none more or less important than the other. (p.28)

I love that concept, that whenever we pray, “your kingdom come, your will be done on earth as it is in heaven,” we are committing ourselves as Christ followers and churches to fashioning foretastes of the world to come in the here and now. Whenever we obey Jesus and those words pass our lips in prayer, amongst other things we are committing ourselves to being violence-rejecting, peace-promoting, justice-advocating poverty-alleviators, faith-creating evangelists and social action radicals who make war not on other human beings but on illness, hunger, and meaninglessness.

When I think about all of that and praying those words that Jesus taught I am intimidated and inspired in just about equal measure. One thing I know for sure: I better not pray those words if I don’t mean them.

Kevin Murriel ~ A Conversation about “Breaking the Color Barrier”

Recently Wesleyan Accent had the pleasure of chatting with Dr. Kevin Murriel about his new – and timely – book, “Breaking the Color Barrier: A Vision for Church Growth through Racial Reconciliation.”

*What motivated and inspired this book, now? 

During my doctoral studies at Duke University, I wanted to research something that intersected the church and society–something that as a finished product would make a difference. I chose to research and write on racial reconciliation in American Christian life.  My mentor, Bishop Woodie W. White, during my time at Candler School of Theology spoke about the Mississippi Church Visit Campaign of 1964 during Freedom Summer. This initiative, led by Bishop White’s roommate at Boston University School of Theology, Rev. Edwin King, sought to desegregate white churches in Jackson, Mississippi. I am a native of Mississippi. So, I decided to use the methods Ed King and other leaders deployed as a model for racial reconciliation in the 21st century.

Also, this topic seemed fitting given the media coverage that the killings of unarmed black men and women in America has received since the Trayvon Martin case in 2012. America is in volatile condition regarding race relations and now, in 2015, the nation seems more willing (or more forced) to wrestle with race and its social, economic, and religious implications in our democratic society.

*I think the phrase “racial reconciliation” can be parsed out many ways depending on who is hearing it. What does it look like to you? (There’s a big difference to me, for instance, between merely coexisting vs sharing life together.)

Dr. Benjamin E. Mays, former President of Morehouse College and mentor to Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., said that 11:00am on Sunday morning is the most segregated hour of the week for Americans. Yet, we work together, eat at the same restaurants, and attend recitals and plays together. This, I believe, describes what you mean by coexisting. In other words, as long as we can be around each other without impacting our individual quality of life then we are content. That, however, is not how I view racial reconciliation. That’s desegregation.

Racial reconciliation as I describe in the book is about intentional community with an end goal in mind. That goal can be different depending on what one is seeking to accomplish. I argue that for Christians, our end goal should be more multicultural congregations due to the changing demographics of our country. In the next 25 years, America will look drastically different and our communities will be more diverse. Therefore, the Church must begin to mirror the diversity of our communities or suffer in the reality of decline. To move towards this goal, we must name what really keeps us divided–race.

We cannot argue that theological differences overwhelmingly divide us because Blacks disagree with Blacks on certain theological issues just like Whites, Latinos, and Asians do. The truth is that we enjoy and feel more comfortable worshiping with people who look like us. To break this trend for greater Kingdom growth requires engaging in difficult conversations about the racially divisive history that is the thesis of the American narrative and then we must work towards forgiving what has been. There then must be an intentional effort, primarily on behalf of Blacks and Whites, to move beyond the past and reconcile so that the institutional church in America can have a future.

*I love that you’ve approached this in synthesis with the desire for church growth. What has your research revealed about the relationship between racial reconciliation and church growth? On a more personal, intuitive level, what is your sense of church health and vitality when people come together to worship and “do life” together?

Based on my research, the churches that are growing and thriving are those who are intentional in their message, mission, and function about welcoming all people (and actually doing it). I visited a thriving church near Atlanta, Georgia a few weeks ago and what I witnessed shocked me and gave me hope at the same time. It was a truly multi-cultural/racial congregation. And they were thriving. Their pastoral team was multi-cultural/racial, their greeters, ushers, choir and band.  The congregational makeup was about 55% White, 40% Black, and 5% Hispanic. Everyone was friendly and you could feel the unity in the atmosphere. It was the closest I’ve seen to how I believe heaven will be.

I contend that when people come together without anger and with love and “life together” as the end goal, churches will be healthier and people will find that they have more in common. But again, this must be intentional. Society has changed from the 1960’s. There are more interracial dating and married couples than ever and our children are being educated in schools that are more diverse. Most people’s social media outlets are multi-cultural/racial. We are surrounded by diversity and have accepted it in our normal daily activity. Now is the time to do make it a reality in our churches.

*Sometimes I mourn that North American life seems to be so privatized rather than communal and shared, even in this age of social networking: we “network” from our private residences or vehicles. What does genuine, Spirit-filled community look like to you?

In short, genuine, Spirit-filled community, I believe, is the ability to love and accept everyone for the content of their character rather than the color of their skin.

*Have you served in primarily single race-predominate congregations? What are practical steps an average Wesleyan-Methodist tradition church could take to break the color barrier?

I have served in three predominately white congregations and three predominately Black congregations and each has the same issue–we want to worship with whom we feel comfortable and each has a way of stigmatizing the other. The interesting thing about each of the churches I’ve served is that they were each in communities that in the past five years became more diverse. From my experience in these contexts and my research, some practical steps for local churches and conferences to break the color barrier are:

1. The congregation must decide missionally who it wants to be. In other words, they must decide whether they want to be a church that welcomes people of all races or remain a homogenized church community.

2. Pastors of race-predominate congregations should host intentional ministry sessions to consider ways of being in ministry together in their local community. This is in line with our Wesleyan theology of connectionalism.

3. Conferences should mandate that clergy have diversity training and push programs that equip clergy and laity to have conversations about race.

4. Appointments in our Methodist system should truly be made without regard to race. And when pastor is appointed to a congregation where they are the minority, the congregation should go through a time of preparation to help with the transition to minimize potential cultural and racial insensitivity.

These are starting points. But the desire to be with people in intentional community is the foundation to breaking the color barrier.

*What do you wish White North American Christians better comprehended about being a Black North American Christian? Do you think there are any misconceptions about White Christians within the Black Christian community? 

I can only speak from my experience as a Black North American Christian and though there are many things I wish White North American Christians comprehended about being a Black North American Christian, the primary thing regarding racial reconciliation is that it will take White North American Christians leading in a significant way for reconciliation to occur. I think there are misconceptions from both groups. But with racial reconciliation, misconceptions must be corrected through honest dialogue. We often don’t worship together because we do not fully understand each other and how can we make a judgment on someone or a group that we do not know personally? All White people are not racist and all Black people are not lazy, unintelligible thugs. Unfortunately, society, in many ways, paints these distorted group pictures. In fact, Rev. Edwin King, the focus character of my book, is a White pastor leading and helping to organize black students to desegregate white churches. It is a beautiful story of how together we can bring about change and be the church that God envisions–a diverse Kingdom on earth as it is in heaven.

*Fill in this sentence: “we will have broken the color barrier in North American congregations when: “All of God’s people celebrate diversity and join hands together in unity.”

Featured image courtesy Aaron Blanco Tejedor on Unsplash

Otis McMillan ~ Missional Evangelism

Missional is a popular word today. It implies that in our evangelism, we do more than simply throw the gospel at someone. Instead we look at our culture as if we were on the mission field and ask what we can do to connect with that culture and reach those around us. Missional evangelism does just that. Thinking missionally helps you see that all places are mission fields and that all believers are missionaries. It will also challenge you to reach out to different cultures, ages, and those with broken lives. Finally, it will encourage you to start at the beginning—by getting to know unbelievers.

What exactly does missional evangelism mean? Does it mean moving from beyond the four walls of the church and reaching into a disadvantaged neighborhood to work for renewal? Does it mean living in the same zip code as the people we are trying to reach so we can truly be a missional community? Does it mean deepening already existing relationships with co-workers? Does it mean deliberately changing my patterns of life to bring me into contact with non-Christians on their own turf?

Tim Keller helps to answer this question by observing that the standard pattern of evangelism in the New Testament centered around the household. But the word household in New Testament times was much broader than we tend to think of it.

In the Bible, evangelism does not happen primarily through programs. It happens naturally through one’s relationship with the household which included not just your family, but also fairly close-knit colleagues, kin, friends, and neighborhood. Tim Keller suggest that the biblical term for household applies to at least five relationship networks: your kin network (family and relatives), your neighborhood, (those who live near you geographically), your colleagues (co-workers or co-students), your affinity network (people with a shared special interest) and your friends (those from the other four networks with whom you develop a close relationship).

The relative strengths or weakness of these five networks varies based on your context. But what it means to live missionally is to have authentic friendship with people in these networks. If Jesus is truly important to you, and if you have real friendships with people, then Jesus is going to come up sooner or later in the natural course of sharing life.

Bishop Joseph Johnson in his lecture on “Beyond Maintenance to Mission” describes the present day dilemma of the modern church as “dancing with dinosaurs.” For many years, the traditional church enjoyed the privilege as being the center piece of the community. People came to church because it was the right thing to do. That is no longer true, so the church must reach out to the unchurched in deliberate ways. Bishop Johnson suggest returning to the missionary model of evangelism, which focuses on salvation, outreach and mission.

Every believer has been called to be a missional evangelist in their personal world.800px-Vincent_Willem_van_Gogh_140

Look around and believe that the Spirit of God is hovering over your neighborhood, workplace or school. Some are defeated in their witnessing efforts before they start because they are not convinced that people near them are interested, seeking or already prepared by God. Our Lord has told us that the fields “are white already to harvest.”

Believe me, there are Spirit-prepared people near you who are seeking answers. God will lead you to these people. Ask him and see!



For further research, see Tim Keller, “Evangelism and the Steward Leader” audio. Bishop Joseph Johnson, “Beyond Maintenance to Mission”, Video 2009 Quadrennial Congress

Maxie Dunnam ~ What Does the Lord Require of You?

It is printed on the wall of the Library of Congress, a scripture verse many learned in Sunday school. Some describe it as the definition of real religion. “He has told you, O man, what is good. And what does the Lord require of you?  To do justice, to love mercy and to walk humbly with your God.” (Micah 6:8) Those words are as valid today as they were 2,800 ago years ago when Micah wrote them.

Micah was a young contemporary of the prophets Isaiah, Hosea, and Amos in the Eighth Century B.C. There was a particular kinship between Micah and Amos when we think about justice. Both were products of the countryside. Being from rural Mississippi, I like to remind people of that. Amos’s penetrating word, “Let justice run down like waters and righteousness as an ever flowing stream,” (Amos 5:24) is a parallel proclamation to Micah’s, “He has told you, O man, what is good. And what does the Lord require of you?  To do justice, to love mercy and to walk humbly with you God.”

Most of us are wondering these days, when? When will “justice run down like waters, and righteousness as an overflowing stream?”

514px-Wattsriots-policearrest-locIn April of l964, I moved from Gulfport, Mississippi to San Clemente, California, in large part because of the civil rights issue and the church’s unwillingness to be practically and prophetically involved.  Mississippi was burning in all sorts of ways. Sixteen months after arriving in California, August, 1965, the Watts riots broke out. California was burning.

Fifty years later, Baltimore is burning.

After all these years of civil rights legislation, war on poverty, war on drugs, and the coming of age of at least two generations, fire breaks out in Baltimore. It is not surprising that the response we see is either cynicism (that’s just the way it is), or a feeling of helpless hopelessness (there’s nothing I/we can do). Have we made any progress? is a normal question to ask.

I urge us to say no to cynicism and get beyond hopelessness; at least to move to a point of thinking seriously. To head us in that direction, consider the fact that at the heart of the problem in Micah’s day was that Israel had grown tired of God and chosen to go her own way. Judges took bribes to render unfair judgments; priests were immoral; prophets would prophesy anything you wanted in exchange for a few shekels. Micah and the other prophets were scathing in their denunciation of people being seduced into turning away from God, worshipping and serving other gods. Those ancient Israelites were attracted to gods of sex, power and material things. Have the temptations changed?  Are we moderns not obsessed with self, forever making gods in our own image? What is good for us? What provides us the most pleasure and security?

What is least challenging to our status quo?

We are where we are, in large part, because we have not heeded Micah’s proclamation of God’s call: do justice, love mercy, walk humbly with God

Justice: making sure that all persons are treated fairly and have the opportunity to share in God’s good gifts. Micah said, do justice That means it is not enough to wish for justice or to complain because justice is lacking. God’s people must work for justice, for fairness and equality for all, particularly the weak and powerless who are exploited by others. Even the church, in black and white community, must examine itself in relation to this. Black preachers can speak with more integrity and influence in the black community about accountability and the breakdown of family structures than the white preacher. The white preacher can’t ignore his prophetic responsibility in dealing with the evil of racism because he/she is tired of two or three black preachers who make a career of moving into every “hot spot” to speak their word of condemnation.

Love mercy. When we talk about justice, we need to remember that God’s justice is always flavored with mercy. Justice without mercy is not God’s kind of justice, and mercy without justice is not God’s kind of mercy.

The Hebrew word for mercy is hesed, which is difficult to translate with a single English word. Most often rendered mercy, sometimes it is simply rendered kindness, and often a combination of two words, loving kindness.

Mercy, along with justice, is an action word, a matter of the will. It is not natural, because we are basically selfish persons. Mercy requires decision. It may be costly, often requiring giving up something for ourselves and doing something for the sake of others.

More often than not, our problem is not in not knowing what to do, but in doing it. I believe that’s the reason the prophet added, “walk humbly with God.” It is our willingness to walk daily with God that energizes us, enabling us to do justice and love mercy.

Mercy (hesed) was a special word to the Hebrews because it is one of the principal attributes used to describe God in the Old Testament. More often than not, justice and mercy were connected in the preaching of the prophets. In a word similar to Micah’s, the prophet Zechariah says, “Thus says he Lord of hosts: ‘Execute justice, show mercy and compassion. Do not oppress the widow or the fatherless, the alien or the poor.’” (7:8-9) So the three directions for “real religion” cannot be separated. Walking humbly with God – living all of life in relation to God – will result in doing justice and loving mercy.

With my background journey, with Mississippi, California, and now Baltimore burning, living in the city where Martin Luther King was killed, I’m convinced the fundamental problem is education and the breakdown of the family. Those two things are intimately connected. I believe that public education is the civil rights issue of the 21st century. The zip code of where a child lives should not determine whether that child has an opportunity for a quality education. Whether a child can read when finishing the third grades marks what is going to happen to him/her the rest of life (including whether they will end up in prison). Whether a young woman finishes high school and goes to college often marks whether she will have children out of wedlock. The level of education for most incarcerated persons is less than high school.

I know that issues are more complex than these assertions, but I’m weary of excusing ourselves because the issue is so complex. Education is clearly a justice/mercy issue. That’s the reason why our church in Memphis has made a missional commitment to doing justice in relation to education.

Our congregation (Christ United Methodist Church) has been involved in education almost from the beginning of her life in 1955. As soon as buildings were available, the church started a school, kindergarten through sixth grade. I’m sure the motives were not altogether “justice for all.” Some folks were probably acting selfishly, making sure the children of the congregation had the opportunity for a “quality” education.

I served as Senior Minister of Christ Church from 1982 to 1994. Christ Methodist Day School had become one of many outstanding private schools in the city. During those years, I sought to lead the school in reaching out to the underserved of our city. We provided scholarships and tried to manage some common transportation.  But nothing really worked in any significant way.

To be faithful as a congregation, to really do justice and love mercy, the congregation acted boldly in 2010 and opened Cornerstone Prep, a private, explicitly Christian school, with very focused attention to providing education for the underserved children of our city, locating it in the hood.  We sent prospective teachers and administrators to cities across America where effective urban education was taking place, studied these schools, and developed our own “style” in response. From the beginning, with 33 kindergarten students, this little school has had positive record-breaking outcomes.

There was no question of need. In 2011, 950 of Tennessee’s 1750 public schools failed to make adequate yearly progress. In the concentrated educational reform efforts of our state, 85 of the worst “failing” schools were targeted for intervention by the state. Through the Department of Education, our governor established a non-geographical district of these “failing” schools, designated it The Achievement School District, and named a superintendent of that district, charging him to “reclaim” those schools for effective education. Sixty-nine of the 85 failing schools are in Memphis, a glaring sign of the condition of public education in our city.

Lester School is the primary elementary school serving the Binghamton neighborhood, where our congregation has been serving in different ways for 20 years. We located Cornerstone Prep there as another expression of our commitment. Lester is among the 69 failing schools in Memphis; in fact, it was the lowest performing school in the state.

One year after The Achievement School District was established, and three years after Cornerstone Prep was founded, we had the opportunity to do justice and love mercy in the Binghamton Community in a more expansive way. We were invited to take responsibility for the first three grades of Lester School.

To do so, Cornerstone Prep would have to “give up” being an explicitly Christian private school and become a charter school. This change in status would allow Cornerstone Prep to serve the larger public good in a manner currently not possible, enabling Cornerstone Prep to serve 325 students, rather than the 66 we served the previous year. After that year, we were given the entire school, kindergarten through 6th grade.

The big question was: would we be willing to surrender being an explicitly Christian school? We remembered that Jesus said, “unless a grain of wheat falls into the earth and dies, it remains just a single grain; but if it dies, it bears much fruit” (John 12:24). As those seeking to “do justice, love mercy, and walk humbly with God,” we decided that Cornerstone Prep had to die in the sense of being a private Christian school, in order to serve a desperate community. In the core sense, we did not forsake our “Christian mission” of “doing justice and loving mercy,” of serving “the least of these.” We decided to pursue the mission in a different way.  Some of what we had been able to do in Christian witness and teaching in the classroom, we now do “after school.” But more, we do it not in curriculum, but in the way we teach and how we express care and affirmation of the students. We do it through countless volunteers who mentor and read with students. We do it in an Art Garden for the students and the community, located across the street from the entrance to the school.

Cornerstone has had amazing results in proving that where a child lives does not determine learning potential. The educational measurements have exceeded national norms in every area, so our little school has gotten state and national attention. The establishment of this school was one expression of our church doing justice. It is our statement that if our church is going to provide quality education for our suburban constituency through Christ Methodist Day School, justice requires that we seek the same for the children in Binghamton and the whole city.

I dream of the day when God’s dream, expressed by Micah’s contemporary, Amos, will be realized in our city: justice and righteousness will be running throughout our city “like a mighty stream.” For now, it isn’t. But the flow has begun and is gaining velocity. Cornerstone will be responsible for all the grades of Lester School in the school year 2015-16, and will also assume responsibility for another of the failing schools in The Achievement School District. From a small but bold dream that began with 33 kindergarten children, after six years, we will be serving 1,400 students.

A bold teacher-training program, Memphis Teacher Residents, is increasing the pool of outstanding teachers. With the 2015 graduating class, 267 will have received their Masters Degree in Urban Teaching through this innovative program, having made the commitment to teach in our public schools for at least three years. Seventy-nine outstanding college graduates from across the nation are committed to be a part of the next cohort of this program. Our goal is to have at least 1,000 persons trained in this program that has been judged by national organizations to be exceptionally effective, teaching in our Memphis public schools.

Hundreds of volunteers are giving generous hours weekly to tutor and mentor. The stream is rising and flowing more strongly. One day, cities across the nation are going to say, “they did it in Memphis; we can do it here.” And in the city where he died, we will prove Dr. King right: “the arc of the moral universe is long, but it bends toward justice.”