MISSIONS VS. SERVICE

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The word missions is a word often used within the church to describe a variety of things. In many churches, anything done outside of the church building takes on the label, “missions.” In one sense I understand why, after all, much of what we do has some sort of missional component implicitly connected to it but in another sense, I see this as a big problem. I think it is imperative for us, as the Church, to not lose sight of the difference between outreach and missions, especially as it relates to the call of the church.

Traditionally, when we speak of missionaries and mission work, we are speaking of people who have given up the comforts of home to serve God elsewhere, specifically to bring the good news of the gospel to those who have not heard. William Carey, Adoniram Judson, David Livingstone, Hudson Taylor, Lottie Moon, Jim Elliot, Eric Liddell and many other men and women are examples of those who gave their lives so that others may know the truth of the gospel and be saved. These men and women inspire us and give weight to the words of Jesus when He called us to pick up our cross and follow Him. To study the lives of these people reminds us of the true work of the gospel and the cost associated with it.

However, with this in mind, if we are honest, much of what we do is not really mission work, at least not like that of those mentioned. Much of what we do in the church today is about doing good deeds for people and serving them. This is not to discount the importance of meeting the needs of people, it is what we see modeled by Jesus at various times throughout His ministry, but while it is good and important it is also incomplete.

You see, to just help people and be kind to them, doesn’t mean they have been given the gospel. Maybe they have experienced the outworking of the gospel seen in your life as you served them, but they still have not experienced the gospel. If we are to be a missional people we need be a people who are concerned with more than just doing good things. We need to be a people who are concerned with more than just serving others. Both of these things are important, but neither of these things are in themselves missional.

Let’s face it, many people in our world are very kind toward others without ever loving God. There are relief agencies and generous people who give of their time and resources to help others and to do good things in this world but yet have nothing to do with the things of God. Some of the most ungodly celebrities, athletes, and wealthy people give much to help others and make a difference in this world. So, with that being said, we can’t just think that doing good is the same things as sharing the gospel.

As a pastor, I desire for the people of God to serve, not just every once and awhile, but all the time. If you live in the world then you are constantly confronted with opportunities to serve those around you. You are constantly offered opportunities to make a difference and you should take advantage of those opportunities. I hope that we would seek to cultivate an environment that was marked by people serving others not just because of a workday or because someone is watching but rather out of a sincere desire to serve as though serving Christ. (Eph. 6:7)

While we should be a people who serve, I would hope for us to be a people who are burdened for the lost and desire to share the gospel. We should not only be a people who are defined by service but a people who are defined by missions. As we serve and as we partner with people who are serving, my heart’s desire is that we would be a people who are always looking for ways to share the truth of the gospel, for only the gospel has the power to save. Only the gospel has the power to ultimately help those who are in need.

It is this desire that leads me, along with our leadership team, to evaluate what we do missionally as a church. We often ask ourselves the question, how does this enable us to share the gospel with those who are lost? As a church, we should be about the work of the Kingdom of God first and foremost. Therefore, we should be a people who are always seeking to be missional as we live our lives together in Christ. This means that the organizations we partner with missionally need be organizations that have a burden for the gospel as well and have the gospel at the center of their ministry.

We are always open to how the Lord might lead us to partner with organizations who have a burden for the gospel as we do. Over the last year, the Lord has placed two such organizations in our lives, both of which are doing the work of the gospel in Africa. The first organization is ‘Empower One’. It is a ministry that seeks to bring the gospel to the estimated 20 million Sudanese people who have not yet heard the good news of Jesus. About two years ago a representative from ‘Empower One’ spoke to our church on a Wednesday Night and then this past November six of us from the church had the opportunity to attend their annual banquet in Dallas. Our church has already helped them in building a kitchen in South Sudan at their school facilities where they are teaching children and training pastors for the work of the gospel.

The second organization is the Central Africa Baptist College in Zambia. Many of you met the Ilunga family while they were here on furlough. Allan Ilunga is the head of the chaplaincy department at the college and teaches and trains chaplains there in Zambia. Along with his chaplaincy training in Zambia, Allan goes into the Congo to preach the gospel and distribute the Word of God. The college and the various ministries connected to it are focused on spreading the true gospel in an area where the prosperity gospel and African spiritualism, dressed up like Christianity, have run rampant. Many people speak of Christianity in Africa but understand something very different from the truth found in the Word of God.

This year we have been given the opportunity to visit both of these ministries so that we may see first-hand the work of the gospel being done there. This will also enable us to pray more effectively about how the Lord may be leading us to partner with these organizations. I would ask that you pray for me and the small groups going on these two trips. I will be headed to Uganda in October to come alongside ‘Empower One’ as we visit the refugee camps which are housing many Sudanese people who have been displaced because of civil war. Then in November I have been invited to speak at a leadership conference being hosted at Central Africa Baptist College in Kitwe, Zambia. I will have the opportunity to share with pastors who are doing the work of the gospel in various parts of Africa. At the same time, we will have the opportunity to see the ministry of the college and the impact they are having not only in Zambia but all throughout Africa. I would ask that you pray for these trips. Pray specifically that The Lord would provide the resources needed to go, for safety as the teams travel, (especially during the Uganda trip), that The Lord would give clarity regarding our level of involvement as a result of the trips, and most of all, pray that God may be glorified and that people would be saved as a result of the mission efforts of these two organizations.

Grace and Peace,

Pastor Mike

 

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“A Family Dinner Table”

I recently read a quote by Mark Dever who is the pastor of Capitol Hill Baptist Church in Washington, D.C. He stated, “The difference between ‘going to church’ and going to your own church is the difference between a restaurant and a family dinner table.” This quote got me to thinking about what it means to be a part of a church in today’s culture and society. With so many things that compete for our time, and so many forms of entertainment at our disposal what role does the church play in the life of a believer, and what role should it play?

I grew up in a family that valued a sense of loyalty. As a result loyalty has always been a big deal to me. My Father use to say, “blood is thicker than water.” What he meant was that you have to be loyal to your family, and you should never chose friends over family. That sense of loyalty, especially in regards to family, has always been deeply implanted in me as a result of my upbringing. In general, I have such a sense of loyalty that I am the kind of person who will pay a few more dollars to a company simply because of a sense of loyalty that I feel towards them after years of service. I will endure difficulties with people because I feel a desire to be loyal to them even when it is hard. I will root for my sports team even if they go 1-15 (and they have).

Unfortunately this deep sense of loyalty does not appear to be common in our culture today, and as a result I am often left feeling like a dinosaur when it comes to this subject. If I may chase a rabbit for minute, take television providers for example. As a new customer with many companies you are entitled to certain discounts and benefits if you will enter into a contract, yet when you go to renew that contract those discounts and benefits will no longer be available. But, if you cancel and go to another provider you can get the benefits and discounts by entering into a contract with them. If this isn’t crazy enough after that contract is up you can go back to your original provider and get discounts and benefits as a new customer again. How crazy is that! They not only refuse to reward loyalty they encourage a system that helps you benefit by being disloyal.

At this point you may be asking yourself the question, what in the world does any of this have to do with what this blog is about? Well, I have half-jokingly said many times that I always appreciate the church member who says to me I was here before you got here and I will be here after you leave. Now, to be sure, I don’t appreciate what that often infers about me, but what I do appreciate is what that infers about them, namely that they are loyal to their church. Their loyalty to their church is not dictated by whether they like everything or even agree with everything, instead their loyalty is founded in the deep sense of belonging they feel. This sense of belonging is rooted, I believe, in a sense of family. This is the family that God has given them, and you don’t just walk out on family without a good reason, so they won’t even if that means they have to put up with me 😉

You see I can’t help but wonder if this is not one of the things that is missing from today’s church culture. I can’t help but wonder whether we have lost our ability to appreciate that deep sense of family that is found within a local church? And, whether we have lost a desire to even cultivate that deep sense of family within the local church? With all the other things to distract us and pull us away, are we forsaking the good gifts of God that are only experienced in the local church? Over the years as a pastor I have watched the church walk alongside hurting families through difficulties and heartaches. I have watched the church laugh, cry, celebrate and mourn with part of its family. Yet I have also watched as many of those who have experienced that sense of family walk right out the door, never to be seen again.

Now please do not misunderstand, there are times when it is appropriate and God honoring to leave. There are times when you would be dishonoring the family that God has given you by staying, and there are times when God is calling you to something else and as a result you would be dishonoring God to stay. There are many good reasons to leave a church, and these are not the things I am thinking of as I write this.

When thinking about the original quote that started all of this I want to share with you what Justin Childers (pastor of my former church) had to say. He wrote, “One of the aspects of this analogy that should challenge us is this: at a family meal, we have to contribute (cook, clean, host, etc). And we have to put up with that crazy uncle. But at a restaurant someone waits on us and cleans up after us…all we do is consume (and we choose who we sit with). Far too many people just attend church for this reason. They don’t want to contribute and be responsible for the life and health of the church. They just want to keep their distance…just in case there is another restaurant they want to try out.”

I wonder if this is not true of the church today in America. I wonder if what Pastor Justin has said is true of more of us than we would care to admit. Have we lost our sense of loyalty because we treat church more like a restaurant and less like a family meal? Have we as the church done a bad job of teaching people, and raising up a generation of people, to view their role in church as a participant and not simply as a recipient? Have we started making our churches look more like restaurants and less like family gatherings? When I think of these questions I can’t help but to ponder the scriptures in 1 Corinthians and Romans that speak of the church as a body. When we read those descriptions we see a connectedness that is hard to ignore. If what is described in those passages is true then there is a real sense of investment we should feel, as parts of the body, shouldn’t we? As a part of the body there should be a sense of obligation to contribute, as well, right? With that being said I wonder, what would our church look like if we took seriously the gifts God has given us in each other? What would our church look like if we all began to view it more as a family dinner table and less like a restaurant?  This analogy is so rich and full of many beautiful take-a-ways.

I don’t write these things to point my finger. Instead, I write these things to invite us to think more deeply about one of the greatest gifts we who are in Christ have been given, the church. If I am honest I have often thought to little of this amazing gift. I am grieved to think of all the ways over my walk with Christ that I have viewed my church wrongly. As a pastor, I am grieved to think of the ways I may have contributed to this in one way or another. This thought leads me to pray, and I hope would lead you to as well. It leads me to pray for myself, and to pray for God’s church. I pray that God would continue to develop in me a deep sense of love and commitment to His church. I pray that I would see more clearly the church that God has placed me in as a beautiful family dinner table and not a franchise restaurant. I pray that I would find joy in the family God has given me (even with her flaws), and I pray you would as well.

Grace and Peace,

Michael Meadowslong_table_bypermissionofeatingalabama

Vacation/Rest

FullSizeRender-2This past week my family and I went on vacation to enjoy some rest and relaxation, because nothing says rest like spending 8 days visiting 6 states, and spending most of your time between a minivan and hotel rooms with 5 kids, ages 10 and under! 🙂 In all seriousness though, I am so thankful for the capable men and women that God has raised up at Central, so that I am able to sneak away for a few days and spend time with my family and rest. It is the topic of rest that I wanted to spend a few moments reflecting on with you. I want to say from the onset that my desire is to share some thoughts with you about rest. I do not desire to fully expound on the topic of rest. There is much more that could be said about rest then I will even attempt to cover. Instead, this is simply a few thoughts I have as I get back to the grind this morning that I hope might be edifying and thought provoking for us all.

Rest is an important component in the life of a believer. We are all people who need rest. All throughout scripture we see the theme of rest play an important part in the life of God’s people. That theme starts at the very beginning in the book of Genesis. In the very beginning we see that God Himself created the earth, and then the Bible tells us He rested (Gen. 1-2).  God knew that the land and the people He created would need rest in order to be all that God created them to be, so in creation He modeled that rest. When we rest we are honoring and glorifying God, because resting is doing what God created us and called us to do. When we do what we were created to do, we bring honor and glory to God. (That statement could be another post entirely.)

Oftentimes in our society we see rest as unproductive, and something to be avoided at all costs. You may have even heard the expression, “I’ll rest when I’m dead.” This expression is used in an attempt to say that a person doesn’t have time to rest, or that somehow rest is a bad thing that should not be done while there is work to do.  As I think about this I can’t help but ask the question, where have we gotten these ideas? I can tell you this, we did not get them from scripture. Not only do we see God model rest in Genesis, but in Leviticus 25:1-5, we see clearly that God commands that even the land is to have rest. The Lord spoke to Moses on Mount Sinai, saying, “Speak to the people of Israel and say to them, When you come into the land that I give you, the land shall keep a Sabbath to the Lord. For six years you shall sow your field, and for six years you shall prune your vineyard and gather in its fruits, but in the seventh year there shall be a Sabbath of solemn rest for the land, a Sabbath to the Lord. You shall not sow your field or prune your vineyard. You shall not reap what grows of itself in your harvest, or gather the grapes of your undressed vine. It shall be a year of solemn rest for the land.Rest is an important part of the creation order, and that is why in Genesis He modeled rest, in Leviticus He called the land to rest, and in Exodus He calls us to rest.

I find it funny that while we who are in Christ believe in the truth of God, we often deny the truth we say we believe. We know the right answers, but practically played out we ignore the truth we say we affirm. That is seen clearly in the fact that too often we only affirm 9 of the 10 commandments. You see, we acknowledge that all of the commandments are important and are to still be followed, but when we get to Sabbath rest we begin to try and justify why it is no longer needed. The honest believer however, is confronted with the fact that Sabbath rest is not an option, but instead it is a command from God. In light of all this, I want to ask you the question, how are you fulfilling the law of God by resting?

Now, to clarify when I ask this question, I do not mean how are you being self idolatrous? Oftentimes the people of God use the idea of rest as an excuse to be self-idolatrous. The kind of rest I am speaking of is the kind that honors and glorifies God. It is that kind of rest that we are called to, and it is that kind of rest we should not neglect.We as the people of God should rest in God, and be refreshed in Him. That is one of the reasons I love corporate worship. Corporate worship is a time to take a break from the world and focus completely upon God and His people. When we focus completely upon Him, then we truly are able to find rest. I pray that as the people of God we would not neglect the command to rest, and as we rest I pray we would rest in Him.

Central has a Blog!

Here at Central Baptist Church our desire is to preach, teach and live the gospel for the glory of God. We believe that in order to live out the gospel you must first know it. You can’t live out something you don’t understand; that is why we emphasize the importance of preaching and teaching. Too often churches skip right past the why and get to the doing, and I firmly believe that is a great mistake. If I may, think about it from a business perspective for a moment. Would you welcome a new member to the company and immediately put them out into the field to represent you without giving them any sort of training? The obvious answer is no, of course we would never do such a thing. However, within the church today that is exactly what we do. We don’t want to waste time thinking through what we believe and what we are doing and why we are doing it; instead we just want to be the hands and feet of Christ.

Let me say that I too desire that we be the hands and feet of Christ, but we first need to know who we are, and whom the God is we are serving, otherwise our service will be misguided at best. Over the last four years I have desired to challenge us to think more deeply about what we believe and why we believe it, because I firmly believe that to do so makes us all better servants of God. I don’t buy the line that to think theologically about things is to become inwardly focused instead, I dare say that to think more theologically about things will make us more effective as we reach out to the world around us.

With that being said, it is often hard to address many of the issues that inevitably come up in the life of the church. Many times decisions are made to do certain things in certain ways and it is hard to address the why with the entire congregation. It is with this in mind that we have created the “Central Staff Blog.” The word blog means web log, and it is a chronicle or online diary. With that in mind, our desire is that this will be a place where we can share with you some of the things that the Lord has been dealing with us about as your staff, and share about things pertinent to the church that just can’t be done well through a blurb in the bulletin or an insert.

My hope is that through this platform you will be better able to know the heart of your ministerial staff, and stay informed about things that are happening in and through the Body of Christ at Central Baptist Church. Each week there will be a new blog post, and the ministerial staff will take turns writing the blog for the week. Each blog will be from the perspective of that particular staff member and as a result will more than likely be related to their area of ministry.

I hope that through this blog you will be informed and challenged to think more deeply about the why behind much that goes on in the church and culture. Too often the things we do are so pragmatically driven; meaning they are only concerned with whether it works. As the people of God the why always matters. The why is often the difference between what the world does and what the church does. Everything we do should be intentionally rooted in the truth of God as He has revealed through His Word. We realize that in many forums it is often hard to completely flesh out, but hopefully this blog will enable us to flesh out the why behind many things about which you may wonder.

Most of us on the staff are new to blogging, so please bear with us as we start this new journey using this new medium. As always, please pray for us as well. Pray that we would use this forum in a way to promote unity within the body of Christ while spurring one another on to love and good deeds just as the writer of Hebrews stated. I want to leave you with asking you to help us as we start this new journey. One of the ways you can help us is encouraging fellow church members to follow this blog. The blog contains a follow button, and by following the blog you will receive email notices when the blog is updated. The more people that follow the blog the more effective this form of communication can be in preaching, teaching and living the gospel for the glory of God!

Thanks,

Michael Meadows

Pastor