40 Slides and a Sunset

by Bob Gerow

Third in a series of articles on the difference between "doing church" and being the church.

Have you ever attempted to break an old habit? It was probably not very easy. You knew you "ought" to change, but could not. The habitual activity provides more irritation and guilt than the satisfaction it once did, but you persist anyway. Several attempts later, you might have given up and resigned yourself to this less-than-productive way of being.

For many of us, "missions emphasis" is little more than an old, annoying habit. We "do" it, but not without wondering if there's a way "out" that won't kill us. We've sat through innumerable convert counts from faraway places, pictures and films that seem dreadfully predictable, and awkward travelers with big families who don't quite "fit" in our day-to-day world. The home office pummels us with bulletin inserts, special mailings, phone calls, and itinerant staff looking for their next Sunday engagement. A handful from our congregation occasionally reminds us that "we ought to be doing something," but none of them seem ready, willing, or able to lead the attempt.

How do I break this habit? How do I interrupt this routine? What will it take to find relief?

There are important features of a success story that are worth noting. It's often more productive to think about creating a new habit than of breaking an old one. I'm not just giving up (you fill in the blank), but I am gaining better health, longer life, stronger friendships, new strength, better skills, and so on. At this point you are not just breaking an old habit, but learning a new one.

Another element of success is that replacing habits is part of a larger program, designed to meet a larger objective. A ministry associate once told me that he got up at 4 a.m. every day because he wanted to be around a long time, and in good health for his wife and children. He also ate well, read widely, and cultivated friendships that reinforced his values. Running replaced being sedentary and overweight as a necessary part of fulfilling a larger objective.

The Great Commission (Matt. 20:18-20) is addressed to the Body, and is stated as something all of Christ's followers should be doing as a matter of course: "Wherever you go, make disciples." Both by definition, and by command, making disciples is no longer an agenda item, but that which identifies us in our daily "going."

New men and women in Christ cannot help but reflect their newness. Being new means bearing witness. It's about all of life in Christ. "Missions" is now replaced by Christ-likeness that is inevitably attentive to others still to be drawn into the circle of disciples.

That change of perspective can make all the difference. "Missions" is no longer something we "do." Witnessing is not just for the "called." Handing out tracts on a street corner is not itself the point. It's not about whether you are in the United States or in some remote jungle. Embracing Christ is about repentant sinners, not for those seeking only a temporary fix. Convert counts are meaningless unless the new recruit is discipled in Christ.

You may be thinking "Nice thought! But how do I turn those big ideas into meaningful events in the life of our congregation?" Thanks for asking!

First, What is the overriding theme of your ministry as pastor? You and I, who are in positions of ministry and influence, have a sacred trust. We cannot allow the lead for our ministry to come from our favorite agenda or the felt needs of our congregants. We are to shepherd the flock in our care in the ways of Christ. We are called both to be, and to shepherd disciple-makers.

The great and overriding good toward which every providence in our lives is focused is that we conform to the image of Christ (Rom. 8:29). That ought to be our central ministry emphasis as well. Every meditation, homily and sermon should "ooze" with Christ-likeness. Every counseling session should center on becoming like Christ. The disciple's noble end of being conformed to Christ should urged as the central objective every time we help folks manage their money, or raise their children, or settle with their neighbors.

In time, they'll "get the picture!" Talking about "missions" will come a lot more easily because that is what the Body of Christ longs for. Ideas about and for Missions "events" will be the product of individual giftedness, and the common awareness and interests of the fellowship. Events and programs will be means rather than ends-which will infuse them with new life. Your encouragement and leadership as shepherd of the flock will help keep it all in focus.

Imagine! The old "40 Slides and a Sunset" presentation becomes PowerPoint, or drama, or arts & crafts. The awkward family with all those kids are now fellow believers in whose lives you have a stake, through fellowship and partnership. You also have a new, and better, set of criteria for sorting through all that material from the mission agency marketing department!

Does it look like too much? Discipleship is a life-long pursuit. It never happens quickly. As Wayne Barber puts it, "Discipleship doesn't end at conversion; it only begins there!" But since disciple making is the equivalent of our "marching orders," how long it can take should not deter us. "Let us not be weary in well doing: for in due season we shall reap, if we faint not." (Gal. 6:9)

Bob Gerow grew up on the mission field in Argentina. He served in various capacities
with multiple ministries before becoming development administrator at
AMG International in Chattanooga, TN.

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