Giggles, Groans, or Mission?

Recently, I preached the same sermon in two different locations. Part of the sermon talked about our changing context due to the constant development of technology and shifts in population growth. To explain this, I read off a bunch of statistics that I found in this video:

What fascinated me was the differences in how each of the two congregation responded. The first church was the Upper Room, the church I’m planting. This group is comprised mostly of young adults living in an urban context. They responded to the statistics in the video mostly by giggling. The second church I preached this sermon in was a suburban church with an average age that’s a bit older. As they heard these statistics, they groaned is disbelief. Some even told me how sad the statistics are.

This got me to asking myself two questions. First, why these differences in reaction? I can think of a few reasons. The Upper Room’s members live in the city, and thus in a significantly more diverse environment than the suburbs of Pittsburgh. The shift in population demographics is right in front of the every day. They’ve also grown up and been educated as this shift has developed, so their educations reflects, at least in part, a preparation for these shifts. The older, suburban congregation has lived without these shifts for some time, maybe they feel as if they’re actually losing something.

The second question I have may be more difficult to answer. What are the consequences to reacting in each of these ways? The title of the sermon I preached was “You Are Stewards of the Gospel,” based on the first half of Ephesians 3. The sermon explained that Paul understood the gospel as something entrusted to him, that God has revealed the mystery of Christ to him not merely for his own benefit, but also so that Paul might proclaim it to others. The sermon challenged the congregation to think of themselves as stewards of the gospel, as people entrusted with the message of Christ so that it may be proclaimed, and then reflected on how we do this in our changing global context. In light of globalization and developed technology, we all ought to adopt a missionary mentality.

The folks in the suburban church may not be prepared for this shift. Their groaning may reflect a refusal to acknowledge these shifts and to respond accordingly. However, I also wonder if those of us who giggle when we hear about these changes are also unprepared. Imagine the missionary work someone like Paul could accomplish in our age of Iphones and Blackberries, when we literally carry the entire world in our pocket. Perhaps our giggling is a sign that we take these changes for granted? Perhaps our education and context has so eased us into this much more connected world that we actually fail to see fully the opportunity that lies before us.

Our present context presents us with opportunities for mission that didn’t exist even 1o years ago. If only the whole church would seize the fullness of these opportunities…

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Eucharist and the Missional Church

I’ve  been thinking about the Eucharist a lot lately. Part of the vision of the Upper Room is that we’ll be a sacramental community, and so we celebrate the Eucharist weekly. This is the first time I’ve ever been in a community that does this every Sunday. It’s taken awhile, but after several months of breaking bread and sharing the cup each week, God’s given me the eyes of faith to see Christ’s presence in the supper more clearly. I’ve found that celebrating the Lord’s Supper every week has become integral to my spiritual formation. I remember a few weeks back, it was a Wednesday or Thursday night and I found myself thinking, “I really want to be at the Lord’s table right now.” I wanted to be breaking bread and sharing the cup with my brothers and sisters in Christ. I was desiring Christ’s presence. Yet, it was still only Wednesday or Thursday, so (I thought) I had to wait.What brought me some sense of closure in this was a week or two later in the Lesslie Newbigin class I’m taking at PTS. In one article (or possibly a speech), Newbigin lists seven paradoxes about Christ and his relationship with the Church and world. The seventh paradox is that Christ is the final judge of the world who will come again, and yet also Christ remains hidden in the world, to the point that even the Church often doesn’t see him. And so, Newbigin explains, we need to seek Christ out in the world. Jesus said in the gospels that whatever you do to the least of these my brothers and sisters, you do also to me.

I heard this, and I immediately thought to myself, “And that is why the Lord’s Supper is so important.” Celebrating the Eucharist trains us in knowing what it feels like to be in the presence of Christ. So, when we leave the church building after we’ve been in Christ’s presence at the Lord’s table, we can go out seeking Christ’s presence elsewhere. The same Christ who is present in the Eucharist is the same Christ who is present in the hungry beggar asking for food, or the thirsty person asking for a drink, or the lonely prisoner waiting for a visitor, or the lonely elderly person “imprisoned” in a nursing home, or in the homeless person looking for shelter. When I found myself desiring to be at the Lord’s Table midweek, God was calling me to seek Christ’s presence in those places.

As “missional” continues to become more and more of a buzzword in the church, and as (hopefully) more and more churches begin to think about what it means to be a community that exists for the redemption of the whole world, I’m convinced that the Eucharist needs to be a central theme of the missional church’s worship. Being missional isn’t merely about doing charitable acts or making converts. It’s about recognizing that Christ is out in the world, hidden among the lost, the downtrodden, the oppressed, and the outcast. It ought to be the church’s desire, and joy, to seek out Christ’s presence in those places, and the Eucharist prepares us for just that.