Written by New Jersey District President Dr. Tony Steinbronn and Paul Huneke
Twelve years ago, in the winter of 2007, my good friend Paul Huneke and I were asked to write an editorial for Issues in Christian Education on this topic: how to change the paradigm evident in many LCMS congregations from one of maintenance ministry to mission; and thought I would share this editorial in memory of Paul and of his special way of encouraging us to embrace, and live out, His mission in our congregations and personal lives.
From Maintenance to Mission: Changing the Paradigm
“…and in the midst of the lampstands one like a son of man…now write what you see, what is and what is to take place hereafter…”
These words record the time when Jesus was walking through the lampstands of Asia Minor, commenting on what He saw and what was taking place. After describing these things, He offered correction, advice and promises. Each brief encounter closed with these words: he who has an ear, let him hear what the Spirit says to the churches.
Jesus continues to walk among the lampstands and He invites us, those who have been taught of the Spirit and who possess the mind and word of Christ, to write what we see, what is taking place within the body of Christ in our specific context and what is taking place in the world as we, disciples of the missionary God, “seek and to save the lost.”
There is not sufficient space to present a comprehensive list of what Jesus might say to us but our greatest challenge in moving from maintenance to mission is simply this: we are too much of the world and too little in the world. For many of our waking moments, we forget who we are and why we exist in the world.
We have built our fine homes, dine on the finest meats and drink good beer and wine, yet we do not grieve over the ruin of Joseph (that is, the steady decline of God’s presence and activity in our lives and in the world). We have minimized the Lord’s warning that a person’s life does not consist in the abundance of his or her possessions but lies in being rich toward God and rich toward one’s neighbor. We have often failed to act upon the reality that all of our talents and abilities have been entrusted into our care so that we might prosper the Master’s business of making disciples of all nations. We have churches that are well ordered, with lots of rules, restrictions and traditions, but little mission. We spend a great deal of our time and energy defining who is “in” and who is “not in” and little time helping people “get in and stay in” and not perish eternally.
As we reflect on moving from maintenance ministry to mission, Jesus challenges us with these words: he who has an ear, let him hear what the Spirit says to the churches. What is the Spirit of the Lord saying to us?
1: The Scriptures ascribe only one intention to God: to save humankind. Therefore, every task of the Church makes sense, and has a purpose, only as it leads to the mission of “making disciples of all peoples.”
2: God is working out His saving plan in and through His chosen and redeemed people and each believer has a responsibility for advancing the saving purposes of God in the world.
3: Each lampstand must realize that it is the Church, the body of Christ, in its locality and must corporately fulfill its mission and ministry in that place. That is, it is to possess and mediate the mind and word of Christ and demonstrate His love and compassion for the world.
4: The crisis situation for most Christian congregations is that we no longer live in a churched culture but in an unchurched culture. This state of affairs challenges and invites God’s people to become more missionary in their posture and orientation toward the world and to possess a proper balance between edification (building one another up in the Christian faith and becoming mature in Christ) and evangelism (proclaiming the Good News about Jesus), and fostering a healthy, vibrant, organic body life centered in the coram relationships (life lived out “in the presence of God” and life lived out “in the presence of others”).
Anthropologist Anthony Wallace, in his classic definition of a revitalization movement, observed that it is a deliberate, organized effort by members of a society to construct a more satisfying culture, centered in a sacred message, and enunciated by a prophet or maximum leader, stating what is wrong now, what it should be like in the future, and how to get from now to that future. This sacred message comes from five theological perspectives:
1: An apostolic perspective would ask what is the condition of the lampstand and is it built upon the foundation of the apostles and prophets with Christ being the cornerstone;
2: A prophetic perspective would help God’s people remember who they are and why they are in the world, to keep themselves free from idols and to use their lives to prosper the Master’s business of making disciples;
3: An evangelistic perspective would encourage and equip God’s people to reach out to others with the narratives of the Scriptures so that they can help those who do not know God’s story to make sense of their story in light of His saving story;
4: A pastoral perspective would focus on feeding and caring for the body of Christ, of equipping the priesthood for their works of service and Gospel proclamation, of overseeing the work of the Holy Spirit within and among the community of believers and cultivating a biblical spirituality in God’s people (oratio, meditatio, tentatio) as His missionary people to the nations;
5: A teaching perspective would communicate His Word and His way of life so that it forms and shapes our entire existence through the daily, intentional, socialization of the Christian faith in our homes and in the ministries of the Church (Deuteronomy 6).