Absent but Present

By: Rev. Craig Shepperd

We celebrated Easter Sunday a few weeks ago. In this season we are reminded that, in the resurrection, we hold onto a great hope. Jesus has conquered sin, death, and the grave. The Church, thus, serves the world by proclaiming this hope. We point people to this truth: in spite of Jesus’ bodily absence, he is still very much present with us.  At the same time, we are dealing with the reality of a pandemic, which seems to squelch this hope. It is a reminder that we find ourselves in the middle of the already and the not yet.

Jesus’ work on the cross and its culmination in the resurrection is final. There is nothing we can add to it, and there is certainly nothing we can take away from it. The Church is both a participant in this already Kingdom and the Church also waits on the not yet completion of what is still to come. We anticipate; we imagine the ultimate overcoming. It is the role of the Church to proclaim the hope that God will move to bring forth ultimate possibility next to what feels like ultimate struggle. We must continue to seek and proclaim the promise that God is acting to transform possibility into an actuality of love and peace, a reality in which the struggle that seems to always be threatening us is eliminated.

The work of the cross and the victory of the resurrection breed hope. Hope trusts in the promises of God. Hope seeks the action of God that brings forth a new reality. This reality is God’s continued, coming Kingdom. It is more than optimism. Andrew Root states, “Optimism stands in the current reality, wishing to make the best of each individual experience. But hope stands knee-deep in the history of this reality yearning for the action of God to bring forth a new reality in which everything in this reality is reconciled and redeemed.”[1]

So, in order for the Church to be faithful proclaimers of this hope we must be active. We seek to participate in the action of God—by placing our actions in line with God’s actions. The Church must not only desire God’s coming future; it must be an embodiment of that future in the world by participating in its suffering and witnessing to God’s action within the world. Jesus does not want his Church to rationally commit to a set of beliefs and facts. Discipleship is not merely about Sunday School. Unfortunately we have become hoarders of biblical knowledge and have forsaken our mission beyond the walls. Jesus is calling us to taste a new reality, “to recognize that as his disciples we are participating in the very action of God”[2] to bring forth the Kingdom as it is in heaven. We are co-laborers. We do not bring it about. We live in it. We reenact it, even if it is not fully here yet.

Jesus’ physical absence does not mean he forsakes us. It is not a loss of hope. It is a fulfillment of hope, and for the Church it is an invitation to proclaim that hope. Our presence, our activity in the world as God’s hope-bearers is the embodiment of Jesus in the world claiming, “I am the life and the resurrection.”[3] So, we must be present.

[1] Andrew Root. Unlocking Mission and Eschatology in Youth Ministry. (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan), 2012.  64.

[2] Ibid. 34.

[3] John 11:25

The Church in Identity Crisis

By: Rev. Craig Shepperd

Abstract: This essay is about the opportunity that the current COVID-19 crisis presents the church to reclaim her missional identity. It suggests that the Church has grown so comfortable in doing church that we forgot to be the church. This doing has since become what we now mean when we refer to church. It is very individualistic and compartmentalized, and it is driven by programs.

The Chinese character for expressing the idea of “crisis” combines two other characters: the one for “danger” and the other for “opportunity.” I would suggest in terms of identity, this is exactly what the COVID-19 crisis provides the Church as well: danger and opportunity. Without going into needed detail as to how we got here, the Church has slipped into some dangerous patterns that should cause us to question our identity. After all, what is the Church to do if it cannot meet together in order to go through the religious routine? While I am very much in favor of us meeting together, it seems like some really good habits have compromised our very reason for existence.

In his book, Adoptive Youth Ministry, Chap Clark describes how an idea evolves. “For an idea to go anywhere, it must have some sort of structure to give it legs.”[1]  Structures are not only important; they are good, that is, as long as the idea remains dynamic and is given room to breed other ideas. The Church was/is God’s idea. An idea that would empower the Body of Christ through the work of the Holy Spirit to scatter into the world as His agents of mission, justice, and grace. However, the idea of the Church has become institutionalized, thus stifling the dynamic movement of the Spirit that brings a hotbed of creativity for the sake of mission. So, today, many of us are more concerned about when the next time we will be able to get back together in our building, as opposed to how God may mobilize the Church for mission in this present day. Why? Because our somewhat privatized, individualistic practice of religion holds the identity of the Church hostage.

Sure, we say we know the Church is the people and the building just a location, but truth be told we are bound by a place of residence. Darrell Gruder suggests, “the church must ask, are our structures and our assumptions about the church’s nature and purpose no longer suited to the time and place in which we currently live? Might it be that both our organization and presuppositions have been dislodged from the moorings in the biblical message?[2]

If we perpetuate the status quo, the Church in many ways will continue to be obsolete (not the message). However, this crisis presents us the opportunity to re-imagine what it means to be called together for the sake of the world[3], not just our own. In these days may we re-learn who Christ is and what his life in ministry was all about.[4] May the Church reemerge as a presence in our culture, not from a place of privilege,[5] but out of a vocation that calls us to embody Jesus’ love engaged in mission and restoring relationship. Mission is not a program, and it is not optional. “The church’s essence is missional, for the calling and sending action of God forms her identity.”[6] Let us, then, as the Church, live into the sending activity of God.

[1] Chap Clark. Adoptive Youth Ministry. (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Academic), 2016. 13.

[2] Darrell L. Gruder. Missional Church: A Vision for the Sending of the Church in North America. (Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans), 1998. 78-79.

[3] Genesis 12:2; Hosea 1:10; 1 Peter 2:9.

[4] Luke 4:18-19; Luke 19:10; John 4:34; John 6:38-39; John 10:10; John 17; Philippians 2:6-11.

[5] The church in the US insists on going back and re-establishing its place as the moral compass in society. However, the avenue that is commonly used is not missional. It is political. This is rarely, if ever the posture of the Church of Jesus Christ. Therefore, we must not navigate our mission in hopes that the empire will grant us authority, but remember our mission is demonstrated and power is given through Jesus’ work on the cross and culminates in his resurrection.

[6] Gruder, 82.

Taken from Rev. Craig Shepperd’s website

“Pandemic Epistles: Reflections on the Church During COVID-19.”

The last two months have felt surreal for all of us.  The COVID-19 virus has affected every country in the world, and has caused many of us to #stayathome.  No gatherings of large numbers of people.  Our schedules and our finances have been affected, and the Church has not been exempt from the sweeping changes either.

A dear friend and fellow minister, Craig Shepperd, has been writing a series of reflections on what this odd time could mean for Christ’s body on earth going forward.  I have found his articles extremely useful in moving us from the general malaise of being quarantined to engaging in a profound dialogue regarding who we are and who we can be during and after this period.

Craig has served as a missionary and youth pastor before becoming the Lead Pastor of Guymon Church of the Nazarene in Guymon, Oklahoma, where he currently serves.  Craig has given us permission to reproduce his brief essays in this space, and we will do so during the next month.  

The original articles can be found at “Pandemic Epistles: Reflections on the Church During COVID-19.” 

Special thanks to Ariadna Romero Moreno for her excellent translation of these reflections to Spanish, as well.

 

 

40 Days of Prayer

Every year, as a Region, we encourage all congregations to join in 40 Days of Prayer Prior to Pentecost. For that reason, Regional Nazarene Missions International (NMI) has prepared prayer requests for each day, which can be downloaded at the following link: 40 DAYS OF PRAYER PRIOR TO PENTECOST – 2020.
 
These 40 days begin TODAY, April 22 and end on May 31, when the Global Day of Prayer is celebrated on Pentecost.  Thus, we encourage our entire region to come together and share in a time of thanks and praise to God on that last day, not as we have done in other years with massive gatherings, but by celebrating on social networks and sharing the message of salvation through different social media.
 
We have included special requests every week focused on continuing to pray for healing, provision and the bold preaching of the Word of God in our Region and our world in this time of the Covid-19 pandemic.
 
Thank you for sharing this material with your churches, pastors, leaders, and congregations. We continue to ask the Lord to heal our land.

Ten Missional Strategies for a Quarantined Missionary

Did you see the video that we dropped a week ago on this blog? Here is the link to it on YouTube, or you can literally just read my previous post.  The point of the video is clear: even in this funky, don’t-leave-your-house COVID-19 time, we’re still the Church!  We’re still on mission!

This is the message I have been sharing with our missionaries serving with Genesis for the last month.  In fact, in the first days that our nations began to mandate that we #stayathome, I shared a devotional with each church planting team about closed doors actually being accompanied (if we look hard enough) by other, more creative doors being opened.  I also offered them several important, practical ways to stay engaged and on mission even during curfews and quarantines.  Many of you have asked what those are, so here are what I am calling…

Ten Missional Strategies for a Quarantined Missionary

  1. Get closer to God than ever before. “Hey, that is not missional,” you say.  Au contraire. This is always the most missional thing we can do.  The only way any of us can reach a lost and broken world is by first sitting at Christ’s feet.  In fact, Jesus himself appointed the twelve as his apostles (“sent ones”) with a dual purpose: 1) that they might be with him and 2) that he might send them out to preach and drive out demons (Mark 3:14-15).  You can’t have one without the other.  When we spend time with Jesus, that is an expressly missional endeavor.pray-3611519_1280
  2. Pray and prepare for a revival. “Wait,” you say.  “These first two suggestions are things we should be doing all year long, even when there isn’t a pandemic.” Correct! But do we? In the past weeks I have had dozens of conversations with pastors and Christian leaders who are sensing a spiritual awakening in our people.  We are finally realizing that the Church is not the building, and that the word of God is not confined to a sanctuary.  Wouldn’t you hate to get to the end of this life-altering event and have missed God’s moving because you spent weeks and months watching cats play the piano (or other drivel) on YouTube?
  3. Cultivate and bless your contacts (ie. relationships) in the community. Many of our missionaries had gotten to know and even evangelized hundreds of children, youth, and adults in the weeks before the virus hit.  Do we just forget about them now that we can’t visit them? Not a chance. Our missionaries are using social media and texting apps to call and stay in touch with a ton of people in these days!  In fact, some of them have reached out to civic leaders like doctors, nurses, and police officers and offered to pray for them each day by telephone.  Wow! God is opening doors for ministry in this desperate time that we had perhaps never realized were open before!
  4. Disciple new converts through videoconference technology. Our Genesis team in Quetzaltenango, Guatemala had just had an outreach event the weekend before the government abruptly called a halt to all activity.  A young man named William came to know the Lord.  They had given him a Bible, and then – BOOM – they couldn’t follow-up in any way. Or could they? Now the team of four is meeting twice a week with William and teaching him the Bible and what it means to be a Christian.  That’s what I’m talking about!
  5. Further your studies. What better time than now to enroll in online classes to learn more about missions, theology, ministry, etc.?! In our countries of the Mesoamerica Region, we offer Bachelor’s, Master’s, and even Doctoral programs through SENDAS in great part online.  This week we even launched a new School of Leadership lay-minister’s program for those interested in missions.  Our goal was to have 40 students enrolled.  We have 133.  They are realizing that a call to serve in the future is a call to prepare (and also serve) now.
  6. Strengthen your relationships with your missionary team and the church leaders around you. Our Genesis teams are from multiple nations and cultures and are usually made up of younger men and women. It is undoubtedly an adventure for them to all live together and cook together, let alone minister together.  And even if they eventually form a close bond akin to a family (which oftentimes happens), they also find themselves daily in touch with pastors and leaders that live and work in the same city.  Sometimes busyness causes us to not nurture those relationships.  Now more than ever we can invest in these people closest (literally) to us, encouraging and praying for them.webinar-4216601_640
  7. Strengthen your relationship with your donors (and intercessors). How many times as missionaries do we find it challenging to be in good communication with the people who are constantly giving to us and praying for us? “Oops, that newsletter didn’t get written this month; I’ll try to find time to do it next month.” As my wife and I have been relegated to the house this past month, we have found ourselves more than ever contacting those faithful people who fund and fuel the mission.  Through video, online services with local churches, notes of gratitude, etc. we are updating them more intentionally than ever.  Another plus: reaching out ends up being an encouragement to us as well.
  8. Evaluate, dream and plan creatively and strategically. Four weeks ago, I contacted our Genesis team in Monterrey, Mexico, hoping to inspire them to keep on engaging in mission. I was amazed to hear that they were already creating new discipleship material for the new Christians in their neighborhood, and an entire children’s ministry curriculum that they will use once the quarantine regulations are lifted. Way to go, guys! This time when we are “stuck at home” can actually end up as a way to evaluate our effectiveness and strategies, so that we can get “unstuck” in ministry.  I have talked with many colleagues who are recognizing during this pause that in certain facets of our lives we needed a “reboot” any way.
  9. Connect with family. Have you ever heard the saying: “When momma ain’t happy, ain’t nobody happy”? That goes for all members of the family, actually.  If you have a parent struggling with their health or a child struggling with their grades, those can feel all-consuming.  Likewise, if things are great at home and with our extended family, it positively affects our mission.  It sounds crazy, but COVID-19 is helping us realize that a healthy family dynamic aides our ministry and, in fact, IS OUR MINISTRY. Whether family is far away or in the same home, we cannot fall for the lie that says that family and ministry must constantly compete with each other.  We truly can be healthy in both areas at the same time, and the health of one can lift the other.
  10. Utilize your career and degrees to help others. All of our missionaries with Genesis have studied theology at some point, but most of them possess a college degree in something else.  During this quarantine I have witnessed our church-planting psychologists listening and counseling to neighbors online, as well as teachers offering to tutor kids from the community online.  And then there is the couple from Tuxtla Gutierrez, México who is using their engineering degrees and skills to create protective masks for medical personnel, free of charge.  God knew that our careers would be needed in this challenging time.  Let’s utilize them for maximum effect in His kingdom!

So, there are ten missional strategies for quarantined missionaries.  We’re still the Church!  We’re still on mission!

What is your perspective on this odd time of missions? Do you have any other suggestions that I missed?

Still on Mission

I got the text at 11pm three weeks ago.  A fellow missionary had sent me an image printed with the words, “Notice: By instructions from the Board of General Superintendents of the Church of the Nazarene, all missionary activity around the world has been canceled.”

I sat up in bed.  I knew this was false.  As the COVID-19 virus began to affect every nation, we had been receiving updates directly from the Director of Global Missions and from the General Superintendents telling us that we should postpone large events or gatherings and stop traveling from country to country for the next few months.  However, they always encouraged us to keep going, keep inspiring, keep seeking creative ways to fulfill the Great Commission.  Yes!  That’s great leadership, and that’s how we feel, too!  My family is even more passionate in this time that God is still on the move, and that we must accompany him – even if it looks different right now.

But the image looked so official.  It had the Nazarene Missions International and the Church of the Nazarene official logos on it.  Where did my fellow missionary get it from? Somebody else who got it from somebody else who got it from…you get the idea.  I sent it to our Regional NMI Coordinator.  We agreed that this was “fake news” for sure, although it became important even at that late hour to debunk such a dangerous misconception.  By the next day, and with the help of other authorities in the region and the denomination, we had effectively squashed any such rumors.  The Church of the Nazarene will most definitely be engaging in missionary endeavors during this time of “staying at home”, and we will ALWAYS do so!  It’s part of our DNA!

Even before that image came across my phone, I had met with our missionaries on the field ministering with Genesis.  I encouraged them but also gave them several ways that they can take advantage of and even advance in their ministries in this weird, quarantined time (In a few days, I will publish those suggestions, as many of you have wondered what they were).  But one thing that we decided to do in the meantime is send out a message to all those who have prayed for, given to, or supported Genesis in any way.  Gary Faucett (together with his wife, Naomi, serving as Member Care Facilitators for the ministry) deserves all the credit for what you’ll see below.  Share it with someone today!  Making this video has encouraged us, and we hope it inspires you as well!

Sing A New Song

Whenever the Israelites experienced a season where God did something momentous in their midst, they sang a new song.

Praise the Lord!

Sing to the Lord a new song,
His praise in the assembly of His faithful people.

(Psalm 149:1)

As the people of God on this Resurrection Sunday, we prepare to celebrate the new life that Jesus brings to us all. Even in the midst of this global crisis, we are writing a new song. When we reach the end of this season of grief and pain, we will sing a new song because we know that Jesus has risen from the dead.

This is the message of hope that comes to us from a loving and living God. From the ashes of death and despair, the first disciples witnessed God’s resurrection power. It was time to write a new song — an ushering in of the kingdom of God and an invitation to participate in Jesus’s mission in the world.

With the psalmist, we sing the song that the promises of God are for us all: the LORD “heals the brokenhearted and binds up their wounds” (Psalm 147:3). We join our voices with the prophet Isaiah who declared the purpose of a coming Messiah: “The Spirit of the Sovereign Lord is on me, because the Lord has anointed me to proclaim good news to the poor. He has sent me to bind up the brokenhearted, to proclaim freedom for the captives and release from darkness for the prisoners,to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor and the day of vengeance of our God, to comfort all who mourn, and provide for those who grieve in Zion—to bestow on them a crown of beauty instead of ashes, the oil of joy instead of mourning, and a garment of praise instead of a spirit of despair” (Isaiah 61:1-7).

Our world is in desperate need of hopeful anticipation of the resurrection and the power and promise it provides. Even as we grieve through the pain and suffering we see and experience, we know that Jesus, the Suffering Servant, knows our pain and stands with us there. This same Jesus stood with Mary and Martha in the loss of their loved one — and Jesus wept — but then came something completely unexpected: new life snatched out of the strong grip of death (John 11).

And so, let us sing a new song to the Lord on this Resurrection Day, and let our voices echo this refrain: Christ is Risen! Christ is Risen, indeed!

Grace and peace to you all,

Board of General Superintendents

 

Website Church of the Nazarene