Friday, December 29, 2006

"Who's mission is it, anyway?" (June 2004)

The mission statement of Sesame Street's Cookie Monster reads as follows:
To rule the world, get lots of cookies, eat the cookies, and then get more cookies.
While some churches seem to be pursuing the Cookie Monster's insatiable approach of "getting" more members, more offerings, more land and buildings (the churches of never enough). Redeemer Lutheran is, by God's grace, fundamentally different in its approach to doing ministry in this community — ministry that truly pleases Christ and benefits Christian faith.
In the 1990s, mission statements for businesses were all the rage. Every incorporated entity, from IBM to the Girl Scouts to Weinerschnitzel had its own unique mission statement. This fascination with mission statements spilled over into the realm of managing one's own personal affairs, especially after the success of Stephen Covey's book entitled Seven Habits of Highly Effective People.
However, written mission statements can never guarantee "success" or "effectiveness." Enron had a great mission statement that touted respect, integrity, communication and excellence, and everyone knows where they ended up. No wonder why the excesses of this "mission statement mentality" has been the subject of workplace humor, the best example continuing to be Dilbert's interactive "Mission Statement Generator" (see for an insightful commentary on the silliness of this aspect of the culture of corporate America.).
Even the Lutheran Church Missouri Synod has not been immune from the mistaken belief that simply "jazzing up" a mission statement will get real Christian ministry any further down the line. (As a member on the floor committee that refined resolutions concerning mission and evangelism for the synod-wide convention held in Saint Louis in 1998,1 was surprised when so many on the committee were adamant in adding the word "vigorously" to the phrase "to make known the love of Christ" in the denomination's newly adopted mission statement.)
When Christ called his Church to graciously participate in his mission, he didn't command the disciples to "vigorously go and enthusiastically make empowered disciples." Why?
One of the precious treasures Christ has entrusted to the Christian Church through pastors and theologians such as Saint Paul, Saint Augustine, Martin Luther and C.F.W. Walther (the founding president of the Lutheran Church Missouri Synod) is the proper distinction between the Law of God and the Gospel of God within the Holy Scriptures. That art of correctly understanding the fundamental difference between the role of Moses and Christ has been all but obscured in today's churches, especially when our old, sinful nature is capable of only loving our own efforts to try to vigorously keep all the rules and regulations announced by God (or anyone else) for our salvation.
When Martin Luther published his German translation of the Gospel Accounts of Matthew, Mark, Luke and John he prefaced the sacred text with "A Brief Introduction on What to Look for and Expect in the Gospels." In this introduction Luther pleads with his reader (and each of us today):
Be sure ... that you do not make Christ into a Moses, as if Christ did nothing more than teach and provide examples as the other saints do, as if the Gospel were simply a textbook of teachings and laws. Therefore you should grasp Christ, his words, works, and sufferings, in a two-fold manner. First, as an example that is presented to you, which you should follow and imitate ... . However, this is the smallest part of the Gospel, on the basis of which it cannot yet even be called "Gospel. " For on this level Christ is of no help to you than some other saint. ... In short this mode [of understanding Christ simply as example] does not make Christians but only hypocrites. You must grasp Christ at a much higher level. Even though this higher level has for a long time been the very best, the preaching of it has been something rare. The chief article and foundation of the Gospel is that before you take Christ as example, you accept and recognize him as a gift, as a
present that God has given you and that is your own. ... Concerning this Isaiah 9:6 says, "To us a child is born, to us a son is given." If he is given to us, then he must be ours; and so we must also receive him as belonging to us. ... See, when you lay hold of Christ as a gift which is given for you for your very own, and have no doubt about it, you are a Christian. Faith [then] redeems you from sin, death, and hell and enables you to overcome all things. Oh, no one can speak enough about this! It is a pity that this kind of preaching has been silenced in the world, and yet boast is made daily of "the Gospel."
Now when you have Christ as the foundation and chief blessing of your salvation, then the other part follows: that you take him as your example, giving yourself in service to your neighbor just as you see that Christ has given himself for you. ... Therefore make not of this, that Christ as a gift nourishes your faith and makes you a Christian. But Christ as an example exercises your works and does not make you a Christian. (Actually, [good works] come forth from you because you have already been made a Christian.) As widely as a gift differs from an example, so widely does faith differ from works, for faith possesses nothing of its own, only the deeds and life of Christ. (Luther's Works 35:119-20)
In 1995, the synod in convention requested a study be done on the Church Growth Movement. The report of the committee formed to study the issue began with the statement:
"The saving presence of God the Holy Trinity through the means of grace (Word and Sacrament) is the heart and center of the Church's life, worship and growth." (7)
This is a critical period in the life of Redeemer Lutheran Church & School in Huntington Beach, California. Last July we as a congregation marked not forty years of great human efforts to make this a great congregation, but forty years of God's saving presence among us, gathering and maturing his little flock through the Scriptures, Baptism and the Lord's Supper - through the confession of sins and the forgiving of them. And as a new chapter begins to unfold, we need to be reminded that mission statements and vision statements and slogans and buildings and programs are nothing more than simple little human tools that need to be constantly re-measured by the Gospel of God's saving gift of grace - tools that are placed at the feet of Christ, who beckons us to put our faith in his mission, the mission given to him by none other than our heavenly Father.
During these summer months continue to keep Redeemer Lutheran (and the Lutheran Church Missouri Synod) in your prayers, asking God to continue to be gracious and merciful to us as he continues to send out his life-giving Word into our hearts and the communities around us. As we sing to God in the words of a favorite hymn:

0 Lord, once lifted on the glorious Tree,
Raise us, and let your Cross the magnet be.
(Lift High the Cross)