Member Values or Mission Values?


It should not surprise anyone familiar with the Gospels, that Jesus loved lost people. What is a bit more curious is that the most religious people of His day hated Him for that! A cursory reading of any of the four Gospels will quickly confirm that Jesus’ preoccupation with the “tax collectors and sinners” infuriated Israel’s religious leaders.

For many years I had a simple explanation for that fact. I thought that they hated Him because they were on the wrong team! They were the enemies. They were “bad” people. That is why they opposed almost everything He did. As a card-carrying member of Jesus’ team, it seemed to me to be a perfectly adequate explanation.

Not long ago, however, I engaged in an exercise of the imagination and asked myself a question: “If God had placed me into first-century Judea just before the appearance of Jesus of Nazareth, whom would I choose as my friends?”

The answer surprised me. It was “the Pharisees.” Why? Because they were the ones who loved the Word of God. They were the ones who were trying to please God. They were the ones who cared about doing the right thing. It suddenly dawned on me that the Pharisees were not trying to be “bad guys.” They wanted to be “God’s guys.”

So here is the problem. If the Pharisees were not really “bad” people and if, in fact, they might very well be the people that I would choose to hang around with, why did they get so offended by Jesus’ desire to spend time with lost people? (The answer to that question may help us understand why it seems so hard for many of us to reach out to the lost people around us!)

I think I know. Perhaps it is because they held different sets of values. The Pharisees held “member” values, and Jesus operated on “mission” values. People who identify as members of any group are usually very concerned about the safety of their venture, but people on a mission are often inclined to take risks and make great sacrifices to accomplish the goal. Those values always conflict with one another.

Members value stability, but missionaries are always changing things. Members spend a lot of time thinking about the past, whereas people on a mission are often concerned only about the future. Members will always gravitate toward the “family,” but if you are a mission-oriented person, you focus on the strangers. Members put a lot of time into maintaining established relationships, but men and women on a mission will put all of their energy into reaching the goals. Members talk about “us,” and missionaries talk about “others.” The Pharisees were “Members.” Jesus was a “Missionary.” They held opposing values.

A few months ago in this column, I commented regarding Jesus’ decided preference for spending time and doing ministry with “outsiders”—people who had little or no connection to the religious establishment. This led to a suggestion that an appropriate rule for ministry might be: “Turn Around and Face the Harvest.”

The annual statistics from C&MA churches are beginning to trickle in for the year 2009 and it is already pretty clear that, as a denomination in the United States, we have not yet changed our posture. Last year we managed to plant 44 new churches and close 39 older ones for a modest gain of 5 new churches. When all of the statistics are in, they will also show that several thousand people came to Christ, and our total attendance grew by a small amount. While we can certainly rejoice over every one of those new disciples, the sad reality is that as the population of our country grows by millions, our movement is failing to keep pace. Unlike the early Christians who conquered their world for Jesus, we are falling further and further behind.

If we hold “member” values, that trend will never change. It’s time to embrace “mission” values—the values of Jesus. He did not say, “You shall be my members.” He said, “You shall be my witnesses.”

Past Alliance Life Issues


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