Tuesday, March 03, 2009


The place to go from here is there. Of course, we'd love to see the kingdom advance everywhere. But we don't get to go everywhere, unless we first go there.

In Matthew Jesus said we’re to be like a city on a hill. If you expand on that analogy, our immediate impact is to be regional. The rays of light are going to be seen in the cities all around. We, his followers, are going to be like shafts of light going out, first to the surrounding area. In this respect CTK has a distinctive missiology: We see Jerusalem, Judea, Samaria and the ends of the earth as sequential. That is different than the traditional church. The traditional Church has done near and far missions and little in between. We have gone from Bellingham to Whatcom County to Skagit County to various surrounding counties, states and countries.

The little church I grew up in had the "missions" board in the hall, with the world map, and pictures of far-away missionaries surrounding the map. Little ribbons went from the pin on the map to the pictures. We had an annual missions conference with the slides of Africa, or some other far off locale. But we didn’t talk about our neighbors in the next town or county. There is a sexiness to getting on the ship, and putting your belongings in trunks and shipping them a world away. But lately I’ve been committing missiological heresy and asking, "What if Hudson Taylor had gone to Canada instead of China? What if Adonirum Judson had gone to Mexico instead of Burma?"

In Acts 1:8 Jesus said, “Here’s what I have in mind for you: circles going out, starting with where you are, going to the surrounding region, extending to adjacent regions, and ultimately taking this message everywhere.” We expand through adjacencies. We reach out to those who are geographically and relationally close, then to those who are geographically close and relationally distant, before we reach out to those who are geographically and relationally distant. That is smart missiology when you think about it; to make those who are next door our priority.

There can be both a near-sightedness and a far-sightedness that can distort the church’s mission. Farsightedness occurs when all we see is the foreign...the ends of the earth...those who are geographically and relationally distant. There is both a resource and a relational challenge to farsightedness. The resource challenge is that the needs at the end of the earth are staggering. And resources back at Jerusalem are quickly depleted. The relational challenge is that we get these real long loops going, and money ends up being about all we can provide. We’re not close enough to provide friendship, support or accountability. Because of the distance we can’t be relationally connected like we’d like to be. So far-sightedness can be a problem for the Christ’s body.

But for every church that is farsighted, there have to be a hundred that are nearsighted. The arrows are pointed in. They can’t see beyond the horizon of those who are geographically and relationally close. They forget that church is not a place you go to, it’s a place you go from. I don’t know if you travel much by plane, but I can tell you a time you don’t want to try: Friday night. On a Friday night the terminal mobbed with people. Lines everywhere; at check in, security, bathrooms, restaurants. It’s a huge mess, and exactly how we define a successful church. Wouldn't it be awesome to have lines like that at church? But the purpose of the terminal is to send you out. Not to keep you in. The purpose is to get people out as quickly as possible so that they can get on with the real mission. It’s not a destination. It’s a connector.

What Jesus says is, "You don’t have to go far to go. The frontier is nearby." Let me suggest five questions we can ask so that we don’t miss the frontier nearby.

1. Who is next door to you relationally?

We sometimes talk about church as if it’s a what. We support it. Staff it. We fund it. The church is not a what. It’s a who. I am the church. Everywhere I go, the church is. Every believer, every small group, every worship center should be expanding their relational influence. They say that everyone on earth is connected in not more than seven steps. Are we working those steps?

2. Who is next door to you demographically?

One of our leaders in Africa sent me an email that said, “Our group has now moved into the super-rich part of town and we are starting to reach those who are harder to get into heaven than a camel through the eye of a needle.” In their case, they are taking the mission to adjacent demographics above them. I think there’s a lot of room for us to expand demographically. Demographically, who is adjacent to you? Up, down or sideways.

3. Who is next door to you ethnically?

This week more people will convene in a CTK group that are non-English speaking and non-white. This is the new normal. But what about the ethnicities that are within driving distance? Hispanic communities. Native American communities. African American communities. Asian communities. That’s the frontier nearby.

4. Who is next door to you culturally?

People talk about “the culture” as if there’s one, but there are so many cultures. And some of these culture are not going to be coming to church. I don’t care how cool we make it. How inviting. How warm our coffee is. They are not coming. We are going to have to figure out how to “be there” with certain people groups that aren’t going to be “coming here.” (And both of those words are critical: Be, and There.)

5. Who is next door to you geographically? What nearby community needs a fresh expression of Christ? We’ve gotten some help here. People have organized into villages, towns, and cities. They have created counties and countries. And they have plotted it out on a map for us. Start praying over the map. I’m not sure how big your map should be, but I know that what God is asking from us is availability more than ability.

I love Ian Thomas’ comments about Moses and the burning bush, particularly about the bush: "God was looking for a bush that was nearby, available and that would burn." He still is.

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