Leaning Into Not Away From the Broken
All through the Story, God called and challenged his people to represent him and his ways to a broken world. God is a missionary God and demonstrated this by sending his son, Jesus, to be with us in our world. As Emmanuel, literally God with us, Jesus demonstrated this further by going and dwelling with people in all stations of life. He gained a reputation for hanging out with those society had systematically rejected. In our current society, post Christendom, we don’t believe playing host to people in a structured, Christian environment where we ask people to meet on our terms and accept our perspectives without question reflects the humble way of Jesus. Just as he came as a servant, he sends us as servants. We believe he desires us to take the good news to the culture and, given how deaf the culture is to the church and its message, we must be willing to engage people in their world, in environments that tell them we are willing to be in their lives as friends and servants. As we do so, we believe we reflect Jesus best, gain trust and in the process make room in people’s hearts and minds for the message of the gospel. If our heart attitudes are not reflecting something markedly different than the self-focus of the world, if our lives are not walking, talking examples of the Savior we re-present (show again), than we cannot hope to reach a world filled with the noise of innumerable ideas and messages. In most cases, this not only means going to hard places, but lingering there where the most spiritually needy live. Going and lingering is what Jesus did and what he calls us to do after him.
Meeting Needs Not Having Needs Met
We have adopted a philosophy of ministry that can be summarized by this statement: The way we win people will drive the way we keep people. We see the work church in the lives of believers is preparation and encouragement to works of ministry. If we want people’s lives to grow to reflect the love and sacrifice of Jesus, then that message must permeate all we are as a church. If on the other hand we look to win and maintain relationship with people by building structures and programs that cater to their felt needs and cravings, we will develop a body of people who expect the church to serve them. This has become an American ministry norm and ideals of service and sacrifice Jesus meant to be the life of every Christian, is only pursued by the “elite believer” or the church leader. The message of Jesus includes an unmistakable call to come and die, a call to live a life of sacrificial service, to give ones self away for the sake of others. This is not a call for leaders and super-saints alone but for everyone who follows him. Our gatherings are therefore as close to real life as we can make them. We do not look to entertain or paint rosy pictures with inspiring messages, dramatic performances or professional musicianship. We open the doors of our lives and invite people to join us in the real mess of belonging in community. We call people very early on to serve in whatever ways they can and we call them to contribute from whatever resources they have to offer – gifts, talents, goods and services, finances, expertise, and life experience for the good of others. As we do this, we develop a body of Jesus’ followers who become a true light of hope in a world consumed with promotion and protection of self. Jesus came to rescue a people from self. We cannot use our new freedom to live self-focused and self-absorbed lives.
Living with Locals Not Commuting
We believe the Church is the collective of God’s people gathered from and for a particular geographic location. We believe this gathered group to be called to live among their neighbors in a particular community and serve that community in specific, tangible, observable ways. This is why our primary structure for ministry and mission is the local Mercy Community (MC). The MC is a collective of Jesus’ followers that are making disciples within their community and, as a body, are offering tangible, visible services and resources that enhance the life of the community. The local members of the MC function as church-family for each other and as a body, they orient their lives outwardly, looking to engage the greater community in sacrificial service and ministry. As envisioned, each MC, while largely independent, remains interdependent with other Mercy Communities in the region, providing a larger body of church family to draw upon for needed encouragement, counsel and resources.
Relationship Not Methodology
As humans we seem to have a universal desire to figure out how something works and then we turn that process into a system or a methodology. We then use our system to measure our success. This may be good perspective for business or manufacturing but we don’t believe God views people this way, and if we are to represent him well, we must avoid systematizing the work of God in our lives and the lives of those we are seeking to reach. Our goal with people is always to listen carefully and come to understand their stories, to truly know them and to do the hard relational work of breaking down their specific barriers to the gospel and building their personal bridge back to relationship with God. This may or may not involve plugging them into our gatherings, but certainly includes bringing the truths of Jesus and his gospel into their world.