Monday, August 26, 2013


One of the great classics of American Buddhism is Philip Kapleau’s Three Pillars of Zen. His pillar metaphor might be borrowed from Islam, which has four or five pillars depending on who you are reading. What sticks in my mind is the pillar image and for Christianity three is decidedly the right number. I am convinced that there are three pillars of Christian living, three pillars of the way to godly joy and the peace that passes all human understanding. But pillars must rest on a foundation – so let me start briefly with the foundation.

The Foundation

     The foundation of Christian living is our relationship with Jesus – but not just the Jesus in our heads, not just the Jesus we imagine, not just the Jesus we read about in the Bible. The Biblical teachings of Jesus are very clear, and the Epistles are very clear, that we encounter Jesus in each other. The Kingdom is found in the relational space among us. That is why we need the Church. Just as a Buddhist cannot practice without a sangha, a Christian needs the Church. Christ is present sometimes through others who support, encourage, and inspire us – other times through people who are hurt, angry, and confused needing our ministry – sometimes through those who try our patience. But always Christ meets us, challenges us, inspires and grounds us through our communion, community, and communication.

      That foundation requires constant shoring up. I see encouraging signs of healing and reconciliation in our Church relationships these days in many parts of the diocese. Other broken relationships are still painfully obvious. Other broken relationships are so broken there is a taboo on even speaking of them, so I can only recognize their presence through vague references and by watching behavior patterns, like an astronomer recognizing a black hole by the motion of nearby planets.

     Continued attention to our relationships, finding opportunities for people who are not speaking to actually talk with one another, must remain our first priority. If you missed my article on this last July, you might want to check it out on my blog. See “Are They Still Fighting?” June 30,2013.

     The Three Pillars of Christian living are Mission, Stewardship, and Evangelism. There is a chicken and egg relationship between the Three Pillars and the Foundation. Obviously, we cannot accomplish our part of God’s Mission without solid relationships among the people doing the mission. We cannot practice Stewardship in a broken community because Stewardship depends on trusting the group. It is the same with Evangelism. We cannot invite people into a broken family. Most of them already have one. But, here’s the kicker. We cannot form a healthy community except in the context of mission stewardship, and evangelism. To put a point on it:

      We cannot form a healthy community except in the context
      of mission, stewardship, and evangelism!!!

Without those pillars, our relationships will be torn by individual agendas. Just as community is essential to the Three Pillars, the Three Pillars are essential to community. They all go together.

Mission: The First Pillar

     Our raison d’etre, our reason to exist, is as essential to life as air. (Victor Frankl, Man’s Search For Meaning). Individuals can only find that meaning in our relationships with each other. We find our purpose not as solitary hermits but in community. (Bishop Tutu, We cannot be human without each other.) The Church is the Christian Community and its purpose for existing is to continue Jesus’ mission. He states that mission at Luke 4:18ff. But to put it simply, we see Jesus’/our mission in three parts: healing, feeding, and liberating.

      Cumulatively, Jesus changed lives and gave us the job of changing lives. We change lives in three ways. The first is healing. That can be physical, spiritual, emotional, or relational. Forgiveness and reconciliation are part and parcel of healing. “He heals the broken hearted and binds up their wounds.” Ps. 147. Isaiah 61 (the model of Jesus mission) “The Spirit of the Lord is upon me to bind up the broken hearted.”

     Feeding today is often quite literal. We have the hungry around the world and in our own neighborhoods. Our best-established ministries are literal food ministries. But feeding is more than nutrition. It includes teaching, spiritual support, providing people with the strength and courage for life. Feeding can be pastoral care. It can be partnering with a neighborhood school. It can be supporting character building scouting or providing a place for safe, wholesome fun for young people. It can be providing young parents a night out. There are many forms of feeding.

     Liberating is setting people free from social structures that hold them back from becoming who God created them to become. Our fight against human trafficking is the clearest example. Working with prison inmates and helping the recently released inmates reintegrate into the community is another clear example. The fear that constrains the lives of immigrants is another shackle that we could break.

     Our Mission is to the world. That includes each other. When we invite people into our community. It is not to reinforce ourselves. It is so we can be better healers for them. But most of our healing mission is to the world. Dietrich Bonheoffer called Jesus “the man for others” and said that the church is special because we “exist to serve those who are not our members.” We are not all agreed on this. I know some of us explicitly want the church to be a “club” for each other and no one else. I understand the need. I understand the fear. But Jesus calls us beyond that need and fear to a larger life. It is fine to form such inward looking clubs, but not to pretend they are the Church. To do so would be a hypocritical claiming of the name of Jesus while rejecting his message and it would be a corruption of the sacraments. We are the Church if and only if “the Spirit of the Lord is upon us” to do all Jesus did – to heal, feed, and liberate a broken, hungry, enslaved world.

Stewardship: The Second Pillar

     The peace and joy of Christian life come from the triumph of faith over fear. Stewardship is purely and simply the spirituality of faith overcoming fear – not as an abstraction but in actual practice. We put our toe in the baptismal water of Christian living when we devote our resources to the Kingdom Mission through our Church.

     For our Church to bless us with Christian peace and joy, it has to do two things: 1. Teach us the spirituality of faith over fear; and 2. Engage us in a part of God’s mission that we can recognize as more important, richer in meaning, more worthy of our life and its resources than our individual projects. One year at my last parish it came time for the Fall Pledge Drive. We really hadn’t done much mission that year. So I told the Chair of the Stewardship Committee that I knew he had to go through the motions, but that I was not expecting much and didn’t think he should either. You can’t harvest where you haven’t planted. But over time we did engage in mission and we tripled the amount our people chose to give to support that mission.

     Stewardship is how we bless two people: the giver and the receiver. The Church is the connection between the two. The Mission is how we make that connection. When we make it, the world lights up. I commend for your reading Fearless Church Fundraising by Charles LeFond. He means the title to say a lot more than is immediately obvious. He means our fundraising is how our Church can become fearless, which is another way of saying faithful – full of faith.

Evangelism: The Third Pillar

      One could rightly call Evangelism part of Mission. But I name it separately because it really does something distinctive from the rest of Mission and too often I see Churches that do not want to do Evangelism just folding it into other parts of Mission to as to muffle the fact that they have passed on The Great Commission. (Matthew 28: 16-20)

      Evangelism is not selling a product. It is sharing hope. When I discover a good nutritional supplement or workout plan, I tell my friends. If I see a good movie or read a good book, I tell my friends. If I find something that gives me life, and if I care about other people, I want to share it with them. If our spiritual life is flourishing in a Church that is: 1. A healthy, dynamic community; 2. Working together in a genuine mission of healing, feeding, and liberating; 3. Where we discover peace and joy coming from the triumph of faith over fear – then we will want to share that with others.

     There are a lot of books that make the case for why we should do authentic evangelism. My favorites are Transforming Evangelism by Gortner and Biblical Perspectives on Evangelism by Brueggemann. But if you don’t need to be sold on the why and are ready to go straight to the how, the best book I’ve found yet for evangelism in our time is Speaking Faithfully by Naughton and Wilson.
     But here’s another kicker: When we share with people outside the walls what a great thing is happening in our community, we experience our community in a different way ourselves. We value each other more when we have told others out the community. We are more willing to support our community with our resources if we know we are going to be giving it to other people we care for.


     I hope nothing I have said here is new to you. You know the importance of each the Foundation and you know the importance of the Three Pillars. What I hope to elucidate is the interconnectedness. I have heard churches divide up and squabble over inreach vs. outreach, etc. But the truth is that they are all of one piece. Almost all of the petty church fights that cripple us spiritually arise because we haven’t bound ourselves together in the Mission, Stewardship, and Evangelism that lift our hearts and minds above the need to get our way. Yes, we need a lot of healing in our relationships in order to engage effectively in Mission, Stewardship, and Evangelism. But it is only through engaging in Mission, Stewardship, and Evangelism – as best we can right now – that we can heal and build our relationships – the relationships in which we will experience the Kingdom of God.

1 comment:

Unknown said...

I guess more fundamentally I have always seen my role as Christian as a protector of the weak or the hurting and those that have been left behind in social sense. I guess what I'm trying to say is being aware of those around me spiritual and emotional needs. I have probably been focused on this because I have always lived in land of plenty. The irony in this subject is poverty tends to enrich the soul and having plenty perhaps can and does corrupt. Growing up around affluent people I have witnessed immense cruelty put on to people of lesser standing. In witnessing this I think I have an understanding, to some degree, of what Christ felt when he overturned the merchant tables in the temple. I suppose my point here is that while it is extremely important to provide food for the hungry, but it is equally important to provide hope and support for those that are persecuted or are in need of moral support. I just feel that this is somewhat overlooked and not completely understood by even strong Christians. If you look at the people that have done horribly evil things are those that have left behind, abused socially and bullied. I think that God tasks all of us with some aspect of spiritual life and for reason this as always been mine?