Then Jesus told his disciples, “If anyone would come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross and follow me. For whoever would save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for my sake will find it. For what will it profit a man if he gains the whole world and forfeits his soul? Or what shall a man give in return for his soul? Matthew 16:24-26
The part of life-together-in-faith that attracts and keeps me coming back is exactly this passage. We are on a journey that by losing ourselves we find ourselves. So much time in life and in the church is spent making our future secure. And, that is well and good—live within a budget, get exercise, and eat your veggies–but God is re-creating us in God’s own image. That means bending to the Great Artist’s hands. Even more so, faith in God means taking risks for God’s own purposes to unfold. Generally, I feel that means in who and how we love, what we do to reach out and make God’s love and event. The next chapter in our book, The Five Practices of Fruitful Congregations speaks to us about mission and service.
Risk-Taking Mission & Service
Vibrant, fruitful, growing congregations practice risk-taking mission and service. The practice of risk-taking mission and service includes the projects, efforts, and the work people do to make a positive difference in the lives of others for the purposes of Christ, whether or not they will ever be part of the community of faith. This practice is one of the fundamental activities of church life that is so critical that failure to practice it in some form results in a deterioration of the church’s vitality and ability to make disciples of Jesus Christ. A church without generous and willing service by its members can never practice radical hospitality, passionate worship, intentional faith development, or extravagant generosity since these depend upon the time, leadership, effort, prayers, and the sweat and tears of members and friends of the church. “Risk-taking” refers to the service we offer that stretches us out of our comfort zone and has us engaging people and offering ourselves to ministries that we would never have done if not for our desire to follow Christ. Risk-taking refers to the service risk-taking steps into great uncertainty, a higher possibility of discomfort, resistance, or sacrifice. It pushes us beyond the circle of relationships that routinely define our church commitments. It changes the lives of the people who are served as well as the lives of those who serve. According to author Robert Schnase, churches that cultivate the practice of risk-taking service and mission:
- not only raise money to support overseas, international, and community work, they also organize teams, solicit and train volunteers, and send people to work directly in hands-on, face-to-face ministries.
- offer service/mission opportunities with gradations of involvement and differing levels of complexity appropriate to the talents, skills, and interests of a variety of people.
- not only offer their own projects and programs organized by their own members, but also collaborate with other churches, other denominations, civic organizations, social agencies and non-profit groups, weaving the church’s social concern into the networks of community service.
- actively invite and welcome newcomers, visitors, and the unchurched to help them in making a difference in the lives of others.
- have a responsibility to bear witness to wider social change by advocating for policies that improve the lives and conditions of those who struggle at the margins of society.
Questions to Ponder:
- What outreach ministries of UPCC push people out of their comfort zones to make a real difference in the lives of people?
- How has a mission initiative or outreach ministry changed our church? Shaped your own life?
- What is the most unexpected place to which your faith in Christ has taken you in order to make a difference in someone’s life?