Mission First!

November 11 Call to Prayer

Luke 6:27-30 New Revised Standard Version (NRSV)

27 “But I say to you that listen, Love your enemies, do good to those who hate you, 28 bless those who curse you, pray for those who abuse you. 29 If anyone strikes you on the cheek, offer the other also; and from anyone who takes away your coat do not withhold even your shirt. 30 Give to everyone who begs from you; and if anyone takes away your goods, do not ask for them again.

Jesus’ message often centered on turning conventional wisdom and custom on its head. He was an agent of change who asked his followers to consider an alternative future, a future in which the immediate reaction would not be revenge. In fact, in this lesson from Luke, he even encourages his followers – and by extension, us – to pray for those who abuse and even to give to those who rob you.

The Gospel offers us wisdom for today. Western culture has a marked tendency toward “me and mine” but the Way of Jesus is marked by reaching out, by walking alongside, by caring with and for others. Showing God’s love to the world is not an easy task, but it is ours to do as disciples – and Disciples.

As the first weekend in December approaches and the members of the Mission Council prepare to look at what more than 2,300 Disciples had to share, we pray that they will look beyond “conventional” wisdom for inspiration that comes from the Holy Spirit. We pray that they will have insights that will move us toward wholeness both nearby and around the globe. We pray that they will help us focus on God’s call for God’s Beloved Community.

  • This week be intentional in internally examining your reaction to others. Am I striking back with words that hurt or am I using words of healing? Am I working toward wholeness or am I stoking the embers of division?

Prayer: O Source of all we are and all we have, move us toward our call to bring wholeness to this divided world. We pray particularly for the Mission Council as they listen for the Spirit whispering through the people of God. We pray you will work and move in them to make God’s call to love our own.

Data analysis well on its way

November 4, 2016
We’re getting close! 
  • In less than a month the Mission Council will have their first meeting (Dec. 2-4).
  • As of Nov. 2, more than 2,100 Mission Gathering questionnaires had been entered in the database with more on the way.
  • The last Mission Gathering is Nov. 11.
So now what?

More than 2,000 Disciples have come together in various settings face-to-face to talk about the mission of the Church. That is a lot of conversation to capture so you might be wondering how all this will get shaped into a usable form for the Mission Council.

Enter recent graduate student, evaluation specialist, and former Global Mission Intern (GMI) Ashley Holst. She along with a team of sociology students at Chapman University are analyzing all the responses qualitatively and coding the responses to help quantify the emerging themes.

An initial targeted sample of 300 surveys was examined by Holst to start identifying common terms, themes and ideas using NVivo, a qualitative analysis program. The results were used to begin the process of creating a framework to analyze the entire collection of responses. The Mission First Implementation Team participated in final wording, organization and definitions used within the framework.

The NVivo analysis led to the development of a modified framework of categories and subcategories to determine common responses. Several Chapman students and another former GMI (Bethany Waggoner) are assisting in coding survey responses using these categories. A professional researcher, Mike Ainley, has also reviewed their work to make sure we are capturing an accurate picture.

Trends in responses to question 2, “what have you learned from mission,” include responses such as: better understanding God’s word, giving and receiving love, and discovering that all people need God and help. Some of the “umbrella” categories for the third question about mission focus include location, community to be supported, and how we connect in service. Umbrella categories for the focus areas suggested in the responses included education/teaching, environment/climate change, justice/peace, food/hunger, poverty and other needs as well as evangelism. Categories around ways of being in mission together included presence, learning from others, mission trips, needs assessments, welcoming and others.

Components of the Mission First! initiative
The Mission First! pilot is a little like “run(ning) with perseverance the race that is set before us” (Hebrews 12:1). It is a two-part pilot project to help us focus on our goal of showing God’s love in the world (a.k.a. mission) and making our structures more nimble for this new day.

Mission focus: The work of the Mission Gatherings is meant to listen to God’s call as we hear it through the congregations and ministries across the life of the Church.

Nimble structures: Since the General Board meeting in the spring of 2015, the Administrative Committee has been serving as a proto-Governing Board (as called for in the Mission First proposal) – smaller in number than the current board, but seeing to the ministry of administration.

Timeline: This pilot project of focus and administration will be evaluated at the February 2017 meeting of the full General Board. If it is judged to be a good way forward, there will be changes to our governing document (The Design) that will renew the way our ministries relate in covenant. Those changes will come to the 2017 General Assembly.
To learn more about Mission First, go to http://missionfirst.wpengine.com


November 4 Call to Prayer

by Jim Cullumber

Haggai 2:4

Yet now take courage, O Zerubbabel, says the Lord; take courage, O Joshua, son of Jehozadak, the high priest; take courage, all you people of the land, says the Lord; work, for I am with you, says the Lord of hosts,

All Saints Sunday is this weekend. We use this occasion to recall the saints in our lives and our congregations – those people who showed courage by working through adversity, exemplifying faith for us and others. The saints include family members, but also include former pastors and Sunday school teachers, nursery attendants and choir directors, and the countless individuals who helped shape our faith. It is on their shoulders we stand today. God bless them!

It is right to celebrate the saints in our lives. Yet God reminds us that our work – our mission, if you will – is still in front of  us. We live in a world where there is suffering, loneliness, homelessness, discrimination, hatred. This list goes on and on. There will be future  generations who will look at us and what we did, how we lived our faith and the impact we made in our church, our communities and our world. Will they consider us as courageous saints? Or will our names simply be forgotten?

The prophet Haggai’s words today offer us encouragement, even in the strange days we now live. We need courage. We need to work for peace and justice. But we must remember we are not alone: “For I am with you,” says the Lord.

So even as we celebrate those who have nurtured our faith, let us re-commit ourselves to be an example of what is right in our world. Let us seek to be a church, in the words of Micah, that demonstrates true community, deep Christian spirituality and a passion for justice. With the Lord walking alongside us, let us have the courage to be the faithful people we are called to be.

  • Think back on people who have influenced your faith journey, both those still in this life and those who have gone ahead. What were their passions? How has that shaped yours? What would you like to do that honors that commitment they showed?

Prayer: We give you thanks, O God, for the many saints of the faith who have touched our lives. Empower us to be that witness to future generations so that they, too, may be inspired for service in the name of Christ. Amen.

October 28 Call to Prayer

Habakkuk 2:3 (NRSV)

For there is still a vision for the appointed time;
it speaks of the end, and does not lie.
If it seems to tarry, wait for it;
it will surely come, it will not delay.

John 17:20-21a

‘I ask not only on behalf of these, but also on behalf of those who will believe in me through their word, that they may all be one.’ – Jesus

Last summer’s Biennial Session of the National Convocation centered on verses from this section of Habakkuk – words of hope and vision. Mission First! is another way Disciples are focusing on hope and vision. With the help of the discernment of the Mission Council in December, we hope to have a sense of the call of God on our collective lives when we meet in Indianapolis in July.

The theme for the 2017 General Assembly comes from Jesus’ prayer for us in John 17. In our individualized Western culture sometimes it is a challenge to understand our call to think in terms of the good of all, but as Disciples, we have a head start. Community is essential to our understanding of life as ONE in Christ – ONE at the Table, ONE baptism, ONE God. And being part of our local communities outside the walls of our meeting places, walking alongside and accompanying others, is part of our call.

As Paul says, “If ONE member suffers, all suffer together with it; if ONE member is honored, all rejoice together with it,” in 1 Corinthians 12 (NRSV).

  • Keep a piece of paper or open note on your phone for the next three days. Record every instance you see or hear of where people have come together as ONE answering God’s call to love. It might be a CROP walk or a ministry of accompaniment. It might be a prayer circle for the concerns of the world. See how many good examples you can find – or initiate!

Prayer: Creator of All – you have given us the gift of community. We are so very grateful for every chance we have to gather whether in our local churches, our regions or with others across the denomination. Help us to remember we are not alone and that the love of ALL your children is in your very heart.

October 21 Call to Prayer

by Patricia Donahoo

Luke 18:9-14 – The Parable of the Pharisee and the Tax Collector

He also told this parable to some who trusted in themselves that they were righteous and regarded others with contempt:  “Two men went up to the temple to pray, one a Pharisee and the other a tax collector.  The Pharisee, standing by himself, was praying thus, ‘God, I thank you that I am not like other people: thieves, rogues, adulterers, or even like this tax collector.  I fast twice a week; I give a tenth of all my income.’ But the tax collector, standing far off, would not even look up to heaven, but was beating his breast and saying, ‘God, be merciful to me, a sinner!’  I tell you, this man went down to his home justified rather than the other; for all who exalt themselves will be humbled, but all who humble themselves will be exalted.”

Have we forgotten the value of humility? In our world today it seems that we often give credence to those who speak the loudest and who insist on being thought of as better than those around them. I fear we lose the inspiration to be the best ‘me’ we can be…instead, we are satisfied to be better than our neighbor or strive to drive our neighbor down so that I am in a better position.

It seems we judge, or are expected to judge, someone not on their own character but how that character compares to another…Like the Pharisee, “I thank you that I am not like other people.” Some of us have our ideas passed off as someone else’s or credit is taken for our hard work. While it is not just or fair, sometimes we realize that surrendering what might be good for our ego for the good of the group, or the world, can ultimately have the result we were hoping for and choose not to make the point. This requires humility, recognizing that the outcome for the good is what matters rather than how others think of us.

Displaying the gift of humility, however, does not mean self-deprecation. Each of us has gifts and talents and there is nothing to be gained by denying that God has blessed us with those. In fact, God can be glorified by claiming our gifts as God-given. With humility we can use our gifts giving glory to the giver of those gifts rather than trying to claim that glory as our own.

  • What do you need to serve God? Are you called to mission for the good of God’s people or does your ego get in your way? How might our relationships improve if we were to recognize that the gifts of the many all have the same source and further unites us rather than divides us?

Prayer: Holy and Loving God, be with us that we may recognize that this mission and ministry is not our own, but your call on our lives. Help us to serve you and be the people you created us to be with various gifts that together we are fully equipped to do your will. Amen.


Capital Area assembly reports on Mission Gathering


by Rev. Allen Harris, regional minister

2016ccca-mgofferingThe rich diversity of the Christian Church Capital Area and the energy of new life and purpose was evident at the Mission Gathering that was a central part of that Region’s Assembly  Oct. 14 and 15, in Shepherdstown, WV.  Representing Haitian immigrants, Hispanic church leaders, young adults and seasoned church members, African Americans, conservative, moderate, and progressive viewpoints, Asian Americans, LGBTQ persons, persons of European descent, charismatic Pentecostals, rural, suburban, and urban congregations over 200 people participated in the Capital Area Regional Assembly.  All who gathered eagerly shared their stories of faithful mission in their local congregations, their hopes and dreams for the future of the church, and their newfound excitement for a Region seeking to make Mission First! a reality for guiding the direction of the staff, board, and volunteers of the Capital Area.

2016ccca-mgtablesThe Rev. Dr. Delores Carpenter was host for the Assembly in the Mission Gathering, assisted by the Rev. Ciara Simonson.  It was especially fitting that Rev. Carpenter lead the two-hour session as she was present at the very beginning when Mission First! was initially imagined.  Both she and the Regional Minister, the Rev. Allen V. Harris, have been chosen to be on the Mission Council which will take all of the data from Mission Gatherings around the life of the Church and help to focus them as they guide the direction of our denomination.  The Mission Council will be meeting in Dallas in early December.

2016ccca-mgreportCommon themes from the reporting session included the need to do more mission outside of our comfortable church buildings, the urgency for more partnerships with other churches and even non-church-related entities, the challenge to rethink how we treat and talk about those with whom we are doing mission, and the firm belief that the mission to which Christ calls us will be the very thing that brings us back together as a church.  A particularly poignant moment during the plenary session from one of the table groups came when Nancy Solomon, member of North Chevy Chase Christian Church, Chevy Chase, MD, and treasurer of the Region, and Ramona Crawford, member of University Christian Church, Hyattsville, MD and member of the personnel committee, shared Ramona’s drawing inspired by the conversation in her group.  The drawing is of a “fragmented world,” and in the midst of the brokenness is the bread and chalice.  Dynamic lines pointing inward show that, “The chalice is knitting/mending the world back together community by community.”

May it be so.

October 16 Call to Prayer

Note: Our volunteer was unable to submit a prayer prompt this week. This commentary/sermon on the text is abridged from Rev. Amy Butler’s “Talk to the Preacher” sermon of Oct. 19, 2010 at Calvary Baptist Church, Washington DC found on the Patheos blog site.  If you would like to submit a prayer prompt, please e-mail  cwilliams@disciples.org for details.

Luke 18:1-8 New Revised Standard Version

1 Then Jesus told them a parable about their need to pray always and not to lose heart.
2 He said, “In a certain city there was a judge who neither feared God nor had respect for people.
3 In that city there was a widow who kept coming to him and saying, ‘Grant me justice against my opponent.’
4 For a while he refused; but later he said to himself, ‘Though I have no fear of God and no respect for anyone,
5 yet because this widow keeps bothering me, I will grant her justice, so that she may not wear me out by continually coming.'”
6 And the Lord said, “Listen to what the unjust judge says.
7 And will not God grant justice to his chosen ones who cry to him day and night? Will he delay long in helping them?

“But I can say that, while it might be different than that of the early Christians, our context is also one in which we are dogged by hopelessness from time to time.  There are some days when we wonder, even if we don’t have the courage to say it out loud, if God is really listening to what we have to say because, well, there’s quite a bit around here that needs divine intervention.  We look around at our lives and our community and our world and, well, let’s be honest: it’s not hard to feel doubtful.

“We want to be hopeful people of faith. ….  But we still feel alone sometimes, and we wonder if God will come quickly to help us, that God will keep our lives, as the Psalmist insists, or whether we’re offering up our deep pain and hopeless wondering to an empty, dark void.

“Our Calvary context this morning specifically is the context of stewardship, of the reminder that all of our lives belong, not to us, but to God.  And we’ve each been led in one way or another to plant our lives in this place, in this community of faith, to live in community with each other remembering always that corporately and together: we belong to God.

“It all sounds great at first, doesn’t it?  … We challenge each other to live the radical Gospel Jesus came to preach as we grow and build this community of faith together, tending it carefully and making it ready for those who are still in need of a place like Calvary Baptist Church.

“Aww, that’s so nice.  I think we can all remember the first blush of love, when we encountered this family of faith and found, unbelievably, the perfect place for us.

“But, life goes on, as it has a tendency to do.  This beautiful church becomes the subject of long and (some would say) torturous committee meetings during which we struggle with all our might to take care of this physical plant we’ve inherited.  And this wonderful, friendly, diverse community of faith, with a little bit of living, almost inevitably from time to time becomes a community of . . . human beings, that is, people who are sometimes not so friendly, who often don’t understand each other, and who, even despite their best efforts, sometimes allow their differences to divide them rather then bring them together.

“And the discovery that this place, this holy, wonderful place, is not as perfect or beautiful or spiritual fulfilling all the time as we had originally thought . . . well, this can be a little disillusioning, can’t it?  … [S]ome days it can seem just as devoid of God as everything else.  And those thoughts are enough to maybe even make you want to pack it all in and head home…

“Perhaps Luke, if he had been writing to us, would have said that it’s here, in these moments, that the parable of the persistent widow speaks to our context.

“How better could we, the people of Calvary Baptist Church, live the lives of faith we’ve been given in a world devoid of faith and lacking in hope, than remembering that we belong, not to the many things that pull at our lives demanding our attention or to the whims that drive our behavior most of the time, but rather . . . we belong to God.

“And because we belong to God, we will keep offering everything we have and everything we are with the brave and faith-filled hope that God is here, and God’s work is well underway.”
  • Make a pact with yourself to commit an act of hope this week. Find 5 minutes and, instead of checking Twitter and Facebook feeds, use your smart phone to reach out to at least one person with a message of hope. We all know someone who is going through a rough time. Let them know they are not alone.
 Prayer: Jesus, it is not easy to stay hopeful. Give us the persistence and drive to bring that special brand of hope to the world that only God can give. Amen

Mission Gatherings roll across U.S., Canada

The process started with an address at General Assembly in Columbus last summer and has grown in scope to encompass nearly all 32 regions in one way or another. Disciples have shared their own ministries and what they have learned from partnering with others. And many shared what direction they believe Disciples as a whole might go with mission.

At this writing, more than 67 mission gatherings have occurred with at least 13 more scheduled before mid November. While not all the response forms have been received from those 67 gatherings, more than 1,600 have been entered into the data base.

Participants have included youth in several settings such as camps and conferences, Disciples Women at their planning meetings, special sessions at regional assemblies as well as National Convocation’s Biennial Session, the Bilingual Asamblea for Obra Hispana and North American Pacific/Asian Disciples’ Convocation. Several regions have had multiple gatherings across their geography.

If you have attended a mission gathering, thank you! If you are looking forward to one in the next 6 weeks or so, you can get ready in a variety of ways from re-familiarizing yourself with the Disciples identity statement to reading Global Ministries’ book of essays on mission.

Whether you participate in an actual Mission Gathering or not, you can join other Disciples praying weekly for the process, particularly as we approach the Mission Council’s meeting the first weekend in December.

For more information or to see the tweets about what participants have learned from mission partners, go to missionfirst.disciples.org or search this set of hashtags: #ccdoc #missionfirst #learningfrompartners

October 7 Call to Prayer

by Bethany Watkins Lowery

Psalm 66: 1-12 (NRSV)

Make a joyful noise to God, all the earth;
2   sing the glory of his name;
give to him glorious praise.
3 Say to God, ‘How awesome are your deeds!
Because of your great power, your enemies cringe before you.
4 All the earth worships you;
they sing praises to you,
sing praises to your name.’

5 Come and see what God has done:
he is awesome in his deeds among mortals.
6 He turned the sea into dry land;
they passed through the river on foot.
There we rejoiced in him,
7   who rules by his might for ever,
whose eyes keep watch on the nations—
let the rebellious not exalt themselves.

8 Bless our God, O peoples,
let the sound of his praise be heard,
9 who has kept us among the living,
and has not let our feet slip.
10 For you, O God, have tested us;
you have tried us as silver is tried.
11 You brought us into the net;
you laid burdens on our backs;
12 you let people ride over our heads;
we went through fire and through water;
yet you have brought us out to a spacious place.

As Hurricane Matthew continues to make its way from the Caribbean to the southern United States, we have seen what destruction is possible with over 140 people dead (mostly in Haiti) and many communities destroyed by Thursday afternoon. We lament the loss of life and livelihood that is already known, and we fear what might come as the storm nears and grows in intensity.

The words of praise and glory in the psalm may seem strange in the face of this fierce storm. The psalmist is writing from the other side of the Exodus salvation… and we are still on the front end, stuck between the un-parted Red Sea and Egyptian army. We can see the destructive force coming.

Yet, we do know that our God is awesome and glorious and worthy of praise. We know that salvation and new life is always possible through our miraculous God. And, we also know that God calls on us – God’s beloved children – to be a part of God’s great acts of deliverance.

The psalmist invokes “all the earth” and reminds us that what happens to us happens to us all, for we are all woven into the fabric of God’s delightful creation. We are the invitation to “come and see what God has done.”

  • When the storm has passed – whether a literal hurricane or a figurative upheaval in daily life – what will you see? Where can you play a part in rebuilding what was lost? How will you glorify God by acting to restore hope?

Prayer: O, awesome God, we know of your many deeds. Guide us to offer hope in the face of hopelessness. Use us as vessels of your restorative power.  Help us sing praises to your name through our living testimony. Amen.

September 30 Call to Prayer

by Rebecca Zelensky
2 Timothy 1:6-7
 For this reason I remind you to rekindle the gift of God that is within you through the laying on of my hands; for God did not give us a spirit of cowardice, but rather a spirit of power and of love and of self-discipline.
Our world is in desperate need of some good news. Thousands of children remain trapped after heavy aerial bombing in the Syrian city of Aleppo. Tensions and unease linger on the streets of Charlotte and Tulsa after recent shootings. Even in our local congregations, worry and discouragement often threaten to leave us fearful and hopeless: perhaps due to a lack of monetary or other resources to launch new or continue existing mission projects, or maybe because our sanctuaries are not nearly as full as we would like them to be on Sunday mornings.

2 Timothy 1 reminds us that followers of Christ have always had our work cut out for us, even going back to the first generations of the church. Facing conflict and opposition within and beyond the faith community, Timothy, and all of us, hear again that each one of us has been given the gift of ministry at baptism. Ministry for clergy and laity alike can be hard, but God gives us what we need to act out of courage rather than fear, love rather than anguish or disillusionment. To keep us grounded in faithful action, though, we are “to rekindle the gift of God that is within you.”
  • What rekindles the gift of ministry within you? Is it reading the scriptures, sitting in silence, writing? Does singing or dancing, painting or sculpting rekindle your desire to share God’s love? Take time this week – today – to do what rekindles God’s gift within you. What about your faith community? What spark can you ignite to rekindle God’s gifts in others? Is it inviting someone to worship or Bible Study? Is it organizing a group to serve a meal at a homeless shelter, or celebrating communion with shut-ins at a nursing home, or helping children with their homework at an afterschool program? Whatever it might be, what are you waiting for?
Prayer: Thank you, God of loving power, for entrusting Christ’s ongoing ministry to us. In times of sorrow or joy, in the midst of challenges or celebrations, guide us to rekindle our love for you, our devotion to Jesus Christ, and our deep desire to build your realm on earth. Amen.
If you would like to contribute a prayer prompt, e-mail for details.