Missional Ecclesiology in Practice

In A Light to the Nations, Michael W. Goheen argues for a vision of the contemporary missional church that flows directly out of the biblical story. Heady stuff, as evidenced by chapter titles such as, “Israel Embodies Its Missional Role and Identity amid the Nations” and “Jesus Gathers an Eschatalogical People to Take Up Their Missional Calling.”

But Goheen closes with an extremely practical question: “What Might This Look Like Today?” He offers thirteen reflections for local congregations seeking to live faithfully in light of God’s missional story. I think these hold great potency for mission in the North American context, particularly as practices for churches in this nation.

A church with worship that nurtures our missional identity.

As famed missiologist Leslie Newbegin noted, the weekly gathering for worship is the most important thing we do. Our worship must tell the truth story of the world over against the competing narratives we hear at nearly every turn in our culture.

A church empowered by the preaching of the gospel.

We must repeatedly announce the Good News we have found in Jesus and invite the people of God to embody an altogether different story than the stories embodied by others. If the goal of preaching is to make Christ present, His presence must empower our living out this Good News for the sake of the world.

A church devoted to communal prayer.

Fervent prayer is a New Testament normalcy. Sadly, this is not the case in many of our churches today. As Andrew Murray points out, prayer is our “strategic position” that we must cling to with great devotion.

A church striving to live as a contrast community.

The opportunities here are myriad:

  • The church exists as a community of justice in a world of economic and ecological injustice.
  • The church is a community of generosity and simplicity amid a consumeristic world.
  • The church is a community of selfless giving in a world of gross selfishness.
  • The church clings to hope in a land of deep disillusionment.
  • The church looks for true joy and thanksgiving in a pleasure-seeking culture.
  • The church experiences God’s presence in a devoutly secular and humanistic world.

A church that understands its cultural context.

Living as a contrast community inevitably prompts a missionary encounter with the culture. We are to challenge the cultural story rather than being absorbed by it. Culture is built upon a foundation of religious commitments and assumptions. But we are tasked to challenge the faulty and idolatrous religious commitments that are so prevalent in our culture.

A church trained for a missionary encounter in its callings in the world.

Does your church train you for these missionary encounters? According to Newbegin, the church has failed to recognize that the primary witness to the sovereignty of Christ must be given — he says it can only be given — in the everyday secular work of lay men and women in business, politics, professional work, etc. We must capitalize on the opportunities we have to demonstrate that we have been shaped by a different kind of story.

And make no mistake: faithfulness to this point will lead to:

  • Greater suffering
  • Deeper prayer
  • Stronger community

A church trained to evagelism in an organic way.

Much of the church’s evangelistic strategy fails because it comes across as propaganda and a sales pitch to the unbeliever. But if the Gospel impacts all areas of life, then both our words and deeds will make the Gospel credible. This means there are tremendous opportunities for evangelism that emerge all the time. May we simply have eyes to see and ears to hear!

A church deeply involved in the needs of its neighborhood and world.

When unbelievers in the vicinity of a local church are asked why they think that church exists, they often answer, “It exists for itself.” How tragic. We are called not to live for self but for the sake of the community around us — to be an expression of Good News in our context. This means seeing and responding to the very real needs of those around us.

A church committed to missions.

The church is the only mission body established by God in the New Testament. We must be deeply committed to God’s Good News mission — because God is deeply committed to this mission as well.

A church with well-trained leaders.

In the New Testament, leadership was primarily in mission. In Christendom, leadership was pastoral care of established communities. Commenting on this, Newbegin says, “In one, the minister is facing the people — gathering, teaching, feeding, comforting; in the other he is leading the people, going before them on the way to the cross to challenge the powers of this dark world.” We need well-trained leaders to take up both of these tasks.

A church with parents trained to take up the task of nurturing children in the faith.

Technology, for instance, will nurture our children into a particular story — usually not a Gospel-formed story. How will we combat this? Even their education is often in service to the gods of economic utility. The church must help parents nurture their children in the faith.

A church with small groups that nurture for mission in the world.

These elements must be maintained in the church’s small groups: prayer, Bible study, fellowship, and outreach / orientation to the world.

A church that seeks and expresses the unity of the body of Christ.

The church today should exhibit reconciliation and unity as a preview of what is to come in eternity.

This is what it looks like to be a “come and join us” people.

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Perfect Game Tourney: Triple

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Our Crew in St. Lou

Baseball trip to St. Louis 2019 — School is OUT!

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Mother’s Day 2019

Our attempts at grabbing a Mother’s Day picture!

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MLB 2019 Predictions: American League

Here are my predictions and thoughts for the 2019 season in the American League.

There are some truly great teams in the American League, due in part to an inordinately high number of teams “tanking.” Each of these divisions are quite top heavy. I doubt we’ll see very many surprise teams sneaking in to these races.

Before the year started, I thought the Yankees were postured to be the best team in baseball. Of course, that was before they suffered a string of injuries to their stars: Severino, Sanchez, Hicks, Andujar, Stanton, Torres, Betances, Bird, Gregorius, Judge, Paxton, Tulowitzki…the list just goes on and on. And yet, the Yankees continue to stay afloat in the American League East. If they can ever get somewhat healthy, I still expect this team to play deep into October.

Boston’s bid for a repeat hasn’t started well either, but the Sox are still among the premier teams in the league. I’m worried about Chris Sale — he just doesn’t seem to be himself these days. And I’m honestly shocked Boston didn’t sign Craig Kimbrel to solidify the bullpen. Pennants can be won and lost in April just as much as in September. But this team is too good not to have a playoff share this fall, too.

I honestly didn’t expect Tampa Bay to be this competitive. But they continue to rely on different players in big spots: one night it’s Tommy Pham; the next it’s Austin Meadows; another night, Yandy Diaz gets the big hit; or there’s Brandon Lowe filling up a stat sheet. And the pitching looks great, too. Tyler Glasnow is looking like a Cy Young candidate. And they have the reigning Cy Young winner in Blake Snell. I don’t know if they’ll keep it all spring, but I’ll definitely be rooting for these guys.

Heading into the season, I figured Cleveland was the most surefire division winner in the majors. But they look pretty ordinary and I’m thinking their window as one of the elite teams in the game may have already closed. Minnesota has made some competitive moves during the offseason. Marwin Gonzalez, Nelson Cruz, and CJ Cron will lengthen the lineup considerably, and I think their pitching could be sneaky good. (Jose Berrios is a Cy Young dark horse candidate.) The Twins are really the only team that can challenge Cleveland in this division.

Out West, I have Houston running away with things. I fully expect Oakland to regress back to the pack and I don’t see any of the other teams catching the Astros.

AL MVP pick: A couple weeks ago, I might have selected Miguel Andujar as a surprise pick here. Of course, his shoulder injury on March 31 eliminates that savvy choice. And I could always go with Mike Trout, who will probably put up MVP-caliber numbers again this year. But I’m going to go out on a limb and go with George Springer. Houston will score a ton and Springer has the chance to be in the middle of plenty of rallies.

AL Cy Young pick: I really think Berrios is ready to break out. He could carry the Twins to the postseason with his killer fastball / curveball mix. I also like Tyler Glasnow.

AL Rookie of the Year pick: Eloy Jiminez is a stud.

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MLB 2019 Predictions: National League

I’ve been meaning to make a post for several weeks, highlighting my predictions and projections for the 2019 season. With 10% of the season in the books, it’s still early enough to make substantive predictions and projections. Here are my thoughts about the Senior Circuit for the 2019 season.

National League

I had a feeling that the Dodgers were the best team in the National League coming into this season. Three weeks into the season, my opinion hasn’t changed. Their lineup is deep, if a little lefty-heavy. But Corey Seager looks like he’s fully recovered from last year’s injury and Cody Bellinger is playing like an MVP in the early going. What’s more, the lineup has been substantially lengthened by the fast starts of “role players” like Kiki Hernandez and Austin Barnes. This lineup is deep and can beat you in a number of ways.

As good as the offense has been, it’s the pitching staff that really sets the Dodgers apart. They have seven legitimate starting pitchers and a bullpen filled with power arms. The Dodgers can probably afford to manage their starters much like they have the past few seasons: taking advantage of the 10-day IL (formerly the DL) to give their starters plenty of rest in-season. I’ve watched this team a lot in the early going and they’re the real deal.

While I thought the Brewers would win the Central, I didn’t expect them to rival the Dodgers as the best team in the league. But I’m telling you: this team is going to score in bunches. Christian Yelich looks primed to defend his MVP award, launching baseballs into the stratosphere with ease. He’s a joy to watch, even as he mashes against my beloved Cardinals. But this isn’t just a one-man show. Mike Moustakas is a sneaky pick to lead the league in home runs. So is Travis Shaw. Jesus Aguilar hasn’t even started hitting yet and this lineup is still one of the league’s best.

Losing co-closer Corey Knebel takes some of the shine off of Craig Counsell’s bullpen, but this is still a strong squad. Jeremy Jeffress is poised to join Josh Hader at the back end and I wouldn’t be surprised to see the club add another power arm this summer. But if I were the Brewers GM, I’d be tempted to go all in and make a run at erstwhile free agent Dallas Keuchel. The Brewers have a glaring need in their rotation and Keuchel, while far from dominant, could provide plenty of quality turns in the regular season and could give Milwaukee 4-5 capable innings in a postseason start. There have been rumblings about the Brewers trading for Madison Bumgarner, but Keuchel can be had today if they’d just write the man a check. Regardless, this team is very good.

The National League East should be a fun division as there are four legitimate contenders vying for first place. I don’t think the Mets will be there all year, but I applaud their new GM for making some interesting moves. And you can’t count out any team getting 40% of their starts from Jacob deGrom and Noah Syndegaard. (Of course, Syndegaard likely won’t make every start. But I digress.)

The Phillies were projected to be about an 84-win team BEFORE signing Bryce Harper to his (then) record setting contract. But the Harper signing was just the final piece in what was a highly successful offseason for Philly. They also added Andrew McCutchen, JT Realmuto, Jean Segura, and David Robertson — four veterans that should be better than league average at their respective positions. This is another team that could probably use either Keuchel or Craig Kimbrel. Either signing could really push the Phillies into the upper tier in the National League. As it stands, they are still my choice to win this division by an eyelash.

Even though they lost Harper to their division rivals, the Nationals still spent heavily to invest in a starting rotation that should make them competitive. I think the Corbin signing was an overpay, but he was clearly the best starter on the market. Scherzer, Corbin, and Strasburg in a short series…ouch. Juan Soto will do his best to make Nats fans forget about #34, but the Washington hitter most primed for a career year is Anthony Rendon. He looks like a man on a mission this spring.

And what’s funny is that NOBODY seems to be talking about the Braves, the reigning division champs. That’s probably just fine with Brian Snitker and crew. I think the Braves are a solid starter away (Keuchel???) and I don’t see Ozzie Albies as a growth stock but they could still very easily repeat as division winners. Ronald Acuna and Freddie Freeman could be vying for MVP honors before the season is over.

So my division winners are L.A., Milwaukee, and Philly. When it comes to the wild card, I’m taking Atlanta and St. Louis, but who knows. I really think the Cardinals are much improved. Paul Goldschmidt gives them the impact bat they’ve been seeking for the past few years and I expect Marcell Ozuna to bounce back to his 2017 form. As always, the key will be the performance of the bullpen. If the early returns are any indication, the St. Louis ‘pen likely won’t be championship-level, but they should improve as the season progresses.

For the record, I love what the Padres are doing. Sure, they’ve overpaid for Hosmer and Machado, but they’ve augmented those moves by calling up their best young players to try and open the competitive window a bit sooner. In an era when GMs routinely hold back their best players to avoid starting their arbitration clocks (ahem, Vlad Guerrero, Jr.), the Padres are playing their best players NOW in an effort to field a competitive squad. What a novel idea. In the same way, I respect what Cincinnati did this offseason. I love how they bought low on Sonny Gray and Yasiel Puig. Those two moves could be huge.

NL MVP pick: You’re probably crazy to pick anyone other than Yelich right now, but I’m going to pick Harper. Dude looks motivated and I think he’ll carry Philly to the playoffs.

NL Cy Young pick: It’s probably Max Scherzer. But if I had to take a dark horse, I’d take Jack Flaherty of the Cardinals. He’s going to win one of these awards one year. Might happen early.

NL Rookie of the Year: Nick Senzel, Reds. Not sure if he’ll play 2B or CF, but he should be a fixture in Cincy for years to come.

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Slow Trot

Home run vs. Hartselle, 8th grade

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