Aug 29, 2012

Thoughts from Boston

Last week, my wife and I got to take a little "pre-anniversary" trip to Boston, MA.  2012 marks 15 years of marriage for Alison and me.  Our actual anniversary isn't until November, but we booked a couple of smaller trips this year instead of one big expensive trip.  It was a very refreshing time for both of us.  This is one of the few times since my oldest son Nathan was born that we both got away without kids and without an agenda.  Earlier this year, we talked and decided to go to Boston for several reasons.  One, my wife had never been to Fenway Park and by hanging out with me, she has become a pretty good Red Sox fan.  She has mentioned a couple of times the last 2-3 years that she wanted me one day to take her to a game there.  We also selected Boston because Alison had never been to it and I had only been once.  Alison loves to visit bigger cities that have lots of shopping and historical stuff.  So the combination of the city and the game made this a good choice for us.

Although the Red Sox are playing very bad baseball, this is a great time of year to visit Boston.  The weather was very nice. The universities are starting back, so there is a lot of bustle near Fenway.  We stayed at the Hotel Buckminster which is across the Mass Turnpike from Fenway Park. (The picture is actually the view from my hotel room.)  This is an old, historic hotel in downtown Boston.  This gave our visit a very historical feel.  There is a room in this hotel which is the room where the conversation began that resulted in the 1918 Black Sox scandal where the World Series was fixed.

Boston is a city with a tremendous historical and cultural heritage.  The streets of Boston are the site where much of the unrest developed and boiled over that resulted eventually in the American Revolution.  One day, Alison and I walked the "Freedom Trial" which is a 2.5 mile walk through the old parts of town where much of American history was made.  We visited the Old North Church where Paul Revere saw the lanterns that warned of British troop movements.  We visited the Boston Harbor, the Old State House, the sight of the Boston Massacre, Park Street Church, and a cemetery where Sam Adams, Paul Revere, and John Hancock are buried.  We also saw a tremendous amount of cultural diversity in the city.  Boston is a blend of many culture compacted in a small space.  There are areas where every restaurant is Italian and others that are dominated by Irish pubs.  There were several Muslims we passed tons of different cultural backgrounds that we rode with on the subway.  Here are a few of my observations from our trip around this city.

1.  Boston and New England are spiritually dark places - I have grown up and spent most of my ministry in the cultural "Bible belt" of the Southeast.  In this part of the country, there are churches on every corner and almost everyone you talk to is "a member" of a church somewhere and "believes" in Jesus.  Most of the time, we spend most of our ministry as church leaders trying to keep church members happy.  Most of our membership change is sheep from other pastures who decided that their former church isn't for them anymore.  In many ways, church members in the South treat church like they do restaurants they frequent.  If the service is good and the meal meets their needs, they will tip the church and come back later.  However, as soon as the service or food gets bad, they decide to search for somewhere else to dine.  In the area where I minister, we have access to thousands of people who, in reality, have no saving relationship with Christ.  We pass by them, but don't really see them because we are trying to "feed the flock."  If a church in my association has 15-20 baptisms in a year, that is mega-growth.
However, in Boston, things are much different.  In my four days there, I probably passed by three to four times more people than live in my county.  I would venture that 98% of them have no knowledge of Jesus or the gospel.  Jesus Christ is, for many of them, a punctuation to a sentence.  As I walked around the city, I could sense the spiritual oppression and the hopelessness that comes when all our hope is built in the things of this world.  The New England prides itself on being a place of cultural and religious diversity and of educational elitism.  Unfortunately, this has also created a culture that is very intolerant of the biblical message of the gospel.  The answer for the spiritual darkness Boston is finding a generation of genuine disciples of Jesus Christ that live and vocalize their faith one at a time.

2. There is hope in the midst of the darkness - One of the ironies that hit me is that this spiritual darkness hasn't always been the case here.  Boston and New England were once key hubs for the gospel in America.  Much of the First Great Awakening took place here. Jonathan Edwards and George Whitfield preached and led many in this area to Christ.  Many of the colleges that are in Boston were started as institutions for religious instruction.  Many of the framers of the early American country were men of deep faith.  We can't forget the place that Christian faith had in this area for many years. There is hope that Christ can reign again here.  I still believe that Christ is "God of this City".  During my visit, I met with a church planter named Juan Maclean.  He and 6 others planted Redemption City Church in Boston a couple of years ago.  They are living out their faith publicly and holding out the hope of the gospel.  It is slow work, but they are being faithful to the cause and God is using them.  Pray for them and for God to send more church planters to this area.  Pray for God to raise up a generation of leaders that will not measure the success of their ministry by the size of their congregation, but by their impact on a city with the gospel.

3.  The Great Commission in America necessitates that we create strategies that focus on pioneering missions and redeeming our great cities - I have been a Christian for a long time and a minister for 20 years.  During that time, I have been way too content with crumbs when I should be leading my people to fresh bread.  I have measured my success too much on creating "programs" that people like to attend instead of building "disciples" who impact my city and the world for the gospel.  Our churches spend too much money on internal programs designed to entertain and inform our people.  We have failed to call our people to sacrifice greatly to make sure that cities like Boston are being reached for the gospel.  We have churches filled with people who call themselves Christians, but have a tremendous heart problem.  Our people spend too much time and money on self-serving interests and want churches that "meet their needs".  My church has a responsibility to reach our city for Christ.  We have thousands of people in our city that are just as lost as the people of Boston.  We need to identify them, pray for them, and engage them with the gospel.  Then, we need to be sure to let everyone in our churches know that the gospel doesn't exist just for them.  It is not a self-serving venture, but a self-sacrificing one.  If we really believe that Jesus has changed us, then let's live like it.

We have way too much money spent on churches and ministries that have kept us inoculated in the South.  I am not saying that these aren't good ministries.  The problem is not the ministries our state conventions and associations have created.  The problem is that the average Christian gives less than 3% to gospel related causes.  This creates an issue where there is a huge limit on funds and everyone is fighting over the crumbs of pie left in the pan.  We should have enough money in our churches to reach our communities with the gospel AND to plant thriving gospel-centered churches in Boston, New York, Chicago, Montana, and Oregon.  We should have enough money and missional fortitude that every church in my Southern Baptist Convention should adopt and engage with one of the 6,000+ unreached people groups on our planet.  The gospel we say we believe is powerful enough that all of our churches should have water in the baptistery and people being baptized every Sunday.  We are called to "make disciples" and I think we can do much better.

I am thankful that God has graced me on a trip where I went thinking I would just watch a couple of baseball games, but instead I got a peek into a very different world.  I am grateful that God has given me the honor of being a pastor and hope that I can be faithful to his call to make disciples in my local context while leading us to engage the world for Christ. Friends, the reality of lostness is all around us.  If you live like I do in the cultural Christianity of the South, pray for God to open your heart to the reality of lostness and to shatter the safe castles that we have created that have kept us from engaging the world with the gospel.  I believe that the Father's table still has plenty of open seats available for those who are hungry.  Let's go tell them where they can find the true and lasting satisfaction for their soul.