City Mission: A Catalyst for Becoming a Missionary Disciple

“… if you pour yourself out for the hungry and satisfy the desire of the afflicted, then shall your light rise in the darkness and your gloom be as the noonday. And the Lord will guide you continually … and make your bones strong; and you shall be like a watered garden, like a spring of water, whose waters fail not.” (Isaiah 58:10, 11)

Since 1992, my family and I have been deeply involved in disaster relief efforts around the country, from Florida (post-Hurricanes Andrew and Ian) to Mississippi (post-Hurricane Katrina) to West Virginia (post-flooding) to Indiana (post-tornadic destruction) to Tennessee (post-tornadic destruction) to Baltimore City (post-human generated difficulties), etc. My wife, Nancy, and I—and all five of our children (now adults)—were greatly impacted by these experiences, especially <in discovering> how they ‘taught us’ what it means to be a missionary disciple of Jesus Christ; and now, over three decades later, thousands of lives have been transformed because of these intentional acts of mission. Our first City Mission was launched in 2014. For this year’s event, City Mission: Baltimore and Beyond ’24, we decided to be even more intentional in this work and keep this one question before us, specifically in light of Isaiah 58:10,11: What does it mean to be a missionary disciple?

For the sake of clarity, there are two types of missional opportunities we’ve offered over the years: First, Cross Country Mission (CCM), which involves disaster response-type work following a natural catastrophic event beyond our home base, somewhere across the country; or, City Mission (CM) which was born out of CCM to serve more locally and bridge between the City and Suburbia, addressing human-generated needs. (see: CM Part 1 and CM Part 2)

I think this past year’s experiences have helped us to see more clearly that these more intensive (extraordinary) missional encounters have been highly effective in serving as a catalyst for igniting the participants, the laos/λαός-People of God, into the more ordinary and daily work of mission in their homes, places of work, schools, etc. In other words, they have the capacity to shake us—the Church—out of our timidity, and even lethargy, and pursue both the Great Commission (Mt. 28:16-20) and the Great Shema (Mk. 12:28-30) with a fiercer determination—To become missionary disciples!  

These ventures have pushed us far beyond our comfort zone, from only knowing what it means to be a disciple into actually living out our discipleshipthrough intentional, boots-on-the-ground missional activity. In other words, these experiences enabled us to live a more incarnational, Christ-centered discipleship as it took on real bones, sinew, flesh, and blood; specifically, as we were baptized into the mission field! Just a couple of years ago, one of our young adults described CM as “a raw and unfiltered experience of what it means to be the Church!” Truly, these ‘encounters’ have served as a catalyst for becoming a missionary disciple.   

My daughter, Sarah, who experienced her first CCM at 14 y/o and is now 33 y/o, has also reflected on what it means to be a missionary disciple. Here is an excerpt from what she wrote after our most recent CCM this past February and CM in May: “In disaster zones, where everything is stripped away, where chaos abounds, order is lost, and hope seems lost with it … it is here that a new source of Life is found. A new perseverance, a ‘restored strength and ever-flowing spring’ begins to pour from within you (Isaiah 58:10-12). Suddenly your own petty complaints of the day don’t matter. The madness and the rush of a ‘controlled’ life is gone. All that you see, all that you think about, is before you: an opportunity to love the people who have lost it all. The people who *really* have something to complain about, yet don’t. They’re full of thankfulness for life itself, not the things in it. The presence of the Holy Spirit is so tangible in these places where distraction is low and pain is high. Lives are changed, and hearts are broken for the things that break His. The Cross becomes what matters most; the thing we cling to, and the hope of His Resurrection and the new life to come.”

Brothers and Sisters, CCM or a CM is merely a ‘tool’ or vehicle to help build out and facilitate the work of mission; but, it has also become an all-important and much needed catalyst to embolden us to live out our calling as missionary disciples. What has the Lord placed in front of you … perhaps, to teach you … how to become a missionary disciple? Dare to step into it. His grace will lead you, every step of the way.  

Becoming a missionary disciple with you … In Christ, Craig

The following pics reflect a few highlights from our most recent City Mission this past May. This year we had 12 different churches (2 LCMC and 2 NALC) from all streams of the Church (Orthodox, Catholic, Protestant, Mennonite, and Pentecostal) with participants ranging in age from 6 y/o to 80 y/o. Being multi-denominational and multi-generational is a part of our DNA and enables the participants to see a greater unity within the Church (cf. John 17:21-26).

Pre-Mission Hours

On Mission

Resting/Playing After Working

Kairos Circle

Evening Meal, Worship and Guest Speakers

REST, INC., Part 2

Finding Rest in (and for) a Restless World

Dear Friends—                                                                                                    

When did so many of the mainline denominations begin to go adrift and lose their way? Why? How? What happened? Today hundreds, if not thousands, of those same churches and now non-denominational expressions of the Church, are adopting wokeism, universalism, neo-paganism, etc., and arrogantly moving from any form of Christian orthodoxy, all while simultaneously and carelessly hitching a ride on the slippery slope upon which our present-day culture is sliding. Absolute madness, and at lightning speed … at any cost! So many questions. It’s important to raise such questions because history will, inevitably, repeat itself. We are not exempt, especially if we don’t remain vigilant and deeply rooted in Christ, being well-rested for these disquieting days.

No doubt, many of you have considered a vast array of possible responses to the fore-mentioned questions—Maybe it was because we shifted from the centrality/primacy of the Word of God, or perhaps it was how we began compromising on many ‘social issues’ in the name of compassion but forgetting that this compassion should remain grounded in Christ-centered orthodoxy, or possibly it was because of our introducing various forms of ‘contemporary’ worship to reach the bitter-battered-bored, but compromising truth. The list goes on. Maybe these responses will not provide definitive answers, but they can certainly help us to navigate a more effective and faithful future.

However, there is one obvious response that I hear little, if any, conversation about: Maybe it was because our leadership, as a whole, did not lead or work out of life-giving rest, but only found this rest after leading and working and doing … and doing some more, thereby losing its way. It seems that we’ve struggled with the age-old challenge of doing and not being, like Elijah (cf. 1 Kings 19:9-12) and so many witnesses before us, forgetting about just being still and resting in the grace of Christ, and daring to ‘hear’ His Voice, in the midst of it all!I’m convinced that we would not be where we are today, with a large portion of the Church no longer practicing traditional Christian orthodoxy, had its leaders maintained a posture of resting—IN Christ. Without spending time in this place of rest—praying (not petitioning!), waiting, and abiding—at the very least, our senses become dull and we can lose our ability to discern the spirit of this present age (cf. Romans 13:11-14). A restless world, indeed! Perhaps, that’s why the author of Hebrews is so concise about the necessity of rest: “So then, there remains a sabbath rest for the people of God; for whoever enters God’s rest also ceases from his labors as God did from His. Let us therefore strive to enter that rest, that no one fall by the same sort of disobedience.” What does this mean to you, here and now, in your present context?

So, yes, I am writing this brief article, more as a personal letter, as a follow-up to the article I wrote for the November issue of CORE Voice Newsletter called REST, INC. As your colleague, I’m simply inviting you to re-evaluate your own personal pattern of building rest into your daily schedule. Many years ago, I became intensely aware of my own unhealthy pattern of not taking time to rest and choosing instead to live out my ordained calling through the obligatory production of parochial reports, and so much more! It was about then that I bumped into Acts 6:1, 2 where it reads, “ … the Hellenists murmured against the Hebrews because their widows were neglected in the daily distribution. And the twelve summoned the body of the disciples and said, ‘It is not right that we should give up preaching the Word (and later in v. 4, “ … we will devote ourselves to prayer and to the ministry of the Word.”) to serve tables.’” For many reasons, this passage spoke volumes to me in how I would “do” ministry henceforth. I would stop waiting on tables, putting out fires, meeting all expectations, etc. I would, instead, begin the practice of rest.

Rest will not only serve as the antidote to help us, in our pastoral-prophetic roles, to avoid the slippery slope of which I spoke in the opening paragraphs, but it’ll greatly enhance our ability to attend to the paramount work of disciple-making and mission. Find the rest you need, and even fight for it. There is much on the line.

Rest, Inc.

Part 1: A Gift of Restoration, Resilience, and Prophetic Perspective

Dear Friends—

We were in the middle of our first vacation ‘Out West’, somewhere between Colorado Springs, CO, and Yellowstone Park, WY, when my wife asked in a surprisingly calm voice, “So, what does happen when the pop-up mechanism of a pop-up trailer doesn’t pop?” Just minutes before I had explained that there was a high degree of probability that the lifting system on our trailer had broken. All I can say is that it was a most fascinating time with five kids. I only wish we had brought the dog and a couple of cats to make it more magical! Anyway, it was wonderful but not necessarily restful. You’ve probably had at least one of those vacations in your lifetime; you return home in desperate need of rest.

I’d like to address the topic of ‘rest’ in light of Jesus’ gracious appeal in Matthew 11 and how we can more fluidly incorporate rest into our lives. Why is rest (aside from sleeping) an essential but often missing ingredient in our daily schedules? I would say that without it—REST—we are much less effective in how we go about the work of ministry.

Are you presently resting from a place of work, or working from a place of rest? Perhaps we are relying more on our own efforts, programs, and plans than spending much-needed and regular time in the quiet place of abiding and rest. Clearly, Jesus’ ministry was rooted in and flowed from a place of silence and solitude, thus being still in seeking His Father’s directive (cf. Matthew 4:1-11, 14:23, 16:36-46, 17:1-9; Mark 6:31; Luke 5:16,6:12; and many more scriptural references). Jesus’ daily ‘schedule’ reflected a pattern of rest/retreat … and then an advance with the work of ministry/the Kingdom. I know there have been many occasions when, thankfully, dear ones (i.e., my wife, etc.) have lovingly challenged me to stop striving with my own agenda and energy and just rest.   

Jesus provides interesting insight on this topic of rest and the power it holds: “Come to me, all who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you, and learn from me; for I am gentle and lowly in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy, and my burden is light.” (Mt. 11:28-30) Although this is one of the most familiar texts in the New Testament and there are two references to rest in these verses alone, it seems that we are hesitant to embrace Jesus’ very tender and attractive words! We all know that statistics will clearly expose this reality, but who needs statistics when we experience it first-hand?

Yet, ironically, rest may be the very thing that Jesus desires for His listeners—and that through rest many blessings will come. It is a gift. But, like Paul, we find ourselves torn and often caught in our own humanity, “I do not understand my own actions. For I do not do what I want, but I do the very thing I hate.” (Romans 7:15)

Part of the blessings of rest, and what I desire to leave with you, is both invitation and challenge. Please know that I do this as a sometimes weary but hopeful brother and colleague in Christ. The invitation is to simply embrace Jesus’ words in Matthew 11:28-30 … and rest … knowing that His rest will bring you many unexpected graces, including the gift of restoration of your soul, resilience for the long-haul, and prophetic perspective in discerning the ‘spirit of the age’ (Ephesians 2:1-3). The challenge is to incorporate a regular pattern of rest—and Sabbath-taking—in our restless, relentless, and demanding worlds!

If we can integrate daily encounters with rest into our schedules, and thereby establish rest as a predictable pattern in our daily routine, then will we not hear God more easily and trust His leading more readily? Doesn’t this become an intentional act of resting our faith on His Grace, being released of so much work (which can become works/law; Romans 4:16 & 5:2)?

Out of this wellspring of Rest, Inc., may you experience an early springtime of the soul! When the care of your own life is established in rest, then the privileged work of ministry (i.e., disciple-making, missional outreach, etc.) will flourish. I hope to address this in Part II of Rest, Inc.

In Christ,

K. Craig Moorman

You Do-I Watch: A Hard Lesson in Fully Releasing the Next Generation into Mission

Editor’s note: River’s Edge Ministry (REM), located in Mt. Airy, MD, traveled to Pine Island, FL in January as part of Cross Country Mission (CCM) 2023. Pine Island was devastated by Hurricane Ian in late September 2022. Mary Bates, NALC Disaster Response Coordinator, did the necessary groundwork to find the work sites that matched our team’s skillsets. Lutheran CORE’s board provided funding that enabled REM to reduce the cost of the trip for the crew. Previous articles about Cross Country Mission and City Mission include The Potency of Missional Engagement, Igniting Renewal Through Mission and How City Mission Was Born, Part 1: Katrina, the Unwelcomed Reformer.

As a pastor-mission developer who has served for many decades, I believe we—those who are part of a so-called ‘mainline’ denominational church body—are facing a hard (and potentially devastating) reality: Who will be leading our churches, especially as a significantly large percentage of clergy retire and many others ‘step down’ because of discouragement and sheer exhaustion? AND, where is the ‘next generation’ of pastors and leaders? The intent of this article is not to answer these questions but to simply acknowledge and remember that we, as pastors and leaders of Christ’s Church, are called to grapple with such realities and then present hope in the midst of it all. These times press us to consider other, more general questions: “Lord, what are You saying to us?” and “Lord, how should we respond?” I desire to offer at least a glimmer of hope by sharing a hard lesson in fully ‘releasing’ the next generation into leadership.

This ‘hard lesson’ involved laying aside my leadership, unconditionally, and literally watching from afar as the next generation took the reins and completely oversaw a very challenging disaster relief mission which we had been planning for months through Mary Bates, Coordinator of NALC Disaster Response. Though they did all of the work and I watched from 1100 miles away, it was an unexpected blessing to behold and one from which we, I, learned a great deal. In a nutshell, I was sidelined and could not lead this effort called Cross Country Mission: Pine Island, FL because I developed shingles in my right eye. Just days before the scheduled departure from MD on January 29th, I was still resolved to be part of this effort. But then my ophthalmologist informed me that if I didn’t stay home and rest, I might lose my eyesight. I listened. I suppose we could’ve cancelled but, instead, we recalibrated our strategy and the next generation stepped fully and willingly into the task before them. Not only did I keep my eyesight but I gained a greater vision of how important it is to equip and mobilize the next generation by fully releasing them into leadership roles.

In this article, I’d like to share a bit, as both father and pastor-mission developer, of how the Lord made a way and used a difficult circumstance for the greater good (cf. Romans 8:28). It’s encouraging to know that there’s well-grounded precedence for such a happening: “Behold, I am doing a new thing; now it springs forth, do you not perceive it? I will make a way in the wilderness and rivers in the desert.” (Isaiah 43:19)

One of the greatest joys in my life has been parenting. As a father for nearly 34 years, it seems that I am still learning the fundamentals of child-rearing. One of them is transitioning from the demanding commitment of rearing and raising little ones to, perhaps, the greater challenge of releasing them into a world beyond the familiarity and comfort of home. It seems that there’s not much difference between our pastoral/shepherding role in ministry and our parenting role. As parents, we are called to eventually release our children into their full potential, giftedness, calling/vocation, and God-ordained destiny, etc. Is ministry any different? As a priest, pastor, shepherd, father/mother of the faith, are we not to release and mobilize our congregants, disciples, etc. into the work of the ministry for the sake of the Kingdom? As I shared in the opening paragraphs of this article, I just experienced this reality, face-to-face, in a very real and practical way, both as a parent and as a pastor; especially in terms of more effectively moving a child (or disciple) from a preparatory season of rearing-raising (or equipping) into a fruitful season of releasing (or mobilizing).  

A while back, I attended a conference regarding what it means to build a discipling culture—an environment to communicate and pass on the faith—within the local church setting. During that time, a clear and concise model was presented on how to create such a culture. It is one that you may be familiar with and is especially apropos to our present conversation. I believe it’s especially helpful and a simple but highly-effective pedagogical tool in raising up the next generation of leaders. For the sake of clarity, we’ll simply refer to this model as a teaching square.

Teaching Square where P represents parenting

The “P” in our teaching square represents parenting. Our “progression” in teaching our children is essential as we move from P1 to P4, especially knowing that they are—whether we’re aware of it or not—watching and learning from our words and actions. Again, we can bring out the very best in our kids and release them with a self-assured independence, or we can choose not to take the time to parent our children thoughtfully and wait for a different outcome. We could just as easily replace the ‘P’ with a ‘D’ with the emphasis being discipling not parenting. But the teaching square is easier said than done. As pastors and leaders within the Church, one of our great privileges is leading our parishioners into a deeper relationship with Jesus Christ while simultaneously equipping and mobilizing them for the work of the ministry … and the Church’s mission. My great confession in this article is that it’s been difficult for me—both as a parent and a pastor—to move around the square fluidly. I find myself stumbling around P4 (or D4), YOU DO—I WATCH! But I know it’s absolutely essential, especially in raising up and fully releasing the next generation. 

I believe you could share a similar story and make a similar confession, but for me it took ‘shingles in the eye’ for my soul to awaken to the gravity of what’s at stake—If our children, the next generation AND/OR our parishioners-disciples are not fully and unconditionally released as missional disciples, then the future of the Church is greatly at risk. Fully releasing means trusting, accepting and expecting that the Lord’s already gone before us, making our paths straight and the rough roads smooth (Psalm 5:8), and causing the necessary infrastructure to be built with new (and different) resources, ideas and relationships, etc. It means that we faithfully lead around the teaching square, but then pause (before we stumble) at P4-D4, take a deep breath … and then completely and unconditionally relinquish our own need to lead and pass the baton into the more-than-competent hands of those we’ve been faithfully shepherding and discipling, especially the next generation! We should then be able to take a seat, rest, rejoice, and then cheer them on with a loud cry, YOU DO-I WATCH! Indeed, it was a joy to watch two of my sons, Jacob and Caleb, and two other young adults enthusiastically take the reins of leadership for Cross Country Mission: Pine Island, FL.

Paralleling many of my own thoughts about leadership in his provocative article, How Your Congregation Can Identify, Enlist and Train Part-time Ministers, Pastor Don Brandt writes, “The current shortage of available pastors in the LCMC and NALC presents a difficult challenge for a great many call committees … In fact, such a scenario can result in nothing less than an existential crisis for their congregations.” This article is very helpful in at least stimulating a much-needed conversation in which all leaders and pastors of every congregation should engage. Though well-intended, addressing such important concerns should not be reserved for just another hierarchically-appointed task force or national staff person. Again, ALL of us should be intensely involved in the discourse because, after all, what happens if we’re not able (or are unwilling) to enlist others to lead when finding or calling an ordained pastor becomes nigh impossible? This question ties in with my opening questions: Who will be leading our churches, especially as a significantly large percentage of clergy retire and many others ‘step down’ because of discouragement and sheer exhaustion? AND, where is the ‘next generation’ of pastors and leaders?

Thank you for taking the time to at least consider how we might more effectively release our parishioners, especially the next generation, into the mission field. Because I wasn’t able to be part of Cross Country Mission: Pine Island, FL, Kim Smith, a missional partner with River’s Edge Ministries and one who did participate, will tell at least part of the rest of the story of how the work of ministry unfolded. Enjoy her article, (Per)Mission to Lead, also published in Lutheran CORE’s  March newsletter. You’ll read about how the team stepped up as she and the other 24 co-laborers from many different churches did the work of the ministry. I stood back and watched … And it was way more than good!

All photographs used in this article were provided by various crew members.

The Potency of Missional Engagement

Dear Friends—

A most happy and blessed New Year to you and yours.

No doubt, many of us reading this article can readily receive such a greeting; but, for some, these words may be welcomed but not so easily received or even believed. This may include an individual who just discovered they have a very difficult illness to contend with or maybe it’s a husband who lost a beloved wife of 35 years or one trapped in overwhelming bondage to an addiction or perhaps it’s a family who experienced a natural catastrophe and lost everything. The list goes on. When facing such a reality, it can be much more difficult to receive a word of blessing, while happiness is illusive at best. This is precisely when the Community of Faith, the Body of Christ, is called to rise up and consider the potency of missional engagement. It is helpful for us, as brothers and sisters who are bound up in Christ, to be aware of those who are struggling and then allow the Great Commandment to settle deeply into that place of compassion: “‘ … and you shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind, and with all your strength.’ The second is this, ‘You shall love your neighbor as yourself.’” (Mark 12:30, 31) This will necessarily push us towards mission which can quickly and graciously re-prioritize the living out of these most challenging days. 

In 1 Corinthians 12, St. Paul paints a beautiful and profound picture of what it means to be a community of faith and concludes with these striking, life-altering words: “If one member suffers, all suffer together; if one member is honored, all rejoice together.” (v. 26) The writer of Hebrews says it a bit differently in 12:12, “ … lift your drooping hands and strengthen your weak knees, and make straight paths for your feet, so that what is lame may not be put out of joint but rather be healed.” Again, we can see our ‘calling’ to come alongside and help lift up and literally be the hands and feet of Jesus, especially for those whose hands are failing and knees and feet weak. This is what it means to be fully engaged in mission.

This brief article is an invitation for you to join us in an upcoming missional event or better yet, and more practically speaking, connect with a local church body and engage in mission … in your own backyard! Prayerfully consider engaging—Not only will it help bring restorative healing to any given situation but you will experience restoration and healing as well. Just engage.

Last year, I wrote an article for the July CORE Voice Newsletter (click here) regarding the power and potency of such missional engagement. It is there that I describe a particular outreach called City Mission (CM) which was birthed out of Cross Country Mission (CCM). Dennis (Nelson) asked that I write this article to share just a bit about our upcoming CCM. Again, though I’m inviting you to participate in this event, more so I’m inviting you to simply participate in mission at some level, somewhere.

On January 30th through February 4th (link for more details @ ), River’s Edge Ministries will be headed to Pine Island, Florida, for our eleventh disaster relief/rebuild effort. We are a multi-generational group of ordinary people coming together from many denominations to be His Church. Our fervent hope is to be a Christ-centered family on mission and avail ourselves to the needs of those who were severely impacted by Hurricane Ian, causing over 150 fatalities in Cuba, Florida, North Carolina, and Virginia; but most of the deaths were in Florida. Ian also caused catastrophic damage with losses estimated to be more than $50 billion. The cities of Fort Myers Beach and Naples were particularly hard hit. Millions were left without power in the storm’s wake, and numerous inhabitants were forced to take refuge on their roofs. Sanibel Island and Pine Island were hardest hit by the storm surge. Clearly, thousands are still in the recovery phase and are only now rebuilding their future. It will be our sacred honor to be part of that rebuilding.

Please note that we are currently working with Mary Bates (NALC Disaster Relief) who has established our base of operation, housing, missional work, etc. (Thank you, Mary, for all of your extraordinary work for the Kingdom of God, especially as it manifests itself in the midst of utter chaos and ruin.) Our plan is to arrive to First Baptist Church on Pine Island by the evening of January 30th. Upon arrival, we’ll set up our base camp on the church grounds in their building and outside in the parking lot, etc. We will work from 9:00 until 3:00 on January 31st, February 1st and 2nd, and then depart on February 3rd and arrive back home to MD by February 4th.  We will travel just over 1000 miles by car, van, and truck with the hope of bringing a small caravan of hurricane clean-up-rebuilding workers and prayer warriors. Some are even flying in. As alluded to before (cf. Mark 12), our hope is to minister to heart, soul, mind, and strength. There will be a broad range of work tasks, including ongoing clean-up, framing, electrical, drywalling, roofing, meal prep, and on-the-ground intercessory prayer. We are praying for many skilled and unskilled co-laborers, but mostly willing hearts! At the present time, nearly 20 have committed to this event; but, it seems that we’ll have closer to 30 brothers and sisters participating in Cross Country Mission: Pine Island, FL; again, from 16 to 70+ years of age and at least 7-8 different denominations. And to think that we, a church of the NALC, get to sponsor this event—What an honor and joy!

If by chance you become interested in participating in this effort or have an interest in hosting a similar event in the future, please register here or contact me directly. But the gentle invitation and challenge from this article remains: Simply engage in mission somewhere … it’s right in front of you. I’d like to thank CORE and many individuals for supporting this missional endeavor with resources and encouragement. 

Do take care, stay the course, and keep your eyes on Jesus, the Pioneer and Perfecter of our faith.

K. Craig Moorman

River’s Edge Ministries, Mt. Airy, MD

(Images in this post: Flickr)

Igniting Renewal Through Mission

(How ‘City Mission’ was Born, Part 2)

Editor’s Note: K. Craig Moorman is an NALC pastor of River’s Edge Ministries in Maryland and is a member of the board of Lutheran CORE. Pr. Moorman encourages you to read Part 1 of his article as background for Part 2. Click here to read Part 1 which was published in July of 2022.

Amid our first City Mission in April of 2014, the temperature dropped dramatically and unexpectedly to a bone-chilling 19°. Our base of operations was a 30’ x 50’ tent—we were not in the comfort, warmth, and familiarity of a church setting. This is how City Mission was born. It was an important moment of discovery, more of a blessed eureka moment, when we stumbled upon a basic truth: Renewal is ignited through mission. Now I am inviting you to engage in a missional experience that could reinvigorate the life of your congregation and bring you a season of refreshment and renewal.

Although I’m sharing a first-hand account of one such experience, City Mission, many of you have also been immersed into the mission field. You might recall how it revealed the heart of Jesus and His Gospel, a face-to-face encounter with the Cross. Oftentimes, there is a severe shaking from the core of our being when a reprioritization of our living takes place—new Christ-centered values emerge, a greater hope is gained, and renewal of body, heart, mind, and soul settles in.

These past two and a half years of navigating through a global pandemic and utter cultural turmoil have diminished our emotional capacity, made us more prone to discouragement and vulnerable to despair. And, if that’s not enough, let’s pile on the usual daily grind and throw in more critical personal matters, some unresolved and unattended to. All of this leads us not to “green pastures” and “still waters” but, instead, a wanting and a desperate longing for peace and a renewal by the Spirit.

Therefore, I humbly invite you to engage in Gospel-centered mission. My hope is that it will serve as an antidote for what is ailing each of us individually, our churches/communities, and even the nation. I believe making such a commitment and engaging in Christ’s Kingdom work will be the catalyst for this reprioritization that I spoke of previously. It can move us out of our lethargy, pre-occupations and distractions, misappropriations, and missteps, etc. AND gently (and graciously) push us in the opposite direction. Might this be repentance? I believe mission can significantly help us to get unstuck and experience such a metamorphosis … renewal! A calling back into the mission field will place us right at the foot of the cross, from death to resurrection. What a gift.

In my earlier article, “How ‘City Mission’ was Born, Part 1,” I wrote of how City Mission developed from another missional outreach ministry called Cross Country Mission. You may remember that CORE is an acronym for (Lutheran) Coalition for Renewal and bringing elements of ‘renewal’ to the broader Lutheran community has long been a part of our vision. Practically speaking, I pray that this article will bring you personal renewal and help reignite your passion for mission and bring it back to the center of the conversation.

Again, amidst our first City Mission in April of 2014, the temperature dropped dramatically and unexpectedly to a bone-chilling 19 degrees. Our base of operations was a 30’ x 50’ tent—we were not in the comfort, warmth, and familiarity of a church setting. This is how it all began. It was cold, uncomfortable, unfamiliar, and a little chaotic. Believe me, it was neither perfectly planned nor executed! We have since unofficially adopted a guiding principle, “Expect the unexpected … and see what God does.” This has been freeing on so many levels!

Later that same day and into the evening hours, after all our 50-60 participants/leaders retired for the night, either commuting back to their homes or to their scattered tents, Brother Ray and I moved back into the quiet of the big tent and sat down on a couple of bales of hay. I’ll never forget my dear friend looking up, with tears in his eyes and saying, “It just doesn’t get any better than this.” There we were, both in our late fifties, tired, worn down, cold, etc., but completely content and at peace. And yet I couldn’t help but wonder why Ray had spoken those words. I’ve been thinking about Ray’s statement for the last eight years. Something miraculous had happened and Ray knew it but at the time could not articulate it.

But what was it—what made his statement true? In a nutshell I believe we witnessed the Church operating as Jesus intended. He gave us a foretaste of the feast to come.

In the following paragraphs I talk more about City Mission and what we have learned from each event. These ‘take aways’ have morphed into lessons learned that are the building blocks for how City Mission operates and lives out its mission. I believe these lessons are transferable to others pursuing and engaged in mission in other congregational settings.

First, since our original disaster relief mission to Biloxi, Mississippi (post-Hurricane Katrina), in November of 2005, it’s been a priority of River’s Edge to help those who have been through the storm, be it a hurricane, flood, tornado, human-generated catastrophe, or just the difficulties of life. Our initial efforts came through Cross Country Mission and then through City Mission. City Mission was designed to engage the local parish in its own back yard.

Our City Mission base of operations is a 14-acre landbase situated just 20 minutes from downtown Baltimore. I would describe it not so much as ‘disaster relief’ but ‘urban relief’ because it involves cleaning up trash and litter, building out construction-related projects, landscaping, clearing of land, painting, gardening, and preparing meals. Your base of operations may be in your church building/campus or elsewhere.

One benefit of City Mission is that little traveling is needed. We intentionally identify and engage in mission on a regular and more localized basis. Too, it’s typically less costly and feels more like a camp, retreat, workshop, and worship gathering all rolled into one. Another unique characteristic of City Mission is that its ‘success’ does not depend solely on River’s Edge Ministries, nor does it look just like our church. This is most obvious during the evenings as we gather a large group for a meal, fellowship, and worship. In that gathering, a multitude of individuals are involved in food planning/prep, music, and speaking/preaching. This, then, is a gathering of the larger Church.

Second, our ‘take aways,’ now reflecting our core values, enable us to remain faithful and effective in establishing a Kingdom-oriented, repeatable, missional experience called City Mission. Establishing, implementing, and fine-tuning the following three specific components has been critical in contributing to the development and effectiveness of City Mission:

  1. Networking with Local Community Organizations and Leaders—We have been intentional in networking with community organizations and leaders who are based in the mission field we serve, thus reflecting a more authentic heart, mind and will of the community.
    • One of the unexpected blessings of this decision is that it allowed us to work more interactively with many different groups/folks, crossing racial boundaries. This foundational core value has revealed the power and efficacy of working directly with those who already have ‘boots on the ground,’ moving us beyond the familiarity of just our building and resources to work cooperatively with others who are well established and respected in the region.
    • This bridge-building has created ‘natural’ relationship development with a vast array of people from many different backgrounds intimately involved with City Mission (i.e., the Baltimore Ravens, Towson University Gospel Choir, Helping Up Mission, Baltimore City Community Organizers, etc.) gathering together, literally, under one tent. The outcome of such intentionality has been nothing less than miraculous!
  2. Building an Alliance of Multi-denominational Churches—Certainly, there is a place for Lutherans doing life/mission together; after all, this is what many of us are most acquainted with. But there is an even greater place and need to invite and gather the broader Church to do life together and share in the mission of Christ’s Church, especially in these challenging days. City Mission has been a highly effective and faithful conduit to bring the body of Christ together. This includes many different speakers, music, denominations, etc., from many different backgrounds, all bound up in ‘orthodoxy’ and the Gospel of Jesus Christ. It’s all about His work, His justice, His compassion, and His mission … with no other agenda! Let us, as the Church, carry the narrative for the day and not allow others (with a radically different agenda and cause) to fill that void!
    • After nearly a decade of building out this mission, it is a joy to share that we’ve had dozens of different churches from the various streams of the Church (Catholic, Protestant, and Pentecostal) participate in City Mission representing many denominational backgrounds including River’s Edge Ministries, GraceWay International Community Church, Wilkens Avenue Mennonite Church, The Transformation Center, Mt. Union Lutheran Church, East Baltimore Graffiti Church, Baltimore Rescue Mission, Redeemer Lutheran Church, St. Timothy’s Ordinariate Catholic Church, and many more.
    • As a result of such broad-base missional effort, we have become much more united and effective as a ministry. In the High Priestly Prayer found in John 17, we hear Jesus praying to the Father, specifically that we—the Church—may be united, “… that they may become perfectly one, so that the world may know that thou hast sent me and hast loved them even as thou hast loved me” (v. 23)As a ministry, we are committed to pursuing such a vision for this hour.  
  3. Creating a Base of Multi-generational Participation—Quite often it seems that youth ministry ‘programs’ are built on dynamism and the personality of a particular youth leader. The problem with this model is that everything hinges on that leader, including the availability of time and resources. Over the past decade or so, and as a lead pastor in at least three different congregational settings, I have taken a much different approach in overseeing/leading youth ministry/young adults. It has never been centered on the charisma of a youth leader. There is always a component of intentional discipleship and participation in mission. And even more importantly, parents and other older adults are almost always involved in this process. It seems that the presence of the older generation has produced a younger generation that is much better equipped and more deeply grounded. This model has been especially effective in City Mission.

Finally, on a more personal note, an unexpected (and invaluable) outcome from both the Cross Country Mission and City Mission experiences has been the immense even life-changing impact upon my children. I’ll never forget interviewing for a call with about twelve adults present, nearly all of them parents, telling me that none of their children were attending church and certainly not in any type of relationship with Christ. I remember feeling extraordinarily sad. Then they asked me about my children, church life, and God. They were shocked when I expressed to them that all five of my kids were not only involved ‘in church’ but had a deep and abiding relationship with Jesus Christ. And, almost without hesitation, I said this was due to exposing them to the mission field beginning with our time in Biloxi, MS, after Katrina hit the Gulf Coast and beyond.

Over the years, City Mission has impacted many hearts and minds for the sake of the Kingdom. If you’ve ever witnessed the catastrophic devastation in the aftermath of a hurricane, flood or tornado, you’ll understand that the sights, sounds, smells and stories get in your belly—take up residence in your heart and minds—and never leave you the same. A calling to step into the mess inevitably surfaces and mission ensues. I suppose this is called compassion. Compassion seems to be that thing which drives our mission, which allows us to participate in events much larger than ourselves and our own worlds. Our lives are forever altered!

Our next City Mission is slated for May of 2023. It would be our honor to welcome you to our Missional Life Center and to host and house you for this event. It’s an opportunity for you to ‘test the waters’ surrounding City Mission. Or we’d be privileged to head in your direction to provide training at your base of operations.

The essence of this communique is to encourage you anew, as a brother or sister in Christ, to simply engage in mission … to at least do something regarding mission … and then make it a regular part of the ebb and flow of life. This is how renewal can be ignited and your life restored. May your life be renewed … for the living of these most challenging and historically significant days.

Just this past spring, I asked our young adult, post-high school group (many of whom have participated in City Mission since their middle/high school years) to describe City Mission in just a few words. Ben, one of our ‘veterans’ who is now 24 years of age said, “City Mission is a raw and unfiltered experience of what it means to be the Church.” Truly such a youthful and unspoiled understanding of the nature of the church can replenish and enable us to embrace how mission can spark renewal. 

How ‘City Mission’ Was Born, Part 1: Katrina, The Unwelcomed Reformer

Over the course of the past three decades, I have had the immense privilege of leading disaster relief efforts around the country, typically following a natural catastrophic event. Since my young family and I drove down to Homestead, Florida in 1992 to bring aid to St. Andrew’s Lutheran Church following the fierce storm, Hurricane Andrew, I have been more intentional in developing this ministry outreach, now known as Cross Country Mission. Here at River’s Edge Ministries, it has become a priority for us to avail ourselves to the needs of those who have been through the storm … be it a hurricane, tornado, flood, human-generated catastrophe, or just the difficulties of life, by offering our time, energy, and resources. No doubt, many of you have participated in such satisfying and sacred work.  

You might be familiar with an old Yiddish proverb, “We plan, God laughs.” In this article, I will unpack how a most fascinating derailment of ‘well-thought-out’ plans forever changed my life and that of many others. As it turned out, God had a much better long-term plan in mind. In Part 1 of this article, I will tell how City Mission was born out of Cross Country Mission, and the supreme importance of expecting the unexpected and getting out of the way to allow God to be God … and make a way. Proverbs 3:5, 6 comes to mind: “Trust in the Lord with all your heart and lean not on your own understanding; in all your ways submit to Him and He will make your paths straight.” Or to put it into terms that Henry Blackaby might have used, remember that God is the long-term planner and He is the One on mission. Our job is to look where He’s working and join Him.

It was the spring of 2014, just weeks before I was to lead my 8th disaster relief effort through Cross Country Mission, when I received an unexpected phone call from those who would be hosting us that the necessary housing for our team could not be provided. At that late juncture we had nearly 40 adults and youth signed up, committed, and excited about making the venture to the severely damaged shores of New Jersey. Finding myself in a somewhat awkward predicament, I turned to my wife and muttered something incredibly profound like, “Now what?!” She paused, for maybe five seconds, and responded with definitive and, dare I say, Holy Spirit-inspired clarity and conviction:

“Why don’t you ‘do that thing’ you wrote about back in 2006?” Typically, she is measured and careful in weighing in on such circumstances. I listened.

What you’ll read below originally appeared in small booklet form and served as ‘a primer’ to prepare those who will be entering into any given disaster zone and participating in various stages of clean-up, re-building, and healing. (In fact, this booklet is presently being revised for a second printing available in September and has been slightly updated for this July 2022 article.)  

In Part 2 of this article, I will present how City Mission developed over the years and describe the most recent event that took place in May of this year, City Mission: Baltimore and Beyond—2022. As you well know, oftentimes it takes one door to close for another to be opened. This would not be the end of Cross Country Mission, but the beginning of a new missional ministry called City Mission. When our initial plans fell through, we looked to see where God was working and the Lord birthed something brand new, much better and more complete than I could dream or imagine! Back in March of 2014, I’m extremely grateful that I cried out, “Now What?!” to my most important confidant, and that I listened to her inspired words, “Why don’t you ‘do that thing’ you wrote how about back in 2006?” So, here is ‘that thing’ that I wrote about over sixteen years ago:

Many thought-provoking questions were raised during a church leadership conference I attended in January of 2006. But there was one significant question put before the group that remained unanswered: “What will it take to get those who are embedded in the so-called Institutional Church to fully understand the urgent need to be about mission, here and now?” For me, this question triggered many more questions—“Where are the resources that can be released immediately to those who need them?” and “Where is the sense of urgency to touch the heart of the poor—those whose lives have been shattered—and to receive their touch?” and, more pressing, “What will it take to awaken the sleeping giant, known as the Church?” Though words were not spoken, my gut stirred with a response, “It will take another Hurricane Katrina.” I present this article not as an answer but as a soulful wrestling. Let me explain.

A Perfect Storm Changes Everything in its Wake

On August 29, 2005, a Category 4 hurricane named Katrina forever altered the landscape of the Gulf Coast. There had been other immensely powerful storms in the past, but Katrina was different. It radically reformed the terrain from what it had been for hundreds of years into thousands upon thousands of acres of complete and utter devastation. The destruction was apparent in ways small and large—from children’s dolls and other signs of innocent and precious life wedged high in treetops, to the giant floating casinos washed up on shore. You may have read the storylines or seen footage of the aftermath, much of which looked like a war zone, or a scene from a post-nuclear bomb drop. The climatic conditions were just right for the perfect storm, leaving in its wake a coastline that will never be the same.

It was Thanksgiving week, just three months after Katrina hit, when my wife, our three oldest kids, and I headed to Biloxi, Mississippi. Quite frankly, our decision to head south came as a visceral response to an invitation we had received just a few weeks before. Like some of you, we had seen the footage of the storm’s destruction, but nothing had prepared us for what we would experience firsthand. Hurricane Katrina approached the Gulf Coast, then stubbornly sat and churned for 18 hours, mercilessly redefining the landscape in apocalyptic ways, forever altering miles of coastline and either completely annihilating or severely impacting dozens upon dozens of communities.

We spent three days in the East Biloxi area. Our last day was Thanksgiving morning. We spent those privileged hours helping to gut the rear interior of Norman and Patricia’s home. The scarce and mold-infested remnants of their belongings were carefully piled under a large plastic tent in their backyard. Norman was obviously still reeling in the aftermath of the storm. As he eventually explained: “Because we’d been through so many storms we decided to stay; besides, we heard on the news that the center of the storm was going to hit New Orleans. You know, if you leave, they come in by the truckloads and steal everything in sight, so we stayed.”

He shared much through his storm-shocked yet resolute demeanor. He had awakened the morning after Katrina hit to a power outage … the dead calm of Katrina’s eye … and then more of the 150+mile/hour winds slammed into his home as the far side of the storm’s eyewall hit Biloxi. And then the water … his own mother floating on a sheet of plywood tied to cables for 12 hours … his wife and two children up in the attic for eight hours, the water continually rising … and then the 28-foot storm surge … 40 of his friends and neighbors killed. And so the stories went. Later in the morning, I noticed a few boxes of collector’s cards (mostly sports-related) and I asked Norman about them. He told me that card collecting had been his hobby since he was a boy and that he had had literally thousands of cards. In fact, three months after the storm, “you could still walk about anywhere along the beach or in the neighborhood and you’ll find one of my cards,” Norman said. His many cherished and scattered cards are an apt metaphor to describe the reality of so many innocent lives forever changed … blown away … torn and scattered.

A New Way of Seeing

It’s been nearly 17 years since our first visit. Our second trip came during Holy Week of 2006. Our third hurricane relief effort was tentatively set for April of 2007 with the hope of broadening the base of interest and participation. The truth is that once you’ve been down, the sights and sounds and smells and stories get in your belly. And they never leave you the same. I suppose this is called compassion. Compassion seems to be that thing which drives our mission, which allows us the privilege to participate in events much larger than ourselves and our own worlds. At a time when our own family was in the midst of major transition, the trip to Mississippi flipped our lives upside down and inside out and reprioritized our living in big ways. We have been blessed and given new perspective through these experiences. Certainly the few days we’ve spent in Mississippi have reformed our lives permanently.

But since our first visit, a question has slowly surfaced: Is it necessary to head south to do the work of the Church? Of course not, but because these experiences have given my family a different perspective—with new eyes—our answer has been Yes. But new eyes for what? Because of Katrina we see more clearly what is in our own backyard, under our own large plastic tent. We live in Mt. Airy, Maryland, just 40 minutes from Baltimore and 55 minutes from Washington, D.C. Now that we’ve “seen” the intense suffering of the residents of the Gulf Coast, we’re no longer able to so easily overlook those who recurrently struggle with the effects of poverty and crime. How can bridges be built between where I live in the artificial comfort of suburbia and the complex challenges of these cities? In the life of my family, and in many lives of faithful Christians who have attended to the needs of those struggling in Katrina’s wake, the storm has become a reformer of sorts. Unsought, unwelcomed, but a powerful force in changing our lives and what it means for us to be the Church. Katrina has become “an unwelcomed reformer.”

Luther: Another Unwelcomed Reformer

There has been another. On October 31, 1517, a different sort of storm blew through Northern Europe. On that day, Martin Luther posted his 95 Theses upon the north door of the Castle Church and forever altered the ecclesiastical, political, and spiritual landscape of the world. He has been compared to a “bull in a china shop” and even a “wild boar invading the Lord’s vineyard.” Like Katrina, he was unsought and unwelcomed. But the conditions in the Church (and the surrounding culture) were just right for his perfect storm, and the Church has never been the same. Reform truly is a messy and costly affair. Could it be that though Katrina destroyed so much in the lives of those who live in the Gulf Coast region, in her wake the Church is discovering anew how to be the Church? Katrina redefined the lives of those who live in the Gulf Coast, but has she also reformed the way Church is Christ to those in need? In short, has Katrina (like Luther before her) brought out the best of the Church?

It’s been said of Biloxi—and I imagine the whole region—that if it weren’t for the incredible and on-going work of the Church, and other volunteer organizations, the region would be entirely lost. The Church has responded and continues to respond out of its core. And through Christ, the impossible becomes possible … and new (Revelation 21:5). During any given crisis, the Church so often shines as that radiant Bride spoken of later in verse 9—I wonder why?

I believe there have been significant lessons given to us through Katrina, lessons that should be transferable to any time and place. How about the Katrinas that have blown through our own inner cities? The Katrinas that have destroyed the settled peace in our own backyards—what are we trying to protect under our plastic tents? When a Katrina hits, the playing field is leveled. All of our props, scaffolding, programs, assumptions, plans, neatly planned budgets, and designated line items are swept unto oblivion, like Norman’s baseball cards. What happens when that which was of penultimate concern is now no longer a concern because it does not exist? When all is stripped away, what does the Church look like?

Why Does it take a Storm to Awaken Us?

Unfortunately, it seems to take a Katrina to awaken the Church to be all she was meant to be. Whole cities are being lost because the Church is waiting for the next big crisis instead of looking just around the corner at the terrible daily suffering and grinding destitution in our inner cities. And the painful irony is that it seems that just up the street another church is closing its doors, sitting on a huge memorial fund but not able to move forward and be the Church! Surely Christ—and those witnesses who have gone before us—are weeping from the place of heaven as one “well-established” church sits on its untapped resources while another small but viable church the next block over is withering away because of lack of monies. Just when the world desperately needs the Church, it is asleep. Worse, sometimes it is found defiant and turning its back on the world.

Lord, move us beyond our places of comfort. Help us not to play Church but be the Church!

Lord, help us get our eyes off the Church and on to the brokenhearted and to the base of our mission … the purpose of our existence. Lord, motivate us not to attend to our programs but to Your people … let nothing keep our hearts from breaking as we peer into the eyes of the people You love, the Normans of the world who have been through the storm. Help us let Katrina reform Your Church as Luther did over 500 years ago. Help us read the theses Katrina posted for us on the shattered remains of houses in New Orleans, Biloxi, and countless other communities along the Gulf Coast. And help us read the theses posted for us on the vandalized and graffiti-covered doors of shuttered inner-city tenements and storefronts. Help those of us in suburbia who are shuttered into our desperate worlds of materialism and busyness.

During our first trip to Biloxi, we stayed at Bethel Lutheran Church, which had become a Lutheran Disaster Center overnight. As we approached the church building and grounds, it was immediately obvious that Bethel had been transformed into a M.A.S.H. unit: The front entry sidewalk became a drop-off for boxes of various supplies, the narthex became a health clinic, the pastoral offices became the “war room,” the Sunday school rooms became sleeping dorms, the sacristy became storage for canned goods, the fellowship hall became the main dining area, the kitchen was still the kitchen, the worship space became overflow for sleeping quarters and supplies, the side yard became a place for shower stalls, and the parking lot became a mini-trailer park. And with all of that it continued to do its Sunday morning “Church thing.” What an immense joy to witness the Church being the Church. And this was a small Church. BUT, this is the Church in all her glory, and it was repeated through hundreds of churches throughout the Gulf Coast.

Becoming the Body of Christ: His Hands and Feet

No doubt, through the paradoxical power of the cross, Katrina has redefined the Church in at least three arenas. These are some of the observations I was privileged to behold and hopefully learned from the Church in the Gulf Coast region:

  • Petty differences don’t render the Church passive, let alone immobilized. There is now a visible and potent unity stationed throughout the area;
  • Because church facilities were being utilized to their fullest potential, the Church was able to exist as a base of operation sending forth groups and, thus, continually and consistently building bridges of compassion;
  • And, similarly, there was a holy and vibrant chaos—A  24/7  movement from the base to the field. It served as a center to send forth individuals through teams in the name of Christ, an army of men and women and boys and girls, offering the fullness of their giftedness on the chaordic edge of adventure and living.

What (and/or Who?) is the Katrina in our midst, even now? Again, what happens when all the props are brought down and the playing field is leveled? Isn’t it time for the Church to be transformed into one massive M.A.S.H. unit, no matter the time of day? Just imagine if every one of the 350,000+ churches scattered throughout our land became Church. It is time for the Sleeping Giant—for the Church—to rise. It is time for the Church to be the Church “while it is still day.” (John 9:4)

We brought a piece of Biloxi back home with us: A life reformed and even more sacred.  I invite you to join us in this revolutionary movement … Simply being His Church for such a time as this!

So, this reflection-observation piece is what I wrote in 2006 and became the basis for launching our first City Mission during Holy Week of 2014. Again, in Part 2 of this article, I will describe in detail how City Mission has grown into a multi-generational-denominational movement and impacted many hearts and minds for the sake of the Kingdom.

(Image: NASA Goddard Space Flight Center)

An Invitation to City Mission: BALTIMORE & BEYOND—‘22

Sponsored By: River’s Edge Ministries

Dear Friends—

It is with great joy and expectation that I’m pleased to announce our first City Mission on the landbase since 2016. In 2017 we hosted an event in our backyard and then in 2018 we set up base camp for City Mission at Clinton Baptist Church in Clinton, MD. In 2019 we spent nearly the whole year making a way (re-establishing a road) onto our property. (I think you have a pretty good idea of what’s transpired the past two years.) Anyway, below this letter you’ll find a detailed tri-fold of information for City Mission: Baltimore & Beyond—’22. Please make copies of this information piece (back-to-back) and feel free to hand it out to friends, co-workers, and neighbors, etc. The date is set for May 18th through May 21st.

Since our first disaster relief mission to Biloxi, Mississippi (post-Hurricane Katrina), in November of 2005, it’s been a priority of River’s Edge Ministries to avail ourselves to the needs of those who have been through the storm … be it a hurricane, flood, tornado, human-generated catastrophe, or just the difficulties of life. The outpouring of support for our first CITY MISSION: Baltimore in 2014 fostered a heartwarming success story. Hundreds, of all ages, donated their time and their prayers.

This event is designed for participants to experience a balanced approach to living out a Christ-centered life through meaningful worship, intentional community-building, and missional outreach. We are a multi-generational, multi-denominational Kingdom of God movement, calling the Church to be His Church, privileged to witness to the fullness of God’s love in Jesus Christ. We certainly look forward to the possibility of working alongside you in May! Please contact me with any questions @ Stay the course …

In Christ’s love, PC

Critical Race Theory (CRT) v. The Cross, Redemption, and Transformation, Part II

 “Now before faith came, we were imprisoned and guarded under the law until faith would be revealed. Therefore the law was our disciplinarian until Christ came, so that we might be justified by faith. But now that faith has come, we are no longer subject to a disciplinarian, for in Christ Jesus you are all children of God through faith. As many of you as were baptized into Christ have clothed yourselves with Christ. There is no longer Jew or Greek, there is no longer slave or free, there is no longer male and female; for all of you are one in Christ Jesus. And if you belong to Christ, then you are Abraham’s offspring, heirs according to the promise.” (Galatians 3:23-29, NRSV)

Dear Brothers and Sisters in Christ —

The introduction of Critical Race Theory (CRT),into all segments of our culture, has created a massive outcry throughout our land because of its crushing and deceitful agenda; partly because it attempts to lure the general populace in — especially the most innocent among us, our children — through a dishonest narrative and then will unashamedly ambush and exploit its victims. But many are not taking the bait, and that populace is now waking up to such trickery! CRT is misleading and guises itself with different descriptive language to avoid naming itself for what it is, Critical Race Theory. It represents a wolf in sheep’s clothing (cf. Matthew 7:15) and a ‘hireling’ (cf. John 10:10-12) and will — in the end — morph into a new type of law which is controlling, vindictive, and even destructive. Thank you for allowing me to unpack further the juxtaposed distinctives between the philosophical ways and intent of CRT and the theological-biblical ways and intent of the Cross of Redemption and Transformation, specifically in light of Galatians 3:23-29.

As I shared in Part 1 of this article, Dr. Wyatt Tee Walker was one of Dr. Martin Luther King’s closest colleagues and advisers. Dr. Walker was a legendary key leader in the American Civil Rights Movement, having served as the Executive Director of the Southern Christian Leadership Conference in the tumultuous years of 1960-1964. Too, he was a co-founder of CORE (the Congress of Racial Equality), chief of staff to King, and King’s ‘field general’ in the organized resistance against notorious Birmingham safety commissioner “Bull” Connor, and so much more. He was with King for the March on Washington on August 28, 1963, that produced the “I Have a Dream” speech where King challenged ALL citizens of the United States of America for civil and economic rights and called for an end to racism. His work was not in vain!

Waking up to a new reality

Steve Kinsky says this about Dr. Walker, who co-authored an essay with him (“A Light Shines in Harlem,” September 24, 2015, RealClear Politics) regarding education reform and race relations. This is just part of what they wrote: “Today, too many ‘remedies’ — such as Critical Race Theory, the increasingly fashionable post-Marxist/postmodernist approach that analyzes society as institutional group power structures rather than on a spiritual or one-to-one human level — are taking us in the wrong direction: separating even elementary school children into explicit racial groups, and emphasizing differences instead of similarities. The answer is to go deeper than race, deeper than wealth, deeper than ethnic identity, deeper than gender. To teach ourselves to comprehend each person, not as a symbol of a group, but as a unique and special individual within a common context of shared humanity.” Their analysis of CRT was and is spot on, especially regarding our shared humanity. And, from our perspective as Christians, this “shared humanity” involves original sin and, ultimately, our great need for the Cross — The Cross of Redemption and Transformation, not CRT or any other such false narrative, pedagogy, or gospel! It’s been six years since the publication of the Kinsky-Walker article, and now thousands upon thousands of parents are witnessing first-hand how some public schools are shaming, harassing, confusing and often brainwashing their precious children, often pitting child against parent (cf. Luke 12:51-53)! In other words, mothers and fathers do know better than the largely compromised system of public school education on what is best for their children and what they should be taught! Many parents are waking up to the problems and underlying deceit of CRT. They are now quickly discovering that it is weighty, cumbersome, disorienting, and massively intrusive. It is an illegitimate ‘disciplinarian,’ without any sense of grace or mercy. Law without Gospel. (Perhaps) without knowing so, they are gaining strength through Galatians 3:25 — “But now that faith has come, we are no longer subject to a disciplinarian, for in Christ Jesus you are all children of God through faith.” Reflect just a moment on the fullness of this one verse and how it speaks volumes on the acute errors of CRT.

Recently, the state of Virginia became the epicenter of intense debate over CRT — a veritable spiritual battleground for the soul of the next generation of Virginians. The decisive outcome of the vote for the next governor of Virginia (and many other key public servants) reflected a complete repudiation of not only CRT but other radical agendas. So, why such a dramatic voting shift in the opposite direction? I strongly believe it was not because the citizens of Virginia suddenly wanted to support “white supremacy” (as the mainstream media purports, along with other vicious comments) but, instead, they were intuitively aware of the overwhelming and insufferable nature of CRT. To speak plainly, folks in general are fed up with hearing such hateful and racist rhetoric being spewed towards fellow human beings. Virginians, and many Americans, have been experiencing a ‘foretaste’ of how a new type of ‘guiding principles’ — law — might transpire and begin to dictate what is right and wrong, and how it could literally upend our nation as we know it. Good people are upset and voted accordingly. They love their children and their children’s children. Mama Bear has been poked and has now awakened!

A word from Galatians 3:23-29 — There is NO distinction

In light of the headline passage from Galatians 3:24-29 above, we celebrate that Christ has come and that the world, potentially, has been and can be set free: “Therefore the law was our disciplinarian until Christ came, so that we might be justified by faith.” (v. 24) In this verse, the Greek word for disciplinarian is παιδαγωγὸς/paidagōgos which translates as trainer, a tutor, not only a teacher but one who had charge of the life and morals of the boys of a family. He was a legally appointed overseer, authorized to train (bring) up a child by administering discipline, chastisement, and instruction, i.e., doing what was necessary to promote development. In our present-day public ‘schooling’ environment, we entrust our children with teachers — whom we have authorized — to train and ‘bring them up’ in particular ways. But now that environment has radically changed and the disciplinarians are those we have NOT authorized, those carrying the CRT teaching. As Christian parents, our identity and authority rests in Christ and Christ alone. It is upon that foundation we claim Christ as our final disciplinarian. I believe this is what people genuinely desire. Christ did not come as a cruel and condemning taskmaster but as Saviour (John 3:17). We are no longer subject to a disciplinarian and under the law (Galatians 3:25; 5:18), for in Christ Jesus we are all children of God through faith (Galatians 3:26). Apart from Christ, the <Mosaic> law can quickly become burdensome and even deadly. In 2 Corinthians 3:6, Paul writes: “He has made us competent as ministers of a new covenant — not of the letter but of the Spirit; for the letter kills, but the Spirit gives life.” Of course, the Law of Moses, a grouping of  books (Torah) or “letter/s”, was a series of writings to regulate moral and civil actions telling people what they could and could not do; but, too, they were instructions on how to live in the land; i.e., in Deuteronomy 8:1-“All the commandments that I am commanding you today you shall be careful to do, that you may live and multiply …”, Psalm 119:1-“Blessed are those whose way is blameless, who walk in the law of the Lord!”, and dozens of other biblical references. As the cloud of confusion is lifting, it’s becoming clear that those behind CRT are bent on writing their own “series of writings to regulate moral and civil actions telling people” what they can and cannot do, hoping to remove and replace the traditional role of parents serving as the primary disciplinarian … and, especially the parents who place their faith, ultimately, in Jesus Christ as their disciplinarian, not CRT.

“Now before faith came, we were imprisoned and guarded under the law until faith would be revealed” (Galatians 3:23) Luther had profound insight regarding “the law” apart from faith, specifically in light of this verse: “The Law is a prison to those who have not as yet obtained grace. No prisoner enjoys the confinement. He hates it. If he could he would smash the prison and find his freedom at all costs. As long as he stays in prison he refrains from evil deeds. Not because he wants to, but because he has to … But the Law is also a spiritual prison, a veritable hell. When the Law begins to threaten a person to death and the eternal wrath of God, a man just cannot find any comfort at all. He cannot shake off at will the nightmare of terror which the Law stirs up in his conscience.” Any law, even the Mosaic Law, will lead to bondage. By now, I think you understand that I am not comparing CRT to the Mosaic Law but only suggesting that CRT is becoming law, except without God involved in any way, shape, or form. Through the implementation of CRT, the State/Government desires to become the schoolmaster, the custodian, the guardian, and the disciplinarian. Again, with the State, there may be no grace, no freedom, nothing but confinement indeed. (Project Wittenberg, Commentary on the Epistle to the Galatians, 1535 by Martin Luther/trans. by Theodore Graebner, Chapter 3, pp. 135-149, Galatians 3:20-29, Grand Rapids, Michigan: Zondervan Publishing House, 1949)

The other obvious problem with CRT is how it automatically marks and makes a distinction with people groups through a hodgepodge of terminology. For instance, it regularly employs the label ‘white privilege,’ typically defined as a “concept that highlights the unfair societal advantages that white people have over non-white people. It is something that is pervasive throughout society and exists in all of the major systems and institutions that operate in society, as well as on an interpersonal level.” (“What Is White Privilege” by Arlin Cuncic, updated on August 25, 2020) At least a part of this particular definition, along with the rest of the noted article, kind of makes sense but then breaks down quickly when left as absolute fact/law without grace and mercy; and, especially, if not filtered through the heart and mind of Christ and His redemptive and transformative work at the Cross. From Galatians 3:28 we read, “There is no longer Jew or Greek, there is no longer slave or free, there is no longer male and female; for ALL of you are one in Christ Jesus.” There is no distinction!

Walter Myers III, who is the Principal Engineering Manager at Microsoft Corporation in Irvine, CA, holds a master’s degree in Philosophy from Biola University’s Talbot School of Theology, and is a member of the Advisory Board for the California Policy Center (CPC), recently wrote a fascinating piece on CRT. This is how he concludes his essay: “How will we ever find peace among the races if we can’t look at each other as individuals, person to person, based on actual facts and intentions? We simply cannot reconcile as a people if we allow ourselves to be judged by the ethnic, race, and gender essentialism of Marxist-style power groups, and thus we should reject CRT … Indeed, America has had a long and horrific period of chattel slavery followed by Jim Crow and racial codes that persisted well into the 1960s and 70s. But these practices ended as more Americans understood the gross violations of the U.S. Constitution and Declaration of Independence. As a black man, I have seen tremendous progress over my lifetime, and while I’m cognizant racism will always exist, simply because evil will always exist, the only systematic oppression I see currently is the failure of public-school systems across America to prepare black and brown children for future economic success. It is the greatest tragedy of our time. And what is abundantly clear is CRT does nothing to advance the basic mission of K-12 education, while doing much to detract from it.” (Discovery Institute, American Center for Transforming Education, “Critical Race Theory — The Marxist Trojan Horse”) Certainly, CRT is becoming more than a distraction. Its disciplinarians are hoping to steal away the hearts and minds of our children. Jesus Christ, our disciplinarian, has set us free through His blood of redemption and transformation.

What the world needs now is HESED — Steadfast Mercy!

Our hope lies in this Word from Galatians 3:23-25, notably as it speaks on our freedom in Christ: “Therefore the law was our disciplinarian until Christ came, so that we might be justified by faith. But now that faith has come, we are no longer subject to a disciplinarian, for in Christ Jesus you are all children of God through faith.” Throughout the history of the People of God (the Israelites), it was imperative that they remain ‘dependent’ upon the continual and merciful intervention of God. This ongoing and unfailing mercy of God was and is known as God’s Hesed; otherwise, they were lost and would die. Hesed is a Hebrew word almost beyond description, even pushing the boundaries of our comprehension. Hesed kept the law in balance. Apart from the “Hesed”/חֶסֶד of the Lord God YHWH — the completely undeserved, unconditional, loving kindness and mercy of God (named over 245 times in the Old Testament), the Mosaic Law could breed guilt and harshly assign punishments for violating the law, even issuing death sentences to offenders with seemingly very little — if any — grace and mercy attached to it. Of course, this Law was “only a shadow” of what <was> to come … “the substance <belonging> to Christ” (Colossians 2:17). As a stiff-necked people with very clayish feet, we are always tempted to fall back into the law, any law … even a law of lawlessness, especially when we drift from Hesed … the completely undeserved, unconditional, loving kindness and mercy of God. And now, of course, we have been set free! Here’s the incredibly Good News — this ‘hesedness’ was eventually fulfilled in the Incarnation of God, the Father, in Jesus Christ! We can now be proclaimers of such mercy and breathe life into our world, no matter what we face. We can’t say it enough: What the world needs now is mercy, especially revealed fully in Jesus. And, of course, we’ve been called to communicate this message of mercy, and shout it from the rooftops (cf. Matthew 10:27) — MERCY! If we don’t, others WILL fill that void with a counterfeit form of mercy — like CRT! Do you see what’s happening?  

Unlike the present-day “law of the land,” aptly described in our primary “letters,” the Constitution/Bill of Rights and Declaration of Independence, CRT has no grounding in a Judeo-Christian God. In the end, it is god-less. It has no biblical understanding of Hesed or Mercy. Because of the God-void in every human heart, CRT has created this false narrative in trying to communicate mercy. It answers only to itself, thus “keeping us subject to a disciplinarian” and “under the law” (Galatians 3:23 & 25). I believe this terrible reality is exactly what our nation has been experiencing without being able to name it, an intuitive sense that something is not right. What our country — the world — needs now, more than anything else, is Hesedness, the Lord’s steadfast and unfailing Mercy, not a pseudo-mercy that is, in the end, merciless.

We all understand that the Cross lies at the very heart of the Christian faith, and without the Cross we have no faith at all. What took place at Golgotha was the single most important event in all of history — it was the central event of the human race. And, herein, lies the inherent flaw and great deceit/lie of CRT. Where there is no mercy with CRT, the Cross exudes Mercy. In Part I of this article, I clearly articulated that racism is a reality. It is dreadfully sad and awful, and damages each of our souls. In Walter Myers III words, “… while I’m cognizant racism will always exist, simply because evil will always exist, the only systematic oppression I see currently is the failure of public-school systems across America to prepare black and brown children for future economic success … And what is abundantly clear is CRT does nothing to advance the basic mission of K-12 education …”

In the end, for all of us, this life is all about pursuing and proclaiming the steadfast love and mercy of Jesus Christ and Him alone. There is a harvest of folks (cf. Matthew 9:35-38), including many of the so-called CRT proponents, who have not yet tasted such a mercy. Let us consider how we can effectively and faithfully engage in such a challenge. In the final installment of this article, Part III, I hope to raise two simple, logical and rationale questions: What is the end-game/purpose of CRT? And what was/is the end-game/purpose of Calvary? Until next time, stay the course …

In His Immeasurable Love and Mercy, 

K. Craig Moorman

Mission Developer/Pastor of River’s Edge Ministries/NALC-LCMC

Mt. Airy, Maryland

Critical Race Theory (CRT) v. The Cross of Redemption and Transformation

“So Jesus again said to them … ‘The thief comes only to steal and kill and destroy; I came that they may have life, and have it abundantly. I am the Good Shepherd. The Good Shepherd lays down His life for the sheep. He who is a hireling and not a shepherd, whose own the sheep are not, sees the wolf coming and leaves the sheep and flees; and the wolf snatches them and scatters them.’(John 10:7a, 10-12, RSV)

Dear Brothers and Sisters in Christ —

My heart is broken. And no doubt, so is yours. Rarely, if ever (at least not since the 1860’s), have we experienced so much enmity and animosity rise up within our nation. It is especially evident within the Church, people groups, and our own families. There are many reasons for this. The purpose of this article is not to unpack a detailed history behind this cultural shaking but to name just one source of this great divide, Critical Race Theory (CRT). Minimally, CRT serves as a catalyst for this all-consuming fire of chaos and confusion, truly exasperating an already significant rift in our nation’s union. Also, I hope to scratch the surface of why pastors and leaders of the Church should be deeply troubled and consider engaging in the conversation surrounding CRT. As I consider this issue, in light of my call as a ‘little shepherd’ within Christ’s Church (and my own family), I am quite aware of what Jesus speaks to us in John 10:7-10, “Truly, truly, I say to you, I am the door of the sheep. All who came before me are thieves and robbers; but the sheep did not heed them. I am the door; if any one enters by me, he will be saved, and will go in and out and find pasture. The thief comes only to steal and kill and destroy; I came that they may have life, and have it abundantly.”

We must stand on the truth of what it means to be followers of Jesus Christ, the way of the Cross, and what that way conveys in terms of genuine and eternal Redemption and Transformation. This way of CRT (the Cross of Redemption and Transformation) is radically different in its eventual outcome from that of CRT (Critical Race Theory) which is rooted in a Marxist ideology and does not include (or allow) a Christ-like redemption or reconciliation but only unhealthy reparations in a spirit of revenge. It does not understand the Christ-like grace and healing experienced in authentic transformation but only that which ‘transforms’ through tearing down and building back something totally unfamiliar to orthodox Christians and traditional citizens of the United States of America.

In his excellent article, Critical Race Theory: What It Is and How to Fight It, Christopher Rufo explains why attempts to halt encroachment have not succeeded; one reason for this is that “ … Americans across the political spectrum have failed to separate the premise of critical race theory from its conclusion. Its premise — that American history includes slavery and other injustices, and that we should examine and learn from that history — is undeniable. But its revolutionary conclusion — that America was founded on and defined by racism and that our founding principles, our Constitution, and our way of life should be overthrown — does not rightly, much less necessarily, follow.” (March, 2021, Imprimis)

Who’s shepherding our children?

Our hearts should be broken and our spirits in tremendous upheaval because of what CRT represents and how it is establishing itself as a ‘door’ to the hearts and minds of our children and our children’s children. It becomes “a hireling and not a shepherd!” (John 10:12) CRT’s agenda  is to dismantle the ancient foundational markers and bring division not only to the family but the nation. Deuteronomy 4:9 reminds us, “Only take heed, and keep your soul diligently, lest you forget the things which your eyes have seen, and lest they depart from your heart all the days of your life; make them known to your children and your children’s children.” An administrator in the public school system recently said, “Like a cancerous tumor that has metastasized in the body, Critical Race Theory and its variants including social justice; Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion (DEI); anti-racism; cultural competency; and implicit bias have poisoned all aspects of public education and even some private schools. These hateful and racist philosophies have become entrenched in every level and aspect of American public education.” (April 2, 2021, American Thinker, “I Work in the Public School System-Critical Race Theory Is Everywhere”) This is only one of countless dozens who are on the frontlines of this intrusive assault upon their students (sheep) who are responding in a similar manner. While many are speaking out, it seems that the Church is relatively silent.

Admittedly, in the past I have not addressed this issue as I should. It would be so tempting and much easier to remain silent and not enter into ‘the arena’ of this particular public discourse. It is messy and may be costly! However, my gut is wrenching when I consider these words: “Whoever causes one of these little ones who believe in me to sin, it would be better for him if a great millstone were hung round his neck and he were thrown into the sea.” (Mark 9:42) Those who are most vulnerable and malleable — this present generation — are at risk! How can we haphazardly and quietly watch our children be told lies, shamed, and coerced into living a life contrary to the Gospel?

It’s all about the foundation

What has created this void of leadership, seemingly in all segments of our society, to allow such a corrupt and deceptive agenda to permeate the very core of our culture? How have our foundational underpinnings been compromised so terribly and brutalized so thoroughly to divide our nation so severely (cf. The 1619 Project, etc.)? “Every kingdom divided against itself is laid waste, and no city or house divided against itself will stand.” (Matthew 12:25)

It was just six months into the new millennium, on July 4th, 2000, that I wrote down these random thoughts, slightly modified for this writing: “It’s all about the foundation … As I watch my home being built, I’m mindful that in a few short weeks the insulation will be installed, the drywall stocked and put up, and the trim work finished, thus covering up much of what’s most important … the electric, plumbing, HVAC, the framing, and, of course, the foundation. The stuff we take for granted. For the most part we only see the externals. The glitz. The façade. In our society, much of what’s most important is ‘hidden’ from our sight to the point of obscurity or even forgotten. On this first Independence Day of the new millennium our nation’s economy is robust and prosperous. But something is not right. We are much ‘too comfortable’ as a people, which should create a great discomfort and uneasiness within our collective spirit, primarily because in the midst of all of our comfort, we are simultaneously witnessing our values, morals, foundational pieces (Declaration of Independence, Constitution, Bill of Rights, etc.) eroding away … With so much emphasis upon the externals, we are in danger of forgetting what lies at the very core … what is foundational for our country.”

More recently, nearly twenty-one years after completing the construction of our home, we are now engaged in significant remodeling and renovation on many fronts; and once again, ironically, I find myself in a metaphorical and fairly introspective mood, especially as it relates to building on a solid foundation. Whether new building or re-construction, it really is all about the foundation, knowing that the foundation is the basis for all enduring construction which must be deep, bed-rock solid, and level. Before any construction project begins, a transit level (or builder’s level) is set upon the proposed construction site. A transit level is an optical instrument, or a telescope, complete with a built-in spirit/bubble level that is mounted on a tripod, and used to establish a reference line. Once the transit is secured, all the subsequent construction of a building is necessarily impacted and the resulting foundation will be either solid or faulty.

A beginning definition

As noted previously in this article, I’m gravely concerned about CRT and what it represents. I believe that it’s a particularly treacherous ‘transit level’ that is being established across the landscape of this great country to supposedly create a new and more hopeful future; but, it must first utterly demolish and completely dismantle the old foundational moorings, beginning with our nation’s history and divide us as a people. One of Rev. Martin Luther King’s closest friends and advisers, Dr. Wyatt Tee Walker, clearly rejected CRT. One of the core principles of CRT begins with “blocs” (with each person assigned to an identity or economic bloc, as in Marxism). “Human-to-human interactions are replaced with bloc-to-bloc interactions. As Dr. Walker tried to make clear, thinking in terms of blocs of people, rather than of people as individuals, leads to a whole set of insidious results. How can two people bind together in friendship if they are members of power blocs that are presumed to be inherently opposed … How can we ever find peace among the races and religions if we won’t look to each other, person by person, based on actual facts and actual intentions?” (RealClear Politics, “The Civil Rights Legend Who Opposed Critical Race Theory”, Steve Klinsky, October 12, 2020)

In trying to remain objective in defining CRT, I’ve turned to a known and well-established source, the Editors of Encyclopaedia Britannica, June 16, 2021: Critical Race Theory (CRT), intellectual movement and loosely organized framework of legal analysis based on the premise that race is not a natural, biologically grounded feature of physically distinct subgroups of human beings but a socially constructed (culturally invented) category that is used to oppress and exploit people of colour. Critical race theorists hold that the law and legal institutions in the United States are inherently racist insofar as they function to create and maintain social, economic, and political inequalities between whites and nonwhites, especially African Americans.“

The proponents of CRT use a variety of euphemisms to attract potential followers; i.e., equity, social justice, diversity, culturally responsive teaching, white fragility, etc. For example, “ … critical race theorists realize that ‘neo-Marxism’ would be a hard sell. Equity, on the other hand, sounds non-threatening and is easily confused with the American principle of equality.” (March 2021, Imprimis, “Critical Race Theory: What It Is and How to Fight It”) CRT is being methodically and fiercely introduced and even inoculated into all segments of our culture, including government/military, mainstream media, public education, workplace, sports, religious institutions, etc.

We are presently witnessing the quick erosion — actually a deliberate eradication — of the foundational blocks of our country; except now, it’s right at our doorstep. Somehow, like a very plump and happy frog luxuriating in a very broad and shallow kettle full of plenteous water but totally oblivious to the reality that the kettle is sitting on a seductively warm fire — lulling the frog into a deep sleep and eventual death as the temperature of the water overcomes the frog — we, too, have become totally unaware of our immediate surroundings, either because we have taken so much for granted and the water is way too familiar or we have become distracted by the trivialities and choices of life or just plain fell into carelessness in our inability to assess the spirit of the age. (1 John 4:1-6)

In Part II, I will unpack further the distinctives between the philosophical ways and intent of Critical Race Theory and the theological-biblical ways and intent of the Cross of Redemption and Transformation.

K. Craig Moorman

Mission Developer/Pastor of River’s Edge Ministries/NALC-LCMC

Mt. Airy, Maryland