Our values are principles that we believe are essential to carrying out effective and God-honoring outreach. They aren't in any particular order of importance, and we do believe they all are critical. They are words to live by, concepts to be mindful of, attitudes to adopt while serving as a part of NativityMissions. Our values help guide us as we explore new possibilities and mobilize our church throughout the world; they set the tone and trajectory as we seek to influence our world for Christ.

God created us all equal, in his own image and likeness, and he created us for relationship. He thinks relationships are pretty important -- so important that he was willing to send his Son to be crucified on a cross so that we could be in relationship with him. Relationships are eternal. God wants to have a relationship with us and wants to use our relationships to change lives.

Nativity Missions is all about connecting people from our community with people outside of our community. In order to be an effective witness to your faith and provide real help and encouragement, relationships are essential. Movie recommendations and constructive criticism from a best friend mean a lot more than hearing those words from a stranger. Relationships lead the way to other blessings like encouragement, accountability, support and love. Our Missions work is focused on building relationships because it's what we're designed to do and it's one of the few things that's going to matter when we're six feet under.

Story is a big part of what we do at Nativity; stories of life-change are what we're after. Our organization is winning and God is winning when we witness people's lives change. Whether it's here in Timonium, in front of a computer watching LIVE, or on a mission trip in Africa, it's our job to create environments where God can change lives.

Stories fit in at a few different points. When we tell stories of life-change that we've experienced by God's power, it gives glory to God. That's what we're created to do, it's why we exist, to bring glory to God. Telling a story allows us to give testimony to God at work in our lives. Stories also help our church determine whether or not we're winning. Our balance sheet, attendance numbers, or program sign-ups don't tell the full story of our ministry, so by hearing stories of life-change we're able to know if our efforts are successful. And lastly, stories are hugely important at Nativity because stories have a unique way of communicating a message. People identify with and can relate to stories unlike statistics or facts. When we hear about someone's experience overcoming an obstacle or taking a step in faith it has the opportunity to encourage us, motivate us, and inspire us to take action as well. Paul tells us always be prepared to give our testimony -- if you hear stories of life-change or you experience God's power in your life, tell your story!

The Word of God has the power to change lives; it is living and active; it saves us, encourages us, teaches us, gives us life and much more. Nothing can replace studying scripture in the life of a disciple. God makes us promises in the Bible that give us an identity and hope, God gives us the law and commandments that give us direction and guidance. Through the scripture we learn who God is and what attributes he has, we read about Jesus, his saving work, and what he teaches us about the Father, and we see the working of the Holy Spirit and get to understand how she moves in our world. Reading, studying and memorizing scripture is an incomparable tool as we follow and strengthen our relationship with God.

This, perhaps, is a funny value for a church. It might seem to be pretty obvious... But we Catholics don't have a great history or reputation for reading and studying the Bible. We learned some stories as children but haven't, in many cases, been taught how to begin reading the Bible as adults. Nativity has some great resources (the weekend message, daily e-mails, the message guide) to help our community dive deeper into God's Word. Nativity Missions holds it as a value to place importance on scripture -- recognizing that it isn't necessarily a strength, we chose to make it a priority for our work.

Nativity Missions carries out all our Mission outreach and service through strategic partnerships locally, nationally and internationally. Partnership is a core value for missions because it allows for us to make a maximum and measurable impact. Church of the Nativity is a church; we're not a soup kitchen, a school, a homeless shelter, we're not experts at providing treatment for AIDS patients in Africa or equipping men and women to enter the workforce in Baltimore City. Our focus is to reach disconnected Catholics in Timonium by creating irresistible weekend environments. But, as a church, we are called to be relevant in our community, we're called to serve others, and we're called to spread the Gospel outside of our community. Partnership makes that possible.

By partnering with other organizations and churches that do understand the assets and needs in their own local communities, we can build relationships with partners that bring about lasting change. We can be a blessing to other organizations, offering resources to further the already amazing work they are doing, while still remaining focused on our vision and mission. Partnerships also give us the ability to measure our impact. By sustaining long term partnerships, we can see how God is using our relationships to bring about change in those partner communities, rather than spreading our efforts across a variety of initiatives and not making a significant impact.

No fruit can be borne apart from the vine. God wants us to rely on him, depend on him, lean on him. Our Mission work, if it can be accomplished by our own power, would be worth nothing. We set our goals high so that when they're accomplished, God can take all the credit. When we depend on God, he gives us the grace to bear fruit, and by that our Father is glorified. Check out John 15 for a picture of what it's like to abide in God in your life.

Nativity Missions has been a part of accomplishing some pretty awesome things, we're involved in some fairly risky things, and we'll continue to set our sights on even more amazing things in the future. God is a god who loves to provide for us, he loves to show up for us when we put our faith in him. One of the ways we remain mindful of our dependence on God is through prayer, accepting that he can do immeasurably more than all we ask of imagine. We believe wholeheartedly that God is good and that he is great -- that God's promises are true and that he has the power to carry them out in our lives. Nativity Missions values dependence on God; when we depend on his provision he honors our faith and blesses us with what we need.  

A few days ago I wrote about our value of story. That post talked about the value of telling stories of life-change, but maybe I should have posted about life-change first... In church world, the numbers don't tell the whole story. Numbers matter, they represent lives, but attendance, giving, program sign-ups, etc. don't give us the full picture. Changed lives is the win for Nativity. The Gospel message isn't meant to just influence, inspire, or educate people, it is meant to completely change lives from the inside out. Life-change is the win, but it has a twist...

We don't have the power to change lives. (If you do, please leave a comment or e-mail me!) But God does. He wants to change us, to make us completely whole and perfect in him. The part we play is in preparing the atmosphere, creating the environment in which God can move and work. We prepare our own hearts to be used by God and we prepare experiences (like short-term mission trips and small group discussions) where God can show up. He said he would give us the holy Spirit and power to be witnesses locally, nationally and internationally. We're after life-change, only God can do it, so we do our part to set the stage and expect him to show up in big ways. 

Giving sacrificially, being good stewards, bringing the whole tithe to the storehouse is a huge part of being a disciple of Christ. Jesus talked a lot about money because he thought it was important, so we take him at his word and believe that our obedience in this area of our lives, our finances, is key -- after all, where our heart is, there will our treasure be. Generosity is not just a value for our missionaries and our leaders but also for our church.

As a priority, Nativity is committed to giving away a percentage of our income to support the work of our strategic partners, and we're committed to growing that percentage over time. (Over the past few years we've raised money through direct gifts and our Advent Conspiracy campaigns. Moving forward, tithing our income to Missions creates a sustainable system for funding projects, it models stewardship for our congregation, and allows us to commit ourselves to long-term projects.) We also believe that it's of great value for our team members and missionaries to be giving sacrificially to support the work of the local church. Generosity sets the tone for our Missions efforts. We're able to love because Christ first loved us. We joyfully and generously give to God what is rightly his, knowing that he's doing a great work in our hearts while using our resources to do a great work in the world.  

When we say growth, we mean spiritual growth or discipleship, growing specifically in the area of our relationships with Jesus, our individual walks of faith with Christ. When asked what it is to do the work of God, Jesus responded "This is the work of God: to believe in the son whom he sent" (John 6:29). Our movement begins with our own discipleship. And our influence is limited by the extent to which we're willing to surrender. As Christians, seeking God's face and his will for our lives is first and foremost. If we gain the world but lose Christ, all is lost.

Growth happens in different ways in all sorts of different areas of our lives. The environments that Nativity promotes for growth are Ministry and Small Groups, and as missionaries we believe that these environments are essential to a growing relationship with Jesus. Ministry at the local church that reaches out to those seeking God, and fellowship with other believers in a safe, challenging, Christ-centered group give us tools for growth that we cannot find elsewhere. NativityMissions values growth, and these environments promote, encourage, and facilitate growth. Discipleship is fundamentally about surrender, giving up more and more of ourselves to God to be used by him. We cannot be used by God to influence the world unless we're seeking him and growing in relationship with him. 

We've been commissioned to go, literally, to the ends of the earth with the Gospel message. That gives us a world of possibilities for our work (pun intended). Nativity's strategy of partnership means that we're embracing our limitations, it gives us a system to practice the value of focus. We could do a hundred things, maybe even a thousand things in an effort to serve others locally, nationally, and internationally. We could spread out our resources across initiatives like food drives, clothing drives, and diaper drives, dresses for Haiti and pennies for the poor, serving homeless men and single moms and children and the elderly, and on and on. These things are great, but it's not the best way for our community to engage. Nativity chooses to focus our efforts, to do a few things and to do them really, really well.

Valuing focus gives us direction for our partnerships and it informs the way we operate internally as well. Missions is one of many great environments for growth at Nativity, so we have a focused approach to promotion giving equal footing to each opportunity. Focus also gives us the ability to measure our results. Perhaps you've had experiences like me where you have volunteered to serve a meal at a local soup kitchen, an experience that is almost exactly the same each time you serve, week after week, maybe year after year. We want our partner communities to change as a result of our involvement. Focusing our efforts helps us make the maximum impact, measuring our efforts, being wise stewards of our resources. 

it's not about you
"It's not about you." is the first line of Rick Warren's The Purpose Driven Life. And it's true.

"It's not about you." is the introduction to a book all about living out the calling that God has placed on your life. Living out God's purposes is the only real way to experience true and lasting joy and fulfillment, and it begins by realizing that we're not the center of the universe. God is, God was, and God will always be. God is the main character in the story of your life and of life itself. He's the unbegotten begetter. He's upholding and sustaining creation right now. And he's the only one in control of bringing the world to an end.

Nativity Missions begins with realizing it's not about you. It's a little backwards that this is the last value, because it's foundational not just to Missions work but to Christian life. We are participants in God's story -- granted, we're chosen, adopted, and appointed to do God's work, but it all comes from him and ultimately it's all about him. At Nativity, we care more about seeking and living out God's purposes for our church than we do about personalities, opinions, and ideas that come from men.

"But Peter and the apostles said in reply, 'We must obey God rather than men.'" Acts 5:29

All these values are our attempt to stay obedient to the vision God has called us to pursue:  making Church matter by influencing the world for Christ. I do pray that these values will be absorbed into the culture of your teams and visible by the way you interact with one another. 

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