Archive for the ‘mission’ Category

mission in a world God is restoring

I really like this short speech.  I think it’s where Chrissy and I are “at” right now when it comes to mission, evangelism, gospel, etc.  It’s what we believe we were put in our neighborhood to be and do.  Give it a listen if you have a few minutes.

N.T. Wright at Lambeth: A Biblical Hope for Mission

I just listened to it twice.  It’s not long, and it’s powerful.

Great quote:

We have an opportunity in our day to get past that sterile antithesis of either saving souls for a timeless eternity or trying to improve God’s world if we really believe, when we pray the Lord’s Prayer, that “thy Kingdom come, thy will be done, on Earth as it is in Heaven.” … If we really mean that, then we must be doing things that are signs of hope.

The church is called to be the people who give the answer to the question, “What would it look like if God was running the show?”  We live between the achievement of Jesus and that final achievement of Heaven and Earth coming together … We have to implement the first and therefore anticipate the second.

What does that mean? If a doctor — if somebody in the university — discovers a wonderful new medication, the doctor has to implement that discovery by making that medication available to the people who need it.  But we believe that one day, there will be a time when God will wipe away all tears from all eyes.  So it isn’t just that we are implementing something that’s been done already; we are anticipating that day — signs of hope, little bits of hope, coming to us from God’s future.

Advertisements

intimacy

Our great friend and mentor Kent Smith stayed with us for the last few days. I had the privilege of studying under Kent for two years during graduate school as part of the inaugural class of the Missionary Residency for North America (MRNA). Kent has preached, planted churches, taught, and now dedicates his life to the raising up of missional leaders to spread out over the continent and join God in his work in simple, reproducible ways.

On Saturday evening, Kent shared some reflections with a group that included the two of us and a church planting team working in Quincy (south of Boston). His words were both simple and disturbingly profound. Inspiring and convicting. Encouraging and piercing. They spoke (and speak) to a few of the great shortcomings of those who claim to be working for and with God, and they cut many of us to the core of our being.

Kent started by surmising how our efforts (in ministry, in particular) would be different if we were to take seriously — dead seriously — the words of Jesus on two different occasions:

“…I will build my church.” (Matthew 16:18)

“…apart from me you can do nothing.” (John 15:5)

These are profound statements, to say the least. Tucked into stories or passages that are remembered for other verses, these passages reveal truths about Jesus and His vision for His followers that are not often talked about. Jesus said that HE will build his church. Not us. In fact, we really don’t have a clue how to build Jesus’ church, and Jesus is not interested in sharing that responsibility with anyone. How often do we in “ministry” attempt to build Jesus’ church for Him? Scary.

“Apart from me you can do nothing.” Wow. It didn’t say “…you can do very little,” or “…not as much,” but nothing. The John 15 verse really explains the Matthew 16 verse, doesn’t it? Jesus is the one building his church, so if we want to be a part of that project, we’d best remain “in Him.” Intimately “in Him.”

Back to these verse in a few.

Kent continued by saying that in his 30+ years of training, coaching, teaching, and observing ministers in a variety of contexts, he’s noticed two primary motivators for entering the kind of simple, incarnational work to which many of us have committed. The first is ministry, or the desire to do something great for God. We want to make an impact, see lives changed, see churches planted, see communities develop, see the Kingdom break in. These are all great things, but Kent suggests that oftentimes, the propensity for ministry is born out of an internal desire in our own lives to matter. We are often seeking to fill a hole in our lives that will give us some sort of meaning or significance. Ministry — or the propensity to “do great things for God” — is not sufficient, all by itself.

The other motivator Kent has observed is the desire for community. This, too, comes from mixed intentions, he suggests. A deficit of community in church experiences in our past, or even an internal emptiness and loneliness, might lead some to pursue a life of ministry. Moreover, many people carry into ministry settings a specific vision of the “perfect community,” for which they will squash any and everyone in their path to realize it. In this case, the desire for community — and specifically, a certain type of community — outweighs all other motivators. He reminded us of what Dietrich Bonhoeffer wrote in Life Together: “Love community, and you will kill it. Love your brother, and you will build it.” Community alone, Kent suggests, is not enough.

In fact, Kent suggested that ministry and community often become idols.

If ministry and community are two corners of a triangle, he suggested the need for a third corner, the base angle: intimacy. Going back to the words of Jesus, we must remain in Christ. This is an active process, not one that occurs once and is over. If we believe that Jesus is still building his church, and that he still speaks to his people, we must — we must — seek intimacy with Him. Every day. Ministry will fall apart and lives will be crushed in the process if we are not seeking intimacy with Christ. Community will self-destruct and lives will be crushed in the process if we are not seeking intimacy with Christ. So simple, and yet so disturbingly profound.

I confess that I have often been driven by one or both of the false idols of ministry and community. I have strived to do great things for God, but so often this drive comes from feelings of inadequacies in my own heart. I have desired to see “authentic community” built up, but so often this is derived from a lack of community in my own life and a selfish idea of what “perfect community” looks like. When it comes down to it, I confess that I have acted in a way that suggests I can build Jesus’ church better than he can. And looking back, the times in which that sin was so apparent, things have failed, fallen apart. Those times when I have been desperate for Christ and sought intimacy with Him first and foremost (for the reward of Christ himself), He has worked through me to build his church and reveal his kingdom.

I don’t want to go another day in which I am not desperate for Jesus. When I — when we — become desperate for Christ and seek after him daily and relentlessly (paying close attention to what He is saying to us, and obeying those words), the ministry and community will fall into place. We were put on this earth not to do great things for God or form community, but to draw close to our Creator.

All too often, I miss this. Thanks, Kent, for allowing yourself to be God’s mouthpiece to a living room-full of young people who really, really needed to hear these words. Your plea for us to capture and live into the need for intimacy now — in our 20s — as opposed to 10, 15, 30 years down the road did not fall on deaf ears.

Father, make me desperate for you. I confess that my ways are not your ways, and I want to dial into your life, and thus your ways. May Christ be my one and only true Desire.

Rule of St. Fiacre

I haven’t been much into blogs, books, or conversations about missions lately, but this blog post I could almost endorse. It’s a proposed rule for a proposed missional order — proposed by David Fitch as a response to the number of faith communities that have folded because of burnout and internal character weaknesses. I really, really like where Fitch is coming from with most of these proposals, and we’ve been attempting to live out many of them already. From looking at the list in its entirety, however, I feel we could do better. In fact, I believe the absence of a few crucial ones of these might just be why we currently feel a little off in our mission. Anyway, here’s Fitch’s list and the link to the original blog post. I’d love to hear your thoughts, including omissions and/or additions.

The Rule of St Fiacre Missional Order of Pastor-Servants: Sent Out to Cultivate Christian Communities as Gardens Midst the Cities, Neighborhoods, Towns and Villages of N. America

Committed to Plant Christian Communities as Gardens, not Grocery Stores, committing to long periods (at least 5 years) of habitation, gestation in and among a chosen neighborhood, geographical place of living.

Committed to a lifestyle of simplicity, frugality and bi-ministerial/bi-vocationalism to survive financially for the long term, yet be wise and prudent so as not to find oneself in hock or otherwise financially enslaved later on in life.

Committed to put down roots, take up jobs, and live in this neighborhood, to love, live and walk with lost people in the rhythms of everyday life, to cultivate relationships and a way of life that displays a witness to Christ, that incarnates His presence as a Body in and among this neighborhood of people. To be bearers of the gospel of salvation in Word and deed, never with coercion, only as invitation into the life of God thru Christ our Lord.

Committed to ministering the gospel to those in pain, in desperation, depression, darkness and poverty. This can take shape in numerous simple ways.

Committed to foster resistance to a.) consumerist structures which exploit the oppressed, promote unhealthy eating and living, b.) materialist behavior that promotes owning things over relationship, security over generosity and c.,) secular practices which subordinate and/or decenter God in Christ to another self help transaction, another thing we do in an overall consumerist materialist lifestyle, and d.) all other practices which distance ourselves from the relationships with neighbors, the poor, and those whose labor we benefit from everyday.

Committed to, whether commissioned as ordained pastor or minister, take up life together and ministry as an everyday vocation as part of everyday life.

Committed to get to know the community contextually, to know its needs, to minister to its hurts, to fight/resist its social sins, to incarnate Christ amidst the everyday rhythms and life of your community.

Committed to seeing secular vocation, the making a living, the amount of money one makes, and career as secondary to call of God on your life for His Mission.

Committed to regular practices of spiritual formation that center one’s life in Christ and in His Mission. This includes a proposed Rule of St Fiacre, a regular time of meeting in triads (groups of three) for Scripture reading, prayer, corporate silence, mutual submission of one’s emotions to God, mutual confession of sin, repentance and reconciliation, working out one’s struggles, pains and joys as part of God’s work in you for His Mission and finally a mutual benediction being sent into the Mission. And likewise this includes being committed to a regular time of communal worship of God that includes silence, confession, submission to Christ’s Mission, affirmation of Our Story, the reading and hearing of the Word, the Lord’s Table, corporate prayer, thanksgiving and prayer, the benedictory blessing and sending forth into Mission.

Committed to banding together with no less than 8 other St Fiacre Ministers to go where God calls to inhabit space for the presence of Christ in Mission.

Committed to a living a life of hospitality, opening up our homes and lives for those who are hurting, alone, depressed, and without the gospel.

Committed to meeting together once a year every summer at designated place to foster encouragement, mutual support, and prayer. Committed to having a regular practice of connection via the telephone whereby we stay connected to two other St Fiacre members once a week for an hour, whereby we read the Scripture, share stories, encourage and pray together.

ht

missional

I’ve blogged about “missional” before (here, here, and here, for instance) on this blog, and in the last few years or so the word “missional” is everywhere in church conversations. Frankly, I’m a tad sick of it, to be honest. What church would ever admit “not being missional” anyway?

Well, I like lists, and blogger Adam has given us a list of some possible characteristics of “missional.” I like lists because you can easily add and subtract bullets from them. But no subtracting here … I like all of Adams points:

He says being “missional” includes:

  • no longer seeing the things I do as either spiritual or physical. We don’t live in two realms. Christ is King over everything and every aspect of our lives!
  • being intentional about finding and developing relationship with “not yet Christians.”
  • inviting people to partake in a kingdom life – and not the “life of the church.”
  • removing any and all obstacles that would impede someone from hearing the clear message of “the kingdom is at hand.”
  • preaching Christ only – the resurrected Lord.
  • beginning to understand that all followers of Jesus have in effect “entered the ministry.” We are all full time disciples of Jesus – yes, even if you didn’t go to seminary, and aren’t a paid minister. We are all missionaries.
  • inviting your neighbors over for dinner or play – spending time with them.
  • being friends with non-Christians – even knowing that they may never come to faith in Jesus.
  • seeing Christ as the perfect example of what it means to live in our world, and defining your life by this fact.
  • finding yourself increasingly uncomfortable with the “status quo” of religion.
  • “seeking first his kingdom and his righteousness” and acknowledging and participating when you see that kingdom breaking into the world.
  • understanding that mission isn’t a program, but God allowing us to join him on HIS MISSION!

coverings and church perception

Keith Giles has some helpful things to say about “spiritual covering” in today’s Subversive Underground Newsletter. He contrasts authentic biblical accountability in ministry and missions with what some churches call “spiritual covering,” which he asserts is often used as a way to control the activity of their members. He concludes with this powerful statement:

The Holy Spirit promised (and I really do believe Him) to lead us into all Truth. We do not need an expert or a professional to tell us we are “safe” or “official”.

Personally, I think he’s right.

———————–

I just saw the following list over at Abductive Columns. According to Dan Kimball, these are the six most common perceptions of the Church among post-Christian 20s and 30-somethings:

  1. The Church is an organized religion with a political agenda
  2. The Church is judgmental and negative
  3. The Church is dominated by males and oppresses females
  4. The Church is homophobic
  5. The Church arrogantly claims all other religions are wrong
  6. The Church is full of fundamentalists who take the whole Bible literally

kingdom

From time to time I get an update from a new ministry or church plant in Boston or elsewhere, and inevitably the update includes the line, “God continues to bless our work/efforts/plans.” Though I readily acknowledge that God’s promises are true — he blesses those who put their trust in Him &emdash; I’ve always been a little bit uncomfortable with the kind of language that makes humans the primary actors and God’s primary role the blesser of our actions.

In my experience, church planters and missionaries have often fallen into this trap. We rarely enter into a mission field searching for “God at work,” but instead carry the assumption that “God will be at work in this context through a church that looks like _______.” Furthermore, we carry into the mission field a preconception of what a church will look like in that context, and it quickly becomes our main objective to achieve that. It doesn’t matter if we’re looking to see people gather in buildings, houses, parks, under overpasses, or in coffee shops … we are susceptible to making mission about our work instead of God’s. (interesting … my assumption with that last sentence is that our primary intention should be to “gather” people together. not necessarily wrong to do, but could there be other pathways?)

I think the solution to falling into the “our work” trap is always elevating the Kingdom of God. The reign of God. God’s work in the world, wherever that might be. Could God show up in the midst of a rag-tag bunch of teenagers organizing an environmental festival? You bet. He did. Could God be present on a grocery shopping trip with a single mom and her two young kids? Yup. He did. Could God show up in the midst of believers gathering to exalt Him and fellowship together on a Sunday morning or Tuesday night or Friday lunch? Sure can, and again, He does all the time.

God’s work in this world never ends. It’s not like the question about the tree falling in the forest when no one’s around. God’s reign continues to break in around this world — in the most unlikely places and through the most unlikely people — whether or not we recognize or join it.

But it is our joy to join the work of our Creator as he continues to unveil his masterpiece. And it is God’s delight to watch his kingdom break in among His people, people who have put their complete trust in Him.

Here’s the funny thing: we’re learning more about this concept from single moms and rag-tag teenagers than we ever did from books or theology classes or sermons.

church reform

“If Christianity is to become aware of what it is, we must abandon the pastoral church which takes care of people, which is the usual form of the Western church. Instead, we have to call to life a Christian community church. Either we set about this church reform by ourselves, or it will be forced on us by the loss of church members.”

Jurgen Moltmann, The Source of Life (p. 96)

HT

———-

Had to share this meal story from Sunday night:

We joined a household of Christians for dinner and fellowship on Sunday. This household of young women have a specific calling to reach Muslims in Greater Boston (I hope to blog about them at length in the future), and they host a meal at their home EVERY NIGHT and invite people they meet during the day, specifically for the purpose of incarnating Jesus through hospitality. (two are students at the local community college, and the other is studying massage therapy)

Sunday, one of the girls went to a local Middle Eastern deli to pick up a few things from dinner, and she was asked by the Muslim manager (named Muhammed) about the event for which she was preparing.  She said, “We’re having a huge dinner at our house … wanna come?”  She gave him a number where he could call if he wanted to come. As we were finishing up the prayer before the meal, one of the girls got a call from Muhammed, saying he was on his way over with “some meat” and bread. He said he’d be over in 10 minutes, which in African time meant an hour later. When Muhammed — who hails from Algeria — finally got there, he had a pan full of lamb and several loaves of bread. We had already eaten, but we did what you do when a Muslim offers you food: you eat again.

Dessert (besides the incredibly delicious Bosnian bread and fruit we enjoyed) was a wonderful conversation about Muhammed’s Muslim faith, not an uncommon chat to have with most Muslims. In fact, I’m told that most Muslims expect religious conversations to occur, unlike many Westerners, who get all bent out of shape.  He enthusiastically told us about how many similarities exist between Islam and Christianity, and many of the Christians present were able to tack on a few of the notable differences (mainly, that Jesus is God, not just a prophet). It was cordial all around, and yet another example of how food can truly be a catalyst for kingdom activity.