In the past I had published my Missional Matters blog in two sites - here and on my web site - www.imissional.org - due to some errors in posting. However, since these postings are redundant and my web site no longer has posting errors, I refer you to my web site at www.imissional.org to follow my weekly postings. Thanks for reading and commenting.
Tuesday, November 27, 2012
Tuesday, November 20, 2012
A few weeks ago I found myself in a consultation with a number of pastors listening to and giving guidance to a pastoral team who were struggling. In the course of the conversation one of the consulting pastors stressed that what was needed was for this pastoral team to display strong leadership. By this was meant casting vision, shaping ministry, taking charge, make things happens – lead!
As I was listening, I realized that this was a very different sense of power than I would support as a Mennonite pastor. One of the pastor’s commented after I made a comment that this is what happens when you invite a Mennonite to be part of the group – they have a very different perspective on power.
My comment about “strong leadership” was different from what had been expressed. I stated that coming from an Anabaptist perspective that I have a very different understanding of what constitutes strong leadership. For me a strong leader is one who is able to come alongside his or her community and help them discern God’s leading in their midst, to see where God is active in their lives and in their communities, to have ears to hear what God is saying, to have eyes to see what God is doing, to encourage the congregation to participate with God in God’s mission. To be strong is not to be above the community, but to walk alongside the community, to be with the community, to be among the community leading them to give attention to God through prayer, engaging Scripture and participating in spiritual conversation. In fact, the strongest leaders in a real sense become invisible in the community because the members of the community are giving their attention to God. A pastor has exercised strength of leading when the pastor is no longer noticed, but God in Christ becomes the primary focus, when the community has the courage to participate with God in God’s redemptive mission in the world. In fact, strong leadership would confess with John the Baptist regarding Jesus: “He must become greater, I must become less” (John 3:30).
A few weeks later I was leading a didactic session for a group of CPE chaplains at a local hospital sharing on the ministry of paraclesis (ministry of walking alongside and with those we are called to serve) and a student mentioned that there is such a strength in this that brings the presence of God into a hospital room while lessening the presence of the chaplain.
I think we need to reframe what we understand by “strong leadership.” God says to Joshua to be “strong and courageous” in the context of being careful to obey and meditate upon the law of God Paul reflects saying, “I will boast all the more gladly about my weaknesses, so that Christ’s power may rest on me. That is why for Christ’s sake, I delight in weaknesses, in insults, in hardships, in persecutions, in difficulties. For when I am weak, then I am strong” (2 Cor. 12:9-10).
When we come across the term “strong” or “strength” we often fill it with what we understand by these terms and engage in exerting the strength of our own character. Too much of leadership has done this and we still are not fully aware of what harm we have caused in the church by leading in this way – we have done violence to those whom God has called us to serve.
Being strong has little to do with our strength and everything to do with the presence and power of God being manifested through us. It is not about us, even as leaders, it is always about what God is doing in our midst, within the community, within God’s people to advance God’s purposes so that in participating with God in God’s mission, we participate in demonstrating the presence of God’s reign in the world.
Therefore, the strongest leaders are not ones who are visible to the community, but those who become invisible as the community becomes more aware of God’s presence with them – where Christ Jesus and his mission become greater, and we become less. When it becomes about us or our strength of character, it has less to do with exalting Jesus Christ and less to do with discerning and participating in God’s mission with God.
So, I encourage us to rethink what strong leadership entails – may we lead in ways which make us invisible and makes God more visible.
Tuesday, October 16, 2012
I have discovered that a number of people have a difficult time with the concept of salvation, especially if it is to be understood as Jesus dying on the cross for our sins in order to satisfy God’s wrath against sin (someone’s got to pay for the penalty of sin?) or paying a ransom for humanity being “kidnapped” by the power of sin and death. The problem with these understandings, it seems, is that if God requires the death of his Son to bring about humanity’s salvation, then God is violent and abusive God guilty of divine child abuse.
The reason I am focusing upon the relationship between salvation and missional is that the community, in which I serve, is exploring the idea of salvation in the letter to the Hebrews. How do we understand the concepts of save and salvation, not as a “four-letter word,” but as life-giving and integrated with God’s missional purpose of making all things new? How do we not read into the text but allow the text to speak to us? In doing so, we are able to hear the story of salvation in a different way.
One of our conversation partners in this exploration is J. Denny Weaver’s work, The Nonviolent Atonement, in which he portrays God as not being violent, nor requiring the death of his Son for either satisfying God’s wrath, or as a ransom payment. Weaver expresses a view of the atonement which he names narrative Christus Victor. Narrative Christus Victor embraces not just the act of the cross in salvation, but embraces the whole of Jesus’ life, ministry, death, and resurrection in coming to an understanding of Jesus as the atonement – i.e., in Jesus we are restored to relationship with God because Jesus came to bring life; Jesus did not come to die. (It is worth reading his book to get the whole extent of Weaver’s compelling argument).
The missional ramifications of salvation are important. If God is about making all things new, how are we as humans being transformed in order to participate in the fullness of God’s reign – how are we established as a new humanity, a new community in which we live being sign, foretaste, and instrument of God’s present and coming reign?
Salvation, it seems to me has more to do with transformation than it has to do with whether there is a need to pay for the penalty of sin. This paying the penalty for sin was more Anselm’s idea in the 11th century, than it is a biblical one. What Scripture tells us is that while we were enemies of God, opposed to God, not aligned with God nor God’s purposes giving allegiance to the non-reign of God, “Christ died for us” (Romans 5:8).
The text in Romans expresses, “while were still sinners, Christ died for us;” it does not say that “because we were sinners, Christ died to pay the penalty for sin” – there is more to salvation than paying a “fine.” Paul in Romans describes that God’s love for us involved Jesus confronting the principalities and powers that enslaved humanity (cf. Romans 6 for a fuller explanation of this) and Jesus did this with all of his life, through his whole life and ministry. Jesus’ ministry was explicitly one of bringing life, of re-creating life in the hearts of humanity and within the structures of human relationships. In John’s Gospel Jesus declares that he has come to bring life and life abundantly, whereas the thief comes to steal, kill and destroy (cf. John 10:10). Salvation, then, has more to do with revealing and bringing the life, peace – the shalom – of God so that humanity might be restored to relationship with God.
So, how does death enter the picture? Jesus in confronting the powers, rather than using coercive or violent force to overcome the powers, takes the violence meted out by the powers upon himself for the sake of humanity. And Jesus did this while we were still complicit with the powers, giving our allegiance to the powers, being enemies of God, not giving allegiance to God (which is a great definition of sin) – Christ suffered the death and violence of the powers because of his love for us – “for us.” Not only did his death on the cross reveal the insidiousness of the powers and disarm the power of the powers by making a spectacle of them, and so triumphing over them (cf. Colossians 2:15), but especially through his resurrection it is revealed that death no longer, will never, have power over life ever again. In Jesus we are set free. In identifying with Jesus we are set free from the power of sin, the power of death. In Jesus, we are made new, we are a new creation. In radically connecting to Jesus, by believing Jesus, Jesus’ allegiance to God and God’s reign becomes our allegiance. In Jesus, our allegiance is no longer to the non-reign of God, but now we are set free and enabled to give allegiance to God and God’s reign by the power of Jesus’ Spirit.
Jesus’ life and ministry, brings about salvation because it disarms the principalities and powers which hold humanity captive. In Jesus, we are set free to embrace life and be embraced by life, rather than death having any kind of lasting hold on us. Salvation through Jesus is all about restoring us to the shalom of God – being in right relationship with God, with others, and with ourselves. Indeed salvation is at the core of God’s mission in making all things new because Jesus is at the core of our becoming new, creation becoming new, all things becoming new.
Tuesday, October 2, 2012
In asking this question, this is not so much a question about whether God acts missionally – Scripture is pretty clear that God acts in such a way as to bring about God’s redemptive purposes of making all things new – rather, this question is asking: in what way or how does God act when God acts missionally? How does God relate to us? As an aloof deity or as One who is engaged with us? And in being engaged with us, is God stoic with “stiff upper lip” or is God capable of expressing emotion? And if God is capable of expressing emotion, does God express emotion? And if God is emotional, how does that shape our understanding of God in relationship with us and we being in relationship with God?
These questions are on my mind this week for two reasons. One I was asked if I was available to lead a lecture I have developed on the nature of the missional God this weekend in which I talk about how God’s missional nature is all about the living God engaging us relationally, personally, and second, reading a recent article in which theologian Kevin Vanhoozer asks “does God’s love entail emotional change (for example, suffering?)” (Vanhoozer, “Does a Red-Faced God Sing the Blues?” Trinity Magazine, Fall 2012, p. 19).
Though I have more questions than answers, here are some of my questions and thoughts.
In any relationship to be real and for there to be growth in relationships people need to engage each other openly, revealing and sharing themselves. As we talk about being in relationship with God and God relating to us, it seems that it not only involves our opening ourselves to God, but God revealing and being open and transparent with us – for we can only know God as God reveals himself to us.
In the past, theology has sought to describe God in non-anthropomorphic terms – i.e., God does not have human traits – form or emotions, yet, Scripture often gives expression to God’s hand or arm being powerful enough to save, etc. – Scripture seems more comfortable with describing God in humanly understood ways. In describing ourselves as human beings made in God’s image, I wonder to what extent our beingness and our emotions are indeed not only a mark of our humanity, but indeed an aspect of our being created in God’s image? What in God has led us to be creatures who have emotion and act emotionally? I do not believe it is only a result of our rebellion – we were created to be emotional beings by a God who is aware of his own emotions. Emotion, as Vanhoozer describes, is a cognitive state, a state of awareness (cf. Vanhoozer, p. 21). Emotion, then, is not only a vital part of our being open and transparent with one another as we seek to develop our relationship with one another, it is also an attribute or characteristic of God being the Living God.
So, if growing in relationship with one another involves submitting ourselves to one another – as we are called to do in Ephesians 5: 21, then in what way does God in being in relationship with us submit to us in being in relationship with us as God’s people, as disciples of Jesus? For any relationship to be a relationship a mutual submission needs to take place.
For me, recognizing that God walks with us, that God engages us, that God indeed has emotion does not diminish the holiness nor the magnificence of God for me, rather it leads me to even deeper worship because I begin to see God as One who takes the risk of being emotional, the risk of being real, in order to be in a real relationship with me. I think this is what is unique about God known as Yahweh which sets God apart from all other depictions or manifestations of God.
Also, if Jesus is the exact representation of God, how is Jesus in his humanity also an expression of the “humanity of God?”
I realize my thoughts here are merely crude theological expressions of God as an emotional being. But perhaps we struggle with the idea of God being emotional because when we are emotional we seem to be out of control of our own actions or responses – and so we think that God loses “control” when God responds and acts emotionally.
But what if it is not about “control” but about being responsive? What if God’s emotions are not unbridled, “out of control” passions, but expressions of God’s love and concern in relationship creating ways? Taking control seems to be more of an aspect of our rebellion against God, our wanting not to be in relationship with God – wanting to be in charge of our destinies. But I believe God never intends to “control” us – God is continually described in Scripture as one who is with us, walks with us, comes alongside of us, converses with us – God speaks to us, God initiates with us, and God responds to us. Being in relationship is not about control, it is about responding. It is our desire to be in control that we harm not only our relationship with God but with one another as well.
I remember when my daughter was going through some troubling times she was wondering why I was not getting angry with her. I remember my response to her: “Would that help? I express frustration, anger over stupid stuff, like forgetting to take care of something, or leaving the car lights on, or you doing some bonehead kind of thing in which you were not thinking – but what you are going through now requires us to walk together over the long haul.” My response to her was deeply emotional, though not an irrational outburst. Often times when we read about God’s emotion I wonder if we interject our own irrationality upon God, rather than seeing God expressing emotion, concern, love, care – as the waiting Father did patiently waiting for the prodigal son’s return (cf. Luke 15:11-32), we think that all emotion has to do with not being in control of our feelings. My being emotional in this way with my daughter healed and strengthened our relationship.
This lack of control of our feelings, I believe, has more to do with our thinking that being rationalistic is the best way to comport ourselves in situations – but that is to deny an essential aspect of who we are, of who we are as ones created in God’s image. What if we respond to one another and to God, with our whole beings – our minds, our hearts, our souls, and our bodies – rationally, emotionally, spiritually, and physically? Likewise, I believe God leads us and responds to us with God’s whole Being – rationally, emotionally, spiritually, and even physically (incarnationally in Jesus Christ).
Tuesday, September 25, 2012
Being missional is more than doing something different. Sometimes I just don’t feel like doing another missional thing.
Being missional ought to affect not only how we go about engaging in ministry, engaging in participating with God in God’s bringing about shalom, but also how we are with God with whom we participate in making all things new. Too often, however, I have discovered that we have traded a frenetic pace in doing ministry in non-missional ways to doing missional things in a similar frenetic pace. Is that being missional?
Missional is an attitude before it is an action.
Sometimes, we do become weary in doing good – no matter how much Paul encourages not to lose heart (cf. Galatians 6:9). A colleague of mine at a pastor’s gathering in response to the question of “what good thing is going on in your church?” responded with “Nothing much good is going on.” Sometimes we find ourselves in the desert, like Moses, with the people of God griping for 40 years – it is hard at times to see and to express something that is “good.”
It is in the midst of such times that we need to step back from all the doing of missional to rediscover what it is to be missional. Missional is more than a set of agenda that we bring to our frenetic engagement of ministry – I don’t think I have ever read in the Gospels Jesus expressing, “so much to do and so little time” running around like the White Rabbit in Alice in Wonderland. Rather, there was a certain non-anxiousness about Jesus’ manner of ministry, his manner of engaging, his manner of embodying the reign of God, in his being missional.
His doing of missional was the fruitful action of his being missional.
I am observing among a number of my colleagues who are challenging the North American church to embrace being missional, that their pace of life and ministry has not changed much from the days when they strived to be the right kind of leader in leading their church to grow. The focus may have changed, their strategy may have changed, but they are still getting tired and discouraged as ever.
When I find myself living in these “old tapes” of ministry, I am reminded that being missional is a journey, a process that requires ongoing repentance, ongoing metanoia – because we quickly fall into the mindset that it is up to us to bring about the changes, the transformations that we espouse that we believe God is doing in the world. We forget, in such times, that God calls us to walk with him. We are not called to walk ahead of God. It is only when we walk with God that we can listen and be open to the Spirit’s engagement of us – open to receive refreshment and renewing of our lives. And rather than these times being far and few between – coming in the nick of time before burnout takes hold of us – these times are to be the regular rhythm of our lives.
Because if they are not the regular rhythms of our lives – we will be about our missions, rather than God’s mission in the world. We may do what looks like mission – yet we will be far from being missional. We may say the right missional words and even do the edgy missional thing, but our lives will reveal that we are about our own mission, our own agenda, our own purposes.
So, it is in such frenetic times, times of walking on the hard trodden path where the seed of God’s word does not have much of a chance of growing, that I am reminded to set aside my doing of missional in order to rediscover being missional – because walking in the plowed up soil where God’s seed germinates and bears fruit slows us down enough to notice God again and what God is about in the world.