Tuesday, December 14, 2010

Vol 1:43 Rhythms of Being - Being a Sign of God's Presence

This is the final Advent reflection (4 of 4) - As the people of God in the world, we are called to demonstrate a different way of being human as we participate with God in God's mission of redeeming humanity and creation. Throughout Advent, I will be exploring what it means for us to demonstrate a different rhythm of being the people of God in relation to rhythms of our culture.

Advent is a time of expectation – a time for expecting the coming presence of God into the world!
We celebrate Advent as a remembering – of God becoming human in Jesus almost 2 millennia ago.
It is also a time for anticipating – of Christ Jesus returning to make all things new.
But what about during this in-between time, now – where is the presence of God?
Are we willing to be the sign of God’s present redemptive activity in the world?

In the Old Testament the presence of the prophet was the sign of Yahweh’s presence with his people. The prophet was a mouthpiece for the voice of God.

In the New Testament, Jesus is the sign of God – of God coming to be with humanity – Immanuel, God with us; revealing not only the will of God, but God to us – God has come to “save us” (to set us free from sin and death – a saving for more so than saving from). Jesus performed signs or miracles to demonstrate the presence and power of God over all that oppresses and captives humanity. Exorcisms, healings, feeding of thousands, raising the dead were not meant to give Jesus “miracle worker” status, so he could have his own ministry, but rather they were demonstrations that God is active in the world to defeat the principalities and powers that enslave humanity rather than serve them!

Today, the church, the Body of Christ, filled with the Holy Spirit, is the sign that God is still active, still engaged in the life of all humanity to bring about something that is radically new. By our witness, by our actions, by our living, we are people who point to God who is present and active.

How aware are we of the sign we are called to be?

In Isaiah 7, we read of King Ahaz, king of Judah, behind the walls of Jerusalem under attack by King Rezin of Aram and Pekah, son of the king of Israel; these two wanted to come out from under Assyria’s rule over them and wanted Ahaz to join them in their rebellion against Assyria. God came to Ahaz, speaking through the prophet Isaiah to continue resisting alignment with them, “Be careful, keep calm and don’t be afraid [maintain the current policy of peaceful submission to Assyria]. Do not lose heart . . . [their plans for conquest] will not take place, it will not happen . . . Stand firm in your faith [do not put in with their plans which are doomed to fail] or you will not stand at all” (Isaiah 7:4-9)

Then God through Isaiah makes a strange request of Ahaz: “Ask the Lord your God for a sign [that this will happen, in order to strengthen your faith].”

It’s a strange request because when Jesus was asked for a sign by the Pharisees, Jesus responded saying, “A wicked and adulterous generation looks for a sign, but none will be given it except for the sign of Jonah.” (Matt. 16: 4). Jesus rejected the demand for a sign because he was unmasking the concealing of their refusal to repent, their refusal to align themselves with the purposes of God’s reign.

But, here God is asking Ahaz to ask for a sign so that it can be revealed that God is present in this time of distress in Judah.

Ahaz refuses and Isaiah rebukes him. Ahaz sounds righteous in stating that he does not want to put God to the test, but actually he expresses a false humility, he is expressing unbelief, he is expressing his being closed to God and God’s influence in his life; Ahaz wants God at his disposal, God on his terms, not his living his life on God’s terms, being at God’s disposal.

Yet, in response to Ahaz’s disobedience, God gives a sign anyway – a virgin will conceive, give birth to a son, and by time the child is able to make decisions, the attacking kingdoms will be no more. Look to this child – it is the everpresent sign of God’s presence with Judah – this child is the evidence of Immanuel – God is with us.

Whereas Ahaz refused asking for a sign, often times I find myself refusing to be a sign of God’s present and coming reign.

Do we see the sign that we are to be in the world? Do we see that our lives are not about ourselves, but about what God is up to in the world? Do we see that we are living bearers of the Gospel, signs revealing the active presence of God in the world?

The reality is that we find ourselves to be more like Ahaz than we’d like to be. Too often we imitate the attitude of Ahaz in which we refuse to be signs of God’s active presence by being communities that express a false humility, a religiosity that gets by with just having enough of God, but not overdoing it, being a community where life merely revolves around us, rather than enacting and dispersing the good news of the Gospel of God’s reign – the “setting all captive humanity free” mission of Jesus Christ in the world.

Being a community that is a sign of God’s presence reorders all our priorities, reorders all that we focus upon – life in Christ is not primarily about us, our comfort, rather it is participating in God’s actions of making all things whole through Jesus Christ – the active presence of God for all humanity.

In Christ Jesus, we are the sign of God’s active missional presence in the world – to refuse to be the sign is to refuse the Spirit leading us to participate in the purposes of God in the world.

NOTE:  I am taking a 2 week break from posting to Missional Matters over the Christmas break - I wish you all a joyous Christ-filled Christmas and may the new year be filled with opporrtunities for living a mission-filled life.  To God be the Glory!                    - I'll post again on January 7th. 

Tuesday, December 7, 2010

Vol 1:42 Rhythms of Patience - Waiting for Healing and Restoration

Continuing Advent reflections (3 of 4) - As the people of God in the world, we are called to demonstrate a different way of being human as we participate with God in God's mission of redeeming humanity and creation. Throughout Advent, I will be exploring what it means for us to demonstrate a different rhythm of being the people of God in relation to rhythms of our culture.

John the Baptist knew what his mission was, even when he was imprisoned (cf. Matthew 11: 2ff), but he was getting impatient, unsure if indeed Jesus was the coming one, the Messiah – he was not seeing the fruit of God’s mission of healing and restoration to Israel. As God’s people, being involved in God’s mission – at least we hope we are, we wonder like John as well – is all that we are doing making a difference? Is God’s mission of redemption and healing and restoration transforming the world in which we live? We get impatient as well – where is all the healing and restoration?

We tend to look at the grand sweep of things and in our trying to be God’s missional people, we miss seeing life being transformed all around us. But what does Jesus say to John’s disciples, what is the Spirit saying to us? Jesus’ response is one of asking whether they have eyes and ears that see and hear what God is up to in the world. Jesus in essence is asking, “are you noticing the mustard seed-sized things going on? Though, in Matthew’s Gospel Jesus does not present the parable of the mustard seed until chapter 13, we are privy to this parable in which Jesus links God’s reign with the mustard seed – remember the reign of God is like a mustard seed, small, unnoticeable, unless you know where it has been planted – but it is growing, always growing – until it is revealed to be a plant that birds nest in and others notice.

In reflecting on Jesus’ response to John’s disciples, “Go back and report to John what you hear and see: the blind receive sight, the lame walk, those who have leprosy are cleansed, the deaf hear, the dead are raised, and the good news is proclaimed to the poor” I cannot help but wonder whether we take the time to tell stories of the presence of God’s reign active all around us, stories of God’s life-giving rhythms being manifested in contrast to the life-sapping rhythms of our culture? We get so busy, so into our own agendas, so caught up in the commerce of the season, of life, that life and ministry becomes another doing, rather than noticing that God is active in mustard seed-sized happenings all around us. If we take the time to hear and see – we will begin to notice some pretty amazing things – in fact we will begin to see that God’s mission is being carried out everywhere.

I don’t know about you, but patiently, daily, attuning my eyes and ears to notice what God is up to, to seeing God working in the small things gives me hope, changes my sighs of impatient waiting and wondering into encouragement so that I do not tire in doing good, gives me resolve to continually submit myself to participate in what God is doing in making all things whole – because God is in fact doing this.

What are you seeing and hearing?

Tuesday, November 30, 2010

Vol 1:41 Rhythms of Repentance and Bearing Fruit

Continuing Advent reflections - As the people of God in the world, we are called to demonstrate a different way of being human as we participate with God in God's mission of redeeming humanity and creation. Throughout Advent, I will be exploring what it means for us to demonstrate a different rhythm of being the people of God in relation to rhythms of our culture.

I can hear John the Baptist crying out to the religious leaders who were coming to see what was happening out in the desert – “You brood of vipers! Who warned you to flee from the coming wrath? Produce fruit in keeping with repentance” (Matthew 3:7-8). Are we able to hear John crying out to those of us who are North American Christians – “You say you are Christian, you say you believe in God, you say you’re all about peace and justice, you say you are different, more privileged than those who do not have faith such as you – You brood of vipers! Who warned you to flee from the coming wrath? Produce fruit in keeping with your repentance?”

It is hard to hear those words from John – do we hear these words, when they are expressed by Jesus (in Matthew 4:17) as easier to hear because we think we have an “in” with Jesus – and repentance is for those who have not yet confessed Jesus as Savior and Lord in their lives? Perhaps, we still need to hear the call to repent with a fresh set of ears today as God’s missional people.

Too often, I find myself thinking I am getting God’s mission down, to the point where I think I have a corner on understanding what God’s mission is all about – even thinking that I have become somewhat of an expert in expressing what it means to be a missional community participating with God in God’s redemptive mission in the world. When I begin to think like that – I need to hear once again John’s word, Jesus’ word: “Repent, for the reign of God has come near.”

I need to be reminded everyday of what it means to live a missional life, a life that is continually being turned around from my agenda to participating with God in God’s missional agenda, a life that is growing in discovering more and more what it means for me to live missionally – where it has less to do with me and more to do with what the Spirit of Jesus is doing in the world. It has less to do with me and more to do with my being crucified with Christ – Christ living in me, rather than merely my living confessing Christ (cf. Galatians 2:20); more to do with Christ being exalted and me becoming less significant (cf. John 3:30); more to do with my life pointing to Jesus as Lord and less to do with Jesus pointing to me as a follower and disciple of his.

“Produce fruit in keeping with your repentance,” – produce fruit in keeping with your confessing Jesus Christ as Lord, produce fruit in keeping with your striving for peace and justice – may they not just be words in my life, may I indeed live out what I say I believe.

The call to daily repentance is a practice that reminds me that if I am to participate in what God is doing in the world, that reminds me if I am to help lead a community of people to live missionally, I’ve got to make straight a path for Jesus to enter into my life day after day; I’ve got to root my life in my baptism – that I have died with Christ and only what is resurrected in my life is that which is identified with his life; I’ve got to not think of myself as privileged, but one who has received the grace of God’s mercy; I’ve got to be open to being immersed in the Spirit, to breathe in the Spirit, to be corrected and shaped and molded by the Spirit so that my life and my desires, my ambitions are yielded to how God wants me to participate in what God is doing to make all things new.

Yet, I realize that I am incapable of doing all these things that I’ve got to do – and so repentance becomes an offering of myself in which I confess my inability to live missionally for God – I need God to do in me and with me what I am incapable of doing – and I discover that God does.

I find that the Spirit of God is renewing my mind, transforming my life, that I am receiving the gift of being able to live my life, mostly in small ways, by a different rhythm – a rhythm that is demonstrating a new kind of reality of being human in the world – fruit of a new kind of life – a life that is growing in Christ-centering harmony with God, in reconciling harmony with other human beings, and in restorative harmony with creation.

Indeed, I need to be reminded to repent each and every day because God’s reign has come near!

Tuesday, November 23, 2010

Vol 1:40 Rhythms of Being on the "Lookout for God"

As the people of God in the world, we are called to demonstrate a different way of being human as we participate with God in God's mission of redeeming humanity and creation. Throughout Advent, I will be exploring what it means for us to demonstrate a different rhythm of being the people of God in relation to rhythms of our culture.

Being a follower of Jesus Christ has everything to do with asking a missional question: how does my playing sports, my going to school, my working in the lab, my teaching students, my providing healthcare, my doing research, my serving customers and clients, my nurturing a family, my growing and harvesting food through farming have to do with what God is doing in the world?

This is the stuff of our daily living that we are engaged in and whatever we do shaped the rhythms of our day, the rhythms of our time. But how do we engage in what we do in light of the rhythms of God’s mission in the world?

Jesus expresses in Matthew 28:19, “as you go about living your life, doing what you do, be about making disciples of all nations . . . .” This points to our daily being and doing as being for a greater purpose than just our being and doing. In being disciples of Jesus Christ we are called to demonstrate by our actions, our words, our living, our producing and consuming, and through our relationships, a different rhythm of being human in the world.

I believe a first step in living our lives in light of God’s mission so as to be about making disciples means that we live in a rhythm of being on the lookout for God.

It is very easy for us to live our lives giving attention to what is beneficial for ourselves – living on the lookout for ourselves – taking care of our needs, our families, etc. This is the way of our culture, the rhythm of being who we are in relationship to others – we all take care of ourselves – sometimes with help from others when life gets overwhelming.

Yet, in identifying ourselves with Jesus Christ, we are no longer called to merely live for ourselves, but we live for God’s purposes, participating with God in what God is doing in the world – God’s mission reshapes the DNA of our existence in the world. And so, whatever we are engaged in throughout our Mondays to Fridays, we live and work with a different rhythm.

We live in the rhythm of being on the lookout for God. What I mean by this is that as a missional people, not only are we attuned to what our jobs or careers demand of us, but in the midst of them, we are also attuned to what God is up to, where God is working, whose lives God is touching. And not only do we develop this being attuned to God, as God’s missional people we also help interpret to others the moving of God in their lives – helping them become attuned to the rhythm of God actively engaging them.

My wife and I have a friend who has had very little room for God working in his life or in the world. But over the past couple of years, in our being on the lookout for God around him and interpreting God’s activity going on either around him or in him, he seems to becoming more open to the possibility that there may be a God active in the world – his language is shifting from statements of “No way!” to “if that’s what you need it to be” to “Maybe?”

As God’s missional people we have the privilege of being one’s who, in being on the lookout for God, have the ability to point out God and the rhythms of God’s activity to a world caught up in rhythms that take little notice of what has the power to shape them and make them whole.

I find that I do not readily notice God unless I begin by attuning my day to be aware of God’s rhythms – this aligning myself to God’s rhythms, to notice God’s activity, often involves praying – “Spirit of God, open my ears and eyes to see and hear you today, Lord. May the rhythm of my day be open to be shaped by your rhythms – help me notice where you are, in whom you are working – and may I somehow be part of what you are doing.” It’s amazing how God responds to that prayer by helping me see and giving me the courage to show the active presence of God in the midst of the ordinariness of my day.

Tuesday, November 16, 2010

Vol 1:39 The Rhythms of the People of God

As the people of God in the world, we are called to demonstrate a different way of being human as we participate with God in God's mission of redeeming humanity and creation. I wonder how this relates to our use of time?

I am preparing for Advent – throughout Advent the Mennonite community in which I serve as pastor will be focusing upon how we engage and make use of the time given as a gift to us by God. We do not often reflect on what kind of witness we express by how we make use of our time. How do we demonstrate the new reality of God’s reign as the missional people of God as it relates to reframing our understanding of the use of time?

Most of us, I am afraid, me included, do not offer much of an alternative to our frenetic use of time that we find in our North American culture. We run after time management gurus just as much as any other North American in hoping to get more out of the time available to us so that we can spend our time better or more effectively. We are, therefore, more apt to give witness to our culture, rather than what God desires to accomplish in God’s mission in redeeming our rhythms of time.

Of course, this is all connected with God’s Story and Vision, what God is purposing to accomplish in moving all history towards the completion of God’s mission, what God seeks to create in us as God’s people as we seek to be sign, foretaste, and instrument of God’s present and coming reign .

Do we walk, live, by a different rhythm? In our actions, in our day to day doings do we display a rhythm of life that reflects more God and God’s purposes, or are we just mimicking the same rhythms of life all around us – the hurriedness, the frenetic pace of life that perpetuates the brokenness of our world, rather than the new reality, the new way of being human living life under the rule of God’s reign?

As I read the Scriptures of Advent, I am reminded that God demonstrates a different rhythm of life, a different way of engaging life – one that fosters righteousness and justice. In reading Isaiah 11: 1ff, I realize that God coming to be among us is for the sake of bearing fruit – a new reality, a new way of being with one another. “A shoot will come up from the stump of Jesse; from his roots a Branch will bear fruit. The Spirit of the Lord will rest on him . . . he will not judge by what he sees with his eyes or decide but what he hears with his ears, but with righteousness he will judge the needs, with justice he will give decisions for the poor of the earth.”

If we think about the kind of fruit the time rhythms of our life portray – I wonder if we find ourselves identifying with Jesus Christ – one who redeems and recreates life rhythms and our rhythms of time, or do we find ourselves, perhaps even in the way we engage in ministry, fostering the rhythms of a society that never can find enough time?

These are some of the beginning questions I am contemplating. What questions do you have that might be added to these as we think about what it means for us to be the missional people of God in relation to a different rhythm of engaging time?  Our time is indeed a part of demonstrating a different rhythm of the kingdom of God.

Tuesday, November 9, 2010

Vol 1:38 Who is the Main Character in our Stories?

Over the past few weeks I have been reflecting on how we tell our stories. This grew out of my serving as a reader of a D.Min. Thesis of a former student of mine. Her focus was upon helping people find new pathways into Scripture. In the dialogue that always ensues in orals, a comment was made about the telling of our stories – we need to learn to tell our stories with God being the main character.

Now that may seem like an odd comment, because we all know that we are the subjects of our own stories. Our stories are about life as it happens to us, even our experiences of God, and we tell our stories through our perspective. These are our stories; this is my story.

However, I am finding this is to be a myopic perspective. None of our stories are just centered in us. The life of the world is not centered around us – our stories involve events and experiences, our stories engage others in which we are not the only character. Life happens to us, not in isolation, but in relationship, in community with a world of others. Though we tell these stories from our perspectives, we are not always the main character.

This has relevance, especially for those of us who desire to live missionally – participating with God in God’s mission of making all things new. The first thing I realize in participating with God in God’s mission is that God has a Story and Vision of what God purposes to do in the world. God is the initiator of the Story and God moves this Story to its Vision – Scripture is this story (which is why I often refer to Scripture as God’s Story and Vision).

The second thing I realize is that our stories are not just about what we did last weekend, or what we are planning to do next weekend, rather our stories chronicle our journeys through life – what we encounter, the meanings of those encounters, new insights, transformations we undergo, the purpose or vision that drives our living – this is the real story of who and why we are.

The third thing I realize is that God invites us into the Story that God has enacted and is enacting. Scripture gives account of God’s Story and Vision. It is a Story that involves each one of us – it is a story of our brokenness, our alienation from God and from others, it is a story about God reaching out to us in order to heal us, to set us free, to liberate us from the power of sin and death, to reconcile us to God and to one another, to establish us as a new humanity. Scripture, in essence, becomes our family album – sharing the Story that has gone on long ago – that now provides the vocabulary and direction for our own stories.

The fourth thing I realize is that in and through Jesus we are caught up in God’s Story and Vision for the redemption of humanity and the renewing of creation. If we find the words to tell this story that is rooted in the Story, Life, and Vision of God, we come to discover that God is actually the main character in our stories because we have a story because God liberates us by including us into the story that God is enacting.

Perhaps, baptism is that act that changes who the main subject is in our stories – before our baptisms, we are content with being the main character in our stories, but in baptism, in making confession of belonging to Christ, in giving our allegiance to Christ Jesus, we are raised up out of the waters identifying a new main character in our lives. The central character in our life becomes God the Father, Jesus the Son, and the Spirit of God who are the shapers and sustainers of the ongoing Story and Vision of God through our lives. This is so because now we are no longer living for ourselves, but as a new creation, as a new community, we live our lives being a sign of God’s presence in the world, a foretaste of what human life is lived under God’s rule, as well as being instruments for living out the present reality of God’s will in the world.

In God becoming the main character in our stories, we do not lose ourselves, rather we find ourselves in ways we could never have imagined. It is only as God is the main character in my life, that my living is no longer limited by what I am able to do, but I am set free to accomplish the things that God chooses to do through me in my participating with God in making all things new.

Tuesday, November 2, 2010

Vol 1:37 The Ordinary Life of the Spirit of God

This concludes my ongoing reflections on Roxburgh’s and Boren’s Introducing the Missional Church, at least for the time being – there are still other chapters in their book. The focus of these past weeks has been on following the winds of the Spirit.

I am continually amazed at the earthiness of God and God’s encounter of us, God’s creatures. What makes God of the Old and New Testaments unique is that God is involved in the ordinary daily lives of human beings – God is concerned with the messiness of our lives and somehow through our brokenness and through our incapabilities, God works out the missional redemptive purpose of making all creation new.

What Roxburgh and Boren express, is my conviction as well. “Our rock-bottom conviction is that the Spirit of God is among the people of God. . . . [W]e mean that the Spirit is actually at work in our ordinary, common lives. This means that God’s future – putting into action God’s dream for the whole world – is among God’s people” (p. 122).

Not only did God risk all in becoming human, God still continues to risk it all, risking the completion of God’s dream through a people who do not always get it right, who do not always yield themselves to God’s Spirit, even though we confess we are filled and empowered by the Spirit of God.

This is why we worship, why we make confession, why we seek forgiveness and to forgive, why we open ourselves to reconcile and be reconciled – to remind ourselves whose we are, to remind ourselves who is at work in us, to remind ourselves that it is not about us, to remind ourselves that God is making all things new through a people who are imperfect at best. In reminding ourselves we come to recognize that this work that God is doing through us is all the work of God, is all the work that the Spirit of God is accomplishing – and so day by day, we fitfully submit ourselves to Jesus Christ, to God’s purposes so that God accomplishes what we could never imagine to accomplish.

This truly amazes me that God is able to use a broken people who are submitted to Jesus and God’s purposes to accomplish what leaves us in awe.

And so, Roxburgh and Boren express: “Very practically, a missional church is formed by the Spirit of God at work in the ordinary people of God in a local context. A practical implication is that this imagination changes the focus of leadership. Rather than having plans, programs, strategies, and goals, they ask how they can call forth what the Spirit is doing among the people. When this happens, the potential for discovering the wind of the Spirit is exciting” (p. 122).

May we indeed be a people who daily practice opening ourselves to God’s Spirit – and then be open to see and hear how God involves us in God’s redemptive mission in making all creation new. Such Spirit-engulfed living leads us to live life in Spirit-imagined ways. I cannot imagine any other way I would rather live.

Tuesday, October 26, 2010

Vol1:36 Sailing with the Spirit of God

Over the next two weeks I will conclude my reflections on Roxburgh’s and Boren’s Introducing the Missional Church, at least for the time being – there are still other chapters in their book. The focus of these last weeks has been on following the winds of the Spirit.

Roxburgh and Boren challenge us to develop a new imagination for understanding the Spirit in being the people of God. I have discovered that there is a theological resurgence in interest about the Spirit – all across the theological spectrum. The Spirit is not an “it,” or just an abstract reality – a way of thinking and talking ambiguously about God. Instead, the Spirit of God is being, is the real and present presence of God, the real and present presence of Jesus Christ in the ordinariness of human life.

In John 3 we read about the Jewish leader Nicodemus coming to Jesus in the night to get some questions answered that confused him in his observing Jesus in action. Jesus said to him that he must be “born again.” But before you assume you know where I am headed with this “evangelical” statement, Roxburgh and Boren express that “another way to say this is, ‘You need a new imagination.’” (p. 121).

They state: “Jesus was saying that the rules had to change and, therefore, Nicodemus’ understanding (imagination) was missing what God was actually up to through the presence of Jesus” (p. 121).

To become missional people is to have our thinking, our actions, our discovering reframed – in fact it involves such a radical reframing that being “born again” may be the only appropriate metaphor to describe our embracing a new way of thinking about the real and present presence of God in the world.

The image of sailing with Spirit, that Roxburgh and Boren, present is a vital one for us living as the missional people of God. Too often, they argue, we as the North American church have puttered about in a motor boat being in control of direction, destination, and how fast we get where we want to get going. We want to manage and control the things of God, rather than yield ourselves to be directed and led by the Spirit of God. When we are in control, we know where we are headed, it’s dependent on our abilities – we actually only need God as a figurehead at the forefront of our boats. But to be the missional people of God, we come to recognize that the Spirit of God is the one who is in control directing the purposes of God in the world in making all things news.

So, if the Spirit is in control, blowing where the Spirit wishes or pleases, then we need to learn how to sail – to raise our sails to move us where the Spirit seeks to lead us, to use us – for accomplishing God’s redemptive purpose in the world. We only learn to sail by sailing – by putting ourselves into the wind, into the Spirit.

I remember the first time I sailed by myself – it was on a twin hull Hobie Cat. I put my sail up and the wind grabbed me and took me out into the lake. It was a frightening experience because I was fearful of the wind and I did not know how to sail with the wind – instead I fought the wind and I capsized my boat.

We can do that with the Spirit as well – trying to control the Spirit, fighting the Spirit and we end up grieving the Spirit – and we wonder why then that ministry gets so hard and we burn out. Rather, as Roxburgh and Boren express – “the experience of sailing, on the other hand, involves learning to trust the winds of the Spirit . . . . In sailing God teaches us to attend to the ways of the Spirit” (p. 121). In learning how to sail, we need to learn to trust the wind. In learning how to be the missional people of God, we need to learn how to sail the winds of the Spirit – we will be the ones who are shaped and transformed by the Spirit as we learn to flow with the wind, with what God is doing to make all things right in the world.

This involves trust, trust involves risk, because we open ourselves to be taken wherever the Spirit seeks to take us. To open ourselves in such a way to God is to be “born again!”

Perhaps an experience that ought to be requisite in learning to live as the people of God is for each one of us to take up sailing.

Tuesday, October 19, 2010

Vol 1:35 The Ways of the Spirit of God

Over the next three weeks I will conclude my reflections on Roxburgh’s and Boren’s Introducing the Missional Church, at least for the time being – there are still other chapters in their book. The focus of these last weeks is following the winds of the Spirit.

The authors state that “our missional journey calls us to learn habits of listening and discernment” (p. 119). They states that as Moses asked God to teach him his ways (cf. Exodus 33:13), so we too must be open to learning the ways, the habits and practices of the Spirit – to learn a new way of life made up of habits and practices that shape us as being the people of God in the world (cf. pp. 118-119).

I would add that learning the habits of listening and discernment involve our developing the discipline of listening and discerning what the Spirit of God is listening to and discerning in the places in which we find ourselves. The reason we need to develop this sensitivity to the Spirit is that we do not merely want to listen and discern what we notice, but as God’s missional people, we want to notice what God sees, what God hears, what captures the heart of God – otherwise we will engage in ministry as to what we think is best.

We are very aware that our ways are not God’s ways, and God’s ways not our ways (cf. Isaiah 55:8) at least not without our submitting ourselves to God. Yet to open ourselves to God’s ways and thoughts in our lives, we need to learn to be open to God, to be open to the Spirit of God. Likewise, if we are to develop habits of listening and discerning to what the Spirit of God is listening to and discerning, then we need to first of all be a people who open ourselves to the Spirit and to be shaped by the Spirit.

This is more than discovering our spiritual gifts or engaging in spiritual disciplines – often in our self-focused approaches, the Spirit becomes a tool for our spiritual agenda. Rather, in being open to the Spirit, we need to open ourselves to the Spirit’s agenda in us – to be shaped by the Spirit, to notice what the Spirit notices, and to engage in ministry which the Spirit leads us into.

It is not about getting the Spirit to do what we want to do; it is not about our using the Spirit. It is about yielding to the Spirit so that “the Spirit shapes the church for a missional life” (p. 120). And so we are being called “to attend to the ways the Spirit is seeking to form us as mission-shaped people in our neighborhoods and communities” (p. 120).

Being open and led by the Spirit is to be in a posture of receiving whatever the Spirit desires to pour out into our lives for the purpose of accomplishing God’s purposes – we become available to the Spirit of God to demonstrate and bring about God’s redemptive mission in the world. Being open and led by the Spirit involves surrendering our inhibitions, our barriers, our worldviews, our rationality, our fears, our strengths so that we might be yielded vessels for God to do the work of God through us – a people surrendered to God and living in the ways of God in a broken world.

As we are open to the Spirit of God in this way – we will begin to listen and discern what God is doing all around us – and because we are open to being led by the Spirit, we participate in what matters to God, and what matters to God becomes what matters to us. This is what it means to be a Spirit-led missional people of God. May we as the people of God lay ourselves open to be Spirit-open, Spirit-directed, Spirit-infused people.

Tuesday, October 12, 2010

Vol 1:34 In Journey with the Spirit of God

These next four weeks will conclude my reflections on Roxburgh’s and Boren’s Introducing the Missional Church, at least for the time being – there are still other chapters in their book. The focus of these four weeks is following the winds of the Spirit.

The authors state that in becoming a missional church, “we are on a journey we can’t control . . . . This is a journey through a new country, a place we have never been before . . . . What we have to do is stop for a bit, gather ourselves, and become attentive to our surroundings. This stopping and suspending the need for answers will help us hear what the Spirit is saying in this new place. . . . It’s not a journey toward some ideal or vision of the church but one of encountering God in the ordinariness and messiness of local churches in this new place” (pp. 115-116).

What this entails is a stopping and waiting on the Spirit of God. When the people of God wandered in the desert during the Exodus, they stopped and moved when the glory of God stopped and when the glory of God got up and moved – their movement was completely dependent upon the moving of God who was with them. Their life was so dependent upon the presence of God – though they often complained, grumbled, and rebelled, that they could not fathom life in any other way – especially in the place of the wilderness for which they had no maps, nor a timeline for reaching the Promised Land. They were now wandering in the desert; this was no longer Egypt where they knew how to live, what they needed to do – though they were enslaved. This freedom they were experiencing in the desert was beyond their ability to grasp without being guided by the presence of the Lord.

Likewise, though we have tried to orchestrate and do church in many ways in our culture, we have to come to a place where we are being called to no longer rely upon our ingenuity and our timelines, rather we need to rediscover what it is to rely on the presence of the Spirit of God who is moving among us.

“We are asked to discern what God is seeking to shape even though all our instincts are to turn back to our default settings to make things work and control the outcomes. . . . [W]e have to let go of our need for manageability, predictability, and control in order to listen to the God from whom new things emerge. This is how the missional life develops. Our choices are between discerning God’s presence or defaulting to predetermined goals, vision statements, and strategies. We need to follow Moses’ example – he had confidence that God was present in the journey even though he had no maps of this strange territory” (p. 118).

I know this is not easy – because it requires a posture of surrendering ourselves to the Spirit of God. Many of us find it difficult to surrender ourselves to something or someone we do not understand or cannot control. It involves surrendering our trust in ourselves, to trusting the presence of God – it indeed involves a metanoia, a change of paradigm, a change of direction, a change of center in our lives, a change of our being in control of what we control – it is a learning to walk in a whole new way – a walking by the Spirit of God.

Do we dare open ourselves up to surrender ourselves to God’s presence, to God’s Spirit – for the Spirit to lead us where the Spirit desires to lead us?

I have discovered, through my own experience, that even in my inability to surrender, as I confess this inability and confess my desire to surrender, that God gives me the ability to surrender to the presence of God’s Spirit. I have discovered that in yielding all that I seek to control in my life to God’s Spirit that I am free to walk in the ways of God like I have never experienced before. Though I am still discovering how to open myself to God’s Spirit, I know there is no turning back for me where I seek to control the direction and outcome of my own life.

May we as the people of God lay ourselves open to be led by God’s Spirit.

Tuesday, October 5, 2010

Vol 1:33 Called to do Life Together

Roxburgh and Boren state that the second practice in the church demonstrating that they are sign, foretaste, and instrument of God’s present and coming reign is the practice of love (p. 110).
They state that this practice “speaks to the ways a group of people commit to do life together” (p. 110).

As I reflect on this practice of love, I realize that this is one of the more difficult things for us to do in the contemporary church – most of what we do is committing to spend some time together on Sunday mornings or some other evening – be it a small group or ministry setting. But, for us to commit ourselves to one another to do life together – that seems outside of our realm of what is possible.

Years ago I minored in sociology during my university days and I remember the sociologist Weber talking about the differences between Gesellschaft and Gemeinschaft. Gesellschaft, if I remember correctly, has do with gathering, while Gemeinschaft has to do with community. The first is just a gathering of people for some purpose, but it does not involve a strong commitment. Gemeinschaft, on the other hand, is the kind of gathering of people in which there is a strong commitment to one another over a period of time.

In the USA and Canada we have become comfortable in church life with Gesellschaft – merely gathering together with others for worship, ministry, etc., but when we are done after an hour or two, we are free to head home. We may share prayer needs, even what is going on in our lives, but we do not need to engage one another deeply. But Gemeinschaft requires a whole different paradigm of how we are engaged and connected to one another.

Roxburgh and Boren express, “the life of the missional church cannot be done by a conglomeration of individualists who see each other only at formal meetings [Gesellschaft]. Being missional means that we do life together in a way that marks us as distinct from the surrounding culture [Gemeinschaft]” (p. 110). This commitment to life together is something we need to commit to just as we commit our lives to Jesus Christ. It requires the same kind of repentance, the same kind of discipleship, in order for us to live missionally as the people of God in the world. It is a committing of ourselves to one another in community, for “in community we learn to love one another, and through the journey of learning to love we are formed and shaped by God through the others in a group” (p. 110).

There are those who are seeking to practice such a life of committed community, often described as the new monasticism, along with their Rules of Life (not so much rules, but a set of practices which name how they seek to do life together). It is probably worth looking at such communities and Rules of Life in order to discover the depth of the commitment required to practice love for one another.

I believe this is probably a huge stumbling block in our becoming missional communities – are we willing to give up our individualism, our comforts, our privacy, in order to share life together with others? Are we willing to share our possessions, share meals and home together, sharing in responsibilities? It is not something we can do on our own – for that would put us on the road to becoming coercive communities – no, it, like our following after Jesus, requires the Holy Spirit to take hold of our lives and lead us. Are we willing to consider being the missional people of God, but exploring how we might live in community, in Gemeinschaft together. I know I need to struggle with this.

Tuesday, September 28, 2010

Vol1:32 Called to be Present in the World

Roxburgh and Boren state that the first practice in the church demonstrating that they are sign, foretaste, and instrument of God’s present and coming reign is the practice of presence (p. 108).

The gist of this practice is that it “highlights the specific things that mark God’s people as those who relate to him in a contrasting way” (p. 108).

As I reflect on presence, I believe that practicing presence is about how those of us who identify ourselves as followers and disciples of Jesus Christ are incarnational in the world – it is about how we live in the world. It is about how we go about in all we do making the presence of God visible in the world. These are not meant to be hidden practices, practices kept for the few behind closed doors; no these practices are meant to be lived out in the presence of those whom we want to reveal the presence of God active in the world, redeeming the world, making all things new.

The unique thing about the God who is I AM is that God desires to reveal himself through those whom God has called and sent. God uses people to reveal himself. God became a human being to reveal himself. God who cannot be fully comprehended by our finite minds, reveals himself through finite human beings.

And so, it is in our living, we either practice the presence of God, or we are practicing the presence of self.

We often make life about ourselves, making a name for ourselves, developing a reputation, a pedigree – I am guilty of this myself. We seek and strive to be somebody in this world – and many of us are indeed successful at this.

But if we confess that we are followers and disciples of Jesus Christ, who do people see when they look at us? Do they only see us, or is somehow Christ made visible in and through us, our actions? Is God made visible through the way we live life in relation to others? Are we revealing God who seeks to set humanity free, or are we revealing ourselves, where often we seek to set ourselves free at the cost of others?

Reflecting on the practice of presence, reminds me that my passion in life is not to make a name for Roland Kuhl, but to participate with others to make a name for God, to reveal God. This is what Jesus came to do – “those who believe in me do not believe in me only, but in the one who sent me. When they look at me, they see the one who sent me” (John 12: 44-45). Paul also expressed, what expresses my desire as well: “I have been crucified with Christ and I no longer live, but Christ lives in me. The life I now live in the body, I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me” (Galatians 2:20).

In seeking to live a life that relates to the God of Creation, the God of the Universe, the one who is I AM, I need to be continually reminded that I am called to live my life in such a way, practicing the presence of God, through worship, through engaging God’s Story and Vision in Scripture, through connecting and listening to God, keeping my life open to God, being available to God for what God desires to do in and through me.

For me, this is not a diminishing of who I am, or what I will be, or the gifts and talents that are in my life – living in the presence of God enables me to discover fully who I was created to be – and only in the presence of God, magnifying God, revealing God, do I deeply discover who I am. I become fully human as I live practicing the presence of God – I do not wish to be marked in any other way, except to be known as a person who is known by God and is growing in knowing God – a God who is “mysterious, wild, [and] relational” (p. 109).

Tuesday, September 21, 2010

Vol 1:31 Walking in the Rhythms of the Kingdom

We become aware that in being God’s missional people participating in what God in doing in the world that we are called and sent to live out our lives as a contrast society – revealing a different reality, a different way of being human, one that is informed by being a follower and disciple of Jesus Christ. But how do we become such a society? Where are the maps, the directions, the steps to guide our steps? How are we to walk according to the rhythm of the kingdom of God?

Though many present-day sermons try to give detailed steps or directions about the way we are to live in contrast to the ways of the world, I have discovered that sermons are not the best way for shaping the way we walk and live as the people of God.

Rather, we are shaped by the stories to which we give attention. We become what we read, we become what we hear, we are shaped by stories. I am aware from numerous settings in which I find myself that quite a few of us approach the Bible as if it were unable to shape us – at least positively. We have predetermined notions that it is a book of principles and rules, do’s and don’t’s, moralisms that are outdated. Yet, if these same people would take a closer look, they would see that is very little of this, rather it as a book filled with stories – stories which can grab hold of our imaginations and lives and have the ability to transform us.

Roxburgh and Boren express that, “the gospel invites us to enter an alternative story shaped by the mystery, memory, and mission of God. Theologian Barry Harvey offers a way of seeing the Bible as God’s ‘travel narrative’: ‘The Bible provides nothing like a map that charts the precise path for us to follow into the future. What it does give us is the travel itinerary of God’s people, that is, the story of their pilgrimage as strangers and foreigners through this world toward the kingdom of God. . . . An itinerary, by contrast, consists of a series of performative descriptions designed to organize our movements through space: “to get to the shrine you go past the old fort and then turn right at the fork in the road’” (p. 105).

Further, Roxburgh and Boren state that we “can’t really understand a travel itinerary without actually getting out and walking the path, whereas a map can be comprehended without ever going anywhere” (p. 105). What that means is that we can only become a contrast society, walking in the rhythm of the kingdom, as we start journeying, as we live our lives by the rhythms of the biblical stories, as we engage the story of the Gospel with the story of our unfolding lives.

Living biblically is not so much living by the rules of the Bible, but being open to the stories of the Bible to shape our living, inform our stories, so that the rhythm of our lives imitates the rhythm of Scripture.

Walter Brueggemann describes the Psalms as an ongoing rhythm of being oriented, disoriented, and reoriented (cf. Spirituality of the Psalms). As we engage the story of the Gospel we are oriented to the rhythms of God, and when we, as we do, digress from these rhythms by living for ourselves, being uncompassionate to our neighbors, we experience disorientation – no longer in step with the rhythms of God, and so we are called to refocus, repent, reframe our lives in order to be reoriented to the rhythm of God’s reign once again in our lives.

Living in this way, we walk with a different cadence in society; we become a contrast society. It is living being mindful of God’s Story and Vision found in the biblical narrative, being shaped by its stories, its rhythms. When we see the Bible as something we only refer to on Sundays, we will never discover the rhythms and stories that are meant to shape our lives – the Bible will only remain a book filled with religious information, rather than becoming an itinerary to guide our journeying.

As the Bible, its stories, its people, the Gospel of Jesus, the letters of Paul, etc., begin to find their way into our imaginations, then we will find ourselves walking and living in the rhythms of God’s reign, and in so doing, we are sign, foretaste, and instrument of God’s passion for the wholeness of all humanity and creation.

Tuesday, September 14, 2010

Vol 1:30 What Are We Saved For?

I was talking with friends this past week about their son applying to different colleges. One of these happened to be a Christian college and in the application the question was asked, “Are you saved?” We talked about this for awhile regarding what kind of assumptions such a question was making; whether it was a question to alert the applicant to the environment at the college, or to alert the college as to the status of the potential enrollee?

But being missional involves the question of salvation, but maybe not in the way we are accustomed. Roxburgh and Boren express that, “we have lost the call to a salvation that not only saves us from sin but saves us for life the way God meant us to live in the first place” (p. 103). What are we saved for is indeed an important question and perhaps the kind of question that would make better sense on a Christian college application – because it says more about a person’s purpose and mission in life than merely asking if one is saved.

Lesslie Newbigin wrote that we often misunderstand the concept of election. Those who follow Jesus are the elect, but he notes, not in the way we think. We often tend to think of election and salvation as set us apart, perhaps even in a privileged way – but salvation and election in light of God’s mission is a call to participate with God in what God is accomplishing in making all things new. To be elect in this sense is a call, not to sit back and enjoy the privileges, but rather a call to minister as Christ Jesus did, often encountering hardship and opposition, in demonstrating the presence of God’s reign here on earth.

Roxburgh and Boren continue: “As a result, we don’t usually conceive of salvation as being a process of becoming God’s people who practice the way of life that he intended in the midst of the mess of the world” (p. 103). Indeed, being saved carries with it an onus, an onus of being part of what God is up to in the world, demonstrating a different reality, demonstrating a different way of being human, demonstrating a different way of dealing with institutions, with society, with culture – being saved in God’s mind is always being saved for God’s purposes, for participating with what God is bringing about and accomplishing.

A former pastor of one of the congregations I have served had the practice of asking those who were becoming members of the church, for what purpose they were becoming part of the community, what were they bringing into the community?. For him membership did not entail numerous benefits, but rather a call to serve, a call to act, a call to participate in what God was doing with the passions and gifts the Spirit of God bestowed upon them. He was asking, “what are you saved for?”

In being missional people, people set apart for God’s purposes, we need to get in the habit of asking ourselves and others, “what are we saved for?” As we try to answer that question, we will become more open to discovering what God is up to all around us, and how God has called and gifted us to participate in demonstrating what it means to be human in a very different way.

Tuesday, September 7, 2010

Vol 1:29 Aligning Ourselves to God's Dream

What is your vision of God? For many of us our vision of God is too small, or even too aloof. We live in ways which reveal that we are unaware that God has a dream for the world, that God has hope for the way the world can once again be. We live as if God is around, but not near – God is really not involved in the life of the world.

Roxburgh and Boren, in Introducing the Missional Church express that: “God’s dream for the world is about redemption of all creation, not just individuals getting into heaven; it is about the restoration of life as God intended it to be; it is about realigning life around God and God’s ways” (pp. 101-102).

God is involved in the life of the world. God is involved in the lives of each human being (cf. John 3: 16-17). God’s hope, God’s passion, God’s desire is for all humanity and for all creation to be made new, restored to a wholeness, a shalom that is rooted in the very heart of God.

And where do we see this dream of God’s being demonstrated?

In the most unexpected place!

God has called and continues to call a people to be the sign of God’s dream for the world. Indeed, we are a broken and imperfect people, all humanity is. We are a people who are “jars of clay” (cf. 2 Corinthians 4: 7ff), vessels in whom God chooses to be present. God chooses to use that which is weak to reveal what restored life can become. It would seem that if God had sat in any of the numerous leadership seminars offered over the past 25 years, that God would have come up with a better plan, but God chooses to enact God’s dream through a broken people, who are developing ears to hear, opening eyes to see, hearts that are open to discover and understand, lives that are willing to be shaped and transformed, in order to demonstrate how God intends human beings to relate to one another.

The question becomes whether we seek to continue living in ways we think are best or whether we are open to being realigned by the Spirit of God to be the sign of God’s dream for the world demonstrating a different reality in being human. Living life with God is all about reorientation.

When we arise each morning – do we seek to live our own lives, seeking our own purposes, seeking our own ends, or are we willing to be part of a larger dream for humanity – a dream that continually challenges us to become human in ways we have never perceived, becoming more humane, becoming more compassionate, becoming more loving, merciful, faithful, courageous, hopeful – becoming complete human beings.

If the latter, then our life will be one of continual reorientation – a continually orienting ourselves to Jesus Christ (who is the embodiment of God, God who came to dwell among us), a continually embracing of Jesus Christ, a continually openness to the Spirit of God, of Christ, because in so doing, in our becoming like Jesus, we become a people demonstrating what it is to be truly human. This involves a purposeful aligning ourselves to God and the ways of God as revealed in Jesus Christ – it involves an aligning of ourselves to the Story and Vision of God (which we will explore more in detail next week).

Dare we align ourselves with God’s dream for humanity by opening our lives to being a sign of God’s dream?

Tuesday, August 31, 2010

Vol 1:28 Gossiping About the Gospel

Reflections on Roxburgh and Boren’s Introducing the Missional Church (Baker, 2009).

Often Jesus’ kingdom-talk involved table talk. There is a rich theology of table in the New Testament. At table not only was food shared, but life was shared as well. When Jesus ate at with Matthew and his friends in his home, or at Zacchaeus’ home, or the numerous other times Jesus ate a meal with others, this was more than the intaking of nourishment, these became places in which life was shared, good news was shared. At table, when we really sit down at table enjoying the company of others over food, stories are shared, prayers are shared, fears and hopes are expressed – life is shared. In our fast-food world, we don’t take much time at table, sometimes we even eat in our cars as we rush from one place to the next.

As Roxburgh and Boren express:
“We think the New Testament has a whole lot to do with how people were trying to work out the meaning of God’s big story in the midst of all the local issues, tastes, and sounds of their neighborhoods and communities rather than principles and absolute propositions for all times and places. They understood themselves as sent to ‘gossip’ and communicate the Good News of Jesus in the midst of their neighborhoods and communities” (p. 97).

They go on:
“The New Testament is about ordinary men and women waking up to their neighborhoods and figuring out how to be the kind of cooks who set the gospel table using local ingredients” (p. 97).

There is a movement going on that is opposite to fast-food, its slow food – and I believe slow food gives us the opportunity to sit down with friends in local places over food, drinks, and conversation and begin to gossip about the Gospel. Sharing Jesus is not about sharing our religious points of view, entering into religious debate, rather it is sharing the life that we all crave, life that is a gift given by God to all those created in God’s image, life that is offered by God who has pitched his tent among us. Such conversations are not rehearsed, do not follow a script, but grow out of the stories of life shared around table.

I like to hang out in what Ray Oldenburg calls third places. These are places in local settings (caf├ęs, pubs, coffee shops) where people hang out to connect, to unwind, to engage with and be enriched by others in their community (there are less and less of such places around). As I hang out in such places – primarily coffee shops for me – I begin to engage others in conversations, conversations where we talk about what is going on in our lives, conversations in which we share our days, our dreams, our struggles, our joys, our needs – and in the midst of such conversations I discover that my sharing is not just about me – but because the Gospel of the kingdom has taken hold of me – I also gossip about the kingdom, about life, about Jesus. All this happens at table, mixing gospel with local ingredients in order to share the life that God desires for all of us to embrace.

In our hectic-paced world, I invite you to slow down enough to be at table with others in your community – and as you do, you will discover that you will gossip about the Gospel as well.

Tuesday, August 24, 2010

Vol 1:27 Listening for the Spirit - part 2 (being incarnational)

[Continuing reflections on Roxburgh and Boren’s Introducing the Missional Church (Baker, 2009).]

Stopping to listen is an incarnational activity. This past week I was asked by a person in the church I serve what I meant by “incarnational” stating that many in the congregation are not quite sure what I mean by that term when I use it. Though I thought I explained what I mean by this term, apparently it has not been clear enough.

When Jesus as God became a human being, God was incarnated or enfleshed in human flesh – God became a human being! God did not just “seem” human, but God actually became human.

John expresses this in John 1:14 – “the Word became flesh and made his dwelling among us.” Actually the phrase that John uses is the Word who became flesh pitched his tent among us. Pitching his tent among us is to say that God in Jesus came to live among us in the same way that we live with one another. God did not come and establish a mansion in our midst (to segregate himself from us), he came and pitched his tent, built a bungalow in our midst – to live like us, among us, to feel what we feel, to experience what we experience – God became one of us. And as one of us, God in Jesus living among us, spoke our language, embraced our customs and culture, and in the midst of embracing all that makes us human, engaged us in such a way so as to set us free – giving hope, healing, salvation (shalom and wholeness) to all who would open their lives to Christ.

Therefore, when we are incarnational, we are to be like Jesus Christ in the world – pitching our tents among those God has sent us to live among. We are not to be aloof, not to be superior, but we are called and sent to live among them like them. For us to become incarnational is to live in the same manner to those to whom we have been sent to represent the present and coming reign of God.

And as we began to focus on last week – this involves listening for the Spirit. Roxburgh and Boren relate that such listening has two parts (we’ll focus on the second part next week). “First, the church becomes attentive to what is happening through direct involvement with people in [their] location. The best way to do this is by entering the neighborhood and hanging out with people, joining community organizations, connecting with people across the street or at the local coffee shop, and taking walks and initiating conversations – doing a thousand little human things that make life rich” (p. 88).

This is the essence of being incarnational in which we are open to listen for the Spirit. The church in being incarnational is more than being able to confess the right doctrine, or offering a meaningful worship service; the church in being incarnational is evidenced by how we live within our communities where we pay our mortgages or our rent. We are the incarnational church of Jesus Christ when we engage the people all around us – and in developing relationships, real relationships with them, we are able through our living, our speech, our acts of kindness and compassion to represent the presence of Jesus Christ – who is the hope of the world, who alone can set humanity free from all that binds and enslaves us.

Being incarnational is more than holding to a theology of incarnation, it is living the way Jesus lived in the world – “pitching [our] tent in the community, gathering friends, praying with people, and asking what God wanted to do” (p. 88). It is about being present to those we connect with in our lives and neighborhoods demonstrating, in our connecting with them, a different way of being human that comes only through being in relationship with God through Jesus Christ and being wide open to God’s rule and reign in our lives.

Thursday, August 19, 2010

Vol 1:26 Listening for the Spirit: Continuing Reflections on Introducing the Missional Church

These are continuing reflections on Roxburgh and Boren’s Introducing the Missional Church (Baker, 2009).

In focusing on moving back into the neighborhood (MBiN), one of the key insights that the authors share is that we need to “stop to listen” (p. 86). Unless we “stop to listen” our ears, eyes and hearts will be filled with our own agendas and we will miss out what is going on around us and noticing what the Spirit is up to in peoples’ lives.

Roxburgh and Boren express the importance of “stop to listen” as follows:

“One of the first things a missionary to our own culture does is stop to listen to and enter into the stories of the people in order to understand how the culture actually functions. He or she reads books, listens to and watches the local media, as well as looks at trends, priorities, and so forth. But to be perfectly honest, the real work involves sitting with people, listening to their stories, and entering their world with an open mind and heart – not bringing predetermined decisions and goals to the table. If we come to sit with them in this way, we replicate what John describes in his Gospel: Jesus came to pitch his tent beside ours (John 1:14). When we do this, we will be able to hear what is happening and discern what the Spirit is up to; we will read people through God’s lenses and see what he want to turn these people into” (p. 86).

This addresses how we are to be in the world as followers and disciples of Jesus Christ – in reality it is not about us. In one of the courses I teach, after a number of weeks, a student raised her hand and asked, “let me see if I got this right – it’s not about us – is that right?” She got it – and so must we if we are to participate with God in God’s redemptive mission.

If we make it about us, our focus is upon ourselves, our needs, “what am I to get out of this?” – our ears and eyes are attuned to our agendas and needs. Yes, we are people who have needs, but I have discovered that the best way to be the people of God caring for one another is not through focusing upon ourselves, but by attuning ourselves to what the Spirit is saying and doing amongst us and all around us. It is in living our lives in partnership with God and God’s mission that we begin to sense how the power of God flows into us and through us as we are incarnational amongst those with whom God is seeking to connect. It is amazing how such an outward , stopping to listen outlook refocuses how I think about my needs and my agenda.

We are a people called and set apart to participate with Christ Jesus in being incarnational in the world – to pitch our tent besides others in order to discover not only what the Spirit is up to, but how we can be a part of what the Spirit is up to. In this way, the creativity is the Spirit’s as we discover new ministry opportunities and possibilities because as we stop to listen to the stories and lives of people we will become more than aware of how the Spirit is leading us to respond. This is how true ministry develops.

I am discovering that this is the best way and only way for living out my discipleship. I wish I had learned to live in this way 20 or 30 years ago. I do not want to live in any other way but to be open to where the Spirit of God leads as I attune myself to what the Spirit is saying and doing by stopping to listen to the people I have been placed among. And as I attune myself to the actions of the Spirit I am discovering that I am growing spiritually, becoming more and more like Christ. All I can say is Praise God!

Tuesday, July 27, 2010

Vol 1:25 Place Spirituality: Continuing Reflections on Introducting the Missional Church

These are continuing reflections on Roxburgh and Boren’s Introducing the Missional Church (Baker, 2009).

Much of Alan’s recent work has been a focus on moving back into the neighborhood (MBiN) – and I am particularly intrigued by the insights shared in this book. One such insight is place spirituality.

Contrasted are space spirituality and place spirituality. Of space spirituality, Alan and Scott express: “We have been shaped by a space spirituality that is founded in the rootlessness of modernity and postmodernity. In that worldview, mobility and anonymity are essential so that individuals can recreate themselves in empty space without accountability or authority. In space spirituality there is little need to recognize anything concrete or historical. In this space we can have private, individualistic experiences with God, and the church’s primary job is to promote such experiences. . . . With space spirituality there is little need to understand our context” (p. 78).

It is obvious that there is nothing incarnational about this because we are simply living out our lives in a space, but not becoming connected to the place we are in. To understand Jesus and his incarnation – because God came in Jesus Christ to dwell among us, to set up his tent among us, to live rubbing shoulders, lives with us – we need to begin to understand the significance of place spirituality.

The authors continue: “Place spirituality, on the other hand, helps us recognize that we live in a territory that is full of history, meaning, heartache, and joy. Jesus was incarnate in a concrete time and place in history; he was not an abstract, cultureless being in some kind of spiritual space. And today the Spirit is leading the church back into the neighborhood, into concrete territories to recognize what God is doing there” (p. 78).

This place spirituality reframes how we think about ourselves as church. Church is more than our gathering on Sundays in a particular space – whether we own or rent the facilities in which we worship. Rather, we are called to be a people gathered in a particular place where we live out our following Christ, living as sign, foretaste and instrument of God’s present and coming reign. As such a gathered people, it is not just about our gathering for worship, but we are gathered to encourage and support one another in living in a particular place to see what God sees, to see what God is up to, to hear what God is saying – and the only way we can do that is to engage in the life of the place where we have been sent to be an incarnational community.

We have got to get away from merely thinking about our place in the world, and begin to discover why the Spirit of God has placed us where we have been placed.

It is not about us, but rather it is about being the people of God in a particular place to reveal the purposes and presence of God, to live out the will of God in the midst of the brokenness of our communities – by being in relationship with people, families, colleagues, political, educational, and economic structures – so that by our living and interacting we make visible the presence of God’s reign. Our living in relation with others as disciples of Jesus Christ is not to point to ourselves, but to make real the hope of true peace and true life that only comes through the working of God in the world. It is because God chooses to work through a people called to participate with God’s actions in the world – that we are called to indwell places, to become integrated with places, to know the people living in these places, namely a place spirituality.

Let us challenge ourselves to be open to the power of the Spirit in us – to live within a place spirituality!

Next Week: I am taking a break for a couple of weeks while I go camping with my nephews in northern Wisconsin.

Tuesday, July 20, 2010

Vol 1:24 Continuing Reflections on Introducing the Missional Church: Developing a Missional Awareness

These are continuing reflections on Roxburgh and Boren’s excellent fresh reintroduction of missional church in Introducing the Missional Church (Baker, 2009).

Being missional is all about reimagining life in relation to the ongoing presence and activity of God in the world. Many of us who are in the church manage to talk about life experiences in ways which may cause listeners to wonder to what extent God is integrated within our lives. It is not that we have to use theological language, but it does mean we need to be theological aware that God is active all around us – and so how we view life must somehow engage language which gives expression to our awareness of God being active in mission and our participating with God.

In the opening section of chapter 4, Alan and Scott reflect upon what several church leaders were experiencing in experimenting Missionally: “. . . they were telling stories of engaging people in their neighborhoods. They talked about listening to the ways God was already at work in their communities. They shared about inviting neighbors over for meals and talking together about life with new friends around them. They had discovered that missional wasn’t about a new program or project inside the church but entering their community to sit alongside others and engage in gospel conversations. It was changing the ways they were being the church” (p. 65).

I share this quotation in part to ask how much of our lives and experiences are shaped by seeing what God sees, or seeing and hearing where God is acting and speaking. This is an awareness that we develop, an awareness in which we depend upon the Spirit of God to develop within us – otherwise we will probably go through life living, looking, and experiencing largely with our own eyes and ears.

The joy of being part of what God is up to in the world, is not only about hearing and responding to God’s call; it’s also about being transformed by the Spirit of God to our seeing where Jesus is in the world and our being like Jesus in the world. Spirituality today is often about us and our experiences, but our participating with God is not so much about us as it is our being in partnership with God in bringing about what God is doing in the world to make all things and all people new.

I am reminded of Mother Teresa’s advice to the novice sisters who came to Calcutta to minister alongside her. She said that if they were there only to help people they would not last long – rather what makes the difference is seeing Jesus in people. It is about seeing Jesus who is suffering, Jesus who is living in the gutter – and seeing Jesus is what kept Mother Teresa doing what she did – because she was more than caring for people, she was caring for Jesus.

As we develop awareness – an inner language – of seeing what God sees, of seeing God active in the world, we too will begin seeing our lives, our circumstances and experiences, seeing people all around us as Jesus living in our midst. Seeing Jesus engaging the lives of people all around us can only change the whole way we live because we become like Jesus in ministering to all those to whom the Spirit leads us.

Do we dare live in light of seeing what God sees?

Tuesday, July 13, 2010

Vol 1:23 Continuing Reflection on Introducing the Missional Church: Stepping Out into the Neighborhood

These are continuing reflections on Roxburgh and Boren’s excellent fresh reintroduction of missional church in Introducing the Missional Church (Baker, 2009).

Over the past number of weeks my reflections were on mystery, memory, and mission. Today, I move on reflection on the next chapter of Does Missional Fit?

Being missional is being about having our imagination being inspired by the Spirit of God – to have new eyes, ears, and hearts to notice what God notices, and to catch glimpse of what God is already doing all around us in the neighborhoods in which we live.

Alan and Scott express that: “A new imagination is being formed within [missional] people. They realize that simply calling something missional is not the point. They know that it is much more than church planting or some form of house church. They have opened themselves up and ventured out on an experimental journey into their neighborhoods to see what God is up to in this world” (p. 53).

I have experienced the adventure of discovering what God is up to in my neighborhood by walking around my neighborhood, by connecting with my neighbors, by hanging out in what Ray Oldenburg calls third places (places where people in the community hang out and connect). Discovering what God is up to in our neighborhoods is about our becoming neighbors to our neighbors, taking a real interest in them as people – not as “targets” we are attempting to get into our churches. By having a conversation over coffee in a local coffee shop, talking about what we are reading or what’s going on in our lives, by talking with a neighbor over the fence or in the grocery store, by walking my neighborhood with my dog Dakota, praying for my neighbors, stopping to say hi and see how they are doing – is all part of being open, having ears and eyes and hearts open to what God is up to in their lives. And as we begin to discern what God is doing in them, we begin to discover how God might want to use us to be a part of what God is doing in their lives.

This kind of approach does not seem all that driven – at times it seems downright slow, but by all means it is intentional in having ears and eyes that seek to hear and see what God is up to. Being missional is being aware that God’s Spirit is already at work – Spirit work to which we add our prayers, Spirit work to which we add our lives, Spirit work to which we add our voices.

One of the greatest things I am discovering in being missional in this way is that the Spirit fills me, a guy who is basically shy and somewhat reserved (some conclude that this is due to my Canadian heritage), with courage to be open to notice what God is up to in my neighbors’ lives – and with this courage, I begin to speak not just about me and them, but what God is up to in their lives, their situations – and what is amazing is that I am not the first voice, but add my voice to what the Spirit is already speaking in them. What is amazing is that I do not have to “make” an openness to God happen – the Spirit of God has already gone ahead of me to open lives to the working of God in them – I become one who gets to participate with what God is already doing by being the hands and feet of the Spirit, by “incarnating,” if you will, the presence of the Spirit.

Why would I want to minister in any other way?

Tuesday, June 29, 2010

Vol 1:22 Continuing Reflections on Introducing the Missional Church: Rediscovering our Missional Calling

In Roxburgh and Boren’s Introducing the Missional Church (Baker, 2009) the metaphor of the missional life is expressed through being a “missional river.” The currents of this river are described as involving mystery, memory, and mission (p. 39).

Over the past two weeks my reflections were on mystery, and memory; today I focus upon mission.

Mission focuses upon making clear what our role is within the world as the church of Jesus Christ. Just as Abraham and Israel were called for the sake of the world – which means that God reveals and demonstrates God’s purpose for reconciling humanity and restoring the world through those whom God calls, likewise God has called the church “to be the demonstration of what all creation is to be” (p. 45).

This is a reframing of how we understand church, how we understand ourselves in relation to church. As North Americans much of our religious experience, much of our church life has been around self actualization. Spirituality is defined and experienced as what heals us as we do the inner work of becoming whole. “The church in North America to a large extent has lost this [missional] memory to the point that mission is but a single element in multifaceted, programmatic congregations serving the needs of its members. The gospel is now a religious message that meets the needs of self-actualizing individuals” (p. 45).

Though healing work is important work, it is not our primary calling or work. Roxburgh and Boren state that, “there is no participation in Christ without participation in God’s mission in the world” (p. 45). I agree with this statement – we are called first and foremost to participate with God in accomplishing the redemptive purpose of God in the world (and somehow in the midst of this giving of ourselves to God the Spirit brings healing to us as a gift, which we receive as a gift). The church’s calling is to be “God’s missionary people” (p. 45).

In coming to understand this, we come face to face with the Gospel which confronts our tendency to make God about us, rather than our being involved in life and ministry for God.

On numerous occasions Jesus declared that to follow him involves denying self, taking up the cross (dying) and following after him (cf. Matthew 16: 24ff, Mark 8: 34ff, Luke 9: 23ff). Being baptized – by either water or the Spirit, is not about becoming privileged, or aligned with the powers of the world, but dying with Christ, being raised with Christ, in order to live to God (cf. Romans 6: 5ff).

Unless we get this, unless we understand this, being Christian, living out the Gospel is always going to be about us, our self-actualization. God is merely an aspect of our life, but not the center or all of our life. But if I respond to God’s call – it is a giving of all who I am to God; all of who I am is placed at God’s disposal for God to do in me, through me, whatever God desires to do with my life. It is no longer I who live, but Christ who lives in me (cf. Galatians 2:20).

If this cost is too great (cf. Luke 9: 57ff), then perhaps we need to reevaluate to what extent we can call ourselves followers and disciples of Jesus Christ. If God has a convenient place in our lives, rather than all of life being centered in God, then we may be religious folk, but we are not God’s people participating with God in making all things new.

I know we mess up more than we want to in life, and we do not always live exemplifying the purposes of God as God’s people, but is it our confession to be God’s people, a people who participate with God in living out God’s mission, to seek to be centered in God, to seek to love our neighbors as Christ loves us, to recognize we do not do this well alone but we need the Spirit of God to take hold of our lives? I pray that we who call ourselves Christian indeed do identify and center ourselves with and in Jesus Christ – in being rooted in Christ, only in this way are we empowered to be the people of God, accomplishing with God, God’s purpose for the redemption of the world.

Tuesday, June 22, 2010

Vol 1: 21 Continuing Reflection on Introducing the Missional Church: The Place of Memory in Shaping us as God's People

Roxburgh and Boren’s in Introducing the Missional Church (Baker, 2009) express the metaphor of the missional life as being a “missional river.” The currents of this river are described as involving mystery, memory, and mission (p. 39).

Last week, I focused my reflections on mystery, today on memory.

Memory has to do with what shapes us as God’s people in present day. In remembering God and God’s Story, in that God is missional, we are shaped in being a missional people. The authors express that memory in Scripture is different than our understanding today. Today, memory or remembering has to do with reminiscing, but in the biblical narratives, memory and remembering had everything to do with living as the missional people of God.

Roxburgh and Boren express:

“The biblical narratives present a radically different understanding of memory. The memory of God’s choosing and acting is never confined to the past; it lives in the present and shapes the future. It is the reliving and reenacting of past events in the present because these events continue to have power and are the primary shapers of life.
The Feast of the Passover is an example. It relives and celebrates the first Passover, and in so doing it continually re-forms the people of God, giving them their present identity. This is why the language of remembering and forgetting is so prevalent in the Old Testament; to forget is to cease to be who you are as a people” (p. 43).

Another example is the Lord’s Supper – Jesus declared whenever we participate in communion that it is to be in terms of memory – not just remembering a past event, but in Jesus establishing a new covenant rooted in his life, death, and resurrection, we too are shaped to be the people of God as we are reminded of who we are when we partake of the bread and the cup.

We read Scripture, then, not so much to get information, but to remember the acts of God in human history so that we might be shaped to be the people of God. We participate with the cloud of witnesses in Hebrews 11 – because their lives and their stories of encountering God and God encountering them, shapes our being open to God encountering us and we encountering God. We immerse ourselves in the narratives of Scripture to be shaped to live as God’s missional people.

Therefore, we need to develop practices of memory by engaging Scripture. Whether we engage Scripture individually, corporately, through quiet prayer or through a corporate discernment, we engage Scripture in order to be shaped as God’s people. For this reason, we need to pray for a new vision of Scripture in our lives. For many, it has become a “dead” book, retelling of past events. But the writer of Hebrews tells us that Scripture is living and dynamic – it has the power to create and shape us as the people of God – it enlivens and enriches our memory, our remembering of who we are created to be, who we are gathered together to be as a community of Christ in this world.

Question for Response:
In what ways do you open yourself to Scripture so that the Spirit of God through it can create new life in you, shape you within community to be a person rooted in Christ, focused on living within God’s missional purpose?

Share these with one another – help each of us remember how we are being shaped.

Tuesday, June 15, 2010

Vol 1:20 Continuing Reflection on Introducing the Missional Church: The Mystery of God's Choosing

As I continue to read and reflect on Roxburgh and Boren’s book Introducing the Missional Church (Baker, 2009), I find that I appreciate the metaphor of the missional life being a “missional river.” The currents of this river is described as involving mystery, memory, and mission (p. 39).

Stated is that “entering the missional waters is not about strategies or models; it is about working with the currents that shape our imagination of what God is doing in the world” (p. 39). In focusing on mystery, it becomes clear that in our rationalistic way of trying to understand the world, understand God, in order to make sense for us these things that are beyond our full understanding, that we are often uncomfortable with mystery.

Both in the Old Testament and the New, Israel’s existence and those who made up the early church – even those who make up the church today, cannot be explained by “human action or preference.” The mystery that we are called to immerse ourselves in is that God is a choosing and acting God – God chose Israel, God in Christ chose the first disciples, and God through the present working of the Holy Spirit draws people into living relationship with God through Jesus Christ. The rhyme or reason for this choosing is in God and not dependent upon our actions or status – God is the one who chooses, and as Roxburgh and Boren state, “the mystery is that God has chosen to act, and we cannot and will not find any explanation beyond his choosing and acting” (p. 42).

The purpose, however, for the mystery of God’s choosing is not to make us more privileged or more favored than others in the world – but rather, and this is key, we are “chosen by God to represent him for the sake of the world” (p. 42). I am reminded of a line in The Fiddler on the Roof, where Tevye remarks to God, in the midst of the struggle and suffering associated with being God’s people, that he had enough with the “blessing of being chosen” and wondered if God might choose another people for a while.

Though there is blessing in being chosen, being chosen to represent God for the sake of the world can often make life more difficult for us because we are called to give voice, act, and in all that we are and do to demonstrate what it is to be a people living under the reign of God. Living as God’s people is not about being more successful than others as it is about being a people who demonstrate what human life looks like when it is lived under God’s rule – no matter whether we experience worldly success or not. It is not about “become a Christian and have everything become marvelous in your life,” it is about being a people who live out the new reality of being human in a very different kind of way – being human in the ways of God.

In this sense, this makes “church shopping” obsolete, because church shopping is about our choosing. Yet, to live as God’s people, we need to recognize the mystery of God calling and choosing us so that we might live demonstrating God’s purposes in the world, rather than our own. As Roxburgh and Boren state: “Those called into the church did not choose to join a voluntary society; they are called and chosen by God. They are called to be a sign, witness, and foretaste of God’s [present and] coming kingdom. To participate in the missional journey is to embrace this mystery [of being chosen] and allow this reality to overwhelm and supersede the pressing matters of being a successful church or growing the church, which seems to dominate our imagination” (p. 42).

Simply put, the mystery is this: We are chosen to accomplish the purpose of God and to demonstrate human life that is shaped by God’s reign; it is not about our success, it is about God’s redemptive purpose, God’s redemptive mission being accomplished in which we are called and chosen to participate through Christ Jesus in the power of the Holy Spirit.

And one last point – our living as ones called by God is not for the purpose of dividing or separating us from others, or for us to see ourselves as more right than others, but rather to give evidence through our living under God’s rule, of God’s desire to call all people into relationship with him in order for all to be re-created into a new humanity.

Next week: Continuing Reflections on Introducing the Missional Church

Tuesday, June 8, 2010

Vol 1:19 Further Reflections on "Introducing the Missional Church": Missional Imagination and Scripture

A few weeks back I mentioned that I was reading Roxburgh and Boren’s book Introducing the Missional Church (Baker, 2009). Well I have gotten deeper into it and it worth some time reflecting on it further.

The back end of the book focuses on the missional change model which Alan introduced with Fred Romanuk in The Missional Leader (Jossey-Bass, 2006), but with added insight and clarity.
However, I would like to offer a few short reflections over the next few weeks – beginning from the first parts of the book. As I mentioned I am asking my Church Board to read through and discuss this book as part of our discerning what it for us as a community to be missional. One of the key areas that Alan and Scott Boren lead us to grasp is that being missional is not so much about defining and categorizing as it is being open to be led by the Spirit in developing our missional imagination.

Just as the kingdom or reign of God cannot be defined, but imagined, so to being missional is more about imagining than it is about developing strategies and models for us to follow. It is amazing that Jesus taught about the kingdom of God in parables, helping hearers to grasp “pictures” of the kingdom – pictures stay with us longer than words. Likewise, being missional is about getting into the flow of the Spirit, or the missional river as Roxburgh and Boren put it, which open us up to God, to see what God sees, and to see what God is doing and saying in the neighborhoods around where we live and worship.

Developing our missional imagination is a journey in which we begin to visualize the way God moves in our world in the presence of the Spirit – if we set aside our agendas and open ourselves to be captured by the redemptive activity of God in the world. Scripture has a foundational role in developing our missional imagination. Listen to what they express:

“Scripture does not so much define reality as invite us onto a journey in which we discover the world God is creating. This can make us restless and confused. If we persist on this journey into the strange world of the Bible, it will form our imaginations in radically new ways; it will change how we see the world. This happened to the Hebrew people when they were called out of Egypt. Its meaning and shape had to be discovered along the way. They may have thought it would be a simple matter of tracing a well-traveled line on a map and getting to the Promised Land, but God had different things in mind. In the desert God shaped a people with an imagination that couldn’t be taught or defined in Egypt” (p. 39).

Indeed we need a new understanding of Scripture as Alan and Scott describe. Too often we see Scripture as only being prescriptive, a book of what to do, stories that do not connect with our own lives, unless we do the difficult work of applying it to ourselves (which we are not all that eager to do at times). Yet, in seeing Scripture as God’s Story and Vision, of God’s interaction with a people through which God chose to demonstrate a new way of being human in the world, we begin to discover in these relationships, encounters, struggles, a way of being open to God who is able to create new life in the midst of all that is dying and dead – enabling our imagination to be ignited and shaped, enabling us to see visions and dream dreams (cf. Act 2) of new ways of being human and humane in the 21st century. Scripture is more than a book to be studied, it is to open our hearts, ears, eyes, our lives to the re-creating, making new, presence of God in the world – a way of hearing and seeing that comes through the imagination more than it does our senses.

No matter how much we desire God in our lives, little of this desire will become reality unless we become a people who immerse ourselves in the Story and Vision of God (i.e., the Scriptures, the Bible). In immersing ourselves in Scripture, we are shaped by the Spirit of God to see not only more of God with our imagination, but we begin to be set free to imagine and to live into that imagination of what God is doing in re-creating humanity and the world. Also, we discover how we are being shaped and called by God to be an integral part of incarnating our Spirit-immersed imagination in ways which reorient the world in the way of shalom (peace, wholeness). Perhaps an ongoing prayer for our being open for our imagination to be shaped by the Spirit of God is pray for a passion to be immersed in the Bible – for it to transform our imaginations and the living out of that imagination in our lives.

Next week: Continuing Reflections on Introducing the Missional Church

Tuesday, June 1, 2010

Vol 1:18 Being Missional in Preaching: Some Ways I am Trying to be Interactive

For a number of weeks now I have been experimenting with a different approach to preaching – an approach which is more interactive. It has led me to trust the leading of the Spirit more, especially in the midst of preaching because not all the notes I prepared (which I have whittled down to two pages – since I do not want to be glued to my notes) get used in what I have to convey, rather what is communicated from the congregation in the midst of this interaction shapes much of where the message goes.

So I am in the midst of being retrained in how I preach, as is the congregation – the congregation is becoming more open to becoming active participants rather than listening spectators. Here are some things I am learning or ways I am trying to be interactive.

1. I still spend much time in preparation. I read and reflect on the passages that shape the message that I am sensing the Spirit of God wants us to engage on a particular Sunday. I should let you know that my practice of preparation involves about 3 weeks. The first week, which is about 3 weeks in advance of the Sunday this message will be focused upon, I read through the Scriptures, do some exegesis, and I attempt to see what comes to the fore of my mind and heart as I meditate on these passages. The second week – about 2 weeks in advance, I prepare an outline, interact with other authors, ideas, engage in dialogue with others on the theme, etc. The third week – in preparation for the coming Sunday, I write out what I want to focus upon – in a two page format (landscape, front and back).

2. I try to focus on only one point now – the one thing I believe the Spirit of God wants us as a community to focus upon. This one point usually grows out of one particular passage, which in turn becomes the main focal passage. I have discovered that focusing on one concept, one idea, enables participants to grasp hold of it much easier and integrate it with their lives – which after all is what we are hoping that engaging God’s word together effects.

3. In having one focus, I seek to try to get at it from more than one perspective, realizing that different persons in the congregation may connect with one out of two or three perspectives, or help reinforce what is being expressed and discussed for others.

4. This kind of approach is very dependent upon the congregation coming prepared for the Scripture engagement on Sunday morning – which we are still in process of forming as a habit. I develop an Interactive Discussion Guide, which gets emailed to the congregation on Wednesdays, and is reproduced in the bulletin on Sundays for those who have not yet prepared or need to be refreshed on the theme for the day. I include the primary passages, the focal passage, a quotation for reflection, and 3 or 4 questions to guide their reflecting upon and engaging the text.

5. On Sunday mornings, during the time in which we plan on interacting with the text together, I pull up a bar stool and sit down in front of the congregation so that we are more face to face for a conversation. I begin with introducing the theme with a thought or two to get us focused on the one thing we are planning to engage that morning.

6. This focusing is usually followed up with a question which encourages the congregation to begin to voice their perspective on the theme. This may involve people expressing their thoughts out loud, or I have even used a 3-4 minute small group discussion and then have different groups share what they were talking about.

7. At this point, I pick up a particular direction I sense the dialogue is heading and incorporate what has been expressed into what I have prepared ahead of time. Most of the time I notice that I neglect to present about one-third to one-half of what I prepared in order to engage the dialogue the way it has been expressed. I still keep the focus on the primary point, but the congregation’s involvement raises new perspectives and questions which help reshape the way I was planning on presenting the message.

8. Usually, at some point, after the main point has been addressed, I ask the congregation to reflect upon how this might shape their living – and this begins another round of interaction. I realize that I need to give time for people to speak – you need to be comfortable with a minute or so of silence as people try to formulate their reflections in order to speak. There is also the fact that some are getting up the courage to speak out loud – depending on what I am noticing in terms of body language, etc., I may ask someone what is on their mind to assist in giving someone the courage to speak.

9. After this time of interaction, I try to summarize and remake the main focus of the morning as it has been shaped by the congregation’s engagement. This is almost always something I have not prepared, but grows out of what the Spirit of God has been doing in our midst as we have engaged the text together.

Overall, I am still learning to become comfortable with this approach, comfortable with not saying everything I have prepared, comfortable with silence as people reflect, comfortable with giving space to the congregation to become comfortable in interaction. But I do not want to become too comfortable, because there is something about keeping it on the edge that makes this a work of the Spirit in our midst – unpredictable as to where we might head or a question that is raised, but intensely alive, but it allows for us to hear the Spirit speak through us as a congregation seeking to help each other grow in the way of Christ in the world, so that together we might participate with God in what God is doing in making all things new.

Next week: Further Reflections on Introducing the Missional Church