Tuesday, May 25, 2010

Vol 1:17 Being Missional in Preaching: Hearing the Voice of the Spirit in Our Midst

Missional leading that is concerned with cultivating missional awareness is also concerned with the congregation discerning the leading of the Spirit. What is the Spirit doing amongst us? What is the Spirit doing in the community into which we are being sent? How are we being equipped and empowered by the Spirit to participate in God’s mission in our ministry settings? These are key questions – for which I see preaching playing an important role in cultivating a congregation to become more deeply sensitive to the Spirit’s leading.

A former colleague of mine at Northern Seminary, Michael J. Quicke, taught a course entitled Leadership Through Preaching, which ended up becoming a book – 360 Degree Leadership, in which he argues that preaching is key to leading that brings about transformation. In addition, I believe that the kind of preaching that is key is one that involves the congregation in discerning together where God is leading us as a church to participate with God in God’s mission.

In a previous column I mentioned that leadership is about discerning and articulating the vision the Spirit of God is casting within a church community, seeing the people themselves as gifts the Spirit bestows to the community because it is their gifts and passions that give us a clue of how God is shaping us to be participants in God’s mission.

Since Easter I have been exploring a different approach to preaching – I even discovered it has a name – interactive preaching – though little is written about it. Basically, it is about engendering a conversation on Sunday morning so that we encounter God’s Word in a multi-voiced way, rather than God’s Word being expressed as a monologue – i.e., my being the sole voice in preaching.

It involves retraining me as well as the congregation, because preaching for centuries has been the primary profession of the clergy – this is how I was trained in seminary. But if we take seriously the priesthood of all believers (which the Reformation expressed, but did little practically to bring it about) then somehow what God is saying to us, how we understand Scripture, how we hear the Spirit opening us to Scripture, is to be a communal activity, rather than an activity limited to clergy.

This is still very new to me and I am making mistakes as I am learning to be more open to hear what the Spirit is saying to us through the Word of God. I also believe that we as a community are beginning to learn to engage Scripture, express insights that the Spirit brings in ways that are fresh and particularly relevant. Over the centuries preaching has involved one speaking and the rest listening, but interactive preaching is an attempt for each one of us in the community to take on the calling of being open to Jesus, being open to the Spirit, so that together we might be led in being sent out to participate with God in God’s redemptive mission. Mission and ministry are corporate activities, so why not preaching as well?

This was the way the early Anabaptists engaged Scripture in worship – together; this seems to be what Paul was getting at in 1 Corinthians 14 in which each one brings something with them to share in their gatherings, for some to prophecy, and others to speak in tongues and others yet to interpret – it involves the church being the Body of Christ – building up one another, being responsible for discipling one another. It involves a whole different attitude in how we come to worship on Sundays – rather than being about “being ministered to by the Word,” we instead having spent time in Scripture, come prepared to engage others, share insights in hearing corporately what the Spirit of God is saying to us, so that we might be obedient as a community to where and how we are being sent by God.

It seems I am rambling a bit – but I am trying to get my mind and life more around what it means for a community to “preach” the Word to one another in an interactive way. I believe as we develop facility with this approach to preaching, the community I serve will become more deeply engaged in God’s Story and Vision (Scripture) and be continually transformed as a community that is sign, foretaste, and instrument of God’s present and coming reign. May we be open to hearing and expressing God’s word as a multi-voice community.

Next week: Being missional in preaching – Some ways I am trying to be interactive

Tuesday, May 18, 2010

Vol 1:16 Reflections on What I'm Reading

The book written by several missional authors that helped establish missional understanding in the North American context is Missional Church: A Vision for the Sending of the Church in North America (Eeredmans, 1998). It provided a theological foundation for understanding the need for a missional understanding of church in North America. Many readers struggled with how to apply Missional Church to their settings, asking the question, “what does a missional church look like?” In response the Gospel and Our Culture Network produced Treasure in Clay Jars: Patterns in Missional Faithfulness (Eerdmans. 2004) which presented nine congregational sketches – churches that were very different from one another – to show how being missional was not so much about a particular model of church, but instead displaying a particular pattern in being the people of God who are sign, instrument, and foretaste of God’s present and coming reign.

Other helpful books on understanding missional over the years have been The Church Between Gospel and Culture: The Emerging Mission in North America (Eerdmans, 1996), StormFront: The Good News of God (Eerdmans, 2003), a recent collection of writings known as the Missional Church Series also published by Eerdmans, features titles such as, The Missional Church in Context: Helping Congregations Develop Contextual Ministry and The Missional Church and Denominations: Helping Congregations Develop a Missional Identity – to name two.

However, a recent book I have picked up is a great primer on re-understanding the importance of being missional. It seems that far too many have co-opted the term missional to mean what they want it to mean, such as being associated with church growth and attractional understandings of church, but all these dilute an understanding of what is meant by missional. Alan Roxburgh and Scott Boren have produced an excellent volume (so far at least since I just started reading it) on helping readers interested in understanding what missional is about to cut through all the pseudo understandings in order to help us rediscover the essence of being missional in North America. Their book is entitled, Introducing the Missional Church: What it is, why it matters, how to become one (Baker Books, 2009).

I am planning on having our Church Board read through this book together so that the community I pastor might come to more clearly understand why being missional is so important and in what ways we need to be open to being transformed so as to become missional in all we are and do.

Roxburgh and Boren take their readers on a journey to understand how missional is more of a metaphor than a model, how it is related to living as God’s people demonstrating the present and coming reign of God, how it reframes an understanding of church as being sent into the world, rather than being the community that sends. They talk about developing a missional imagination that is more rooted in a biblical imagination than a modern worldview. Missional is a fluid concept pictured better as a river than an idea to be defined. Missional is about participating with God in God’s mission, rather than our seeking God to bless our activities.

So, if you need a refresher on understanding missional or have never really understood what it means, I invite you to read this book along with me.

Next week: Being missional in preaching – Hearing the voice of the Spirit in our midst

Saturday, May 15, 2010

Vol 1:15 Visioning and God's Mission (Part 4: Leading that Cultivates Mission)

Missional leading is different than the kind of leadership many of us have done or experienced. I remember a number of years ago when I stepped out of the pastorate to do doctoral studies, I found myself being on the other side of the pulpit. Sitting in the pew, I realized that the pastoral leadership in the church I was attending did not connect with me, nor as I noticed, those sitting next to me. As I reflected on this, I realized that this was the kind of pastoral leadership I had brought to my previous 11 years of ministry – this current style of leading did not connect with those I had been called to shepherd.

This began a ten year exploration of reframing the way I fulfilled my calling as pastor – and I came to discover that the kind of leading that is essential is one that cultivates God’s mission – and cultivation is quite different from the “CEO-type” model many of us have come to accept as normative.

Many of our models of leadership or leading have to do with exerting direct control or action to bring about particular outcomes. These models tend to view people as means to accomplishing such purposes, seeing people as “having gifts,” rather than being the gifts the Spirit of God has gathered together in a community. Seeing people as ones whom the Spirit of God is forming, calls for a different approach to shepherding the body of Christ – a more organic, relational approach, and though we are focused on a task of being sign, instrument, and foretaste of God’s present and coming reign, leading people cannot be a mere task.

Alan Roxburgh, in Missional Leader, gives voice to leading as cultivation.

“The idea of leadership as cultivating an environment is difficult to grasp because of our ingrained conviction that leadership is about providing solutions and strategies with predefined ends. Rather than the leader [or leaders] having plans and strategies that the congregation will affirm and follow, cultivation describes the leader as one who works the soil of the congregation so as to invite and constitute the environment for the people of God to discern what the Spirit is doing in, with, and among them as a community” (Missional Leader, 28).

He expresses that cultivating leading “releases the missional imagination of God’s ordinary people” (Missional Leader, 29).

I believe that leading that cultivates begins with realizing that the Spirit of God is already at work in our congregations; the Spirit is gathering the people who are uniquely suited to the mission for which we are being called and sent. Their particular gifts and passions reveal how God is equipping us as a community to participate with God in God’s redemptive mission.

Rather, than leadership receiving a vision from on high and then disseminating or “selling” that vision to the congregation (which I believe is more of an Old Testament model of leading), missional leading or leadership expressed through the servanthood that Christ expressed and modeled, focuses on discerning and expressing the calling and vision that the Spirit has placed among us through the gift of people the Spirit has gathered.

As shepherds give energy to developing relationships, discovering stories, gifts and passions of those whom the Spirit is gathering, leadership can begin to discern the visional patterns of what God is accomplishing in us and through us. As these patterns are expressed, vision is cast, but it is not a vision that has to be “sold” to the people, or for there to be “buy in” from the people, because this vision has already been rooted in the life of the congregation by the Spirit of God.

When Martin Luther King, Jr., expressed, “I have a dream,” he was not selling a dream, but was giving voice to the dream that was already in the hearts and lives of people – that is what made his declaration so moving. Likewise, when pastoral leadership discovers, for example, numerous musically-gifted people within their congregation, rather than saying, “hey, we’ve got a good pool of people to audition for filling existing ministry positions (seeing people as means), missional leadership begins to ask the cultivating and discerning question – “I wonder why God has gifted us with so many musically-gifted people; what is the Spirit of God saying to us regarding how we are to utilize music in participating with God in mission?”

This is a different kind of leading – one that is rooted in servantship; one that recognizes that the Spirit of God is already at work among us; one that recognizes that leading involves cultivating the soil of the congregation so that what can grow is what the Spirit of God has already planted.

There is much more I can say on this – I teach a whole seminar on this in various theological settings. But the point I am making is that missional leading is leading that follows the lead of the Spirit – what the Spirit is already engaged in within our church communities, and in the communities in which the church lives out its presence. Are we about casting our own vision, or are we about having eyes and ears to sense God’s vision already planted among us to which we learn to give voice and cultivate communities to respond?

Sunday, May 9, 2010

Vol 1:14 Vision and God's Mission (Part 3: What part of God's mission are we called to?)

So we begin to develop a sensitivity to see what God sees and in our daily openness to God we begin to notice what God is doing all around us in the lives of people – but we cannot participate in all that God is doing. So, what part of all what God is doing are we to be about doing, what part of God’s mission are we called to do?

So much of what we have been taught about church ministry has to do with seeing a need and filling it – but human need is not to drive our agenda for ministry, obedience to God and God’s call upon us is to guide our participation in what God is accomplishing.

Ray Anderson sheds light on this question for us.

“Christ’s primary ministry is to the Father for the sake of the world, not to the world for the sake of the Father. This means that the world does not set the agenda for ministry, but the Father, who loves the world and seeks its good, sets this agenda. This Christological, and actually Trinitarian, basis for ministry rules out both utilitarianism, which tends to create ministry out of needs, and pragmatism, which transforms ministry into marketing strategy” (Anderson, Theological Foundations for Ministry (1979), 8-9).

It helps us understand that because God loves the world, that our participating with God ensures that what we are about is a participation in the redemptive mission of God in the world – though we see needs all around us, we are called to respond to those people in need to whom God sends us. But is there a clue as to whom God is sending us?

I believe there is!

It has to do with who we are as the body of Christ – and the gifts and passions the Spirit bestows on members of the body. Too often we have seen gift discovery inventories as ways to find people in our churches to fill the ministry opportunities we already have within our settings. This sees people within congregations as “tools” to merely engage in ministries that are already established in which we make the people “fit” the ministries of our churches.

But what if the people, their gifts and passions are the indicators of what God wants us to be involved in?

If God sets the agenda for ministry, and if we believe that it is God who calls and gathers the community of Christ to participate in fulfilling God’s mission, and if we believe that the Spirit of God bestows gifts for ministries and passion for ministry, then a key indicator to guide our mission participation is to take notice of whom God has gathered into the body of Christ.

Our discovery of one another’s gifts and passions enables us to see how God is “resourcing” or equipping us to participate in that part of what God is doing for which God is calling us and sending us. We do not have to do all of God’s ministry – after all there are other communities of Christ around us; we are called to do the ministry for which the Spirit of God equips us.

This means that we need to take a look at one another in a very different way – not in how we can use one another in ministry – but how inherent within each one’s life, passions, and gifts is the way God wants us to be involved in God’s mission.

As new people are gathered into the community, this mission expands or changes, and as people move on to other opportunities or callings, our mission changes as well. This is a calling to notice one another – because not only is God maturing us in Christ, but in this maturing process we are also equipped for participating with God in God’s redemptive mission in the world.

A book that first helped me begin to understand this was one written in the late 70s – Unleashing the Church: Getting People Out of the Fortress and into Ministry (Tillapaugh). The church described in this book began to see ministry and mission in terms of those God was bringing into their church. Rather than making people fit the ministry, ministry was seen as fitting those God was bringing into the church.

Our participating in God’s mission requires us to love and care for the people God has gathered in a different way – they not only have gifts, they indeed are gifts the Spirit is giving in the forming of Christ communities in order for these communities to participate with God in those aspects of God’s mission for which we are uniquely equipped and called. Noticing people as gifts puts ministry in right relationship with people – ministries flow out of the gifts, passions and callings of people, rather than people being mere “tools” for the performance of ministry.

May we see each other as a gift with which God has blessed us.