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