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?