Thursday, February 17, 2011

Vol 2:7 Noticing God Already Active in Our Community

Being missional is all about God, participating with what God is up to in the world around us, noticing what God is noticing, seeing the people whom God loves whom God came to set free in Jesus Christ. Last week I mentioned I was at a gathering of FORGE America and though we were using the missional language I noticed that some were missing the point of what it means to be missional. I heard among some who participated the strategies with which they were going to bring into a community in order to engage people missionally in a community – but all they were doing was trading “program” language for “strategy” language.

The point is that we cannot go into an area with predetermined plans – be they programs or strategies; we must first enter into a particular place – be it a neighborhood, be it a urban community, be it suburbia – and begin listening for God, begin looking for God – where God is already active and engaging the people whom God came to in Jesus Christ. It means taking the time to be like Jesus, to be incarnational as Jesus was – and by that I mean, “pitching our tent,” being present among a people in order to discover where the Spirit is already moving. Once we hear the voice of God being expressed in cries of the marginalized, the poor, once we see God moving through unlikely groups of people and organizations, perhaps even a church or two, then we are ready to begin asking, “Lord, how do you want us to participate with you in what you are already doing?” It is only after we have engaged in such a process of discerning discovery that we can begin to develop strategies and/or initiatives.

For a while now, the community I serve has been discovering the voice of God in our community in which we find ourselves. We have heard God speaking through community organizers, through county agencies, through the gifts and passions the Spirit of God has poured out into our lives – and for our discipleship community of Christ we are hearing that engaging in food justice is one of the ways we live out the present and coming reign of God in our midst.

The congregation I serve is hearing God’s voice through various organizations expressing the need for strengthening the wellness of persons and families in our communities – churches, community organizations, people able to survive because food is available through food pantries. In this past week, I have been involved in five different gatherings or conversations where providing healthy food to those in need was the primary agenda – a group of pastors and churches sharing the need for accessible and affordable produce and other healthy alternatives in their own communities, a county commissioner convening a dialogue on how to develop urban community gardens, a forest preserve district interested in purchasing urban lots for allotment and community gardens, a conservancy willing to partner with us as a congregation as we seek to develop a church supported agriculture initiative, a local partnership of non-profits seeking to enhance the lives of those struggling to have a better life. This confluence of interest and voices is not mere coincidence – it is seeing and hearing God being active in our midst.

Indeed, God’s voice comes in many different ways, through many different people, through sacred and secular organizations – we need to be open to hear God speak through whomever and however God chooses to speak. Are we listening? Are we watching?

Tuesday, February 8, 2011

Vol 2:6 A Brief Note

It has been a busy few weeks – being with my ailing parents in Canada, a week at Associated Mennonite Biblical Seminaries for a Pastor’s Week, our church retreat and now this week I am at a Forge International Event. This week we are dialoguing on what Forge seeks to accomplish in equipping church leaders so that missional communities can be birthed.

We are engaging in some fruitful theological and missional dialogue – asking questions about in what ways we need to deeply reframe our understanding of “church” as communities which gather around Jesus Christ, what does it mean to be incarnational and missional in a place (some good dialogue on theology of place), as well as what educational models are best for equipping missional leaders in context, how can we avoid falling into the same “trap” of running programs – be they missional programs, neglecting to first begin with noticing what God notices in our contexts and participating with what God is already doing?

There is much to unpack here and I will say more about our discoveries in future blogs – just wanted to let you know where I am this week.

Tuesday, February 1, 2011

Vol 2:5 In the Midst of Mission Let Us Not Forget to Love God

Last week I was at the Associated Mennonite Biblical Seminaries in Elkhart, IN for a week-long Pastor’s Conference. Two things shaped me that week that focus my thoughts this week.

I picked up Stanley Hauerwas’ Hannah’s Child: A Theologian’s Memoir, which I read whenever I could find a place to sit down to read. Also, on Thursday morning, Leonard Dow, a Mennonite pastor from Philadelphia, preached reminding us not to forget to say “I love you Jesus” in the midst of our living.

In walking with Hauerwas as he reflects on his life journey and being reminded to say “I love you God,” I was reminded how human we are in the midst of our living – and how God is with us in the midst of our humanity. We are not alone – God is with us; we have been and are being set free from all that seeks to destroy us through the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus Christ; we are sustained as the Holy Spirit dwells within us; we are loved by God!

We are loved by God and God involves us in God’s mission because God loves us.

One of the things I have noticed about me is that in being missional I can quickly be caught up with the task of being involved in mission. I recognize that God is the initiator and accomplisher of God’s mission, but I realize that I am so caught up in “doing mission” that I forget to love the Lord my God. I may think it at times, but I find myself not saying it to God – hardly ever. I do love God, very deeply, and with all of my being – but in being caught up in mission I have forgotten to say these words outloud:

“I love you God, I thank you for all that you are doing in me, for wherever you are leading me, that you are leading me. I love you. I thank you that, as inept as I am, you trust me more than I trust myself in participating with you in seeing your will being done on earth just as it is in heaven. Jesus, I love you. You are with me – I am not alone – you sustain me, your flood me with your grace, your peace – and in times of loneliness or self-doubt you are with me, loving me. I love you Lord.”

Our involvement in mission is not to be a task, nor being a missional people is to be a mere duty-filled act of obedience. Our involvement in mission, in participating with God, is an act of worshiping God, an act of loving God. If it is not, no matter how engaged in mission we are, no matter how we move back into the neighborhood, we will miss revealing that God is redeeming the world because God loves the world – that God so loves the world that God sent the One and Only Son to be with us, not to condemn the world, but to set all humanity free (cf. John 3:16-17).

Our being a missional people is a call that is lived out in response to worshiping God, to loving God with all our heart, with all our soul, with all our mind, with all our strength. We are so good at doing – Lord help us to express our love to you with our words, with our voices, with our lives, and with our actions.

Join me in expressing our “I love you" to God.