Tuesday, March 29, 2011

Vol 2:12 No Place for Spectators: Pastoral Care, Church, and Mission

There is no place for spectators in the missional church – all who respond to the call of Christ are sent into the world to be participants with God in God’s redemptive mission. Now at first, even as I make this statement, it sounds biased towards those who are able, and so perhaps even a bit harsh – what about those who may be unable to actively participate, those who may be struggling, those who are weak, those who are in need to help, those who require care – is there no place for them in the missional church? I guess it all depends upon what we mean by “participating with God in God’s mission” and how we think about those who require care in our midst?

I believe not only those who give care, but also those who are recipients of care in the church, are participating with God in God’s mission. It is a misunderstanding to think of those who are recipients of ministry are spectators and those who “do” ministry are participants. I understand a spectator to be someone quite different – not even on the giving care – receiving care continuum. A spectator is someone who is not involved. They sit on the sidelines or in the stands observing and they do not contribute to the ministry of the church. They neither give nor receive – they are just watching, seeing what is going on.

It is erroneous to think that only those who are doing are participating with God in God’s mission. This understanding has more to do with our Western bias that only those who are doing are productive or contributing. But that is to misunderstand what it means to be the community of Christ Jesus in the world. Those who receive ministry or receive care are also actively engaged in participating with God in God’s mission. Those who receive care, by their presence help shape the church be missional – to pray for one another, to care for one another, to share or carry one another’s burdens, to express grace, hope, love, peace, to offer comfort, strength and support. The body of Christ, at any moment, is filled with persons who require care and those who have been strengthened by the Spirit of Christ to extend care.

It is in this way that the church is a sign, foretaste, and even instrument of God’s present and coming reign. What does it look like for a community of Christ-followers to show the presence of God’s reign in the world? We reveal that we are the community of Christ by loving others and being there for one another in difficult times. We show what it means to be human under God’s reign by loving and caring for one another, as well as being loved and being cared for by others. It is in caring for and being cared for that the community of Christ reveals a different way of being human in the world – a way of being human that is in communion with God – the Trinitarian community.

Those who participate with God in God’s redemptive mission of making all things new are not only the ones who “do new life-giving acts,” it is also the ones who are the recipients of “new life-giving acts.” Jesus was most able to demonstrate the presence of God’s reign through those who were sick, blind, deaf, in prison, oppressed – those who were in need of being made whole. Those who claimed self-sufficiency, the “I don’t need any help, I am here to do” often found themselves not in need of a “physician,” opposing Jesus, becoming the enemies of Jesus.

I once read that Mother Teresa was asked what kept her ministering to the poor of Calcutta. She responded it had little to do with her desire to do good. If that was all that motivated her, she would have quit years ago; rather, she saw Jesus in the life of every leper, every beggar, everyone who was “the least of these.” Her life and ministry was dedicated to ministering to Jesus who was to be seen in every life.

Indeed, throughout Jesus’ ministry he not only cared for others, he was also cared for (cf. being housed and fed throughout his ministry, his feet being washed and anointed with perfume by a woman prior to his betrayal and crucifixion). Revealing and living out God’s mission in the world requires us to be both willing to give grace, as well as to receive grace. In this way God’s presence and God’s reign is manifested.

Tuesday, March 22, 2011

Vol 2:11 Worship and Mission: Worship as the Foundation for Mission

I am in the midst of reading Christopher J.H. Wright’s The Mission of God: Unlocking the Bible’s Grand Narrative. Wright mentions that the first significant time the kingdom or reign of God is mentioned in the Bible is in the climax of the Song of Moses when the Israelites celebrated their deliverance from their enslavement by Pharaoh and seeing God’s victory over the armies of Pharaoh in the waters of the Red Sea – “The Lord reigns forever and ever.” (Exodus 15:8)

It is in the context of worshiping YHWH that God’s reign is declared.

This reminds me also of a statement that Ray S. Anderson expressed regarding what shapes our ministry or mission in the world – it is worship.

It is clear in John’s Gospel that what drives God’s redemptive mission in the world is God’s love for all humanity, all creation – God’s love for the world. We hear in John 3 that “For God so loved the world that he gave (sent) his one and only Son, that whoever believes in (or believes) him shall not perish but have eternal life”

It is God’s love for the world that motivates God in God’s mission.

How do we participate with God in God’s mission – it is first and foremost, not through engaging the needs of the world, rather it is first and foremost through engaging God in worshiping God.

Anderson expresses: “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 the 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, 9).

The language Anderson uses for Christ’s ministry being to the Father for the sake of the world is language of worship. We are called first and foremost to love God, to worship God and it is through loving God that we become aware what touches the heart of God, to notice what God notices, to see the world through God’s eyes, to hear the cries that God hears. Too often we have tried to do ministry and mission by noticing what we noticed and merely asked God to bless our efforts. Instead, as we give ourselves to God in worshiping and loving God, we are enabled to love our neighbors as ourselves because it is the Spirit of God that gives us the heart of God to love our neighbors.

This is what Wright affirms in talking about the nature of YHWH’s kingship – God “exercises his kingship on behalf of the weak and oppressed” (Wright, 79). We only notice what God notices when we are in a worship relationship with God. In worship we recognize that God is the initiator of God’s mission and that God is the fulfiller of God’s redemption of humanity and of all creation

Therefore, the worship and loving of God is essential if we are to participate with God in God’s mission. We cannot be missional without first worshiping and loving God. Through worship we become instrumental for God’s purposes for making all things – otherwise, God merely is a “tool,” a “resource” for the advancement and empowering of our agendas for ministry in response to the needs of the world we see all around us.

May we grow in our mission as we grow in our worshiping and loving of God.

Tuesday, March 15, 2011

Vol 2:10 Believing and Mission: Believing in God or Believing God

Would we leave all that we have, where our life has been established, where we have our relationships, our livelihood, our comforts and routines, to be part of that to which God calls us?

That is what Abram did in Genesis 12: “The LORD said to Abram, ‘Go from your country, your people and your father’s household to the land I will show you.” In calling, God revealed a promise: “. . . all peoples on earth will be blessed through you.”

Verse 4 relates: “So Abram went, as the LORD has told him.”

Later on when Abram wondered how God would bless all peoples through him, especially since he and Sarai were childless, God described what God would do. Then we hear what transformed Abram’s life (though he still needed to live into the new reality God called him into) – “Abram believed the LORD, and God credited it to him as righteousness” (Genesis 15:6).

I think we often get it wrong when it comes to believing. As North Americans we spend much of our time thinking about what we believe – saying we believe in God. But that is to miss the point in my estimation. Believing in God has everything to do with us and how we interpret Scripture, how we see God, what we are willing to believe about God and also what we are not. We give shape to our faith, our believing.

This will not get us very far in being a missional people – we will frame mission in terms of what we are comfortable with doing, rather than participating with God in God’s redemptive mission.

But what distinguishes Abram (later Abraham) is that he not only believed in God (what), but we read that “he believed God” (who). This is a different kind of relationship with believing. The what kind of believing puts us in control, where we can set the agenda for our faith, what we do with it and so forth. However, the who kind of faith involves a yielding of ourselves to God and God’s leading in our lives. It becomes about God, rather than about us.

Believing God has everything to do with entering into a trust relationship with God, communing with God in which God is setting the agenda for our living, for the direction of our involvement in mission. Believing God, rather than merely believing in God recognizes that it is God who is directing our paths, that God is the initiator of mission, and we are called to trust God to lead and guide us in where God chooses to send us.

It is a way of believing in which we are at God’s disposal, rather than God being at our disposal. I suspect that much of our North American faith is comfortable with God being at our disposal – for God to bless us.

Believing God also shapes our practices differently than merely believing in God. When we believe in God we engage in prayer, reflection, conversation in ways that are more focused on a spirituality that is largely a journey of self-development – God is a “tool” for our development as persons. However, when we believe God – we open our lives to God, for God to work in and through us in the power of the Spirit – becoming like Jesus – not so much as a work we do in ourselves, but as a work that the Spirit of God does in us as we live in obedience to the God whom we trust, to the God whom we believe in order for God to accomplish the purposes of God somehow engaging us.

Believing God engages us in mission – God’s mission, in which we seek to serve God who so loves the world; any other kind of believing is to seek a God whom we want to support our causes, our agendas.

What kind of faith is your faith?

Tuesday, March 8, 2011

Vol 2:9 Re-Storying the World: Living Missionally - Living the Word of God in the World

Eugene Peterson in his introduction to Micah in The Message expresses:

“Prophets use words to remake the world. The world – heaven and earth, men and women, animals and birds – was made in the first place by God’s Word. Prophets arriving on the scene and finding that world in ruins, finding a world of moral rubble and spiritual disorder, take up the work of words again to rebuild what human disobedience and mistrust demolished. The prophets learn their speech from God. Their words are God-grounded, God-energized, God-passionate. As their words enter the language of our communities, men and women find themselves in the presence of God, who enters the mess of human sin to rebuke and renew” (Peterson, Introduction – Micah, The Message).

This is an apt description of our participating with God in God’s redemptive mission – we are about remaking the world because God is about remaking the world. But it has more do to than just using the right words. Indeed we are shaped by the words we use, but more importantly we are shaped by the Story in which these within the Word of God are expressed – this is what Peterson alludes to as prophets learning “their speech from God.”

As a people who are called to live in mission with God we are a people who are also called to live out the Word of God, or God’s Story and Vision, in the world. The Story we live reveals a different rhythm, a different cadence of how we are human in the world. The Story we live, rather than contributing to the disordering or destroying of the world, instead remakes the world in light of God’s vision of shalom. In a sense, we live in a world that has been de-storyed (a play on the word destroyed). What we are about as we participate with God in God’s mission, is re-storying the world in light of God’s Story and Vision – remaking and restoring the world in light of God’s present and coming reign, seeing the breaking in of God’s will being done here on earth just as it is in the realm in which God rules.

And so as a people being about re-storying the world, we are called to be a people who are immersed in Scripture – because we recognize that we are not complete has human beings unless we are formed and transformed by the Story that is rooted in God, centered in Jesus Christ, and continues being expressed in us and through us in the power of the Holy Spirit.

Immersing ourselves in Scripture gives us a vocabulary, a phraseology, a narrative, a Story that shapes the way we live, speak, and act as a new creation. We cannot be God’s missional people without the Story and Vision of God being part of our DNA. Reading Scripture, reflecting upon Scripture, dialoguing on Scripture – particularly as a community, are the practices which open us to be permeated by God’s Story in our lives.

In this way we discover that the Word of God is as necessary for our being the people of God as the air we breathe, the water we drink, and the food we eat are necessary for our being human.

Let’s be about remaking, restorying the world as a people living lives immersed in the living Word of God.

Tuesday, March 1, 2011

Vol 2:8 Living Theologically, Living Missionally

Something else I do besides pastoring a congregation and teaching adjunctly in seminaries is that I am involved in community organizing around food justice issues. Specifically I am part of an initiative, that I was involved in starting about 2 years ago, known as Ten Thousand Gardens (http://www.lovingneighbor.org/) which seeks to get more fresh produce into the food pantries of our communities here in Lake County, IL, in order to increase the wellness of those who cannot easily afford a healthier diet.

The reason I bring this up is to point out a discussion I was involved in this week, where I was talking with a farm manager, who also happens to be going to seminary, about developing a partnership between churches, farms, and food pantries for the sake of providing food for those who are poor – feeding those who are the least of these (cf. Matthew 25). In diagramming the partnership we were thinking about developing we realized that our conversation was infused with theological language – in fact we could not help but speak about such a partnership theologically, because we believe deeply that God notices those who are poor, those who are marginalized and disenfranchised by our current economic structures.

As we drew a circle around the three interacting circles, of a local farming community, a group of 2-3 churches, and two food pantries, we realized we were also thinking missionally. Such a partnership is not something we are desiring to be involved in merely for the sake of mutual relationships, but rather we began seeing it as something the Spirit of God is creating in order for us to participate in what touches the heart of God. Our partnering, perhaps even a kind of koinonia, if you will, is for the sake of participating together in mission, in partnership with God and God’s mission of restoring humanity and creation. We are coming together ultimately for God’s purposes.

This reminded me of the purpose of my living as a disciple of Jesus Christ – I cannot help but think of all that I am involved in through a theological and missional lens, because as a disciple of Jesus Christ I cannot divide my life into different compartments – and whether it seems that some of the things I am involved in are more sacred and others more secular, they indeed are all theological, all missional because it is the call upon my life to follow after Christ and to be sent by Christ in the power of the Spirit to participate with God in God’s mission in making all things new. Though I may not speak theologically or missionally in the many contexts I find myself in as I am involved in community organizing around food justice issues – I know that I am driven to be missional in whatever contexts the Spirit of God is leading me into.

May you also see all of what you are engaged in day to day through theological and missional lenses.