Tuesday, April 26, 2011

Vol 2:16 Missional Church: Communities of the Spirit

As I continue reading Eugene Peterson’s memoir, The Pastor, I keep running into thoughts that ignite my pastoral and missional imagination, especially as it correlates with a post-Easter sermon series on 1 Peter in which I am focusing on what it means for us to be communities of the Resurrection, communities of the Spirit – filled with hope, sojourners in the land, being a royal priesthood, etc.

Peterson reiterates for me an understanding of church that is deeply missional. He writes about his discovery of the Lucan accounts of the birth of Jesus and the birth of the church as being parallel – “Luke 1-2, the story of the birth of Jesus, our Savior; Acts 1-2, the story of the birth of church, our salvation community” (p. 124).

He then raises the question about how we think about salvation and how we think about church. He expresses that often we think of salvation of God’s work and the church as our work, i.e., as “what we do to continue the work of Jesus in his absence” (p. 125).

But what Luke expresses in Acts that the birth of the church is a work of the Holy Spirit as much as the birth of Jesus was the work of the Holy Spirit. Peterson expresses that as he and the congregation, he was planting in Bel Air, Maryland, were studying the book of Acts they “were learning that the Acts text set the entire church operation as the work of the Holy Spirit. We were learning that folding chairs, the urn of coffee, and financial reports were included in the operation” (p. 125).

He concludes by saying:

"God gave us the miracle of congregation with the same sign he gave us the miracle of Jesus, by the descent of the dive. The Holy Spirit descended into the womb of Mary in the Galilean village of Nazareth. Thirty or so years later the same Holy Spirit descended into the collective womb of men and women, which included Mary, who had been followers of Jesus. The first conception gave us Jesus, the second conception gave us church." (p. 127)

This is a great reminder for us as we live as missional communities of the resurrection and of the Spirit in this post-Easter and pre-Pentecost season. In being missional communities, no matter how much we do, how much effort our ministry takes, how much we think this is our work – none of this is our work. Yes, we are involved, but all we are engaged in is all the continuing work of the Spirit working in and through the life of communities of resurrection to accomplish the redemptive purpose of God in the world. In fact, the more we make it “our” work, the less it is about what God is accomplishing and to that extent we cease being missional.

In fact, to participate with God in what God is doing in the world, requires us to open our lives more and more to the blowing of the Spirit, for the Spirit of God to move us, to shape us, to engage us – even our discipleship and missional engagement is a working of the Spirit in us, rather than our work.

As Paul urges us to “work out our salvation” (cf. Php. 2:12), rather than it being a “to do list” of our own efforts, we read in 2:13 “for it is God who works in you to will and to act in order to fulfill his good purpose.” Being missional, being missional communities, being communities of resurrection is all about our being open to be taken hold by the Spirit because it is the Spirit who continues the ministry of Jesus in the world.

Tuesday, April 19, 2011

Vol 2:15 Pastoral Mission: Living Lives Which Point to God

I find myself reading memoirs of people I have come to respect over the years who have shaped my thinking, my ministering, my engaging the people of God, my trying to live my life under the reign of God. At the end of January I read Stanley Hauerwas’ memoir entitled, Hannah’s Child, and this past week I picked up Eugene Peterson’s memoir entitled, The Pastor. Both, Hauerwas and Peterson have shaped me as a person and as a pastor.

In reading Peterson’s memoir I am reminded again of my pastoral identity and what I seek to be about being and doing amongst a community of people seeking to be missional.

Peterson talks about the pastoral understanding as one involving witness. He states, “a witness is never the center but only the person who points to or names what is going on at the center – in this case, the action and revelation of God in all the operations of Father, Son, and Holy Spirit” (p. 6).

Early in my pastorate, though I was a good listener and a good caregiver, a not-to-bad preacher and a pretty-good teacher, my pastoring was more about me than about who I was to be about pointing to. It is good I left the pastorate in 1993; it helped me re-discover God’s calling upon my life as I spent 10 years exiled within academia. In 2006 I entered the pastorate again a very different kind of pastor – thanks much to the writings of Eugene Peterson.

Even though at times I am tempted to still make it about me – when I am critiqued about a particular sermon, or missed opportunity, I am getting better at not making it about me. I am becoming better at being one who has the privilege of pointing out God, and the activity of God, to those within the community which I have the joy to serve.

I am discovering it is a long journey in the same direction as I seek to walk alongside with these people as they discover what it means for them to be called “a people of God.” In walking with them, I try to remind them of God’s presence in our midst, of God’s activity all around us, of God’s encounters with them and their encounters with God. In being one of them, I seek to guide them into reading and telling of God’s Story and Vision in Scripture so that it shapes our imagination as we try to live as the people of God in the world, for Scripture to shape the telling of our stories as we seek to live participating with God’s redemptive mission in the world. I try to help them begin their days in prayer – entering the day being aware of God’s presence with them – that we do not live our lives solo, but in step with the rhythms of the Spirit of God.

I am discovering that pastoring in this way is deeply missional – because it is all about focusing on God’s purpose and what God is about in the world. It is not about what I am trying to accomplish – my early years in pastoral ministry burned me as I attempted to do just that; rather, now it is an adventure of exploring, discovering, encountering God and what God is up to in the world, and encouraging a community of people who are discovering what it means to call themselves followers, disciples, and worshipers of Jesus, to be witnesses of God’s presence and God’s mission to those who are in need of healing, of salvation – people broken like us in a world that God came into to set free.

This Easter, as I point out God in Christ on the cross, I find myself giving witness to God’s love in which Christ took upon himself all the evil and suffering in the world meted out against humanity, and conquered sin and death for all humanity by being raised from the dead. To point out this hope, this reality, that all might be set free by being in Christ, is being deeply missional as a pastor.

Tuesday, April 12, 2011

Vol 2:14 Embracing Mission: Living Missionally with One Another

This past weekend I was involved in my Mennonite community’s regional annual assembly. The theme for the weekend was ¡Abraza! – Embrace! Embrace each other for the glory of God focusing on Romans 15:5-7. Paul in Romans 14 addresses how easily it is for us to become divisive with one another over things which matter to some and do not matter to others. But no matter what our differences we are to embrace one another for the glory of God. This is a word we need to hear as well in desiring to be missional.

In people or churches seeking to live missionally, I have begun to see signs of becoming competitive. One says this is the way to do mission, another expresses another way, one’s missional practice is edgier than the others and we come close to losing sight of the reason we are in mission. We need to be reminded that the mission we are involved in is not our mission – it is God’s. God initiates God’s mission; God carries out God’s mission; God will complete the redemptive mission of God. We, as the body of Christ are called, sent, and equipped to participate, not in our own mission, but rather, to participate with God in God’s mission.

This we cannot lose sight of – for if we do, we begin being about ourselves rather than being about God and God’s purposes. That is hard for us to realize because in our culture it is about us – but in being the people of God, no matter what our nationalities, our allegiance is to God – it is about God and God’s purposes! So, instead of competing with one another, we need to ask how can we be of support to one another, encouraging one another to discern clearly and participate with God for what God has for each of us to do in advancing God’s reign on earth? God has placed each one of our communities in different settings to be sign, foretaste, and instrument of God’s present and coming reign.

Mission calls for us to embrace one another for the glory of God. There is enough mission to go around for all of us – God has gifted each of our communities to be involved in mission in unique ways which only we can do because of whom God has gathered together in our communities. Therefore, we need to ask how we can embrace one another, helping one another for we are involved together in the same mission. Do we not know that when we start pulling on God’s mission saying it is “ours” over against “yours” we diminish our witness in the world to what God is doing – we hide the fact that we are sign, foretaste, and instrument of God’s present and coming reign. We reveal something, but not what God calls us to reveal.

So, even though we have our differences, even understand and implement God’s mission in different ways, let’s embrace one another, be there for one another – for together we are participating with God in God’s mission – for the glory of God.

Tuesday, April 5, 2011

Vol 2:13 Mundane Mission: Living Missionally from Day to Day

The idea of missional has been around for a number of years, long enough for people to “cookie-cutter” their own ideas into what missional means. A whole group of people who are getting what it means to be missional also express that it is best expressed in edgy environments. It seems to me that being engaged in missional ministry has also taken on an aura of “coolness” – but what about those who are not “cool,” is there any hope for them being missional? Is there room for the mundane in being missional?

Years ago Lewis Smedes wrote a book entitled Mere Morality: What God Expects from Ordinary People. In it he expressed that it is about morality for the ordinary person – “life on the plains” (viii). Is there such a thing as being missional for the ordinary person? I think there is.

Now this does not mean that God’s mission is mundane – God’s mission is about making all creation new; it is about reconciling humanity to God and to one another; it is about removing the injustices of racism, oppression, poverty; it is about healing and setting free those who are ill, alienated, imprisoned – whether physically, emotionally, mentally, economically, and spiritually. There is nothing mundane about what God is doing redemptively in the world to make all things new.

But what is mundane about God’s mission is that it happens in the ordinariness of the everyday. The place where the Spirit of God is active in enacting God’s mission, of inviting God’s people into partnership with God in God’s mission are places like grocery stores, at gas stations, in our homes, at our places of work – wherever we find ourselves living out our lives. Often we think we are in mission when we are doing something special for God – like serving homeless persons at a soup kitchen, or stocking shelves at a food pantry, or hanging out with people different from us in a bar or cafĂ©. Such ministries are indeed missional, if we are engaged in them because this is where we see God sending us. But these missional endeavors happen only on Wednesday nights at 7 pm or Friday nights from midnight to the early hours of Saturday, they are not the stuff of our daily living in which we are raising our kids, driving them wherever, loving and being loved by our spouses, working hard to make ends meet.

So what do we do with the rest of our time? Is not being missional a 24/7 calling? Indeed, it is! It’s in our comings and goings of our daily lives that we discover the myriad ways God is active in the world. As we ask God to help us notice what God is noticing, as we ask the Spirit to make us sensitive to the people around us, as we ask to live out the compassion of Jesus in the midst of daily living, we begin to see that God is active all around us. It is in the ordinariness of life that we have the opportunity to be less than ordinary in bringing the presence of Christ, in being sign, foretaste and instrument of God’s present and coming reign.

I believe being missional in the ordinariness of life – being missionally mundane, if you will, begins with a seeking to be aware of God’s presence and God’s activity in the minutiae of our days – maybe we will discover in having eyes to see what God sees that no day can ever be ordinary again.