Tuesday, February 28, 2012

Vol 3:9 Missional Journey: Lent – A Time for Embracing Those Whom God Brings into Our Midst

As a Mennonite community, the community I pastor, we are on a journey throughout Lent in which we seek to focus on Psalms of Disorientation and Reorientation.  Walter Brueggemann is the one who gives voice to this understanding of the Psalms (cf. Praying the Psalms, Spirituality of the Psalms) and expresses that the Psalms of Lament are meant to disorient us.

In the spirit of disorientation and reorientation, this past Sunday our Adult Christian Formation class talked about the uncomfortableness or disorientation that comes when, we, in seeking to offer a place of peace, we make space for persons God brings into our community – which suggests that being missional can be very disorienting for us in the cherishing of our comfort zones.

One of the statements/confessions we make in our Mennonite community is that in seeking to be a missional community, we are open to whomever God brings into our midst.  Yet, in stating that, we realize that this can make us very uncomfortable, no matter how missional we seek to be. 

This could be true for a number of reasons.

First, making space for those the Spirit brings into our midst changes the dynamics of our community.  The personalities, the questions, the passions, the theological perspectives these persons bring changes our personality as a community.  (Likewise, when people leave, our community’s personality changes as well). I see this happening. 

As new persons in our midst, I receive them as a gift to our community, yet their presence shakes us up a bit – in a good way.  In hearing the questions they are asking about what it means to be an Anabaptist, about their struggles they are facing in their spiritual journeys that is leading them to explore how being an Anabaptist may offer fresh insights and ways of growing as a disciple of Jesus Christ, in being receptive to the theological perspectives they bring challenging our understandings, making room for the exploration for their ministry passions and ways they seek to minister and serve others – all this stretches us and re-creates us as a community. 

If we were trying to preserve what we have or who we are – this would create tension and conflict.  Yet, our seeking to participate with God in God’s mission as a community, we are discovering that we are learning to rely on the Spirit more as we make space for whom God wants us to make space for.

Second, we recognize that these whom God is bringing into our midst have needs that we may not have skills to address.  It might be tempting for us to direct them elsewhere to a different community that has more specialized ministries, were it not for the fact that we receive them as ones whom God has brought into our community.  This is indeed challenging to our comfortableness because the Spirit is leading us to develop skills for ministry, skills for being empathetic, skills for engaging others, in order for us to more effectively participate in what God has in mind for us as we engage in God’s mission.

But the other side of coin, if you will, is that not only do new persons bring the possibility of new sets of needs, they also bring with them giftedness which can serve to equip the larger community – God is fully aware of how these ones God brings into our midst, not only change the personality of our community, but also equip us further so that we would be more able to do what God is calling us to do as his missional people in being sign, foretaste, and instrument of God’s present and coming reign.

For example, in our community we are asking the question of how might we as Mennonite Church – a peace church, reach out to returning Iraqi veterans who may be struggling with their involvement in violence, in killing, in war as a means to resolve conflict.  As Mennonites we are often more adept in guiding our young people to seek alternatives to military service in being conscientiously opposed to participating in violence as a way to resolve issues – even political issues.  And so, we are discovering we may be less adept to help returning soldiers struggling with PTSD, or other emotional and mental scars due to their involvement in killing other human beings.  However, not only are we discovering that these new persons in our community expressing a passion to minister peace to all, including returning soldiers seeking peace, but we are also discovering that we as a community are being equipped through the perspectives and giftedness they have to offer.

There are likely other reasons, but these two are enough for now. 

Though we may be disoriented by the ones the Spirit of God is bringing into our midst, is gifting our community with, it is a missional disorientation.  And such a missional disorientation, when we are open to encounter the uncomfort that such disorientation brings, leads us to be reoriented to more clearly discern how we are to be a community that more intentionally participates with God in God’s redemptive mission – and that can only be a good thing!

Tuesday, February 21, 2012

Vol 3:8 Missional Journey: Lent – A Time for Embracing Being Disoriented

As a Mennonite community, the community I pastor, we are embarking on a journey throughout Lent in which we seek to focus on Psalms of Disorientation and Reorientation.  Walter Brueggemann is the one who gives voice to this understanding of the Psalms (cf. Praying the Psalms, Spirituality of the Psalms) and expresses that the Psalms of Lament are meant to disorient us.

Brueggemann expresses that lament language is evocative, rather than descriptive (cf. Praying the Psalms, pp. 29ff). 

“The function of such lament speech is to create a situation that did not exist before the speech, to create an external event that matches the internal sensitivities.  It is the work of such speech to give shape, power, visibility, authenticity to the experience.  The speaker now says, ‘It is really like that.  That is my situation.’  The listener knows, ‘Now I understand fully your actual situation in which you are at work dying to the old equilibrium that is slipping from you.’  The language may even run ahead of the event.  Ricoeur (to whom much of this discussion is indebted), following Freud, has seen that the authentic artist is not focusing on old events for review (after the manner of the analyst) but is in fact committing to an act of hope.  Art therapists know that persons who draw and paint are not simply announcing the old death but are choosing a future they are yet to embrace. Thus the lament Psalms of disorientation do their work of helping people to die completely to the old situation, the old possibility, the old false hopes, the old lines of defense and pretense, to say as dramatically as possible, ‘That is all over now.’

When we hear someone speak desperately about a situation, our wont is to rush in and reassure that it is not all that bad.  And in hearing these Psalms, our natural, fearful yearning is to tone down the hyperbole, to deny it for ourselves and protect others from it because it is too harsh and, in any case, is an overstatement.  And likely we wish to hold on a bit to the old orientation now in such disarray.  Our tendency to such protectiveness is evident in the way churches ignore or ‘edit’ these ‘unacceptable’ Psalms.

Our retreat from the poignant language of such a Psalm is in fact a denial of the disorientation and a yearning to hold on to the old orientation that is in reality dead.  Thus an evangelical understanding of reality affirms that the old is passing away, that God is bringing in a newness (2 Cor. 5:17).  But we know also that there is no newness unless and until there is a serious death of the old (cf. John 12:25, 1 Cor. 15:36).  Thus the lament Psalms of disorientation can be understood, not in a theoretical but in a quite concrete way as an act of putting off the old humanity that the new may come in (cf. Eph. 4:22-24)” (Praying the Psalms, pp. 30-31).

Lent is more than a time of expressing sorrow for our sinfulness, it is indeed to be a missional journey requiring courage to embrace disorientation so that we might be reoriented to a new way of being human, particularly a new way of being human as exemplified by Jesus, and so being demonstrative of what God’s redemptive mission seeks to bring about in all of creation. 

So often we regress from such a missional journey by succumbing to the temptation of going back to our old orientations.  When we are disoriented we want to go back to the way things were – no matter how bad they might have been because at least we know what to expect, rather than looking forward to a future we have no idea about.  Like the Israelites in the wilderness, we would rather go back to Egypt and slavery, than to head out in the desert, discover what it means not to be in control of our lives, learn dependence upon the Spirit of God – and through this journeying, even if it takes 40 years, be reoriented to a new way of being human in relationship with God, trusting God, open to God’s participation in our lives, and open to participating in the life of God and in God’s mission in the world. 

Reorientation can never come through our holding onto our old orientations – they will only rot in our hands.  Reorientation can only come through the dying of our old orientations as we dare to journey through our being disoriented.  Resurrection life only comes after death, it can never come by way of clinging to ways of living that can never result in newness of life.

Therefore, Lent is a time not to conserve what we have nor a time to hold onto our mere perceptions of life, but, rather Lent is a time to dare to journey with the Spirit of God, to allow the Spirit to lead us out into the desert, to experience, even embrace, disorientation rather than fighting it, so that we might be open to seeing our old orientations for what they are – dead – as we come to a new place of being reoriented to the life of God in us – and grow, mature, in becoming human in ways that we are only able as we identify with Jesus Christ and live in the presence and power of the Holy Spirit.

May we this Lent embark on a journey that embraces death, but reorients and leads us into life.

Tuesday, February 14, 2012

Vol 3:7 A Church in Which the Spirit Dwells: Organizing Around the Moving of the Holy Spirit

I have had a number of conversations with church planters or others involved in revitalizing their congregations about how they plan to restructure the organizing of their churches to facilitate increased ministry effectiveness.  In fact, I remember one such conversation in which my friend pointed to a 30-step plan his denomination had given to him to follow in planting and organizing a church, that I facetiously expressed, “all you need to do is add people, and you’ll have a church.”  To which, missing my tongue-in-cheek comment replied, “Yes, that’s right!” 
This is a further reflection on Craig Van Gelder’s and Dwight J. Zscheile’s The Missional Church in Perspective: Mapping Trends and Shaping the Conversation. To reiterate, in this book, Van Gelder and Zscheile explore how the missional conversation has unfolded since the book Missional Church was published in 1998.

On p. 159, the authors express “it is vital to keep at the forefront of our imaginations the creative power of the Spirit in shaping church organizations.  . . .  The creativity of the Spirit animates and renews forms of church organization as part of God’s dynamic and ongoing creation.”  

I agree with this statement, though I have discovered it is not easy to let go of our inclination to control outcomes or directions in seeking to lead the churches we are called to serve as pastors.

On the Church Board of my congregation, we have talked about how ministry is developed by the leading of the Spirit.  In the early days of this dialogue – over a year ago, it was often expressed as to how chaotic this seems to be – “how can we control or give shape to what we need to be or do if we are led by the Spirit?”  Being open to the leading of the Spirit seems like chaos to us because we want to shape the way our churches are organized and how we engage in ministry and in what kind of ministry we are to engage.

But after a year or so of growing in learning to be open to the leading of the Spirit in our daily lives, in the life of the church, in seeing the kind of ministry involvements the Spirit has opened up, we as a community are discovering that walking and depending on the Spirit is a rhythm that relieves us of much anxiety in organizing ministry and the church.  The Spirit seems to know how to lead us as a community of Christ.

We are learning to express this in a number of ways:

1. We have the attitude in our community that whoever comes into our community – to join us in worship, or to participate in some other way, in an ongoing basis, they are ones whom the Spirit of God is bringing into our midst.  That means whoever comes, changes the structure and personality of the community.  Likewise, as people leave – move to other towns, go off to school, etc, our personality and structure changes as well.  As we receive these whom the Spirit brings into our midst, we realize that they bring new questions, new ways of seeing things, new ways of doing things – which we are learning to be open to – because we believe this to be a moving of the Spirit in our midst.

2.  In receiving those whom the Spirit brings into our midst, we realize that they are not just brought into our community to back-fill our ministry openings, as if the gifts they bring may somehow be utilized in our established ministries.  Rather, in recognizing their being present with us as the moving of the Spirit, we receive these persons as gifts of the Spirit – not that they only have gifts, but that they themselves are gifts of the Spirit to the community – to shape our life, to shape our ministry, to shape our witness, to shape our organization, to shape our noticing and participating in what God is doing through God’s redemptive mission in the world.

3. In this being open to people as gifts the Spirit is bringing into our midst, we find ourselves learning to be more open to what the Spirit desires to do in each of our lives – as individuals and as a community.  We are talking about old issues and new issues in new ways that had never before.  These gifts of the Spirit give us fresh eyes to look at ourselves, our practices and invite us into exploring new practices that lead us to grow deeper in Christ. 

4. We are coming to recognize that what is going on in our midst cannot be readily depicted on an organizational chart, because what is going on is more like a rhythmic dance in which the Spirit is teaching us how to dance in partnership with God as God is active in the world bringing life and wholeness in the reconciling of humanity and the re-creation of the world.  Organizational charts or dance instructions are helpful as we begin to learn to dance, but once we catch the rhythm of the dance we are invited into by God, we learn new steps, new moves that have more to do with the Spirit than a mere instruction or organizational manual.  Essentially, what we are discovering is learning how to trust the Spirit to lead us as we participate with God in dancing with God in God’s mission.

I am sure we will be learning more as we grow in being open to the Spirit of God, and I am looking forward to such discoveries – but I hope these few insights can serve as a catalyst for your community exploring being involved in ministry and organizing yourselves around the moving of God’s Spirit.

Tuesday, February 7, 2012

Vol 3:6 Let’s Get Rid of Leadership: The Need for a New Vocabulary to Reframe Our Concepts of Leading

The term leadership is inadequate to express how we are to lead as we participate with God in God’s mission.
This week I reflect further on Craig Van Gelder’s and Dwight J. Zscheile’s The Missional Church in Perspective: Mapping Trends and Shaping the Conversation. To reiterate, in this book, Van Gelder and Zscheile explore how the missional conversation has unfolded since the book Missional Church was published in 1998. The conversation has moved in different directions, many which are indeed not very missional, but reframe perspectives, in missional language, which have little to do with discerning where God is active in the world.

On p. 155, the authors express that in order for leadership to be understood missionally, it needs to be expressed as participatory leadership. However, I think we need to go further than that in reframing a missional understanding of leading. We will never escape the temptation of taking charge or taking control, even when using participatory as an adjective, as long as we continue to be preoccupied with describing what we do in terms of leadership.

Okay, you are confused, so let me unpack my thinking a little.

Van Gelder and Zscheile express that “leadership is one of the gifts of the Spirit (see Rom. 12:8)” (p. 155). But they do not have that quite right. It is not leadership that is a gift, it is leading. What we have done for the past 20-30 years is reframe this gift of leading into a status, a role and named it leadership. Church Growth made leadership the primary gift for accomplishing the success of an attractional ecclesiology and we have not even questioned whether this focus is adequate as we seek to lead missionally. Could it be that we are comfortable with the temptation to be leaders who excel at leadership? And to the extent that we succumb to this temptation of being a leader, we will miss what it means to be involved with God in God’s mission.

In all my exploration of Jesus and his ministry it is obvious that he exercised the gift of leading, but I think it is to completely misunderstand Jesus and his ministry by identifying what Jesus did in terms of leadership; he never advocated a role of leadership – he was always a servant (cf. Matthew 20: 20-28; Mark 10:35-45; John 13:10-17)

As long as we, in the missional church, seek to describe the gift of leading in terms of leader and leadership, we will never really get away from leadership’s tendency to control or to take charge, no matter what adjectives we seek to utilize. We try to ameliorate our deep sense that leadership expresses something antithetical to the Gospel and the mission of God by using a whole host of adjectives to soften its negative characterization: pastoral, participatory, spiritual, servant, etc. Yet, merely placing an adjective before the noun of leadership, does little to change what eventually leadership becomes – a way to lord it over others.

At issue is the noun that we use. Not even servant leadership is adequate enough – because servant is still merely an adjective – what we need to do is discover a new noun for describing what we are called to do as pastors in the missional church.

I propose that we use the nouns of servant and servantship, rather than leader and leadership, to describe what we are to do in leading the communities we are called serve in participating with God in God’s mission – after all it is how Jesus described his participating with God in God’s mission.

I know that whenever I bring up such a need for a paradigm shift, I get more or less a negative reaction. I think I know why. I contend that we really do not want to give up control, no matter how we try to soften the concept of leadership with an appropriate adjective. This is a temptation just as insidious as Satan’s temptation of Jesus – for him to take control of his ministry by tapping into his divinity. But Jesus knew that participating with God his Father in God’s redemptive mission required him to empty himself of his divinity, and with it every temptation to take charge – and instead he lived and led by serving as a servant among us.

I think if we were to take the time and energy to explore servantship as we have explored leadership in the past 20-30 years, we will begin to embrace a much more missional approach to leading than we ever will be capable of doing in maintaining our grasp on concepts of leadership. So, I suggest that we find ways to stop talking about leadership or even participatory leadership and begin to learn a new vocabulary, and a new way of being the people of God, as we seek to participate with God in God’s mission as servants.

I would really be interested in your comments and taking this conversation further.

[For more of my thinking on this, link to my web site: www.imissional.org and connect to my article entitled: What is Pastoral Leadership?  under the Resources tab.]