Tuesday, September 25, 2012

Vol 3: 27 Being Missional When I Don’t Feel Like Doing Missional

Being missional is more than doing something different.  Sometimes I just don’t feel like doing another missional thing. 

Being missional ought to affect not only how we go about engaging in ministry, engaging in participating with God in God’s bringing about shalom, but also how we are with God with whom we participate in making all things new.  Too often, however, I have discovered that we have traded a frenetic pace in doing ministry in non-missional ways to doing missional things in a similar frenetic pace.  Is that being missional?

Missional is an attitude before it is an action.

Sometimes, we do become weary in doing good – no matter how much Paul encourages not to lose heart (cf. Galatians 6:9).  A colleague of mine at a pastor’s gathering in response to the question of “what good thing is going on in your church?” responded with “Nothing much good is going on.”  Sometimes we find ourselves in the desert, like Moses, with the people of God griping for 40 years – it is hard at times to see and to express something that is “good.”

It is in the midst of such times that we need to step back from all the doing of missional to rediscover what it is to be missional.  Missional is more than a set of agenda that we bring to our frenetic engagement of ministry – I don’t think I have ever read in the Gospels Jesus expressing, “so much to do and so little time” running around like the White Rabbit in Alice in Wonderland.  Rather, there was a certain non-anxiousness about Jesus’ manner of ministry, his manner of engaging, his manner of embodying the reign of God, in his being missional. 

His doing of missional was the fruitful action of his being missional.

I am observing among a number of my colleagues who are challenging the North American church to embrace being missional, that their pace of life and ministry has not changed much from the days when they strived to be the right kind of leader in leading their church to grow.  The focus may have changed, their strategy may have changed, but they are still getting tired and discouraged as ever.

When I find myself living in these “old tapes” of ministry, I am reminded that being missional is a journey, a process that requires ongoing repentance, ongoing metanoia – because we quickly fall into the mindset that it is up to us to bring about the changes, the transformations that we espouse that we believe God is doing in the world.  We forget, in such times, that God calls us to walk with him.  We are not called to walk ahead of God.  It is only when we walk with God that we can listen and be open to the Spirit’s engagement of us – open to receive refreshment and renewing of our lives.  And rather than these times being far and few between – coming in the nick of time before burnout takes hold of us – these times are to be the regular rhythm of our lives. 

Because if they are not the regular rhythms of our lives – we will be about our missions, rather than God’s mission in the world.  We may do what looks like mission – yet we will be far from being missional.  We may say the right missional words and even do the edgy missional thing, but our lives will reveal that we are about our own mission, our own agenda, our own purposes.

So, it is in such frenetic times, times of walking on the hard trodden path where the seed of God’s word does not have much of a chance of growing, that I am reminded to set aside my doing of missional in order to rediscover being missional – because walking in the plowed up soil where God’s seed germinates and bears fruit slows us down enough to notice God again and what God is about in the world.

I encourage all of us – including me – to rediscover the rhythms of being missional in our lives – being open to the Spirit of God and open to the cadence of the Spirit in our lives.  I think we will see Jesus more clearly, hear Jesus more soundly, and learn from Jesus more readily in being yoked together with him – and – I dare say we will discover rest for our souls.

Tuesday, September 18, 2012

Vol 3: 26 The Missional Practice of Nonviolence: Giving Witness to a Different Reality

Does nonviolence work? 

I had someone drop in our office today to ask about the Mennonites – who are they and what do they believe in?  We had a good conversation and we talked quite a bit about the Mennonites practice of nonviolence and peacemaking.  A question that was raised, more implicitly than explicitly was “does nonviolence work?”

My immediate response was:  “Not always, perhaps not even in many situations, afterall, it did not really work for Jesus either – his way of nonviolence led him to the cross and death.”

Why then practice nonviolence in our violent world, if it does not bear sufficient results?

There are a few reasons that I give, but there is one that is foundational to why we are called to live missionally in nonviolent ways.

In following Jesus, we are called to live our lives as his disciples – living out the life of Jesus in the world.  In that Jesus lived and ministered in ways which advocated and promoted nonviolence, we are only disciples of Jesus as we practice a way of life similar to that of Jesus.

Our discipleship is also expressed through giving witness.  Jesus did not merely say in Matthew 28 that we are to teach Jesus’ teaching in making disciples, but to “teach them to obey all that I have taught you.”  Discipleship and witness have to do with obeying Jesus and his teachings – not just acknowledging them.  In giving witness to Jesus and living out Jesus’ way of being human in the world, the practice of nonviolence has less to do with how well it works to how well it demonstrates a different reality, a different way of being human in the world – even when the practice of nonviolence is seemingly unsuccessful as it results in the death of those practicing nonviolence. 

Giving witness to nonviolence is to give witness to the different reality of God’s reign – it is about seeing all humanity reconciled to God, be they those whom we befriend or those who are our enemies.  We are called to practice nonviolence and peacemaking, to be involved in reconciliation and forgiveness, because in partnering with Jesus in God’s mission we are about making visible a very different way of being human in a violent world.

We practice nonviolence because we are giving witness to a different reality – but more than that – we practice nonviolence and peacemaking because we are living out a different reality.  By the power of the Spirit of God, we are enabled and empowered to demonstrate a radically new way of being human in the world – and rather than warring against other human beings, we are seeking to bring about healing, forgiveness and reconciliation – which at times requires us to get in the way of violence – which is what Jesus did on the cross (taking the oppressive and repressive violence of the principalities and powers of the world set against humanity upon himself).

This demonstration effectively shapes us to be a community of Christ in the world, a community which is a sign, foretaste, and instrument of God’s present and coming reign (see Missional Matters Vol 1: 3,4,5 for more on this).  And though giving witness to nonviolence seems powerless in a violent world, when it does “work” it brings about radical transformation bringing peace in the midst of war, healing in the midst of destruction, wholeness in the midst of brokenness.  We give witness to nonviolence because the practice of nonviolence is to give witness to the presence of God in the world who is at work re-creating humanity and creation into a new humanity and a new world through the life, ministry, death, and resurrection of Jesus Christ. 

Day after day we hear of the violence in the world, violence that never ceases – all violence does is breed more violence.  What will peacemaking through nonviolence breed in the world?  Let’s try and see! 

May the peace of God be with you!

An Invitation: For those of you who live near Lake County, IL, I invite you to an initial presentation I am giving relating to my sabbatical work – Undoing the Violence of Leadership in the Church.  What I hope will be more of a dialogue than a presentation is scheduled for Thursday, September 20th at 7 pm at the Mennonite Ministries office of North Suburban Mennonite Church – 324 Peterson Road, Libertyville, IL.  You can contact me for more information.

Tuesday, September 11, 2012

Vol 3: 25 The Missional Practice of Nonviolence: Contrast Witness in a Culture of Violence

In arguing that the roots of how we lead in the North American church is rooted in culture, I find J. Denny Weaver in his book, The Nonviolent Atonement to be an interesting conversation partner.  In it he makes the following statement regarding the post-Constantinian church and its accommodation to the social order:

“When the church comes to accept the social order and to see the structures of the social order (such as political authority) as a means of furthering the church and expressing church concerns, then ethics are derived more from the social order than the specific narrative of Jesus.  Returning to the sword as the primary example, rather than opposing the sword, the church came to rationalize it as a means to defend or extend Christ’s church or the now Christianized social order in which the church was at home” (Weaver, The Nonviolent Atonement, 117).

What was also true of the church within Christendom – and is still true of a significant part of the North American church, as demonstrated in the support given by churches to both the Republican and Democratic parties in the present electoral process, is that the church within the social order seeks to be a witness of the Gospel of Christ within the social order, yet, without realizing how the Gospel has been reinterpreted in light of the values of the social order and accommodated to the social order, rather than the ethics of God’s reign.   

In this sense, believing in America is tantamount to believing in the Gospel (at least the accommodated gospel of present North American Christendom) without challenging the social order or present culture with the contrasting radical demands of the Gospel of God’s Reign, which always calls every social order to repentance – to give allegiance to Christ and his reign alone.

What can be said of the North American (and even the Western) church is also applicable to our approach to the way we lead as church leaders within North American Christendom.  In exercising leadership in light of the values of culture – which is all too evident in all the Christian leadership books of the past twenty-five years, “as a means of furthering the church” we need to ask why we fear the narrative of Jesus and the narrative of the Gospel of God’s reign in shaping the way we lead.  It is evident that Jesus’ way of leading was regarded as a threat to the empire; a threat that was deemed to have been overcome by his arrest and crucifixion – if it were not for the resurrection.  Why is not the way we lead a threat to the North American social order, to the structures of society?  In fact, the opposite has been true – our way of leading has found its way onto the leadership best seller lists (for example, Bill Maxwell’s numerous books on leadership).  

The early disciples of Jesus were also deemed a threat to the empire.  After the 4th and 5th centuries, the church no longer was a threat, nor is our way of leading a threat, when we have found ways to accommodate the ways of Jesus to culture.  We have to ask ourselves the same set of questions – in what ways have we accommodated the way we live out our callings as pastors in order to find a place within the North American culture.  Though Paul stated he became all things to all people in order to win some for Christ, he still led and practiced a way of following Jesus in which he was a threat to the social order. 

We have become too soft, too accommodating – and by we I also mean me.  We live in a culture of violence that advocates a way of leading that does not disturb the foundations of the culture – faith has become a mere veneer over the social order.  Yet, in aligning myself with Christ and his Lordship; in giving allegiance to Christ and his reign, I commit to live, in the power and presence of God’s Spirit, within an ethic or culture that is shaped by the radical demands of the Gospel of God’s reign.  My way of leading then also needs to be rooted in an ethic of God’s reign.  In God’s reign being rooted in an ethic of nonviolence, then a repentance and rediscovery is necessary – if not a culture of violence, but a culture of peace is to shape the way we live, the way we lead – then how are we to live, how are we to lead?

According to Jesus in Mark 10 it has little to do with lording it over others, and more to do, as exampled by Jesus in John 13, by being servants of all.  I believe we eschew the image of servantship because we see it through the lens of the culture of violence, the culture of power, rather than seeing it through the lens of an ethic of God’s reign. 

What then, does leading, what does servantship look like in an ethic of God’s reign?  That is something I would like to explore and engage in with you in dialogue – call me, let’s grab a cup of coffee and talk.

An Invitation: For those of you who live near Lake County, IL, I invite you to an initial presentation I am giving relating to my sabbatical work – Undoing the Violence of Leadership in the Church.  What I hope will be more of a dialogue than a presentation is scheduled for Thursday, September 20th at 7 pm at the Mennonite Ministries office of North Suburban Mennonite Church – 324 Peterson Road, Libertyville, IL.  You can contact me for more information and/or let me know you're coming.

Tuesday, September 4, 2012

Vol 3:24 The Missional Practice of Nonviolence - Challenging Our Fear of Doing Nothing

If nonviolence were only a matter of faith, of what we profess, then I believe many more Christians would give assent to being nonviolent; it’s the realities of life that make nonviolence untenable – What about someone harming my family? What about Hitler? What about rampant violence overpowering and destroying the innocent in the world?  It might be argued that “violence can only be overcome with just violence – nonviolence is powerless to make any real changes.”  Nonviolence seems like we are doing nothing in the face of the atrocities of violence in the world and are we not complicit if we do nothing?

Who said that being nonviolent is doing nothing?  In fact being nonviolent in a violent world is a courageous act, revealing the presence of God’s reign in contrast to the violent non-reign of God principalities and powers in the world.  It is indeed a fearful act to confront violence with more violence – no matter how just we try to make it sound to be.

I am not sure what kind of Jesus that people see when they advocate violence as a Christian response to violence – but I am sure it is not the Jesus we find in the Gospels.  The questions we face today are the same ones that were raised in Jesus’ day: what about someone harming my family?  What about Caesar? What about rampant violence overpowering and destroying the innocent in the world?  Those issues were as real in Jesus’ day as they are in our day – however, Jesus confronted the non-reign of God with a visible manifestation of God’s presence and reign, yet without resorting to violence.  Jesus’ nonviolence demonstrated the presence of God’s reign in essential ways, which makes nonviolence not merely an option for the Christian community, but something that is essential to living out the Gospel of God’s reign in the world.

Glen Stassen and Michael Westmoreland-White in defining nonviolence state that is more than the absence of violence – it is also “the presence of justice, of peaceful and perhaps covenantal community relationships and well-being” (“Defining Violence and Nonviolence,” Teaching Peace: Nonviolence and the Liberal Arts, 21).  Rather, than nonviolence being the doing of nothing in the face of violence – it is the doing of justice, the bringing of peace, the restoration of humanity in relationship with God and one another in communities of love and grace; nonviolence is about the work of bringing healing and shalom into a broken world.  To continue acting with violence, even in the face of overwhelming violence, is to work against the purposes of God’s reign and God’s mission of making all things whole.  Nonviolence is an intentional courageous act in the face of violence to make visible a very different reality of being human and being humane in the world. 

We may well say that nonviolence did not work for Jesus because it took him to his death on the cross, in fact, the violence of the powers seemed to declare that violence is more powerful than nonviolence.  But the resurrection victory, which left death and violence in the grave, revealed that the power of nonviolence cannot be overcome by the powerlessness of violence (Resurrection is not a violent act) – Jesus on the cross made a spectacle of or exposed the principalities and powers with their use of violence, and made them powerless through the resurrection. 

So what does that say for us who are followers of Jesus?  It may say that the practice of nonviolence may lead us into situations where violence seems to have the overpowering hand.  But also it may say that we who practice nonviolence in the face of violence make the way of Jesus visible in the world as no other way really can. The peaceableness of God’s reign requires more than words of peace, it requires those who bring good news, proclaiming peace by living in ways which demonstrate peace – nonviolence.  When we participate in violence we do not make Jesus or the way of Jesus visible in the world, but rather we consort with the principalities and powers in their ongoing pogrom of oppression.  In advocating and practicing nonviolence, we act with a different kind of power in the world, a power that cannot be controlled by evil, by violence, a power that makes visible God’s peace creating reign in the world. 

In all ways violence is the easy way out, the non-thinking person’s way out of difficult situations.  The way of peace and nonviolence requires creativity, requires a willingness to embrace life and the giving of all to all who are destroyed by violence.  To rephrase Jesus’ words in John 10 – Violence can only steal, kill and destroy, but Jesus’ nonviolence and Jesus’ way of justice and peace is the only power in the world that creates life that is abundant.

Building always requires more creativity and ingenuity than it does to destroy.  Nonviolence builds peace in the world, violence destroys peace and lives.  May we as the people of God, as Jesus’ disciples engage in participating with God in creating that which is filled with the newness of peace.  Shalom.