Thursday, April 27, 2006

A tragedy in theological education

I'm reading another Eddie Gibbs book for uni at the moment called LeadershipNext, it's the follow on from ChurchNext which I've posted on previously.

I couldn't pass up posting this quote as it is a particular concern of mine.
One of the greatest tragedies in theological education has been the separation (to their mutual impoverishment) of ecclesiology from missiology. This separation has resulted, on the one hand, in a missionless church and, on the other, in a churchless mission.
It's my opinion that these things must be brought back together in our theological institutions, churches, mission organisations and individual lives if we wish to follow God faithfully.

Friday, April 21, 2006

Discerning a healthy community

More from Sam Metcalf over at Under the Iceberg. In a recent post he provides this list of questions to help discern whether our community is healthy, whether it is a context that nurtures healthy emotional and spiritual relationships.

1. Does the context use me or develop me?
2. Can authority be questioned?
3. Is conflict resolved or repressed?
4. Is it an inclusive or exclusive environment?
5. Is an inordinate amount of time required to maintain the community as opposed to ministry outside?
6. What is accomplisihed other than “presence” in the greater society?
7. Is it easy to leave?
8. When we are in over our head with relational pathology, are qualified pros available and accessed, ie, counselors, pshychiatrists, therapists, and spiritual directors?
9. Is leadership accountable?
10. Is diversity embraced or is uniformity enforced?
I'm not sure it's an exhaustive list, but it's a good start ...

Sunday, April 9, 2006

Good missiology tells us ...

In an insightful post entitled Two Cultures, Sam Metcalf over at Under the Iceberg brings this fascinating list of things that 'good missiology tells us'. The context is a contrast of the new culture and the old in America which of course has some parallels here, but I'm particularly interested in the missiological principles he lists.

1) The new won’t be influenced by imposing cultural norms from the old.
2) The old, like nearby cultures the world over, will only be marginally effective, if at all, in influencing the new.
3) The new requires fresh, indigenous expressions of authentic biblical reality.
4) These new expressions, if they are effective, will probably not be recognized as stereotypical “church” by both the secularists of the new or the religionists of the old.
5) These new expressions will require missionaries, in the classic sense, who can cross language, cultural, and in some cases, socio-economic barriers to incarnate the gospel of Jesus in a holistic way and stimulate the emergence of these new expressions.
6) Not every follower of Jesus is a missionary, i.e., not everyone has the skills, gifts or calling to do this.
7) Missionaries need missionary structures if they are to be effective.
8) Missionary structures are not the same as followers of Jesus gathered in these new expressions for community, mission, and nurture (i.e., local churches in the truly biblical sense).
9) Therefore to have a sustainable movement in the new, both the church in its local form and the church and its missionary form must be present and play interdependent roles.
I feel like I could write a page on each point but for brevity's sake I'm particularly encouraged by 1 because I'm devoting myself to a task based on that assumption, 5 because that is what I feel God is challenging me to become and 7 because I'm also convinced it's true. I'm challenged by 4 because some part of me wishes the religionists of old would recognise what we are doing as church, 6 because I'm not sure about it (maybe my definition of missionary is a bit broader here) and 9 because it seems like we've got a long way to go to get to that place.

The Constant Gardener and the Kingdom of God

I just finished watching The Constant Gardener. I'm feeling a little overwhelmed really. It's a very well made movie, I haven't read any reviews of other people's thoughts, but I thought it was excellent. It pushed my buttons in so many ways and brought me back to that question you constantly (no pun intended) face if you invest any time and energy in seeking to understand (let alone do something about) the many significant issues we face on a global level.

I thought I'd post on it because of how it got me thinking. There are so many global issues humanity is facing. So many that it is overwhelming. More often than not they are complex and grey, not black and white. The complexity can often be scary and challenging, leaving you feeling like there is nothing you can do or that if you could do something it would be so insignificant that it wouldn't be worth doing anyway. As I continued this train of thought I realised that my understanding of and relationship with God should have a significant impact on how I deal with this situation. If God is really sovereign and His kingdom really is breaking into the world then I don't have to worry about all these issues. I have a responsibility to be concerned, to learn and act on them, but they are not my issues to worry about. God doesn't expect me to try and solve them all, but to play my part in His plans for restoration and ultimately recreation.

This reality doesn't take away the complexity, the greyness or even the overwhelming situation we find ourselves in in this global village, but it does open up a pathway forward. As people passionate about and focussed on the kingdom of God our responsibility is significant and we need to take up the part we are to play, however we serve a king who reigns and will restore all things so that at his appointed time 'He will wipe every tear from their eyes. There will be no more death or mourning or crying or pain, for the old order of things ... [will have] passed away.' (Rev 21:4)

Friday, April 7, 2006

Open and Closed?

I've been speaking to a few people lately who are interested in joining our community. All of them Christians. It's caused me to wonder what we should do when Christians want to join Loam.

Should we just let anyone and everyone who is interested join?

What does it mean to join?

Is there a danger that we'll find ourselves working hard to keep Christians 'happy' at the expense of focussing on mission?

Is that a danger?

Can/Should we really close ourselves off to Christians so that we can focus on others who don't know Jesus?

These are some questions floating around my head at the moment. Some of them might appear to have simple, straightforward answers ... but I'm not so sure that they do. Very much thoughts in progress!

The challenge of creating community in our culture.

Possibly my last post using a quote from Emerging Churches. I was plagued by this issue at my previous church and suspect it will be an ongoing challenge, both personally and in terms of our church plant.

Creating a vital community is a challenge in our current cultural context. People are both hungry for relationships and yet at the same time ill prepared for the costs involved. In a culture in which casual relationships or contractual relationships are the norm, it is difficult to build relationships on deep foundations that can survive disagreements and disappointments. People are more prone to walk away when the going becomes difficult than to work through a crisis point where a new depth of understanding is reached.
I can't imagine anyone disagreeing with this statement for our context here in Australia. As I reflect on my personal response to conflict in relationships and disappointment as well as the many times I've observed these events in other's lives, it's clear we find it easier to just walk away. However walking away doesn't cut it, we don't grow, we lose what we have invested in community and God is not glorified by our behaviour. I found the following categorisation that was also made in the book a helpful (if very basic) grid to use.

Consumer church - a place where people shop to get their spiritual needs met.
Communal church - family where relationships continue regardless of how people are feeling.
God help us to get over ourselves, commit to each other and press on when things seem too hard!

Theologically what is the relationship between the Church and the Kingdom of God?

This is a question I've been reading, thinking, dreaming, strategising about quite a bit lately. I thought this bit of theological basis from Emerging Churches was helpful.

The reign of God existed before the coming of the church, and it will replace the church at the consummation of all things, when Christ will reign supreme and unchallenged. The church, for its part, is a servant and a sign of the coming kingdom, which was inaugurated with the coming of Christ and was established, in its provisional form, with his ascension into heaven and the imparting of his Spirit. The church, as a servant of the kingdom, constantly points beyond itself to the Lord who is its head and who requires unreserved and comprehensive submission.
First and foremost is the kingdom, and the church follows. To ask church questions without reference to the kingdom is fruitless.

Do emerging churches need to be small to be authentic?

I've had many conversations where people have commented that 'emerging churches think they have to be small and struggling to be authentic.' It always seemed a bit of a cheap shot, so I was pleasantly surprised to read this recently in
Emerging Churches

Joel McClure (Water's Edge, Hudsonville, MI) looks to the future of their groups with some disquiet. "If we grow, we are not sure what we will do: get bigger or create smaller units." But McClure points out that "small is not the answer, and big is not the answer. It is about faithfulness."
This is how I feel about it. If it makes sense in your context to be church in a big way then go for it. If it makes sense to be church in your context to be church a small way then do that. The question is not about size, shape or style, but about being faithful to God in the place he's given you.

Thursday, April 6, 2006

Traumatic day at the office

Because I don't get paid to run Loam I have to do something else to get money. I run a work for the dole project for Mission Australia at Northern Community Church of Christ. Today at Northern I had the most horrible day so far. Without going too much into the details of my day it was traumatic. Basically I was pretty seriously verbally abused by a volunteer (not a work for the dole participant) in what a colleague massively understated as an overreaction to something reasonable I'd done. I don't think I could make up what this guy sprayed at me as he threatened physical violence, and I've done my fair share of cussing. After he was dragged away by another volunteer he came back in and quit his position as a volunteer. This experience was traumatic at many levels and I feel the need to reflect on it here 'cos it's a very real and raw part of mission that I'm experiencing.

Obviously this experience was traumatic because I don't like to be abused, I don't like to be scared and I don't like to be embarrassed in front of a whole room full of people. My initial reaction was a bit of shock and eventually some tears (I don't mind crying if I feel the need). So this bit was hard but nowhere near as hard as the greater repercussions of the day's events.

A colleague who spoke with this guy later on in the afternoon said that he 'knew he didn't hurt me'. I realised that this is totally false, in fact he couldn't have hurt me much more. I don't like running work for the dole, I don't like the system - I feel at many levels it is unjust, I don't like the type of work very much - I run a hospitality program and I'm pretty useless at hospitality. However I do my job because I feel that we need to love and care for people, particularly people that are having a hard time, for whatever reason. I care about the relationships that I have with people there, they are real, they teach me lots and I hope I make a difference in their lives. By responding the way he did and particularly walking away from the place, this guy took away the very thing I am seeking to help happen, people becoming more whole as they come to know God through a compassionate community. I realise the thing that saddens me the most in this whole situation is that the brokeness that is evident in this person's life is stopping him from drawing close to God and there is pretty much nothing I can do about it. My interactions with him seem to have aggravated this broken part of his personality to the point that he is going to remove himself from what I would hope would be a place of healing. That's the hardest part.

Tuesday, April 4, 2006

NT Wright Gems

I sat and listened to NT Wright speak for a day and a bit recently. For some of the time I bothered to take notes, this is what I wrote down ...

people don't understand the Christian faith, particularly not anything about the Christian perspective of the afterlife

death does matter, a culture that says that it doesn't is in denial, it is hugely significant ... problem is that Christian's often don't know what to say ... is the main aim really to go to heaven when you die? it's not so in the scriptures, the Christian church has often colluded with the modernist world

death is nothing at all ... sounds comforting, but really isn't

death is real, it isn't nice, but after it we will be raised again to live eternally and death itself will be killed

death is the last enemy, but in Christ it is the defeated enemy

the KoH is not a place where God rules, but the fact that God rules

heaven and earth are not miilions of miles away from one another, they are the overlapping spheres of God's creation

your kingdom come on earth as it is in heaven

the jewish and christian hope is that in heaven you will be even more the person you are now, not less, not lost in a sea or eternal pulse. in the fullness of God's new world you become who you truly are

resurrection is not life after death, it is life after life after death

part of being a Christian is to grow up in your thinking ... there are lots of bit of Christian theology that are hard but we can't just sink back into some fluffy folk religion because it is too hard

- they go together, they triangulate

the vocation of easter is the getting on with the new creation
resurrection is the beginning of the new week, the beginning of the new era

as the church we are called to stand in pain at the place where the world is in pain and seek God

the Spirit groans in the church that groans in the world which is groaning.

God - the heart searcher
The One who searches the hearts

God's future has come forward into the present to transform your muddled praying ...

You don't get to share God's life without getting some wounds

We are called to be the renewed renewers of God's creation

Holiness is not about obeying a bunch of rules in the old creation, it's about getting involved in the new creation and working out what's going on.

It takes spiritual discernment to see what is the genuinely new creation and what is just the old creation dressed up.

Love is not just our duty, it is our destiny. It is the language that is spoken in God's new world, we are called to learn it here so that we will be fluent in it in God's new world.

Love is about learning to look at the world and people in the light of Easter. We are called to see others as what they are and as redeemed through Easter.

If you're not forgiving others then you will not be able to receive forgiveness yourself. It's like we close a door that forgiveness flows through and we stop God's forgiveness from reaching us.

ACOM Missional Leadership Intensive with Stephen Said

The other week I had my first ACOM Intensive. Stephen Said was the facilitator and it was on the subject of Missional Leadership. I'm not a great note taker, in fact I really just wrote down things that interested me or that I was asked to. Anyway here are my notes ...

One of the first things we did was watch the movie Molokai. The intention was to see if he was a good missionary and if so why, my basic reflections were ...

- impressed by his faithfulness, even while enduring much suffering and injustice
- inspired by his love
- challenged by his sacrifice
- tired of the institution and its capacity to hold back God's work

We spent quite a lot of our time in discussion about the kingdom of God (or as Stephen likes to call it God's Transforming Dream). This was a great discussion including issues such as what is heaven and its relationship to the kingdom, what is the gospel and a bunch of other stuff that I remember being good but can't think of right now. :-p

The two things I found the most helpful would probably have been the time we spent talking about key practices of missional leaders (notes below) and working on the approaches to discipleship in a modern context compared to a postmodern one.

Key practices of missional leaders.

Critical Contextualisation
- observe one area of culture,
- engage with scripture on that issue,
- build the interpretive bridge.

Telling the story of the Kingdom of God - God's transforming dream - understanding and articulating an alternative reality

Mediating Reality/Meaning
- we suffer a crisis of meaning because we've had the mystery explained away by scientific reasoning
- we live in a mediated reality - certain people control our reality through media, etc
- missional leaders have a responsibility to help people understand the real world

- you cannot separate the missionary from the mission
- against the darkness: a transforming vision St Francis of Assisi in an age of anxiety - Richard Raw
- Jesus does not call us to have the answer, Jesus calls us to be

I wish I'd taken better notes, but I never do, I always get lost in the conversation.

My definition of Missional Leadership at the end of the three days was:

Missional leadership is the action of influencing other journeyers to follow the God of mission by discerning, telling the story of the KoG, mediating reality and embodying the KoG with them.

Literature Review - Emerging Churches - Eddie Gibbs and Ryan Bolger

I've done a literature review on the Gibbs and Bolger book I've been reading Emerging Churches for uni. I've posted it here if you're interested. Although I do want to say that I feel like the word limit forced me to say a lot of nothing rather than a whole bunch of something that I feel like I have to say on the book. Trying to review a whole 340 page book in 2500 is just a joke. Even still I'd be interested to know what you think if you do read it.