Thursday, February 23, 2006

Are we adding to each other's mission or are we building something else?

One of the guys in our team asked this great question the other night.

Is what we are seeking to do by planting a church and committing to mission about adding support, encouragement, challenge and skill to where we are already participating with God in mission or is it about building something else?

It really is a fantastic question of clarification. One that has been spinning around in my head for a couple of days now. I think we are trying to do both. I think we are seeking to teach, encourage, support, equip, challenge, stretch and champion (a nice Forgeism I just picked up) each other in the work of mission where God has placed us. However we are also seeking to commit to a shared missional task, not just so that we can build something, but so that we can practice together, so that our process of discipleship includes an opportunity to live out together what we understand to be the Kingdom of God. This way when we stuff it up or fall down or are blessed and succeed we can celebrate and learn from it together, rather than experiencing it alone.

I guess there are other models of missional churches who don't have a shared missional task, but I think the process of discipleship is weaker without it and if we don't work as hard as we can to follow of Jesus in this area then we will miss out on so much of what he offers us as a missionary God seeking to lead a missionary people.

Reading, reading, reading.

I mentioned previously that I'm studying at ACOM this year. In this first trimester (they have three not two blocks of study during the year) I am doing a subject called Missional Leadership for which I will be reading 'Church Next' by Eddie Gibbs and Ian Coffey and 'Leadership Next' by Eddie Gibbs. I'm also doing Forge accredited through ACOM which I need to read 'Emerging Churches' by Eddie Gibbs and Ryan Bolger for, as well as 'The Shaping of Things to Come' by Alan Hirsh and Michael Frost - thankfully I've read that before. Anyone notice a bit of a theme coming through here ... I'm going to be all Eddie Gibbs'd out in a few weeks. Anyway I guess I'm going to be posting a bit more about these things over the next little while, thought I'd give you a heads up and let you know what was filling up my brain.

Wednesday, February 22, 2006

Modern/Post Modern, Colonial/Post Colonial, Industrial/Post Industrial, etc

I've been listening to Brian McLaren this last week (Tuesday afternoon and Thursday) and he has spent quite a large amount of the time assessing culture, its change and some of the implications of that for us. It's been pretty interesting (although it's hardly a new topic) and obviously a skill of McLaren's, I feel like I've learnt some valuable things.

The thing that has been bothering me though is the fact that there wasn't really any mention of the fact that these are not hard and fast categories. In a sense they aren't real, no one is actually post-modern or modern, everyone is a bit of a mix. So when we think about these categories, see people acting in particular ways and start to classify their behaviour (and therefore them) we have to be careful, because no one will actually live out all of a perspective. Just because someone exhibits some post-modern behaviour doesn't mean they will always act in 'post-modern' ways, they will no doubt break the rules from time to time.

This is a really important point to consider when we are working in the realm of relationships and not just in the world of ideas.

Praying in each other's space

Last night at loam we did an exercise where we paired up (randomly) and drove to someone else in the group's house and prayer walked the area. The goal was to bless and encourage each other and to get a sense of each other's context so we can support them in their attempts to bring the Kingdom of God to that place. So Steve and I went to Kate's house (which won't mean anything to you because you either have no idea who these people are or are confused by the fact that our group has three Kates and two Steves) and walked and prayed in her space. We hung over her fence, walked up and down the court of her street and prayed for her faith, housemates, evangelism, service and ability to love God and those around her. Others did similar things and I think we'll do it again, it was great to get out and see each other's space. To seek to understand where they spend so much of their life and bless that element of their lives.

Tuesday, February 21, 2006

More than something else to fit in your calendar

One of the shifts I've noticed which is significant for people starting or joining mission-shaped churches is the shift from church being something that fits into your life to your life being something that fits because of mission.

In my experience many people can't make sense of their faith in this consumer driven, self-oriented society because they struggle to have lives focussed on the Kingdom of God. Instead they try and squeeze what they understand to be Christian things (sunday church, small group, bible reading, prayer) into already very full calendars and balance the values of the Kingdom with self centred (but due to the culture seemingly reasonable) concerns of their own. Of course this doesn't work very well; the worst case scenario is that it all falls apart and they lose their faith, but normally what I've noticed is that people lose their passion for God and his missional agenda and just become pew warmers while they experience a shallow Christian (mostly consumer) existence.

So for people beginning or joining a mission-shaped church, this is quite a shift. They've often come from a context where people asking for commitment means having to squeeze something else into your week rather than challenging you to follow Jesus more radically. And often I find they're quite cynical about what is possible, they don't feel able to dream big dreams because previously they've been promised a lot and had little delivered.

Well the vision of the Kingdom of God is a big one, one that requires big dreams and big sacrifices to achieve those dreams, so somehow people have to regain the ability to dream, to sacrifice, to hope and trust that as they lay their lives down in service and mission for God, they will be fulfilling His purposes.

Learnings from the garden 3

The lesson of the lettuce is the third lesson from the garden and it's title should be 'Don't push it too fast or you'll kill it'.

I raised some lettuce from seed this spring and I was very excited to see it rise up from the dirt and form beautiful little green leaves. These leaves grew and eventually gave way to a second set of leaves that were clearly lettuce leaves. Apparently it's about this time that you should transplant from the seed raising trays to a garden bed. However (as I learned the hard way) the garden bed still needs to be a safer place than what they'll experience when they are more mature. I put my young seedlings into a garden bed at the back of my house that gets full sunlight pretty much all day and unfortunately at that time we experience three 30C+ days in a row and my poor little lettuce died. It seemed like no matter how much water I put into those little suckers they just kept dying. I managed to save about 5 out of the 30 I planted (which turned out to be more than enough in that garden bed anyway), but the casualty rate was high.

Reflecting on this experience I feel God saying to me 'Don't push it too fast or you'll kill it.' Now for some people this would be an obvious point, but I kind of like to make things happen and get them done, I'm not really one to wait around until the right time, I get frustrated when people can't keep up and I like to push it along. It's interesting how God has been gently teaching me things that I find hard to hear through gardening, it's quite cool really.

Friday, February 17, 2006

loam

Finally we have a name. The lovely Jay managed to guide us through a complex maze of an email voting system (which in ended in an old skool vote with pen and paper) to choose the name loam. For those of you not familiar with gardening terms this word probably means very little to you so I'll help you out. Loam is a rich fertile soil that is good for growing things in. Seems like a pretty appropriate name for us to me.

Monday, February 6, 2006

My Personal Development and Training Changes

I've been studying at Ridley College for the past four years doing a Bachelor of Theology. I've built some important friendships, been taught some wonderful truths about God and gained great insights into how to read and understand the bible. However I've realised that I'm going to need more than that if I want to engage our world with the news about the kingdom of God and lead others who are passionate about this. As a result of this, as well as issues of flexibility and learning style, I've enrolled at ACOM this year and applied for credit for the Ridley subjects I have done so far. This is a significant change as ACOM is more of a correspondence model with a 3 day residential for each subject and a focus on mentoring and coached practical work. I'm excited about the change as it seems to fit my learning style much better and the subjects I'm taking will help me in the areas of mission and leadership I'm looking for training in. Another bonus is the fact that I am able to combine the Forge Internship I am doing this year with my studies and gain credit for it.

So it all seems to be fitting together quite nicely and hopefully it will inspire me with interesting ideas and questions to post about!

Where are we up to?

Given it has been so long since I posted on what is happening here in Preston I thought a general update might be helpful.

Jay and I have officially finished our work at our old church. We finished with a level of sadness as God has used this community greatly to shape us and encourage us over the last 7 years, but also with a level of excitement as we are now released to really throw ourselves into some new ventures we are passionate about.

There are 10 (actually 11 if you add together the two partially grown children inside a couple of team members bellies!) people in our team which is in the process of planting a mission shaped church in the suburb of Preston. We all live pretty close together and are passionate about living and sharing the gospel.

We are working hard to hold together the tensions of sharing the gospel story and proclaiming the kingdom of God (probably what most people would call evangelism) and living out the reality of God's Kingdom in our world (maybe what some people would call social justice). Only the other night we were talking about how a right understanding of our position before God naturally draws us to a place where we seek to live out the reality of His kingdom in this world (Matt 19:30 - but many who are first will be last, and the last will be first).

We are also really keen to hold together the threads of mission and discipleship. To be a Christian and not be engaged in God's mission to the world does not make any sense and if you are seeking to be used by God in his mission then you have to become more like Jesus. We want to be building a church that focuses on helping people do these things together well.

We are officially a congregation of Northern Community Church of Christ. More than we yet realise, I believe this is going to be a huge blessing for us as a new community of God's people. Northern is a diverse mission focussed church whose mission is to be the hands and feet of Jesus in the Northern suburbs. I am an unpaid ministry team member and Jay is a Northern Intern (Kaleo Team Member), these positions are providing us with a strong framework of support and accountability.

We hope to build a community garden in Preston as a means to serve and connect with people in Preston. There are many ways we could focus ourselves but as we look around Preston and see how people are already connecting in gardens there is something about them that just seems to work here. So we are in the very early stages of investigating and planning how this might become a reality, it would be wonderful to find some other local partners in this project.

Recently we decided that it would be good to meet up at least twice a week. Once for a time of worship (the shape of which is yet to be decided) and the other to share hospitality through a meal (either brunch, lunch or dinner whenever in the week the host chooses). It's early days on this decision so we will see if this format enables us to live out the values we are seeking to hold, otherwise we'll change accordingly. That said it seems like a good start.

We don't yet have a name, there is an email based poll happening, but if you have any suggestions then please post them here in the comments.

I think that kinda spells out where we are up to, if there is anything else you are interested to know please ask.

Back in Australia

Well after a couple of months of pretty intense travelling Jay and I are back in the country. We were in Egypt for most of December, travelled through Jordan and Syria in January and came home for a few hours only to leave to go to Rainbow Serpent Festival and hang out with our hippy/raver friends. Finally we are back in Preston (Melbourne), loving being home and getting stuck into building community with our neighbours and fellow church planting buddies, gardening, theological studies (for me), nursing (for Jay), dreaming and scheming in hope of a community garden project, running a work for the dole project for Mission Australia (for me), working on a bible for people who connect with the New Age subculture (for Jay) and enjoying the beautiful Aussie summer.

It's a crazy time when it seems that every direction we turn there is something new happening, so excitement and apprehension abound. It's also a really important time to rely on God and not on our own strength, to know that only as we put our faith in Him will we enjoy the privilege of being used to build His kingdom. If you like to pray then this would be a great point to bring to God for us - thanks.

I'm looking forward to more blogging in the days, weeks and months to come as our relationship with Northern Community Church of Christ begins to unfold, our church plant team makes some more solid decisions about the shape we will take, our lives become more entwined in the culture and relationships of the north and God blesses us with the privilege of doing His work in this place. I find it very encouraging that people are excited enough about what God is doing to follow along here and engage with me as I seek to make sense of it all, thanks for sharing the journey.