Wednesday, September 28, 2005

Nutting out a 'partnership'

I have to say that I think most 'partnerships' I've seen between churches and other organisations are fairly shallow. It seems that mostly they just tend to be financial transactions with little to no relational component. So the process of working out what it will look like for our church plant to be in partnership with the church that we are currently working at has been interesting.

I had a good meeting on Tuesday with the other senior staff from my church, explaining what it was I was intending on doing and asking them to think about what a partnership might look like. There were some good questions raised and some thoughtful insight which pointed out that partnerships take time to grow, it might be that we begin with some sort of financial arrangement and the intention for healthy regular relationship and see where that takes us.

The meeting on Tuesday was followed by some time with the Senior Pastor on Wednesday chatting through these things. He is very supportive of our intentions and in many ways has offered an open hand. Some of the practical ways we spoke about our church supporting the plant is in payment for training that my wife and I will do, an initial gift or seed money for a mission project like the community garden I've mentioned previously, providing for a monthly session with the counselling centre that runs out of the church for me (to help keep me sane) and providing an opportunity to come back and share with the staff and key volunteers about what is happening with the plant throughout the year.

I'm really happy with these options as they recognise that a financial component to the partnership makes sense and is real, but they also open the door for ongoing relational partnership. I'm really keen for our church to learn about church planting, to learn to relate well to plants that come from it so that it can plant healthy churches in the future, so I think this list is a start in the right direction.

I'd be interested to hear other ideas of partnership or practical suggestions I could explore.

Friday, September 23, 2005

Finding the Sunday Service unhelpful.

So I've been finding Sunday church kind of unhelpful for a while now and it's really been bugging me. I haven't been able to work out why exactly. It just hasn't felt right, I used to enjoy it and I still find a good sermon helpful. But the stand up sit down style of meeting with God seems to be missing something now.

Finally as I was sitting in church on Sunday night I realised why. Since I've become passionate about planting a church I've started to focus on what would be helpful for the context I'm planting in. Almost everything seems to get viewed through that lens, it has taken over. I'm even trying to develop my own spiritual life along those lines. How would the people I'm seeking to reach connect with God? Could I also connect with God that way? Could that be the norm for me? Maybe that would help me to become more authentic and effective with these people I am seeking to reach ...

So it's not that church on Sunday has suddenly become crap or that I've been somehow enlightened and can see the true way now. All of that is an ignorance and arrogance that loses sight of the context. It's just that God has been drawing me towards something new, something different. It feels like I'm being prepared for that. If I want to make the most of Sunday church while I'm still going then I should consciously think about the lens I'm using to interpret it. In a sense I could take off the mission focussed lens and view it for what it is ... but maybe that would be counter productive ... maybe I should just live with the tension for the next few months, trying hard not to get bitter or twisted and thank God for the new perspective.

These thoughts are just developing, I'm interested to hear other perspectives and experiences.

Sunday, September 18, 2005

A garden church?

I haven't posted for a bit and that's a sign that I've been thinking a lot but not coming up with any quick answers. I've spent a while praying and thinking about what it might mean for this mission-shaped church plant we are planning to take seriously the concept of incarnational mission. In some ways it'd be easy just to set up a house church style plant, try out some cool worship stuff each week and work to build community, but to be honest if I wanted to do that then I'd just stay at an established church and run a cool small group. The reason I want to plant a new church is because I see amazing possibilities for mission. Mission that takes its context seriously, mission that listens and responds to what God is already doing in the culture it finds itself in, mission that is connected to people's understanding of church and what it means to be the people of God. I think God is already working in this fine suburb of Preston where I now live, our task is to find out where and see how we can get involved.

It is that question of where and how that I have been pondering and I feel like God has been prodding me towards an answer. Before we bought this great house we are in now I was not at all keen on gardening, in fact I wanted to buy a place that had no garden so that I wouldn't have to worry about the maintenance. It seems that in the process of buying I forgot about that and we ended up buying a place with a nice small garden in the front. The strange thing is that ever since we moved in I've spent about a day a week working out the front. I've been weeding, watering, mowing, mulching and even planning to take out some plants and put in some indigenous ones. It appears as if I've developed a passion for gardening totally out of the blue, very strange. All of this does feed into the question of how we might effectively connect with people in Preston because it seems that the garden might be the perfect place for it. When I met my first neighbour here he didn't introduce me to his wife or take me into his house he took me out the back of his place to show me his garden. We spent ages out there while he talked me through all the different trees, bushes, vegetables and flowers he had planted, the style of the garden, the quality of the soil, it went on and on. Only after we'd exhausted the possibilities for garden talk did he realise that I hadn't met his wife so he rushed me inside for a chat ... but it was the garden that was so key to us connecting. The next neighbour we met was similar, he was working in his front yard and my wife was mowing the lawn, he got all excited because there was someone else out working on their garden and we spent the next hour or so chatting about his garden and all the work he had done and planned to do in the future. The garden is a real place of connection here in Preston.

I think the garden has a bunch of other things going for it as well. The bible is full of garden/plant/creation imagery and story, gardening can be a highly relational activity as you work and enjoy it together, being in the garden connects you with God's creation and points us to the Creator, gardening crosses the socio-economic divide (you don't have to be poor or rich to have a garden), the garden is not age specific and the list goes on. It seems that the more I think about it the more it makes sense. So I'm interested in exploring some shared projects we could get involved in with the community such as a community garden or maybe even some kind of gardening service in the community further down the track. I think building relationships with people in the community around something as rich as the garden would be an excellent way for the people of God to effectively reach out to the people of Preston with God's love and truth. What do you think?

Wednesday, September 7, 2005

Encouraging and insightful words for cross-cultural missionaries

I've just reread a great post over at TheBolgBlog called Advice for Modern Leaders, "Let Go". For those of us interested in cross-culturally reaching a world very much untouched (in positive ways) by the church, it is a wonderfully affirming message. Often I have found myself as an 'outsider' in cultural contexts I have been trying to reach, but more recently I have been placed in situations where I am an 'insider', these words are a real encouragement.

Bevans and Schroeder also have encouragements for insiders to the culture. "The main spiritual task is to speak out -- to have confidence in themselves and in their own understandings of their cultural and/or social context, and to risk ways of encounter between gospel and context. Only very slowly should they heed criticism of their culture and let go of their intuitions and instincts." Insiders must feel free to create within that culture, to speak out from within. As insiders, they can push hard on the sides, offering prophetic embrace and critique as those who are truly part of that community. Outsiders may offer support to insiders in this creative task. Where this kind of rare support happens, amazing ministries within postmodern culture are planted.
The rest of the post is also great, and will put the above quote in its context, go read it.

Jesus on being missional

Scot McKnight over at Jesus Creed has been doing a fantastic series called Jesus on being missional using Matthew 9:35 - 11:1 as his biblical basis.

I highly recommend following it as he has some excellent biblical and practical insight.

Some of the pearls I've read so far ...

- All missional work is shaped by the missional work of Jesus himself.
- A missional orientation will only be genuinely missional to the degree that it is prompted by compassion.
- The power of the missional work is from God.
- Missional work is done in dependence on God and for God’s glory and in the context of God’s good people.
- Missional Kingdom activity is a personal thing: it finds people to trust.
- Missional work involves a balancing act of innocence and shrewdness.
- Genuine Jesus missional work is prompted through and through by the Spirit.

While these quotes seem quite straight forward in some ways, the extra content and process Scot uses to extract them from the life and words of Jesus is helpful and inspiring. Go read!