Wednesday, September 13, 2006

More on The Shaping of Things To Come

My own church planting group has been going through a gradual restart and revision the last two years as I continue to try to shake off the default of church organization to organic church, from modernity to emergent, etc. (see the post below on church plant killers in my own experience). This book The Shaping of Things To Come (see post below) has captured for me the essence of what we are shifting from and toward.

Primarily, it is from church as Attractional to Incarnational. When we moved into this rented space the signs went up on the windows and building, plastering them so to speak. "Free Universalist" "In The Spirit of Jesus" beautiful celtic cross in one window and chalice/cross in the other, and up on the roof was the message, God's Love Is For All" and the church name, first Epiphany and then The Living Room, and then one with the times of the worship and study on Sundays and Wednesdays. You couldn't miss that it was a church building now, and it was message or slogan or religious icon driven. Most of these are still up on the building, except for the one about when we meet (you at least have to walk up to the door to get that information, see post on heresy number one below). We were trying to attract people to come into us. Now we were also doing all kinds of beyond church walls stuff, and that sustained us and helped us make connections, but it was still primarily come into us and be us first and then we will go out and do things for or with others. It is not that I want to be seeker-sensitive and remove religous imagery, etc. which the boomer churches and mega-churches did; I just want to move them from being upfront to being part of the church. For you congregationalists, think of the old parish-church relationship. The outer is for the parish which is the village outside; the church is for the disciples that are made and their leadership support.

If I had it to do all over, and we might have a good chance to do that real soon, it would be to go into a larger space and transform it into a Community Center (might even call it that, no fancy attractional word especially for our immediate context of our area, but that might be a part of it in the future, something like PassionSpace or OurSpace) and put in a computer center, library, reading space, tv space, bigger area for more frequent coffeehouse concerts, turn the spaces over to our leaders and their ministries, use the space to partner with other area groups, have a perpetual giveaway space for reusing items, a recycle center bigger than we have now (we did just move our own inhouse recycling outside the building so it can be used by anyone passing by), a dress for success center to help folks here be able to prepare for job interviews, to be a clearinghouse for social services since there aren't any in our area, a place to showcase our projects like Let Turley Bloom and Saving Pets of Turley and other ventures.

Then whenever we made relationships in and from this space, we would invite folks to become part of the LivingRoom Church experience when we gathered for our events. The information about the church would be at the very bottom of the window of the space we ourselves are renting and producing for the community. We are becoming guests in our own space.

Instead of trying to attract people with our message about Jesus' radical, inclusive spirit, in a world saturated with messages, we would incarnate Jesus into our world by partnering for transformation and becoming something broader than our worship, our study, our identity as people belonging to a set group.

As Kyle Meador www.reflectionsofchrist.blogspot.com said during the workshop with Sally Morganthaler, how many Christians can envision being Christian if they aren't at a worship service? Or bible study, or church mission project even, something that signals that they belong to this or that God group? Expanding here on Kyle's point about worship, but applies I think.

The other pivotal points in The Shaping of Things to Come are being Messianic and not Dualistic. The focus here is on grounding more in the Hebraic spirit than the Hellenistic one. To me that means focusing more on community and not individual enlightenment. I could argue with the historical and theological lines drawn here, and the impossibility of doing so, but then I take Paul to heart more I think than the authors do, even by their own admission, and Paul moved beyond Jerusalem-Athens-Rome dichotomies even though they were each part of his own default mode. The major point though of focusing on individuals or focusing on communities of individuals is key, something that is still working its way through me, and part of why progressives have a problem with church planting, being community-phobic because being hurt by communities who excluded in the past (at least one of the reasons). So I will be looking for ways to be more rooted in the Jewish roots of Jesus spirit, at least as a motivating gestalt.

Finally, they encourage moving from hierarchical to apostolic in leadership orientation. To many progressives, making apostolic the opposite of hierarchical might seem weird, connecting the apostolic movement to movements that are led by a single charismatic leader who drives all decisions and passes on the baton, ala Oral Roberts to Richard Roberts, etc. That's pretty hierarchical. But again though I might not choose the descriptive words that they use, but the point they are making is that apostolic means sending people out to be with others and help transform lives, and that everyone can be an apostle of some kind, using their gifts and passions, and it is this that is collaborative, flat leadership, one based I would say on gifts and roles and responsibilities and even trial and error and not on what position one holds on what committee or by what ordination. This is definitely something for me to move into, scraping my plans and instead casting seeds and visions as part of conversation that allows others to do the same, allowing their seeds to take root in my planter soul/soil and growing together, even more than what I have been trying to do by casting my own into others. The bigger picture that holds all accountable is God's mission where we are, who we are, when we are, limited and finite we are blessed be.

I am still working on my critique of all the message-driven books produced by the religious left these days, wonderful though they be, and part of my critique is summed up or pointed to in this book when it titles one chapter as The Medium Really Is the Message and We are the Messages. Which brings us around to incarnational all over again.

I think, again, that even for churches that don't have Jesus in the center, and for established churches, there is much here that will help revolutionize your leadership and your possibilities for transforming your church and releasing its people and energy.

3 comments:

Kyle said...

I love Shaping of Things to Come. There's a lot going on in that book.

There's an interesting you make (among many others): The bigger picture that holds all accountable is God's mission where we are, who we are, when we are...

Its so important to think about what it is that specifically identifies us as a gathering of God's people, not just another dinner club. For Frost and Hirsch, Mission is what specifically identifies us; incarnation is a typology of that mission embodied in the Christ narrative and in lived out in our congregations.

Of course, getting a group of people to have a common, shared understanding of that mission and actually living out a life that embodies it... that's a whole other thing.

Ron said...

Kyle said >Of course, getting a group of people to have a common, shared understanding of that mission and actually living out a life that embodies it... that's a whole other thing.<<

Ain't it the truth. One of my growing edges has been to handle the in-betweenness of the ideal and speculative and imaginative thinking that goes into books like this, and all those others on the same topic and in the same realm, and loving the vision that is cast and wishing to live in that vision, and dealing with the realities of my own and others attempts at missional living and finding vision in the failings.

It reminds me of when I finished my Masters of Fine Arts in Creative Writing, and what I had really learned after those three years was that there was a giant abyss between where I was as a fiction writer then and where those were whom I loved to read. You had to face that abyss and keep writing into it or go do something else.

The same thing didn't really happen after getting the M.Div per se, but the abyss between the church as is and the church as it could be, might be, will be certainly continues to grow.

But it is good to know, which these books and the gatherings and I guess even the blogs show, that there are others plunging ahead into that abyss too. And so it reminds me to put down these great books and pick up the Good One again and be reminded of the roots of that struggle.

Like Sally Morganthaler said the other day, and like so many writers and artists etc. have said about their vocations, if you could do something else you surely would.

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