Friday, February 16, 2007

Exiles

If some of you, like me, were blown away by "The Shaping of Things To Come", get prepared for the next step. You can find it in "Exiles: living missionally in a post-christian culture" by Michael Frost, one of the co-authors of The Shaping of Things To Come.

In the radical subversive spirit of Jesus he takes on not only the mainstream church, which he still sees as effective, but also corporations, the way we eat, the way we are destroying the Earth, destroying the poor, creating new military Empires, and pretty much supporting all those things Isaiah and Jesus said God was against, and not supporting all those things they said God was for.

Here I will simply post some favorite excerpts and points from the pivotal, for me, chapter on "Fashioning Collectives of Exiles." But before he can get to this he first draws a helpful distinction between "community" and "communitas." The first, Community, fosters inward focus and the second, communitas, fosters social togetherness outside society; the first has a focus on encouraging each other, the second on the task at hand; the first, a safe place, the second pushes society forward; the first, something to be built, the second experienced through liminality. Liminality, or putting your core at the edge of things, is key. It keeps groups from becoming the pseudo-communities of so many churches. He says "building community for its own sake is like attending a cancer support group without having cancer." The creation of "safe place" is not to escape missional engagement but as a means to an end.

---begins with the story of the exile, the dropout from regular church who had ADD and was quickly bored, and yet who for years stuck with the church passively as he'd known it. Then he starts going to the lake on Sundays and waterskiing. Feels guilty about it though and decides to simply have a time of prayer in the boat on the lake and asks his friends if there is anything they want him to pray about. That's it. Spends the rest of the day with friends and skiing. Then as more and more people join them for the skiing outings and begin hungering for something more spiritual as part of it, they begin to have meals together and include communion ritual as way of introducing their sacred meal together. They took up a collection and gave it to the poor. They included a short devotion. They started looking for ways to help others at the lake, fixing their boats if broken. They were exiles who were "churching."

---Around the world, especially in the southern hemisphere, people are coming together and "rejecting denominationalism and central authority," "seeking a life focused on Jesus," "seeking to live more missionally."

---We make "church planting" too hard. [this is worthy of its own post, and one of the themes of this blog btw]. People can't imaging "starting a church" [that old mechanistic metaphor again] without getting a building, an ordained leader.

---We try to build churches like ships, when we should, in the words of Saint-Exupery, teach people to want to sail the ocean. The author of The Little Prince wrote: "If you want to build a ship, don't summon people to buy wood, prepare tools, distribute jobs and organize the work; teach people the yearning for the wide, boundless ocean."

---From the Third Place Communities in Australia, comes these markers: 1. Let Jesus be your Reference Point. 2. Embrace a radical spirituality of engagement. 3. Be inspired by prevenient grace, which means "to assume that God goes before us even into the most irreligious situations and creates fields or environments in which our Christlike example can be received. 4. Follow the missionary God into strange places. 5. Inspire people around you to do the same. [RR: This ought to be the five marks of the church and the standard by which we gauge how we are "churching."]

---When is a bunch actually a church? Frost says it happens when exile gatherings become more covenantal and involve committments. He also says they need to be Trinitarian theologically [I might see this as a repudiation of focusing on Jesus as his earlier comments implied, but I know the importance of what he is saying even without having to go where he does creedally; focusing on the Trinity theologically plays itself out as focusing on the community since the Trinity is a community, rather than on individuals]; and have a covenant of committments; and be catholic in orientation (in other words embrace other Christians whatever their tribe and seek ways to be in various relationships with them, as a way of being liminal with the church universal, and resisting the urge to be sectarian or too inward; and be intentionally missional. I like his sentence" "our proper understanding of Christ (Christology) leads us into an appropriate committment to mission (missiology) which forces us to develop the means of a common life together "ecclesiology." It must happen in that order." You don't start by organizing a church and then finding a mission and then trying to connect that to your understanding of Jesus. You start with an understanding of Jesus, (or what is salvific), and that creates the hunger and yearning for mission, to live as Jesus lives, and that leads to creating communitas to support it.

---For those congregationalists like me, I will lift up some of his practices of covenant, drawn from his own group called "smallboatbigsea." Being in covenant means they follow BELLS. B for Bless. Daily they will find a way to bless at least one other member of the community, perhaps as simply as sending an email of thanks. E is for Eat, as they eat together as a community at least three times a week. L is for Listen, weekly make time for intentional listening to God. L is for Learn, weekly study of Jesus. S is for Sent, to see each day as an opportunity to be sent into the world in some missional way. (I might add that a final S might be for Share, since they find ways during the week to share their own BELLS with one another).

I think that if someone was interested in "church planting" or in creating and sustaining a "spiritual small group" that what is included above in this post would be where I would recommend they start. It is all here, in a nutshell.