Friday, February 01, 2008

Growing

I have been thinking again of the larger movement of the UUA. I was asked last night about what the one thing I would like to see changed about it. I answered my new default response is that we don't try new programs, just try to get 12 "culture agents" who get the missional identity of the church and give them the resources, and the time, to be a presence. Everything else will flow from that.

This grows out of a question I got from a social work student this week when I was talking to their class about our presence here in the very local area through A Third Place and The Living Room Church. What is the one thing I think Turley needs? I was asked. Of course jobs, education, health care are all good responses and true. But, I thought for a minute and said "Give me a few more people, a few more families, to move here to this abandoned part of the Empire, who get it, or a few more families, 12 people tops is okay, who "get it" as do those here now with us, to be "culture agents" living a different way here on the ground, and all those other good things will follow. They have to, if they start from health.

And so it is with the UUA and growth. I guess I should have responded with my other favorite: 1000 new missions in 1000 new ways by the year 2020, coming from our 1000 congregations, or of course 1000 from our healthy 100, and you don't even have to call them church plants, just missions planted outside the existing identity and activities of the church, though some of course can be spin-offs, satellites, etc. These latter will probably come from the healthy mid-size churches and large churches, but every existing congregation has the potential to re-orient itself for seeding something new and different.

Find groups of five people who can work together as a team, who have an entrepeneurial and mission passion, and turn them loose. Self-sown seeds. Watch what happens. By entrepeneurial I don't really mean it has to be business-minded folks although lord knows that will probably help more than by seminary-trained liberal arts message-weighed down people like me; but people who can be risk-takers. And don't be afraid to invest in the places you wouldn't ever be told to invest in by demographic studies. What has it gotten us to go to those areas where there are abundant higher education degrees? Though there is so much still to be done, and so many potentials even in the places loaded down with Starbucks. It's time to have the vision to expand in all directions.

But even those ideas coming from the top as new ventures are probably doomed. So I am back again to linking 12 people as apostles, those who are sent, who can model culture change, attract people on fire, feed their health and starve the dysfunction that will grow up in reaction. People who know in their bones what Church is, and that it is good to seed a diversity of little church expressions of Church. These 12 may be from all over,but they will share associational life together, retreating together, mentoring others, a kind of new monastic order of missionaries, going out into the wilderness of the new environment and bringing back reports to share of the findings and learnings and experiments of others, inspiring others to do the same with others in their areas, or getting away from the bounds of geography, with others in their niche culture, through the technologies. And as these people come into contact with others existing churches will be changed and new endeavors of church, growing their own resources, will sprout. What the association does is resource the start-up missionaries, the 12, and join in prayer, adding new if needed, and thinking not of 3 year cycles and results but 300 years.

Back in the late 1990s, I was called by a member of the UUA Board as they were asking that big question to folks around the country. Back then, I responded that they needed to initiate a focused conversation, as we were having on race, etc., about the question: "How will the UUA exist in a post-denominational world?" Now we are past the time of General Assembly study groups and reports on such a question. We have to simply find people to start living in that world.

Of course my Christian faith shapes these responses, which are full of ancient ways, of the dangerous necessity of picking up crosses, of assurance that resurrection awaits, of knowing the Church services the World and not the other way around, the patience of living "in-between," carrying the recognition and blessing of our innate and unavoidable sin and weakness and finite understandings, so why not embrace them, and in them find a way forward, and of the stories of grace throughout the biblical texts that shine a light for us. And so, I wonder how transferrable any of this is--but maybe since we are now not only in a post-denominational world but in a post-Christendom world, maybe it would bode well for a post-Christian Association to learn not from post-Christian society and models, which is just a mirror showing back itself, but turning toward Christianity's wellsprings, deeper and broader even than our own U/U Christian ancestors and their ways which probably left us much of what we struggle with now anyway.

Big questions get big (crazy) responses, I guess. Something to consider for my Lenten spiritual questions coming up next week. I just know that I left a simple subject line on this post, simply Growing, so as not to limit it to what people conceive of as the movement even, or our churches, or our institutional programs, but maybe growing our presence, our leaven, our relationships, I don't know, I just know it now as Growth. End.

3 comments:

Peter said...

I'm right there with you and I am a lifelong UU - multi generational UU family - with Buddhist leanings.

Build a core who are truly outward focused, who want to turn our faith inside out, and support them in planting a church.

;-) Peter
www.uuplanet.com

Ron said...

Yes, Peter,thanks. This gets down to one of those core places where there is a lot of Christian-Buddhist cross-pollination possible. I, in my passion, might come across as god forbid triumphalist, and I don't mean that, hence the self-UU Christian critique buried within the post, but just speaking out of my story.

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