Tuesday, June 23, 2009

A couple of new books missionally focused plus a coming teaser on The Jesus Manifesto

I have brought a few books with me to use in a presentation I am doing on Saturday at GA on "Emerging Small Groups The Jesus Way" and thought I might mention them now and reflect on them later (I have brought others but they have been commented on here before; the new monastic books; brian mclaren's finding our way again: the return of the ancient practices--if I haven't reflected on it I will). The newer ones are: The Tangible Kingdom: creating incarnational community by Hugh Halter and Matt Smay; and ReJesus by Michael Frost and Alan Hirsch.

And stay tuned for a full posting of Leonard Sweet and Frank Viola's new The Jesus Manifesto, and why I like so much of it, why I think they protestest too much on some accounts or forget some inherent idolatry of neo-orthodoxy just as they point out the inherent problems of liberalism; why I like that they link a kind of cultural evangelical conservatism that only talks about Jesus without walking the Jesus way with the folks in the social gospel but don't talk about Jesus crowd; you will probably google it now and find it but I will try to get back to making it its own post some time this week.

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At General Assembly

Working but will try to update with thoughts and reflections when I can. Most likely to do so through www.uuchristian.org and home page links to General Assembly which begins later today. I tend to in the past look for any signs at GA that people are talking about, even indirectly, anything related to serious talk of planting church planting churches in the UUA, embracing a many-models approach especially, and will try to do so again. If you see anything I miss let me know. I will broaden the scope this year to look for anything that could be construed as planting missional communities or endeavors. End.

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The Liberal Christian vol. 3 online journal just published

Go read Scott Wells' www.liberalchristian.net Vol. 3 just published online. Good stuff. Particularly liked Derek Parker's take on growth and extinction; readers here will find resonance there I believe, and I liked Scott's diagnosis of the UUA in the lens of the presidential election. Go to www.boyinthebands.com too. End.

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Thursday, June 11, 2009

Letting Go of the Past, Forgiveness, and Planting

Welcome Kristen Robertson and her virtual book tour on the blogosphere. Check out www.kristenrobertson.com and all the wonderful spiritual resources there, especially regarding the Forgiveness Journal which I first read during the recent UU Christian Fellowship Revival in Tulsa.

There is so much forgiveness opportunities in our lives, especially with those who have come into a place like the UUCF healing from earlier in life exposures to harmful forms of Christian spirituality, and those who follow Jesus in our pluralistic congregations who form right relationships with people who, for several reasons, are not in right relations with Christians either in UU churches or in the world. I often tell UUCF members that one of our callings is to be present in Jesus name and spirit with those who have been harmed in Jesus name.

I am also in my earlier life a Faulkner avid fan (even having received a Faulkner award for my fiction) and so I know, as he wrote, that the past is something not often, if ever, past. And yet I have also been formed theologically by immersion in the works of process-relational theologians Charles Hartshorne and Alfred North Whitehead (just occurred to me that for much of the 80s I was immersed in both all Hartshorne wrote and all Faulkner wrote; interesting parallels to explore later) and so I understand the approach that God is working in our universe and in our lives in helping to make the past the past, helping to co-create the future in freedom; as Whitehead says God is that factor in the universe that relates the what is to the what is not yet. Forgiveness, then, radical and endless grace and accountability, is a key characteristic of that spirit of God that grounds us in the process of becoming more fully human. When we work against that spirit, against forgiveness, when we give the past an ultimate power over us, we are making an idol of the past, and like all idolatries (taking something that has good within it and twisting it into a force for suffering) this keeps us from growing spiritually into fuller finite and blessed human beings.

Finally, given the thrust of this blog on planting new communities, let me just say that letting go of the past forms of church (re-integrating forms from before the Empire and much of the Reformation) does not often come without an emotional cost; does not come without some sense often of severing ties, betrayal, and fear of our new communities acting and behaving as the ones we have not found fulfilling of God's mission. Personal liberation, living healthy spiritually developing and grounding lives (see posts below about new forms of leadership needed) are all crucial to being agents of transformation today.

Repairing personal relationships, coming to terms with churches in our past, all is vital to leading the church into its new life too.

Wednesday, June 10, 2009

Communion, Caring, and Celebration: Final Thoughts on Mission and Church by Reggie McNeal

1. Disinterest in institutional cultural Christianity will accelerate. (Even if you don't have a Christian church, how is this true of your church as an institution that is as traditional and as caught up in cultural values as any other dominant culture institution?).

2. Churches that thrive will become more externally focused in their ministry agenda and more intentional in developing their people. (see all the posts below)

3. An explosion of missional communities will occur. These will be groups of believers and nonbelievers who will operate in noninstitutional settings. They will range in size from a handful of participants to a few dozen. Gathering will take place in homes and restaurants, bookstores and bars, office conference rooms and university dorm rooms, hotel meeting areas and downtown Ys and yes even churches. Leadership will emerge from within. technology will assist teaching......These communities will order their lives around Communion, Caring, and Celebration. [Ron: These three C's are a part of what we do with The LivingRoom Church at A Third Place Center, just as are the 3 R's I have posted on before, as Relocation, Redistribution, Reconciliation.]

4. Increasing numbers of Jesus followers will live out their missional expression in the context of their family and work environments...they will attend worship on special occasions but their tribe will be those in close contact helping them live missionally. churches and clergy who get this can help them as one way of being church.

5. Many new leaders of missional movements will not be clergy, though many clergy will learn to transition into mission, and find ways through grants and other ways to be paid; but many will not be able to make this shift.

6. The current dominant affiliations based on doctrinal agreement and denominational polity will be replaced by those of common compassion and life orientation. The spiritual agenda will be less issue-oriented and more centered around loving God and loving others as the core attitudes and actions of genuine Jesus followers.

7. Spiritual literature (including the web) will increasingly focus on helping people beome more intentional Jesus followers in their natural habitats.

8. Some of you reading this will lead the missional church movement.

Thanks to Reggie McNeal for his book, for his workshop that changed and charged me up for visiioning the transition that has been chronicled through the posts of this blog. Again much of this post and those that follow quotes McNeal, paraphrases him, and adds my comment. Now add yours.

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Missional Church Leadership Four Main Areas

These four areas to focus on are great for anyone thinking of planting a church too, or becoming a part of a missional community. This is sort of the summary of Reggie McNeal's whole book on Missional Renaissance: changing the scorecard of the church. see posts below.

1. How do you see the world? Paradigm issues.
2. What competencies or microskills do you need in this new world of mission?
3. What resources do you have to work with?
4. What are your issues as a person, how are you growing, what is holding you back, for it will be reflected in those around you too.

1. Have to quit looking at the church and missing the mission needed in the world. Be more concerned with the culture of your community than the culture of your church. Following Jesus is not about being a better church member; it is about blessing people, relating with them, and helping them go deeper in their relationship with God. Following Jesus, McNeal says, does not involve adding activities to your life (it might mean less). Following Jesus is life itself. So our scorecard should look at how many relationships we have with those not in our church; how much time do we spend outside the office; how much time studying the culture, learning from others, coaching others?

2. Become a coach for people. Learn to tell stories, live in stories, help people see their life as a stoery within the Story of God. The transitions we face in all aspects of life mean that conflict is inevitable and must be embraced in a healthy spirit; learn how one approaches conflict and how to incorporate it; learn to listen better; learn to celebrate our own gift of life and living and celebrate others milestones and mission; learn from those who have been in mission overseas what all they needed to learn, and apply it to the mission within a two mile radius of your locale, for it will be the same in today's glocal world.

3. Develop prayer life, share it, see it as a first resource as it will help structure all other resources needed. Relationships at home need strengthening or else any attempt at relationship building in the community will suffer. Be aware of the time of your day and where it is being spent, as well as with your money. Learn to use technology in mission; but don't let it distract you. Same with your personal property; how does it reflect your values, your missional life?

4. Continue to evaluate and understand your self as you will be changed during this process of change; what is your personality style, the way you learn, how you deal with conflict, your emotional intelligence, your own talents and gifts and passions; and never forget that you will carry with you the "hidden addictions and compulsions" from childhood and families of origin, regarding food and sex and control, for they will affect your mission.

McNeal understands that this is all a massive self-mission in order to continue improving the way we serve others and God, so he suggests just starting anywhere as it will all interact with other areas. Bottom line is missional movements cannot exist without missional people.

See my own posts of the past few years about church plant killers. About the interlocking necessity of culture, resources, and leadership in order to thrive in mission.

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Frequently asked questions from church leaders about going missional

Reggie McNeal gets several questions at the end of his workshops a lot. In his book Missional Renaissance he deals with them:

Is there a role for a "traditional" chuerch in the missional movement?
Of course he says yes. So many manifestations of church will be there for all kinds of different folks. But even traditional churches can turn loose missional communities, can be an umbrella non profit for missional communities. But as he says churches in the traditional mode must understand that the people who will be transformed will not all of a sudden change and "grow up" and start attending church. McNeal says this is the real test of whether a traditional church understands what it means to be converted to missional life.

How can you maintain doctrine and orthodoxy if you turn loose these missional communities? (believe me that applies to liberal doctrine and orthodoxy the same as for conservative ones). McNeal says we have to trust the Spirit, we have to trust the Truth, like life, will find a way out. (It is the old arguement from Puritan John Milton that you have to trust the marketplace of ideas and liberty). Also he says we have to remember that what has been considered orthodox has changed some over the centuries; in fact the missional movement like the reformation itself may lead to new understandings of theology.

What is the role of clergy in missional movements? Some of this covered below. But here are his responses (seminaries pay attention): clergy need to continue to develop role as teacher (but remember it is not didactic but behavioral linked); life coaching; developer of missional strategies, connecting people's passions with the work in the world, helping them start new communities and projects; train new missional community leaders (we have to pass on what we know to others or all we do will die with us)

How will clergy earn a living going missional? 1. This will prompt us to face the truth of whether we are called to a job or a life in God. We have to clarify our life purpose, find our voice, keep up our work skills so we can be flexible and employable and be able and willing and often prefer to be bi or more vocational. But we might find ways that going missional sustains our own lives and our families in ways that the status quo traditional professional ministry undercuts.

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Leadership Needs Changing and the Idolatry of the Church

More excerpts and commentary from Missional Renaissance: changing the scorecard for the church by Reggie McNeal. See posts below.

How often have you had the chance to visit these questions: What do you enjoy doing? Where do you see God at work right now? (especially outside "church"); What would you like to see God do in your life over the next six to twelve months? How can we help? How would you like to serve other people? How can we help? How can we pray for you?

Have "holy conversations" on these matters with one another and just watch church being born.

To incorporate this into what it means to be the church will mean leadership changes from being based in "church" to being based in the "kingdom" i.e. hurting groaning toward new creation world around where you are right now.

Side note: A lot of all this missional perspective is rooted as I say below in the history of the early church before it became a part of the Empire; as McNeal says it is good to remember actualy that the early church was far from ideal and perfect; if it were then the New Testament,, as he says, would have been a lot briefer...but it is precisely because of the imperfections, the marginalization, the pluralism, the hunger for spirituality, that we need to feel pre 70 ce in our bones.

Back then in the early followers of Jesus time, there were no "church jobs". The job of all the followers were to build relationships, to live lives that others would want to imitate. See Jesus see God; see me see Jesus (bearing in mind of course that we don't think we are either fully human or fully divine lol; but that we carry the likeness and imprint with us, in all our frailties and failings too). But this changes the focus of leadership.

How can we as leaders move from being representatives of institutions to become viral agents for God? New leaders will "talk about God, not just about church." [side note to UUs: maybe we have taken God talk over the years away for so long that this shifts us inherently into talking about church, church, church, treating it as idolatry, as be all end all, as the carriers of all meaning, especially given our congregational polity no church higher than the local church; maybe if we talked God more, we would find a mission and conversation and angst and conflict about church less? Just a thought, but funny how you repress in one area and it will surface in another? We do fixate on church health so much it seems in many churches; fixating on what God is doing that we can as a group join in on might take some of that pressure away. Just a thought].

As leaders ministers particularly, McNeal says, should see themselves as movie producers not movie directors, that they should quit trying to relive the past as historians and see themselves as storytellers of the present, as journalists, in order to affect the future. That instead of being trainers of others to do mission; they should learn how and where to deploy people into mission adn how to mostly help them debrief their lives and service. (I will follow this post soon sometime with a special one about how seminaries are changing, need to change to help this).

Finally, as mentioned elsewhere, leadership needs to move from being about programs to beingabout people, to being personal; are we living what we are talking about? is there, he asks, a spiritual attractiveness about us? "Do we have the stink of Jesus on us?" Can we die to church ambitions and celebrity status?

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Church and Mission: What's Missing

Here is promised more good stuff, thought provoking, and I hope mission starting goodies from Reggie McNeal's book Missional Renaissance: see posts below. Welcome to all who are coming here for the first time from the Virtual Blog Tour. Happy reading.

"Are people better off for being a part of this church, or are they just tireder and poorer?" Good place to start asking; some will choose to keep to the status quo and think that going missional means more work, more "outreach"; as McNeal relates, it is just the opposite. I like to say it is the difference between obligation and opportunity; if folks are involved in something called church out of obligation there's a lot of ill health going on; what we offer them is opportunity.

The rise and fall of the program driven church. Part of the problem of burnout to leaders and others in church is that they are trying to keep programs going or start new programs. The early church didn't do it and that's how they overthrew the Empire from within. McNeal makes a good point too that the program church as we know it now grew alongside the service economy rise of post world war two America; of course now we are in experience economy and so churches stuck in service economy are being stressed as fish out of water.

"Isn't the church supposed to be the center of a person's spiritual experience?...No it's not. Everyday living is where spiritual development is worked out. The church needs to pivot to focus on that, not trying to create an artificial environment to replace it.

People need help debriefing their lives. The missional church deploys people into the world and then gathers together with them to debrief their experiences and grow spirit for the next deployment. When we gather we need to ask these questions more often: what is the best thing that happened to you this week? What was the biggest challenge you faced? What worries you the most? What needs celebrating in your life? [One of the worst things that UU churches used to do, some still do, is what is called talkback, where individuals after the sermon got up to say back to the preacher what they agreed with and disagreed with; the participation part is good though; it is just that people and worship shouldnt be clergy focused, but there should be a time for people to talk with one another in twos and threes about what they will take home from their time with one another and the teaching they might get}.

Families in mission: church can be a time for sharing how families are working to serve others; inspire children to not come to sunday school to learn all about God but themselves experience it in their lives outside of Sunday gatherings; have them set up a lemonade stand for others, for example, this summer.

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