Friday, August 21, 2009

A new way of church for young adults? missionaries in own zip code

The latest Leadership Journal is focused on ministry to twenty-somethings, iGens, and there is one summary of how the seminal megachurch Willow Creek has been changing its generationally focused worship service, finally ending it, in favor of responding to the generation's desire for more missional church: It is a good model for progressive churches to follow: from Collin Hansen's article:

"equip twenty-somethings to go and serve as missionaries in their own zip code [RR: another good reason for relocating to the abandoned places of empire, too]. He launched missional community hubs, where a core group of four to six young adults move into an apartment complex or condominium unit. Meeting three times per month there, the missional community hubs focus on prayer, Scripture, and community. Keeping with Willow Creek's mission, the small group gathers must be accessible to unbelievers. They also serve their neighborhoods with justice and compassion initiatives. Outside these Tuesday night meetings, missional community hubs host social events where Christians can mingle with unbelievers. Those who want to invest even deeper can meet in gender-specific life transformation groups where two to five young adults study scripture and hold each other accountable...."

Everything Axis does today comes back to the need to build tight-knit communities in order to reach the milennial generation. 'the model must be relational. If it is based on the big event with one person teaching, I just don't think it's going to work...

We didnt come up with it but people belong before they believe before they behave.

From the interview with Matt Chandler on the New Reformed and being missional: "some people would think it would be cool if we had a coffee shop. But I don't want people getting their lattes here. I want them getting their lattes at the four Starbucks in our area so they can get to know the barristas and invite them into our body. [RR: it would be more missional if they lived in an area like we do without anything resembling a starbucks, then creating free coffee shops for the community might make sense; getting the young people to see that being cool shouldnt even be about where they live, as well as about where they drink coffee, is what it means to follow Jesus missionally. but his comment is a good first step for institutional churches].

From J.R. Kerr's good piece about open-source activism: tapping into new generation of leaders means letting go of leader having to feel the need to control and be in on everything. Boomer leadership focus on values of excellence and efficiency leads newer leaders to see those values as too corporate, too controlling, too consumerist.

From Chris Armstrong's How Solitude Builds Community: solitude is not removing yourself from service to others; it is the essential preparation for service. that preparation remains necessary today.

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This newest work by Eddie Gibbs, part of the co-author with Ryan Bolger of Emerging Churches, is called "churchmorph: how megatrends are reshaping christian communities." Like Emerging Churches when it came out, this new work is a good basic introduction to why church is being reimagined, and how it is being done so in different ways and places around the globe, especially in Europe, the U.S., and Australia. It is a good companion with Tom Sine's The New Conspirators. Its breadth is more significant than its particular depth, but it would be a great book to share with church leadership if you are introducing organic ways of being church. For depth go to Reggie McNeal's Missional Renaissance (see posts below on it); but for a one book intro to get you going into more depth, start here now. Gibbs and Bolger's three major characteristics of emerging churches continues to be a good guide; 1. identify with the life of Jesus; 2. transform secular space; 3. live as community.

Good Dog-eared sections of ChurchMorph:

A key scriptural text for incarnational theology and churches is Philippians 2, the possibly pre-Pauline hymn where Paul writes about Jesus being in the "morphe" of God. This is key to kenotic Christianity, giving up temptations of power in the world in order to allow God in and to transform the world. As with Jesus, so with the church and our lives. How then are we and our communities morphing to let God in?

Megatrends: a sense of mystery, without superstition, in worship; self-critical churches reflective of the move from modernity to postmodernity; rise of grassroots initiatives reflective of change from industrial culture to information culture; becoming incarnational reflective of shift from christendom to post-christendom era; as culture shifted from production to consumer oriented, he sees church-goers shifting from conformers to consumers (I see the shift coming next with missional church away from church-goers as consumers to them being convertors, agents of change). other megatrends include from religious identity to spiritual exploration, and delayed adulthood.

I resonate with Doug Pagitt of Solomon's Porch who is quoted in the book describing their experience as "kinda liturgical church...kinda like Mennonite church...kinda like Bible church." We often in worship have our blends of elements.

Gibbs uses several markers to decribe a church both emergent and missional, and it pretty well sums up our markers here in Turley too: on his spectrum we fall mostly into his categories--external focus, independent network (vs. inherited denomination), multicultural, theologically liberal, missional, low-profile situational leader (working on that more), and engaging popular culture.

"Traditional denominations on both sides of the Atlantic suffer from a number of drawbacks. First, the model of church they are endeavoring to reproduce is a style of church shaped by and suited for Christendom.[RR: even if they are theologically eclectic oriented UU churches]; it is not a missional model...Second, the new church plants have to meet criteria set by the denomination in order to be considered a full-fledged church. This means that church planting becomes phenomenally expensive, as it is tied to real estate, meeting pay scales for professional clergy, and the purchase of furnishings...Third, traditional denominations suffer from a shortage of trained and passionate church planters. They tend to attract and train leaders who look to the church to provide security and a career in ministry, rather than ground-breaking risk-takers...Fourth, the seminaries that provide their leaders have trained their students in teaching and pastoring existing congregations, rather than in how to birth and reproduce new faith communities."

More good markers of a missionary church: 1. focused on God the Trinity [see my posts on the Trinity in progressive and still powerful understandings, as touchstones of God, Jesus, and the Holy Spirit, how each of these needs to be incarnated in community]. 2. incarnational; 3. transformational; 4. makes disciples; 5. relational, hospitable and welcoming and "its ethos and style are open to change when new members join" [that last one is becoming increasingly important and is a challenge for most to understand that it doesnt mean the DNA changes, as new members come in and are leaders because they get the DNA, but the expression of the DNA in ethos and stlyle reflects continual evolution, and is another reason why multiple small groups helps this happen in a healthy way]. 6. reproducible; 7. globally committed.

Emerging churches are moving in an Anabaptist direction, resistance to ways culture shapes us and churches.

emerging churches reflect emergent systems: 1. open to change from within; 2. dictated by local not global circumstances; 3. learning as self-renewing; 4. distributed knowledge, no key leader seen as fount of all knowledge; 5. servant leadership that changes perception of a situation instead of announcing change.

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Thursday, August 13, 2009

Recovering Rest Renewal

[latest update: start cardiac rehab next week, and an updated sleep study after that; learning how good it feels on low unsaturated fat diet, still resting during day a lot, doing small good things like going to farmers market, catching up on family matters, beginning to think about trip to Europe after Christmas, looking forward to working again in a more balanced way too.]

[update: internist visit yesterday went well; basic vitals good, no effects of all the new medicines, but no extensive tests, those will wait for the cardiologist followup next month, and also I hope to make contact next week with the cardiac rehab program). It felt good to drive myself there across town (not being any hospitals in North Tulsa; whole episode brings home the lack of medical care and the food desert here; I often cite to the media the bottom line of our zip code having a fourteen year lower life expectancy difference than the highest one just eight miles away in south Tulsa, and the life affirming presence of our church here) and I did a few errands at the seminary and visited family in from out of town, but overall a low stress day that was the most "normal".

Below are a series of posts of resources and reflections that came out of leading a workshop on the organic church at summer church camp. I was only able to lead two of the sessions however as I had a heart attack during the early hours on August 5. I never lost consciousness. My wife, some of whom know is a physician, gave me some aspirin and drove me 20 minutes to the nearest hospital where the EKG confirmed the damage and I was lifeflighted to St. Francis in Tulsa. By the time I was there the medicine I had received helped to open back up the closed artery. Later that day I had two stents put in the artery. I came home Friday Aug. 7 evening and have been resting in recovery and getting used to my new medicines and diet. I go to a new internist tomorrow then go back to the cardiologist in mid September for a stress treadmill to see if another stent is needed in an older blocked pathway of the heart from four years ago.

Thanks for all the prayers that have come my way and for my family and community here and through the UU Christian Fellowship. I am on low stress schedule; not checking online much but am some; doing things that are energy boosts but not too stressful. About to drive again. But everything limited until August 26. I am feeling the seeds of renewal, and an overwhelming sense of grace and gratitude. Enjoying just being. Reading. Thinking. Caring for my body, as a part of the Body of Christ.


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Church of Others: Addendum: The Tangible Kingdom

See posts below if you want to read these in sequence.

I would have brought this resource also into the workshop on the organic church. It is the Rhythms of Organic Communities of Faith. It comes from Halter and Smay's The Tangible Kingdom: creating incarnational community. Great overview for how to set out the touchstones of communities of faith.

Three focus areas: Community, Communion, Mission

Community: sharing friends, sharing food, sharing lifeHow are you and your community of faith doing at this?How are all of these taking place in "third places", proximity spaces?

Communion: sharing scripture, holding sabbath gatherings, creating "soulace"spaces
(Soulace spaces are simple gatherings through the week where people can be together for a more communal experience in scripture, silence, prayer, reflection. Especially in public space, maybe walking a labyrnth or stations of the cross though; experiences that are informal maybe only two or three people, a way to order the week around the spirit and also to meet and deepen with others.) I am starting to think of taking advantage of soulace spaces in my area and creating more ways to be with one or two in them for contemplation. )

Mission: benevolent action, spontaneous blessing, sacrificial giving, sending of leaders.

Halter and Smay conclude by talking about how resources of time talent treasure are not distributed evenly between these three areas, however, but are weighted toward community and mission components.Key point they remind church of: what you seed will grow. what you give money to, and leadership to, will grow. Are you putting it into those areas that need it most to live out your reason for being, and that which will help create a discontinuity with the past and help you be more responsive to our changed cultures; or are they going into more of the same salaries, building, curriculum, programs. For what you give to will grow, so be careful what you give to, what you spend your life on, the life of your community. I think their book and their three focus areas might be a good guide for church's looking to evaluate themselves, especially with the aim of becoming more incarnational. End.

Church of Others: Day Four: New Monasticism

[Just updated]. Here are my notes for the workshop session on New Monasticism:

See also the books School of Conversion: 12 marks of new monasticism, and The New Monasticism, in particular for this and more.

Back in the mid 1930s, between the wars, in times of global economic depression, the term new monasticism begins not only to be used but some very important foundational expressions of it begin to take shape and continue some of the impulse toward this expression of the church that have been with us forever, particularly in protestantism through the radical reformation, the witness of anabaptists and others.

Bonhoeffer in 1935 talks about a restoration of the church through a new monasticism based simply on the Sermon on the Mount. He is a crucial part of the confessing church movement that sought to withdraw from the church going along with the Nazis and dominant culture, living in communities of resistance instead. This is something also that the life of theologian Jurgen Moltmann displays about the growth of such communities in Europe even in secular ways..

Near the same time, Dorothy Day is starting up the Catholic Worker movement with others and creating houses of hospitality. Of course in some ways the church of slaves in the south also exhibited this sense of small communities of resistance as precursors and pathfinders for us. Then there is the witness of Clarence Jordan and the Koinonia community in Georgia starting in the early 1940s. John Perkins and the Christian Community Development Association.

Pivotal in recent history was the work of Alastair MacIntyre's After Virtue where he writes that the world is waiting for a new kind of St. Benedict. Jonathan Wilson writes about faith in a fragmented world that a new monasticism is needed to point the way.

Out of this has come groups you can find more about at places like the Simple Way in Philadelphia Shane Claiborne writes about in The Irresistible Revolution; Rutba House in North Carolina, a Christian community named for the Muslim town in Iraq that tended to these peacemakers injured during the war; Camden House in New Jersey; Church of the Sojourners in San Francisco (and the long time wonderful work in a missional way of the Church of the Sojourners in Washington DC can be reiterated here); Communality in Lexington KY. The meeting in 2004 produced the 12 marks statement listed down below.

A few preliminary thoughts before looking at the 12 marks:

One of the questions that came up at the workshop when it was being led by my colleague and friend Jonalu Johnstone was what makes this monasticism new and other monasticism old? Good question. Off the top of my head I think that 1. this one is coming through protestantism whereas the monasticism most in our world today has come through Catholicism, with all the issues of governance and polity inherent in those distinctions; it is certainly more like the small c catholicism though, as in ecumenism and universalist. 2. A book that explores this some is Scott Bessenecker's The New Friars, talking about the difference between friars who went out into the world to serve the poor, and some monks who lived only within their own walls; in some ways new monasticism borrows from the friars more than some of people's stereotypes based on some monks; 3. they are more often coed; 4. they may not follow the Daily Office but they have it as a guide and follow daily prayer time; 5. the monastic movements with orthodox, Roman Catholic, and even Anglican communities are inspirational but these movements are also open to change so we need to be careful of thinking we grasp them.

It is transdenominational, ecumenical, and in some ways interfaith (I am curious about exploring the movements of Buddhist intentional community, ecological social justice communities, learning from all). It is anti-Imperical, seeing American government and culture as taking on empire ways reminiscent of Rome. It is non-violent, anti-racist, anti-consumerism and anti-individualism in intent. (Reminding us that the Bible witness is about God creating a people, not individuals). Due to all this one of the underlying themes is that on one level it may be easy to be a Christian in America if one goes along with the crowd and the culture, but that it is hard to be a Christian in America if one tries to be that as a follower of the Jesus way. Also, that resistance as a way of being faithful, comes through celebration. There is a pathway for people coming into community as Visitors, Guests, Nomads, Novices, Partners.

The 2004 statement:

Moved by God’s Spirit in this time called America to assemble at St. Johns Baptist Church in Durham, NC, we wish to acknowledge a movement of radical rebirth, grounded in God’s love and drawing on the rich tradition of Christian practices that have long formed disciples in the simple Way of Christ. This contemporary school for conversion which we have called a “new monasticism,” is producing a grassroots ecumenism and a prophetic witness within the North American church which is diverse in form, but characterized by the following marks:
1) Relocation to the abandoned places of Empire.
2) Sharing economic resources with fellow community members and the needy among us.
3) Hospitality to the stranger
4) Lament for racial divisions within the church and our communitiescombined with the active pursuit of a just reconciliation.
5) Humble submission to Christ’s body, the church.
6) Intentional formation in the way of Christ and the rule of thecommunity along the lines of the old novitiate.
7) Nurturing common life among members of intentional community.
8) Support for celibate singles alongside monogamous married couples and their children.
9) Geographical proximity to community members who share a common rule of life.
10) Care for the plot of God’s earth given to us along with support of our local economies.
11) Peacemaking in the midst of violence and conflict resolution within communities along the lines of Matthew 18.
12) Commitment to a disciplined contemplative life.
May God give us grace by the power of the Holy Spirit to discern rules for living that will help us embody these marks in our local contexts as signs of Christ’s kingdom for the sake of God’s world.

I think it is vital that the number one mark is relocation. Once that happens, then the rest seems to fall into place often as a response to taking that first action. Every person and every church can ponder this and find ways to relocate into these places in their own wider communities; it is part of the internal to external shift with the added focus on where that external focus should be located. Simply think of what all happens in your church on a typical week, and now think about how it can happen in an abandoned place of Empire. I love the stories happening of churches that are moving, and people in them moving, from suburbs to urban areas, to apartment complexes, to under bridges, etc. reforming themselves in the process.

Lifting up the power of downward mobility in an upscale world. Living out the Theology of Enough.

Hospitality to the stranger turns into becoming the stranger, the guest.

Check out the Relational Tithe network. Consider differences between common purse community and common standard for discretionary spending communities. Think of ways to create lending networks, eat together more, pray together more, work together more, and extend your concept of more to include more than you think.

Humble submission to the church; of course enlarge your idea of church too, but contemplate how much you are learning from and connected and honoring those who have gone before, how much of the past in the church is still being drawn upon; also how as you may find it necessary to separate in ways from churches that are not missional and have surrendered to cultural, empirical ways, how to still be in connection with other expressions of the church, to be accountable with them. Form relationships; look for ways to connect with all streams of the church.

Celibacy in singlehood? Monogamy? Use it to discuss community values of sexuality, resistance to culture. What is the challenge single people face these days regarding their sexual lives? I don't think we incorporate this enough into our church lives, which might be one small reason why so many young adults look elsewhere for connections and meaning and guidance; celibacy's merits might be good to ponder. I might not come out with the same place that the 12 marks have; I tend to extend hospitality and participation and leadership with others regardless of single celibacy (though I uphold monogamy) but in general I love this mark included for the transformative conversation and sense of grace and resistance to culture it can raise before us.

Finally, I add here the guide for deepening spiritual life in community that I use and commend to others: daily prayer and meditation, weekly worship, monthly spiritual accountability and direction and deep sharing, annual retreat/revival/special time, lifetime dedication toward a pilgrimmage; always open to random acts of kindness and beauty.


Church of Others: Interim Notes

I found my off the cuff notes during the workshop so before getting to new monasticism in this series, I want to slip these perspectives in. These postings lol have something of the quality of the workshop itself which went off the beaten path from time to time. See posts below for the first in explaining this series and posting the resources.

carryover conversations:

One of the best questions that came up, and is common anytime this topic is raised, is: how can ministers do this and still get paid? Great idea but how to make a living at it?...This is really worthy of a separate post and I will do that later, but basically I said that ministers who were doing this were usually finding ways to be tentmakers, bivocational, to get their money from various other sources, sometimes so-called secular is actually preferred, sometimes in a field that might be able to draw on their specific skill sets from ministry. I told about the churches in the suburbs who are folding up, selling their possessions, and many of the families are moving into the poorer urban areas, the abandoned places, and living there transforming their neighborhoods and becoming organic churches without a central building (see Christianity Today article I will try to find and link to). We often ask our church members to have fulfilling careers but to give so much volunteer time to our churches, and it might not be a bad idea for ministers to consider doing the same thing, especially if they are being burned out by church as it is; like the churches they lead they need to have discontinuity with the past, and consider making big steps, revolutionary instead of evolutionary. We talked about what constitutes a church and if a minister is essential in our history and we talked about how even the Cambridge Platform of American congregationalism set out that the church exists first and then elects from its own a pastor and teacher; and how there might be many different forms of ministers as coaches, mentors, helping the various organic cells to think and act theologically without having to be present and leading each cell. Polity issues will be taken up I think in a later separate post but this was an area covered in the workshop. It is an important challenging but also revealing question.

Why name organic?
Our ancestors didn't garden with chemicals; they just grew food; it was organic because it made sense and worked; they didn't know they were doing something that others later would find avant-garde. The focus of organic gardening is on the soil; if that is right, and carries naturally such a diversity and richness of life in one clump held in the hand, then growth of the plants will happen; if soil is not right, or if it takes chemicals and constant work because of them or if you are trying to grow things that are not native to your place, then you will be fighting and losing against Nature and using up more and more resources in the process. Sound like church too often? You bet.
Organic church focuses on soul preparation as gardening does soil preparation. Let the plant DNA then thrive and be sustainable. Church DNA is the mission, vision, value that creates the church, frames it, gives it shape and propels it forward.

Another of the organic church's heresies, not endemic to it but foundational: We must always be failing at something. This means we are always risking co-creating with God something new, but also means that we live spiritually in a state of humility, blessed imperfections, and know that no people no system is perfect (lord knows the best organic gardening must still suffer from drought flood illness of gardeners, etc.), that we are human, will break each others hearts.

In trying to explain organic or missional church expressions, I love Reggie McNeal's story of trying to explain it to someone who finally said, you mean when two Christians are tutoring some kid in math that that is a church? To which McNeil replied, no, I don't mean it is "a" church but that the church is present.

Worship is response to mission, not other way around.

People can be engaged in many different forms of church at the same time, and will be more and more I believe; be a part of a missional faith community but that also goes, together or apart, to be with big church dynamic worship events, and to multiple faith traditions. Transdenominational.

We also spent some time talking about how any church can begin down this road by focusing, as my posts on McNeil's book Missional Renaissance earlier this summer showed, on his three main shifts: internal to external; program to peope; church to kingdom or world. End.

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Wednesday, August 12, 2009

Church of Others: Emerging Small Groups, ie. the church, the Jesus Way, Day Three

See earlier posts in this series. Here is a compendium of reflections and resources that were part of the background for the workshop. They were first used in my program at General Assembly on emerging small groups the Jesus Way. Substitute church for small group if you like; it fits my definition.

We were scheduled to discuss this on the fourth and final day of the workshop but I want to put it here in the series.

In my next post we will pick up on what we can learn from the new monastic movement, or join it. And then some perspective I was going to share at the workshop from the new book by Hugh Halter and Matt Smay of Adullum community in Denver and The Tangible Kingdom: creating incarnational community, the posture and practices of ancient church now. I might not get to it right away, but soon. In meantime, here is excerpt from Emerging Small Groups the Jesus Way resource.

Purpose: To consider ways that our small groups in the 21st century, particularly in the context of the “American Dream Marketplace/Entertainment Empire”, can be shaped by the experiences of the first century Jesus Way, a way that used small group community spiritual life to eventually over 300 years transform much of the culture of the dominant Roman Empire.
Despite many obvious differences between the eras, there are many parallels for the religious landscape: changing communication cultures, crossroads of diversity, pre-Christendom and post-Christendom. Epidemics and death ravaged the world of the early followers of Jesus, time and time again. There was great commercialization and increasing urbanization and ecological damage and resulting dislocation of peoples from families and from the land and traditions. There were constant wars and militarization. There were many new religious faiths intersecting. Old religious structures were destroyed. Women and widows and children were particularly marginalized and oppressed and abused. Ethnic cultures dominated and competed and if you weren’t in the right ethnic group you were endangered.

1. “Where two or more are gathered….”: Significance of Small Groups
In the first century, “small groups” were not considered a program of a church, a secondary dispensable optional component of a spiritual life; they were the primary manifestation of “the church” or the way those following the Jesus Way participated in the spirit of God moving in their world. Many of the followers may have attended at the same time a synagogue or pre 70 the Temple in Jerusalem, or for non-Jewish Jesus followers some other larger gathering, but the primary experience was a gathering of two or more; and it could be two—that’s enough. To God the meeting of two, regardless of “believer or follower status”, is as vital as the meeting of the largest church or of an entire religious tradition; which is in keeping with our Unitarian polity that there is no “higher” or more important authoritative church than the local one. Regardless of affiliation standards a particular tradition might have (say 30 members for a UU church) two or more meeting create a part of “the church.”

Advantages of Two or Three up to Five in an intentional Group: Flexibility, Depth, Response-ability, Maximum Use of Minimum Resources, Multiplying is easier. A Resource: The Organic Church, and Search and Rescue, by Neil Cole of Church Multiplication Associates who pioneered Life Transformation Groups. Cultural Marker: Small as the Next Big Thing.

2. Markers of the early Jesus Way groups: From The Rise of Christianity: how the obscure, marginal Jesus movement became the dominant religious force in the western world in a few centuries, by Rodney Stark. Consider how our small groups today can focus on these characteristics:
A. Inclusive ethnically, gender, social and economic status.
B. Relationship oriented; “fictive families” creating social networks and multiplying through extended field of family and friends;
C. Practice God’s love for the world by loving one another, caring for them, particularly the sick.
D. Located in urban areas of great unrest and instability; met in homes, in marketplaces, in public spaces.
E. They were willing to sacrifice their fortunes and life for others; take place of others condemned; passionate to practice and demonstrate their “witness” the Greek word for which is martyr.
F. Counter-Cultural communities in high tension with the dominant culture in which they lived. They were missional communities, mission meaning sent out into the world to live lives of difference. How can our small groups be places living counter to the American Empire way of living and valuing; even how can they be counter to dominant church culture.

3. We Tend To Make It Hard; when it is really Simple
Three Spheres To Keep In Mind and Dancing Between in your small group; this can shape what you do, or you can focus on being a small group that explores one of these paths together and create other small groups for the others then come together every so often for joint party and celebration and worship or trip somewhere: 1. contemplative, 2. communal, 3. missional; or I, We, World. Let your group move from one focus to the other, neglecting none, drawing energy from one for the others. These can be the overarching themes that shape your group time together: (see Finding Our Way Again: The return of the Ancient Practices by Brian McLaren)
And here are easy steps from Brian McLaren’s appendix in his book The Secret Message of Jesus.
Here are the three major activities or plans for such a group:
1. Gather for Conversation
2. Launch Experiments
3. Plot Goodness

Gather for conversation: He reminds us that the "kingdom" of God was originally explored in a group of twelve, and yet you don't need even twelve, for Jesus says "where two or more are gathered" and small groups can do big things. In fact the smaller, the easier it is to act. Begin by gathering for conversation. Who? Friends at work for breakfast or lunch. Friends from church or neighborhood to meet in your dining room or living room. Maybe to meet regularly at coffee shop or pub. What to converse? Might pick this book by McLaren or another and agree to read a chapter a week. When you meet share reactions to the week's reading, presenting favorite quotes, raising questions or disagreements, or relating the ideas in the book to your life. "What did you like best? What didn't you understand? What didn't you agree with? What seems most relevant to your life/ What questions are raised for further study or discussion? You can converse over the Bible too. Read through parts of it, using the following questions as a guide: What does this passage tell you about God? What does it tell you about the kingdom of God? What does it tell you about Jesus? What does it tell you about yourself? What does it tell you about our mission in the world? What questions does it raise for further study and discussion?You might want to sign a simple covenant with each other to stay with the group for a certain amount of time, and agree to common respect rules. As new people hear about it and want to join, you might want to create subgroups that meet close by, even groups of four meeting in different parts of a house or restaurant.

Launch Experiments: So often our small groups start and stop at number 1, gathering for conversation. This part of the McLaren Model is vital for nurturing the Spirit. He says the message of Jesus is not meant just to be studied, but to be practiced. As a group, he says, decide that each person will launch certain personal experiments to practice "some facet of Jesus' teaching over the next week and then report on your experiences--your successes, failures, surprises, reflections, and conclusions" the next time you gather.For example, he suggests, turn the other cheek for a week, pray for and bless people who mistreat you; don't judge; forgive people so that "your holding of a grudge becomes more serious to you than whatever the grudge is about,." care for the least of these by seeing and serving needy or vulnerable people as if they were Christ himself. Try spiritual practices such as silence and solitude and mindfulness, giving to the poor (keeping a sum of money in your pocket to give to the first person who needs it, or raising money for some good cause). Fast for a mealtime or a day; consider non-food fasts, such as media fasts; include the "Lord's Prayer" in your daily life, maybe two or three times a day. Be grateful. Share meals together, and invite unexpected people to join you.

Plot Goodness
Do something as a group for others who are not included in your group. Collect clothes or food or toys, etc. and give to a family(ies) suddenly one day. Make a picnic and show up to eat it somewhere where the homeless gather and invite them in to join you, eating with them and not just fixing food and serving them. Become the opposite of a terrorist cell, he says. Throw parties, visit hospitals, give out flowers, plant gardens, fix houses, clean homes, fix cars, babysit for single parents, clean up trashy areas, etc. Or, he adds, take on an issue together, global like Darfur.One of my favorite paragraphs in the chapter:"You might wonder what a group like this should be called. Some might want to call it a study group, a fellowship group, a faith community, a missional community, a lay monastery (a group of laypeople gathering around spiritual practice and mission), a spiritual formation group, or a spiritual conversation group. Some people might eventually want to call a group like this a church--perhaps a microchurch, a minichurch, a house church, or maybe a liquid or organic church. After all, it is a group gathered around Jesus and his message.

Ways To Form Small Groups and Make A Difference in the WorldThe Natural or Organic Development Basic Outline (best done in this order, the way you would follow a recipe. If you try to do them in a different order don’t be surprised that what you cook up goes flat. Check out online sites for Natural Church Development or natural church planting)

Find ways to grow personal relationships. (party, eat together, trips, conversations) and always invite others and provide hospitality. Help people connect with one another. Know each other’s birthdays, for example. Remember that where “two or more” are gathered in his name, the spirit of Jesus will be present and alive. Don’t worry about numbers or programs. Refresh yourselves in the Spirit of God for service to and with others in the Spirit. If this is the stage your group remains in it may not be as full a group as needs to be to be living fully in the spirit of Jesus, but it will also be a seed of that Spirit. If you don't do step number one, you will more than likely find that efforts to do the other steps can not be sustained.

Share Spiritual Passions (do spiritual autobiographies of defining or transforming movements in your lives of faith, and each person’s top three issues of commitment and how they see their own gifts they might bring to these passions.)

Service Together in your immediate area, within your church, to another church, Random Acts of Kindness (outside church and inside church). Ideas at Kindness.
Small group worship, communion, singing, sharing joys and concerns, prayers and blessings. The UUCF has the special issue of the UU Christian Journal, the red one, for Communion Sermons and Services, and consult the website for more links to resources. Sometimes just share bread and cup and what it means, share prayer concerns and blessings, say The Lord’s Prayer together.
Study Together. Your group may want to begin with the collection of essays entitled: Christian Voices within UUism by Skinner House Press, or one of the UU Christian Journals or an issue of the Good News periodical or a book by Marcus Borg or Brian McLaren or other contemporary Christian writers. Consider studying the books of our recent or speakers at UUCF events, such as Jim Mulholland, Gary Dorrien, Kathleen Norris, John Dominic Crossan, or John Dear. Bring in favorite spiritually-themed web sites to share. Explore hymnals together. Do Bible Study with the Bible Workbench or from the resources at The Text This Week. Bring in favorite sermons or blog entries and have a discussion. Have a video series on how Jesus is portrayed in the movies.
As you grow, Spin Off/Create Multiple groups. One size doesn’t fit all. Let the spirit of abundance work. Different groups evolving to focus on some of the particular areas above; just schedule a time, like your own regional revival, when people can be together.

Depending on your local area and church culture and policies, you may be a group that exists just of the people connected with a single UU Church, or become a group attracting people from different UU churches, or an ecumenical area progressive Christian group with people from different faith communities. If you are a single UU church group, be sure to consult with church small group leaders and ministers.

Whether you meet once a month, twice a month, or weekly, intentionally do these: Socialize Together, Study Together, Serve Together, Celebrate Together, Take Care of the Structures of the Group together, be that with established or rotating duties. See McLaren’s ideas for simple covenant above.

4. Going Even Deeper: Life Transformation organic Groups (see posts in the series below); New Monastic Groups

Church of Others: Day Two: ChurchAtAThirdPlace

See below for earlier post in this series.

The second day of the workshop we went over the three part essay I wrote a year ago that was published in Small Talk. You can go to and click on newsletters and then go to volume six and download the three essays published in the fall on The Living Room Church, The Inside Out Church.

In addition, we discussed again a series of "church heresies". The Mission Has A Church not the other way around. The church exists for transformation beyond ourselves beginning with ourselves. Not being visitor-oriented. Not being worship-as-primary oriented, but worship as sustaining of the primary focus on mission.

And updates on the essays were presented, such as my new understanding that we are not so much to be looking for other places to go do what we have started in Turley as helping people in their own indigenous neighborhoods and places, such as apartment complexes, or in public spaces, etc. to learn from us, and partner with them, not trying to replicate what we have done from above but help them emerge their part of the church right where they are; and ways that we have found to focus, our 3 Rs and 7cs:

Three R’s of Spiritual Community Life
(from John Perkins and Christian Community Development Association and civil rights movement)
Seven C’s that make up our progressive understanding of Christ:

Communitas—missional relational community
Conscience—Freedom; we don't give out theological tests to any at any level of being with us.
Commitment—differences for Participants, Partners, Leaders, Planters.
Compassion---focus on the least of these, Matthew 25 sets agenda
Contemplative---balancing interior life with social action
Celebrating—at least weekly worship, plus celebrations in and of and for others in community
Creative---err on the side of chaos, be chaordic, permission-giving, trusting creation spirit

Some other background stories and information shared included:

“In our first year, we began ten new churches. In our second year, Church Multiplication Associates started 18 new churches. The next year we added 52 new starts. The momentum was beyond our expectations. In 2002, we averaged two churches a week being started and had 106 starts. The following year we saw around 200 starts in a singe year. We estimate that close to 400 churches were started in 2004 but counting the churches has become a daunting task. At the time of this writing, there have been close to 800 churches started in 32 states and 23 nations around the world in only six years.” (average 16 people each; simple format reproduces easily). Lower the bar of how church is done and raise bar of what it means to be a disciple. Organic church is simple so it is informal, relational, mobile.Smallest group in the organic church is the Life Transformation Group, two or three people (non-coed) who meet weekly to challenge one another to live an authentic spiritual life.Church Is…Living Organism (learn from farmers not CEOs). Not in buildings or mindset of buildings. More than one-hour service one day a week. Meant to be decentralized. Meant to be in and through everyone.

Where to go to form relationships? Middle class wealthy educated suburbs? Cole says you will have a hard time planting organic churches there. Good soil often found in the “fear factor zone” where you are afraid to go and be….Starting not in your own home but in the home of anotherMultiplication doesn’t mean splitting up groups intentionally. It is natural byproduct of intimacy. Multiply healthy disciples, then leaders, then churches, and finally movements. Scripture instructs to make disciples who make disciples not to make churches.

DNA = (D)ivine Truth [RR: Jesus reflects God’s loving freedom]. (N)urturing relationships [RR: Go deep together]. (A)postolic mission. [RR: Go out in teams]

Neil Cole, author of The Organic Church among others, has a new book out called "Search and Rescue: Becoming a Disciple Who Makes A Difference". You might know that he is at Church Multiplication Associates and has been for years promoting organic churches of 8 to 16 people based on groups of 2 to three people in "life transformation groups." He has a lot of wonderful stories in this latest book, based on metaphors gleaned from years of being a lifeguard, and I will try to post some in the future, but now I want to focus on the practical tips at the end of the book as resources for people seeking to start small groups of Christians or Jesus-seekers, followers, etc.
First, the summary: the groups, and they can go by various names, meet once a week for approximately an hour. Two or three only, with the fourth person coming in as the start of the next group). For him, the groups are not coed (I can see those advantages, the same as having traditional women's and men's ministries in organizational churches; but for my purposes here I don't think they have to start out that way, but as your groups multiply you can have some that are that way, and I think a lot will become that way organically, but then I'm a liberal; I do think there are advantages to trying to go with same-sex groups);

there is no curriculum, workbook or training required; there is no leader needed in the group; only three tasks are to be accomplished: sin is confessed to one another in mutual accountability, scripture is read repetitively in entire context and in community, souls are prayed for strategically, specifically and continuously.In the book he provides a series of different questions that have been asked as part of small groups from John Wesley on up to various ways people are adapting the Life Transformation Groups. Let me repeat again my belief in the generalization that liberals tend to not be comfortable confessing personal sins, and conservatives tend to not be comfortable confessing, or even knowing, about their involvement in social sins. His book again focuses too heavily on personal holiness for my taste, not because that is not important, since it is important for liberals who have ignored it often in public discourse, but because the questions don't tend to allow for the social self to be explored and while the whole point of the organic church and LTGs is to stress community over individualism, the questions as mostly prompted to be asked seem focused on the individual.

But there is one set of questions offered in the book that I really like and can use. They come from Phil Helfer, pastor of Los Altos Brethren Church in Long Beach, CA. Here are the questions to be asked each week of one another:1. How have you experienced God in your life this week?2. What is God teaching you?3. How are you responding to his prompting?4. What sin do you need to confess?5. How did you do with your reading this week?(I like these because they can easily incorporate the social self)Often there is a variation of another question focused on how you have shared God with others this week. LTGs, as Cole points out, are different in focus from accountability groups because they are designed to multiply as participants tell others about their life and its changes.In many ways these are spiritual direction questions and spiritual direction styled groups, but in a prophethood and priesthood of all believers sort of way in community rather than focused only one one individual. I think they tap into that deep longing that the rise of spiritual direction has done also.The questions he even boils down to two simple ones to encounter and share with one another week after week: 1. What is God telling you to do? What are you going to do about it?

Type rest of the post here

The Church Of Others: reports and resources: Day One

Here are some recent observations leading up to the workshop I led on the organic, missional, monastic expressions of church earlier this month. I will divide them into different days.

Bottom line observation is that the default position for many people still seems to be that church is for people who are like us, or will become like us, or who benefit from what we do. Everything seems to fall out around that one engrained belief. Even what we call outreach and mission is too often done with the framework that it is what "we" "do" "for others" improving our lives and their lives often and even the world. At its best this form of church helps grow God's presence. There will be people for this form of the church, and all forms of the church that root themselves in mission can learn from one another. As years are going by we need more forms of the church though, for the resources needed to keep creating and growing even the most healthy of these forms of church will be harder to come by, and the results they realize will be harder to come by, though they may stay dominant throughout the next generations.

Everything that I write about and point to in the following blogposts is about envisioning and reporting on other expressions of church--not necessarily new by any means, but which seem to be shaped by a belief that there can also be Church Of Others. Not just for others or even with others, but of others. We will come back to that.

First I want to simply begin posting some of the resources and ideas that I used in the recent workshop; for those who were there you can get access to them beyond the hardcopy you received (sorry I didn't get a chance to make CDs for all as I had hoped) and there is some new stuff that you didn't receive because of my illness that cut the workshop week short. For those not there I hope the resources, summaries, observations that are at times pulled from this blog itself will be useful wherever you are in your own ways of becoming the church.

Day One Overviews

Organic To Organizational: becoming part of “the” church, not “a” church
Missional/Incarnational and Attractional: becoming church not attending church; church is created in response to mission, not church having a mission. The mission has a church.
Monastic and “Collection of religiously-oriented Individuals”

Natural Church Development (see later posts for more on this in the essay on emerging small groups the Jesus Way)
Life Transformation Groups

Why Now?
An expression of larger Postmodern Emergent Church focuses (EPIC standard of Experience, Participation, Image, and CommunityConnection). Challenge for Catholicism is Modernity; challenge for Protestantism is Postmodernity; Progressive/liberals are hyper-modernists, meta-protestants, so the challenge is more acute for us.
Small is the next big thing; post-boomers;

Breaking dualism of Sunday Spirituality vs. rest of life; of sacred and secular places; beyond creedalism

Does It (organic, missional, monastic, emergent etc.) Have To Be Christian? Yes and No. Many people/churches that say Lord Lord all the time but have no sense of incarnation still won't get it; many people/churches who are not Christian-centric may be able to incarnate Christ even easier, and I believe if you follow the way of Jesus even without calling it that that you will eventually meet and embrace Jesus; but churches without a theological point of view who have replaced it with a sociological point of view will find it harder to have what is necessary: a transcendental calling beyond themselves that makes being missional part of the bloodstream. People need to reflect on the question of why do we have the purpose or mission of our church that we have. Let those responses guide them. If it doesnt lead them to something transcendent and into a different life than likely all efforts at renewing church will run aground.

Organic Missional Stepping Stones (a recipe that should be followed step by step, from Hirsch and Frost's The Forgotten Ways handbook)
1. (Jesus) is Lord: have a meta-narrative that creates mission; see above for why Jesus is in parenthesis; I have no interest in trying it without Jesus; I don't know if it can be; but I am not vain enough to think I have a handle on that, and in Jesus' own spirit of generosity, and in the ways some of this I believe has been present in ways unknown yet to me in other cultures and faith communities than I am leaving that open. But the meta-narrative? Yes.
2. Discipleship/Formation: how is no. 1 reflected in your life?
3. Missional-Incarnational Impulse: how is no. 1 reflected in being seeded in the world and serving others; communitas, not community
4. Apostolic/Multiplying Leaders
5. Organic Systems to support steps one through four