Leading in liminality

13 02 2009

canyouheargodnowWhat is needed from spiritual leaders during this time of uncertainty?  I keep bumping into what I think are a few keys to answering that question.  One of those keys is spiritual discernment – finding out what God is doing in our church and community.

I thought Ruth Haley Barton did an excellent job of articulating this critical leadership role in her article titled “Can You Hear God Now” that was published in the Summer 2008 issue of Leadership Journal.

Following are a few highlights from her article:

  • “At the heart of spiritual leadership is discernment-the capacity to recognize and respond to the presence and activity of God both personally and in community.
  • …discernment does not take place in a vacuum, nor by accident. Spiritual community is the context for discernment, so the first move in cultivating a culture of discernment is to establish the leadership group as a community for discernment.
  • Discernment requires us to move beyond our reliance on cognition and intellectual hard work to a place of deep listening and response to the Spirit of God within and among us.
  • Seeking discernment with others at the leadership level requires an extraordinary amount of safety in each other’s presence, along with great clarity about what values govern the process… We cannot just assume these values. We must talk about them and seek to live them with great vigor and intent.
  • The discernment process requires a commitment to listen on many levels.
  • …discernment is not the endgame. The endgame is to actually do the will of God.




Getting real about where we are at

10 02 2009

The loss so many of us have suffered (directly or indirectly) as a result of the dramatic downturn in our economy has been both very real and very painful. As a result there has been a contraction that is not only felt in the economy but in our ability to see the magnificent opportunity we have at such a time like this. We know the facts: 1) God is good – He cares about me and my family; 2) Our relationship with Christ is strengthened during times of suffering; 3) There are others with greater needs then us; 4) The gospel is for exactly such a time as this; and 5) We are the ones blessed and now called to bring Christ’s redemption to those around us.

What we don’t know so well (because so many of us have never experienced times like this before) is the opportunity. What if the vision to build bridges to our community was for such a time as this? What if that vision was manifest primarily by reaching people in real need? What if living that vision started now – completely disassociated with any relocation plans? What if we trusted God with our future and focused on the needs at hand?

Some of us have answers to these questions: 1) It’s not that bad in Tallahassee; 2) Give it a year or two and things will be getting back to normal; 3) We are already serving the community – look at what OFS does each week.

Let’s say for argument these answers prove to be true – can we say we have acted like Christ by just maintaining the status quo? What if it takes five years to “get back to normal?” What if things get worse?

Here’s a course of action that needs our serious consideration (pertaining to Wildwood Church):

1) Admit that the relocation project is stalled.
2) Admit that leadership has been detached from one another and in disunity for some time and that only recently have steps begun to correct this problem.
3) Admit that our finances are in decline – presumptively because of the economy.
4) Admit that we are not sure when we will move forward with relocation plans but to do so now would be not only imprudent but an unethical use of resources with the increasing needs in our church and community due to the state of the economy.
5) Offer to return funds to people who gave to the relocation project who are experiencing financial hardship or who are dissatisfied with the lack of progress with the relocation plans.
6) Get permission to use the funds given to the relocation project to meet extraordinary needs of individuals and families in our community who have been affected by the economy.
7) Implement a church-wide collaborative form of communication to identify those extraordinary needs and solutions for those needs.

Risky? Without a doubt. What if people take us up on the offer to get their relocation contributions back and we give the rest away to people with extraordinary needs (and we do all that with a diminishing general fund)? But then think about the risk if we don’t act. What value is a vision to reach our community that we largely ignored during a time of crisis?

Perhaps it is premature to sound the alarm – perhaps this recession will not get much worse and be over sooner than expected. I am not a pessimist by nature but these are truly uncertain times – we have never tried to come out of a recession when the rest of the world was in it with us and the financial system had experienced such widespread failure.

No one knows the rules of how this game gets played out. Hoping for a soft landing and a speedy recovery is not a bad thing but I also don’t think it is a bad thing to discern what God would have us be about. Could it be that these uncertain times are the very windows of opportunity to advance God’s kingdom in our community? I think that this may be the real – the reality of what God is up to – that we need to be about.





Missional Tribe

20 01 2009

A new website named Missional Tribe launched a few weeks ago to help connect people serving in advancing the kingdom of God. The purpose of the site is further described on the about page – here are some of the descriptive contributions:

mt-logo… offers a collaborative space to connect people and generate an accepting, supportive community that intentionally seeks for diversity.

… fosters dialogue in a respectful environment and gathers grassroots stories for mutual encouragement, teaching, and support.

… focuses on serving practitioners through resources, ideas, and stories from the front lines of incarnational engagement and radical transformation.

… shares the nitty-gritty of living our faith and sharing our life in order to break anyone’s sense of isolation on this journey, especially when a virtual support network may be the only community currently available.

… creates an “evergreen” space to capture and continue the collective wisdom of those seeking to pursue Christlikeness, stewarding it in ways that will keep it accessible beyond the first generation of participants.

… encourages using the website as a social space for befriending people of similar (or opposite!) interests, as a discussion space for interactive learning, and as an archive space for links and materials that might otherwise be forgotten.

… engages in discussion of any topic about the missional journey, with a minimum of gate keeping and oversight to maintain it as a safe place for all so that nothing would be off limits except for bullying or belittling others.

… celebrates both individual and communal expressions of a missional paradigm, and constantly seeks to broaden its demographic reach because of its commitment to embrace and learn from the diversity in Christ’s Kingdom.





Small groups need a mission

23 10 2008

Scott Boren knows what works and what doesn’t when it comes to small groups.  Both of his books are excellent resources for anyone engaged in forming or leading small groups.

I recently read his latest book, How Do We Get There From Here?: Navigating the Transformation to Holistic Small Groups – here are a few of the points that really stuck with me:

♦ Small groups only work when they exist to change the world.

♦ The only way to train leaders is to mentor.

♦ The focus of small groups must be to expand the group ultimately to start new churches, train new pastors and impact the world.

♦ Small groups will not work if they are just about deep knowledge without reference to practical ways the group can live out what they discuss.

♦ Small groups have three core requirements:
    1) Members must be discipled
    2) Leaders must be coached and invested in
    3) The church must value small groups above all other church activities/functions

♦ Effective small groups need to:
    1) Be holistic in nature
    2) Meet for a task
    3) Have a stated purpose of reaching nonbelievers
    4) Be intentional at raising up new leaders and multiplying groups

You can read the Introduction here and a second sort of introduction titled Navigational Hazards here (where Scott discusses eight typcal hazards encountered by churches intentionally moving toward small groups).





Karios

29 09 2008

 
Karios is a Greek word that means “when all things come together” and the identifier for a network of neighborhood churches in the Los Angeles area.  Their web page is worth a visit to get a flavor for what this new church is all about. They are part of Great Commission Ministries, an affiliation of missional churches – many of which serve university campuses (including a new church plant at FSU). Yes, this is cutting edge but not without solid backing (with guys like Rick Warren, Howard Hendricks, John Maxwell and Luder Whitlock on their Council of Reference).

In particular I thought their vision statement was well written and provides an excellent example of what a church in our post-Christendom culture should be about: 

As a community we are
          gathering a variety of wounded people together
                    crying out to our Creator
                              “breathe new life into us.”
                                        so we can see broken communities…
                              becoming communities of faith
                    bringing the reality of God’s reign
          neighborhood by neighborhood





Redefine, restructure, repackage and refocus

24 09 2008

Chuck Warnock pastors a small Baptist church in Chatham, Virginia, is a writer for Outreach Magazine and an alum of Mercer University, Southwestern Baptist Seminary, and currently working on a DMin. at Fuller Seminary.  I found his thoughts regarding the future of the (North American) church in the context of the economic, energy and environmental crises to be both well reasoned and compelling.  Is it coincidental that these crises are producing pressure in much the same direction as changes needed to become missional in the context of our post-Christendom culture?

Here are Chuck Warnock’s thoughts:

“I see churches adapting to these three interrelated crises – energy, economy, and environment – in several ways:

Redefinition of “church.” Church will no longer be the place we go, church will be the people we share faith with. Churches will still meet together for worship at a central time and location, but that will become secondary to the ministry performed during the week. Church buildings will become the resource hub in community ministry, like the old Celtic Christian abbeys. Church impact will replace church attendance as the new metric.

Restructuring of church operations. Due to the high cost of fuel and a struggling economy, churches will become smaller, more agile, and less expensive to operate than in the past. Churches will need to provide direct relief to individuals and families with meal programs, shelters, clothing, job training, and more. In the not-distant-future, we will live in a world where government is increasingly unable to fund and provide those services. Church buildings will become increasingly more expensive to maintain, and churches with unused weekday space will consider partnerships with businesses, other ministries, and helping agencies. Or churches will sell their conventional buildings and reestablish in storefronts that operate as retail businesses 6 days a week, and gathering places on Sunday (or Thursday or whenever). Churches will focus outwardly on their “parish” more than inwardly on their members. Church staff will become more community-focused rather than church-program focused, and become team leaders in new missional ventures.

Repackaging of “sermons” and Christian education. With fewer people “attending” church, fewer will also attend Christian education classes. Churches will deliver Christian education content via mobile devices. Short video clips accessible from iPhones (and other smart devices) will be the primary content carriers for church and culture. Church “members” (if that quaint term actually survives) will still gather, but more for monthly celebrations, fellowship, and sharing than weekly meetings, worship, or learning. Of course, there may be several monthly celebrations geared to different lifestyles (tribes), schedules, and preferences. Again, the abbey concept of the church as hub with many smaller groups revolving around the resource center.

Refocus from institution to inspiration. Okay, so I went for the easy alliteration there. Restated, less emphasis on the “church” and more on how the church enables its adherents to live their faith. Declining church attendance is not a crisis of faith, it’s a crisis of delivery. We can bemoan the fact that fewer people come to church, but ballgames are not suffering from declining attendance. People go to what they want to go to. Church ministry has to focus on engaging people in meaningful ways that enable their spiritual journeys. In a world in crisis, people are looking for something to believe in as institution after institution crumbles. If banks, businesses, and whole countries fail, where can we put our trust? Church should have the answer 24/7, delivered like everything else is delivered now – when people want it, at their convenience, and in a way that resonates with them.

None of the things I have suggested here are new. But, the thing that makes them more viable now is the convergence of all three crises at one time.”





What does a bridge cost?

18 09 2008





Missional renaissance

9 09 2008

I just received an email from Leadership Network featuring four churches who have decided to move in a more missional direction.  I found the brief summaries of their stories both encouraging and motivating.  Change is not only possible but it can also bring more life to the congregation and the community:

Some strange and wonderful things are happening at Rivertree Christian Church.

After praying for 12 years about purchasing a local 85-acre farm and finally coming to a point in the congregation’s history where leaders thought they could pull it off, the church took a different direction.

Greg Nettle, senior pastor for the Massillon, OH church, explains: “When we announced that we’re not going to put up a $40 million campus…that we’re going to be committed to being generous as a church and give money away…people cheered in every service,” Greg says.

The announcement and the congregation’s response were unusual because such a turn of events is counterintuitive to most pastors’ dreams of growing a church, buying land, attracting even more attenders and seeing new Christians invite friends to help the church grow even larger.

Instead, some churches today are pursuing a different course that takes them out of the four walls of their church buildings and into surrounding communities. This adventuresome spirit is sometimes even taking them to other continents.

This shift toward first motivating church members to serve in their communities, rather than initially inviting community members into the church buildings is what some ministry leaders around the country are calling a missional impulse. And because this is not a new desire, but the revival of an old one, this ongoing transition is being called a missional renaissance.

The motivations leading today’s missional churches to adopt a more incarnational approach vary. And the leaders of these churches are motivated by a variety of influences – both internal and external – including Scripture, books, the example of other Christian leaders, or the success of a particular ministry within their own church.

Tim Senff, director of ReachOut , a ministry of Crossroads Community Church (Cincinnati, OH), identifies 2004 as the year his church began a serious movement toward more missional involvement with its local and extended communities.

The catalyst for the change was a building campaign in which church leaders decided to dedicate a percentage of the money raised toward practical assistance for others. Most of these designated funds helped the church build an AIDS hospice in Mamelodi, South Africa. Brian Tome, Crossroad’s senior pastor, had visited South Africa in 2003, and brought his passion for the project back to Cincinnati.

Crossroad’s leadership was surprised at the people’s response to the challenge and it began a season of change in the ministry emphasis of the church. Tim Senff reports that the congregation’s “Go Mamelodi” trips have “rocked the church” and “helped them to see the power of what the local church can do when they come together as a team.” Read the rest of this entry »





What if church was a way of life?

8 09 2008

 

 

 

 

Liquid church?  Networked church?  What are you talking about!?  Typically this is the reaction many of us have – especially those of us who have been part of the church in North American for more than a few years.  The thought of church possibly being something quite different just isn’t plausible – especially if what we have been doing “works.”  May I suggest these concepts are foreign because we have no alternate experience and/or we are so busy with what we know we don’t take the time to imagine or even investigate alternatives that may “work” so much better.

So what does a networked or liquid church look like?  The good news is that there are many examples of liquid/networked chruches.  The bad news (for us moderns that want to systematize everything) is that they are not models but ways of life.  Adullam in Denver, Colorado, is one such way of life.  Here is their story of beginning followed by a description of who they are – they use the term “village”:

Adullam’s story:

“Adullam began without a name and without plans to start a church. Hugh & Cheryl Halter and Matt and Maren Smay moved to Denver in 2003, after leaving their respective church plants to centralize their ministry of missional church plant training. They work with a missions agency called Church Resource Ministries and have spent the last four years training leaders in how to be “missionaries” in North America. While traveling and training around the country under the name “missio” they simply lived what they taught. The focus of our training is that you don’t begin with a structure or a church strategy; you begin with people. The missional flow is to engage culture, form community, and then structure congregation as people naturally draw together for God’s purposes in their city.

“The first year we simply lived out the gospel in our neighborhoods and it began to draw a group of people from our local Starbucks and began discussing what Jesus meant by the kingdom of God. As time passed this group began to grow and eventually we had to acknowledge that we were “church.” Hugh & Matt still lead Missio and spend most of their time training leaders. You can find out about Missio at www.missio.us. Adullam is not where we go to church. Adullam is our life, our friends, and the people we are on mission with. We can honestly say, that we’ve become church by trying not to do church.” Read the rest of this entry »





Making the shift to small groups

15 08 2008

As we grow in our understanding and practice of relational spiritual formation (which is the intent of small group communities) we open up environments that provide the opportunity to experience something markedly different from what we experience in a programmed or teaching based methodology. David Augsburger in his book Dissident Discipleship provides some key questions for small group environments. For me these questions are certainly challenging but they also create a sense of hope. There are places God wants to take us that we have not been before – places where we are more connected with each other and the reality of what He is doing all around us:

How can I learn a spirituality that nurtures human wholeness unless I commit myself to do all I can and contribute all I can to building a community where we together are seeking ways to practice the imitation of Christ? Or will I have to be content with a spirituality of desirable but finally optional ventures?

How can I find spiritual co-travelers who are willing to invest time, give attention, risk self-disclosing, and jointly covenant for a life of shared responsible discipleship? Or will I have to go it alone and learn that part of spirituality that is possible for a self that is seeking to transcend itself by itself?

How can I learn a spirituality of accountability to God unless I have the opportunity to be accountable to significant others? How can I live a spirituality of accountability unless I participate in a community where my acts and their consequences are visible to all who are affected by them? Or will I have to settle for a spirituality that is answerable ultimately only to itself?

How can I learn a spirituality of humility and equality before God unless I live a community where hierarchy is unnatural, where dominance is not rewarded, and where superiority is neither desirable nor inevitable? Or will I have to claim my place in a spirituality of entitlement if I am privileged, or of disentitlement if I am not?

How can I learn a spirituality of immediate and reflexive concern for the needs of others that seeks to do something about the unjust distribution of resources unless I contribute to a community where sharing is meaningful because we agree to consume less, waste less, do more with less? Or will I have to follow a spirituality that costs me very little?

How can I learn a spirituality of dissident discipleship that takes risks in the imitation of Christ unless I join a community that offers support for maintaining a consistent and sensitive conscience? Or will I have to find a rationale for a spirituality that smoothes the contradictions and offers comfort for my unease before the call of Christ?

How can I learn a spirituality of deep reverence for the preciousness of persons unless I practice such honor of others in a community where we are persons, not roles, to each other? Or is the cost of all of this too high to consider in a world that allows self-realization as its highest good?