OK. Let’s start off by saying that I always have trouble practicing what I preach. Love. Grace. Mercy. Hospitality. Confession. Penitence. Humility. Discipleship. (Insert any awesome Christian concept here!) They are ALL problematic in some way. During ordination I may have said before God and everybody that I was on the way to perfection (as we all needed to say) but it’s clear to myself and all those who are close to me that I have a long way to go.
But I just want to focus on one aspect of my preaching — participation in the Mission of God towards the goal of God’s Kingdom.
I have been knee deep in the missional church discussion for a couple of years now and I’ve been reading the authors and practitioners who are over their heads in this part of Christian theology. Most of my blog posts on this site have revolved around the notion of the Missio Dei, the Mission of God and how we live into it in our context. I’ve been preaching it and teaching it and I feel like have more posts and booklets and books to read than I’d have time for even if I quit my job as being pastor…and father…and spouse. There is still not be enough time to get through all that I want to get through. I’ve been engaged in a two year program called “The Academy for Missional Wisdom” to engage in discussion on these matters and to begin practicing what I preach, starting an actual, functioning missional community. I even started a blog a little over a month ago just to get some of these thoughts down and organized and shared with other people. I thought this would be a way to get some of our lead team folks on board with some of the theology an emphases. But these posts, for the most part, are not even my thoughts. I haven’t gotten there yet.
But at this point, I can see I have some problems with this missional church thing. And I probably need to be up front about them. I thought I’d get some of them down here.
- DOING SOMETHING OTHER THAN THE ATTRACTIONAL CHURCH MODEL SCARES ME. And I don’t just mean church with traditional music and liturgy. I also mean those services with those hipster praise bands and the informality of a seemingly liturgy-less worship whose sole purpose is to bring more persons through their doors which often means just stealing people from other churches. I was TRAINED for the attractional church and, to this point, the worship I’ve designed has had an unspoken goal of trying to attract folks (How’s that working for me? Gulp!) I have commitments to raise budgets and support a building program. (How’s that working? [Crickets]). I may have read a little Lesslie Newbigin in seminary but my education was built for the attractional church. It has been tough work to get me to think about church differently and it’s going to be tough work to get a congregation (or two) to think differently–to see this grand narrative of Scripture about God sending persons to be co-missioners in the renewal of all things. It forces all of us to think differently about who we are and what we’re about. We can’t be looking at the church as consumers…of looking at it to get out of it what we want.
- I’M NOT SURE I WANT TO BE THAT HOSPITABLE. Oh, I think I’m OK being in a group with a diverse group of persons. I do hope we get to the place where we have different socio-economic backgrounds represented, different races, different ages. But I’ve been reading a lot about opening up your own home to the community; having barbecues, hosting dinners, putting seats out on your front lawn to welcome the neighbors, even putting in a mini-skate park (which either makes your house an attractional nuisance or a place where the whole neighborhood wants to hang out. This is all a matter of welcoming folks in. But, I relish the time I get to spend with my family at home, just being family together. As outgoing as I am in my public persona, I’m partly a homebody. And, I gotta’ tell you, our house tends to be pretty cluttered. I know not everyone is going to expect it all to be picked up, but we’re a long way from feeling comfortable having folks in. I can’t imagine what it might be like to have folks in every week. How about if we’re just “hospitable” at someone else’s house?
- THIS IS A PRETTY BIG JUMP IN MY THEOLOGY IN A SHORT TIME. This missional discussion has changed my worldview. It really has. And it’s changed how I understand the person and work of Christ–moving from a focus on the cross and conversion to the establishment of the Kingdom of God. It’s a big shift and I sometimes struggle with how best to describe what is, to me, a pretty new way of understanding what it means to be a follower of Christ in this day and age. I’m no longer a “churchgoer” or “church leader” but a “missionary in Christ’s name.”
- I LIKE MORE CERTAINTY THAN THIS. I like to know where I’m headed. Roadmaps are good. Plans are good. I want to see the light at the end of the tunnel. But all I can do as we start a missional community is trust that God will lead us to God’s preferred future. As our lead group for our missional community met for the first time this past week, it was clear we had a lot of ideas. The discussion was awesome. The prayer was heartfelt. It was great to be with a group of persons who were asking the very basic question of how we can bless our community with the love and grace of Christ. How can we be agents of grace where we are? But there’s no map for where we’re going. There are no IKEA-like instructions. There can’t be because every context is different and it’s this particular context we’re working with. And that’s scary.
- I HAVE A “PRIDE THING“. Sure, we all have a “pride thing” in our lives, over one thing or another. But I see more and more in myself that I like to take credit for the good things that are happening. And, for a long time, I’ve seen the “elder brother” of The Prodigal Son parable in myself–the one who can’t stand to see the blessing given to others, particularly those who seemingly don’t deserve it. And this makes me a prideful pastor, which is not a good thing. I can have difficulty sharing leadership–which is needed to make “missional” work. And I can have difficulty sharing ministry if that means sharing with persons who are from other churches. Yes I work ecumenically and share ministry all the time. I just think there’s a part of me that likes to take credit for those jobs that are done well and doesn’t want another church coming onto what I falsely perceive as “my turf.” So I think I need to constantly be asking myself if I can celebrate what God is doing, even if it’s not in what I have done and even if, missionally speaking, what we do includes the hard work and good ministry of other churches. And (gulp) can I celebrate what God is doing even if God’s been working in ways that were not part of my vision.
- UNITED METHODIST PASTORS MOVE. I don’t anticipate moving anytime soon. I really don’t. But if I stay longer than three years I will have outlasted the last several pastors in this place. If we’re truly going to inhabit this place, dwell in it, become inacarnate in it, I (we) am going to have to stay around for a while. I know I talk a lot about the benefits of being in one place for a long time, but there’s a safety factor in knowing that you can move when the going gets tough. I don’t want that to be an option.
All of this said, I remain excited. I keep reading and reading and posting and posting in the hopes that it can help shape this missional venture into something God-inspired and God-led. But, as excited as I may be, I still have some struggles. I’m sure if I took more time I’d come up with more.