Friday, October 31, 2008

Contrast Soceity

I am in the middle of writing a short chapter on the call for the church to be a contrast society. I believe this is a concrete way we can talk about the practical implications of being a missional church. Even with this the practicalities are vague in nature. But we can easily say that it is impossible to be on mission in a neighborhood unless the people with a mission live in a distinctive way. Too much of our imagination has been about evangelizing people church participation that resembles a club membership more than a way of life. Those within the church typically live life in much the same way as the wider culture. The patterns of consumerism, individualism, isolationism are not just part of the life of the church members, they actually shape the imagination of how we should be shaping our churches. 

Tuesday, October 28, 2008

God My Shepherd

I grew up with sheep. My Father always had a small flock  on the property near our house. Quite honestly, I did not like working with them. They required a lot of attention. They were rather frail, easily frightened, and needed protection from the elements. There were not like the cattle we owned who were more self-sufficient. They were highly dependent. 

This was especially true of the weakest sheep. Young lambs would wonder off and we lost many to preditors, even though we had a fence that enclosed the flock. We were always monitoring, protecting, tending, and healing these frail animals. 

From my experience with sheep, I find it a bit offensive that the Scriptures often compare us to them. Most of the time I like to think of myself as strong and self-sufficient. The independent, self-made mindset rebels against this association. And I assume that if I act rightly and perform according to expectations that I am worthy of God's attention and love. It is hard for me to imagine otherwise. And it is hard to imagine a God whose love is so radical that he would come after me when I am not lining up according to expectations. 

Then when I really think about it, I am more like the weak dependent sheep than I want to admit. Even when I think I am performing well, I really and missing the point. I am not wired to perform for love. That is not love. I am made simply to be loved and this is what the Shepherd does. 

Building a Bridge as We Walk on It

As I am writing about the nature of the Missional Church, I think about the previous shifts in the church over the last 2000 years. The shift from Jerusalem based Messianism to Antioch based Christianity. From an underground network of counter-cultural revolutionaries to a government-backed religious movement. The split between the Greek and Latin churches. The Reformation and the Counter-Reformation. I think about Martin Luther or Menno Simmons and how they had an experience of the church that did not prepare them for the radical shifting of the church that was transpiring. The future of the Reformation church was not an extension of the church that they knew from their past. Martin Luther knew how to be a good Catholic, but he did not know what it meant to lead people into this new thing that the church was becoming. 

The future of the church at this point in history is not a logical extension of the church that I know from my past. I know this from my experience with Shepherd Community back in 93-95. We were developing something new as we were doing it. We did not have a predetermined plan for reaching all of Houston. Oh some did, but it did not pan out that way. We were just trying to figure out how to do it together along the way. In some ways, we had more "right" than we knew. But we got entrapped by the numbers game. We thought we had to be growing and multiplying to be effective in our vision and since Ralph Neighbor was a part of Faith Community in Singapore which was then about 6000 people, we thought that if were not a significant number of people that we were not a valid movement of people within the Shepherd Community vision. 

I am not saying that we had it all together. In fact there was much that was problematic. But we knew how to do community, how to support one another, how to be in one another's lives. 

But we thought we knew the end, the picture of what the church should look like, i.e. lots and lots of small groups multiplying all over Houston. I feel that in many ways we missed the point. We missed what God was doing because we assumed that he would work in a different way. 

Now this kind of future prediction is happening in other ways: flat organizations, organic networks that share a DNA, house churches, de-institutionalization, determining a church's unique calling, etc. It seems that we are overrun with experts who are good a predicting the future of the church and providing a formula for churches to enter that future. 

But Luther did not know how to be the church after the Reformation. He could not predict what the church in Germany would look like. He had to simply step out on the bridge and begin to build it as he walked. 

Monday, October 27, 2008

Figuring Out Missional

In my leadership at my church, I wrestle almost every week about what it means for us to move into a missional way of being the church. It is so easy for our leadership team to grab hold of easy answers to the question of what our church will look like in the future. We are tempted to label a structure for the future church and define all of the new structures that we will provide for the church. We try to define the church around geographic mid-size churches or we try to predict that our church will become a network or networks of small groups.

But there is a problem here. We assume that changing the structure will change the people. But if you move a person from sitting in a weekend service with 1800 people into a group of 300 people or into a house of 15, we cannot assume that people grasp the nature of a missional perspective on the church. We can change the language and the structures of the church all we want, but to assume that we have changed the people is just plane stupid. 

But we have been shaped by a modern view of the world. A modern imagination assumes that we can predict the future by extending the past into the future. Because our church experiences have been based on certain kinds of structures, we often fall into the trap of thinking that simply changing our structures will change our experiences. 

I have been down this path too many times in the small group conversation. And to assume that giving small groups some kind of "mission" or outreach project actually changes nothing within the group. 

I like something a colleague of mine said in a meeting today. Instead of thinking about structures that we want to produce, we need to think about leadership and levels of leadership. If we think about three levels of leadership: Trans-local, Neighborhood Elders and House Churches. If we think about it in these three kinds of leadership, we can allow the leadership within the neighborhoods (specifically the elders) to interact with the local neighborhoods and see how the house churches will be shaped. This will also allow the Elders to be creative about how the House Groups will work together within their specific geographic region. 

The key to the development of this is the identification of, vision casting to and the empowerment of Elders. We must identify a group of people whom we see fitting into the Elder role.