Sunday, June 26, 2011

Missional Church: Does church seem too institutional and prepackaged for your liking?

Does church seem too institutional and prepackaged for your liking? Perhaps the missional church movement might be more to your taste. The missional church movement was birthed from academia, especially the work of missionary Lesslie Newbigin. The major shift coming from this movement is less program and institution based to a more organic bottom up empowerment of members aimed at building relationships with and creating networks for the hurting outside the community. The focus is on the needs of those not currently "in" and are usually intentional about being multicultural. This movement sounds a caution to Christianity steeped in cultural values, especially individualism. Missional churches are overt in not trying to meet the needs of members but directed towards the needs of those who cannot help themselves.
Scripture: Matthew 10 (Jesus sends out the Twelve)
How does the Missional Church movement challenge your understanding of church? Where might they go too far?
What were Jesus' instructions to the twelve disciples?
What does it look like to be "worthy" of Christ (vv. 37-38)? What might that imply about taking up our cross and following Christ?
How would you explain to a friend what it means to "lose" you life only to "find" for Christ's sake (v. 39)?
What might a "welcoming" lifestyle look like (vv. 40-42)?
How might you have a "missional" outlook this week?

Monday, June 20, 2011

Central Theological Position

How would you state your 'central theological position' in one sentence? That was the task for a recent assignment in one of my classes. It was much more difficult to narrow down than I thought it would be. I thought first about specific passages of Scripture. Being United Methodist and with the UMC's mission "to make disciples for the transformation of the world" I quickly thought of the Great Commission the risen Christ gives to His disciples gathered to worship Him (even though some were still doubting), "Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and teaching them to obey everything that I have commanded you. And remember, I am with you always, to the end of the age." Matthew 28:19-20. In some preliminary discussions in class, some brought up what is known as Jesus' Great Commandment:  "'You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind.' This is the greatest and first commandment. And a second is like it: 'You shall love your neighbor as yourself." Matthew 22:37-40. Others that I've heard periodically as a central verse is James 1:27, "Religion that is pure and undefiled before God, the Father, is this: to care for orphans and widows in their distress, and to keep oneself unstained by the world." Other passages worth checking out include: 2 Corinthians 5:18-20, 1 John 4:10-12, and 1 Peter 2:9-10). What passage would be yours?
Instead of a specific Scripture reading, come up with your best one sentence summary of what you believe to be true about God and the world. Thinking about what one or more Scripture passages would be used as a back drop. You might ask yourself this question: "If I were asked to give my theology using only one sentence to someone what would I say?" Would you mind sharing your statement either on the blog or on Facebook? I'd love to see it and we might all learn from it.
My central theological position as it sits today (I've only revised it like a hundred times in the last few days) reads this: To participate in the Triune God's mission to the world. How do you think mine could be improved? What do you see as missing that is imperative to the Gospel? Give it a whirl!

Saturday, June 18, 2011

The Emergent Conversation

Churches that are characterized by the emerging movement tend to be outwardly focused, place a high value on relationships, have little to no hierarchy, concerned with social issues, are experimental and willing to hold in tension the sacred and profane, and resist modern categories instead looking to engage the indigenous context around them. Many  in this stream prefer the term conversation over movement. They look to embody God's mission in a way that is post-denominational and post-congregational.
One of my favorite quotes about the relationship of the Kingdom of God and the Church at large asserts, "It is not that the Church has a mission as much as God's mission has a church." The emerging movement certainly presses that sort of thinking. While there is much to be learned from the emerging conversation, there are points of tension as well. How do we move forward seeking the Kingdom of God as the people of God while maintaining a connection with our unique heritage in a way that honors the great "Cloud of Witnesses" (Hebrews 12:1) that has come before us? What would the church look if it were post-denominational and post-congregational?
Scripture: Hebrews 1:1-3
 John's Gospel is introduced with the words "In the Beginning" which brings us all the way back to God's acts in Genesis 1. Mark's Gospel opens, "The beginning of the Good News of Jesus Christ" and immediate quotes from the prophets of the Old Testament. Matthew's Gospel continually repeats from the Old Testament. "Many and various ways" God spoke to our ancestors begins Hebrews. God's Kingdom has advanced through the work of God and His people who have faithfully passed on the rule of faith to succeeding generations. What are some of the ways God has spoke to your ancestors? How has that been passed down to you? In light of father's day tomorrow, how have the "father's" in faith modeled Kingdom living for you?
Hebrews 1:2-3 points out what is the climax of history, the center of life in God. What does that say about history?
In what ways does the emerging church stretch your understanding of what it means to be the church?
How are you being part of the great "cloud of witnesses"?

Wednesday, June 15, 2011

Ready to join the new monastic movement?

Recently I got to visit with a friend who is involved with what some call the neo-monastic movement. This movement, along with some others, are challenging the way church is doing ministry in the world today. For example, those in the neo-monastic movement have no interest in church planting. Reacting to the rationalized (emphasis on the use of intellect) way  church has been functioning, this movement recalls that God is revealed in the narrative of Scripture and not through doctrines. This movement tends to be significantly more multicultural and multinational than traditional churches. As well, they draw heavily on ancient liturgical practices from the likes of the Franciscans, Benedictines, and Celts. Especially those in the Franciscan way live among the poor and needed as my friend does. One particular person in the monastic moment challenges, "The world doesn't need more words, not even more 'right' words. The world needs more words made flesh. The world needs more people to live the good news incarnationally, in a way that can be seen heard and handled." For me one of the strengths of this movement is that it puts faith into practice in a way that a persons Christianity is a seven day a week, twenty four hour a days reality that offers redemption to the least of these among us. It is a reminder to the church that if we're not engaging in redemptive ministry with the poor (for you North Georgia United Methodists that is this year's theme for our Annual Conference), then we're not really doing church as we're called to be.
Scripture: John 1:1-18; 20:19-23
Why do you think Jesus repeats the word "Peace"?
How is our "sending" v. 21 like God's sending of Jesus into the world? How is it similar? How is different?
How does this "sending" have a similar empowerment and mission (vv. 22-23)?
What do you see as a place the church can learn from the neo-monastic movement?
How might the church do a better job with focusing on doing ministry such that people see the Good News of the One who sent us?

Wednesday, June 8, 2011

"In and For" Part I

With Annual Conference for the North Georgia Conference of the United Methodist Church coming next week, I remember the first Annual Conference I attended in 2001. It was held in an arena in Augusta, Ga. In this large arena that was evidently used for sporting events and the like, were back light message boards for beer bottling companies and sports bars that did not convey the most "holy" of images especially during times of worship. Yet the Bishop reminded us that it is in such a world the Church exists. In fact the Book of Discipline for the United Methodist Church reminds us, "The church of Jesus Christ exists in and for the world."
The Church of Christ is in the world as the light of the world (Matthew 5:14). As the called out people of God and bride of Christ, the Church's values and virtues are shaped and empowered by the Triune God. God the Father sent the Son in to the world. Jesus was God in flesh. The incarnation of Jesus Christ shows that God is not "this world" denying, but exist within it. In other words, God isn't aloof from the pain,  alienation, disappointment and hurt that exist in the world. In fact, God through Jesus knows (has experienced) them intimately. So too the church is to exists not aloof from the pain and hurt of this world but right in the middle of it giving witness to God's reality in the world and active power for healing and holiness. Thus, the Church exists in the world in such a way that it serves the least, lowest, and the lost and those addicted to stuff and power. Paradoxically, it is in those acts of serving in the world the church finds it has been serving Christ (Matthew 25:35-40). 
Scripture: John 3:16-17
Why did God send His "one and only" or unique Son into the world? What is unique about Christ?
How does v. 17 expand v. 16?
What does this passage say about God's relationship with the world? Against it? For it? Transform it? How will this world's salvation come about?
What comfort can you take from knowing that God is not aloof from our pain and hurts, but the God we worship and serve knows the feelings of pain and alienation?
How have you seen the Church serve in the world such that it gives witness to God's healing presence that is active in this world?
How does being part of a church and serving Christ in the world free us from our tendency toward self-serving attitudes and narcissism?
How do you maintain the tension between being "in" the world but not "of" it? Why is that so hard? How is this also true for the church?

Monday, June 6, 2011

"Where is God?"

"Where is God?" If you've been around children or honest enough adults you've probably heard this question before. The great thing about children is that they don't realize they're questions we shouldn't be ashamed to inquire before others and before God. Being a Pastor, I've had several parents approach with a similar question their children have asked them and inevitably the question is posed to me. Not that mind these questions (in fact I love them!) but I can tell I am approached with these perplexing questions because in some way or another I am seen as a professional or at least practicing theologian (some say the best title for a pastor is a theologian in residence - I wouldn't totally disagree). But since theology is really the simple God-talk we all engage in we're all theologians. That's right, if you don't know it by now, congratulations I officially confer on you the title you already have - theologian. You might not be a degreed theologian or paid for your theological opinions, but nonetheless you area theologian if you've ever uttered or even thought a single thought about God.  In the book Attentive to God the authors imply this definition for such theologians as us, "[those] paying attention to God, and to everything else in its 'God-relatedness.'" Said differently, being a theologian is simply about how we think about God in our world.
At least two things should flow from this. One is that this is an affirmation that God's grace is pervasive in the world (prevenient grace - if you theologians don't know what that is...time to get crackin'!). Secondly, you have a responsibility. This gift is also a responsibility to speak intelligible of God.
There's a story of a Hasidic rabbi who asked rhetorically: Where is God?" He went on to reply: "Wherever we let him in." As responsible theologians allow God to enter your discussions and may they be fruitful (since God is in them, they will)!
Scripture: 1 Peter 3:13-18
What difference does it make to you to think of yourself as a theologian? How is that a gift and a responsibility?
V. 15 implores us to be ready for articulating our beliefs. How ready are you? What can you do to enhance your readiness?
What does v. 16 indicate about how we should speak about God?
What might v. 18 indicate about how we do theology is like Christ? (What was His purpose, what is ours?)
For extra credit: vv. 19-22
What is the importance of these passage? Where is this referenced to in church tradition?

Wednesday, June 1, 2011

Literal reading = serious reading?

One of the ideas I hear floating around is that in order to take the Bible seriously, it must be read literally. I don't usually hear stated just that way, but implied. Part of me really wants to laugh when I hear that way of thinking because I know it is not true and people really don't believe it (or at least they don't practice it!). Reading literally actually comes more from rational Enlightenment influences than from ancient Christian practice. In fact, from the early church onward those who really took the Bible seriously, read it looking for the spiritual meaning within. Later in Christian tradition there developed a four fold pattern for interpreting Scripture. It wasn't until Martin Luther and later Enlightenment thinking that really pushed some to believe only in the literally meaning of Scripture.
The real source of my laughter is that I can tell a literal reading of Scripture isn't followed by those I encounter who profess it. If it were true that people read the Bible literally and practiced is that people would greet me with a kiss (Romans 16:16, 1 Corinthians 16:20, 2 Corinthians 13:12, 1 Thessalonians 5:26, 1 Peter 5:14), would drink wine (1 Timothy 5:23 - people who usually advocate for literalism also advocate for abstinence with regard to alcohol), and would probably be blind (Matthew 5:29)!
Perhaps the biggest problem with the literalist reading of Scripture is that we become "information gatherers" instead of receivers of God's grace. We look for laws, rules, information, commands, specific individual promises to match our needs in the moment. Rather than Scripture being an object we figure out and control, our role should be receivers whose worldview is shaped by God's story in Scripture. That would take serious the Scripture's role in forming us and transforming us, not simply informing us.
Scripture: Jonah (It's only four chapters. You can do it!)
Some people question whether Jonah describes an actually historical (literal!) event. There is no evidence of a Nineveh conversion to worshiping the LORD as is described in this book. Yet there is nothing within the story of Jonah that suggest it be taken allegorically either. Jesus seems to have believed it actually happened (Matthew 12:41). Instead of looking for facts (was it a whale or a fish? How would someone survive in the belly of a fish?), how would the story of Jonah have challenged its readers originally? What does the book reveal (through Jonah) about Jewish attitudes of pagan, surrounding religions and people? What needed to happen to Jonah in order for him to recognize God's purpose? What might that say about the first reader's relationship with God and their world? How might they be challenged as was Jonah by this book's story that the people of Nineveh, even they, repented? How does Jonah's anger the plant reveal his lack of compassion and highlight God's compassion? How would you summarize Jonah's message? How might we live into that worldview? How is that different that the worldview of our culture?