Wednesday, July 16, 2014

God Has a Mission

Missional church is breaking out all over the Diocese of Western Louisiana. I’m thrilled. And I realize that I can’t take any credit for it. 
God is at work around here. And we have been rolling up our sleeves and joining him in his work. Just keep reading my blog (Pelican Anglican) and this newsletter, checking out our Facebook page, dropping by our website, and watching your inbox for the e-news.
For my part, I’ve been helping us to understand what we mean by “mission” and by “missional church.” Sometimes I’ve communicated effectively. Other times, not so much. In order to keep the missional ball rolling, come along with me as I say a few things about what it means to be missional.

Let’s start by clearing up some common, understandable confusion. 
Some people hear “mission” and assume we’re referring to going to a place like Africa or Central America or Appalachia. They think of mission trips: episodic ministry events at a distance from where we live.
That’s not what we mean by “mission.”
Others hear “mission” as a synonym for outreach. In other words, they assume that being missional church means having outreach programs. Usually, outreach programs work on a benefactor-recipient model. We view ourselves as the privileged benefactors who will help those less fortunate than ourselves as one of the many things we do as a congregation.
That’s not what we mean by “mission.”
Missional churches will probably sponsor mission trips and outreach programs, but doing such things do not make a congregation missional. Being missional is not one thing that a congregation does. Being missional is the DNA—the living essence—that defines every dimension, every activity, of a missional congregation.
For starters, let’s define a missional congregation by contrasting it with an attractional congregation. Whether we realize it or not, most of us were raised with the attractional model of church. In the attractional church, the point is to get people inside. To make them members. 
Attractional churches measure their success with average Sunday attendance and pledge numbers. The motto of the attractional church is: get more people to come to church. Use catchy worship styles, kids’ programs, coffee shops, felt need groups, and a myriad of other programmatic offerings to attract spiritual consumers.
Do you see the logic? Attract-consume. The church has a mission, and that mission is to get more members. To increase market share.

By contrast, missional church starts in an entirely different way and proceeds in the opposite direction. For the missional church, the starting place is that God has a mission. We do not say that the Church has a mission. God has a mission. And the sole purpose for any congregation is to engage God’s mission.
God’s mission is to heal the world: to reconcile the creation to himself and to reconcile all of us to each other. God is already at work doing this, and God has brought churches into existence to accomplish it.
Each congregation is where it is precisely because God has called that congregation into being in that location. Missional congregations understand that God’s mission is going on all around them and that their purpose is to participate in what God is doing out in the world.
As a first step, I encourage everyone in a congregation to walk the neighborhood of the congregation. Literally. Walk the neighborhood 20 minutes in each direction. Get to know the people, the businesses, the institutions, and the schools.
When you walk, walk with ears to hear. Do not assume that you have something to say or something to give that others don’t have. Assume that God is already at work. You are looking for partners. How do others perceive the needs of the neighborhood? How can you take part with them in healing your corner of the creation? 
Listen to the stories that people tell you, especially their stories of God at work. Be humble enough to learn what others already know and to join what others are already doing.
This is a brief, incomplete sketch. I’ve said nothing about the role of worship in nurturing and sending us as healers. Space does not allow me to talk about a community defined by belonging and mutual care as opposed to a collection of self-interested consumers. But then again, I’m going to be your bishop for a long time. Stay tuned. We’ll get around to that and much more.

This article will appear in the August Alive!.

Friday, July 11, 2014

Welcoming Wandering Evangelicals

If you read Rachel Held Evans' blog, you know that she started her faith life in the Evangelical tradition. Though still respectful of and connected to her spiritual origins, Rachel's spiritual practices and theological reflections have led her to think differently about God, faith, and social issues. As many blogs make clear, she is not alone.

So, I take seriously what she has to day about how traditions like our own can provide a welcome, nurturing place for people doing some spiritual stretching. Case in point: check out her excellent post "5 Ways Progressive Mainline Churches Can Welcome Disenfranchised Evangelicals."

Sunday, June 29, 2014

Taking A Break

It's summertime! So, I'm taking a break for the next few weeks. Regular posts will resume in August.

Guy Rose's "July Afternoon"

Sunday, June 15, 2014

If You Take One of Us, You Have to Take All of Us

“If you take one of us, you have to take all of us.”
As children, this is how my wife Joy and each of her siblings always responded to a common compliment from that era: “You’re so cute I just want to take you home with me.”
Today, children hearing such a thing would probably run away shouting, “Stranger danger!” But back in the day we all heard that simply to mean that we were good children.
The response that Joy and her siblings gave was unusual. Then again, they were and still are an especially tight-knit family. Joy, Carol, Patsy, Martha, and Jim are each very different people. And yet, the sisters in particular are inseparably interwoven.

Gerard Sekoto's "Children Playing"

Now don’t get me wrong. They will bicker and get on each other's nerves. Their career paths and parenting styles and marital ideals diverge. But make no mistake, they are a posse. Two or three of them would never dream of celebrating a big event or planning a major gathering without including all the rest. You know, like birthdays and Christmas and Arbor Day.
If you take one of them, you have to take all of them.
I discovered this firsthand early on in my relationship with Joy. I was going to meet all of her sisters for the first time at a dinner party hosted by her older sister Patsy. Joy made it perfectly clear that our relationship only had a future if I passed the sister test. If I met with their approval, we might end up someplace. Otherwise, count on this being a passing thing.
For the record, Joy insists that she doesn’t remember telling me this. I think that this might be another test.
In its own imperfect way, the Bruce clan—Joy’s family of origin—reflects the life of the Trinity. If you take one of them, you have to take all of them.
The odd thing about God—well, one of the odd things about God—is that God is a community. God is one. And God is three. The unity of God is found in the diversity of three persons: Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.

Sunday, June 8, 2014

Speaking with an Accent

In Luke’s account of the Day of Pentecost, the Holy Spirit creates the Church. Look carefully at what happens. The story says loads about who God intends for us—the community of Jesus-followers—to be.
For nine days the disciples had huddled together in an upper room praying. On the tenth day the Holy Spirit made them a new creation: the Church. And what they did as the community of Jesus followers is unlock the doors, throw open the windows, and head out into the streets. God was doing something out there. They wanted to be a part of it.
In other words, they didn’t do what church-folk tend to do today. Many of us think of starting a church as erecting a building and inviting people to join us inside for prayer. We even put up signs, design websites, and pay for newspaper ads inviting people to join us inside the building. They can join us whenever they want.

John William Waterhouse's "Windflowers"

Even when we are in the world, we use the term “outreach” to talk about it. Think about that word for a minute. Outreach. The image is that we reach out from inside. But inside is where we belong. Evangelism takes the form of making outsiders into insiders. One of us. 
That’s exactly how the attractional church operates. And the declining vitality of many congregations in America tells us that this is not a winning strategy.
No wonder.
The Church portrayed in the Acts of the Apostles is missional to its very core. These early disciples knew that God has a mission in the world, and that God has created a Church to pursue that mission. That mission takes various forms, but its essence is reconciliation.
That newly formed Jesus-following community engages God’s mission from the very start. They pour out onto the streets in the midst of an ongoing festival to tell good news.
They did not demand that their listeners become just like them, adhere to their own strict code of conduct, or submit to their own interpretations of just how the world works.
They were delivering the news. God loves you. And that love is active and powerful. That love heals your wounds, nourishes your body, forgives your sins, rebuilds your shattered relationships, empowers you to make a contribution in this world, and brings you peace of mind.
What you say matters. How you say it matters just as much. Sometimes, maybe even more.