Tag: Missional Church

A New Subtitle: Churches as Communities of Reconciliation

The new subtitle of this blog is Churches as Communities of Reconciliation. Let me unpack this phrase one element at a time.

Let’s start with churches. This blog began with a focus on small congregations, but over the past seven years’ of writing, I have come to the conclusion that size is the least significant factor in church vitality. Rather, a church’s sense of mission — missional consciousness, to use the jargon — is a better gauge of church vitality than size. Churches with a clear sense of purpose, whether large or small, thrive and are vibrant members of their communities. And, just to be clear, my confidence is in churches, not other organizations, to embody and exhibit the Kingdom of God as a contrast society in contemporary culture. Those churches can be traditional, seeker-sensitive, neo-monastic, denominational, or any of the other flavors that churches come in today. The form is less important than the way in which local congregations live out their calling to be salt and light to their communities and the world.

Secondly, I’m interested in churches which are practicing reconciliation. The Apostle Paul wrote, “All this is from God, who reconciled us to himself through Christ and gave us the ministry of reconciliation…” (2 Corinthians 5:18 NIV). I’m convinced that the Bible is the story of God’s reconciling love beginning in the Garden of Eden and concluding with the New Heaven and New Earth in Revelation 21-22. The reconciling love of God finds its highest expression in the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus Christ. Paul continues the theme of reconciliation in 2 Corinthians 5:19: “that God was reconciling the world to himself in Christ, not counting people’s sins against them. And he has committed to us the message of reconciliation.”

Down through the ages, Christian churches, evangelical churches in particular, have emphasized reconciliation between God and humankind. However, there exists also the unmistakable idea that we cannot be reconciled to God — we cannot say we love God — without being reconciled to one another. Theologians have called these the cruciform (meaning “cross-shaped”) aspects of reconciliation. We are “vertically” reconciled to God, while being “horizontally” reconciled to those around us, even our enemies. If God has given us the ministry of reconciliation — and I believe along with Paul that God has — then reconciliation should be the signature ministry of churches.

I wrote my DMin dissertation at Fuller on the subject of The Reconciling Community: The Missional Mending of Spiritual and Social Relationships Through Local Church Ministry. In my research and writing, I explored not only the theological and theoretical aspects of reconciliation, but the practical, applied aspects as well. Of course, I wasn’t the first to come to this awareness, and I discovered that scores of churches in the US (and, other places), are actively practicing reconciliation in their communities.

Finally, to put it all together, I am focusing on the result that churches practicing reconciliation are building peace communities. In reconciliation studies, much of the literature is theoretical. Authors focus on the theology of reconciliation, the multi-disciplinary nature of reconciliation, and stories of reconciliation in places like South Africa and Rwanda. However, I found very few resources that could describe what a ministry of reconciliation looked like on the ground in real life. To that end, I synthesized the best of the theoretical research to develop a list of criteria for what reconciliation looks like. I’ll list those in a later post, but my point is that for churches to be able to engage in a ministry of reconciliation, we have to know what one looks like, and what result we seek as agents of reconciliation.

The goal of churches which practice reconciliation is, in my opinion, to build peace communities. I don’t mean peaceful communities, although they certainly would be. Peace communities are those neighborhoods and areas included in a local church’s ministry influence, that have been transformed in measurable ways by the practice of reconciliation.

When Jesus sent out the 70 (or 72) disciples, among other things he instructed them in the practice of peace: “ “When you enter a house, first say, ‘Peace to this house.’  If someone who promotes peace is there, your peace will rest on them; if not, it will return to you.” (Luke 10:5-6 NIV). We have neglected this idea of speaking peace, finding the person of peace, and “staying in one place” to bring about transformation of an entire community. That’s what peace communities are — communities that have been transformed by the shalom of God into places where Kingdom ethics are lived out, hurts are healed, relationships are restored, and God’s children live in harmony. If that sounds like an improbably fantasy we must remind ourselves that Jesus said some pretty improbable things.

In future blog posts, I’ll tell the stories of churches that are practicing reconciliation and building peace communities in their own neighborhoods. I’ll also present resources, books, seminars, and organizations that can be helpful in your church’s quest to become a reconciling community. I’m convinced this is the church of the future — engaged, vital, and transformative — and I hope you’ll continue the journey with me.

Churches adapt ancient models for the 21st century

For many of us who care about church, it is becoming increasingly apparent that church as we know it must change in order to maintain its mission in the 21st century.  This change will not be cosmetic.  This change will not be a debate about traditional worship versus contemporary worship, or small groups versus Sunday School.  The kind of change the church must adopt is transformational change — change that fundamentally reshapes how we think about church, and what church actually does.

Three ancient church models are gaining traction in the first decade of this new century:  the marketplace church, the monastic church, and the mission center church.  Each one of these church models existed in previous centuries, but now each has been reimagined for this new millennium.

The marketplace church. This is the church that is a coffee shop or an art gallery or a clothing consignment store during business hours, engaging its community through the medium of the marketplace.  A good example of this is Knox Life Church in Knoxville, Tennessee which operates Remedy Coffee, and then gathers for worship on the weekend. The old Celtic Christian abbeys maintained farms which engaged the local population, generated income for the abbey, and provided employment for their neighbors.

The monastic church. This is the church where community, a committed community, is the core value.  The monastic church might do good in their neighborhood, or they might share table fellowship with each other on a regular basis, or both.   Participants in the monastic church community do not necessarily live together, but they share a rule of life that mimics that of the ancient monastic orders.  Gordon Cosby’s Church of the Savior is probably the oldest and best-known example of this type, but Shane Claiborne’s group might be a more recent example.

The mission center church. The all-time winner of this category, and the sole occupant of this slot for decades, is the Salvation Army.  Their mission work overshadows the other things they do like worship.  A good example of a local church that is a mission center is Solid Rock United Methodist Church in Olivia, North Carolina.  Solid Rock UMC died as a struggling storefront church, and was reborn as a mission with a mission.  The Celtic abbeys also were mission centers in the midst of great need.  One abbey fed over 1,000 people a day.  Most abbeys gave refuge, cared for the sick, welcomed the stranger, and provided food, shelter and clothing to those who needed it.

These ancient models are with us again because all three — marketplace, monastic, and mission center — express the vision of their participants to be a new expression of church built on a specific approach to being the people of God.  Some churches combine all three, and more, of these models to become “the church as abbey” that I have written about previously.  I think this is the wave of the future for church, and that any or all of these expressions are legitimate and effective ways of engaging the world with the gospel.  Notice that none of these models emphasizes worship as the connection with the surrounding community.  More on that later.

Powerpoint: Small Churches Make Good Neighbors

Here’s the powerpoint I used in my NOC2008 workshop, Small Churches Make Good Neighbors.   I’m using the abbey church model, and discussing the 10 aspects of the ancient celtic abbeys applied to churches today.  The ppt is on SlideShare, so you can view and download the presentation, if you find it helpful.  I am going to edit and add to the notes, but I think you’ll get the thrust of the presentation as it is.  Let me know if you have questions or comments.

You feed them

“You feed them.”  Those were the words of Jesus to the disciples.  A big hungry crowd needed to be fed, and the disciples had come to Jesus for a solution.  Jesus challenged the disciples to feed the crowd themselves, but they protested they were not able to.  Now, we might get that opportunity, again, in the current economic crisis.  

A friend of mine heads a large social services agency in our area.  He and I were discussing the economy tonight, and he remarked, “Get ready for budget cuts.”  He went on to explain that programs for the elderly will be the first to be cut, as the federal  and state governments cut social program funds to local helping organizations.  Then he paused and said, “Actually, I’m not sure anything is safe.”  He meant any program that helps others including food, children’s programs, and more.  

As the federal government wrestles with a solution to the immediate economic crisis, local governments are already cutting budgets.  Contrary to popular belief, those who need financial aid are limited to a very small amount of financial help, and only for a limited period of time.  Food stamps provide only $1 per meal — $21 per week per person.  Try eating on $21 per week.  

Churches will have tremendous opportunities to help, because government will do less and less in the months and years ahead.  Small churches can band together, as we do here in Chatham, to create emergency relief funds.  But, churches will also need to develop more creative approaches to helping those in their communities.  What is your church doing to prepare to care for those who need help?  Many churches observe October as World Hunger Month.  It might not come at a better time.

Counting the “unto-me’s”

One of the things Baptists do when we take our own pulse is to count.  We count attendance, giving, groups, and most of all, we count baptisms.  Lately, like the last 7 or 8 years, baptisms in Southern Baptist life have been down.  So, there’s a lot of second-guessing about why we are larger than ever as a denomination, but baptize fewer and fewer each year.  Of course, explanations for the decline in baptisms cluster around lack of commitment, lack of bible preaching, and lack of other stuff.  But, I think that’s the wrong approach.

Here’s what I think — maybe we’re counting the wrong things. Maybe we should be counting the people we help each week.  Or the people who don’t attend church, but count those of us who do as their friends.  Or the families of the kids who come to our after-school programs, or take music lessons at our church, or shoot basketball in our parking lot.  Maybe we should count real life moments when we are most fully-Christlike in our dealings with others.

Okay, I know.  You can’t count stuff like that because it’s too general, not specific enough, not concrete enough.  Some folks said something like that to Jesus one day, and his response was, “In as much as you have done it unto one of the least of these, my brethren, you have done it unto me.”  Maybe we should have a new category to count — the “unto me’s.”   That might change our whole perspective on this business we call church.  What do you think?

Some thoughts to tide you over

The community center is coming along nicely, and we are about 75-days away from getting the keys.  Which means a lot of work ordering furnishings, contacting utility companies, planning the opening, and so on.  All seems to be piling in at once, plus the continuing change-orders, additions, and problem-solving that go with building a 16,000-square foot building.  But, it’s going well, just fast and furious.  Which explains my lack of posts this week.  So, until I get my sermon for Sunday up, here’s some good stuff I’ve been reading:

More later.

Walking with others

celtic-cross-with-sunrise.jpg I had today planned perfectly. When I arrived at the office, I planned to spend the day getting ready for an important meeting tonight about the community center. But the life of a small church pastor in a small town isn’t always amenable to planning. So, instead of spending the day at my desk, I spent it talking and listening to folks like these:

  • Sterling and Tommy, our volunteer church handypersons, were working in the sanctuary attic when Tommy found an old wooden pulley used to lower our massive copper and brass light fixture from it’s 30-foot height, down to the floor for cleaning. They had just installed a new winch and chain, supported by new pieces of steel, when they discovered the old wooden pulley. After some conversation, the pulley went in our memorabilia room, joining photographs, artifacts, and old books from our history.
  • Betty, our new deacon chairperson, dropped by to go over the deacons’ meeting agenda for next Monday. Betty has hit the ground running and has lots of good ideas, one of which was a prayer room. I told her I liked that idea, and so we’re going to discuss it next week with our deacons.
  • Jean called to give me an update on her father, Pete, who was taken to the hospital early Sunday morning by our local rescue squad. I rushed over to their house before the ambulance arrived, and talked to Pete and Jeannete. We prayed together before the EMTs took Pete to the hospital. Thankfully, he’s improving, though still in ICU. Debbie and I will drive 2-hours one-way tomorrow to see them both.
  • A couple from Kansas came by to ask if I would marry them in our sanctuary on Wednesday. Lori found the man’s church membership record with the date of his baptism in1956. So, on Wednesday I’ll marry Hugh and Barbara in the sanctuary where Hugh was baptized 51-years ago.
  • I went home about 3:30 to have coffee with Debbie, when Bill called from the local funeral home just across the street from our house. Friends of one of our members were there to make arrangements for her since hospice has been called in to care for her. Barbara is from Chatham, but moved away 50-years ago. She wants her life to end the way it began, here in Chatham. I walked over to meet them, and we planned part of her funeral service today.
  • Tonight’s meeting about the community center went well, even though I wasn’t as prepared as I wanted to be. We’ll move in the center in May, so we have lots to do in the next 4-months.

That was my day. Not planned, but just fine nevertheless. Real people living real lives in a small town called Chatham. And all their lives brim over with faith and family and friends. I like what I do.