Tag: missional

Three E’s Converge

 courtesy BBC

I wrote about the impending crises in the three E’s — energy, environment, and economy — several weeks ago. This weekend we saw all three converge, vying for media coverage with each other.  Hurricane Ike hit Texas and the Gulf Coast; gas prices spiked with gas rationed in some areas; and, the financial markets are taking a hit today.  Lessons we are learning include:

 

  • The price of oil per barrel is not the only thing driving gas prices higher.
  • The broader financial crisis is not over, and more bad news is coming.
  • The environment — including natural disasters — impacts us in a number of ways.
  • All of the 3-E’s provide opportunities for outreach and ministry.
Christine Sine has a great post on our response as Christians to these events.  In part Christine says —
I really have been wondering about this as I have followed the path of Hurricanes Gustave and Ike and then watched the stock markets crash all over the world this morning.  Yet of the numerous Christian blogs I have followed over the weekend only one has had a post with a prayer and a thought for those whose lives have been devastated by these tragedies.  I feel that most of my blogging friends are living in a glass shell where the world and all that happens in it does not really exist. 
The 3-E’s are issues that affect our churches, our communities, and our world.  We need to think about how the changing future alters our current plans.  Let me know what your church is thinking in light of the 3-E’s. 

A must read: ‘The New Conspirators’ by Tom Sine

Tom Sine’s latest book, The New Conspirators, celebrates the increasing diversity in the church. Sine’s book continues the theme of his classic book, The Mustard Seed Conspiracy, published in 1981. Sine was a ‘red-letter Christian’ before the official group existed, and in this hopeful volume he gives us examples across the spectrum of the 21st century church.

Divided into five “conversations” Sine takes his readers on a tour of real places where real people are living out the gospel as they understand it in communities and congregations around the world. In Conversation One, Sine introduces the unfamiliar to the four streams of the postmodern church — emerging, missional, mosaic, and monastic. Sine celebrates the gifts each brings to the body of Christ, giving an even-handed, generous perspective on each.

In Conversation Two, we are reminded of our global culture from massive consumerism to militant terrorism. This is the world in which we all live, and Sine reminds us that there are those who covet our American materialism, and those who despise it. But, despite the negatives of globalization, Sine sees positive things in our shrinking planet, such as the connection young people around the world are making with each other, transcending local cultures.

In Conversation Three, we are encouraged to take the future of God seriously. Sine isn’t talking about “going to heaven when you die” either. After several illustrations of kingdom thinking and acting, Sine weaves a lyrical scene, his take on Isaiah 25 and Revelation 21, where “God’s presence is palpable and we sense his generous welcome.”

Conversation Four reminds readers to take “turbulent times seriously.” Sine pulls takes us below decks in his version of humanity’s “Ship of Fools” examining the stark contrasts between the fabulously rich, the increasingly shrinking middle-class, and the world’s abject poor.

In Conversation Five, we are encouraged to “take our imaginations seriously.” Sine paints new pictures of “whole-life” stewardship, community, and mission celebrating those on the entrepreneurial edge. He states, “we need musicians, poets and artists to create new forms of worship, in which we celebrate coming home as a great resurrected community to a world where the broken are made whole, justice comes for the poor and shalom to the nations.”

If you want a tour of where church is headed in the 21st century, read ‘The New Conspirators.’ If you despair of the future of the church, let Tom Sine fill you with the same joy he shares over the growth of these mustard seeds of the kingdom. If you’re looking for something to give fresh direction to your own life, and form it in new ways, grab a copy of Sine’s book and join ‘The New Conspirators’ yourself. As Shane Claiborne says, “This book is a gift to the church, and to the world.”

Mission and maintenance

Tall Skinny Kiwi (aka Andrew Jones) had an interesting post today titled “Baby or Bathwater or both,” referencing Jonny Baker’s post. But, TSK also picks up a quote from the same issue of Encounters by Jonathan Ingleby, who says:

My answer to that question is another question: can we begin to think seriously about ‘low-maintenance’ churches? Also, is this possibly one of the things that ‘emerging church’ is about? We are simply being crushed by the weight of the structures we have created in order to maintain our church life. People find they cannot take the weight and are slipping out to look for something which meets their spiritual needs and to which they can contribute something, but which does not weigh on them so heavily. Viewed from within the church, this is the familiar dilemma of ‘mission versus maintenance’. We are putting so much energy into maintaining the structures that we have not got time for anything else.

Which reminded me of our situation: we are looking for children’s Sunday School workers, and a SS director. We’re spending lots of time and energy to maintain the organization, and less on our mission of transforming our community. I’m beginning to think that “low maintenance” church is a great idea, but that is not an excuse for do-nothingism.

Low maintenance is the opposite of the mindless sustaining of institutional structures that no longer serve their purpose. If we channel all that spiritual energy into mission — real life-changing events focused outside the church walls and members — that would be more true to the tasks to which we are called. Problem is — institutional structures are hard to kill or abandon. Why? Because we’ve always done it like that. And the beat goes on.

How churches might face the coming crises

(A couple of days ago I wrote about several converging crises — energy, economy, and environment. Since then the price of gas has gone down! Proof that I was wrong. Not! As a nation we are so shell-shocked by the energy crisis that we think a 10-cent reduction in the price of gas is a big break, forgetting that less than a year ago we were paying under $3 a gallon. Anyway, back to our original program.)

I see churches adapting to these three interrelated crises — energy, economy, and environment — in several ways:

  1. Redefinition of “church.” Church will no longer be the place we go, church will be the people we share faith with. Churches will still meet together for worship at a central time and location, but that will become secondary to the ministry performed during the week. Church buildings will become the resource hub in community ministry, like the old Celtic Christian abbeys. Church impact will replace church attendance as the new metric.
  2. Restructuring of church operations. Due to the high cost of fuel and a struggling economy, churches will become smaller, more agile, and less expensive to operate than in the past. Churches will need to provide direct relief to individuals and families with meal programs, shelters, clothing, job training, and more. In the not-distant-future, we will live in a world where government is increasingly unable to fund and provide those services. Church buildings will become increasingly more expensive to maintain, and churches with unused weekday space will consider partnerships with businesses, other ministries, and helping agencies. Or churches will sell their conventional buildings and reestablish in storefronts that operate as retail businesses 6 days a week, and gathering places on Sunday (or Thursday or whenever). Churches will focus outwardly on their “parish” more than inwardly on their members. Church staff will become more community-focused rather than church-program focused, and become team leaders in new missional ventures.
  3. Repackaging of “sermons” and Christian education. With fewer people “attending” church, fewer will also attend Christian education classes. Churches will deliver Christian education content via mobile devices. Short video clips accessible from iPhones (and other smart devices) will be the primary content carriers for church and culture. Church “members” (if that quaint term actually survives) will still gather, but more for monthly celebrations, fellowship, and sharing than weekly meetings, worship, or learning. Of course, there may be several monthly celebrations geared to different lifestyles (tribes), schedules, and preferences. Again, the abbey concept of the church as hub with many smaller groups revolving around the resource center.
  4. Refocus from institution to inspiration. Okay, so I went for the easy alliteration there. Restated, less emphasis on the “church” and more on how the church enables its adherents to live their faith. Declining church attendance is not a crisis of faith, it’s a crisis of delivery. We can bemoan the fact that fewer people come to church, but ballgames are not suffering from declining attendance. People go to what they want to go to. Church ministry has to focus on engaging people in meaningful ways that enable their spiritual journeys. In a world in crisis, people are looking for something to believe in as institution after institution crumbles. If banks, businesses, and whole countries fail, where can we put our trust? Church should have the answer 24/7, delivered like everything else is delivered now — when people want it, at their convenience, and in a way that resonates with them.

None of the things I have suggested here are new. But, the thing that makes them more viable now is the convergence of all three crises at one time. But, let’s hope for the best and assume that gas goes back to no more than $2 per gallon, the planet cools off, energy is abundant, and the economy flourishes. All the possibilities I suggest above are still viable strategies that may be more in keeping with New Testament values than our 20th century consumerist approach. What do you think?

Build it and they will come, but somebody has to run it

About 30 years ago, lots of churches bought into the myth that building a gym was the answer to all their outreach woes.  Churches thought “build it and they will come” long before Ray Kinsella made it popular in Field of Dreams.  But in real life, somebody has to be there to run the place after you build it so they can come.  And before they come, somebody has to program the use of the building.  Getting both people and programs in place as we opened the community center has taken countless hours of my time, not to mention all the other folks involved.

Buildings are not the answer to any church’s problems, outreach or otherwise.  Buildings add to the complexity of church ministry because you need people and programs to fill them.  So, before you “build it” hoping “they will come” start some programs right now.  When we dreamed of building a community center, we started the Boys and Girls Club program first in the space we had, with a staff of 2 people.  Having that program established before we built and opened the community center guaranteed us an anchor program, complete with staff.  Currently the program serves about 80 kids a day with a paid staff of 5, plus additional community center staff of 3.  We also use volunteers, but we do not rely on volunteers for critical functions.  Volunteers supplement on-going programs, and relieve staff to focus on essential responsibilities.

Next myth to be busted: “Don’t worry, the building will pay for itself.”

Sermon: “The Palm Sunday Syndrome”

Here’s a link to the sermon I preached last year titled, “The Palm Sunday Syndrome” from Luke 19:28-40.   I don’t have the manuscript for this one, but you can watch the video here.  The audio is here.  This is last year’s lectionary from Year C.  I’ll post the manuscript of my sermon for Palm Sunday 2008, tomorrow.

The “No Adjective” Church

the dictionary  ad·jec·tive [aj-ik-tiv]  1. Any member of a class of words…functioning as modifiers of nouns, as good, wise, perfect.

Have you noticed we are now in the age of the “adjective” church?  Modifiers like missional or purpose-driven or seeker-sensitive or externally-focused or a dozen others precede the word “church” to define a particular church’s philosophy.  I guess this isn’t anything new because the old modifiers were denominational names like Baptist, Methodist, Presbyterian, Pentecostal, and so on.  But, now we have both, and it’s getting to be a bit cluttered.

What happened to the word “church” along the way?  How did “church” lose its meaning as a place where the least, the last, and the lost could find hope, healing, and hospitality?  Why do we need modifiers to distinguish one church from another.  Are “purpose-driven” churches distinguished from those that have no purpose?  Are “seeker-sensitive” churches  truer churches than those that don’t use that modifier?

“Church” has become so meaningless a term now, that we expect the adjectives that precede it to define what a particular church does.  But, in the Book of Acts, they didn’t need adjectives.  Church was a community, a refuge, a place of healing, a gathering of God’s people, open to others, driven by fellowship and mission, obedient to God, gathered for worship, inclusive of slave and free, innovative, sharing, caring, loving, powerful, prayerful, worshiping, gifted — an expression of the kingdom coming in the world now.

Wouldn’t it be great if the word “church” again meant all those things?  Without the adjectives.  Church.  Why doesn’t that say it all?