Wednesday, June 27, 2007

What does "Mission-Shaped" Church look like?

This past Monday evening, partly in response to my blog of last week, a group of us met over coffee to pray and reflect over the question, "What does 'mission-shaped" church look like?' It was a good time and an opportunity to hear from one another as to how we perceive God's call upon our lives as a community and what it means for us to engage the wider culture with the gospel of the kingdom of heaven.

I include here part of a sheet I gave out to help fuel our discussion which is a quote from a report produced by a working party in the Church of England back in 2004 entitled, 'mission-shaped church ... church planting and fresh expressions of church in a changing context' along with some of my own comments as to points I believe of particular significance to us flowing from this;

Lambeth 1988 Resolution 44:

“This conference calls for a shift to a dynamic missionary emphasis, going beyond care and nurture to proclamation and service; and therefore accepts the challenge this presents to diocesan and local church structures and patterns of worship and ministry, and looks to God for a fresh movement of the Spirit; in prayer, outgoing love and evangelism in obedience to our Lord's command.”

- this dynamic missionary emphasis is a great challenge to us who have been part of a church structure and model that was more relevant to 'Christendom' rather than the mission field in which we now operate even here in North America. The importance of prayer cannot be over emphasized. Are we 'devoted to prayer' like we read of the early church in the book of Acts?

five values for missionary churches

§ a missionary church is focused on God the Trinity

Worship lies at the heart of a missionary church, and to love and know God as Father, Son and Spirit is its chief inspiration and primary purpose. It worships and serves a missionary God, and understands itself to share in the divine mission. All of its life and activity is undergirded by prayer.

- again we see the priority of prayer, but this is simply a reflection of the truth that everything we are and do flows from our focus upon and relationship to God through our Lord Jesus Christ. We are to join in God's mission which is already taking place in the world. There is one Lord, one faith, one baptism - which means that there is only one Church also - how do we better give expression to this spiritual reality in our 'communities'? When we over-emphasize denominations and even doctrine (i.e. our interpretation), we become divisive. "Is Christ divided?"

§ a missionary church is Incarnatlonal

A missionary church seeks to shape itself in relation to the culture in which it is located or to which it is called. Whenever it is called to be cross-cultural then its long-term members or initial team lay aside their cultural preferences about church to allow the emergence of a form or style of church to be shaped by those they are seeking to reach. If a church is long established, then it evaluates itself in relation to the culture of the community it serves, and strips away whatever is not required by the gospel. An incarnational church seeks to be responsive to the activity of the Spirit in its community.

- Paul became all things to all people that might win some. Similarly we must lay aside our own preferences to allow the emergence of new forms of being the people of God that help us connect and engage with people who do not know Jesus. This is not to change the message of the gospel but it is to become a people who are more engaged with those people around them (or at least some of them), praying and looking for opportunities to demonstrate and proclaim the kingdom of heaven. "The word became flesh and made his dwelling among us"

§ a missionary church Is transformational

A missionary church exists for the transformation of the community that it serves, through the power of the gospel and the Holy Spirit. It is not self-­serving, self-seeking or self-focused. The kingdom of God is its goal, and church is understood as a servant and sign of God’s kingdom in its community, whether neighborhood or network.

- we exist to seek the transformation of communities with which we are involved - nothing less, for the glory of God. "Let your kingdom come on earth as it is in heaven". The heart of this transformation is the renewing work of the Holy Spirit in the life of a person who has come to trust in Jesus Christ as his Lord and Savior. This is the measure of how we are doing as a faith community.

§ a missionary church makes disciples

A missionary church is active in calling people to faith in Jesus Christ, and it is equally committed to the development of a consistent Christian lifestyle appropriate to, but not withdrawn from, the culture or cultures in which it operates. It engages with culture, but also presents a counter-cultural challenge by its corporate life based on the world view and values of the gospel. It encourages the gifting and vocation of all the people of God, and invests in the development of leaders. It is concerned for the transformation of individuals, as well as the transformation of communities.

- this begins with the understanding that the role of leadership (be it ordained or otherwise), is not to be "The Minister", but rather to equip and release the ministry of everyone else in the body. This must continue to be a fundamental practice and conviction of each one of us, demonstrated when we come together as believers, but also as we live our lives as employees, moms, fathers, bosses, friends, etc. Christianity is a way of life and maturity is evidenced by obedience to Jesus. We must move away from seeing maturity as increased knowledge about the Bible and God. We are to be doers of the word who lead others into the same lifestyle based upon close relationships and love.

§ a missionary church is relational

In a missionary church, a community of faith is being formed. It is characterized by welcome and hospitality. Its ethos and style are open to change when new members join. Believers are encouraged to establish interdependent relationships with fellow Christians as they grow into Christ. As a community it is aware that it is incomplete without interdependent relationships with other Christian churches and communities. It does not seek to stand alone.

- it is a most holy thing to eat together around a meal table and affirm the Christ in each other. Each of us needs to be part of a small intimate group of believers (family), but I would also say we need to also be investing in a few key, intimate relationships as a basis for edification, encouragement and comfort. This is why we keep promoting the Life Transformation Partnerships of 2/3 people.

Tuesday, June 19, 2007

Church & Culture ... Convergence or Contrast?

We live within a culture where a dominant value and pursuit, is that of comfort. It often drives our consumerist lifestyle and is perhaps epitomized in the name of a well-known furniture retailer - La-z-boy. Yes, those of you who have been to my house may well have sat in one of our two "la-z-boy" recliners! However, when we see the purpose of the Church and specifically the gospel, to be simply another item on our 'shopping list' of priorities to facilitate ease and comfort, then I believe we have seriously misinterpreted the pages of the New Testament, and the call of Christ upon our lives.

In a desire to impact or influence the greatest number of people (i.e. for them to like us and what we do as Christians), we can so easily find ourselves more aligned with the values of our culture than with those of the kingdom of Heaven. The very people who are meant to be the 'called out ones' from the prevailing culture and lifestyles of the day ('ekklesia' in Greek which is translated 'Church'), remain somewhat indistinguishable from their unbelieving neighbors, apart from attendance at increasingly 'user-friendly' meetings. It is a danger that we in the Simple/Organic/House Church are equally prone to fall into.

Jesus referred to himself as "the Way", the early Church was initially known as a people who followed the Way (of Life, personified in Jesus) - see Acts 19:8-9. Scott Boren in his new book 'The Relational Way', says, 'The way of kingdom living in the early church was distinctive and missional. By referring to the Church as the Way, it denotes that the people of God are called to action, a mode of interacting with the world that infects it with the life of God.' Of course, this presupposes that we are indeed carrying the "virus" within us. Distinctive and Missional, two words worth reflecting over.

David Bosch in his classic book, 'Transforming Mission' states, 'God is a missionary God ... Mission is thereby seen as a movement from God to the world; the church is viewed as an instrument for that mission. There is a Church because there is mission, not vice versa. To participate in mission is to participate in the movement of God's love toward people, since God is a fountain of sending love.' The foundational question for me it seems is not so much related to Church structure (ecclesiology), but relates more to our identity as a people on The Way (missiology). How do we become an authentic community of people that stands in contrast to the cultural values that oppose the those of the kingdom? Or, what ways of living would show we were on mission with God?

There's no easy answer, and that in part is the challenge - our culture wants that which is easy, convenient, pleasurable, self-satisfying. It is why the leaders of some of the larger churches in Austin are frustrated because many of those attending don't wish to be disturbed too much from their settled lifestyles, and certainly don't want to devote themselves to God's mission. It challenges us all because according to Jesus it will cost us everything - including our comfort. Paul spoke in terms of 'sharing in the fellowship of his suffering, becoming like him in his death' (Philipp. 3:10)

I sense that this in part is why there are so few (simple) church planting movements here in the West compared to the explosion of growth that is being experienced in parts of the two-thirds world. I desire and long to see this in my own life, here in the US. I am wary of what it may cost us. I believe a starting point is to pray, to pray until we get a burden and a sense of desperation over our spiritual state, and that opens our eyes to what God is really doing. I hope you will join with me ... in prayer and action!

"Jesus went through all the towns and villages, teaching in their synagogues, preaching the good news of the kingdom and healing every disease and sickness. When he saw the crowds, he had compassion on them, because they were harassed and helpless, like sheep without a shepherd. Then he said to his disciples, "The harvest is plentiful but the workers are few. Ask the Lord of the harvest, therefore, to send out workers into his harvest field." He called his twelve disciples to him and gave them authority to drive out evil spirits and to heal every disease and sickness ...
These twelve Jesus sent out ...."
[Matt 9:35-10:5]