Crippled By Our Own Freedom

One of the strengths of the program driven church is that people know exactly what to do and when to do it. Many churches will even provide folks with printed and online catalogs of choices for when, where, and how to get involved. Those ministries are led, whether by volunteers or paid staff, with planning and an expectation of clear communication.

Meetings are scheduled and publicized, events are planned and organized, roles and responsibilities are spelled out. Sometimes there is even training.

Of course, things aren’t always so ideally constructed, but this is the goal.

In fact, I remember attending a conference years ago that described the need for well trained parking lot staff, redundant and highly visible signage and an army of volunteers ready to answer any question and direct people precisely where they should go.

While the majority of my mind and body shiver at both the mindlessness and the amusement park aura this cultivates, I can also recognize why it is effective. Most of us do not like feeling uncertain about our next step.

I’ve seen job descriptions for Involvement Ministers whose primary task on the ministry staff was to formalize structures in order to assimilate all members into a ministry. Certainly there will always be those in a congregation who have an idea and what to put that idea into action. But, as one speaker (and likely countless others) said, “Most people are willing, they’re just waiting for you to ask.”

These dynamics are often among the primary punching bags for those seeking to cultivate more missional approaches to faith.

“We’re not inviting people to an event, we’re inviting them to share life with us.”

But what does that mean? What does it look like? How do we get there from here? There are some stark realities that must be faced. Many of us have jobs, many of us have children, few of us live in the same neighborhood.

We want to experience a more robust, holistic life of faith…but we’re afraid of anything that looks like the cookie-cutter programs. We don’t need all the market-driven hype, flashy consumeristic products, and event based ministries…right?

We start tossing structure, planning, and organization overboard because they smack of institutionalism. And in our overreaction to structure we can create an environment where “sharing life” with one another is haphazard, sporadic and largely ineffective.

Growing up I knew that every evening, barring some strange circumstance, my family was going to sit down at the dinner table to eat. I knew that I was going to do my homework before I could watch TV, play outside, talk to friends…or generally enjoy life. I knew what time I was expected to go to bed. I knew that I would brush my teeth before doing so.

I also knew what kind of language I could get away with using and what would bring swift justice raining down. I knew how I was to speak to adults. I knew what my mother meant when she said, “Remember who you are.”

I knew that my parents would be at my sports games and even most practices. I knew that if I was wrongly accused of something at school, my fiery little mother would raise ten kinds of hell until it was put right…and so I knew that I better not lie about whether or not the accusations were true.

Because I didn’t just remember who I was. I remembered who WE were.

These structures, rhythms and postures didn’t stifle me, they created room in which I could grow in a healthy manner…and they cultivated the spaces in which our family would engage.

In their book, Thin Places: 6 Postures for Creating and Practicing Missional Community, Jon Huckins and Rob Yackley give us more than just a peek into the characteristics of the missional-monastic NieuCommunities. They also model the ways in which intentional rhythms shape organic, authentic, relational, discipleship-oriented community.

Those who would strive to live holistic, missional lives would do well to learn from the wisdom of the monastics – the ancient as well as the contemporary. In my next post I will give a brief overview of Thin Places. I’m also very pleased that author Jon Huckins was willing to engage in some brief dialog concerning some of my reactions – I’ll share his thoughts and my responses as well.


Posted on November 29, 2012, in book review, missional monasticism and tagged , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. 4 Comments.

  1. Your metaphor of growing up in a family is the answer to your dilemma — “what does missional look like?”

    Your parents never sat down and scheduled the family dinner on a planner, sent invitations to the children, to put up banners and signs in the hall to remind you of the event (unless your family was really, really weird). And they never created committees to handle decisions in the house. I’m sure there was some kind of decision-making process in the house, but it never was formalized — in fact, it changed over time. The emphasis was on the good, the growth, the nurture of every member in the family. Everything that happened revolved around these things.

    Institutional churches are never about “the good, the growth, the nurture of every member in the family.” They can’t be. They are too large, too invested in growth, too consumed with mechanisms and structures. No matter what the mission statement says, they are — and have to be — tied to programs.

    Whatever missional community looks like, it will look a lot like the chaotic but comforting rhythms of a pretty standard extended family.

  2. Wes, thanks for the comment.

    Yes the point of the family metaphor was certainly this is what missional community should look like. However, our family DID have to sit down and put stuff on a planner. With football practice, cheerleading, golf, FFA, student council, honor’s society, youth group, etc., we were often pulled in many directions. We had to protect aspects of our schedule that were important and think carefully about the impacts of certain decisions – “Will committing to X be beneficial or detrimental?”

    Meanwhile, today, Rachel’s family (her parents, three siblings and their families) is very close relationally and fairly close graphically – we all live in the metroplex or close by. We often get together – for kids sporting events, just to have lunch, or for casserole exchanges, where each family makes several of one kind of casserole and then we trade them out. We end up with a lot of different selections, but save money by getting bulk ingredients for just one kind.

    Some events are spontaneous, but most require planning. Because the reality is that we don’t live in the same house and as much as we value one another we have crazy schedules – without intentional planning we’ll go months without getting together.

    Residential monastic communities can operate like an individual household…because in a sense, that’s exactly what they are. Yet even in those contexts there is a need for structure, planning, organization and rhythms…which we see in the communal Rule of Life.

    Other forms of missional community – particularly those who may not all live in the same neighborhood, let alone the same house – will need to be even more intentional. There should still be plenty of room left for spontaneous life sharing: calling a friend to go to the store, getting the kids together at the park, or regular invitations to dinner. However, as we’ve seen first hand in our church planting experiences, if we overreact to the “structure” issue, it is very easy to get caught up in the day-to-day craziness and simply lose track of time…alone.

    I don’t know that its fair to say that institutional churches are “never” about the good, etc. of every member. It is just more difficult and often takes a back seat to a more professionalized businesslike focus. However, I’ve known several churches that do in fact place a very high value in this area.

    Obviously I believe that this is a major problem in the American church – or I wouldn’t have taken such risks with my own family’s finances and (illusion of) security by stepping out to plant churches or commit to the paradigm shifting work of the Missional Wisdom Foundation.

    At the same time, its okay to acknowledge that there are still very good things happening in a wide variety of church contexts. Likewise there are also continued struggles and even some trade-offs that happen in the smaller, decentralized movements.

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