Category Archives: missional theology

Posts pertaining to the developing a missional theology

A Missional Post on Missional Scripture Composed on my Missional Laptop.

Missional.

For many, the word has become like a Katy Perry song: love it or hate it, you can’t go 10 minutes without hearing it…and catching yourself singing along unconsciously. Others may think that the word is owned by Apple, because it shows up in front of absolutely everything the same way their lower-case “i” does.

Speaking of which, yes, there is an iMissional.org.

Missional Coffee

And as often as I use the word, I admit, even I get tired of hearing about missional toasters, missional coffee, missional songbooks, missional underwear (wait, no, that one could be interesting). There’s even a Missional Study Bible. Perhaps I’m just bitter because I wasn’t asked to contribute anything, and in fairness, it looks pretty cool, but I believe we already have a missional Bible – the Bible.

That’s what I want to address in this series of blog posts. It wasn’t actually inspired by the publication of the Mission of God Bible – that’s just a happy coincidence – instead it has come about for several reasons. First of all, I believe that those of us who are committed to (or even just considering) missional and incarnational approaches to faith should wrestle with the deeper theological realities that accompany this orientation. They’re there, they have been ignored too often and for too long – and they transcend, “this just works better.”

I’ve written here, and lots of other places, that missional is first a theological, rather than pragmatic or strategic, issue. Theology is the practice of thinking, contemplating and talking about God. So when I say this is a theological issue, my claim is that saying something about missional is actually saying something about God – not just the strategies, practices or attitudes of Christians.

Therefore, it makes a great deal of sense to look more carefully at the relationship between missional theology and scripture. Is the Bible a missional text? What does that mean? What does it look like? This question is not just about putting missional in front of yet another aspect of Christianity. Frankly, I hope that we will someday reach a point where it is (as it should be) redundant to even use the word missional in relation to our faith.

Unfortunately, given that our society tends to devour words and ideas voraciously until they become bitter in our collective mouth, there is a good chance it will fall out of use long before it becomes unnecessary.

In one sense, I’m already seeing the trend begin. Mike Breen’s post, Why the Missional Movement Will Fail is one example. In fairness, what I take Breen to be saying in his post is that we cannot focus on “doing” mission if we are not first pursuing discipleship – without discipleship our missional efforts will be empty, short-lived, and will ultimately fail, cut-off as they are from the source of our calling.

Perhaps our thoughts on this depend on what we mean by, and how we’re using, the word missional. Stated very briefly, missional means that the whole community of faith, not just a few special standouts, is called to live on mission with God. The concept is meaningless without discipleship – just as discipleship can easily become individualistic and theoretical without a missional orientation. Missional isn’t a doing focus – it is essentially about who we are; who we are called to be and formed into being by the one we want to be with and be like. We can’t really claim to BE these people if we fail to DO what such people are called to do…but the doing is a result of being, not the other way around.

We live this way, on mission with God, because we are the people of God. In this way our actions are in response to our calling and thus originate, not in our own awesomeness, but in the Divine Awesomitude.

Missional is more than a call to personal piety, activism, social justice, evangelism or discipleship – it encompasses all these aspects in a holistic call to the Way of Jesus, empowered by the Spirit in the midst of God’s mission of reconciliation…together, as the Body of Christ. Each disciple of Jesus, each person who bears the name “Christian,” is included in this call – not just those who attended seminary, have tons of free time to volunteer, enjoy teaching Sunday School, or set aside time in the summer for a mission trip to Mexico.

Sadly, as we consider the state of the Church in North America, missional is not yet a redundancy.

So what about the Bible? Is it right to refer to it as a missional text? Are we saying that every passage is a “missional passage?” What does that mean?

When I refer to the Bible as a missional text I’m claiming that:

– The metanarrative (overall story) of Scripture is about a missional God who creates as an act of love and hospitality. The brokenness and separation experienced in creation are not God’s doing – they are precisely that which God is undoing. As those created in God’s image, God is (and has been all along) inviting humanity to collaborate as junior co-creators in this mission of reconciliation. Make no mistake, it is God’s mission – but we are called to participation.

– The purpose of Scripture is to equip God’s people as those being called and sent together. This Story, like all truly great stories, aims to change those who hear it. But our transformation goes beyond personal piety or eternal destination…we are being pulled into the Story that transforms everything.

– Basically, I’m saying that God is actually up to something in this world; we – all of us – are called to play an active role in that something, and the Bible is the story of that something.

In this series of posts we’ll address: (these titles will become links once the posts are live)

What Difference Does it Make?

Streams of Missional Thought, pt 1

Streams of Missional Thought, pt 2

Really? Scripture is Missional? Have You Actually Read It?

Still…Judah and Tamar?? What the What?!?

I hope that this series will be helpful for ongoing conversations – and that you’ll be willing to engage some of that here on this page.

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From Theology to Practice

The Mission Alive video I recently participated in has been released. For those who aren’t aware, Mission Alive is a resource organization that collaborates with churches and church planters in order to plant new churches and revitalize established churches.

Mission Alive is committed to the idea of, as they say, “Moving from theology to practice.” Basically this means that our starting point in ministry/missional life is not “what works” but “how God is at work.” Theological reflection must then compel us into action…because that’s precisely what we find God doing.

Take a look at this short video and tell me what you think.

From Theology to Practice from Mission Alive on Vimeo.

From Theology to Practice

This morning I had the opportunity to take part in the filming of a new video for Mission Alive dealing with the issue of “Moving from Theology to Practice.” (Keep an eye out here and a Mission Alive’s website for the release of that video.) As is often the case, as I was driving back across the metroplex, I thought of a dozen things I wished I had said or said differently.

Partly this is because I felt a little disconnected and disjointed in my interview (we’ll see what wonders they are able to do in editing…) But the primary reason I couldn’t stop thinking of things I wish I’d said is that I believe this subject is So. Very. Important!

Much ink and perhaps a little blood has been shed over finding the “best practices” for ministry…and all too often those quests have been carried out with little thought given to the theological implications of our choices. Worse yet are the myriad of successful practices (where success = large crowds and financial support) built around anemic or just plain BAD theology (see Richard Beck’s excellent series on Why Bad Theologies are So Popular).

We often fail to see the ways in which the unreflective adoption of “best practices” can shape the way we view other people and even the way we view God.

In the case of “bad” theology the problems can run even deeper. Here’s a popular example (and one which I think many people are starting to see through): The loss of a loved one is deeply traumatic – all the more so when that loved one is young. In our attempts to console grieving family, statements are made, such as: “God just needed another angel.”

Aside from the fact that this statement completely misunderstands the origin of angels, it also says some very unsettling and incriminating things about God. It is even more unsettling when these types of statements are made from the “pulpit.” (Some may not agree with making a distinction between what a “normal” person says and what a “minister” claims – but that is simply the reality of the situation in traditionally structured churches.)

Beginning with best practices or unreflective theology works against the goal of cultivating faithful missional communities.

Additionally, it seems that a large number (I won’t pretend to know the percentage) of people involved in church planting are doing so from a largely reactionary and negative mindset. In this case, I don’t necessarily mean “negative” in the sense of having a sour attitude, but rather that our practices and our theology (even if its just implicit) are rooted in negating or reversing what someone else has done.

To be sure, there are some abuses of the past which should be reconciled or flat-out abandoned. However, in talking about moving from theology to practice, an inherent claim is that our thinking about God, faith, church, discipleship, worship, etc., should be generative (developed by what are we FOR because of the gospel vs. what we are against).

Think about it this way: When someone asks about your church planting (or your established context…or your personal faith – this holds true across contexts) how do you describe it? Do you begin with, “We/I aren’t so focused on _____” or “We’re/I’m trying to get away from _____”?

These statements may have their place – particularly when they’re used to clarify false-assumptions about the nature of our community. However, when they become the language of vision casting (formal or informal), warning sirens should begin going off in our heads.

The question that needs more attention in these situations is, “Okay, so what ARE you/AM I about?”

One thing I appreciate about Mission Alive’s approach is the steady commitment to deal substantively with this question – BEFORE formulating a strategy for church planting.

A couple years ago I read John Patton’s From Ministry to Theology. Patton states, “Christian ministry involves not only understanding what we do in light of our faith, but also understanding our faith in the light of what we do.” It is in the context of our dealings with others that our theology is able to be fleshed out and incarnated. I’ve begun incorporating this insight into my own work and teaching – We move from ministry to theology to practice.

This is not referring to ministry as an official position of leadership in a church – I mean ministry as engaging in concern, care and service within an actual place with actual people.

Theology, if it is going to lead to healthy practice, must be contextual theology – it is rooted in what God is up to IN THIS PLACE. To be sure there are cosmic elements to our theology (things that transcend time and place) but even they have contextual implications.

The people we encounter, the trials we go through and the victories we witness are able (if we’re willing to reflect carefully) to shed light on our theology, just as our theology sheds light on them. In her book Teaching From the Heart, Mary Elizabeth Moore addresses the value of case studies in religious education. One significant point in the book is her reminder that there is truth to be found in the case itself – not just in what we bring to it. When our eyes are open to what is happening around us, we begin to realize that God is indeed still at work in this world – and lo-and-behold, God’s actions are still able communicate truth.

I recognize that many people are hesitant to engage in theological reflection. I’ve heard a number of people say, “that’s for academics – my calling is in the field.” Or others are suspicious of the whole process: “I just read the Bible and do what it says.” I vividly remember a conversation I had at a fast food restaurant with a friend who said, “Well, you know I’m able to hear from God more clearly than you because you’ve read what other people have said about it – but I just read the Bible.”

It wasn’t the first time I’ve heard that, but was the first time I heard it from a friend in such a matter-of-fact, non-accusatory way. It was just common knowledge that those who engage in theological reflection – especially if they’ve studied theology -simply can’t hear from the Spirit.

This same struggle has been played out for years between “academics” and “practitioners.” I remember in seminary the tension between those who were preparing for academic careers / PhD studies and those who were preparing to serve as preachers or other local church ministries. One group says the other is too lazy to do the hard work of real substantial theology, while the other group lobs back accusations of being disconnected from the “real life of faith.” (And of course both groups agreed that the missions majors were just plain weird.)

Aside from being a ridiculous game among privileged students (which unfortunately grows into a ridiculous game between privileged professionals) – this whole debate misses anything resembling the point. This isn’t an either/or issue. We cannot hope to cultivate healthy communities of faith without both theological reflection and practical ministry. They are two sides of the same coin – each leading to further insight in the other.

This isn’t to say that we all have to read Barth’s Dogmatics once a year (to my non-nerd friends, Dogmatics is the theological equivalent of War and Peace…great stuff but not a beach-read by any stretch).

However, we must come to grips with the reality that what we do (or choose not to do) will inevitably communicate something about who we believe God to be… At the very least we should pause to think about what that might be.

To be as clear as possible, I’m not simply talking to those who’ve spent the last 14 years pursuing degrees in ministry like this one insane guy I know. Taking the move from theology to practice seriously doesn’t require the ability to read Greek or Hebrew, quote your favorite theologian or describe the history of theological development in the church. (Though, contrary to my fast-food companion, I still think these are valuable contributions to the conversation.)

Theological reflection should inform our practice, it should be considered from within a local context and it is best approached in community. Our churches should be communities of theological discernment – with each disciple contributing the gifts and resources they possess to the process. Theologies which are formed in private can have a tendency to represent our own personal preferences and idiosyncrasies more than the movement of God in this place.

I didn’t really have time, and the context didn’t really allow for me to get into all this in the video…and I expect that about 10 minutes after this is posted I’ll begin thinking of other things I wish I’d said or said differently in this post. But…its a start.

In the meantime, I’d love for others to weigh in on the topic.

Anybody?…

Is Theology Even Important?

So I just finished posting the transcript of a podcast which describes a missional theology – or perhaps a part of one anyway. And the question that comes up in some conversations is, “Why does it matter?”
I’ve gone back and forth on how to begin a response to this question because I don’t want to sound like I’m going on a rampage against anyone…not today anyway. 🙂
So I’ll say this. I know many, well meaning people who love God and in whom I see the hand of God at work, who for several reasons find discussions or articulations of intentional theology to be a waste of time. My concern isn’t that they don’t have a theology, because everyone does. Theology is “God talk” – its what we believe about God and what God is up to in this place.
What worries me is that the opposite of intentional theology isn’t no theology, its unintentional theology. A recent conversation with an old friend reminded me of this point. He was describing how an acquaintance recently tweeted about God blessing his new business. My friend noted that this person was already very blessed materially and seems to be content with God continuing to bless him more without any concern for the difficult state of others. My friend made a comment to the effect of, “So why does God care about giving this guy more than he needs when other people have nothing?”
Of course, this is only a sound byte of the conversation. From the larger story, it doesn’t sound like the guy is a terribly greedy person who thinks he should have everyone else’s stuff. However, I do think that there are some consequences at play from unintentional theology. The guy, raised under the “personal relationship with Jesus” mantra seems to have no paradigm for how Jesus’ ministry of reconciliation has anything to do with the plight of others. Jesus came to earth so that I can be saved and salvation is about me going to heaven when I die.
I’ve written and talked about this topic before, so I won’t get on a soapbox. The point here isn’t about the rightness or wrongness of this theology; the point is that, without thinking through the implications of our beliefs, our practice is effected without us even realizing it.
Here is why I believe it is important for the church – even decentralized, organic churches without the resources to pay “professional” theologians – to take theology seriously. If practicing the Way of Christ is our goal, then we need to be serious about considering the ways in which our beliefs about God and Christ lead to (or away from) practice.
I spend a good deal of time with folks who do not consider themselves Christians. It has happened, and I believe it will continue to happen, that these friends see something authentic in our commitment to God, to them and to one another and are drawn to our community.
I don’t think it is necessary for us to form a Christ Journey 101 class that lays out our written systematic theology. Most of these folks would head for the hills as soon as it was suggested. I do believe that, like the disciples of Jesus, we learn in process, as we go along. Learning doesn’t have to take place in a classroom or through a formal curriculum. That doesn’t mean that it should happen on accident or without thought.
Neil Cole, author of Organic Church, Church 3.0 and several others, is a proponent of rapid church multiplication. In his model, which is highly successful in what it sets out to do, new faith communities are started through an incredibly grassroots oriented movement and spread into new homes and coffee shops like wildfire. Leadership is very decentralized (even more so than in our context) and, in fact, he notes that it is common for churches to be born without any awareness of the church planter who “started” the movement…perhaps just a few months and few blocks away.
He has been asked about heresy in this movement, since there is little accountability outside of the small local group which may be comprised completely of new disciples. His response seems, to me anyway, to be very dismissive. He points out that heresy is more common in highly centralized structures because that is where someone who is seeking power can find it concentrated in one place. Decentralized movements are less prone, in his argument, because these power-seeking leaders don’t have a large group of people to influence. Thus, the leaders may take a small group off in a strange direction, but they don’t have a huge crowd to follow them and the heresy, in effect, dies out.
I see his point, in many aspects, it makes sense. I’ve seen the way that certain kinds of unhealthy people seem to seek out positions of power to launch empire building schemes…and I don’t think they’d get much satisfaction attempting that with Christ Journey!
And yet, there are a couple major flaws in Cole’s assessment. His assumption seems to indicate that bad theology is the result of a dangerous person with an agenda. That isn’t always the case. Each of us have some levels of bad theology we’re working through and there are scores of well meaning people with unintentional theologies pulling them in directions that move them away from active participation in God’s mission. It is our connection to the larger community, including but also beyond the friends who gather in our living room from week to week, that allows to hold our beliefs AND actions up for discernment, consideration and continued formation.
If the assumption is that people are blank slates and a simple reading of the Bible, with no outside influence is going to lead to healthy discipleship…I think Cole has missed out on the warning of history.
We all have theological assumptions (good and bad), whether we were raised in a Christian church or not. People in the Bible belt may have heard the “personal relationship with Jesus” mantra. They may believe that God is merely a vending machine for all our wants and wishes. They didn’t put money in the machine before because they thought it was empty, but now that they’re starting to believe…its time to find that roll of quarters. I have several friends who haven’t attended a Christian worship gathering in years (and who only went before that because their parents carried them kicking and screaming) and others that have never “gone to church” who, when they do talk about faith, do so in these terms.
My friends who have been missionaries in Africa talk about the difficulty they had in getting African converts to stop worshiping their ancestors. Studies in the history of African missions (and early missions to North and South America) are full of warnings against colonial approaches that simply transplant Western Christian theology, dress and church polity over the old “pagan stuff.” It doesn’t work.
However, the answer can’t be to simply ignore both the old theologies and new ones and just hope something good comes about. We have to think carefully about our beliefs and their necessary actions; every context is cross-cultural and demands that we treat it with respect and careful consideration. We must ask, “What is the Gospel in this place?” That question will get us nowhere if it is a strategic marketing consideration. It is deeply theological. It gets to the very essence of “God-talk.” What is God’s message of reconciliation to these people? Where is the darkness that is pregnant with anticipation for the light? What are the ancient infected wounds that pump toxin into the system generation after generation? What strongholds of the old kingdom are cowering in a dark corner, praying that the Kingdom of Light doesn’t discover their presence?
These questions are not best answered in a lab, by the scholar’s pen or in a seminary classroom. They are answered by the community of light that is following Jesus into that darkness. And they are questions of theology.
My other concern with Cole’s laissez faire approach to theology and discipleship is that it seems to put rapid multiplication of churches ahead of people; ahead of reconciling the brokenness in the world. This seems odd, given that it is a highly relational context that emphasizes the ability of everyone to read the gospel and put it into practice. However, what if, instead of patiently walking with and instructing the struggling early church, Paul had decided, “Meh, they won’t affect that many people anyway.”
This mindset in effect says that if people are led into some unhealthy theology, its their own fault for listening to bad information…and there are a million other bodies to take their place. I’m not sure that this is significantly different from the modern church that sees each family as a “contributing unit.”
Is the mission of God to start new churches or to inaugurate a new kingdom and a new life? If it is the former, then theology isn’t that important. Just organize folks around the Bible, call them a church and who cares what happens next. However, if the point is new life with a whole new paradigm of what’s up and what’s down, then a more intentional process may be warranted. We are learning to think in new ways, spend money in new ways, interact with neighbors in new ways. If just putting a Bible in people’s hands and calling it victory was sufficient, the Gideons would have completed this task years ago. In case you’re wondering, that’s a gross oversimplification for emphasis, and I feel like I should acknowledge that there is a lot to commend in the work of Neil Cole. He is a leader in the movement to reclaim Christianity as a way of life which engages and embraces God’s Kingdom breaking into this world…
I think there is still a great need for intentional theology that is processed and discerned in the midst of the community of faith. Perhaps what we’ve reacted to are propositions formed in “the ivory tower” that are passed down to be accepted blindly by the masses. Many of us have a strong reaction to rigid hierarchical leadership that, again disseminates the accepted beliefs everyone must uphold, though from the pulpit rather than a distant headquarter.
However, I think that what we’re struggling against here are forms of leadership rather than the need for theology. We who are attempting to follow Jesus into the dark places are more in need of clear theology than those who see their role as simply filling a pew. When people ask us why we put the grill in the front yard, our answer (whether they or we realize) is deeply theological. That answer says something significant to what we believe about God. We need intentional theology.
And we also need good healthy leadership. As much as we may think we want to, we can’t get away from either. So, on Monday, I’m going to post a few thoughts about leadership. I’d love to hear your thoughts on the relationship between theology and leadership. Specifically, I’ll be wrestling with the common assumption that our preachers, teachers and theologians are the primary leaders in our churches, precisely because of their role as teacher. Is that the best approach?
It may be that our resident theologians help guide discernment as participants in the conversation rather than as the authoritative leader. What if the role of preaching, teaching and theologizing was not where we understood the locus of leadership to reside? What say you?

a Missional Theology: part 3

I recently posted a podcast at our new site – http://www.MissionalMonks.com – titled “a missional theology,” which addresses my understanding of who we are called to be as God’s people. I decided to post the transcript of that podcast here. Its a little long, so it’ll show up as a series of three posts (this is the final of the three).


Note that its entitled “a” missional theology…not “the” missional theology. What I attempted to describe are some basic understandings of functioning as God’s community of ambassadors to all creation. There is plenty of room here for the different denominational distinctions and doctrines – I didn’t even try to get in to all the finer points of systematic theology here. So, if you think that something I added is wrong, please feel free to open dialog. If you think I left something out…I did. Add it and serve faithfully.

If you aren’t interested in reading 3500 words over three posts, you can listen to nearly the identical thing at missionalmonks.com – the “music” player is in the left hand column – its just under 30 mins including the intro (shorter than most of my sermons…). Whether you read or listen, I’d love your feedback.

Towards a Missional Theology
part 3

Broken or not, we are created in the image of God and I think one of the great examples of human pride is the false belief that there is anything we could have done (like the concept of original sin and total depravity) that could ever completely destroy what God placed in our very essence.

We are not God. We are broken and fall very much short of our ideal, but we still carry within us the image of the Divine Creator. Because of this, our identity is formed not only by our difference from God but also by what we’ve seen God at work doing, who we’ve seen God revealed to be.

Before the beginning God existed as a complete Community of Love. Unlike the claims of some religions that hold the beliefs that the gods need human worshippers to maintain their power, we worship the God who needed nothing. The Father, Son and Holy Spirit share in a fully contained and unified community of Love. The full understanding the Trinity is certainly beyond us. But this much is clear, one cannot love without an object to receive love. Unlike us, God needs no external object because the Father loves the Son and Spirit, The Son loves the Father and Spirit and the Spirit loves the Father and Son. And yet, the nature of love is to make room for others to experience loving community and so God created. And when God created, God made room at the table for creation. However, this is not a story of a wealthy landowner simply throwing occasional parties at his mansion. Time and time again we see that God is not only willing, but apparently anxious to be out in the midst of those God loves.

Communitas
I am grateful to Alan Hirsch for introducing me to the word communitas. It is a latin word that refers to community which develops and is cultivated among people who have a shared struggle, ordeal or mission. Like sports teams that endure long difficult seasons, or soldiers who share a foxhole, communitas refers to that bond that comes from being in a place where you have no choice but to depend on those around you. We see this in the very nature of the Triune God. Be it the act of creation or the redemption of creation through the cross, we find Father, Son and Spirit with a shared mission and apparently even a shared struggle. It doesn’t take away from God’s greatness to acknowledge struggle – because the struggle doesn’t come from God’s inability to overcome, but rather from God’s willingness to neither overwhelm creation nor abandon it.

If we are the people of God, created in God’s image, then communitas is going to be a vital component of our lives. When it isn’t, we know something is missing. This is part of why both gangs and fraternities are so popular – whether they are healthy or not, they are an experience of communitas. I also think this is why buddy movies, war movies, sports movies are so captivating – they tap into our desire to go through something significant with others.

Hospitality
Because God, the Community of Love, not only created us but made space for us within the Community, we see the importance and even centrality of hospitality. When we trace the story of Scripture we see over and again that God welcomes us into his presence. We see God clothing the naked and even the poorly clothed like Adam and Eve. We see God feeding the children of Israel as they wandered in the wilderness. We see Jesus feeding the multitudes, washing the disciples’ feet and going to prepare a place for us in his father’s home. (Which by the way, is a reference to ancient marriage customs…where a betrothed male would actually build a room for he and his future wife onto his father’s house. He would continue working on the room until the father decided it was ready to be inhabited and then the father would send the son to get his bride). Throughout the old testament we find God instructing the Israelites that they were to be people of hospitality – welcoming the stranger into their homes, making sure that foreigners and the poor were taken care of, even ensuring that they’d have a place at the annual feasts. Hospitality is a central component to the revealed nature of God and is a vital piece of identity for the people of God.

Hospitality means so much more than just inviting our friends to our house for dinner. It literally means to welcome the stranger…and if we take Jesus seriously, it will also include loving and welcoming even our enemies. It means caring for the poor. It means remembering those who are overlooked and forgotten by society. It means that we are a community that practices the customs of the new Kingdom, the Kingdom of God that is here but still coming. It means that we should live in a way that seems radical and even foolish in our get ahead at all costs society.

Missional Living
But again, God doesn’t merely welcome us in, God comes to us and brings his peace with him. In addition to hospitality we see that God is the preeminent missionary. In other words, from the very beginning to the very end and everywhere in between, God is not content to sit in heaven and watch our lives from a distance. God draws near. God sets up his tent among us. In Exodus we read about the Tabernacle. It was basically a large tent that the Israelites carried around with them. The Tabernacle represented God’s presence with the Israelites.

Several years ago I realized that in the Gospel of John when it is says that Jesus made his dwelling among us, the Greek word used is the word for tabernacle. In other words, like God with the Israelites, Jesus set up his tent in our midst…as Eugene Peterson says it in the Message, Jesus moved into the neighborhood. The cool thing is that when you read Revelation 21 – the end our Scriptures. It says that when everything is finally brought to its culmination, the new Jerusalem will come DOWN out of heaven and God will dwell with his people. Again the word is tabernacle. The dwelling of God will be with his people. From the beginning, to Jesus’ life to the culmination of all things, God chooses to come down and tabernacle with us.

How can we choose anything different? If we are God’s people, formed in the image of God we must seek to cultivate communitas – which means that our life in God will not be carried out alone but in community. We must be a people of hospitality, welcoming the stranger. But we must also be a missional people – a community sent out by God to dwell among the people, among creation, in the dark places where the light needs to break in.

These six things: discipleship, spiritual formation and worship because we are not God and communitas, hospitality and missional living because we are created in the image of God, are not meant to be the final formula to fix the churches problems. However, I contend that if we, as a church, can live into these principles we will find that we are in a place where we are more likely to witness God at work, praise God for what we see and answer the call to go and do likewise.

a Missional Theology: part 2

I recently posted a podcast at our new site – http://www.MissionalMonks.com – titled “a missional theology,” which addresses my understanding of who we are called to be as God’s people. I decided to post the transcript of that podcast here. Its a little long, so it’ll show up as a series of three posts (this is part 2 of 3).


Note that its entitled “a” missional theology…not “the” missional theology. What I attempted to describe are some basic understandings of functioning as God’s community of ambassadors to all creation. There is plenty of room here for the different denominational distinctions and doctrines – I didn’t even try to get in to all the finer points of systematic theology here. So, if you think that something I added is wrong, please feel free to open dialog. If you think I left something out…I did. Add it and serve faithfully.

If you aren’t interested in reading 3500 words over three posts, you can listen to nearly the identical thing at missionalmonks.com – the “music” player is in the left hand column – its just under 30 mins including the intro (shorter than most of my sermons…). Whether you read or listen, I’d love your feedback.

Towards a Missional Theology
part 2


Discipleship
And so, because we are not God and in too many ways we are not like God, we are called to discipleship in the way of Jesus – which teaches us, conforms us, transforms us not into gods…but more fully into our humanity, which was created in the image of God. Discipleship is more than just Christian education. Learning what the Bible says is a fundamental aspect of our life…but merely knowing Scripture does not make you a disciple any more than knowing the menu at a fancy restaurant makes you a chef.

This may sound obvious, but experience suggests that it might not be. I was raised in a culture that seemed to equate bible knowledge with being a good Christian. We seemed to think that if we could just raise the level of biblical literacy then all our problems would be solved. I began to suspect this wasn’t the case as I got to know some pretty nasty individuals who could quote whole books of the Bible.

Discipleship should certainly include a familiarity and love for Scripture, but it must go beyond that. Discipleship is about committing our lives – every aspect of our lives – to learning the way of the one we follow. Like an apprentice to a master we learn the way of our teacher not just so that we’ll know what they know, but so that we can do what they do.

Becoming a disciple carries a recognition that we are not a master, but what kind of apprentice would attach themselves to a master if they never had any intention of taking on the master’s trade? That isn’t a disciple. That’s a groupie.

So being a disciple will entail regular excursions into the realm where our master is at work. We’ll be uncomfortable at first, but we keep pressing on. Periodically we withdraw to process, rest and prepare for our next adventure. But these periods of rest should follow and precede engagement, they shouldn’t exist to simulate or worse, replace, them.

I love the TV show Scrubs…no apologies, I love that show. There is an episode that guest stars Dick Van Dyke as an extremely well-loved older doctor. There is a point in the show where it becomes apparent that he simply hasn’t kept up with the advancements in medicine through the years. His practice was stagnant and because of that it actually put a patient in danger.

There is a great need for practice. I don’t mean practice in the way that the Dallas Cowboys really need to practice more during the week. But practice in the way a doctor practices medicine. As Scrubs reminds us, we need ongoing practice in our practice, continuing ed credits as my teacher friends are familiar with.

In addition to our need for discipleship, we who are not God and are thus finite and imperfect, need a set of spiritual practices that keep us grounded in a rhythm of connection to God and the world. This spiritual formation goes hand in hand with discipleship.

Spiritual Formation
Spiritual formation has been very important to me for a long time. I absolutely love opportunities to help others learn and embrace practices that can have a lifelong impact on their spiritual health. BUT I’d be a big fat liar if I pretended that my deep interest in spiritual formation didn’t come, at least somewhat, from my own need for formation. I have a theory that for many of us, the things in faith that we are most drawn to often come not from a place of abundance but a place of poverty. I love prayer and meditating on scripture, but I am so prone to stumble through my life dealing with whatever is right in front of me. With all honesty I will admit that without serious intentionality – and usually unless I have friends helping me – I will go days, even weeks without any significant time spent in prayer or reading scripture outside of preparing to help someone else.

But I can say with a tremendous degree of confidence that you can trace many of my highs and lows spiritually by tracking how intentional I was about cultivating spiritual practices at that time.

Christians throughout the ages have referred to an intentional plan or rhythm of spiritual formation as a Rule of Life. Whether you call it that or not, if you are not God, a Rule of Life is an important aspect of faith that many of us are missing out on. I’ve only recently come to realize the value of developing a communal Rule in addition to a personal one. I can’t say that we’re models of this, but some of us in Christ Journey have experienced the benefit of ordering our life in connection with others; joining one another in a rhythm of prayer, scripture reading, service to others and shared meals. Not all of our spiritual formation looks that “spiritual” on the outside. I’ve found that committing myself to a place – such as my favorite booth at Denny’s – on a regular basis has opened up unbelievable doors for my own spiritual formation – in addition to placing me in the midst of God’s work in others’ lives.

Because we are not God. Because we’ve seen the master at work as we’ve engaged in discipleship. Because we’ve reflected on God’s greatness in the midst of our spiritual formation. Because we’ve opened our eyes, just a little, to see what God is doing all around us, the other natural response is worship.

Worship
Some say worship is where we go to get recharged as Christians. Sure that is sometimes the case. But worship is not about me getting my batteries charged – in fact, if we follow Jesus’ example, our batteries will be charged as we do God’s will…as we follow our master into his workshop and join him in his craft. Worship, properly understood, is where we respond the charging we’ve received. It is where we share stories of the master at work with one another, where we debrief by telling the tales of a God who is not like us, but has invited us into community nonetheless. Worship is where we shout with joy for the great things we’ve witnessed, weep together over the brokenness that has yet to be healed and approach God on behalf that brokenness.

This doesn’t only take place in a “worship gathering” – though I’ve come to appreciate those times so much more as I’ve slowly learned that they aren’t about the worship style, location or presentation.

Worship takes place anytime we are moved to respond to God – in praise, thanksgiving or lament.

It is important that we remember we are not God. It is important that we commit ourselves to discipleship, spiritual formation and worship BECAUSE we are not God. However, if we only recall how we are not like God, we miss out on the greatness of what we are created to be.

to be continued…

a Missional Theology: part 1

I recently posted a podcast at our new site – http://www.MissionalMonks.com – titled “a missional theology,” which addresses my understanding of who we are called to be as God’s people. I decided to post the transcript of that podcast here. Its a little long, so it’ll show up as a series of three posts.


Note that its entitled “a” missional theology…not “the” missional theology. What I attempted to describe are some basic understandings of functioning as God’s community of ambassadors to all creation. There is plenty of room here for the different denominational distinctions and doctrines – I didn’t even try to get in to all the finer points of systematic theology here. So, if you think that something I added is wrong, please feel free to open dialog. If you think I left something out…I did. Add it and serve faithfully.

If you aren’t interested in reading 3500 words over three posts, you can listen to nearly the identical thing at missionalmonks.com – the “music” player is in the left hand column – its just under 30 mins including the intro (shorter than most of my sermons…). Whether you read or listen, I’d love your feedback.

Toward a Missional Theology
Over the last couple years I’ve been working on a degree in evangelism and missional leadership from SMU. It has been an awesome experience and I’ve really enjoyed the diversity of folks I’ve been blessed to study with. I’m usually the youngest in the class, usually one of the only (if not THE only) white males and so far I’ve been the only one who would be described as a “missional church planter.”
So I’ve had anything but the experience of sitting in a room with people just like me, telling each other what we want to hear to feel better about who we are and what we do.
I’ve learned a lot by listening to the struggles and questions of folks in contexts that appear so very different from my own. When they ask me to describe my context, it isn’t usually very easy to do. Partially this is because “my context” changes pretty regularly. At one point I would have basically described us as a typical non-denominational suburban store front church that was trying very hard to keep our focus outside of ourselves, but not succeeding very well. At some points I’d have described us as a small group of shell shocked survivors huddling in a living room. Sometimes we’re a vibrant community of families serving our neighbors. Sometimes, we’re a haphazard collection of individuals wanting to experience an authentic connection with others, but unsure how to escape the individualism we’ve all been raised in.
At our best, I think we are a community of disciples in process who sense that church as usual just isn’t cutting it. But rather than defining ourselves over against traditional church, we’re seeking to emulate Jesus by living more fully into our lives. We’re committed to living the gospel in the midst of the suburban disconnect. Proclaiming gospel isn’t about getting someone to join our club. Its about getting our club to join God in the ministry of reconciling the brokenness we see all around us.
In some ways our context is hard to describe because we are exploring territory that hasn’t had many visitors recently. Yet, we aren’t really trying to be novel. We’re trying to faithful to God and the mission that God has entrusted to us, the ambassadors and image-bearers of the Triune God.
So, I’ve spent a lot of time thinking, reading, praying and discussing what it means to be church. I’ve gained a lot of understanding from reading Exodus, the prophets and the Gospels – even though I was trained (implicitly if not explicitly in church growing up and in seminary as well) to look to Paul as the primary source of insight for church organization.
Authors such as Alan Hirsch and Mike Frost, who wrote The Forgotten Ways…and numerous other books – Hugh Halter and Matt Smay have also been very helpful. Jonathan Wilson-Hartgrove and the new monastics have helped me think more specifically about the role of community in our development of whole life faith.
Really where these authors have been the most help is in painting a picture and providing language to describe what we see in the text when we stop reading through the lens of the empire.
In many ways and for many years, I believe that our reading of scripture has been heavily influenced by Christianity’s way to comfortable relationship and even identification with the dominant culture. I think this is problematic. It is very hard to take to heart Scriptures admonition against the powerful and God’s overwhelming consistency of siding with the oppressed when we’re associated with the powerful oppressors.
Take the Scriptural concept of “The Day of the Lord.” For those who have been oppressed, the day of the Lord is an event to be looked forward to with great anticipation because it is the day of deliverance and justice. For those who have been guilty of oppressing others, it is a day to fear greatly for the same reason. But we don’t ever like to assume that we are the ones being prophesied against…we never associate ourselves with the Pharisees. And so the Day of the Lord becomes about judgement to those outside of our group. We can oppress, neglect or ignore people all we want, so long as we show up for church, don’t cheat on our spouse and sign off on the doctrinal statements that our group feels are most important. God sides with the weak, the overlooked and forgotten. If we want to find ourselves on God’s side, sitting in a comfortable worship assembly completely oblivious to the darkness all around us may not be the best strategy.
As I’ve thought about what it means to be God’s people – the church – I find myself returning to passages like Genesis 1-2 quite often. Those of you who know me are probably used to hearing me comment on the paradoxical descriptions of God in these two chapters.
In chapter 1 of Genesis we read of a God who is anything but like one of us. In fact there are very few things in this chapter that seem to describe God in even remotely human concepts. The Spirit of God hovers over the waters, which gives us the impression that God IS somewhere and isn’t just a concept. God speaks, implying a voice and the ability to make sounds…which we can do. Beyond that, this Being, whatever he, she, they, it is…it isn’t one of us.
And yet, in Chapter 2 God is described in a very different way. Still great. Still mighty. Still in charge. But also familiar. Intimate. Like a father – the good kind of father, not the abusive absentee ones that some people have experienced.
This God walks in the Garden, kneels in the dirt, forms a body and breathes life into its nostrils. This God walks with his children, talks to them and empowers them with productive tasks to accomplish.
This may be the most simplistic and obvious statement I could make, but it strikes me that in some ways we are like this God…but we are not this God. I think, however, that it is very important for us to remember to keep both of these truths in front of us. If we forget that we are not God all kinds of things go wrong – Scripture, human history and personal experience will all attest to that!
to be continued…
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