As I mentioned in my previous post, I didn’t know Jon Huckins before picking up Thin Places a couple months ago. I drove Rachel a little crazy as I read her passages from the book. I’d come running into the living room, “This section is almost exactly the same as the beginning of the theological foundations chapter in my dissertation!” …and then she would sit patiently as I read paragraph after paragraph. She said, “Sounds like you two would get along really well.”
The copy of the book I purchased also came with a DVD of video vignettes for each chapter. These excellent clips provide a fantastic glimpse into the content of the book, but also into the hearts and lives that fill the pages the pages. The book’s publisher, The House Studio, has made the following available to the public…so I’ll share it with you here.
I was very excited when Jon not only accepted my Facebook friend request, but generously agreed to respond to some questions about Thin Places.
So, without further ado, blah blah blah, here we go.
Bret: In our experience, many (though certainly not all) Christians who are drawn toward more decentralized approaches to faith are often carrying a lot of “rejecting the structure” baggage.
This becomes a lens through which they filter so much of what they encounter. The “I’m done with organized religion” statement can become a rejection of anything that reminds them of past structures. Have you seen this as well? If so, what has been most helpful in assisting them toward a generative rather than negating outlook (focusing on what they ARE about rather than what they are NOT about).
Jon: Yes, this is certainly a reality we have experienced quite often in our time of forming missional-monastic communities that look quite different than the traditional church structures many of us have experienced.
While the discontent did give birth to much needed renewal and new life in the Church, it is certainly not sustainable, nor the point of forming missional-monastic community. Something we have focused on is being constructive rather than deconstructive, while celebrating and supporting the Church in all her forms.
A movement can’t move if it is primarily based on dissatisfaction. We must be fueled out of a holy satisfaction that comes out of people living as they have been called to live for the good of the world. Also, as we have rooted in neighborhood and invited non-churched people into our communities, the DNA of our communities has evolved to being more concerned with who we are than who we aren’t.
Bret: I love the idea you describe of radical invitation. In particular, the story of Darren and LaDonna struck chords of harmony with our own experiences. It is so easy to get stuck in between – where our friends have come to trust a community of Christ followers, but have remained hesitant about jumping in wholeheartedly as disciples themselves. What would you say to those who are simply afraid to extend that invitation out of fear that it will “scare off” their friends?
Jon: I think a lot of it has to do with transparency and identity. If we are going to cultivate relationships that allow for shared life and mutual invitation, we have to be transparent about how we live and who we are living for. That’s where identity comes in. If I am first a follower of Jesus and second part of a community that is committed to following in his ways together my whole reality is shaped around that. In the same way that I would want my friend to be transparent about the stuff that matters most in their life, I must offer them the same. From our experience, people are more intrigued by the particularity and intentionality of our way of life than scared off by it.
Bret: In the chapter on contending, you talk about a commitment to “gently calling one another out” when habits of communication tear down rather than build up. How does this translate into situations with those who have deep seated emotional problems or even mental illnesses which make healthy communication difficult?
Jon: Great question and one that probably needs individual attention for each person and community that is experiencing their unique realities. With that said, a big piece of covenanting to a missional-monastic community is the discernment process that precedes commitment. There needs to be space and expectation that each person will be open with their community about what they bring to the table (strengths, weaknesses, disabilities). At that point all know what they are committing to as a community and can better navigate those realities when they inevitably come up in the life of a community.
Bret: Does NieuCommunities have any collaborative or even conversational relationships with more traditional, “brick and mortar” oriented churches in the community? If so, how have these relationships been cultivated?
Jon: Absolutely! In fact, these relationships are some of the ones that bring us the most joy and fulfillment. As I mentioned earlier, we seek to value the church in all her forms. We certainly don’t have a corner on the market and are committed to remain in a posture of humility and listening. There are about five churches in and around our neighborhood who we consistently support and partner with. In fact, we have been able to act as a neutral presence of sorts and regularly instigate gatherings where we all worship, equip and encourage one another under the same roof. Rob, who wrote much of Thin Places alongside of me, personally coaches a handful of the local pastors in our city.
I’m very grateful to Jon for his responses. Hopefully we’ll have more opportunities for dialog in the future. I encourage you to pick up a copy of Thin Places for yourself. In the next brief series of posts we’ll stay with the theme of cultivating and sustaining a healthy missional culture by discussing JR Woodward’s fantastic book, Creating Missional Culture.
I saw the marketing table set up at the Sentralized Conference in Kansas City. I’d never heard of Jon Huckins (which is fine, I’m sure he’d never heard of me either), and I hadn’t heard of this book. But with a title like Thin Places: 6 Postures for Creating and Practicing Missional Community, how could I not be intrigued?
I began digging for my wallet as soon as I read the back cover…”Joining the concepts of monasticism and mission, authors Jon Huckins and Rob Yackley will walk you through the six postures of missional formation: listening, submerging, inviting, contending, imagining, and entrusting.”
Missional Monks unite!!
Yes, I confess that I was hooked by keyword marketing…but I’m not sorry. I encourage you to check out the NieuCommunities website to learn more about these folks and their ongoing task of cultivating missional disciples in monastic community. This book does an excellent job of combining clear reasoning and instruction with well told narratives of a life lived in community with others. It doesn’t cut corners to paint a utopian picture; it doesn’t hold back from the messiness and struggle involved.
The six postures the book describes are more than “keys to missional effectiveness.” They describe an intentionality in rhythm and structure that facilitates community, missional engagement, spiritual formation and growth. An excellent treatise against any who would claim that structure stifles the movement of the Spirit, this book describes how the members of NieuCommunities are more attuned to the moment precisely because of the rhythms and postures they’ve adopted.
The Six Postures
Living as a community of Jesus’s apprentices who are being formed and seeking to form others, it is imperative for us to enter the path of formation by listening to God through our communities (both intentional and local contexts) and ourselves. As a missional community seeking to engage our local contexts with the good news of Jesus, we choose to view our neighborhoods and our cities as our classrooms. (p 32)
When we give ourselves fully to God, we begin to see and experience the dynamic mystery and identity of one who is inviting us into his story. When we give ourselves to each other, we begin to realize that relationships are designed to be much more than talks about the weather or to be used for personal gain. When we submerge into our context, we see that the story we have been told to believe about our neighbors, politics, and economy is far from reality. (p 48)
Practicing the postures of listening and then submerging into our context prepares us to engage the third posture – inviting – with softer hearts and more intimate understanding. In the inviting posture, we learn to tell our stories, tell the story of God, and invite those with whom we have come into relationship into both. People are invited into our lives and faith journey by being welcomed into our homes, small groups, community meals, and worship gatherings. (p 66)
The problem [with issues of injustice in the world] is that they can be so overwhelming that we choose to simply go about our routines and ignore the areas of brokenness and injustice that surround us. However, while simply ignoring those who are in need is tempting and far too culturally acceptable, our role as God’s people is to step into these stories and contend for those who are broken, hurting, and alone. We are to be the manifestation of the good news brought about with the arrival of God’s kingdom. (p 86)
The imagining posture is not one of fairy tales and science fiction. There are no glass slippers or alternate realities. The divine imagination allows us to see things as they really are – to engage reality in the way Jesus desired when he announced a new kingdom and a new way of life…In this posture we desire to discern God’s call on our lives, to live into our role as co-creators, and to see in our mind’s eye the kind of transformational faith community God wants us to pursue. (p 115-116)
When we catch a vision of what God has for his people, we can’t help but entrust ourselves to it by stepping forward as sent ones. In this posture, we desire to entrust people to God, celebrate their new or renewed understanding of God’s call on their lives, and lean confidently into the future. Without sending, our transformation is incomplete: it is where everything falls into place, and it moves us from speaking about it to living it out. (p 132-133)
Some things stand out as one progresses through the list of postures. Firstly, “posture” is a very appropriate term. A book written from other contexts might refer to values, practices, characteristics, keys, etc.
The reason posture is so powerful is that it simultaneously conveys both reflection and action. An intentional posture allows for both giving and receiving while simultaneously conveying a sense of readiness and anticipation. And it also reminds us that our structures and practices serve our calling and mission – not the other way around.
The stories of how these postures find expression in the real, actual lives of real, actual people in a real, actual community are really what set this book apart from many others. Stories of risk, adventure, transformation are set in an astoundingly normal – and yet profoundly abnormal – landscape. Look long enough and you’ll see that the extraordinary actually resides just below the surface of the mundane…the same mundane that too often slips by unnoticed outside each of our doors.
NieuCommunities is described as a community of discipleship and disciple training. Far from the inwardly-focused approach often found in churches, people are equipped for ministry in the neighborhood, in order to serve wherever they may go – not to simply for the self-preservation of the local system. Apprentices are given a chance to experience community, cultivate spiritual disicplines and missional engagement, and receive coaching/spiritual direction along the way. Rather than trying to hoard all these gifted people in one place, NieuCommunities celebrates occasions when these apprentices are sent out by the Holy Spirit to listen and submerge into new contexts, contend with new issues, imagine and invite new possibilities and entrust themselves to God’s outcomes.
After reading the book, I sent author Jon Huckins a few questions/reactions. Check out the conversation in my next post.
Have you still not picked up a copy of this book? Seriously? Click the image below and the magic of the interweb will take you to Amazon. A few clicks more and a kindly delivery person will bring it to your house…and there will much rejoicing throughout the land.
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.