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.
This series is dealing with the ways in which a “bare minimum” approach to faith has robbed us of a deeper life in community – with God and others. In this third, and final (for now) installment, I’m getting to the crux of what I believe this has cost us – and what it will cost us to reclaim what was lost. This is something which, if not addressed, I believe will continue to block our growth regardless of what “discipleship” strategies or approaches to faith, worship and spiritual formation we engage.
Because we’re so obsessed with the bare minimum, I don’t think we put up much of a fight as society morphed into a series of disconnected moments in time. I recently read Building a Discipling Culture by Breen and Cockram. If you haven’t read it, and you’re interested in digging into discipleship (and how to go about it), then I recommend the book. I didn’t find anything new or earth-shattering, but it was solid stuff.
Their content and approach isn’t significantly different than what others have done, such as Greg Ogden in Discipleship Essentials and Transforming Discipleship. However, the authors, themselves heavily invested in equipping others for discipleship, have some very practical and useful “shapes” which make many of their concepts easily grasped and transferrable to others. And that’s a definite plus.
Their basic vehicle for the discipling relationship is huddles of 8-12 folks meeting together regularly (as opposed to Ogden’s use of triads called formation groups). These groups meet once a week or every other week for 1-1.5 hours. There’s also an expectation that those in the huddle have access to the “normal” life of the huddle leader – and I suppose, one another as well.
They make a point that Jesus’ disciples learned from him in the way that disciples learned from a Jewish rabbi – they followed them everywhere, learning as the walked along and witnessed how the rabbi operated in a wide range of contexts. They make the point that discipling relationships – Christian faith in general – requires time.
And that’s really the rub, isn’t it?
Let’s go out on a limb and say that Jesus was a better disciple-maker than me (not finding that one difficult to imagine, eh?) So, the disciples spent pretty much every day with Jesus for THREE YEARS and Jesus still had to send the Holy Spirit to explain this stuff again after his resurrection. Three years. With Jesus. Daily.
So…how does it make sense to expect an hour and a half meeting each week, with perhaps a few random times hanging out with someone is going to have the same effect as Jesus’ approach?
Yes, we certainly hold up the expectation that in our discipling relationships we’re actually encouraging one another to walk with Jesus daily. I’ve been trying that for a long time, and I’ve made significant progress in listening for God’s voice…but let’s be honest, it is not the same…at all.
My point isn’t to detract from Breen and Cockram or Ogden or anybody who cares deeply about discipleship – not at all. In fact, I greatly appreciate their work. However, as I consider how the overall attempt at disciple-making seems to have had minimal impact on Christians in our society, I wonder. What the heck is (or isn’t) going on?
It seems that the common element missing in nearly every discipleship process I’m aware of is time – at least in the way we see time spent in the life of Jesus and the early disciples. Many processes – the ones mentioned particularly – place an emphasis on time…but its still so “part-time.”
This is a large reason that I’ve been so drawn to the work of the neo-monastics and have sought to cultivate a suburban attempt at missional monasticism. Time is a large component in the examples of communitas that Alan Hirsch points out in his writings – sports teams, soldiers in combat, etc.
Yes, they have a shared mission, ordeal or struggle to overcome…but they overcome those things together in close proximity over a period of TIME. I’m not talking about another hour-long meeting added to the list. I’m not even talking about trying to call each other on the phone each day. I’m talking about daily, real-life, face-to-face time spent together – in both formalized and mundane contexts.
If the purpose of our life in God is more than just “getting saved” so we can go to heaven – and I hope its clear that I believe wholeheartedly that it is – then the bare minimum approach to faith just doesn’t make sense. Sure, I’m all about minimizing the bureaucracy and hoops to jump through – understood that way the simplicity of the gospel is compelling and reasonable. But that kind of simplicity shouldn’t lead to minimalism. Its simplicity is found in its reordering of life around the life-giving call to love God with our whole being and love people as we love ourselves (… and we sure do love ourselves with whole being). This kind of love can’t ever be expressed in the bare minimum. It requires our whole life. And that means time. With others. Lots of it.
“But,” you may say, “That just isn’t realistic.”
I know. That’s what scares me.
We live in a hyper-mobile, overly-busy society. We jump from one disconnected meeting or duty to another, with little time to talk, let alone share life deeply. In Building a Discipling Culture, Breen and Cochram suggest inviting those who we’re in discipling relationships with to accompany us to the grocery store or other mundane tasks. This is great advice, but we’re all spread out with different work schedules and availability. We don’t even go to the store at the same time of day. We can work to simplify our schedule and spend more time with one another but…we probably won’t.
The response seems simple enough – restructure time so that we are able to share life daily with others who are seeking to follow Christ together. But, its simple in the way that a drowning person knows that the answer is simply to keep their head above water indefinitely.
But I wonder – and I’m really wondering, not just employing a rhetorical device – if we might need to face the truth that either we’ll learn to reclaim time or accept that discipleship in the way that the early disciples experienced it is no longer going to happen.
I think the new monastics have figured out one good way to address this issue. Jonathan Wilson-Hartgrove, one of the strongest voices in this movement, says “The first task of any monastic movement is to remind the church that our story is the adventure of God’s relationship with a peculiar people.” But he also points out, “My point is not that churches ought to imitate new monastic communities but that another way is possible.” (For a deeper look at what this “other way” describes check out New Monasticism and The Wisdom of Stability both by Wilson-Hartgrove).
Yes, another way is certainly possible. But is it at a price that Christians and the contemporary church are willing to pay?
We don’t have to plant new churches – in fact, even when we do, this issue remains one which must be considered deeply. Regardless of our ecclesial context, I don’t see how we can embrace life with Christ and not embrace another view of time and community.
I hate to leave such a long series of words on a bit of a downer – so I hope this isn’t the end of the thought. I’d really appreciate some feedback here…when you have time.