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Surprisingly, this post is for men too.

**UPDATE: Check out the application demonstration video here

I support my wife – without question or equivocation. Wholeheartedly. Period.

I’m on her side, I trust her, and I believe in her.

That being said… I can’t say I anticipated that support leading to me willingly hosting a Jamberry Nails party.

But, I am, and strangely…it makes perfect sense. If you haven’t heard about Jamberry nails, they’re vinyl wraps for fingernails and toenails…all the fanciness of manicures and pedicures with a few added perks and at a fraction of the cost.

Yeah, I know, it seems weird that Rachel would even want me to do anything with a Jamberry party… I don’t exactly represent the typical demographic or target audience. Except that, in this case, I do.

Here’s the deal. If you’re a guy, listen up, because you’re going to love this. If you’re interested in the work of the Missional Wisdom Foundation, listen up, because you’re going to love this. If you’re looking for a way to support an important cause this holiday season, listen up, because… you’re going to love this.

MEN: Believe it or not, this Jamberry party thing DOES apply to you too. Over the next couple weeks, you can get fantastic gifts and stocking stuffers – including a last minute option (literally) if needed. Jamberry is perfect for your wife, girlfriend, daughters, nieces, mother, …or whoever.** (And Rachel can help you decide what to get…I know you see the benefit there.)

But this is about more than getting gifts – it is also a way to support an important project that I believe is going to bring about significant change in people’s lives. Those who order Jamberry through my party have the opportunity to partner with the Missional Wisdom Foundation in supporting the creation, incubation, and cultivation of The Julian Way. (I’ll say a little more about that in the video below. I’m also going to give more detail in an upcoming post, and you can find out more at TheJulianWay.org – which includes this video introduction by Justin and Lisa Hancock.)

Check out this video for a little more detail on the concept:

So, in summary:

  • Great Christmas gifts from $15 – $50
  • Supports Missional Wisdom Foundation and The Julian Way
  • Jamberry is a great option for many people who would love to have their nails done, but are living with disabilities that make nail polish impractical or nearly impossible to apply.
  • 30% of every sale, Rachel’s entire commission, goes to the project.
  • See all the options at RachelWells.JamberryNails.net – choose “Missional Wisdom Fundraiser” at checkout
  • If you have questions, need help, or don’t know what to buy, you can email Rachel, connect on her Facebook Jamberry page, or leave a comment here on the blog.

I’ll be posting more about this fundraiser and the work Justin and Lisa are doing over the next couple weeks.

In the meantime, you have some shopping to do.

**The management would like to point out that we’re not suggesting only men need to buy gifts for female loved-ones… or for that matter, that only females would want Jamberry. But, let’s be realistic, guys aren’t likely to see the connection to themselves here unless it is made explicit. To be clear, yes, Jamberry products are a good gift idea for anyone of any gender buying for gifts for themselves or anyone of any gender who gets their nails done…or who would if they could! 🙂

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The Wayne’s Worldification of Christianity

In his book, Practicing the Way of Jesus, (also on kindle) Mark Scandrette recounts a very powerful conversation. A small group of friends had chosen to engage in a short-term experiment. The idea of the experiment was to live simply, making more space for devotion to God and service to others. One of the aspects involved simplifying their wardrobe – boxing up all their clothes except for two outfits.

After describing the experiment to another friend, that person was highly skeptical. He says that, having grown up in an incredibly legalistic faith community, he had hoped that “we” were moving into an age of more grace and freedom. And this experiment sounded a lot like that legalism.

Scandrette’s response was fantastic.

“A rule is oppressive when we impose it on others or judge them by it, but there is great freedom when we choose limits which add value to our lives.”

Now to be sure, the danger of being human is that we (or those who come after us) are tempted to take the helpful experiments of today and make them into the universal codes of tomorrow. My friend Nate used to say, “Disciples will be to an extreme what their teachers were in moderation.”

However, I also believe that using the slippery slope argument is typically nothing more than laziness built on the fearful anticipation of future laziness.

There is great wisdom in Paul’s exhortation in Philippians 4 to think upon those things that are true, noble, excellent and praiseworthy. This isn’t just about keeping our thoughts pure and untainted. Dwell on the excellent, noble things because the mind is a powerful tool. I’m not talking about “The Secret” here, I’m talking about human obsession and self-fulfilling prophecies.

For instance, in many “men’s purity” ministries, there seems to be an incredibly unhealthy obsession with our own sin and temptation. In the process we go from dehumanizing women as sexual objects to dehumanizing women as instruments of temptation. Men are encouraged to look away, attempting not to see this woman in order to avoid lust. This is seriously messed up.

What if we instead focused on that which is excellent and praiseworthy? If we struggle with seeing women as sexual objects, the solution isn’t to simply change the image to another object – the solution is to actually see the person. See the image of Christ. See the child of God. Because they are not the problem, we are and our continued obsession on sin just feeds our own brokenness.

As a blogger and purveyor of blogs, facebook posts, twitter feeds, etc., I hear a lot about Christianity’s “image problem.” We talk about the way that Christians are perceived by the media, by those who are not Christian, by those who feel (happily or indignantly) like outsiders. We talk about the “Shoot Christians Say,” to playfully deconstruct our constant use of insider language. But, I wonder if Christianity has a much more fundamental image problem: how we see ourselves.

There is a difference between acknowledging our imperfection and narcissistically obsessing about our depravity. Constantly commenting on our unworthiness sounds like false humility or compliment fishing. I don’t think that is what’s going on as often as it may seem. It’s an image problem. We don’t see ourselves very well and that makes it difficult to see God clearly…and vice versa.

A well known pastor recently said, “All theology is cat theology or dog theology. Let’s say two pets have an amazing, kind, generous owner. The cat thinks: “I must be an amazing and valuable cat.” The dog thinks: “I have an amazing and valuable master.”

There are about 37 things wrong with this brief quote. First, it makes me agree with a cat…and that should never happen.

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Second, it equates our relationship to God to a person’s relationship with a pet – also problematic. I’m not just being an overly literal metaphor reader here; the relationship dynamics that this brings to mind are off base. But that isn’t the real problem.

The biggest flaw is that it buys into the assumption that there is something wrong with rejoicing in our value and worth as image bearers and children of God. I’ve said this before, but if I found out my kids were telling people that I loved them even though there is nothing lovable about them it would break my heart. My children are amazing. I love their quirky personalities. I love how different they are from one another. I love Conner’s analytical thinking and tender heart; Micah’s artistic eye and stubborn individuality; Josiah’s constant passion for everything and quickness to show affection. My kids are amazing and I hope they know that.

Does God enjoy us less than I enjoy my own children? That seems odd.

The tendency to constantly belittle the human condition seems pious…but it only seems that way. In a sense, the running commentary of total depravity makes light of suffering, brokenness and sin. “Of course we do awful things, we’re awful…whatcha gonna do?”

We have become Wayne and Garth…and that’s only funny in brief doses.

Its very convenient, really. We have a built-in excuse for never growing, never taking responsibility for our actions and feeling spiritual throughout it all.

This denies Jesus’ claim and Paul’s exhortation that we are being made new – new creation, new life, new people.

Why do we not see more of this transformation? Perhaps its because we’re so busy giving ourselves negative reinforcement that we are unable to see anything else. We’ve trained ourselves not to see. We tell ourselves we’re worms and wretches, then gorge ourselves on self-centered consumerism like a half-gallon of Blue Bell after a break-up.

Or we become disillusioned with the whole thing and reject all discipline, structure and guidance…even that which would be life giving.

I’ve found that living with a Rule of Life – particularly in community with others (including the one I live with my boys) – is freeing and rejuvenating. I’m able to explore the possibilities of my own discipleship in the Way of Jesus because I’m not constantly trying to figure out where to start. I can embrace limits to my “freedom” which add value to my life by clearing away the clutter, because I trust that that which I will see more clearly is worth seeing. Like the grueling summit climb to a mountain top, I know that momentary discomfort will be rewarded with a view you can’t get from the valley.

But this won’t work if my heart and mind are filled with pseudo-pious self-loathing. I am an image bearer of God, a beloved child of the King, one who is worth much because I was fearfully and wonderfully made. I know that I am valuable because my Father has repeatedly told me so.

And this does not make me a cat, damn it.

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.

All Work and No Writing Makes Bret a Dull Boy

It is certainly true that I feel better, have more energy and fewer headaches when I’m exercising regularly. I hate exercising, but that doesn’t change this reality.

Meanwhile, reading and writing regularly has the same effect on my mental clarity, focus and energy as exercising has on the physical. I do not hate reading and writing – I love it – but lately my crazy, wonderful life has pulled me away from this discipline.

…And laziness has pulled me away from physical exercise.

I hope to reengage the reading/writing with an upcoming series of book reviews…a project that has been on my to-do list for some time now. I’m nearly finished with the first two and hope the others will follow in reasonable succession.

If anyone wants to read along, here is a list of books that will be addressed on Missional Monks in the near future. You can click the titles to pick up your own copy from Amazon.

Now, if I can just get my fat self to the gym…

Thin Places by Jon Huckins and Rob Yackley (read part 1 & part 2 of the intro, read the review, read the interview)

Creating a Missional Culture by JR Woodward (read the intro, read the  review)

Simple Harmony by Larry Duggins

Living Jesus by Randy Harris (read the review)

Missional Spirituality by Roger Helland and Leonard Hjalmarson

Missional God, Missional Church by Ross Hastings

Living Mission edited by Scott Bessenecker

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

This post is part of a series on the Bible as a missional text, to catch up see the intro post here.


Then we have Genesis 38. Wow. If you aren’t familiar with this story…well, I’m not going to recap it here. Take a minute and read it yourself. Don’t worry, the post will still be here when you get back…

The story of Judah and Tamar is disturbing to begin with…but the conclusion? Judah basically says, “Oh, I see, I should have taken care of her. My bad.” Then the laugh track kicks in and we cut to commercial. (Or so it seems.) If this were on TV there would be Christian groups in an uproar demanding that it be removed – and for good reason.

Here we have Judah, son of Jacob – who was the twin brother of Esau. This is the same Jacob who robbed his brother Esau of his birthright and blessing. And Esau…well, his other name is Edom, as in the father of the Edomites…you guessed it, another enemy of Israel.

Judah’s mother was Leah, Jacob’s first wife – who he married because his uncle Laban (Leah’s father) was as deceptive as he was…and because he apparently wasn’t too concerned with confirming the identity of the person with whom he was crawling into bed.

Leah is actually presented in the narrative as a good person. Unfortunately, she is a good person trying unsuccessfully to get her husband to love her – a fact of which her children were undoubtedly aware. Judah’s father was deceptive, manipulative and not all that great with the whole concept of treating women (or people in general) very well…of course he learned a good deal of his deception from his mother Rebekah, but I digress.

So Judah probably had both Daddy and Mommy issues. So what? Guess who else had those same issues? Joseph.

Joseph’s mother was Rachel – Leah’s younger sister – the one that Jacob wanted to marry (and did eventually). My wife, whose name is also Rachel, was the first one to point out to me that the only really positive thing the narrative ever says about Rachel is that she was “lovely in form and beautiful.”

We certainly don’t get any indication that she was much of a role model for young Joseph. Being Daddy’s favorite – with 10 older brothers – didn’t help matters. Why bring all this up? Well, the thing about Judah and Tamar’s story in Genesis 38 is that it is preceded by Genesis 37 and followed by Genesis 39 (funny how that happens.)

Genesis 38 was an abrupt change of setting in the narrative. This isn’t Judah’s story, its Joseph’s. Chapter 37 ends with young Joseph being sold into slavery by his brothers. Then we all get grossed out, and hopefully enraged, with Judah’s actions (which ends with a birth story strangely reminiscent of good ole Poppa Jacob and his brother Esau…generational and system brokenness anyone?) But then we abruptly transition back to Joseph…imprisoned in Egypt (curse you Ham!).

And with what is Joseph, the prisoner, immediately faced? Well, sex of course… But not in the way you might think given that this is prison story. No, it’s a beautiful (married and powerful) woman throwing herself at him.

So, what does the brother of Judah, son of Jacob do? He runs away. His brother behaved awfully and had no immediate repercussions – though the people pay for it down the road. Joseph behaves nobly and it almost kills him – but it saves his people down the road.

The juxtaposition of these stories is not accidental. Again, these stories are part of a larger tapestry. Taking them out individually and dissecting them destroys them…as dissecting things tends to do.

When we talk about Scripture as a missional text, we are not saying that there is a missional principle at work in every individual piece of the narrative. However, when we step back and view the larger plotline we see that all along God is at work to reconcile creation and form his people into those who will join in this mission.

Conclusion:

Words are words; a jumble of sounds to which we’ve collectively assigned meaning. The words themselves matter little. We talk about fancy words, bad words, loaded words. Words aren’t really any of those things. They are just sounds. But the meaning – the agreed upon usage – that’s a different story.

The word missional means little to me. It is a helpful point of reference in conversation. It is also popular, which means that it has a limited shelf life in our culture – its biological clock is ticking so to speak. But I still believe that the meaning assigned to this word missional is of great importance.

And I also believe that this word serves as an important reminder when used in conjunction with Scripture.

Perhaps I’m not the best one to answer the “who cares” question. I obviously care about this topic. I am committed to instilling this way of approaching Scripture in my boys, encouraging it among my faith community, teaching it in my courses and interactions in the Missional Wisdom Foundation. Its obvious that I have decided it is a topic worthy of consideration. But what say you? What do you see – or fail to see – of worth in this discussion?

How does this resonate within your own heart? What do we gain by approaching the Bible as a missional text? What do we lose? What does it matter?

Streams of Missional Thought pt 2

This post is part of a series on the Bible as a missional text, to catch up see the intro post here.


In my last post I described 2 streams of thought – as distilled by George Hunsberger – that describe what we mean when we say the Bible is a missional text. These next two turn the perspective toward us – the readers. What does it mean for the missional orientation to inform our reading, and is that appropriate?

Probably an unnecessary spoiler, but… yes, it is appropriate.

Stream 3: The Bible is meant to be read BY a missional people

These Are Missional People

A missional perspective is the most appropriate posture for the Christian community to engage a faithful reading of the Bible. The text is intended to be received by – is addressed to – people who already understand themselves to have been called to join the mission of God…even if they aren’t always sure what the means.

The first two streams have looked at our hermeneutic (method of Biblical interpretation) from the perspective of the text’s work in describing a missional God and forming a missional people. This theme looks at the issue from the perspective of the missional people being formed.

A missional hermeneutic involves “an approach to the biblical text rooted in the basic conviction that God has a mission in the world and that we read Scripture as a community called into and caught up by those divine purposes.”

This is similar to the previous theme. The primary difference is that theme #2 refers to the way the Scriptures forms people and now we consider that we don’t read as just interested bystanders. We’re interested, yes, but as participants who have received and who share the calling that was being cultivated in the people we read about. We are in community with those who originally received these texts.

If that is the case, we “self-consciously, intentionally, and persistently bring to the biblical text a range of focused, critical, and located questions regarding church’s purpose in order to discern the faith community’s calling and task within the missio Dei.”

It is not just our right, but our responsibility as the missional community to read, ask hard questions, come to conclusions and move forward in faith. We are the interpreting community. We come to this text with questions that arise from living the message in our whole life. So, of course we must approach this as a missional text…because we’re a missional people, God is a missional God and this is the story of relationship between us.

Important questions for the interpreting community:

– Does our reading of the text challenge or baptize our assumptions and blind spots?

– How does the text help to clarify appropriate Christian behavior–not only in terms of conduct but also in terms of intentionality and motive?

– Does our reading emphasize the triumph of Christ’s resurrection to the exclusion of the kenotic (self-emptying), cruciform character of his ministry?

– In what ways does this text proclaim good news to the poor and release to the captives, and how might our own social locations make it difficult to hear that news as good?

– Does our reading of this text acknowledge and confess our complicity and culpability in personal as well as structural sin?

– How does this text clarify what God is doing in our world, in our nation, in our cities, and in our neighborhoods–and how may we be called to be involved in those purposes?

Stream 4: The missional engagement with cultures.

The Bible itself (particularly the New Testament) provides us with a matrix for missionally engaging our own culture with the text of scripture…in other words, applying it directly to our context, drawing from our own metaphors, recognizing the uniqueness of this place and this time.

This one is probably the most challenging, but is also empowering and recognizes how we are equipped to do that to which we’ve been called. There are scores of passages throughout the Old Testament, but specifically in the New Testament, where the writers engage older texts and read them through the lens of Jesus and their present situation – sometimes changing the way the text was used in the first place!

Think about this: when they did so, the result of became part of the biblical tradition passed on to us. What happens in the New Testament, in other words, is a model for our own regular engagement of the gospel with our own culture today. This encounter is the stuff of the church’s calling and mission.

Now to be very clear: that doesn’t mean we have license to take passages and make them mean whatever we need them to at the moment – there’s been quite enough of that already!

“As told to us in the New Testament, the gospel exhibits these structural features: It summons to allegiance and decision. (It makes a claim.) It presupposes a public horizon and universal scope. (It presents itself as world news.) It regards death and resurrection as paradigmatic. (It opens up a way.) These function as criteria that must guide every fresh interpretation of biblical message anywhere and at any time.”

More specifically, if our “fresh interpretation of the biblical message” serves a purpose other proclaiming the good news of Jesus Christ and the kingdom of God; if it doesn’t equip us to live missionally or call others to take up the challenge; if it doesn’t remain true to the storyline of scripture – then we aren’t contextualizing the message, we’re changing it.

Taken together, these four streams lay out a holistic reading of scripture which recognize that as the missional people of a missional God, we can’t help but read scripture from a missional perspective. But this isn’t something we have to use our imagination to find, the text itself carries the mark of the missional life for our community. To summarize these four streams even further: the text of scripture presents a missional narrative which is meant to cultivate and be received by a missional people and provides the proper lens for missionally and incarnationally engaging the surrounding culture.

The “holistic” reading thing is important. After considering these 4 streams you may be thinking, “Does this apply to every passage in the Bible? Because I can think of a few that would need some pretty amazing acrobatics to fit this missional orientation.”

And that is what we’ll discuss in the next post.

What Difference Does it Make?

This post is part of a series on the Bible as a missional text, to catch up see the intro post here.

I am grateful for the friends, old and new, who read this blog and dialog with me on Facebook, in coffee shops, via email, on the phone or over dinner. And I love that you are such an incredibly eclectic group. Conservative evangelical, bleeding-heart liberal, and everywhere in between; agnostic, atheist, and those who are part of other religious traditions; academics and practitioners (and even a few academic practitioners); clergy and laity; country folks and hipsters; Republicans and Democrats; missional monastics and back-row pew dwellers.

I’ve received numerous questions about this issue of the Bible being a missional text; questions I’ll try to address in this series. The struggle has been that the questions, like my conversation partners, are all over the place.

“I still have no idea what this missional word means…now you want to use it to describe the Bible. What the heck are you talking about?” (I only touch on this one briefly in this series – for a longer answer to that question see this post).

“How exactly is the Bible a missional text?”

“Okay, so what does a missional engagement with Scripture look like in practice?”

“Are you trying to say that every passage has a missional orientation?”

Who Freaking Cares?

There is at least one more group of questions. Simply and eloquently stated, these are versions of, “So what?” and “Who cares?”

And those are honest, practical questions we need to be asking. Why does any of this matter? Does it change anything in real life? Does it actually help us or just give us another context for rambling speeches and blog posts? (As if I needed an excuse?)

On a fundamental level I believe that missional is a theological principle rather than a strategy for church planting, church renewal, or something else. And not simply a theological sidebar, but an aspect of understanding the revealed nature of God. The word missional is simply a tool. Yet it is one that helps us address what we see in the relationship of the Trinity; the calling of Israel and the formation of the church…so it’s a pretty useful tool. It helps us recognize that the Incarnation of Jesus wasn’t a new thing for God, but the seminal expression of how God has been operating since the act of creation.

Appreciating Scripture as a missional text is, in part, a needed corrective to perspectives that have allowed us to develop a culture that sees faith as an individualistic and privatized practice; which describes discipleship in terms of membership (and that, merely in terms of attendance and contribution)…or else views discipleship as a feature which only applies to the paid version of the faith app…and who pays for apps when the free “lite” version is sufficiently awesome?

It matters because we can no longer afford to miss how from beginning to end the Bible is about God making space for the Other and then pursuing the Other to invite them into that space…and then calling the Other to become agents of that same space making adventure.

A missional engagement with Scripture matters because it reminds us that we do not read as detached voyeurs. We are invited into the Story as active participants – even if we considered ourselves outsiders when we started reading.

It matters because we are too quick to view the Bible as a list of ways that we can keep people out, keep ourselves in, and somehow feel good about it in the process.

And honestly, the missional nature of Scripture matters because it grounds our sending in something more substantial and sustaining than a fleeting desire for activism.

When the mystique and glamor of actively connecting with broken and hurting people begins to wear thin – and make no mistake, it will…right about the time you realize that “broken and hurting” kinda sucks – what keeps us moving forward? Obviously the first answer is the Holy Spirit. Next comes our community…wait, you are only attempting in this in community, right? Seriously, that’s important. But what happens when we begin to doubt if we ever heard the Spirit to begin with? (Yes, this too is going to happen. Here’s a description of one such time for me.) What happens when circumstances cause you to question whether your community sees you as anything more than another commodity to be consumed or traded? (…yep, that one’s real too.)

There’s another vital component. One that reminds us of the Spirit’s guidance when we forget and points us back to our community even if they’ll likely burn us again…and we them. This piece is so important that its actually the point and process of the entire book of Deuteronomy.

Story. Like the rabbits in Watership Down (such a great story), our Story sustains us because it reminds us of who we are and why we are; where we come from and where we’re headed. The Bible tells us the story of the God of Mission inviting humanity into the mission of God, transforming those who are sent into ambassadors of transformation wherever they go.

A narrative has several characteristics. It comprises a story that is moving somewhere; it gives a social group a story that tells where it is going and what the group will look like when it arrives. There is purpose and quest within the narrative calling a group in a specific direction and toward a particular goal…Because narrative creates and sustains social community, it’s the glue, the atmosphere of all social life. The key to innovating missional community is formation of a people within a specific memory and narrative. – Alan Roxburgh, The Missional Leader, 70-71.

If we can keep our minds wrapped around that aspect of Scripture, then I don’t care if we ever use the word missional again.

…but you’ll probably encounter the word a few more times in this series at least.

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.

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?…

Listening From the Hallway

 

closed-door1

Last week was a really interesting experience for me. I “audited” a grad class at ACU. For those that don’t know, you can sit in on a Bible class at ACU for $35 – you don’t have to take the tests and you don’t get college credit, but you get to participate at learn at whatever level you want. 

I received an M.A. in Christian Ministry from ACU in 2005 – that two year program took me 4.5 years since I was also in full-time ministry through the whole thing. A couple years ago I decided I wanted to pursue a D.Min (doctor of ministry) and that meant I needed some leveling work (my MA was a 54 hour degree and I need an MDiv, which is at least 72 hours). I think I’ve taken all the classes I need (I’ll find out for sure in a couple weeks). So I’m currently in a rare season of NOT being in school! (with the exception of a few semesters here and there, I’ve been in college and then grad school since 97!) 

So…when I found out that Chris was taking a class on Christian Worship, my inner nerd began shouting. I decided that it would be good  to sit in on the class with him so that we could process through the material together. This was a class that I’d wanted to take in grad school but didn’t “need” and never had a free January to squeeze it in.

Overall it was really good. Chris and I spent a lot of time discussing what went on in the class and came away with a few ideas. It was encouraging because we’re already doing   most of what we talked about. 

One component of the course involved the students (many of whom are full-time ministers) being placed in groups and preparing/leading a time of worship for the class. The two that were the most impacting to me were the first and last of the week. The final group led a lament service that did not in any way feel like a group project – it was one of the most profound times of worship I’ve experienced…certainly at ACU and maybe ever.

The first service impacted me in a very different way. Where the last was powerful because of the authentic and transparent nature of entering into communal and personal lament, the first was powerful because I was unable to engage in such a way.

A few of us had lunch with a professor (not the professor teaching our class) and we were late returning. I, being just a lowly auditor, dropped Chris off and went to find a parking place. By the time I got there the worship had already begun, so I stood in the hallway so as not to disturb (afterall, I didn’t know how nervous the group members were and I could hear what was going on anyway.)

Standing in the hallway during a worship gathering was interesting. I found myself, though somewhat self-conscious (since there were other people in the hallway), engaging at points in the singing and silence. I found myself listening intently to the readings. And yet I couldn’t really engage because I wasn’t fully engaged with the community. I found myself wondering what was happening when I could hear the sounds of movement but couldn’t see what people were doing. There were times when I really wanted to participate with them, but simply couldn’t because there was a barrier between me and everyone else (of course, all I had to do was open the door and go in…but I didn’t). At other times the distance and separation led my mind to wander; I found myself distracted by the things going on around me, disengaging because I wasn’t really a part of the proceedings.

And that got me thinking. How many people sit in the midst of our worship gatherings every week and experience precisely what I was going through?

There are times when they are drawn into the worship but even then they feel uncomfortable because they don’t feel like they’re really a part of the community. There are times when they can “hear the sounds of movement” but don’t really understand what’s going on. In other words, because what we do is so foreign to them, they can tell that something significant is taking place but they don’t understand and so feel like they’re listening to things happening on the other side of closed door.

How often do people disengage because they never fully engaged to begin with? And what are we doing or not doing to draw them in and welcome them? I don’t blame anyone in our class for me being outside – it was a choice I made. However, the simple truth is, right though it was, I stood in the hallway because when I approached this worship the door was closed to me.

I was unsure about whether or not I was allowed to open the door and so I stood at a distance. 

My prayer is that Christ Journey, and any gathering of Christ’s disciples, will always be aware of closed doors. Sometimes the door is closed for good reason and that means we need to be aware of anyone who may be on the other side of that door longing to join us. What happens behind the door is important and valuable – and so is what’s happening outside. 

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