Thursday, November 26, 2009

The Forgotten Ways: Reactivating the Missional Church

Alan Hirsch in this work is trying to re-introduce the church to what led it to distinctive growth in its early history. He is emphatic is saying that these methods are not new, but the “forgotten” structure of the church that needs to be re-established if the church is serious about its continued existence in the world. The book is divided into two sections, the first acting as a background reader and then the second, more extensive, section expands on describing the actions of the early church and then relating them to current practices.

The Making of a Missionary
Setting the Scene, Part 1: Confessions of a Frustrated Missionary
Setting the Scene, Part 2: Denominational and Translocal Perspectives
These sections give some background on the state of the church and also reveal some of Hirsch’s motivations in preparing this material.

A Journey to the Heart of Apostolic Genius
In attempting to classify what made the early church successful in engaging its culture, Hirsch names their method the “apostolic genius”. This classification aims to map the style and strategy of the early church leaders so that it can be recovered and put into practice in the modern church.

The Heart of it all: Jesus is Lord
Hirsch provides a model of visualizing the apostolic genius, and in the center he has the statement “Jesus is Lord”. From this center sprout the other aspects which receive the remaining chapters. To Hirsch, this is the defining statement of the church which the early leaders understood and the modern church needs to recapture. This statement is profoundly political and counter-cultural in its original context and should remain as such wherever a people make the decision to follow Christ.

Disciple Making
The message of Christ only survives by transmission, and as such the church must be determined to grow successive generations of disciples. This life-commitment is contrasted with the consumer-worldview that saturates the thinking of the church.

Missional-Incarnational Impulse
Understanding the role of the church in multiplication, the fopcus of the church’s mission should be based on proximity. Because people inhabit a geographic and cultural space, the most appropriate context for their ministry is the life that is around them.

Apostolic Environment
The growth of the early was distinguished by their leadership. In examining these criteria for the modern church, an apostolic leadership environment is one where visionaries intentionally move themselves and their communities into a mature understanding of the gospel and the transmission of the Christian message. This is not an authoritarian structure, but one that depends on the referent power of spiritual maturity.

Organic Systems
This chapter addresses the historic tendency of a movement to become an institution, which eventually leads to demise. The early church lived in the period of upswing, but the church today finds itself on the downward slope. To address this situation requires grassroots movement to continually re-discover the gospel and re-invent the community, giving rise to sustained growth.

Communitas, not Community
In developing disciples who understand the power of the gospel, there is the need for intentional interaction. This shared experience is what distinguishes the life of the Christian apart from personal spiritual experience. By drawing from this common experience, the gospel message has both an incubation area and a stage for demonstration. Communitas distinguishes the relationships that exist on top of our geographic and cultural communities which we also are a part of.

Final thoughts: It took me a little longer to get into this book, as my recent reading on the subject has been presented in a more narrative form. This book is more prescriptive than descriptive, in comparison. It presents more research than the other texts, although he regularly cites an encyclopedia CD-ROM, which I have an arbitrary bias against.

Wednesday, November 11, 2009

Church Re-Imagined: The Spiritual Formation of People in Communities of Faith

Doug Pagitt communicates the practice of the community where he is involved, Solomon’s Porch in Minnesota. He is deliberate in the introduction to convey that this exposition is not meant to be a one-size-fits-all formula for fostering spiritual formation, but rather a singular example of what one church is doing currently. I appreciate this distinction and find it beneficial (for this dreamer anyway) to hear a story about what someone is actually doing, to give some inspiration and a look into practicality.

Sprinkled throughout the work are the journals of a handful of participants in Solomon’s Porch. These are insightful, if scattered. There is not necessarily a common thread running throughout, except to see what Pagitt is writing about as seen through a diverse set of eyes. The journals are all intensely personal, adding a depth to the topic being discussed.

Sunday: Spiritual Formation Through Worship
A church service would be recognizable to someone coming in from another Christian context. It has the right ingredients, worship music, scripture, sermoning, communion, and prayer. But the way that these are combined take on a different flavor. Rather than being a presentation directed from a stage to the audience, those present are invited to join along with the leaders to experience the worship of God. This is only the beginning of their community life being former spiritually into the people of God.

Monday: Spiritual Formation Through Physicality
Prayer and meditation are taken out of their cerebral context and applied to physical acts. Those techniques described in this chapter are yoga, massage, and prayer postures. In yoga, participants journey into a place where they can release the tension of life and find rest in God. This opening up culminates in a silent time of prayer together before returning to life. Massage is incorporated as a healing process, giving relief from pains built up through life. Especially poignant are stories involving those who had been carrying pains from abuse be able to let those go and accept the touch from a masseuse. Masseurs pray over the clients for ways to be the hands of God reworking the mess that people carry around. Lastly, prayer postures are used when prayers consisting only of words will not do, This stimulates people’s thoughts about prayer and keeps the issue in their mind throughout the week.

Tuesday: Spiritual Formation Through Dialogue
Pagitt walks through a night in their Bible discussion group, as well as his feeling of pastoral concern for those outside their community. Beginning the study, they have an exercise which reminds them that every participant is an individual who has been shaped by families, experiences, and communities. Each personal context is to be appreciated as they move forward. Studying scripture is vital to them because they see the texts as members of the community and as such has a right to direct their perspective.

Wednesday: Spiritual Formation Though Hospitality
Replacing the idea that evangelism can happen in a vacuum by propositioning, Solomon’s Porch engages those in their community by hospitality. To invite someone into the community is to invite them into your home and serve them. This is not only a stark contrast to normal American life, but also shows the life that is possible if they want to be a part of the community, no strings attached.

Thursday: Spiritual Formation Through Belief
In examining the process by which a person comes to believe something, Pegitt points out that it is not simply the allocation of information, but the process that information works through the grid of our experiences. When information is presented, a person asks if it is consistent with other things they know to be reliable, how its acceptance will affect other valuable areas of life, etc. The role of the community is to work together to navigate through the grid so that information can become belief and belief can become action.

Friday: Spiritual Formation Through Creativity
In telling his story of coming to faith, he describes finding a church full of people who default to reasoning to navigate life. His inclination, however, is for those for whom reason is not the strongest current in their thought. The creative members of the community find a place where they can be vulnerable with each other but also display their work proudly because it is made by, for, and within the community.

Saturday: Spiritual Formation Through Service
This is probably the chapter most people hoping for a traditional structure would identify with. For many, it would seem that discipleship could be equated with involvement in church volunteer projects. Because of the many needs of an institutional church (ushers, bulletin folders, chair movers, car parkers, etc.), there is rarely a surplus of volunteers. Once the church service ends, however, the work of the church is relegated to the paid staff. In this community, however, service is not what is done within the community, but with those outside the group in order to show them a glimpse of Christ’s love and humility.

I just realized that the aspects of community life that the traditionalist would most identify with would be from Sunday and (to a lesser extant) Saturday. This seems to be the point of Pegitt’s work, that to re-imagine the life of the church is to find those ways to incorporate spiritual formation into every day of the week and grow together in our experience of God by opening ourselves up to the myriad of ways to connect with the sacred.

Wednesday, November 4, 2009

The New Conspirators: Creating the Future One Mustard Seed at a Time

Tome Sine takes what he sees as a new wave of Christian practicioners and seeks to communicate what ties them together as they develop a share in the people of God. He organizes his task into five pertinent conversations. Each one would be worthy of expansion, but his overview of the movements will be a valid primer for understanding this aspect of renewal within the church.

Conversation One: Taking the New Conspirators Seriously

In this introductory chapter, Sine takes time to introduce the new players on the stage. He identifies four “streams”, the emerging, missional, mosaic, and monastic. It isn’t until near the end of his description of emerging that he makes any kind of attempt at characterizing the stream. For the bulk of the section, emerging would be identified with any type of new church understanding, which is a category too broad to be useful. Gibbs and Bolger’s definition is used, and is helpful, that emerging churches are those communities that practice the way of Jesus within postmodern cultures. Missional, it is pointed out, is less of a specific distinction and more of a broad descriptor for other church models. Mosaic intentionally incorporates the dynamic of cultural diversity within the global neighborhood. Monastic are those communities that dismantle the individualism of modernity and replace them with alternative models for life together.

Conversation Two: Taking the Culture Seriously

This section identified the realities that make this era in human history distinctive from the recent past. First in his discussion is the implication of living in a post 9-11 world, where the western world, and America especially, is forced to try and understand other cultures globally. This diversity in global cultures challenge the assumption of the superiority of the Western worldview, including ideas of Christendom and the role of the church. Second is the role of the “imperial mall”, as corporations compete for market domination. A striking image is what the author describes as marketers seeking to colonize the imagination of youth, planting the future for their profitability.

Conversation Three: Taking the Future of God Seriously

This chapter attempts to unpack the eschatological expectation of the dominant Western church and reframe the future action of God. Most notably, God’s action makes a move from being event-oriented (apocalypse) and life-centered (having pertinence on actions today). This renewal effort permeates the new groups as they find meaning in social justice, social responsibility, and the practical expressions of faith. The imagery used is to see humanity’s response to God being a “homecoming” back into the way that God made possible through Christ.

Conversation Four: Taking Turbulent Times Seriously

Given the importance of the present from the previous chapter, a sense of urgency rattles the ethics of these groups. The author identifies different areas of brokenness which different economic strata are faced with. His categories are the global rich, vulnerable middle, western poor, and global poor. I appreciate his effort at identifying both struggles and benefits of each position, rather than simply sanctifying one end of the spectrum or the other.

Conversation Five: Taking Our Imaginations Seriously

This final chapter could just have effectively been placed first. The author reminds the reader that creation is being renewed by God, and a key aspect of that creation is the imagination of his people. By thinking beyond the bounds of our tradition, each reader could be a part of a new movement of God’s people. The author invites the reader into the conversation to decide how to live a faithful life in community in the pursuit of God.

This chapter was probably the most pertinent to my ruminations on my future project and life in the church. I want to be a part of a community that is continually reevaluating, revisiting, reimagining what and how it can reflect a part of grace and truth to its community.