zacc's house leaders

Leftovers

What do you not have enough of?    If you had enough, how much would that be?

When I was a working parent with young children I didn’t have enough sleep or time for myself.  I dreamt of being able to crawl into bed at 7pm and not worry about the dishes, the laundry and the bedtime routines.  At times I would lock myself in my bathroom and call it my “mommy time-out” just to get a few minutes by myself.  Now, that my children are older, I wish I had more time with them.

Then there is the issue of money.  I live in a well-to-do suburb in a beautiful home with overflowing closets and a stocked pantry, but I continue to wish for more.  Not because I need more, but because I have been shaped by a consumer culture that implicitly reminds me that I am not enough until I have more. I feel at times that I am held hostage by the lie that there is not enough of anything to go around, and it is my job to squirrel away as much as possible to ensure the security of my family.

But truly, is this what life is all about?

A few weeks ago my faith community pondered the story of Jesus feeding 4,000 people.  When Jesus suggests to the disciples that they had an obligation to feed these people who have had nothing to eat for 3 days the disciples respond, “Where could we get enough bread in this remote place to feed such a crowd?” In other words, “We don’t have enough to give to others.”

But Jesus cuts through that lie and asks, “How many loaves do you have?”  Jesus then takes what the disciples have — seven loaves of bread and a few fish, gives thanks, divides it up and gives it to the people. We are told that everyone had enough and it took seven large baskets to collect the leftovers!

Amazing story, yet in the back of our minds we think that this just doesn’t make sense. You can’t feed 4,000 people with 7 loaves of bread and a few fish, can you? That is not the way the world works.  But maybe Jesus is showing us how it could work differently if we trusted in the practice of abundance rather than scarcity.

What would it be like to trust that we do have enough?

That is how our leftover potluck experiment was born.  We decided to bring what we already had in our refrigerators and pantries to share for dinner together.  We brought our left-overs.

It was delightful anticipating who would come and what they would bring! We ended up with chili, cornbread, baked chicken, chicken marsala, a salad, a half full bottle of wine and a yogurt cake for dessert! It was a full meal that we hadn’t even planned ahead!  The best part was that no one stressed over bringing things. We trusted in the concept of enough.

We had a rich conversation around the table and when it was time to leave we even had leftovers to take home!  Granted we didn’t feed 4,000 with our leftovers, but we did experience the gift of abundance.

This experiment has captivated my imagination.  Jesus continues to ask me “What do you have?”  I am realizing that this is an invitation to discover that I am enough and that I have more than enough of everything that truly matters.

 

Mathewson Street UMC Prayer Breakfast

This is the Kingdom of God!

Today I glimpsed the kingdom of God in an inner city church name Mathewson Street in Providence, Rhode Island. My day began with about 300 people sitting around tables drinking coffee and eating a hearty breakfast while a dear soul who suffers with “hearing voices” played the piano.

I sat with two men who shared stories with me about how they managed in the colder months to keep warm and dry, going from shelters to libraries to churches. They talked about their hopes, joys and struggles. We toasted to forgiveness as Rev. Jack Jones invited us to a love feast and offered prayers of and for the people.

Jack and Russ

Jack and Russ

I met a man named Russ who volunteers in the kitchen starting at 5am every Sunday morning to cook his famous eggs and potatoes. He told me about how he ended up on the streets after breaking 3 bones in his leg days before he was to start his new job as an electrician. He had no health insurance and no support network. He lost everything — his tools, his possessions, his dignity and his truck. He walks with a cane and still questions how he so quickly went from living a middle class lifestyle three years ago to surviving on the streets. But today he moves with joy and renewed hope.

I met Scott, who has come back to the church, finding a community that walks the talk. He has invited over 100 of his friends to be a part of the prayer breakfast ministry. Many of them are from his connections with families from his little league teams.

When I sat down at the second worship experience of the day I was welcomed by two women who have no homes. They helped me follow the order of the service and made sure I could find the right page in the hymnal as we sang. I listened to the prayers of the people as we prayed for the real needs of folks who live on the margins all over the world.

And then I saw it — the sea of saints coming to receive communion — a hunched over man who shuffled with a cane, another man from Liberia, several retired professors, social workers, dean of schools, a banker, homemakers, victims, addicts, children, mentally unstable folks, people with no teeth, and others of all colors, shapes and ages. I wept as I listened to the voices raised in hope in the midst of brokenness. This was the body of Christ broken for the world.  This was the beloved community.

After the service I asked the faithful members, some of whom had worshipped there for over 50 years, why they continue to be involved. One woman said, “I am changed by the encounters that I have as I serve.” Another said, “This is a messy place. The need and struggles can feel overwhelming, but I draw strength from the community and know that I am not alone.” Finally a woman who drives 40 miles every Sunday said simply, “This is the Kingdom of God.”

I, too, was changed today. I saw the power of a community of saints both past and present who have prayed the kingdom into reality on Mathewson Street. And today I join them in those prayers, “God’s kingdom come and will be done on earth as it is in heaven. Hallowed be your name!”

Simple things

Let’s Get Real

According to the October 2012 Pew Forum on Religion and Public Life report, “Nones” on the Rise: One-in-Five Adults Have No Religious Affiliation, 1 in 5 adults are religiously unaffiliated. When looking more closely at the generational data, 32 percent of adults under the age of 30 fall within the same category. In 1950, the percentage of persons claiming no religious affiliation was a minuscule two percent.

Imagine Jesus showing up today saying to you and a few of your friends, “You will be my witnesses of God’s love in all of Jerusalem, Samaria and to the ends of the earth.” What would you do? How would you go about sharing that good news that God’s realm is now? How would you go about helping people to be shaped and formed by that love and peace in your neighborhood?  Really…. without any pre-concieved notions of church or worship?

I think for many of us in the church we have done a good job of staying in Jerusalem, the denominational mecca where we tend to recycle Christians amongst ourselves. Our church planting strategies have focused around appointing a young handsome pastor to start a worship service with a highly skilled band and worship leader in a growing community. This requires big expenditures of money for staff and building rentals. The timeline for such starts to become sustainable is a mere 3-4 years due to funding constraints on the judicatory level. This strategy assumes that people already know something about church and are interested in learning more.

However, what we are finding out is that in our religiously non-affiliated culture we are setting ourselves up for failure with this model — unless, of course, we intentionally set out to reach folks who already have a religious background.

But what about in Samaria where they think that religious organizations are too concerned with money and power, too focused on rules and too involved in politics? What about those Samaritans who aren’t looking for a religion that would be right for them? How do we move from Jerusalem into Samaria?

If we look at the story of the original apostles in the Book of Acts, the diaspora into Samaria happened through persecution. Folks were forced out of their comfortable worshipping communities into a foreign land after Stephen was stoned by the denominational leaders. Simply put, the early disciples were forced out of their comfort zones for survival reasons. Maybe we could even say, they had to adapt or die.

Wouldn’t it be great if we could move out into Samaria without the threat of death?

One way we could do this is to encourage a few folks who are members of existing churches to be blessed and sent out as missionaries into their respective neighborhoods. This would take courage and trust not only from the folks being sent out, but also by those sending them out since they might just be the church’s most gifted leaders!

Imagine what this would look like in your setting — beginning with prayer and discernment about who those gifted folks might be, to inviting them into that possibility, to releasing them from church committee and teaching work, to blessing them on their way. I could imagine having monthly conversations with them about what they are learning and how the church could support them. I could imagine, just as the apostles reported back to the Jerusalem church, these folks reporting back to their home churches. I could also imagine in the process those same churches being stretched to move further and further into Samaria themselves.

Jesus shows us as he walks to Jerusalem through Samaria in the Gospel of Luke that this ministry is one of meeting people where they are and sharing stories that point to the ways of peace and love. It is a ministry of radical hospitality and inclusiveness where we scatter seeds of kindness and compassion, joy and delight. Simply put, it is about living our lives with Kin-dom hearts 24/7.  It is about helping people wake up to the sacrament of life with every breath we take.

We might not see the money rolling into the institutional church with this way of being, but if we listen deeply and trust in the Spirit’s unfolding, we will witness signs even greater than these!

SONY DSC

YOLO BABY!

About a year ago I was referred to a physical therapist for some right leg and hip pain. Basically the therapist told me that my right leg and hip area had fallen asleep and had lost much of its muscle capacity. I was dumbfounded since I had just finished my first sprint triathlon.

How could I have trained hard for 6 months with my right leg muscles asleep? The therapist told me that this is actually a common occurrence with many people who run. They don’t even know it until the pain sets in. So she set me on a path of healing through a series of exercises that got progressively more difficult with every week of therapy. I still do those exercises every time I run because I surely don’t want my leg muscles to fall asleep again!

As I was running the other day I thought about other places in my life where I have fallen asleep. You know what I am talking about — living my life on auto pilot. A day turns into a week that turns into a month and so on. Let’s face it, how many opportunities do we take throughout the week to intentionally wake up to life in all its glory — the good, the bad and the ugly?

There are all kinds of ways we can fall asleep — emotionally, mindfully and spiritually, to name a few. We can lose sight of our dreams, numb our emotions, and disregard our intuition without even being aware of it. Our highs and lows become kind of the same and TV even becomes boring. It is then that the zombie-effect takes over and we don’t even know that we are dying inside.

So how do we wake up those muscles again?

One quick wake up that I would not recommend is losing something dear to us — our source of income, our health, a loved one, or a relationship. When that happens we begin to ask questions like –

  • What is life all about?
  • Why am I here?
  • What is my purpose?

Sometimes that wake up is short-lived because those questions can be so uncomfortable to sit with by ourselves. Sometimes those questions are scary because if we really pondered them we would have to change some very comfortable zombie-like things in our life.

But this is what I say…..

YOLO Baby!  You Only Live Once!   It is time to come alive!

Howard Thurman puts is this way, “Don’t ask what the world needs. Ask what makes you come alive, and go do it. Because what the world needs is people who have come alive.”

I think that coming alive takes dedicated practice, just like my leg exercises.  I also think that living into our fullness allows us to navigate those crisis moments in our life with grace and peace.

One practice that I have said “yes” too is being a part of an intentional community that is not afraid of questions and seeks together to develop those emotional, mindful and spiritual muscles. We have discerned that our way to do this is to connect with each other, with God and with our neighbors in deep ways that take us out of our comfort zones.

We are just starting out and realize that we are inventing something new that has its roots in something ancient. And we feel good about that.

If you live in the Portland, Oregon area and are interested in joining us for this adventure in waking up we’d love to meet you. We will be starting 3 groups in September and October. Contact me with your questions.

If you live elsewhere, think about starting your own wake-up community because…

YOLO Baby!

YOLO

country road

Searching for… Welcome?

There is a story about a Celtic priest new to his parish walking along a country road. He saw a farmer with his horse and plow working a field, preparing the soil for planting. He hollered out to the farmer. “Hello sir, may a share a word with you?”

The farmer incredulous, looked over his field and said, “ My word for this day is to get this field plowed.”

The parish in which I find myself in Portland, Oregon is called the none zone — the spiritual but not religious zone where 9 out of 10 people do not attend church. In essence I live among folks who would rather have a root canal than walk into a church on Sunday morning.

That is why I love the story from the Gospel of Luke in chapter 10 in the New Testament where Jesus sends out 70 people as his advance team in Samaria, an unfriendly territory with a history of animosity toward the Jews.  Samaritans were known to have an indifference to God language and cool contempt for outsiders trying to preach religion to them.  And yet it is here that Jesus sends us out.

The first thing Jesus instructs us to do is to get on our knees and pray for workers because the harvest is so huge. Could those workers be us? Could he be asking us to pray for our own quest towards grace and boldness because we are like lambs in a wolf pack?  Could it be that this was Jesus’ way to shape and form his apprentices into a new way of living and thinking by jarring us out of our complacency and comfort?  Could it be that he is reminding us that we can do nothing without the guidance of the Spirit of love?

Next Jesus tells us to leave our baggage behind. Oh my!  Why do we have to do this?  And what kind of baggage is he asking us to drop?

For me it boils down to letting go of my ego needs and the ego needs of the corporate church. These include the need for control and power, affection and esteem, safety and security. These needs are manifestations of our false self reacting to a sense of scarcity in the world on individual, institutional and cultural levels. This is our wolf pack, our dark side, our barrier.  When we recognize this, we can begin to sharpen our listening skills and trust in our intuition, our home to Spirit.

Interesting isn’t it that Jesus addresses all of these through his instruction to the disciples in this passage! In essence he is saying, “You will not have control, power, affection, safety or security on this journey.  You have much to work through in order to go the distance. So who’s in?”

To nurture that interior life with God is to embark on a journey through a refining fire.  There is nothing like a boot camp in the streets of Samaria to bring up all sorts of fear and anxiety within!   It is as if Jesus is inviting us to discover our true selves as sons and daughters of God. Imagine!

It is exactly at the point of trusting enough to let go that we are able to truly seek people and places that will welcome us. And through that welcome we are asked to let go even more — eat whatever they place before you even if it is unclean!

In essence Jesus wants us to humbly meet people where they are. Listen to their stories, eat with them, laugh with them, weep with them and learn with them until we finally arrive at a sense of one-another-ness, interconnectedness, joined-in-the-common-good-ness. When that happens we become a healing balm for each other.

Then Jesus adds, before you go, tell them that together you witnessed the unfolding of God’s realm right before your very eyes. Tell them that the Kingdom of God is at work, is here, is within, is right now! Can you feel it? Do you see it?”

You see Jesus does not expect people to believe first! He turns our lived out church model on its head with a relational approach. Can we hang with you and will you hang with us? Will you welcome us into your world?  Will you allow us to sit at your table? Will you allow us to learn about you — your joys, sorrows, aspirations? And who knows maybe you will know we are Christians by our love, by the way we listen, by the light we carry within and just maybe in the process we will discover the Christ in each other.

I think Jesus is helping us to understand that we are not called to welcome the stranger; rather, we are called to be the stranger seeking welcome. Jesus invites us to listen deeply for the presence of God already in the world and to give witness to the sacrament of life unfolding around us with every breath we take.

The beauty of this approach is that it is light — it is not about heavy-duty programming or months of planning to launch something new. Rather it is organic.

As leaders of this paradigm shift in the mainline church it is important for us to practice what we preach. To be the change that we wish to see. Because as a student of John Wesley, I know the practice itself will teach us what we need to know.

When the 70 returned they were filled with stories that I think surprised even them. As they journeyed into the unknown they grew in their trust of the unfolding of the Spirit — that God was with them, even in times of fear and doubt. They learned that it is okay to shake the dust off and move on. They discovered that when seeking welcome we find the Kingdom of God as plain as day.

I know for many Christians this sounds risky. We have been brain-washed into thinking that church as we know it is the only legitimate House for God and that there is something wrong with people who don’t visit God in God’s house. And for those of us with paychecks and pension plans invested in a butts in seats model this new way of being is heresy.

But what would happen if we flung open the doors, dropped our baggage, stopped loitering in meetings and discovered that the whole world is the House of God — proclaiming like Jacob in the wilderness as he set up his stone altar, “Surely the Lord is in this place and I did not know it, this is none other than the house of God and the gate of heaven.”

Back to my story about the Celtic priest. After the farmer yelled back to him. The priest without missing a beat climbed over the stone fence, rolled up his sleeves and said, to the farmer, “How can I help?”

The priest and farmer worked side by side all day in the field, not saying much at all. At dusk the farmer turned to the priest and invited him in for dinner.

At table that evening after breaking the bread the farmer said, “Now about that word…”

WDS2013

The Sweet Spot — Freedom or Community?


I recently attended the World Domination Summit, #WDS2013, with close to 3,000 other pilgrims from all over the world who are captivated by Chris Guillebeau and his “The Art of Non-Conformity” manifesto. I have to confess that I knew nothing about Chris or this Summit until a friend invited me to experience what happens when a bunch of post-moderns who are interested in adventure, community and service get together. In short, it was like an Amway convention on steroids! But I digress…

One afternoon I found myself sitting in a circle with folks that I had never met before and will never see again. We began a conversation about how to create community. I came to learn that many in that circle expressed their high value for freedom through travel to the point where they had no permanent address. They talked about the expat communities that they were able to connect with throughout their travels, but every time they returned to their places of origin they had a difficult time finding a group of folks that resonated with their values. They shared that they have friends all over the world but what they really long for is a friend who they can have a beer with just down the street.

Even though I have a permanent address I understand that primal yearning for deep connection. It is how we are wired as humans. I, too, have friends all over the world. I live thousands of miles away from my extended family and I have moved multiple times across the country in my adult life. I, too, want to make a family of friends right where I live now.

Then I spoke up and said, “I think building that kind of community rooted where you live takes time. It takes time for the making of common stories that build a sense of trust and history together.” With that comment I got a resounding negative response that went something like this, “It is easy to build community on my blog and I feel connected to my subscribers.” “Look, we have just created a community of 3,000 people at this 2 day summit. I love you guys.”

As I listened more, I began to understand that my concept of community might be different than many of the folks in that room.

I want to be rooted in a community that allows me to be a part of that casserole and beer brigade as you marry, have children, get divorced, or mourn the loss of your loved ones. I want to be a part of a community that stretches me beyond my comfort zone and helps me to grow in the ways of love and peace. I want to be a part of a community that not only dreams about what the preferred future looks like in my city but works to make that a reality.

So what is that sweet spot along the continuum of freedom and community?

I guess it depends on how I find my freedom. If I chose to travel as an expression of freedom maybe the best I can hope for is a fleeting sense of community with those I meet along the way.

But what if I found my freedom in Grace? What if I set my life adventure as a journey of embracing my belovedness and living into my God-inspired fullness? What if I experienced my creativity as a conspiring with the life-force of the universe and the help of my friends? And what if I belonged to such a community that helped me to stay awake to the sacrament of every breath that I take?

That is a kind of freedom that keeps me connected to my spirit, my community, my passion and my joy. That is the kind of sweet spot that I am claiming as I join my friends in creating a network of such communities in Portland, Oregon called Zacc’s house PDX.  Adventure in a community serving others — you betcha!

 

the table

Open Source Church – a Potluck of Sorts

What role does the institution of the United Methodist Church play in fulfilling its mission to “Make Disciples of Christ for the Transformation of the World”? Is it an enabler or an obstacle?

According to Clay Shirky, an institution always excludes and marginalizes people.  He refers to the 80/20 rule: 20% of the users of any institution use 80% of the resources.  The 80% zone is the cost of running the institution, while 20% of users are treated as employees.

When a movement becomes an institution its primary concern becomes self-preservation. The focus shifts to a consumer mentality that tries to keep church attenders happy so that they will give money so that the 20% can be employed doing the work of the church.  When this happens decisions are made that benefit fewer and fewer people and we lose the bigger picture of sharing the good news that God’s kingdom is at hand. We end up playing church instead of being the church.

I often ask people to pretend that Jesus has just given them and 10 of their friends the charge to share the good news of God’s love to the ends of the earth.  How would they go about doing that today if they had to start from scratch?

How do we get pre and post-church as well as spiritual but not religious people together without the institutional baggage? Can we build cooperation into the structure, arrange the coordination in the group and get the same outcome (making disciples) without the institutional costs? Can we design systems that coordinate the outcome of the mission without regard to institutional models and metrics? Can we convene people without trying to control them? If so what would this look like?

I am imagining everyday life and discipleship formation as one in the same.  I am imagining small groups of people getting together to dream about God’s preferred future for them and their neighborhoods and then daring to make that a reality. I am imagining people being allowed to contribute as much or as little as they like. I am imaging a pot-luck of sorts where everyone is fed spiritually and physically.

We can look to the phenomenon of social/amateur media. The former audiences of mass-produced professional media are now increasing full participants. We need only look to the role that social media played in the Arab Spring to know that when anyone can be a reporter of the news as it is happening movements can begin. They can be as playful as a flash mob to as inspiring as a regime change — messy for sure, but filled with spirit!

We have learned that the role of social media is less and less about crafting a single message to be consumed by individuals. It is now about creating an environment for convening and supporting groups.  This just happens to be a hallmark of our post modern times. People long to connect and make a difference. Everyone has their own story to share, their own take on truth and their unique gifts to offer. They just need someone to ask the important questions and begin the conversation.

How can we make best use out of this metaphor in a post-modern church? How can we help the Church move from being a professional (paid clergy) platform of information/theology/praxis in the form of church as we know it on Sunday morning to a social network (Methodist movement) that learns from and empowers each other?  How can we go from inviting the stranger in to being the stranger that is sent out?

Can we build the system so that anyone can contribute at any amount? In other words can we embrace the gifts of the non-church-goers and treat them not only as consumers but also as producers? Can we treat Wesley’s means of grace not only as open source content but also as a platform for further creativity in spiritual practice?

Listen to this wisdom from Clay Shirky, a consultant and teacher on the social and economic effects of Internet technologies.  And just imagine an open source church movement!

 “The trends are towards easier collaboration, and still more power to the individual. The open source movement has demonstrated that even phenomenally complex systems can be developed through distributed volunteer labor, and software allows individuals to do work that once required a team. So while we don’t know what ultimate effect the economics of free content will be on group work, we do know that the barriers to such free content are coming down, as they did with print and images when the Web launched. …The interesting questions are how far the power of the creator to publish their own work is going to go, how much those changes will be mirrored in group work, and how much better collaborative filters will become in locating freely offered material. While we don’t know what the end state of these changes will be, we do know that the shift in publishing power is epochal and accelerating.” Clay Shirky

You asked for a sign

Discerning my call to ministry

“I just want to be a ‘normal’ person” was my response when people that I knew and respected asked me if I ever thought about going into the ministry. 
I knew plenty of people who were pastors but I never thought that I was worthy enough for that journey nor did I think I could handle being good enough as one of those “perfect” Christians.

But I can also understand why they made such suggestions. You see, at the time I was over churched. I was a leader in my church youth group, attended worship every Sunday and went to church camp every summer. During the summers throughout college I worked at church camps and my senior year I was employed as a youth director at a nearby church. I was fascinated by the sense of community that could develop in a short time at camp and became a small group junkie of sorts.

But what I really wanted to do was to travel the world and learn about other cultures. My degree was in Political Science and Spanish and I was scheduled after graduation to go into the Peace Corps. Five weeks before heading to Guatemala as a community organizer, the Peace Corps called and asked why out of the 10 references that I gave them that 8 were connected to the church. They said, “Have you ever thought about being a missionary?”

It was at that point that I decided to listen to the wisdom from those around me.  I turned down the Peace Corps and applied to Seminary. I thought that I would give it a year to see how I liked it, because frankly I could never see myself as a pastor.  But I also knew that if I didn’t take this next step I would regret it.

Thirty years ago I didn’t have many role models of women in the ministry and when I told my father that I was going to seminary, he said, “Beth, sit down and have a beer. You are crazy!”

As I sat in my first supervised ministry group in seminary I wondered if my Dad was right because I was the only one in the group who said, “I have no idea why I am here… maybe to be a missionary?”

What I discovered in seminary was that I loved asking questions of ultimate meaning. I loved taking my faith to the edge and seeing if there was anything left after vigorous examination. I loved learning about church history and philosophy. And I loved drinking beer with my fellow seminarians as we pondered the meaning of life and our purpose on earth.

But I still was unsure of my call to ordained ministry. At the time I was told by my mentors, “We see your call, so trust us. Get ordained and live into it.” So that is what I did, taking baby steps along the way, learning as I went, claiming my authority as I lived into it.

I started out as a chaplain at a hospital, then as a pastor to 2 country churches, then an associate pastor, a senior pastor, an interim pastor and then as the Director of New Faith Community Development. Now I work as a coach to people starting new faith communities and I am starting a network of house churches In Portland, Oregon.

Instead of living in a different country every five years as a cultural anthropologist or political agitator, I have lived into my call of being in mission wherever I find myself. Today my fascination is with the post-modern, post-Christian culture of the Pacific Northwest.

Mine has been a continual journey of self-discovery and re-examining. Every year I have asked myself these questions —

  • What will make me come alive this year?
  • What do I want to learn?
  • How do I want to experiment in building community?
  • How do I want to use my gifts?

I have come full circle. The Peace Corps had me pegged as a community developer working for the church. I still am that “normal” person who has a passion to build community with the purpose of transformation — mind, body and soul. I can think of no greater honor than to practice that through the church.

If you are interested in exploring your own call into ministry check out Exploration 2013.

IMG_5591

Doing a New Thing

I am about to do a new thing. Now it springs forth!     Isaiah 43:19

Around the United Methodist connection innovative leaders are experimenting with different ways to connect with the growing percentage of the population known as the “Nones” and “Spiritual but not Religious”. The Holy Spirit is guiding these leaders on a journey of mutuality and respect toward those who claim no religious affiliations.

They are discovering that what used to be effective strategies for starting churches no longer works well in this post-modern context. They are finding that post-moderns value small community, consensus, diversity and spiritual experiences. Young Adults are less interested in supporting programs that require a belief in a set of Truths and more interested in making a difference in the world.

The Leader’s task in this new way of being is to extend the realm of God through formational practices. The focus is not on creating a worship experience but rather on helping people to sacramentalize the world through collaboration and co-creation. They meet people where they are and listen deeply to where God is already at work. They convene conversations that invite people to dream about a preferred future. They engender a sense of belonging through story-telling and radical hospitality. They help to bring the gifts of those on the margins to the center. And most importantly they model a set of practices/rule of life that helps people to wake up to the ways of love and peace through Christ.

They are skilled in community organizing, mentoring, collaborating, facilitating, and deep listening. Their mystical sensibilities ground them in God’s grace which in turn allows them to be that Grace for others. They understand that the realm of God is within and all around us.

Many are willing and able to be bi-vocational and raise their own funds to support this work. They realize how important it is that these communities become self-sustaining and so they seek to mentor others who can replicate what they are practicing to the ends of the earth!

Here are a few examples of the kinds of innovative ministries unfolding in the United Methodist church.

These micro-missional communities are a new wine skin that God is blessing. I hope that the United Methodist Church will support and value this biblical work.

 

Jesus loves you

Tough Love for the Church – Please stop boring me!

It is customary to blame secular science and anti-religious philosophy for the eclipse of religion in modern society. It would be more honest to blame religion for its own defeats. Religion declined, not because it was refuted, but because it became irrelevant, dull, oppressive, insipid.  – Rabbi Abraham Joshua Heschel   “God In Search of Man”

 

I recently read in the United Methodist Reporter an interview of Rev. Lillian Daniel, a United Church of Christ pastor, who recently published a book entitled, “Spiritual But Not Religious” Is Not Enough: Seeing God in Surprising Places, Even The Church.

I agree with her that being a part of a faith community is important.  She rightly says, “There is value in landing somewhere and going deeply, and allowing yourself to be shaped by a tradition that is bigger than you.” But it seems she defines a religious community as a program centered church with traditional worship.  I think there are many ways we can form communities that go deep and practice a spiritual tradition, many of which don’t look like church on Sunday morning.

In addition, her definition of the “Spiritual but not Religious” (SBNR) is this, “I don’t worship anywhere, and I’m kind of proud of that because it implies that I’m a freethinker.  I’m not spoon-fed dogma and I don’t look down upon other people who are different from me.  Except of course, people of faith.”

I used to think that way myself when I was a pastor of an awesome little church community that was struggling financially.  Every Sunday morning as I pulled my car out of the driveway to go to church and my neighbors were enjoying their second cup of coffee at home I found myself asking questions like these.

“What is wrong with those people?  Why aren’t they going to church?  Why don’t they realize the gift of being a part of a faith community where everybody knows your name and they are always glad you came?  If they could only experience it once they would come back.  We are a socially progressive, actively engaged congregation doing lots of good in the world.  We pray, worship, and learn together.  We challenge each other and practice growing in the ways of love.  Who wouldn’t want to be a part of that?”

However, as I began to earnestly listen to folks who didn’t go to church I realized that I carried many more judgements about them than they had about me being a pastor “who spoon feeds dogma to people”. But it was only after I took a family leave and began to look for a church community to belong to that my questions shifted to something like this —  “Why would anyone want to attend church when it does a good job of being irrelevant, dull and oppressive?”

You see, church as it is currently configured works for folks who are already a part of it. But on a good Sunday in the United States the church is lucky to reach 10% of the population.  What about the other 90%? What about the 30% of adults in their 20′s who call themselves, “nones” — unaffiliated with no religious tradition?

Instead of asking what is wrong with those “nones” and SBNR people we should be asking what is wrong with the church.  Why has it lost its relevancy in our post-modern culture?  Maybe we should be more concerned about listening to people’s deep yearnings and questions about ultimate meaning than about getting them to go to church with us. Instead of pointing fingers can we find points of connection?

As I recall, Jesus was more interested in the folks who weren’t welcomed than he was with the folks who already had a place at the table. He didn’t rebuke people for not going to synagogue; rather, he created community wherever he went and in the process opened folks to God’s grace and love.  His most harsh words were for those inside the church — the priests and pharisees who just couldn’t seem to get that God’s Grace knows no bounds.

Lillian Daniel says that “community is what separates religion from spiritually”.  I am hoping that community is what will bring us together.