In spite of everything that is happening this weekend with my father (who is fighting pneumonia), there have been moments of sheer joy! Like decorating Christmas trees, having Thanksgiving meals with students from China and new family friends, having extended time to talk with my sisters…yes, deep in prayer and concern for my father and my friend, Don, back at the homstead in Monroe…but in spite of it all…
John Fischer is a friend…really, I miss him. Haven't talked to him in years but follow his ministry faithfully. Yesterday his "Catch" was worth its weight in gold. As I'm getting ready for thanksgiving, these words pretty much summed up my feelings on the subject. Why bother coming up with anything original when your friends pretty much say all that needs to be said:
There are many words that are important in one's life…I've been embracing many of them over the years. I've been shaped by the words, "family, love, meaning, all, pause, reflect, chaos, depth" among others. It might sound a bit strange that words can make a difference but they can…they shape a thought. They give voice to meaning in one's soul…they are that which flows out of the heart of a person and demonstrate that "living water" that Jesus said would come "gushing" forth from a life that is filled with His Spirit.
In recent years, I've been wrapping my head and heart around the word "and". There's alot of reasons for that…many of which I simply don't have the time to be able to articulate. Let's just say that wisdom is showing me that it isn't "either/or" these days in many of the things that I face…it isn't "them or us", "in or out", "law or gospel", "old or new"…it is not "either or" but more AND. Dualism and polarization…the intentional marginalization of what appear to be opposites, one over the other, isn't working for me any longer. I'm really enjoying the demonstration of a rather refreshingly complex paradox within life that seems to bring peace to much of my life these days.
Which brings me to these words from Mike Breen. You can read about Mike on your own…I've never met him personally…but he has become a mentor of sorts along a path of mission that God has been leading me on for years. His voice and the voice of his ministry (3dm) has make an impact on me…why? Because of the power of AND…I've been around the pro church world block for a while. I've seen systems, programs, movements come and go. I've realized that it isn't one vs. the other when it comes to what we do as followers of Jesus in Kingdom living…there is a place for "attracting" people into community with excellence, vitality, real community, etc…but there is also a place for realizing that there is a call and a purpose to living as a follower of Jesus and that is LIVING a life of the Kingdom in the midst of real life and real relationships. As much as I am and will continue to be embracing and promoting a "lost sense" of what it means to be a follower of Jesus and a gathering of followers of Jesus SENT on a mission, I also know how important it is to find meaning and purpose in GATHERING as a community. It isn't attractional VS. mission…it is attraction AND mission…gathering AND scattering. So, maybe these words will make sense to you…Mike's words certainly do to me:
- I believe there is inherent value in gathering a large group of people (75+) together to worship God, submit to the scriptures, tell stories of God moving in the community, share the Lord’s Supper, etc. We gather because, with one voice, we choose to worship our Risen Lord. We gather to be reminded that we are part of his story — his present and future Kingdom. And we gather so that we can scatter as missionaries to a world that is broken and in need.
- I believe the value of worshipping God together as a community is enough on its’ own. If there was not one single person who wasn’t a Christian in attendance, it would be just as important for us as believers. Worshipping Jesus for the sake of Jesus must always be enough.
- I believe that to sustain the scattered mission of the church outside of the large gathering there is the need for regular and rhythmic times of gathering together to remind us of the bigger story we are in, reinforcing why we live the missional life we do. I’m not saying it’s impossible to sustain Kingdom mission outside of it, but it’s very, very difficult. We gather, we scatter. We gather, we scatter.
- I believe the worship gathering exists first and foremost for believers, for people who are intentionally growing in their relationship with Jesus. Yes, people who don’t know Jesus yet can come, but honestly, they aren’t our top priority in a worship service. Can they come to faith in a service? Yes. Should we provide opportunities for them to step more fully into a relationship with Jesus? Yes. Can a pre-Christian benefit from experiencing the worship of believers? Absolutely. But we need to understand that if the worship service is our primary place of mission we’ve already lost the battle. We may believe in the priesthood of all believers, but do we believe in the missionhood of all believers — outside the ‘gathering’?
- I believe the worship gathering should always keep an eye on the shaping of the community for mission outside of the walls of the service. When they leave the gathering, believers should know they leave as missionaries and agents of the Kingdom. How is the church community shaping that reality for people?
- I believe many who say they are advocates of the ”missional church” have thrown the baby out with the bathwater and have rejected, out of hand, larger gatherings. To an extent I understand this, but the reality is that many missional churches struggle to grow, stagnate and fizzle out. Why? Because scattering is unbelievably hard and gathering sustains. It reminds us who we are. It shows us we are part of a bigger story that is reinforced when, upon looking around, we see enough people to remind us we aren’t alone in this. We hear stories of victory and redemption. It nourishes our souls and allows the wounds of the missional frontier to receive some healing. It is not the only place care happens, but it is an important one.
Humans are creatures of overreaction. We jump ditch to ditch quite easily. Many saw the issues and the inertia involved in becoming a Sunday-centric, worship service oriented community (and rightly so!). But know this: The reason the worship service became the center of evangelism and mission is because we stopped making missional disciples who understood the nature and purpose of scattering. We’re bad at discipleship and so we’ve gotten ourselves into this predicament. Scattering is the cake and gathering is the icing in the life of the church. We’ve become a fat church from eating a lot of icing. But don’t throw out the icing! Cake just never tastes quite as well without it.
I like Peter Rollins…I like the way he thinks and I love his passion for the Kingdom of God. Peter is not afraid to 'stir up the pot' with creativity and theological sophistication as well as insight. I've never met Peter but I'm sure I would like him. He communicates in a style I can relate to – part instigator, part comforter, part Prophet and part shepherd. Sometimes you can talk and write just to be an intellectual nuisance…sometimes it is profound enough to be a helpful nusance…that's the aspect of Peter's work that I can relate to.
Insurrection is Peter's latest work…although the cover tells the reader about his desire to encourage "doubt" actually the book is more about the profound effect that the Crucifixion can have on the soul and journey of anyone who aligns themselves with Jesus. He works through an issue that I find extremely helpful, that being, how people use any religious experience as a psychological crutch. Actually, Peter is correct in his assessment…people do look for a "deus ex machina" (a reference to Dietrich Bonhoeffer's work, which is worth examining on its own merits) to "deliver" them from the stresses and strains of real life. It is what some would call a blind adherence to a "theology of glory", that being constantly believing in the delusion of God's "duty" being to provide some sort of consistent temporal comfort level to people who align themselves with Him. In citing Bonhoeffer, Peter comments,
"…the Church (has) approached God as a deus ex machina. God was merely an idea clumsily dropped into our world in order to fulfill a task. God was introduced to the world on OUR TERMS in order to resolve a problem rather than expressing a lived reality. The result is a God who simply justifies OUR beliefs and helps US sleep comfortably at night (page 13-14, emphasis mine)."
That pretty much covers it! Peter's thesis is that we have created a God not only in our own "likeness" but according to our deep seated "needs." So when we who do ministry praxis in community talk about a "needs driven" ministry strategy, Peter would affirm that not only because it is true but because that would be consistent on how we have "created" our God. In fact, Peter belives that THE reason why faith is most often at the periphery of life is because we have created a faith journey that only serve US when we are facing depressions, struggles and even death. That type of faith is disconnected from daily experience, hence the "deus ex machina"…that God who conveniently "drops into" our lives, who seemingly is out of place and not involved in life's story but is there more as a superhero figure in a need-based moment than One filling our lives with presence. He actually says someting pretty "funny" but astounding when he writes,
"Getting people to believe in some form of deus ex machina is as easy as getting children to believe in Santa Claus."
Oh, how true! The remaining pages of the book explores a faith that embraces the Cross in a deep, profound and life-changing manner…that moves God from periphery to center of existence. Truth is, for those of us who do Kingdom living from a position of leadership, Peter's enouragement is worth the price of admission:
"the one who commits themselves to the task of helping people really enter into doubt, unknowing, and ambiguity needs to be ten, twenty, even a hundred times better than those who sell certainty."
That and the rest of the book should keep you off the street for a while…this isn't a "perfect" book…I'm not "endorsing" every page, but a faith that is real has to be discovered in the midst of real life. We don't create a God who endorses our fantasy existence or who simply drops in at our convenience. And entering the Cross and living in the shadow of Calvary is more than singing, "Were you there?"…it is a "fundamental way of entering into the presence of God." So, Peter, you have my endorsement! Friends, this is a theologically challenging read…perfect for your holiday cheer!
Thomas Merton said, "You are fed up with words and I don't blame you. I am nauseated by them sometimes. I am also, to tell the truth, nauseated by ideals and with causes. This sounds like heresy, but I think you will understand what I mean.
It is so easy to get engrossed with ideas and slogans and myths that in the end one is left holding the bag, empty, with no trace of meaning left in it. And then the temptation is to yell louder than ever in order to make the meaning be there again by magic. Going through this kind of reaction helps you to guard against this. Your system is complaining of too much verbalizing, and it is right…
The big results are not in your hands or mine, but they suddenly happen, and we can share in them; but there is no point in building our lives on this personal satisfaction, which may be denied us and which after all is not that important."
Isn't that SIMPLY true?
This cartoon states it perfectly…the HS, that would be "Holy Spirit" in abbreviated form (done in love and respect I may add), does not jump according to our plans, history, pre-conceived notions and strategies, assumptions, or preferences…the wind of the Spirit blows where He wills. In other words, as an old friend once said, all you can do is "put up a sail" and enjoy the ride! Remember, God doesn't need us to do His Mission…we need Him, His power, His grace…it's all about God, not us!