Friday, July 24, 2009

Read This Book

One of my first on-ramps into missional thinking was Reggie McNeal's book The Present Future - Six Tough Questions for the Church ( I was blown away by the candor and honesty of
of the questions McNeal was asking and found that they helped articulate my own
struggles and questions. Unlike many books being published around
the same time The Present Future was practical and helpful while being
challenging and provocative.

McNeal's new book, Missional Renaissance, is another fine example of a practical book that is as helpful as it is challenging and critical. The subtitle summarizes the guts of the book: Changing the Scorecard for the CHURCH. McNeal is attempting to provide new metrics for measuring church health. Personally, I believe this is the most important "next step" for the missional process to take. The missional concept is out there - people are aware of the missional dialog (much of which began with the emerging church dialog) - and there are several examples of churches wrestling with how to course correct in light what God is saying and doing through this powerful movement. Creating new measurements for the local church is critical if we are to hold the course and not fall back into old patterns which yield old outcomes.

One of the shifts McNeal proposes in his book is that the church move from destination to connector. "The church is a connector, linking people to the kingdom life that God has for them. When the church thinks it's the destination, it confuses the scorecard and keeps people away from their true destination - LIFE." I love this simple language and practical perspective. The church is not the is a means to an end. Church leaders should figure out how to measure the end so that we understand the role and function of the church in achieving that larger outcome. What is it that matters MORE than the growth of our local church? Is there anything else more important?

Read this book.

If you are deep into the missional dialog you will appreciate Reggie's comprehensive look at the movement and the practical ways he seeks to create new metrics. If you are new to the conversation, I can't imagine a better book to help get you up to speed.

Sunday, July 12, 2009

Does Doctrine Get in the Way?

Doctrine (Latin: doctrina) is a codification of beliefs or "a body of teachings" or "instructions", taught principles or positions, as the body of teachings in a branch of knowledge or belief system. The Greek analogy is the etymology of catechism.

I believe doctrine is important. Thoughtful biblical doctrine is a necessary aspect of true wisdom and authentic faith. The content of our faith is as important as the sincerity of our faith because good intentions alone are not sufficient.

BUT (and there's always a but)

I'm concerned that doctrine often gets in the way; In the way of God at work, in the way of our witness, in the way of our worship, and in the way of our experience of God. Here is my thinking:
  • Evangelical, Anglican, Presbyterian, Baptist....any follower of Jesus will likely be part of an institution/structure that brings with it rules, perspectives, thoughts on God and Sacraments. Just ask a Presbyterian to baptize you as an adult if you were already baptized as an infant...and you'll see what I mean. Our "books of order" and regulations are most often attempts to turn biblical gray into black and white.
  • I believe we are prone to legalism and our attempts at being faithful to doctrine can lead us into a bondage that is more human than divine.
  • Theology is a living thing - maturing, changing, and evolving. Doctrine, like institutions, seek to be fixed and firmly rooted; unchangeable and persevering.
  • Our ability to interface with those outside our faith is seriously damaged when our doctrinal concerns surpass our kingdom concerns.
Maybe I'm too liberal for my own good. I mean.... I understand that WHO Jesus is matters. He isn't simply a great teacher alone....He is the Son of God. But the more I look at the Gospels, the more I see Jesus sending his disciples out to engage their world in ministry with little doctrinal preparation. I suppose I trust Jesus to reach out to people that are earnestly seeking him....even if they are in some questionable places as far as doctrine is concerned. Am I crazy?? Am I moving in the direction of a heretic?

Wednesday, July 1, 2009

A New Script

Walter Bruggemann is a theologian I'm currently knee-deep into. He has an over-arching premise regarding the role of ministry in society/culture that I've been wrestling with. He lays this out over 19 points but I'll summarize it for you in 4:

  • Everyone lives by a script and we are socialized into that script and it is outside our control.
  • The dominant script in America is "technological - therapeutic - military - consumerism" and it makes failed promises of happiness and safety.
  • It is the task of ministry to de-script that script and present an alternative script whose key character is the irascible, illusive, and sovereign Triune God.
  • Since most of society is ambivalent and ambiguous about this script, ministry is to also manage that ambivalence in faithful ways through preaching, liturgy, social action, education, justice, and good neighboring of all kinds.
For me, this is really helpful in illuminating the tensions that I often feel regarding church and culture. There are competing and differing scripts at war with one-another....and that war plays out throughout culture. And that war has little to do with "worship style preference" or "quality of our church campus" and everything to do with how followers of Jesus choose to live.

This is how I now see the "principalities and powers" that we, as followers of Jesus, fight against.

They aren't (usually) overt and explicit expressions of evil...but subtle choices to live according to a new narrative - a new script.....and that is TOUGH - full of TENSION - and ultimately demands us to trade in our sensibilities for a life of risk that is radical, provocative, and unsafe.