Tuesday, February 23, 2010

Stories from the Trenches 1

Harrison and his wife Aleare, are originally from Liberia, Africa.
They survived the recent Liberian war, not without incredible struggles, and came to the United States intent on serving the Lord and His church. For many years they functioned as pastors in the traditional style of church. Harrison; one of the pastoral paid staff, and Aleare; the unpaid, unofficial but functioning, pastoral staff. A common situation in traditional church structures today. They spent their days ministering to the congregation; preaching, counseling, doing hospital visits, weddings, and funerals, fathering and mothering those in the church. They were beloved leaders and highly esteemed.

Then, something started to uninvitedly tug at them. Something organic began to grow in the soil of their heart. It didn't grow out of discontentment, disillusionment or frustration.

It grew as a desire for something more.

Harrison and Aleare began to have a hunger for those not in the church, to experience the Great Shepherd. They wanted to pastor the pastor-less. Something missional began to take root.

God took their own experience as refugees, and gave them a burden for refugee and immigrant families here in the U.S.
They had an ever increasing desire to minister to the African American community that shared their neighborhood.
And a long held dream of an "inter cultural" style of fellowship where diversity on many levels gelled, began to stir up once again.

It was simply not possible to change their focus and ministry to these areas while they were on staff at the traditional church. The church paid them to minister to the congregation and expected them to pastor those within the fellowship, not those outside of it.
Harrison's pastoral position was their main source of income. Although Aleare had just begun a daycare business in their home, they didn't have enough children to make it financially viable on it's own.
It was a moment of decision, and one not without incredible struggles.

Harrison resigned from his salaried pastoral job, and although no one really understood his reasons, they blessed his departure as best they could. He began to take nominal paying temporary jobs. Often working overnight shifts, standing on his feet while working on a conveyor belt, or loading and unloading boxes. He worked a myriad of jobs and most of those physically taxing, (and this isn't easy for someone in his 50's ). In a tight economy, with the lack of jobs available, Harrison took what was offered.

Aleare did childcare in her home with the families in their neighborhood. Investing her time and energies in this, soon more children came, and in a short time they had the maximum number of children allowed.

However, finances were tight, their ego's flattened, positions of prestige gone. It was hard on many levels, and yet they kept going. They had begun a journey of exploration and adventure and they were fully committed to it, regardless of the difficulties.

First, they did what they knew how to do, and that was to rent a space and invite people to come. The trouble was, that in doing this, they only saw "transfer people" coming to their gatherings. It took on the form which is commonly called in the simple church circles as; "Honey, I shrunk the church". This wasn't what they wanted. They wanted to reach unchurched people. Those that wouldn't come into a church building, for whatever reason.

Soon they stopped using that rented space and began to have church, by being church, in their home. Sometimes in formal gatherings, and other times in impromptu fellowship of one sort or another. They began to actively shepherd the families of the children of the daycare in their home. Teaching parenting skills, marriage counselors, single parent support, advising about life decisions, going with them on trips to the hospital, tangibly loving and supporting these daycare families, non of whom claimed to be Christians. In essence, they became a part of their lives and had opportunities galore to minister. The soil was fertile. God was working it!

Harrison was having continual opportunities to minister at his menial jobs. People were curious and had many questions as to why a trained pastor would be working alongside them in such a job.

Something started to happen. Not unlike the days when Harrison was leading a small group of war refugees throughout the countryside of Liberia seeking safety, food and shelter during the war. He had refugees again. This time, the war was the spiritual battles for their eternal life, and he and Aleare were called to journey with them to find true peace and life with the One who gives it.

Suddenly they were pastoring those not yet Christians.
They were ministering to those who needed a physician.
A father and a mother to the fatherless, the orphaned, and those along the highways and byways that Jesus proclaimed in Luke 14: 21-23;

'Go out quickly into the streets and alleys of the town and bring in the poor, the crippled, the blind and the lame.' 22" 'Sir,' the servant said, 'what you ordered has been done, but there is still room.'23"Then the master told his servant, 'Go out to the roads and country lanes and make them come in, so that my house will be full.

Harrison and Aleare are on a unfolding mission of the life of Christ in the trenches. It changes and transforms itself constantly. God is a good guide and continues to lead them, making course corrections when needed. He knows the pace for this couple. He knows what He has "in store for those who love Him". Exciting and unnerving, they find themselves hanging on tight to the Lord and seeking Him with renewed expectations to work in powerful and incredible ways. When they came over to our home the other night, they were like young children excitedly sharing all the ways God was moving. Their enthusiasm was refreshing and inspiring! That's what we are all created for; experiencing the life changing power of Christ on a regular basis! To be agents of that transforming power of Christ, not only in our lives, but the lives of those around us.

They are living organic and missional; following Jesus daily in His unfolding to whom He wants them to minister and come alongside. They are seeing Him open hearts and transform lives that have never known the riches of those in Christ Jesus. A network of intercultural fellowships are forming naturally and powerfully through relationships, and living naturally through life with one another.

Harrison and Aleare are courageous and faithful servants, pastoring the pastorless.
As heirs, they are living in some of their inheritance even now. What a blessing that is!

Lord give them more!!!!

Now, onto Blaine........

Saturday, February 20, 2010

Missional Lifestyle - Time to Grow Up

If you've been reading my blog posts, you know I've been talking about the missional aspect of our life and faith as more than just theology, but as a lifestyle of faith in action. Action that is precipitated by the initiation of the Holy Spirit.
It's "seeing something the Father is doing" (Jn 5:19). No more, no less, and then walking in it with Him.
That's organic. It's all about His initiation and direction.

However, you get to be the vehicle of it.
That's missional. YOU being His hands, His feet, His mouth, His heart.

That's simple right? God directs, we follow.

Simple yes. However, living a simple, organic, missional life requires something of us; foremost, learning to listen. I would guess, that most of us have gotten a bit slack on listening. We likely spend more time in talking to God rather than hearing from Him. We come up with a plan, pitch it to Him and then deceive ourselves into thinking that we are walking in what He wants, when in reality it is what we want.

It also requires some other things we've most likely become a bit slack in.
Things such as; trust (restful peace), humility (it's not all about me), love (it's all about you), willingness (I'll do it), obedience (I'll do it when I don't want to), patience (it might take a while) and perseverance (it might take a long while).

Living by faith rises to whole new levels in this lifestyle. Going from the comfortable and accustomed routine, to live in some degree, as explorers. Stretching our faith with the unknown elements that accompany this course. It's not for those who need a '5 Step Manual to Organic Life Success'. God calls us to live by faith, and that means not knowing all the details. Most of us are not used to that. We have lived with pre-packaged and constantly an abridged version of Christianity for a long time. We are used to having all the answers provided for questions we haven't even asked yet! We are like those in scripture that are "always learning but never able to acknowledge the truth". 2 Timothy 3:6-8 . We've been eating regurgitated, spoon fed food for a long time, and it's become like our processed foods, low in nutritional value and ultimately unhealthy.

We've lost our confidence to see our individual strategic value and contribution to Jesus and His Kingdom. We are like those in the movie (Neil Cole shows this in Greenhouse) called, The Life of Brian. Everyone in the crowd that was gathered calling out to be told what to do and ultimately how to think. We have had top down directed leadership for so long, we have long ago adapted to the group mentality, blindly following and complying to whatever is the latest "vision" promoted to us, and in the process, losing our own unique individuality to be strategic.

Do you know in other countries, where there is a trained leadership vacuum that Jesus is building His Church, disciples are being made, and transformation is happening? Simple, ordinary people who don't have PhD.'s in theology, pastoral leadership, missiology or anything close, and yet they have what they need for what God wants from them, because He is their supply. Completely and sufficiently. They are strategic for what God accomplishing. Sometimes I wonder if we are not seeing some of the same transformations that are occurring in other countries because we have relied upon our own acquired training, qualifications, and techniques to do it.

Your Bible and the Holy Spirit are capable guides. You have The Equiper Himself living within you. The living and active word of God working in accordance with His will, accomplishes His plans if you abide in Him. What else do you need?
"As for you, the anointing you received from him remains in you, and you do not need anyone to teach you. But as his anointing teaches you about all things and as that anointing is real, not counterfeit—just as it has taught you, remain in him."
1 John 2:26-28.
There are helpful tools out there. Great writers, books, websites and blogs that will help you in paradigm shifting. There are a variety of conferences and weekend training opportunities that will encourage and connect you with others on similar paths. But the bottom line is; God is enough.
We are linked and joined in a Body to keep us strong, encouraged and our rough edges smoothed out from time to time, but in the end, you, and you alone have to take your life and allow God to do something amazing and supernatural with it.

More and more people are talking and writing about the new buzz word "missional", but I suspect few actually are living it. Like a lot of things; it's often easier to talk about something rather than actually do it.
Those that are living the mission, I would venture to say, are unknown, nameless and faceless folks that quietly live faithful lives of being salt, light and the fragrance of Christ to those around them. You might think that the simple, organic and missional is all about those few well known names of people actually writing about it and leading conferences on the topics. Praise God for those who can run out front and give us some coaching and inspiration to keep the path. In reality however, it is being lived out daily by folks you have never, and will never, hear or affiliate them with this movement. A movement that is not "top down" led, but from the bottom up. It really is grass roots.
A few years ago, Felicity Dale wrote a book called; An Army of Ordinary People. The book tells the stories of some such unassuming, no name people that are living the organic, simple and missional adventure. Felicity has just revised and updated the book, so you may be interested in reading more about these testimonies of lives making an impact.

In a similar way, let me brag on some of my friends that are 'living the mission' in their own adventures. Each uniquely designed by God to be doing exactly what fits them in "such a time as this" in their lives. They are faithful stewards; living to multiply what they have been given in the time they have been given.
They would be the first to claim that they don't have a clue to what their doing, and isn't that refreshing! God gets all the glory and credit!
I'm privileged to know these and others just like them. May you be encouraged by their stories as well in the next few blog posts, and press on in your own adventure of missional lifestyle.

These people don't have organizations backing them up with support, money, involvement, etc....they are on their own. Most work secular jobs and still live a life in "full time ministry". They will likely never write a book, speak at a conference, be in the "cool" discussion groups online or off. They are divine nobodies. Incredibly, and powerfully impacting those around them. Simply, organically and in mission.

Let me start with Harrison and Aleare.........

Sunday, February 7, 2010

Missional Gnosticism

Maybe I'm pinning for the days of summer. Riding my motorcycle with the wind whistling through my helmet (head protection trumps my hair blowing in the wind). Finding new places to explore in companionship with my husband and friends. Experiencing the sense of adventure that being on a motorcycle offers. I'm thinking a lot of riding these long winter days and in how they can be a great illustration for my current blogging on the missional lifestyle.

It is simply not possible to ride a motorcycle by just knowing all about them. You could be the most knowledgeable person on the planet when it comes to the physics, mechanics, and even riding finesse on a motorcycle. You can go to seminars and read all about the skills needed to be a great rider, but without ever getting on one and gaining the skill yourself, it is static knowledge at best. It's knowledge that doesn't get the bike out of the driveway.

There must be practice for anything to take root within us. Our faith in Christ is no different. The Kingdom principles are meant to be put into action. We simply cannot live within our heads. As much as we love to learn (not unlike our Greek forefathers), in the esteem and acquisition of more and more knowledge and inspirational messages, that is just not going to cut it! We are becoming fat with our knowledge and discussions. We are a gluttonous, and it's time for a workout!

We have this incredible fascination with knowledge. Our fixation in the church these last few decades has raised teachers, and the teaching gift itself, way above all the other gifts in the Body. We have neglected or a best sidelined, other gifts necessary for the Body of Christ to be functioning in fullness. Our tendency towards Gnosticism grows not only in the Body of Christ, but also as our culture aspires to greater and greater knowledge. We live in the day of experts!

We have some great teachers here in our area, famous for their gift, who draw people to their church solely on their teaching gift. Is that church or a school? I know people who want mainly to associate with those who have written books, are sought out as conference speakers, and known for their intelligence and teaching. I've heard folks say they wouldn't attend a conference if the speaker wasn't well known. Isn't this the favoritism we are warned against in the scriptures?
We almost seem to be addicted to the acquiring of knowledge and deceive ourselves that we never have enough of it. We are forming our profession of faith in Christ into a singular aspect; knowledge. Emphasizing this one area over all others.

It reminds me of an a old Star Trek episode, where the life form the Enterprise crew encountered in space was just one huge disassociated head. They had a heck of a time with this creature who ruled above everything with incredible pride, actually swelling larger all the time, and completely disassociated from a body. We are called a Body, connected together, where all parts are necessary for health and wholeness. In fact, we're told to esteem those parts that seem "less esteemed".

When I teach motorcycling, we teach one night of classroom information. Four hours of a very good introduction in the knowledge needed for the mental aspects of riding. And let me tell you the same thing I tell my students; that riding a motorcycle is 80% mental and 20% physical. You must be a "smart" rider, to ride well and for a long time.
However, the majority of training is spent on actually practicing the physical skills needed to ride. Putting the mental lessons into action.

Each lesson has a short teaching, then a demonstration of what we want the student to do, and then they spend the majority of time on practicing it themselves.

The skill is learned by doing it, not just knowing about it. When the basics of that skill are acquired, and that varies with individuals, we move on to the next lesson. We don't expect mastery, but the basics to be built upon in the future practicing of the skill.

Neil Cole likes to say that; "we are educated beyond our obedience".
The training Neil and Paul Kaak developed in Greenhouse, (cmaresources.org) is set up as one weekend of teaching and scriptural exegesis, followed by a year of practice and application of it with monthly peer interaction and support. Not too dissimilar to our motorcycle training. The key is in the application. The practice of what we know.

The scriptures exhort our tendency for more information without application and says; "that we look into a mirror and then go away and forget", and "don't just be hearers of the word, but doers also." What most of us need is not more teaching, but to do something with what we already know!
That's what makes our faith real, and the essence of our proclamations having some credibility and authority. It's not a promotion of "works", or gaining the approval of God by "doing" something FOR Him! I am so tired of hearing people refer to obedience as works of flesh and legalism.
Our faith cannot be separated from our actions or it is no faith at all.

The scriptures say that Satan himself knows the scriptures and can quote them quite well. It is not enough to know what the Book says;, we must practice it! It is the reality of the day to day living out of what we profess that makes it count. There has to be application. Don't be deceived by thinking that learning is the end goal.

The journey in mission for His disciples is much more than gaining knowledge. You simply cannot read or discuss your way into a lifestyle of missional impact. Get out of your head, and go bring some application of your knowledge to those who need it. They are all around you. Go and make some disciples of Jesus, plant some of Him into the world, be the fragrance of Christ the Lord, whom we serve in joy, grace and privilege.