Dtown blog

I will be writing on another blog, in addition to this one. I recently accepted a very part-time position with a local Mennonite church, birthing a missional expression of ministry outside the walls of the church building. I serve on a team of three, and we will be sharing our thoughts here, if you care to read:

missionindtown.wordpress.com

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idea part 2

A few hours spent ruminating, and here are 6 criteria. What do you think?

1. new Jesus-followers are present… in any number?
2. flow of resources is largely outward, not spent on infrastructure/staff… assign a percentage?
3. ministry focus is to see the Kingdom multiplied outside a building in the community and world
4. growth in the spiritual disciplines is evident… how?
5. willingness to “lay down one’s life” for bros/sisters is evident… how?
6. love for enemies is obvious… in action? in prayer?

an idea

Lately, I am frustrated with questions of success… church success, to be specific. It seems to me that when we pastors talk about our churches and how things are going, we ask about Sunday attendance and a list of programs we run, the events we orchestrate and the dollars we gather and spend.

Before I went to sleep last night, my mind was spinning. I desperately wanted to create a new metric… I need to get a handle on a new way to measure success.

All I can think of is this:
“The kingdom of heaven is like a mustard seed, which a man took and planted in his field. Though it is the smallest of all your seeds, yet when it grows, it is the largest of garden plants and becomes a tree, so that the birds of the air come and perch in its branches… The Kingdom of heaven is like yeast that a woman took and mixed into a large amount of flour until it worked all through the dough.” Matthew 13:31-33

To Jesus, the small is big. The tiniest of things is strong. The speck is valuable.

St. Francis prays

I beg you, Lord
let the fiery, gentle power
of your love
take possession of my soul
and snatch it away
from everything under heaven
that I may die
for love of your love
as you saw fit to die
for love of mine.
amen.

Baffled…

One of my favorite blogs is Culture Making, kept by Andy Crouch and a few of his colleagues. It is a great storehouse of thoughts on Christian faith and beauty, artistry, ingenuity, imagination, invention, etc., etc. Andy is a great thinker. I actually, not that long ago, shared a car ride with him and one of my professors from Biblical Seminary. We had some wonderful conversations about power and influence as it relates to being a Jesus-follower.

Anyway, I am baffled by this video that I found on the Culture Making blog. Why are these folks, and it seems an overwhelming female-led refrain, so concerned about the safety of this church?? Is Jesus’ call a call to security and safety? Is safety a Christian value? Am I the only one who thinks these folks are getting something very, very wrong?
http://www.culture-making.com/post/how_to_move_a_church

She’s back with some holiday reading

I don’t remember making a conscious decision to do this, but I spent the Advent season reading some books that have been on my post-seminary-reading-wish-list. It was a wonderful way to savor the season of waiting and watching.

In an interesting and mysterious way, each of these books spoke to a different part of me. I highly recommend all three of them. They are intelligent, meaningful, deeply spiritual books by women I would name theologians… great theologians… earthy, real, grappling with the complexities of shaping their lives around the Gospel, searching for God at work in their journeys.

Real Sex by Lauren F. Winner—Part of me will always be a youth minister. It’s not something I can leave behind… teenagers have snuck into my heart and they refuse to leave. This book spoke to that part of me, the part that longs to help teenagers make sense of what it means to follow Jesus’ call in the midst of raging hormones, passionate emotions, confusing messages from the media and the urge to just want to have fun and experience adventure. Winner has a way of weaving scripture, psychology and church tradition together in order to present a holistic and helpful approach to sexuality. Even as a married woman, I found her book to be full of wisdom and healing, in a very real way. If I was still in youth ministry, I would have parents and teens read this book together. I hope to read it with my children when they come of age.

Leaving Church by Barbara Brown Taylor—This book spoke to the pastor in me. I resonated with her story as she shared about having a strong intuitive sense of God’s Presence from early in her childhood. Yes. Me, too. Taylor is honest about the spiritual poverty that plagues many church leaders and volunteers, those who give so much of themselves to church that they don’t realize they are unable to listen to their souls, to hear clearly from God. Emptiness, anger and exhaustion are common, but not commonly named within us. Like Taylor, we create external places for prayer and meditation, but inside we remain restless and fearful of stopping. What will happen if we become still long enough to examine what is really going on in our souls? What ugliness will we find? I am still tossing ideas around in my mind—how could we shape church ministry differently, so that it is not soul-destroying for leaders and volunteers, so that church life does encourage healthy rhythms? Is leaving church the only option when we’ve run dry? If we are called, is that a viable option at all? An important thing to ponder…

Traveling Mercies by Anne Lamott—Anne speaks to the rebel in me, the raw and wounded bull-dog that will survive at all costs and that questions all assumptions about goodness and holiness. She never strays far from grace and is continually grappling with the messiness of relationships and journey. She encourages us to take risks, to risk honest and authentic relationships in church… to be The Body and also to live fully within our own bodies. I hope I am someday able to grasp that I live LOVED—she communicates that truth so well, but often I am so far from truly knowing it. It is easy to sanitize theology, to boil it down to letters on a page—“Believe this, friends, and then you’ll have it! You’ll have the truth, the answer to life and faith! Just do it!”—but life is full of gray areas and unexpected turns. You can think you’re doing what is wise and true, only to find that everything has unraveled at your feet, an ugly mess. A beautiful mess made of your own darkness, and that of others. Then, what does it mean to love, to have faith, to be holy?

I have noticed a gender difference in theology (and I truly hope that my male friends, family and colleagues are not offended by this). I don’t know why this is, exactly… is it because our bodies are so connected to the cycle of life? But here it is: I find female theologians much more holistic than male theologians. It seems sometimes that males are more detached from earth and body. They are certainly able to connect scripture to God and the world, to outline practical and specific ways we can live a faithful life; but often I put down their books and feel like there is an important aspect of LIFE missing from their scope. My mind, my body and my soul are all linked together—truth and theology flow from all three of them and weave together. They speak to each other. Does that make sense? Female writers seem to intuitively get this, and I am fed more deeply by them at times. May I offer a piece of advice? Read more Christian theology written by women, especially by these three women. They are gems.

bored

I’m sitting on my family room floor watching the premiere of a new series on abc, called The Forgotten. It’s about civilian volunteers that take on cases of unidentified murder victims. The featured group of volunteers is trying to recruit a new guy, an artist who specializes in sculpting people. This dialogue struck me (not a direct quote from the show… just from my memory):

“I can’t do this. I can’t sculpt a dead girl. It’s creepy.”

“Fine. Go back to tagging city buildings. Go ahead.”

“Look, I was just bored… why do you do this? Why do you bother trying to identify these people… like telling their families their kid is dead is really gonna help. They’re already grieving. What difference does it make? Grief is grief.”

“There is a difference, and the difference matters. It matters a great deal. You can go back to being bored or you can help us make a difference. Choose.”

I have been talking to a friend quite a bit over the last few days about church and how one goes about choosing a church to call “home.” It has me thinking about why in the world I have chosen a church home that is 45 minutes away, in a community where I do not live or work (especially since being missional in my own community is a growing passion in my life).

The truth is I was bored. I was bored with programs and clubs and established systems that resist any change. I was bored with worship planning meetings and youth sponsor meetings that felt like they were planning the same events as last year, just renaming them. Honestly, it was more than boredom. It was frustrating! I wanted to stand up and say, “We can’t do every good thing! We can’t pursue every good idea. We need to make choices. We need to decide what our values are, how we can make the most difference in our community and drop the other stuff. There are plenty of churches offering programs and hardly any addressing the hidden poverty and suffering here… the resources of a large church directed at a specific need in the community could actually do something for the Kingdom, something more than maintaining what we have here.”

What I have discovered at Highland Park Community Church is a far cry from boredom. Sure, it also has it’s frustrations. But, wow. They are clear about the fact that they can’t and won’t do it all. They are clear about their values and if something doesn’t line up with the values, they let it go. Not because it’s necessarily bad or unbiblical but because they are crystal clear about what they are about– and it has nothing to do with buildings or campuses or clubs or catering to the particular tastes of the people in the pews. It has everything to do with bringing the Kingdom of God, in all of its justice and mercy and love and grace, into a visible expression in Levittown. That keeps my attention. You better believe it.

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