Missional in the Neighbourhood 10 Years On – Part III

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As I reflect back on much of what we talked about 10 years ago in regards to church and mission, there was a high degree of structural change being advocated. The church was broken and needed fixing. People weren’t coming and didn’t look like ever coming so a big part of the missional agenda was to consider how we could form more contextually congruent communities that would not seem like such a cultural leap from that of the surrounding society. It was a valid point. Churches could be wacky places sometimes.

Alongside the structural aspect was the personal – where the notion of focusing less energy on getting people in the community to come to church and more energy on getting the people in church back into the community was primary.

And I sense that while we tried to do both tasks simultaneously we spent more time critiquing and re-inventing the church form than we did helping people become effective missionaries in their every day lives. We spoke of cultural distance and the fluidity of ecclesiology, and it was interesting (fun even) for those of us leading churches to consider how they could adapt, but the reality was that most people who found faith didn’t care much for the form of the church. In fact my discovery early on was that when people came to church when we met in a home or a park, they would ask ‘so when do we do the real thing?’

It seemed that if people were willing to go to church then they had a mental image (for better or worse) of what they were signing up for. I sense we spent too much time trying to revolutionise form and not enough equipping people for simple, everyday mission work.

This morning I found myself preaching unexpectedly as one of our crew was sick. I’m not one for simply micro-waving an old message if I can avoid it, so I spent some time yesterday trying to sense what God may be wanting to say to us and I decided to kick off the missional series a week early.

In the teaching we looked at the shifts we have seen in our culture over the last 40 years from being a bunch of people fairly accepting of faith, to now being people (in broader society) who see it as simplistic and primitive. I was in conversation with someone recently at a party and they expressed interest in philosophy and religion so I asked them how they saw the church and God. Their response was that they had ‘evolved past such a simplistic faith based understanding of life… that they were more into logic and reason and not the stuff churches advocate…’ And that’s a fairly normal response – to perceive those of us who subscribe to a biblical worldview as backward and lacking intellect.

I read recently that Tim Keller refers to this period as post-secular, meaning that we have moved from a Christendom worldview, to a secular one and then past that to where we now consider a range of spiritualities, but definitely not Christianity. It is considered too uninformed and narrow for the world today – an analogue system in a digital age – quaint and quirky, but only of interest for its historical value. This guy I was speaking with definitely was a spiritual person and was able to discuss his spiritual experiences, but he viewed the church as more of a morality club filled with people who believed very odd things and without any reason.

So the question arises, how do we live as missionaries in this time when we are definitely not considered credible in any way? As I spoke with this person at the party I sensed that once they knew I was a Christian they eyed me with a degree of disdain – sad that I had been brainwashed into this stuff and couldn’t see a bigger worldview.

In teaching this morning I came back to John 1 as a foundation for local mission. Jesus is sent by the father into the world to be the one who initiates and calls into being the kingdom of God. He ‘becomes flesh and moves into the neighbourhood’, to quote Petersen and the question that raises is ‘so what did Jesus do in the neighbourhood?’ How did he live then and how would he live now if he lived in our neighbourhood.

The one ‘full of grace and truth’ lives in such a way that (some) people are drawn to him and other people are repelled by him, but its not the people you would think in each case. Our focus in this series is going to be unashamedly practical and even instructional at times, but this morning was the time for the bigger picture dreaming and imagining – ‘what would Jesus do if he was living your life in your shoes?’

The shifts in culture have definitely seen the church on the back foot and despite the efforts of the missional movement I wouldn’t say we have seen radical changes in our communities. Perhaps we just batten down the hatches and huddle together praying for Jesus to come back soon… Perhaps we get with the program and let go of archaic biblical ideas that no longer have currency in a clever modern world… Or perhaps we choose the path of adventure, re-imagining what it means to be God’s people in this time – seeing hope and possibilities rather than darkness. If the exiled Hebrews could re-discover their faith in that time of hardship then there is definitely hope for a church that is increasingly feeling its cultural isolation.

John 1 says ‘the light shines in the darkness and the darkness has not overcome it’. And it never will. But it means those who bring the light need to be a little more creative and thoughtful about how we bring that light.

Welcoming My Brother Jack

Some songs kick you in the guts.

Paul Colman’s ‘My Brother Jack’ is one I found myself listening to one day on Spotify and in an instant I was smashed – heart broken at a story that is all too common.

Colman tells the story of taking a non-Christian friend along for the ride with some of his Christian mates and their shock and horror at his choice of music. The conversation turns aggressive with Jack the victim.

The song is a reminder of how our sub-cultures form and sometimes become blinkered to the real people who they serve to exclude.

Colman nails this problem and the final line of the song sums up where its at for me. Listen to it and if it doesn’t disturb you then maybe you’re ‘in too deep’…

 

So You Wanna Plant a Church?

YES!…

I remember around 10 years back there was nothing I wanted to do more.

I was inspired by the opportunity to reach people in new ways, experiment with this thing we call ‘church’ and to hopefully do some valuable learning along the way.

Now 10 years on my response to that question is more measured. I would ask many more questions before launching in, and I sense some of that is good and some not so good.

I was speaking with Danelle last night about where we live – Yanchep – there is currently one church in town. The Anglicans just shut up shop to move to Alkimos and the only gig in town is a Foursquare, pentecostal mob.

Perhaps we should start a church?…

Why?…

Because we could… Is that a good enough reason?…

But if I were to try again I think it would be with a whole lot of information that originally I didn’t have. Ten years ago there was a heap of idealism and energy and passion, but a fairly small understanding of what was involved. It got us off the ground in fine style, but it meant we were unprepared for the challenges and discouragements that assaulted us.

I wanted to use this post to reflect on some things I feel I have learnt 10 years on that would shape how we would approach church planting this time around.

Some of the things we learnt as we gave it our best shot were:

Its hard… not rocket science, but it was harder than we had ever thought. People get interested in spiritual issues when they are desperate, but as soon as life gets better or faith gets hard then its time to move on or let it go. Outside of those crisis moments, faith issues are rarely discussed in suburbia and its hard to engage in those subjects naturally with people for whom it is a whole foreign language.

In a mission team no one ‘buys in’ quite like you do… Even those who say they are with you, aren’t as deeply committed as you are. That’s just how it is so deal with it. No one will ‘run your business like you will’. Its a bit like that. I was disappointed that people didn’t seem to bleed mission like I thought I did, but I think it will always be that way.

I have found the normal distribution curve a really useful paradigm for explaining what goes on in church and discipleship. Some people soar and give and inspire. Some people suck. They drain you, lie and create problems. Most people are in the middle. Some bring energy and some don’t. But no one – no one – will own a project you are leading quite like you will. If that is going to be a disappointment to you then deal with it now.

People are busy… and the people in your team will be busy. Busy people doing mission amongst other busy people… That’s hardly a recipe for a strong community. Unless we address the question of busyness amongst ourselves then I think church planting is a waste of time. Seriously – all it amounts to is creating another Sunday church service, and like we need one of them… Yanchep now only has one church service on Sundays and it is a particular flavour, but do we need another flavour?… I’m not convinced that beginning a new church service equates in any way to planting a church. But for busy people this might be the only thing they can do. And I find myself reeling back at the thought of this being the central focus of a mission effort.

There is value in the familiar… not to contradict myself… but I see value in a regular Sunday gig. In our time with Upstream we noticed that the absence of a typical Sunday gig prevented us from having some good people join us. For some folks the leap from songs and sermon to house and food was just too huge. Part of the move back to QBC was a recognition that we had not been able to convince people to join us in our homes and that if we were going to build a mission team, then perhaps we needed to meet the Christians where they were at and lead them on that journey. So I imagine if we started again we would do something that resembled a Sunday gig in some form, but it would be a doorway in rather the focus of energy.

Need is endless… That said, in the absence of a Sunday gig to put your energy into what does a community do together? in Butler we did a number of backyard blitzes and the like. What was disturbing was the number of people we helped out were already part of churches, but their church hadn’t offered to help… I got pretty annoyed at that. And it seemed that everywhere you looked there were people in some level of need. And then I struggle with providing several thousand dollars to give someone a pretty backyard when others around the world die from lack of food. I am a little stuck with this one. I think there is a call on the church to bless and serve the community it in, but I am not sure quite how to do that in a way that is helpful to both the community and the church.

Friendship evangelism is a tricky business… because sooner or later you find yourself asking ‘is it friendship – or is it evangelism?’ Because if its friendship then there are only so many friends you can have in your life before you are maxed out. If its friendship evangelism then what does that mean if your friend clearly isn’t interested?… Are they still your friend? Or do you now seek new friends to evangelise? Ten years on I have a small handful of really good friends and none of them are non-Christians. I used to think that was a bad thing, but I’m not so convinced now. I’d like to have some more people in my life who do not share my faith, but I can’t force that and right now it just isn’t going there.

The experts don’t live in your suburb and lead your team… All the great ideas and books you read seem to make mission and church sound remarkably easy and just a case of getting a few key factors in place. I have read many many books on this subject and I know the theory very well, but while some of it is useful, its a bit like when I completed my teaching degree and had to actually go teach kids. All the educational theory makes sense in the classroom, but once you’re doing it you have to adapt and work with a bunch of kids who didn’t read those text books…

We need more missionaries in the west… Not just church attenders, but people who look and see the need and ask ‘God – what can I do?’ Right now my own sense of mission takes me into the workplace and that has been a good journey. Its hardly evangelism central when fixing sprinklers, but its like anything – the headspace you bring to the task affects how you do it and how you relate to people.

I said to Danelle last night that if we had two or three other families who were genuinely burning with passion to kick of some mission in Yanchep then I’d be keen to give it some leadership. I’d love to put my shoulder to the plough with a team of people willing to go hard. But if it is reliant on me to motivate people, inspire them and cajole them to do what they have already said they are going to do then I’ll stop now.

Fun… Ministry… Work?

It starts as fun and ends in ministry… or maybe even work…

A couple of conversations over the weekend sparked my thinking about how things can start as spontaneous fun, develop into some form of ministry and then maybe even shift into being ‘work’ or a chore.

I was out surfing with my friend Stuart and our sons Sam and Micah and we got talking about how much fun it was – dad’s and kids doing what they love to do and having a blast. Stuart mentioned that he has come across some other parents who also enjoy surfing with their kids and is in the process of establishing a Christian Surfers group in his local area for that particular niche.

They would get together fortnightly on a Saturday to surf, be able to have some competitions, instruction and some Bible study. It would be ‘under’ Christian Surfers and would be a project that at least a few people would need to commit to being part of and present at.

Its a significant shift from just getting together when it suits and enjoying the spontaneity.

Then there are the guys from QBC who get together to fight each Saturday morning. A group of 5 guys meet in another blokes garage to spar, hang out and enjoy offloading some testosterone. One of those blokes suggested this morning that it could become an outreach – a ‘ministry’ of QBC.

It began some interesting conversation around what that would mean and how it may change the feel and focus of the group.

Now both of these activities are great and currently they meet the needs of the people involved and they are proving to be a heap of fun.

So my pondering is whether it is a help or a hindrance to formalise either.

I see benefits and drawbacks to both approaches. What was once just fun now becomes more purposeful. It requires some commitment on the part of the key players. In the case of Fight Club it probably needs some special insurance. In the case of surfing, it means showing up on days when you might otherwise choose not to hit the surf. It means a level of organisation on the part of some to make it happen for others.

There are advantages too.

In both groups the people pulling it together do so with a sense of focus and purpose. Its not just a bit of fun – its bringing mission more to the fore in the flow of life. Its building community and helping people connect more significantly. But a decision like this requires people to give up some of their freedom and to make some commitments. With that comes the potential for weariness and maybe even a loss of enjoyment.

Some would say ‘why not join a local fighting group?’ or ‘why not join a local surf club?’

And they are fair questions too – philosophical questions that relate to why a group exists and theological questions about how ministry and mission occur. If we are to be salt and light then are we better off doing that by joining the local crew?…

Maybe…

Perhaps one of the reasons to consider establishing a group with a specific focus is that you then get to set the culture rather than trying to shift the culture in an already established group. At a pragmatic level I think it is much harder to shift an existing culture (especially a surf club or a ‘fight’ club) than to establish one and call people into it.

At a more basic level it seems that we tend to shy away from anything that actually calls us to commitment whether it is Christian based or community based. I would feel the same way about joining the local little athletics club with the kids as I would about joining a Christian surfers crew. So maybe its less about ministry and more about the broader culture of self-centredness, convenience and choice.

I know that being a pastor is sometimes a right pain in arse because it means I am committed to being there 99% of Sundays – and some days I’d rather not be. The challenge for any of us in this space is to accept the responsibilities, appreciate the benefits and keep the joy alive rather than getting frustrated at the aspects that are less exciting.

That’s a bit longer than I intended to post, but I’d be interested in how others perceive this challenge.

Who Am I Again?…

I have been pondering this decision for a while and then today it happened.

I went for a surf at a little wave just a short walk from home. I’ve been there twice now and had some very nice waves. Today I waited for the crowd (5 blokes) to go home and then at 4.30 I put on the wetsuit and hit the beach.

After 15 minutes of lone surfing another bloke paddled out. We got talking. He has lived in Yanchep all his life – all 45 years of it – and he knows the area pretty well so it was good to get some inside knowledge on the break and on the area in general. We talked surf, family, life in general and of course work.

‘So what do you do for a crust?’ he asked.

I’ve always answered this by telling people I’m a Baptist minister but I’ve been wondering what impact it has on a relationship to immediately be suddenly faced with a religious leader. I am wondering what images that conjures up in people’s minds. Is it more helpful to ongoing relationships to introduce myself as a retic bloke?

I have no qualms about who I am and what God has called me to do – a backyard missionary / apostle is still central – but try explaining that to a bloke out in the surf.

So I’m experimenting again.

These days I will be introducing myself as a retic bloke and along the way as people get to know me they will learn that I am a Jesus follower who leads a Christian community. Previously the order was reversed but I don’t think its any issue as to what order they get revealed in.

I imagine this is what the people in our churches do all the time – those who aren’t paid religious workers – so I’m interested to see where it goes and what I learn along the way.

Any reflections?…

 

 

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What Will it Take?

Some days I ponder the question ‘what will it take to see the church in Australia begin to make a dent in society?’

I mean a serious dent. I know people come to church and faith in ones and twos, but what will it take to get to a place where people see us as having something valuable to say to the issues going on in our country? Where people look at the church and see us as having a life that they desire because it is so incredibly attractive… albeit costly.

It feels like a lament as we are a long way from that dream, but I don’t think the situation is completely hopeless. (I do think its close if all we have to offer is ‘more of the same’ in the way we do business.)

I keep coming back to the thought that the only hope for the western church is for the people within it to experience a renewal in faith that puts them in a place where they live lives so demonstrably different to the world around them that the only explanation is the existence of a good God.

Richard Foster says:

?”The problem today is that evangelism has reached the point of diminishing returns. I talk with people and they say, “What am I to be converted to? I look at Christians and statistically they aren’t any different.” You want to be able to point to people who are really different.”

Ouch…

In arguably his greatest speech ever Jesus said:

“So do not worry, saying, ‘What shall we eat?’ or ‘What shall we drink?’ or ‘What shall we wear?’ For the pagans run after all these things, and your heavenly Father knows that you need them. But seek first his kingdom and his righteousness, and all these things will be given to you as well.”

He was saying those who don’t care for the things of the kingdom place their focus on temporal things and are concerned for sating their more primitive appetites, but for those of us who claim to know Jesus this ought not to be the way.

But it is.

It seems that some of us have inverted Jesus words in the sermon on the mount and now seek first material prosperity, personal happiness and security and then the kingdom of God if its not too inconvenient or costly. Is it any surprise no one wants to listen to anything we have to say when our Christ filled life looks just like a religious version of aspirational middle class suburban living?

Our lack of distinctiveness is surely a cause for great lament.

In my role at Quinns Baptist I am paid to lead the church and I’m employed for 2 days a week to do that. The beauty of only having two days is that you don’t have time to fritter away doing inane things. You only have a small window of time so you need to choose wisely what to invest it in.

Once you carve out a big slab of that time to do the not negotiables – teaching prep, meetings, admin, Sundays there aint a lot left to invest. But in the time I have this year I have chosen to invest it in the blokes of our church in a course based around spiritual disciplines.

I have been looking for a point of leverage – a place where I can make a significant contribution in a small amount of time. So we are starting a fortnightly blokes group that has the specific brief of equipping men to train themselves to be godly, of empassioning blokes for a richer deeper relationship with Christ and with each other and of giving them experience in a wide range of spiritual practices so that they can put themselves in a place where they can encounter God more vividly and regularly.

It will be a challenge. To get people to commit to something for 13 weeks seems like a huge ask in today’s world, but I am convinced it has the potential to be the start of something very very good in our lives as blokes and in the life of the wider church.

I wrote previously along these lines so I thought it was time to take some action and try to do something about what I see. At one level its a personal quest to re-ignite my own relationship with God that has felt dry and weary over the last two years. But I am conscious that I am not the only one who ha been struggling with a sub-par faith experience and I imagine that giving blokes a place to come and spur one another on might just be a catalyst for something greater.

I’ll let you know how it goes.

On the Other Hand…

Sometimes you just have

to break all the rules… but the story I’m about to tell you will probably evoke some internal convulsions in you because these are rules that we have tried so hard not to break.

What if breaking the rules happens to be the most effective thing to do though?…

I was reading this article in Eternity magazine a week or so ago and it started me thinking.

Steve Addison writes:

I’ve just finished a coaching call with Tim Scheuer. For the last six weeks Tim and his team have been out knocking on doors in Airds, one of Sydney’s most disadvantaged suburbs. Tim asks five simple questions to discover people who are ready to find out more about following Jesus. For most of us that would be hard work, but Tim loves every minute and every encounter with someone who doesn’t know Jesus. Of 45 homes, 42 people wanted to talk more, 11 wanted to join a Christianity Ex-plained group in their neighbourhood, and two wanted to host a group and invite others.

So his plan was simple.

Bang on a door. Be totally upfront about your intention and see what happens. It seems that in this particular community people wanted to talk. And as a result he has been able to develop a whole heap of simple churches in that area.

I can’t help wondering if people in communities near us may want to talk too. Perhaps there are many people around genuinely asking spiritual questions, but they simply don’t have anyone in their orbit who can field those questions?…

Could it be as simple as that?

Now to be honest, I know how I feel when someone bangs on my door and wants to talk to me… They generally don’t get to meet ‘friendly Hamo’. So I am very reluctant to thrust that kind of experience on anyone else.

Its kinda like spam. Unwanted and unsolicited and usually very annoying. But maybe there are people out there who actually like spam?

Maybe…

Maybe…

I don’t think it would be cowardice that would hold me back from heading down the road to talk to people, but rather an internal cringe at the thought of what I’d be doing. I keep wondering ‘what if?’ though. What if we actually connected with some people who we would never meet otherwise?

What if some people encountered some good news and found hope?…

So – yeah – you’d have to accept that in the process you were going to piss a few people off, but maybe (if Tim’s stats are anything to go by) that is less likely in lower socio-economic groups?

I dunno…we have a couple of Perth’s poorest/toughest suburbs right next to us so it would be interesting to give it a whirl.

You could call me Elder Hamo.

Seriously though. What do you think? We have tended to start with demonstrating the kingdom and speaking of it later, but what if we reversed the order?

Great Expectations?…

I have noticed that there is a direct inverse correlation between the thoughtfulness of what gets posted on here and the amount of physical work I do.

It seems the harder and longer the work, the less headspace I have for thinking on the more significant issues of life. The last couple of weeks of blog posts probably exemplify that!

It might seem quite obvious at first, (that we will be tired and weary) but it isn’t always that obvious to those of us who have been in paid ministry.

I know that in my own days as a pastor I would be constantly thinking thru issues of vision, strategy and implementation so that we could keep developing our church. However I was often disappointed to rock up to a church leadership team only to find that the other guys (who work ordinary jobs) hadn’t given the same issues much thought at all – if at all. In my more despairing moments it seemed that the future of our church was decided once a month on a Monday night and that in between time it was business as usual – quite literally.

The last few weeks have been quite full on with both retic and forge work and I have often come home at night quite exhausted. My body is weary and because of that it is hard to get my brain into gear. I know the same is true for those who engage significantly with people or use their brain in their work.

‘Coming home’ is a chance to unwind and relax. More serious pursuits are over for the day and its ‘family time’ or ‘rest time’. I don’t think that’s unreasonable either.

And yet for those of us committed to the local community and to our churches, the evening is the time we have available to catch up with others or to have those (sometimes) necessary meetings.

As I listen to pastors frustrated with their congregations as to their ‘lack of commitment’ part of me agrees… and then another part of me says ‘you’ve got to be kidding! Live their life for a week and then see how you go…’

My mate Steve McAlpine is currently working a full time job while he seeks to plant a new household congregation, and is also pondering the challenges I have been writing about.

If we expect too much of people we leave them feeling overwhelmed and like failures. If we expect too little then the absence of challenge leaves people growing stale and ‘fat’.

I think it would be interesting to hear from both pastors and full time workers as to how they manage this delicate balance – given that work and church/community involvement are only two components of life. Let’s add in staying physically fit, catching up with friends, extended family, recreation… the list goes on doesn’t it?

Is this a tension you are aware of and chewing thru. If so what are you learning?

Influencing the Community?

I had another email this week from the BUWA asking the question ‘how is your church influencing the community it is a part of?’ The results are to collated and used at the next Baptist assembly.

I was pondering how to answer this, and then I asked Danelle…

“By living in it and being part of it.”

I love the way she can simplify stuff to such a ‘duh’ response!

But its a great answer because there are plenty of churches where the majority of members actually live outside the local community. As Simon Holt says its like ‘owning a house you only visit on weekends’. The people in the town know you don’t belong there and your investment is much less than theirs. When you ‘buy in’ then you send a whole different message.

So my question is – how would you answer that?modigliani download