Tuesday, May 29, 2007

The Pressures of Missional Living

Wrestling to integrate faith and praxis is a good thing. Since meeting Christ and setting off in His embrace to follow Him, I've not been - nor do I desire to be- at ease with the status quo and pre-packaged pat answers. What's more, this tension between expediency and truth seeking remains after nearly 30 years of new life. In fact, it persists across the varying roles of my life as husband, father, employee, boss, elder, co-labourer, etc.

Staunchly resistant to consumerist Christian practice, I yearn, in His grace, to run towards the unsettling tensions of the seemingly necessary internal pressure that results as the pieces of my life puzzle continue to emerge in their formation and are fitted together through the ongoing “death and resurrection” process of continuing transformation. ( Soren Kierkegaard said, "Life can only be lived forward and understood backwards". Maybe there's some truth in his observation?) Yet, one surprisingly - albeit totally to be expected based on the Scriptural narrative of creation and redemption- positive point is my work.

I enjoy my industry and delight in adding benefit to the lives and work of customers. Granted there are times I’d like absolute liberty to stop,wrestle in solitude, and more actively (full time) pastor; however, I remain confident in the value of staying in the the struggle. Tension, whilst integrating and persisting to resist compartmentalized living as a believer, bears increasing fruit- especially over time. Plus, the requirements of my work spark necessary travel and provides the basis to nurture cross cultural and global friendships.

Recently, a friend and fellow shepherd, whom I see with some frequency in my travel to work, took time to share a reply he made to his sending organization. As I (I believe)
am called to remain non-vocational as a pastor, my friend – and I believe he is called to do so- is working out his "calling" in the context of pioneering a church plant in the Midlands of Britain. Reading his reluctantly shared note builds empathy in the common struggle and heartens me, his friend and Christ co-labourer, to be a bit of a Barnabas and encourage his family and him in their missional endeavour, as well as, respond in praise to Christ.

My friend reminds me that he appreciates the encouragement he receives as we keep up with one another from across "the pond" and I suspect he doesn’t recognize – even though I have said it clearly- that the encouragement flows both ways. Anyway, here’s his note. (Location and denominational specific references deleted for the sake of anonymity.) I think you'll find it quite worth the read:

"What pressures have you, as pioneer missional pastor, experienced?"

I answer this for the sake of those who are romantically attracted to this role and those with responsibility for selecting and managing us.

I have felt pressure and, over the past winter, felt extremely bleak at the sense of slow growth and my own inadequacy. I am not often operating in my ‘comfort zone’ or my perception of my strengths. It has been crucial to know that I am called to this, and to believe that existing expressions of church (and even ‘freshly-tweaked expressions’) are wholly inadequate as a response to Christ’s calling to engage with him in His Mission.

Initially the pressure comes from all the space. There are no guidelines, no set role, and no fallback function. There are only a few who have ‘gone before’ so there is little possibility of specific guidance. My own sustaining spiritual discipline is key along with intercessors and encouragers. I give thanks for those people who are these to me.

The pressure to fill the space is intense and comes from my own sinful patterns of earning acceptance by achievement (I observe similar patterns in the institution which employs me). I could fill my diary with church meetings – filling in for clergy, meetings which exhaust rather than energise, speaking to people who have little intention of either being part of the project or responding to the call to do likewise (I still can’t discern exactly what people are really asking when they ask ‘How’s it going?’).

As people have come they bring their own pressure, as anyone in leadership has experienced. The imagined enthusiastic able and uncomplicated team does not quickly appear! Instead we have gathered a community filled with pastoral issues (real people with real problems). The temptation is to revert to chaplain/pastor problem-solver and so lose the missionary focus.

Growing community and growing networking with the demands of communication and development increase the pressure of administration. As I have become known and met strategic people in networks of media, local government, education, business and in the voluntary sector as well as potential partners in Christian organisations I have become pressurised by the need for administration to help develop these links as well as ensure the accountability, equipping and releasing of our fellowship’s members and communication through website etc. Because I have no base except the family home, the family shares this pressure. My children have no space except their own bedrooms and, as they are entering teenage years this is becoming difficult. Finding time to read and write this (and other) reports is a pressure and yet I know that time for reflection is vital. I just about manage a day each month at a local retreat house.

There is a pressure in reconfiguring and reconceiving the Gospel. For many years I’ve been aware that it is too simplistic to say that we need to hold fast to the Gospel and simply to repackage it culturally. We have to go through the insecurity of asking ‘What gospel am I holding too?’ With a lack of rigorous theological reflection around this is a challenge. I find myself wanting to challenge many ‘gospel’ assumptions proclaimed in word or action by Christians around me as well as having to ask hard questions about my own inheritance. This is the challenge of transformation, which involves both death and resurrection in Christ. There is a concern about syncretism if we do not defend the uniqueness of Christ and the foundational doctrines of the faith. We will be ineffective if we can’t communicate with emerging cultures and irrelevant if we are merely assimilated into the prevailing cultures.

There are also the pressures that come from the lack of an ‘official’ building. I can’t ‘go’ somewhere to worship and I can’t refer anyone to go there either. I’m sometimes isolated in a role that feels so different to any other and among people that are culturally very different to me.

Please don’t respond by preaching to me, or telling me I’m doing well really! I know that I’m called here. And that I’m God’s person for here and now. I know that He will help me in my weakness and lead me on. His grace is so wonderful – and there are signs of it. So pray for me and praise our Lord Jesus Christ!

A Fellow Elder in Christ
Church Planter/Mission Pioneer

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Wednesday, May 23, 2007

Joy in the Trenches (A Razz to the Self-Righteous)

OK. Time to check in before May hits the books. Two thoughts strike me.

First, the earlier pastoral challenges (as one elder amongst others who altogether are charged to lead, protect, and nurture) remain but there is encouragement in seeing the faithfulness of our folks. This is particularly true in the case of a young woman in our fellowship who, whilst in the midst of relational challenges with a key person in her life who is living markedly out of step with God’s Word and persisting in a destructive direction, is staying the course of obedience to Christ – amidst tough circumstances.

Seeing Christ increasingly formed in her is overwhelmingly a source of deep joy. Granted, I hurt (and we as a community hurt) for her (and the erring one, too); nonetheless, what would otherwise be a wholly terrible happening is being redeemed by her obedience to Jesus and the instruction of the Scriptures.

Christ is getting glory and the on-looking village sees a glimpse of Christ engendered courage and grace that somehow allows our sister to find the strength to love a stiff-necked loved one as Christ loves her rather than acting to destroy a things or run away. Humbled and exhorted I am. May her tribe increase?

Secondly, two village "brothers in Christ" made the marquis (actually the tavern events email reminder that goes out weekly into the community) at the local pub. How about that! I am absolutely tickled to bits. The note read, “A and B, of XYZ church, share their musical talents and acoustic styling this Thursday at the Tavern”. Wow. A church making the pub mailer- how sweet is that?

Seeking to be friends – and make friends- to our village neighbors, a number of our folks faithfully gather at the village restaurant and tavern and hang out most Thursdays. Moreover, we really love our neighbors and miss their company when a weekly meeting is thwarted for one reason or another. Likewise, we are grateful to the owners for providing a “third place” – really the only one in the village since our beloved coffee house closed- for our community and it is brimming with folks whom Christ loves. Therefore, we seek to know and love them, too.

Surprisingly, some “Christians" in the village –maybe moralists, legalists, or the self-righteous are better descriptors- view our presence there as a “bad witness”. Well, to tweak a comment from the gospels (tweaking it to shift the subject from the poor to the pompous), the “self-righteous” we will always have with us. So, let's get on with the mission and love as Christ loved. Certainly, we must practice loving respect for all; yet, in this matter the moralists can just get over it. Where our neighbors are – there we will be. So, let the criticisms continue. For me, I pick the publican over the Pharisee.

Anyway, I hope to write more often but working, loving my family, serving my neighbors, and doing the work of a co-laboring shepherd and participant in the Body of Christ do really compete for attention and time to write. And you know what- I’m glad it is so.

How I love the trenches. For, in them, I find the nurture of my Savior and joy in following His way for His glory, the good of His people, the blessing of others.

All the Best to you and yours,


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