August 10, 2008
While I was in Chicago last week I finished reading my friend, Brian McLaren’s book, Finding Our Way Again. I don’t have time to do a full review you can read several here. I would highly recommend this book to just about anyone and in fact I am thinking about using it in our own faith community as some kind of study that everyone would go through at some point since this book puts language to the journey we have been on the last four years in so many ways. It is not your typical book on spiritual formation it is so much more. I am sitting having coffee with Rich before we go to the Vineyard this a.m. to engage in spiritual practices. Brian’s chapters on contemplative practices, communal practices and missional practices are really well said. I am working on a dissertation called “The Practicing Church” so this book is very, very helpful to me in many of the directions I am currently working on in my own story.
In missional practices Brian mentions my friends Jim Henderson and Dave Richards of Off The Map as coining the word “otherlyness” if you go to OTM’s site you can read about the spirituality of serving others. By the way OTM is hosting several live events beginning next month the events are called the Born Again Church Tour. Check them out and try to get to one, you won’t be disappointed. There will be great discussion around the way many folks move forward during this time of change and restructuring and if you have been to any OTM event you know there will be great music and a bunch of fun.
Back to Brian’s book. The Chapter on Communal Practices has a side note “THE WAY OF COMMUNITY IS ABOUT THE INWARD JOURNEY, NOT THE JOURNEY INTO ME BUT THE JOURNEY INTO WE. Brian’s premise is that if you are a true contemplative, the practices are about helping you in the upward journey where we descend into our deepest soul and then from there rise upward toward God, and if the missional practices is about the outward journey where we express our inner transformation in the outward world, then the way of community is expressed in the opening line above, it is about the journey into we, not the journey into me.
The chapter continues and defines the word liturgy as a thoughtfully designed, time-tested set and order of communal spiritual practices that must be adapted and updated as needed for the times and communities in which it is employed. In a time when everyone has a different opinion about “going to church” in a way he describes through a lens of spiritual practices and then gives a few examples of how to reframe a community gathering:
Inconvenience– Showing up is inherently inconvenient. It means going to a place I didn’t choose at a time I didn’t choose for a purpose I do choose. The commitment to the purpose — learning and living a way of life–motivates me to show up. In this way, going to church when you don’t feel like it becomes the most important kind of going to church there is.
Our daily self preparation typically involves, showering, brushing our teeth, getting dressed. Preparation for the gathering of the faith community would have practices such as prayer, study, or even discussion in the car about why joining and showing up in a faith community is important.
As one arrives at a gathering–in the parking lot, on the sidewalk–others are arriving too, and how one treats them is, at is turns out, a highly significant communal practice. If one habitually treats them as strangers–say, as one might treat strangers in the aisle in a grocery store, then one is a way of practicing a way of treating people that may or may not be in line with the way of this community. This was of a great concern to the first apostles look up the way we are to greet one another as we gather.
As you enter whatever space you gather in one can practice stillness, quieting your internal chatter so that you can listen, letting the dust of hurry and worry settle so that you can simply be present and awake.
Invocation I love this being from the Vineyard — many of our invocations ask ridiculous things, they ask God to be present as if God wasn’t present already. Beneath this clumsy kind of expression there is an important reality: we are often oblivious to God’s presence, asleep at the wheel. The invocation is a way for us as a community to say that we are together seeking to wake up intentionally to the reality that has always been true: that God is with us and we are with God, living and moving and having our being in God.
Singing Brian states that singing is so familiar in our churches that he is afraid we are missing the miracle that it is. I could not agree more. Honestly, I love singing at our gathering, I love music and the way it moves my soul and I love singing with a group of a hundred or so people. I have a totally different experience in a large group than in a smaller group of 15 or 20 people. Not that there is anything wrong with singing in a small group, I just like the experience of a large group of voices singing–my imagination takes me right into a place where I imagine Jesus sitting on the throne and your only response is to bow your heart and worship him. Brian of course has much to say about this but I will leave it here for now.
Attentiveness This is brilliant – in an age where the sermon is under nuclear attack (and for some good reason-however I am not of the persuasion we throw the baby out with the bath water) Brian sees the preparing and listening to a sermon as a communal practice of attentiveness, where the speaker, preacher, or whomever begins by simultaneously attending to the Scriptures, the faith community, his or her own soul, and the larger world in which they are all situated, listening for resonances that indicate the places where God may be speaking. The people similarly come, attending to resonances between the text, the sermon, and their own lives, seeking in that resonance to integrate sacred theology and personal biography and shared history. The whole process–preparation, delivery, reception, memory–is a shared spiritual practice by which the whole congregation (again this seems like a miracle we all take for granted) engages in a shared practice of listening to God.
Brian goes on to say that when he is sermonizing on this topic he will often ask people what question would come to mind if God sent them the following message: I will give you a message of great importance sometime during a sermon in the next three years. They always reply with this question: “Which Sunday?” After all they don’t want to miss the big week. What if the only way you’ll be prepared to hear that message when it comes is by practicing and attentiveness for the next 155 Sundays?
The last practices I don’t have time to go into as I am on my way to our Worship Gathering are:
Interpretation and Discernment – so important
Confession and Assurance of Pardon – we don’t do enough of this in our faith community
Response practices, reentry practices, announcements as a spiritual practice — we got this one..for us it is a time to have fun together and laugh, to remind ourselves we don’t have to take ourselves so seriously – our “announcer guy, Jeff” sometimes is so irreverent with the announcements overly religious people don’t come back.
This is just one section of a book I think is an important book for any faith community no matter what size, shape, or form. I think this is one of his best books since “‘Finding Faith” that has practical wisdom and tracks that people can see a “way” of living to follow Jesus.
August 8, 2008
Within the first few months of stepping into the function of Co-Pastors at VCC, Rich and I had a strong sense that one of the primary spiritual practices we must have in place was that of prayer. We began a prayer group that meets once per week. We have continued that practice and have found that prayer has laid the ground work for much of who we are becoming and where we are supposed to be going. This became an important point of discernment as to whether we were to pursue leasing a building.
After much prayer, discussion and processing with the congregation we made the decision as a community that our next step was to lease a space. We found a potential place. The entire congregation did a walk through, we consistently prayed, we crunched the numbers, negotiated a lease and began a renovation. We leased the largest of three spaces in the facility. There are two businesses that lease smaller spaces.
We envisioned the building as a “community center” with VCC as the primary tenant. Our plan was to make the inside welcoming yet versatile so that any organization or group would be comfortable using the facility. Our dream captivated our imagination to wonder, how can we serve this community, how can we make the facility a welcoming place to use for people not interested or even hostile toward the Church.
One morning after our weekly prayer meeting, I told the group that some of us had been brainstorming and we wanted to call the facility The Vineyard. We would put in the largest and main sign holder out front “The Vineyard” and then have a banner hanging from the building with the VCC logo that read, Vineyard Community Church, Sunday’s 10:30. I saw people look at one another in that sort of look that says, “You tell her.” Finally, one brave soul spoke up and said, “We know you guys think that is a good idea, but we think it’s not such a great idea. It feels like we would be baiting and switching people and besides that we are not embarrassed to be a church.” This began of a series of (sometimes intense) discussions about what we were trying to communicate and why. Changing paradigms about the use of the building in relation to serving a host community did not come easy. One year after we were in the building I received a memo from the property manager that was sent to all three tenants in the building. The memo began with: To: The Tenants of Vineyard Square…mission somewhat accomplished, we were entering the world of being a “third space”.
Another issue that came up almost immediately was in how we would design and decorate the inside of the space. Some folks wanted to do stencil different scriptures on the walls, while others wanted to paint murals depicting Christian symbols and characters on the walls. Then there were those of us that felt like we might be turning into unchristian people but thought it was important to put anything with religious overtones up as completely portable so that literally any group could come in and feel comfortable using the building. We had no less intense dialogue, eyes rolling and hard feelings about this as well. Some felt we were selling out to the culture trying to be “seeker sensitive”. Others felt we were being too accommodating to unchristian people and betraying our basic freedom of religion. Still others, thought we were acting ashamed of the gospel. We had to have many conversations with people that could not “see’ where we felt we were supposed to be going. By the way, our facility has no lack of art and color depicting our faith, it is all easily movable. In a later post I will write about the various groups that have and continue to use the building and how they have responded to Christian art in the space.
All in all the debates, the disagreements, the long conversations helped us form a philosophy that we are still working out today on why we view our building as a gift to the host community it is located in as well as one of the gathering places for the church to worship, to train and to party.
July 29, 2008
How can people engage the culture we presently live in without seeing themselves as an ongoing learner? The world is changing, the church (people of God) must change to be faithful to the message of Jesus. The default mode of “doing church” that we have been handed is clearly in need of rethinking, re-envisioning and every other “re” word that’s out there. How do we get an imagination for continuing to look at what it means first to “be” the church, discovering the essence and nature of the church to then organizing how we “do” church in our specific communities? We live in a time of seismic change and every devoted follower of Christ needs to be asking the question, “what does it mean to be faithful to the Message in our time?”
I am constantly amazed when I hear people talk about the current conversation regarding the tectonic changes that are occurring in theology, church, and what it means to be a follower of Christ today in our changing world and think that they get it “let’s move on”. All through the Scripture we see the motif of God’s faithfulness, rescuing humanity, Israel from exile, unfaithfulness in one form or another. Why, because we forget our story. We don’t remember the real story. We think we know it but we get to places where we are handed a story that we think is the biblical story but it is just one piece of it, or because of context and history it got off course and we don’t even know it.
There are a plethora of prophetic voices today calling the Church in North America back from mission drift, calling for a course correction, to remember our Story. The missiologists, Michael Frost, Alan Hirsch, George Hunsberger, are brilliantly helping us recover our roots, our story and a way forward.
I am 51 years old and in the last four years have probably learned more about God, church, culture than I have in my entire life and I have realized that I have so much more to learn in this journey of faith. It will be a life long process and that notion is exciting to me. Rich and I were talking last night about different ways to create learning opportunities for people to continue to learn while the reality is that most people we know have very full lives. One opportunity that we didn’t create but are very excited about is Missio Dei Learning Community. The emphasis for Missio Dei LC will be on Kingdom, Spirit and Mission.
This learning opportunity if for anyone wanting to engage and learn in an online community around recovering our Story, learning to be authentic real Christ followers, the implications and adventure of the journey and what it means to “be’ the Church.
From the website:
The church exists because there is a mission. The Triune God is the center of the mission, the church is the agent. In an ever changing culture, God is going before us and preparing our way for his mission. Missio Dei Learning Community is focused on helping its students comprehend the Missio Dei within the Grand Narrative of Scripture so they can more effectively work as the agents of God for the recreation of his creation.
This Learning Community is sponsored by the Vineyard Northwest Region and will be led by Winn Griffin, author of God’s Epic Adventure. Winn holds several degrees including a D.Min in Biblical Studies and most recently a D.Min in Leadership in the Emerging Culture from George Fox University.
The first two courses will be centered around the books, Missional Church and The Shaping of Things to Come. I hope you will check out the website and consider enrolling. It is a wonderful opportunity to continue growing and learning in what it means to follow Jesus in today’s world.
July 25, 2008
It has been four years since we leased the facility in Shoreline. Today, as I write this post here is what’s happening at the facility:
8:30-3:30 – one of the local social service agencies we often partner with needed space to run their summer kids’ camp. They use the main room and another large room four days per week.
3:30-5:30 – the same social service agency has a program to serve young adults – 18-25 that have served time or are recovering from substance abuse, the group meets in our “living room” three times per week. It’s a highly directive (tough love kind of) support group helping these young adults get back into a functional life, resolving family, relational issues and job training. Once a month on a weekend this same group uses the facility for “Family Night” there can be up to 80 folks (family and counselors) that are an integral part of the recovery process.
Every Tuesday an AA group from the community uses the facility for a Tuesday lunch meeting. They are there from about 11:30-1:30. We first met the leader of this group while we were doing the renovation. He asked if when we were finished if they could use a room for their weekly lunch meeting. They have been meeting in the facility for four years (they are one of the longest running AA groups in the Seattle area) and have more than tripled in size.
These are just examples of many who use the facility for free or a very minimum fee. Everything from funerals for folks who do not have a faith community, to non-profit organizations in our city that need a space for meeting, training etc. to the local community college small dramas, to the yearly city celebration, our facility will be one of several hosting a jazz band, food, wine and beer for the annual jazz walk that will have about 1000 folks in attendance.
We partner with the City, the School district and Social service agencies from all over our city.
We didn’t get to this place without a lot of wrestling both philosophically and practically and that will be my next post.
July 19, 2008
There is a lot of discussion in the “Missional Church” conversation around the issue of having a building for gathering and functions. I don’t think there is a right or wrong answer, as I think this issue must be considered within the context, mission and vision of the faith community the building will serve.
For us a building became important in order to carry on our desire to continue to serve a specific community. In 2004 we took the step to lease a building. Prior to 2004 we were renting space in the basement from a local congregation for Sunday gatherings. When we were given a year’s notice to vacate, we began to ask the hard questions regarding leasing a space. We were at the very beginning of a journey, listening and interacting with the myriad of voices discussing the times we live in. We asked question after question trying to grasp what the tectonic change in world history we (the global community) are living through meant for us to be faithful as a local faith community.
We began a Tuesday evening dinner and book study. For eight months we met at our home for dinner and discussion. We discussed chapter after chapter of “Missional Church”. We were trying to wrap our brains around the concepts in the book and understand what those concepts might mean for us.
We discussed the pros and cons, the why’s and why not’s of taking the step of leasing a space. Our biggest fear was that we would lose sight of the congregation as the church. You see when we rented a basement room for Sunday worship only, everything else we did as a faith community happened in our neighborhoods, the host community and in homes. Moving into a leased space that we would have 24/7 access to could endanger us to put the emphasis on the building as the church rather than the church being the people.
Can you feel our dilemma? We prayed for discernment and direction regarding leasing a building or not. One morning as I was reading through the Gospel of John in Eugene Peterson’s, Message, I came to John 1:14:
The Word became flesh and blood,
and moved into the neighborhood.
We saw the glory with our own eyes,
the one-of-a-kind glory,
like Father, like Son,
Generous inside and out,
true from start to finish.
my heart lept as I read those words. I literally felt like something ignited inside. I knew that it was the Holy Spirit saying, “this is why you can lease a building”. I knew then that we could lease a building and it would be right for us as long as we knew that the building was to be a tool, a gift to serve a specific neighborhood. As a congregation we were to move into a neighborhood and be the presence of Christ to that place.
July 9, 2008
Recently at our Regional Conference, Todd Hunter brought up some very good thoughts. Not all new, but good to think through…
Evangelism is a subset of Mission. We are to announce, embody and demonstrate the Gospel. At one time culture was such that announcing was effective for people to understand the Gospel. When people wanted to hear our role was to talk. In North America, at least where I live in Seattle, people don’t really need a lot of words. Their perception of Christians is skewed (rightly so in many cases, not in others). People are talking and observing their way to faith in Christ so our role is to listen and embody the Gospel. This is why “belonging before believing” is not just a hip cliché. It is a necessary course correction for those of us that want to embody our faith in a way that others can see if it is real. I will repeat that last line because it is so important…people want to see if it’s real. This means that many people will follow Jesus after years of relationship with (and observing the embodiment of) a congregation/community. Here is where it gets tricky…and actually messy….what does it look like in your faith community, your congregation to welcome people into community before they believe or follow Jesus? What if evangelism now means for the majority of people (especially those that have been brought up in no faith tradition) more embodiment and demonstrating and less announcing?
June 23, 2008
Meditating on Isaiah 58
May 28, 2008
May 15, 2008
This afternoon I go to this beautiful place until Saturday afternoon with about 35 women to laugh, cry, take in the beauty, laugh, eat, make space for God and one another…this is one of the highlights of my year. This is the view we have. We stay a few steps away from the beach (some of us will actually stay in a beach house literally on the beach). The scene is Useless Bay on Whidbey Island. The majestic Olympic Mountains are in the background. It is supposed to get in the 80’s the next two days…Perfect
HAPPY BIRTHDAY ERIKA!
May 3, 2008
A change of pace for a moment:
I am in the midst of writing an eighty page paper documenting the process we have gone through to birth two mission groups. Hopefully we will have our website updated with more of our history in the next few months.
A mission group is a group of people that join around a passion to serve others, usually driven by one or more entrepreneurial leaders gathering a team. These leaders are joining their passion with some area of God’s redemptive purposes in this world. The group develops its own leadership, mission, purpose, values, and organizational structure. The group functions under the VCC board of directors until it reaches viability. Once the group and the Board agree it is time, the group spins off with its own 501c3 status and becomes an entity unto itself.
Our dream is that we would help birth multiple mission groups over time. We know of folks who instead of planting a conventional church are actually planting a mission group with the dream of a church being birthed in the midst of the mission. There has been great conversation about sustainable models of church in the past week or so. It is a much needed conversation. One way I believe we have to think about the future, no matter what size congregation we are is how to garner resources beyond our size. Church of the Savior has pioneered a way to bring the healing ministry of Jesus right into the neighborhood with their mission group model.
While not adhering exactly to the COS model, they gave us an imagination to what we perceive is God’s path for us. You see we began a journey about five years ago to discover why our church had a reason to exist. When we began to ask that question partnered with inquiring prayer, our vision of what it meant to “be” the church was forever changed.
We are only five years into our journey toward what we now name as our grand experiment. I wrote a piece for Scot McNight’s Jesus Creed blog that will be posted sometime in the next few weeks while he and Kris are in South Africa. It is a short piece on how and what we focus on as a congregation so I won’t go into that here. I will link to it when it is up at Jesus Creed.
Bullet points for my paper:
We decided to grow a church big rather than grow a big church
Mission group development, includes those dreadful words from the 90’s; mission, vision, values. Somehow in the mission group context they are life giving if you want to be faithful to the mission.
Leadership – what kind of leadership within the church is required to let go of control enough to let others run with their passion and vision. This seems to scare pastors. We are often asked (sincere) questions that reflect this fear: how do you make sure leaders of mission groups stay on track with your vision? What about resources, do they take away from people giving to the church or serving in the church? Our vision is to “incubate” kingdom activity through those that are responding to God for the sake of the world. The mission group model has shown us that there are resources of not only money, but time and talent beyond what our local church could ever provide. The amount of resources that are available when you invite people to partner for a grass roots cause continues to amaze me.
There is a need for structure to organize around the mission. We are a mysterious blend of organic community and organizational structure for the work of the kingdom.
All kinds of people get to play. Those that follow Christ and those that wonder about following Christ but in the meantime want to make the world a better place work together for kingdom purposes.
We partner and collaborate with the City, the School District, Social Service Agencies, the local Food Bank, the County Housing Authority and many other sectors of our city. We are at the table where the needs and resources of our community are discussed and then addressed as best they can in collaboration to make the “community livable again”.
More later including:
Some specifics in mission group creation, including financial sustainability.
How a congregation moves through the kind of change necessary to cultivate incubating passion for God’s healing in our world…incubating, or the term “birthing” is interesting. My friend is a doula, she has a lot of stories for walking alongside a woman giving birth. I, myself have given birth tree times and my husband’s first wife, Wendy was a mid-wife. He witnessed the pregnancy process and birth of hundreds of babies. The birthing metaphor is fitting for where our journey has taken us these past few years and very metaphoric for where we are heading.