Dutch Sheets has issued a statement…
— Random Thoughts, Stories of Life, and Questions about the Journey —
Dutch Sheets has issued a statement…
We just got back from Lake Sutherland on the Olympic Peninsula. Five days of hanging out with good friends and some meetings. Good time, good to be home.
I am not surprised that things are a mess in Lakeland. I am not happy at all about hearing that the Bentley’s are having marital problems. The bad, bad theology of this thing from the beginning had me very concerned for all involved. I am sure Jesus is shedding more than one tear over this entire fiasco. Do I think God was/is there? Of course, God is everywhere and meets us when we have faith and when we don’t. If you are interested you can read about it here and here
Lest you think I don’t have a desire for the power of God to be present, that is not the case. I will say again, when these situations come, we have to be discerning. So many vulnerable, desperate people can be and are very damaged from the lack of discernment and theology of the Kingdom that often accompany these “hot spots”. I hope the Bentley’s will get much needed counsel.
Summer seems to be going by quickly. Rich and I were not able to take a real vacation this summer. We tried to figure out a good time but it didn’t seem to work out this year. We had other things that we felt were more important happening the last few months. I have worked at home all summer, trying to get course work done. I have made good headway on finishing up (almost Winn) an Old Testament Theology course and I have started a New Testament Theology course. I have decided to take the pressure off to have my dissertation completed by this January. There was no way I could make that deadline. I am going to take January – January to go through the dissertation process. Making this decision has actually vastly improved getting to sleep and staying asleep at night. It’s also calmed down that feeling I get in my chest that makes me wonder if I am having heart problems:)
It has been nice to be at home with Alex this summer. I am watching him turn into that person that is a preteen but still in some ways a little boy. He just has fun all day long whether he is with a friend or by himself. I love working in my office and hearing his laugh. He has had a great summer. On Saturday we are going to Port Angeles for 5 days. I am working with the Vineyard church there. One of the families has graciously offered us to stay in their lake house. So Alex and I are heading over on Saturday and Rich will join us on Sunday. I am looking forward to being on the lake with some time to be with friends, get some solitude and hang out with Rich and Alex.
Last week Rich and I were in Chicago for the first meeting of the Women’s National Task Force. It took us a while to get there. Chicago was having some sever weather. When we landed the thunder storms and rain were like nothing I’ve seen here in the Northwest (well maybe that famous Columbus day storm in 1962). The drive from the airport to our hotel was incredible, hearing the thunder, watching the lightening and navigating through the torrential rains. When we woke up the next morning we learned that three tornadoes had touched down in Chicago that night.
At the meetings we met some great people, saw some good friends and when it was over had an afternoon and evening to spend in the City (thanks Scot for your recommendations). I am looking forward to the Vineyard moving toward changing the structures to grant women access to all levels of leadership.
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.
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.
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:
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.
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.
I am writing my dissertation on morphing a conventional church into a mission-focused community. I need to read those that would disagree with my thesis and those that are trying to solve the problem another way. Any suggestions? I am thinking of a couple:
maybe DA Carson
maybe (I can’t believe I am saying this) Mark Driscoll