Wednesday, August 27, 2014

how can EBC become more missional?


A common issue we face in the local church, as we attempt to orient ourselves toward a missional focus, is around the questions we ask.

Firstly, we ask the wrong questions.  Our buildings and our programs thrust us into questions like, "How do we fill our seats?" or "Where do we find the time?"

Secondly, we ask the right questions, but in the wrong order, or at the wrong time. An example of this is that we answer questions around where we meet, or how we do evangelism, before we've even familiarised ourselves with how God is at work among the people we're seeking to serve and love.

Probably one of the most helpful thinkers I've met around this topic is Peter Roenfeldt, who introduced me to the four fields model (see below).

Now, while I think there needs to be a conversation around this passage from Mark 4, and whether it's legitimate to build a church planting model around it - the questions are excellent, and the order in which they are asked are excellent too:

  1. EMPTY FIELD - the question to ask here is: "How do we enter?"  This question is built on the assumption that in the context of knowing the story of the "field" we are seeking to enter, (and the work of prayer); God has already been at work ahead of us -- tilling the soil... preparing a person of peace ... pre-arranging entry points for relationships to be built, and missional activity (cross-shaped deeds) to be established.
    I've been privileged to see this happen very well through what my wife has done with her recycled goods store - Junktion.  We see Junktion as a missional experiment of AccessTheStory.
  2. SEEDED FIELD - the question here is: "What do we say?" - this is where our understanding of the gospel is crucial.  "Whole story conversations" as legitimate presentations of the gospel mean that we can plant gospel (kingdom) seeds amongst the relationships that God has enabled us to establish.  Conversational prayer is a brilliant practice to engage here.
    The way I try and practice conversational prayer is to respond to people's needs that they have shared with me with sentences beginning with: "My hope for you is..." or, "My prayer for you is ..." ... I've found people (in a reasonably unspiritual culture) to be very responsive to this, and have often followed up with a subsequent conversation around that issue.  From my perspective, I can see how this practice "scatters gospel seed" in our mission context.
  3. GROWING FIELD - "How do we cultivate the growth of disciples?"  Again, this is the right question in the right place - discipleship is an environment, more than it is a follow-up plan for those who are "converted".  This discipleship environment could be providing spiritual formation for those who have decided to follow Jesus, AND for those who are yet to make a first-time decision to do so.  I've found that Chronological Bible Storying provides an excellent format for such an environment to be fostered.
    I've found that our VERGE experience provides a healthy discipleship environment and I've seen the youth ministries at Thornlie Church of Christ and Woodvale Baptist Church successfully integrate this type of environment into their weekly context.
  4. HARVEST FIELD - "How do we gather?" This is probably the question that's hardest for us to answer - not because we don't have lots of ideas - but because it's the wrong people answering this question at the wrong time.  Usually this question is answered by leaders well before the field has even been entered ... what would it look like to see those who are being discipled as the ones who answer this question?
    I'm excited that my home church is currently journeying with a team of young leaders, and releasing them to shape how our Sunday evening gathering happens
 So, how can a local church become more missional?  I think it begins by more people asking the right questions in the right order, at the right time.

Wednesday, August 20, 2014

what can practical everyday mission look like?



WHAT COMES TO MIND WHEN YOU HEAR THE TERM 'PRACTICAL MISSION'?

Some of the answers that came from our elective group tonight included:
"Supporting my mentor at work"
"Gardening for neighbours"
"A conversation about God in the library"
"Being vulnerable with a work colleague when they open up about depression"
"Samaritan's Purse emergency response unit"
"Green Team"
"Care for those in need in our local church"
"Intercessory Prayer"
"Smiling and saying hello"

That's a broad response if ever I saw one - and if we're honest, one of the questions that emerges for us as we look at a list like this is : "is it really mission? If we're coming from an evangelical background, then it's almost like there's a little voice on our shoulder saying, "make sure you present the gospel".

And we carry this complex that if we havn't given people an opportunity to make a decision to follow Jesus everytime we "do mission" then somehow, our missional activity isn't legitimate.  Unfortunately when we operate out of this guilt complex, we tend to emit an odour that smells of "ulterior motive".

Of course, the other problem we face in our attempt to not serve with ulterior motives is that we finish up not telling the story that is transforming our lives.  Ironically, in our desire to operate with integrity we end up not being true to who we are.

SO THEN, HOW DO WE DO PRACTICAL MISSION?

Well, before we answer that one, let's cover another question:

IS IT REALLY MISSION IF THE GOSPEL ISN'T PRESENTED?

The answer is 'no' as far as I'm concerned - but let's be clear about what the gospel is.

WHOLE STORY CONVERSATIONS
The gospel, the good news, is in fact the entire story of God (you could even argue that the term 'gospel' might be interchangeable with 'mission'!)  

If the gospel is the whole story, then any conversation that intersects people with a part of this story is a legitimate presentation of the gospel.

CROSS-SHAPED DEEDS
Not only is the gospel the 'whole story' - it is also our story.  Our activity.  Our good deeds.  Our lives and our interaction with others under the reign of God is good news to God's broken creation, and in particular, human beings.  I think this is what Jesus was referring to in Matthew 5:14-16.   

If the gospel is good news through our activity, then my "good works" (cross-shaped deeds) are a legitimate presentation of the gospel.

SO THEN, HOW DO WE DO PRACTICAL MISSION?

To be honest, the possibilities are endless!  A simple start for me has been to think through how Jesus equipped and sent the 72 in Luke 10.

I use three words from verse 8&9 to help me discern the work of God's Spirit as I participate in His mission activity:


  • EAT - having been invited, a joining in community with those already at a 'table'

  • HEAL - having noticed brokenness, a seeking to bring or speak God's healing through conversational prayer

  • TELL - having built relationship, a telling of God's kingdom and His story through my own story 


It might be that more can be said here - but for me, this is a starting point.


Next week - "How can EBC become more missional?"



Thursday, August 14, 2014

How can we engage Australian culture with the gospel?



ANSWERING THE QUESTION WITH SOME QUESTIONS

A good starting place to be able to answer this question is with a couple of more questions:

- "when you hear the term "Australian culture", what comes to mind?"

- "when you hear the term "gospel", what comes to mind?"



(Another good starting point would be to ask the "average Aussie" the same questions!)



The trouble we have upfront is that we unwittingly carry our own mixture of both church and Australian culture into these questions - and as long as we do that we will always struggle to be able to answer them.



Nonetheless, here's two things I think we can start with:



EXEGETING CULTURE

When I was in New Zealand a couple of months ago, I was struck by the nature of engagement between Indigenous and European Kiwis - it wasn't until I saw a contrasting story to that of the Australian story that I was able to gain a deeper insight into our own culture.  And as I reflect on it,  in order to understand our culture, I needed to change where I began hearing the story ... (ie. not with me).



To exegete is to "draw out", and I like what Ernest Goodman has to say on this subject: "cultural exegesis means discovering why people in a particular culture do what
they do by observing them and viewing their cultural influences from
their perspective rather than interpreting their behavior through our
own cultural lenses." 




RE-IMAGINING GOSPEL

I remember the day when I presented a book concept of the whole story of God to a ministry leader, and after walking him through the content, he asked me, "So where do you present the gospel in this story?"

Now I know that he was talking about the message of salvation being explicitly presented, but my initial internal response was one of disbelief - I couldn't fathom that he couldn't see that the whole story was in fact "the gospel."

When we become so focused on starting "the gospel" with "God loves you and created you to know Him personally" we deliver an incomplete version of the good news.  As I reflect on it, in order to understand the gospel, I need to change where I begin telling the story ... (ie. not with me).




The whole story of God IS the gospel.  When we understand and proclaim the gospel in this way, it enables us to more fully discern how the gospel intersects with culture.





EXAMPLES OF INTERSECTION


  • DESIGNED - the episode of creation intersects with narratives around origin and heritage.

  • BROKEN - the episode of rebellion and disruption intersects with narratives of pain and suffering.

  • EXPECTANT - the episode of the nation of Israel intersects with narratives of struggle, community, deliverance, longing and exile.

  • PRESENCE - the episode of the life and ministry of Jesus intersects with narratives of priorities and influence.

  • SATISFIED - the episode of Jesus' death and resurrection intersects with narratives around fulfilment and meaning.

  • MISSION - the episode of the new community of God intersects with narratives around family and vocation.

  • RESTORED - the episode of the age to come intersects with narratives around hope and future.


If we're going to be able to answer the question, "how can we engage Australian culture with the gospel?"  then we need to be able to become recognisers of how the gospel intersects with culture.



Next week we'll be looking at a practical framework for missional engagement.





AN EXERCISE FOR YOU TO TRY

What is something you've noticed in Australian culture ?





What is the story behind that element of culture?





In what way does the gospel intersect with this example of culture?









Thursday, August 7, 2014

what does it mean to be missional?




I know, it's a well-worn question, but one worth wrestling with - and its the question I tried to cover at my local church electives last night ... but I ran out of time to cover what I wanted to.

So, this post is partly to try and get my group up to speed, but also to get my unfinished talk out of my head!

To be able to answer this question, a good starting place is for us to be:

FACING UP TO OUR JARGON

It's probably no surprise that when asked to give a word association for the words mission, missions, and missional, people give a variety of responses.  The one response that stands out to me is that the word missional is commonly considered to be a buzz-word that no-one really understands.

One of the reasons for this is because we tend to carry a couple of misunderstandings about the mission of God with us into this conversation.

1. WE MISUNDERSTAND WHERE MISSION COMES FROM

Not just the command in Matthew 28, but also the model of Luke 4. 
While the Great Commission is pivotal for our mission activity, if it comes at the expense of the way in which Jesus did mission, then our activity is incomplete.

Not just disciples OF all nations (Mt 28), but the blessing TO all nations (Gen 12).
While the making of disciples is central to the content of our mission activity, if it comes at the expense of expressing the heart of God (being a blessing), then our activity is incomplete.

Not just the blessing of Abraham, but the blessing of Adam (Gen 1:26-28).
God dispensed His blessing before AND after the fall.
God's blessing (and therefore His mission) is as much about Him expressing His heart and character to His creation, as it is about restoring humanity and creation to it's intended wholeness.

Mission doesn't begin with OUR activity, or preaching, or good works - it begins with God.
God's mission begins with God's heart to express all of who He is through His creation and particularly through humanity.  He invites us to participate in HIS mission.

2. WE MISUNDERSTAND WHERE MISSION GOES

Not just ends of the earth, but Jerusalem, Judea, Samaria (Acts 1:8).
We need to recognise that somehow we tend to limit mission to far away places at the expense of exploring what mission looks like next door.

Not just ends of the earth, but all of creation (Eph 1:10)
We need to come to understand that God is doing a work that goes beyond individuals, communities, people groups, and nations.  He is at work to once again bring all things under His rule, that He might express all of who He is.

And so, in order to help release us into the activity of the mission of God (to be missional), it's helpful for us to be:

"DEFINING" MISSION

"Any activity in word or deed that reveals the heart of God to people."
That means that my small words of encouragement, or my small acts of service are just as much a part of God's mission as my leading someone to a first-time faith decision.

That means that a person who works in state records, a youth pastor, a young mum, a grandma, an office manager, a media advisor, a medical researcher, a person looking for employment, a CFS volunteer, a youth worker, a nurse, and a student teacher can all be involved in God's mission in some small way today.