Missional Myth

I would say that the #1 question that I get asked after describing the missional community model to someone has to do with how anyone could possibly have any time to live this way. This great video from Caesar explains that it is not about “additional but intentional.” If you watch far enough he goes into detail about the rhythms of our life and how we can make them more intentional.

 

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Halloween Grinch

I have long considered myself a Halloween “grinch” – if there is such a thing. I don’t like dressing up. Answering the door every few seconds and pretending to love costumes is exhausting. I’m not a huge candy fan. And I hate anything that glorifies evil. “Bah Humbug!”

It hasn’t always been this way. My mom was a master at creating elaborate Halloween costumes. I still remember the year that she sewed full zip-up E.T. body suits for my brother and sister. Amazing! Somewhere there is still a box full of custom-made superhero capes from my many years of Halloween dress-up. But this all changed as I aged, and I grew to despise the holiday and all that came with it.

This became a huge challenge when I took on the role of youth pastor at a church. How do you talk about and guide youth through Halloween? In my early years I simply went with the Halloween alternative: a costume contest/party at the church facility complete with candy and tons of messy games. It was a huge hit with the youth, but not so much fun for me as I tried to navigate the murky waters of appropriate vs. inappropriate costumes (it didn’t help that these were the years when the Brittany Spears midriff-baring look was all the rage with young ladies). After awhile I simply gave up trying to create the alternative, and instead focused on using it as an opportunity to teach about All Saints Day and the power of Christ over evil.

Then my own children were born. As much as I despised Halloween, I also felt that it hadn’t negatively effected me spiritually or otherwise (I never had cavities as a kid). And since my wife loves any excuse to celebrate any holiday (an endearing family trait), I grudgingly did my duty hauling the Halloween costumes to daycare, and then school, and taking my turn walking through the neighborhood and knocking on doors for candy.

Eventually, we connected with a couple of other families from our church with kids our age that wanted to go “trick-or-treating” together. We came up with a fabulous plan of gathering every year over pizza, hot cider, and usually a football game on TV. Better still, we alternated each year between dads taking the kids out and moms taking the kids out – giving everybody a year off. This was our tradition up until last year when the Holy Spirit turned everything upside down for us.

As we established our missional community we focused intensely on putting more gospel intentionality into everything were doing. So when it came to Halloween, we knew that there was a golden opportunity (and one of the families we have always gone trick-or-treating with is part of our MC). I also read an article on the Verge Network last year called “Ways to Be Missional This Halloween” that challenged me further. So we decided to do three things: First, even though there are almost no trick-or-treaters on our part of Camano Island, we decided to stay in our neighborhood even if it meant less candy for the kiddos. We recognized that Halloween was an excuse to knock on people’s doors and introduce ourselves. Second, we decided that no one gets to stay home – we all went together with the kids through the neighborhood. Third, we decided to invite other families to join us.

creeperandfighterAs we went trick-or-treating around the neighborhood there were many people that were surprised to see us since they rarely get visitors even on Halloween. And while I’m sure we annoyed a few Halloween grinches (I get it – I really do!), we also made the night for a lot of retired folks that rarely have neighbors come knocking and were thrilled to see the kiddos dressed up. Best of all, it was on that night last year that we met a family that has now become some of our closest friends on Camano Island. Before Halloween we didn’t know them, but after trick-or-treating with them we made plans to get together again. It wasn’t long before they joined us at our missional community, and now they join us in worship as well (did I mention that they had no church background to speak of). So with one stroke Halloween has been forever transformed for me!

Before I tell you about our plans for this year, let me address the elephant in the room (or the “witch” in the room in this instance): Halloween has a lot of troubling elements associated with it that make it tough for us Christians. There is a great article out by Seth McBee and Verge Network this year called 3 Tips for Discipling Your Kids Through Halloween directed at Christian parents wrestling with this issue. Here is an excerpt:

To most families in America, Halloween is a fun time to eat candy, dress up, and have fun with friends. Yet because some choose to use this holiday to celebrate evil and its effects, it also can be a dark holiday.

With such a complicated mixture of influences, it’s important for each family to use discernment and wisdom in determining if and how to celebrate this holiday. I believe that there are sinful ways to participate in Halloween, just as there are with any holiday.

However, I also believe there are many aspects of this holiday that we have freedom in Christ to participate in. Regardless of how you choose to engage in this holiday, I urge you not to miss out on all the opportunities to disciple your kids that the Halloween season provides.

For me the key word here is “discipleship.” Whatever we decide, we want our kids to know what it means to follow Jesus on Halloween. For me, this means that Halloween is another opportunity to bless others in the name of Jesus, to connect with those that don’t yet know Jesus, and proclaim that light has triumphed over darkness. No amount of evil will keep us locked up at home with the lights off and curtains drawn! So this year we are planning to do things much the same as last year with a couple additions: We are going to invite more people to join us for a bonfire and food after the trick-or-treating, and we are going to have our kids give out $5 gift cards to everyone that gives them candy (I can’t wait to see how that goes!).

I’m sure I still have a lot to learn about what it means to live missionally, especially in light of something like Halloween. However, it helps me to think about it in terms of mission. For example, I imagine myself being a missionary in a foreign land to an unreached people group. Undoubtedly these people will have cultural celebrations that have nothing to do with the gospel and perhaps even conflict with it. So what is my response as a missionary? I certainly wouldn’t sit at home and pretend that nothing was happening! No way! I would see it as an opportunity to engage people right were they were. I would celebrate where appropriate, always looking for opportunities to proclaim the good news while also clearly drawing a line against anything contrary to the gospel. Ideally, aspects of the celebrations would be redeemed for the purposes of Christ.

What I like about the article I referenced above is that Seth gets right to what I see as the root of the problem: fear. There certainly isn’t a one-sized-fits-all approach to Halloween, but I do know that there is no reason to fear. Light has overcome darkness, Jesus has triumphed over evil! Whatever we decide to do may it be motivated by our identity as missionaries of this good news!

Bait and Switch

In the video below, Dallas Willard talked about how the biggest danger to Christianity is the attitude that it is a statement of belief rather than a life of discipleship. I was particularly struck by his comments about pastors being accused of “bait and switch” when they try to do intentional discipleship. I have heard similar comments from those that are farther along in developing missional communities than we are at Tidelands. Longtime “church” people can struggle with the idea that they are being asked to be part of a group that is focused on following Jesus in all aspects of life. Sometimes our focus on church programs and sunday morning performance results in immature Christians that want to be “fed” rather than disciples capable of leading others in being disciples of Jesus.

Perhaps this is why I often get quizzical reactions from other Christians leaders when I talk about our missional communities. I have even fielded questions asking whether we are a “cult” or a “commune.” Why would a description of people living on mission in their neighborhood result in those kinds of labels? One possibility is that I am simply not being very articulate in describing what we are doing (I’m working on this). The other possibility is that a life of following Jesus as a disciple sounds foreign to them. If the latter is true, it begs the question: what kind of “Christian” doesn’t feel comfortable with discipleship? I believe this is the kind of thing that Dallas is addressing in this video. If discipleship sounds like a “switch” then what is being used as the “bait?” Certainly not the gospel of Jesus!

Link

One of the great features of the Internet is that we can have access to so many good teachers and they often do a much better job of articulating an idea than I ever could.  In the video below David Platt talks about the difference between legalism and “radical” living (If you have not read his Radical book yet – it is worth the read).  I’ve substituted the word “missional” for “radical” because it is basically working with the same idea and I’ve heard a criticism from some corners of the blogosphere that “missional church’ is is just a new form of legalism. I would agree that the temptation is always there, but to call missional living “legalistic” is missing the point entirely. Listen to David:

Sheep Stealing?

wolf_sheepThere is an interesting tension we are beginning to experience in our start-up year as a church. While we are convinced that our first missional community is becoming all that we hoped it would be, and it does seem to work as a way or reaching those that have never been part of a church community, it is likely going to be quite some time before people coming through the missional community end up in worship with us on Sundays. More importantly, it will be some time before we develop mature leaders through this process. So how do we go about recruiting/attracting potential leaders in the community to join us without “stealing” from the existing congregations?

I’m convinced that churches (especially new church “plants”) are not always honest with themselves in this area. So often they  end up attracting a large number of people from other congregations because they are “fresh”, have better programs/music, more energy, or people are just unhappy with their current congregation. I’m sure anyone who has been in ministry for any amount of time can relate to having a conversation with visitors on a Sunday morning who begin explaining to you that they are at your worship service because they are unhappy with their current church. For me, this always triggered a red flag. More often than not (though I understand that there are legitimate exceptions), these people will “hop” on over to another place once they realize just how imperfect and messy your church is.

So now we are at a place where we are considering doing some of the things that we have not done much of up to this point. Namely, getting a building space, and doing more promotion to invite people to join us for worship. I think we need to do this because going forward we are going to have to find more people to join us in this work. We need a worship leader, we need a church administrator, we need people to help with children’s ministry, and we need others to join our missional community leadership so that we can multiply and start missional communities in other areas. And the big question in my mind is: How do we do this without simply pulling people out of their existing church community?

I have already met people that have recently moved to the area and are looking for a church home. The demographic research tells us that the Stanwood/Camano Island area will continue to grow. So that would certainly be a group to focus on. I also know that there are some people who travel a very long way to go to worship. While I understand that there are a variety of reasons for this, I also know that it is hard to truly be the church in your neighborhood or community if all of those in your worshipping community live 30 miles away. So perhaps there is some room there for people to reconnect their worship life with their community life.

We are just beginning this conversation as a leadership team. It will be interesting to see where this all goes. In the meantime, I have Jesus words ringing in my ears:

“The harvest is plentiful, but the laborers are few; therefore ask
the Lord of the harvest to send out laborers into his harvest.”

The “Missional” Cliché?

“If a church exists only to meet the religious needs of church people, your vision of church and your gospel is too small.”

– Darrell Guder

I hear it more and more these days: the argument that “missional” has simply become the next hot Christian phrase creeping onto every Church website, mission statement, and leader conference like “purpose-driven” or “seeker-sensitive” of the past. It is hard to argue with that, because it does seem to be happening. And unfortunately, as the meaning of the term gets diluted, what gets lost is increasingly the very purpose of the word in the first place: to get the church to reconnect with something that it has lost.

Here is a link to an article that summarizes some of the things Darrell Guder recently said about this issue (Guder wrote Missional Church a decade before the term became popular): “Church in a Post-Christian Context.”

Language is important, and it bothers me that people may hear us talk about “missional communities” and think that it is just a cool new way to describe small groups. However, what concerns me more, whatever we call it, is that what we are doing is actually connecting with God’s mission in our time and place. Quoting Guder again (from the article referenced above), here is another way to describe what a “missional community” is meant to be:

“Missional communities are about God calling together a people to serve God’s purposes in a particular context (neighborhood) to bring healing, reconciliation and good news to those around them. A missional community is not an end itself. It is not a church that exists for its own purposes.”

I once heard Eugene Peterson say that it may be helpful at times to remove a word from usage in order to allow it to regain meaning if that meaning has become too diluted and overused. As I recall, he was talking about the pervasive use of “Christian” as an adjective to describe all kinds of things in marketing. This was perhaps prophetic, as I have noticed that I and others often choose to describe ourselves as “followers of Jesus” in order to more accurately convey to those outside the church what we are instead of connecting with the often misunderstood “Christian” label. This is not an attempt to be “politically correct” but rather to communicate effectively. My hope is that the word “missional” has not already reached this point. I suspect that it has not, only because I often find myself explaining to others in great detail what I mean by a “missional community.” What has been your experience?