Monday, March 19, 2007

Lent 4: Self Sustaining...a sin?

location at writing: iglesia luterana cristo rey, el paso, tx

In preparation for the prodigal son text I was reading Mark Allen Powell's work around social location. It is a paper that describes interpretive moves around one's particular social outlook. Leaving out a great deal of detail for the sake of getting to the point, one particular culture identified the sin of the younger brother as leaving home and thinking that he could become self sufficient. Needless to say, I was taken by the idea. It was when he 'came to himself' that he decided to return home. The younger son is re-membered by returning home, only to find that a parent is more happy to have and hold, than he ever realizes is possible. Why could this be? Perhaps in recognizing, 'knowing again', that his only place is in the presence of the father where the father can hold him and sustain him. What does this say to those who advocate for self sustaining communities? Are those who become so self sustaining that they isolate themselves from everyone else, even the father, engaging in sin?

In conversation yesterday with pastor Rose Mary, here at Cristo Rey, she told me that we need to rethink the way we do mission and ministry with and for those on the fringes. Their mission here is not self sustaining but is supported by national and synodical efforts as well as countless grants with a budget around $200,000. Today, they celebrate closing on new property that will continue to be a space for grace, justice and peace. We've heard and will hear stories this week of those disenfranchized by the border immigration issues, real people's lives torn apart and struggling along. This place of peace is a mission of the true Jesus church but it cannot go on on its own, by itself. I am in agreement with pastor Rose Mary, mission is about the collective 'us' and our work together in God's name. May we seek and be open to new ways of being church that doesn't seek as a primary goal some economic achievement but some Spirit faithfulness returning back to God, being drawn back to God, through the ways we partner with each other.


jWinters said...

I think the danger may be in how we interpret "self sustaining."

I think it is most certainly a sin for a church to cut itself off from society either because of a wish to be "self sustaining" or as a consequence of being "self sustaining."

But while I think that is a special temptation for churches that are self-sustaining, I don't think it's a sin to be self-sustaining. The sin is in cutting yourself off from the rest of the Body of Christ.

dave said...

i agree with you jay. i think that the church needs to begin rethinking and even using new language that is more descriptive of who we are and what we are doing in mission and ministry.

much of this conversation has been driven by a comment initially made by lutheran zephyr who asked about sustainability among emerging churches, which as i heard it, all centered around economic stability. this is also how our big church speaks about congregations, it's all from a particular socio-economic model. i am not convinced that this is the way we should either measure nor deem as justfiable for their very existence. i think there should be other measures, which is why i posted wheatley's stuff on here a few blogs ago in hopes that someone out there is reading this stuff too. at this time not many seem to be sharing in my enthusiasm for some of this stuff. we'll see.

Lars said...

I agree that the whole self-sustaining thing needs to be reexamined. If "self-sustaining" is really about a building, staff and full-time pastor paid for with member contributions alone, that's going to get harder and harder.

The usual solutions I see are:
1) The pastor just works for very little money
2) The pastor works two jobs.
3) The church is always getting it's building-salary subsidized by other churches.

Without saying what's a right and wrong way, I have to ask how many churches can be non-self-sustaining before there's nobody left to pay the subsidies? Doesn't someone need to pay their own bills, and then some, to pay for others?

I know I've heard all sorts of comments about emerging churches being "neat" and "creative" and "isn't that nice" but then comes the comment "But I've yet to see one exist without getting tons of money from the modern and pre-modern churches they criticize all the time." I've even experienced an entitlement mentality that says "we're emerging, so the larger denomination owes us subsidies."

So who gets to decide who gets subsidized and who doesn't? Who's worthy of the funds? Who has to go their own way? Who gets to say so?

dave said...

hey thanks lars. good comments and great questions. i'm not sure the answer to this thing either and i don't know. i think one of the obvious problems is how top heavy we've become and that we actually need a pastor to survive. i'm not advocating that we terminate ourselves, but we are going to need to radically rethink how pastors can pastor churches if we believe we want to continue in mission.

i know in early american church history laity ended up taking a lot of that role. however, i'm not quite sure it's merely about that. so i'm kind of thinking about driving the bus or something. who knows...this is definitely an important topic.

i'm down in phx, giving a talk tomorrow on this stuff and sharing in conversation with people who are really interested in it. i think it's a problem for all of us and in some way many feel they're grasping at straws and looking for "the answer", regardless we all need to be involved in wondering about this. first, we need to recognize, perhaps convince, that it's a viable option that should even be on the table. i know the synod is open to the new start i'm doing, but who knows how far reaching it'll be and how many can be started as well. i wonder if any of our bigger churches can send out missioners from their community, pastors, as extensions of their ministry, to create new communities, that may or may not be 'self' sustaining. my concern is that a lot of congregation's overhead, wrapped up in staffing, only relates to internal matters of their congregation and how that particular congregation will benefit. what about creating sustaining communities beyond the self and continue to stay tied to them. i think the key has to do with interconnectedness not isolation, like we've been used to. if we don't recognize that a particular failure effects me too than we're on our way to death.

as far as who gets what funds...i'm not sure how to distribute them either. there certainly is power in being able to decide where resources go.

also, do you hear me criticizing this 'modern and pre-modern' expression of church while asking for their money? if you do, please tell me so. you do raise a good point, how can we even talk about this stuff if we're being seen as elitist in these pursuits. i know it's out there, but that in and of itself doesn't seem to be modeling the kind of humility, nor hospitality, that jesus lives and advocates.

i'm of the mind that the church of the future is one of diversity and ambiguous expressions reflecting those it desires to welcome in its participatory life. i understand however, how easily it can get into an ecclesiastical beauty contest.

i was down at asu today, and their building a huge condo they're billing as an 'unprecedented urban living' neighborhood on mill avenue. they're promoting their own grocery store, gourmet restaurant. what if we put somebody in there just to live alongside the people and the culture to begin cultivating some kind of community? sounds good to me.