Thursday, June 26, 2008

Closing the Gap Between the Gathered and Scattered Church

One of the biggest complaints (as if there's only one, come on...) to church is the isolation aspect of those church goers. Ya know, the one singlemost segregated hour of the week where like minded people gather to hear stuff about God, exchange pleasantries, do some spiritual calisthenics and then go their various ways only to meet up again a week later.

But what about bridging this gap? What about integrating the gathered/scattered side of church? What would it look like for a church to simultaneously be both? What does it look like to listen to the voice of God as a gathered/scattered community? Could it be that the church gets to listen "with" others, culture/world, etc., instead of only having others listen "to" what the church dispenses? Could it be that God is simultaneously seeking to convert the church right alongside of the world in some greater sense for what God is up to in the world?

This is some of what we're experimenting with at the flagstaff abbey. And I'm talking in the gestation stage of things here...pretty fresh pups, if that. We're now meeting in a local bar, the green room. We're looking at having semi-structured thematic nights where missional aspects of God's world are heard, discerned, exposed, acknowledged and integrated into a curious setting for what God is doing in the world and how we are being called to become a part of a larger view of life ourselves. I especially invite you to check out our latest thoughts for what this community values by clicking down below at "Last Time at the Abbey".

The monastic life generally entails some semblance of silence. But I've been wondering if it isn't more about stillness...calming oneself down to the point of actually being present and attentive to other movements, other vibes, others reverberations. Obviously the silent thing is going to be a wee bit difficult in a bar. However, the stillness thing? Not so sure. With an invitation to hear things differently, especially in a different setting? What if becoming still ourselves for the sake of listening to something radically different and again, hearing it in a completely unexpected setting, sets up the stage for hearing differently, what could this do? to me? to others?

Who knows what's going happen with all of this. I certainly don't. But what I do know is I'm being called out to something new, and that there's a significant relationship to this gathering and scattering that hasn't quite been integrated in a way that is consistent with God's work in the world. What do you think?

Last Time at the Abbey

Follow the above link to hear what's been happening at the Abbey.

Monday, June 23, 2008

Catching Up with God's Expansive Movements

Recently I was asked, along with a friend, to lead a workshop at our regional church conference, i.e. synod (gathering) assembly. The challenge we faced was that we were given the title for the workshop without any involvement on our part ("Who are the Unchurched: New Models for Ministry") even as we were asked to write out the description which went something like this: "why are we getting the right answers to the wrong questions?" One of the wrong questions for me includes "how can we get more (young) people in the church?" People, and young people especially, are not some acquisition in need of possessing! Are they not already possessed by God? Hasn't God already redeemed the world? Isn't God in the process of redeeming (whatever that big religious word means) me too?

So at the assembly we decided to run the workshop more as a conversation. I don't think people got the point. We didn't spell it all out for people either, which, I'll go out on a limb here and say, is always good to make people think about and experience things differently. Most people however only think in predetermined programmatic terms that has some kind of pre-fixed infrastructure, which then requires the people, resources, etc. to be put in their place to run. But what if the program is the people engaging in a process, discovering as we go what this is all about and including more and more people to the discerning table of God's activity in the world?

It was my sense that not everyone got it. I think there was much more of a frustrating and dismissive tone around how we engaged. Everyone was looking for formulas, templates, these "new models", without any sense for the experience itself as the new model of engagement through listening and conversing with one another. What it seems that people desire most is some kind of an end rather than a process. There's no doubt that process makes people uncomfortable as it reveals less certainty about where we're going. And yet, what if the supposed "end" of this missional stuff is about how we are engaging in the journey rather than a nice and polished end? When we come to hear about a "new model" and expect it to be delivered and deciphered through the same means we've been familiar all along no wonder we have a hard time getting it or as Jesus might say, "let those with ears hear."

And so the challenge I face is not to seek to describe this thing (this thing as an expanded movement of God the church gets to be a part of) in words as much as to provide space for it to be experienced and allowed to emerge. Not too unlike an artist in process...the color pallet being all the resources God is redeeming to tell a story, to paint a picture, larger than any one particular area could do on its own. So if you can stand back far enough, watching and listening as the collage unfolds, can you actually begin to see God emerging? Calling us into something bigger than ourselves? Perhaps the new leadership style should be viewed more as an artist/muscian and less like a CEO or manager of a franchise.

The flagstaff abbey is looking at meeting downtown's about time! Church without walls here we come! We'll be meeting a local bar, the green room on Tuesday night. Martin Luther took music out of the bar and brought it into the church, i.e. worship. We're looking at taking the church out of a building, i.e. sanctuary, and taking it back to the bar, the contemporary social gathering to see what God could do to expose each of us, now I'm talking about me too, to a greater, more expansive view for what God is doing in the world. Just a thought: isn't this the very thing that Jesus embodied when "the word became flesh and tented among us?" I'm wondering and talking about helping to create space, an expanded notion of God-space, for a larger view of life.

So what will happen? I don't have a clue. I just know God is already everywhere and with everyone inviting us to get on board with what God is doing. Didn't Jesus help share this point by becoming one of us? I'm just trying to facilitate a community, belonging to God, where we can better and with greater perspectives, wonder how God is at work in the world and where we may be called to get involved too. I never liked the idea of going to church given the fact that "I am the church" someone once said. Instead I like this notion of being church in the world, exposing the place, movement, presence of God and listening to others for how they are hearing that movement too. Who knows, maybe the only young person to be "gotten" in this whole process will actually be me!