missional

Following Jesus Calls For Much More Than Going to Church

I recently sat with a pastor friend of mine in the Bay Area who is seeking to radically reorient the life of his faith community away from viewing the church as merely a weekly gathering and towards daily life in neighborhood.  Strikingly insightful, he said, “I have found that we can live in our neighborhoods without ever actually living life within them.” 

There is much conversation swirling around the attractional versus missional church models. In short (and in what is inevitably an overgeneralization), attractional models pour their time and resources into worship services so as to create a place that non-believers will want to come and be exposed to the reality of Jesus. The church campus and/or gathering is the central place or hub to where others are drawn. In contrast, the missional church embraces the mission of God and God’s extension into humanity by moving outside the traditional church walls and into the lives of individual non-believers with the hope of introducing them to Jesus in their local context. As such, the focus is not on a central worship gathering, but on equipping believers who are sent to be good news to their neighbors, coworkers, and families.

For the sake of this conversation, we prefer the word extractional over the word attractional when speaking of the traditional (at least in reference to the last 100 years), worship-service-centered church structures. First, a missional community is also going to be attractional (albeit in ways much different from that of the former definition) as people are inherently wired for community and are enlivened by shared practices. Second, and most importantly, the traditional church is extractional in the sense that it extracts people from their local contexts to attend a church service and inadvertently teaches us that church is something you go to rather than someone you are in the places you inhabit. Many of these people have been taught that attending a church service and serving in it is the central act of our Christian vocation.

Not only is there potential for the extractional church to sell people short in their understanding of Christian vocation, but it also pulls them out of the contexts in which they live and often disconnects their contribution from their everyday context. Rather than extracting its participants from a place, a missional community is designed to equip its people within a context to enter the stories of those we live alongside. In doing so, we are able to meet people where they are and begin to create a viral movement of embedded followers of Christ who are transforming individuals, communities, neighborhoods, and cities through the power of Jesus.

Living out the submerging posture is the antithesis of the extractional model. When we submerge rather than trying to find ways to draw people into another world, we take it upon ourselves to draw close to our neighbors in contexts that are normative to them. The gospel as Jesus proclaimed it transcends our expectations for where it should be extended and has the potential to come to life in the mundane or unexpected realities of everyday life.

When we submerge, we resist the temptation to drive by the ugly or unglamorous realities of our local context. Instead, led by the power of the Spirit, we pour our time, energy, and heart into the often forgotten places and people with the hopes that the gospel of Jesus might be made real by transforming the realities that envelop us.

What would your church community look like if it poured more of its energy into submerging into the narratives of neighborhood than into programs that extract your community from life in their neighborhood(s)?  How might that free up the People of God to be Good News in their local contexts? 

Want to put flesh and blood to this idea?  Check out our Submerging video from the Thin Places Small Group Edition

Note: Much of this post is content from my book (with Rob Yackley) Thin Places published by The House Studio

 

Jesus’ Invitation to the Discipline of “Wasting Time?”

A few of us from our missional community asked one of the hero’s of our neighborhood to sit down for a meal so we could hear more of her story and learn from her experiences.  Among locals, she is known as “Judy the Beauty” and owns a local restaurant that has been around through all the years of violence and pain our neighborhood has endured over the past 30 years.  Rather than calling the police when gang members would threaten her, she would simply hire them and give them a warm meal.  She is now the “mom” to dozens of guys society had written off as a lost cause.  When we asked her what she would suggest we do as a community who deeply desires to be good news in our neighborhood, she said, “You have to listen.  Drop your agenda’s and allow the stories of the inhabitants of the neighborhood inform how you engage and participate.  Simply be present.”

I never fully understood the significance of the first thirty years of Jesus’s life until I had the opportunity to walk from village to village near the Sea of Galilee in modern-day Israel. Between dusty roads that rise and fall over rolling hills that circle the beautiful body of water, small villages and ancient cities fill out the first-century context of Jesus.

Following the model of his earthly father, Jesus was a carpenter. In that day, carpentry was much more closely associated with rock than with woodworking. The ancient city of Sepphoris—near Jesus’s childhood village of Nazareth—is still largely intact because of the rock structures that served as building foundations Also, because the leaders of the city chose not to participate in the Great Revolt of 66-70 AD against Emperor Vespasian, the Romans didn’t destroy the city. In fact, as Herod Antipas (son of Herod the Great) rebuilt the city during the start of the first century, it is likely that Jesus would have spent much time working there as a carpenter. 

Sepphoris was a significant city for many reasons. Besides being the Galilean capital, it was the central hub of commerce and a highly influential Jewish place of leadership. There were many layers to life in cities like this and for life in general during the time of Jesus.

As I walked the modern-day ruins of this site, I couldn’t help picturing a twenty-year-old Jesus working next to his dad while listening and living a radically submerged life within this context. While shaping rock that would act as foundations for buildings whose use he may or may not have agreed with, Jesus was present.

Jesus was not just present for a year or two; he was present for thirty years before entering his formal ministry. There is an element of lingering inherent with submerging. It is a willingness to be present to the point of feeling like we are wasting time, when in reality we are leaving ourselves open to be used by the Spirit in ways we be might otherwise have never been aware of. Lingering is not simply walking aimlessly in circles: it is knowing what we are looking for and being intentional with our time and presence.

Jesus, with his building vocation as Messiah and inaugurator of the kingdom of God, spent time to linger, to be fully present and submerge into his context. And he did so for thirty years. Being the one chosen to redeem all of humanity, I have to wonder if he ever felt as thought he was wasting time at any point during the first thirty years of his life. After all, he had a lot of work to do and a renewed story to tell and invite God’s people into.

In the end, we know that Jesus wasn’t wasting time: he was listening to the voice of his Father and doing the very things he saw his Father doing (see John 5:19). He was submerging deep into his context and preparing to invite others into the story of God. The same is true for us: what may feel like wasted time is quickly redeemed by the Spirit when we linger and submerge with intentionality.

How might we have unhealthy expectations for the speed and frequency in which we see and experience transformation in our neighborhoods?  

May we be driven to better love on our neighborhoods by the Spirit rather than our ambitions or agendas, even if they are developed with the best intentions.  

Note: Much of this post in content from my book Thin Places

Jamie Arpin-Ricci Asks Me 5 Critical Q’s On Missional Community

This interview was first published on Jamie Arpin-Ricci’s website The Cost of Community.  It is a great window in the heart and mission of my work and that of NieuCommunites.

Living as part of an intentional Christian community, I often search for other creative expressions of missional communities around the world.  One such example that I love is NieuCommunitiesIt is also how I came to befriend Jon Huckins (who I finally got to meet in person at InHabit this year), who recently authored the great new book, “Thin Places: 6 Postures for Creating & Practicing Missional Community”.

However, rather than me tell you about it, I thought I would let Jon tell us about it directly.  Enjoy!

Jamie Arpin-Ricci: Tell me about NieuCommunities (i.e. some history, current realities & future plans).  How did its story result in the book?

Jon Huckins: Over a decade ago a few seasoned leaders and practitioners started regularly gathering at a local taqueria asking the question, “With the Church radically shifting, how can we create a lived, embodied formation experience that will ready young leaders for lives of mission?”  They wanted to create a “learning experience” that was not purely academic with the intention of filling pulpits, but a learning experience that would fill neighborhoods with leaders whose lives were radically re-oriented around the life and teachings of Jesus. This small tribe of Kingdom cultivators then gave birth to our first NieuCommunities missional community that was centered around forming the next generation of missionally minded leaders for the Church.

After ten years, lots of refining, tons of shared life and many leaders having been sent on mission into the marketplace, around the globe, into church leadership roles and deep into the fabric of their neighborhood, NieuCommunities now has communities scattered across the globe.  While we still pour much of our energy into forming, mentoring and developing young leaders through our 1-2 year apprenticeship, our communities are deeply rooted in neighborhood and are made up of neighbors, apprentices and our staff. Each year we covenant to commune deeply with God, live radically interdependent lives with each other and dive deep into the story(s) of our neighborhood.  We gather in our homes, live within 10 minutes walking distance from each other and don’t aspire to accumulate large numbers of people, but to multiply communities that can follow Jesus by living in covenant relationship.

Over the years many individuals and communities have heard our story and asked for some of our “field notes” from our decade of living neighborhood based, street level missional community.  This book is our response to that.  And while we are far from having all the answers, this is our humble attempt to share our learning’s with the hope of sparking the imagination and practice of individuals and communities across the globe.

JAR: What does “missional community” mean to you?  And why are those two words important to each other?

JH: “Missional” has become quite the buzzword and handy adjective for those seeking to jump on the latest ecclesial bandwagon.  I’m not saying those are inherently bad, but the last thing we need is more talk about missional…we need embodied, lived expressions of the missional way of life that is rooted in community.  I see missional community as two ideas being intimately connected.  It is a collection of people that are committed to living lives of mission (apart of the missio dei) who believe the best way to faithfully live on mission is in the context of intentional community.  Community fuels and gives context to mission and mission gives purpose and identity to the community.

JAR: Briefly outline the 6 postures you introduce in the book.

JH: We want our posture towards God, our community and our neighborhood to be intimately informed by these commitments.  Cloaked in the covering of covenant community, we pilgrimage through each of the following postures as learners and practitioners apprenticing in the way of Jesus:

Listening: We desire to be attuned to God, to self, and to our neighborhood.

Submerging: We desire to embody Jesus in our neighborhood by diving deep into the narratives that are often ignored, misunderstood or without a voice.

Inviting: We desire to grasp the depth of God’s invitation to kingdom life and to become more inviting (and invited!) people while welcoming our neighbors into God’s redemptive story.

Contending: We desire to confront the things that hinder the full expression of the kingdom of God, both spiritual and natural, in our community, among our friends and neighbors, and in our city.

Imagining: We desire to discern God’s intent on our lives and help shape transformational faith communities.

Entrusting: We desire to entrust people to God and to others, celebrate our deeper understanding of God’s call on our lives, and lean confidently into our future.

JAR: Name a few authors/books who have been particularly formative for you & NieuCommunities.  How so?

JH: These books and authors have done well at rooting us deep in the Story of God, while learning from traditions that daily inform our life and practice (namely, Celtic Spirituality).  Further, we will often read these books as a community based on the current posture we are navigating together.

The Celtic Way of Evangelism, George Hunter
Spiritual Direction, Henri Nouwen
Life Together, Dietrich Bonhoeffer
Irresistible Revolution, Shane Claiborne
Making Room: Recovering Hospitality as a Christian Tradition, Christine Pohl
Jesus and the Victory of God – N.T. Wright
The Divine Conspiracy, Dallas Willard
Celebration of Discipline, Richard Foster
Theology for the Community of God, Stanley Grenz
The Mission of God, Christopher Wright

JAR: What is your biggest concern for the church today and why?

JH: My greatest concern for the Church is that it would loose sight of its vocation of living as a sent people.  The Western Church of the last 100 years as largely turned towards ecclesial models that promote consumption rather than participation.  People often leave/drive from their local contexts to attend a church gathering in a building where a person(s) lead the rest of the congregation in some form of worship and teaching.  The people then drive back to their neighborhoods having received something for themselves.  While this is certainly not all bad and great things have and continue to happen in these contexts, this model has largely debilitated the vocation of the People of God.  In this model it is easy to think that only the “pastor” has been sent to share the Good News of Jesus (which is often viewed synonymously with spoken word rather than lived life), so we are simply to bring people to a service or gathering to hear him/her share.  The Good News is removed from the context of everyday life in our neighborhoods, revolves around a service that requires a vast amount of resources and is something we only hear rather than embody.

We believe we are not only to share the Good News, but embody the Good News.  Jesus extends his vocation of redemption and restoration to humanity to accept and participate in.  When the church simply becomes a place or a commodity, we are greatly debilitated in living out our vocation as sent ones for the benefit of the cosmos.  In other words, whether we are sent across the world or across the street, we are all missionaries.  Until the Church sees its role to multiply Kingdom participants on mission rather than offering goods and services to consumers, the influence and prophetic presence of the Church will be greatly diminished.  Thankfully, there is a Spirit-driven movement afoot that is growing, grass-roots and poised to radically reorient the Church around the life and teachings of Jesus.

JAR: Thanks Jon.

Thin Places Releases TODAY! Check out: Full Video Session, 1st Chapter & Table of Contents

It’s finally here! Order your copy of “Thin Places”.

Also, in anticipation of today’s release of Thin Places, the good folks at The House Studio have released all sorts of fun stuff! As a way to allow all of you to be a bit more familiar with what Thin Places (and the Small Group edition) is all about, you can now check out the Table of Contents, the full first chapter and the second of six videos in the small group edition.  

Hope it is helpful and I would much appreciate you passing the word!  

Check this out for a full description, video trailer, endorsements.

Check out the table of contents

Read the First Chapter: Listening

Thin Places -- Chapter 2: Submerging from The House Studio on Vimeo.

“There Are No Thin Places.” My Response to Tony Jones

I really appreciate Tony Jones.  He is one of the best conversation starters in the “Christian” blogosphere with his passion for the Church to step more fully into its vocation by setting aside complacency and static dogma.  Tony asks hard questions and seeks to create space for constructive discourse that leads to new insights and answers.  On a personal level, his endorsement of my first book – Teaching Through the Art of Storytelling – to the higher ups at Zondervan is a significant reason I got published at that stage of my life/career. 

In my mind: Tony = Good Dude. 

Last week there was some buzz around my new book (with Rob Yackley), Thin Places, Six Postures for Creating and Practicing Missional Community, that led to Tony posting a blog (Read it here for the rest of this post to make sense) in response to Steve Knight’s post on it the day before.  The conversation revolved primarily around varying interpretations of the Celtic term “Thin Place” and the secular/sacred dualism it could potentially create.  Tony argues that there are is no such thing as a thin place, “I say this because God is ever-present, everywhere. God isn’t more some places and less in other places. God is, in the classic sense, omnipresent.”  Rob and I give our interpretation of a “thin place” in the comments of this post.

In the end, Tony agrees with us on this and we agree with him.  God is everywhere, but a thin place is that moment/place where we are awakened to the reality of God’s Kingdom in a new way.  It’s not that it wasn’t here, it’s that we hadn’t yet had the eyes to see it.  He says, “In other words, pay attention. God is already where you are.”

Couple More Thoughts:

1. There is an irony to this whole conversation.  The point of this book is to offer the lived, rooted, praxis-based expression of a missional community so as to help spark the imaginations and practices of other faith communities.   We are saying,  Life on mission in the context of intentional community is not a far out ideal: it is a reality waiting for others to step into.”  “Missional” has become quite the buzzword and handy adjective for those seeking to jump on the latest ecclesial bandwagon.  I’m not saying those are inherently bad, but the last thing we need is more TALK about missional…we need embodied, lived expressions of the missional way of life.  

The Irony?  This book is seeking to encourage the Church to LIVE INTO their theology rather than debate it.  So while I love the discussions that are circling around the theological connotations of the title of this book, I’d love even more to see us wrestling with how to PRACTICE this in the real-life stories of our neighborhood.

I’m not saying there isn’t a need for academic critique, discourse or even debate on this.  In fact, I find great value in that and personally come to life in it.  What I am saying is that it would go a long way if we more often stepped out from behind our computers, and began to better live out our theology in the mundane than argue theology in the theoretical (I recently said much more about that over at Tony Campolo’s Red Letter Christians blog).  If there’s a hope from Thin Places, It’s not only for people to be encouraged to live this out, but to build on it, improve and add to it, and then share that insight with others. 

2.  Missional Hipster?

Well, you may have me there, Tony…or maybe not.  Depends on who you talk to.  I think hipsters wouldn’t consider me a hipster and non-hipsters would call me a hipster.  And as Rob said, he’s way to old to be a hipster.  Are there hipsters in our community?  Let’s just say some of the guys have to put Vaseline on their thighs to pull their pants up, so yes, we have some hipster up in here.  But please know that after I send you a box of THIN mints and Wheat THINS you’ll be receiving a prayed over spatula from our white missional hipster BBQ. 

 

 

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