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Omaha, Nebraska, United States
I am more and more convinced that most congregations die from a staggering lack of imagination. Let's change that. Drop me a line on email or leave a comment if you have thoughts on God, Jesus, congregations, the church or whatever.... I look forward to our conversations.

Monday, August 11, 2008

At a Gathering of Mission Developers

In our tradition, the kind of ministry I do is called "mission development." For a long time this was synonmous with "church planting," but there is a difference these days. You see, the "missional" church movement, as I understand it, is all about living out the mission of God, which is, this side of the eschaton, what we call congregating, or congregations. "Church planting," was more about growing churches, or placing our denominational presence into an arena of the world. So, to do mission development is to discern and practice the mission of God for the sake of the world, whatever that "world" may be.
"Mission development," then, is not limited to planting new congregations in arenas where there are currently no ELCA congregations, no ethnic or language specific ministries, nor is it limited to "church growth." Rather, mission development explores God's mission for the sake of the world in creative and engaging ways. It could be starting a clinic or a hospital, a virtual, web-presence, and communities of authenticity and faith, maybe a school, or a senior-adult ministry. However God seeks to love people, the mission development arm of our tradition could seek to be the "hands" of that movement. (I should note that theoretically this is possible, at least, and I hope this is being done...and what I've seen here suggests it is.) I would be disappointed if "mission development" only meant planting new congregations, like the ones of ours that are languishing all across the country. I would hope we could have the most expansive view of mission possible, and that our prayers, energy, and money go not to those places trying to replicate a model or program, but rather seek to live out the mission of God in a particular neighborhood of the world. (For some reason my tradition still separates global from domestic mission, and that seems like such a limited view of God's world.)
I'd love to see Prairie Table Ministries focus on two things: preaching the gospel so as to foster and nourish authentic community; and two, tending God's mission to love the world with justice. People who get nourished at Prairie Table should, in this scenario, be able to preach the gospel, and in the words of St. Francis, if necessary "use words." (Preaching therefore, is how you live--not only what you say.) And tending to God's mission is about having our preaching (how we are living together in authentic community) be accessible to God and God's people to be a positive impact upon the world...for example...
The other night we were talking about "good and evil." Now, if we take our conversations "into the streets" of Bismarck, I would hope we would live out the results of our conversations...doing good, resisting evil, in this case, and steward the kind of world God desires. Now this may not have worked out in the same way for all fifty people who were there that night; nor, have all of them been presented the same opportunity...but God has provided an opportunity (or will) that frees us to love good, and resist evil. For myself it came out in dealing with a car accident my oldest daughter had recently. I could succumb to the system of insurance companies and banks, and treat people as account numbers and policy holders; or, I could hold to the identity of my daughter, and call her by her name. Those are the kinds of choices that face fathers of teenage daughters, and I'm no different in that regard than any other. But what kind of world does God desire...?
Does God want a world we people can be interchanged with the policies and notes held against them? Does it matter to God if anyone knows your name? Does it matter to God if you die with a nice car? A paid-off loan? Adequate insurance? There is no doubt it matters to our society, and there is little doubt that it matters to a lot of people...but does it matter to God? And how you answer that question is what leads you to do good and resist evil. (And I also assume some people say "Yes" and some people say "No;" and therefore, the responses to doing good and resisting evil vary.) Hopefully, truthful conversations within authentic community can provide some way of discerning through this type of questioning. (And I know, to you theologians out there, that there is no explicit Christological or even theological hermeneutic here, but remember the conversations happen at the foot of the cross...as well as the actual living we fathers, daughters, bankers, and insurance agents do.)
So in the case of Prairie Table, mission development is about stewarding people to live in the freedom God has granted to live as "servants of Christ." To be Christ-like to the bankers, the insurance adjusters, the fathers, and daughters of our lives...

Tuesday, August 5, 2008

Tending the Garden

Voltaire (an influential French novelist of the 18th Century) ended his work Candide by having him tend his garden. This comes after a novel full of adventure, and Candide trying to save and help the world. For those who have gardens, the tendency is always to retreat to such a place of quiet, solitude, and maybe even predictability. It is a blessing to have a garden, or any retreat place in one's life.
As I was reading about the garden of Eden in scripture the other day, it occurred to me that according to that story at least, we no longer live in a garden. Where do we live then? The world? A neighborhood? A house? Are we all--as with Adam and Eve-- banished to toil and labor? I remember a teacher of mine who remarked that God made work just to kill us...is that so?
I know we live in a world that values work, primarily because that is how we afford to live. Rare are the people who can live without working, and even those who could most seemingly pull it off, often are some of our hardest workers. Strange world we live in...
What is the difference between tending a backyard garden and working from 7 am-3 pm in the coal mines and power plants of Beulah, ND? I suppose the pressure is less...the tomatoes prefer regular watering, but what are they going to do if you forget? Die? What about work, if you forget there, who dies? Maybe it's not so much about the pressure as it is a different kind of time? Gardens work on the sun and moon time, the warm and cold time, the wet and dry times of our lives. The mines, well, as 24/7 operations, every hour is the same, and in its sameness lies its productivity...gardens are just the opposite.
Gardens need the diversity, the ebb and flow, the cycles of time that come from the creative energy of God. I suppose at some level so do the mines, but that's harder to see in the mechanized world of a power plant...
Maybe that's why gardens are so important to folks...the time is a different kind of time, and that kind of time "garden time" let's call it, is important for us. That time allows us to connect with ourselves, our world, our neighborhood, maybe even God. That kind of time that is...what? Heaven? (I see worship as that kind of time, and it works from the ebb and flow of life rather than the mechanized rituals of modernity.) Gardens can be just about anywhere, if they work on a different time, but place is important too, I guess. (I've lived in so many places and traveled so much, though, that I'm not a big "place" person.) And not everybody has a garden...and that's problematic to me, especially if it means that they cannot take time to live time differently...because (and here's the kicker for this blog) I don't have a garden, but I long for one, and for the life of me I cannot figure out why...maybe that is what the story of Eden is all about: how to live time differently when you're no longer tending the Garden?