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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, July 6, 2009

Tables and Talking: The Heart of Prairie Table Ministries

A book that is hugely seminal in my theology and thinking Missional Church: A Vision for the Sending of the Church in North America has the line: "Neither the structures nor the theology of our established Western traditional churches is missional." (p.5) What was so important to me in this--at the time--in early 1998--was the part about "theology." I already knew the structures were hopeless (if you've ever tried to decide anything in a congregation with Robert's Rules of Order you know how bad the structures were for mission and God), but the theology piece was new. How could the church have lost its "theology," that is, how it thinks and acts in relationship to the God of Jesus Christ in the power of the Spirit? Isn't "theology" always just there, so to speak, how did the congregations I grew up in lose this?

Let me illustrate one difference, and perhaps how this theology could have been lost. It is clear that the 1950s in this country (the ten years after WWII) were an aberration for Christian congregations. People were pouring into congregations in unprecedented numbers, and ministry programs that didn't even exist starting showing up. (Youth ministry, for example.) It took people to run those ministries, and so leaders of ministries began to be seen as administrators of programs. Well, you administrate enough programs, and the next thing you know, leadership is no longer about bringing the message of God to people, but rather ministry leadership is about running programs for congregations. By the time the 1980s had rolled around, and those programs were no longer needed, the "structures and theology" were lost for being missional for God in the world.

When I think about things for us to talk about a Prairie Table I go way back into Christian history. I go 100, 200, 500 2000! years back to get to a point where missional theology was not lost. We don't have the structures to worry about...we have no programs, and groups are pretty flexible...so we talk. Surprisingly, the Christian church has always excelled at talking. The stories of the earliest congregations are stories about people talking. And the talking (theology) has always led to doing God's work in and for the world (the structures). We have been talking now for a while, and we have a bunch of tables...which may be all the structure we ever get. For the next year we will seek to live out of those tables as missionaries, so that the talking can continue, and so that we can participate in the life and being of God.

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