a missional community of faith

what does it mean to be a "missional community of faith?" i hear the word tossed around all the time and in every possible direction; every "church" or gathering is claiming that they are missional, so what's the big deal? it seems to me to be the "new buzz word" that identifies a community of faith as a postmodern/emerging community of faith. but using the word to describe who you are, and actually being it are two very different things. one church i know insisted that it was missional because it supported "missions" in countries of the two-thirds world; it does nothing on a local level and has zero from the church doing anything except writing checks. now, before i go on i need to say this; this is where most people say something like "there is nothing wrong with giving money" - well, i am not going to say that because i believe a great many churches and christians use that as a cop-out to actually being missional. if everyone stopped giving money to organizations, and started to actually do something i think we would be a whole lot better off - i am not looking for people to "fund" a mission trip, i am looking for people to have fun on a mission trip; we are a datebook faith, not a checkbook faith. in my heart of hearts i truly believe we make it easy for people to "write a check" for missions and not move off the pews to actually serve. while, to them, their definition may be valid, to me it is limiting at best. it seems to me that they do not fully catch the possibilities of being a "missional community of faith" and they ignore the nuances of those possibilities.

let me share with you what i think it means to be "missional;" a missional community of faith is a living breathing transparent community of faith willing to get messy while reach out to, and bringing in, those outside the current community. now, what i would like to do is explore some of the nuances of that "definition" and go a bit deeper.

messy (dirty)
a missional community of faith is messy, and is even willing to get messier. if a community of faith is truly open to the needs of others it is going to get dirty in the process - if you are reach out out the wounded, the hurt, the cut, the bleeding you will get messy. i have likened it to an emergency room; where people are running around striving to help others reach the place where God wants them to be.

transparent (real)
seeing real people, with real issues, lead by real people is breathtaking and life-giving. to see that others are real and have over come their hurts is refreshing for those who are hurting. if real life is hidden from those seeking healing, they will not stay and be connected. to truly be transparent one must be willing to be messy, it's all connected. because without that willingness one can never truly be open and real with others.

it's alive (changing)
all things change. let me say this again so that you get the idea, all things change. it just depends on certain factor how one changes. you see, if you are dead the change is called "decay" but if you are alive the change is called "growth." the idea is not that "nothing changes" but to what extent are you willing to change? to be alive means growth, a "living breathing" community if faith is essential to reaching out and being a missional community of faith.

community (united) of faith (in Christ)

community is best formed in christ. if we see christ as the center, the core and as a viable part of our dna we are ready and willing to move past the self, and to the hearts of others. when we are in christ, we have a desire of the heart to be in service - we want to help, we want to care, we want to serve.

welcoming and accepting (reaching out to others and bringing them in)
too many churches today are "welcoming and excluding." i think many churches are groupings of "clicks." small groups of people who seem friendly, and welcoming but in actuality are not welcoming. a missional community is willing to go beyond themselves and accept those God is moving into their path. it is willing to truly reach out and bring in the hurting.

i think if a community is truly missional, they know it. i think those that use the word as a "cool" word that makes them seem "cooler" are wrong. to truly be missions be ready to welcome the hurting, to be who you are, to be alive in faith and united in christ. know that what God wants from us is to be off butts, and on the streets.


A postmodern view of family

How do you define family? How does your church define family? Does the way church define family match the way you define family? Does the way the church defines family match the expression of family in your life? In the 21st century, the idea of family has expanded well beyond the traditional view, and you would think churches would understand that simply reality. The old ideas, based on 1950’s culture of “The Nelsons” do not work. If the old ideas of family do anything, they exclude and belittle; and to a world rich and diverse in culture and life it is not healthy to exclude and belittle family structure. Most churches today still see “family” as “a mom, a dad and kids.” I recently received an email from a friend, who knew I was interested in this subject, about a church that considers itself to be a rather “cutting edge church” and yet defines “family” as “mom, dad and kids” – recently The River Church Community (http://www.the-river.org) was looking for a “Family Ministries Pastor” and here is how they described the “requirements of the position”

“Family ministries at the River consists of the following ministries: marriage, parenting, family life, Kids Community, and student ministries. The ideal candidate will be a wife or husband of a healthy 15+ year marriage with children, at least one in their teen years. He/she should also possess both experience in and a passion for developing healthy Biblically based marriages and families.” (This ad is copied from “the exchange at Willow Creek – “other pastor” section)

In and of itself, The River can have it’s pastors meet what ever requirements they desire – and in reality they need not explain that decision to anyone – it is their call – but the problem I have is not so much with The River, but with modern evangelical churches (The River is a modern evangelical church) in general when it comes to defining family they leave out most of the people in the community.

While I do not desire to single-out The River, I will use them as an example. But The River is not alone; we need to keep in mind that with the exception of very few, most modern churches see family in the same way and they exclude any structure that is “outside” the traditional “nuclear family.” While every church has the right to view “family” as they see fit, we need to keep in mind to exclude some is not Christian and can cause one of two problems. Either they do not care about those who do not meet the modern evangelical definition of “a biblical family” or they do not understand how to minister to “other family types” so they are being exclusive. Either way they are causing the deepest hurt the church can bring upon another person; telling them that their family structure is not valid, and not biblical and, in turn, that they are not wanted.

While most modern churches would say, “we welcome all kinds of people here” they need to realize that their actions do not meet with their words. To say, “All kinds of families are welcome at our church” and yet, no one in a leadership role is “out side” what the traditional church defines as a “biblical family” shows that words and actions do not match. It shows that the church is working with antiquated theology and has no understanding of how the culture is forming around them. As with The River, requiring that the staff person who over sees what they define as “family ministries” meet a certain set of standards is not in anyway, shape or form “biblical” is showing that they define “family” in one certain way. It is one thing to say, “we support women leadership” but if you have no women leaders, they are empty words; it is one thing to say, “we support all family structures” but if you do not have a single parent, a blended family, a foster family or other structure of family in leadership you again are speaking empty words.

I tend to think that the modern church is so use to looking inside on itself for the “feel good reality” that it forgets to look outside at those who are wanting to come in, but do not feel welcomed. They limit the idea of family and place it into a very modern, out dated box – if a single parent desires to attend a “family ministry” function on “Raising Your Teenager,” they might be “welcomed” but not encouraged. They would get the feeling that the “singles ministry” would be the best place for them – and in reality, in many churches the singles ministry is designed to simply be a place where you find your mate. Because I believe truth is in the narrative, let me share with you a little story:

Let me share with you a story:
Kelly was a young woman (actually, it could be said that she was more like a young girl) who, through no fault of her own, found herself pregnant, poor, scared and hurting. But she knew she had faith. When all else failed, she had her faith and she knew God did not want her to end the life that was growing inside her. Her prayer was that the child be born healthy and that life would be good for her child. Over time, the child was born; and like many of lower economic status, soon another was born, and another, and another – soon her house filled with screaming kids and messy cloths, but there was always love. They might not have had the best food, the latest fashions, the latest in technologies, or the fastest transportation they did have a deep abiding love for each other.

Kelly saw hard time, the “father” of her fist child was not the father of her other children. Like so many other stories in this world, no one knows what happened to the father of the babies – some say he died, some say he left, other said he never was – but thought it all, Kelly had her faith. The pains of life did draw on her soul, and to make matters worse, her eldest son did not always get along with his brothers and sisters. It seems, he grew to be a non-conformist and a rebel.

Kelly did what it took to raise her children with a solid home life – she saw herself and her children as a solid family, filled with love, hope and faith. She did all she could to keep her children in the faith. She took them to church, read scriptures to them, encouraged them to ask questions and explore the deeper side of their walk with God. Some of the kids followed, some did not; some grew in faith, some did not – but she loved them all, each and everyone.

It is a hard fact, but in today’s modern evangelical churches Kelly and her kids are not seen as a “nuclear family” – and at best, if she married again, they would be seem as a “blended family.” People would speak behind her back and question her motives and her abilities. But you see, Kelly cannot marry again – Kelly is long dead; her children are long dead – and one of them died so that we could live. You see Kelly is Mary.

Living in the “post-nuclear” age
In a postmodern reality “family” extends far beyond the limited idea of “mom, dad and the kids” – even when modern evangelicals claim that “other family” designs are “all right” they always “qualify that with the “but God’s plan is still mom, dad and the kids” – as to say, “yes, all are family – but then there is a ‘better’ family idea, and we have it.” The problem with that way of thinking is that it does not truly define family. In a postmodern world “family” is so much more then just the limited nuclear family structure.

In a “traditional” reality, the “family” (“the nuclear family”) is defined as the basic unit in society consisting of two parents (one male and one female) rearing their own children. But today, the seems so limited when we have single moms, single dads, grandparents raising grandchildren, aunts and uncles, friends, foster children, adoptive homes, group homes, and it seems the list is endless. It is not that anyone of these is right or wrong; it is that they simply are – and as the church we must learn to accept that, minister to them, love them and learn to grow with them. He center of a “postmodern family” is love – and it can, and often does, include friends, blood relatives and more. In a postmodern/emerging church if we simply follow the lead of the modern church and reject those who are different, those we think we cannot reach, we are missing a great wave God is sending our way. Our role is not to judge the style structure of a family, but to love, honor and help in anyway possible the family structure that has formed. The idea of family in a postmodern/emerging conversation needs to go well beyond “blood” to the realization that water is thinker then blood – as Christians we are a family, adopted and approved by God. We should extend that fellowship to others, we should go beyond our gates and love those who are “hard” to love – to see others as family is to extend the nuclear family to the point of being “post-nuclear.”

Groupings, blood, lininage, last names, fathers, mothers, or any other thing we can limit our love by does not define family. In a post-nuclear world, family is as Christ defined it in Matthew.

While Jesus was still talking to the crowd, his mother and brothers stood outside, wanting to speak to him. Someone told him, "Your mother and brothers are standing outside, wanting to speak to you.”
He replied to him, "Who is my mother, and who are my brothers?" Pointing to his disciples, he said, "Here are my mother and my brothers. For whoever does the will of my Father in heaven is my brother and sister and mother." (Matthew 12:46-50

Family, or the “perfect biblical family” is so much deeper then we can think – it is all who follow Christ, and his teachings. In fact, we should accept any of various social units differing from the “traditional family unit” as equivalent a “biblical family.” One thing is very clear; Christ saw the role of the family as very different from the rather narrow perception we have of it today - and I believe we still have much to learn.

This churches definition of “family” did not include single parents, divorced parents, blended families or adoptive families. So the question is this, “how do you define family?” Even to a larger extent, how should we as a church define family?


A Wrong View: A response to John MacArthur

I recently read an article by John MacArthur (JM) on “CrossWalk.com.” Now, as you can guess I never read this site, but for some reason I got connected to it while surfing. The article was entitled “Should Fallen Pastors Be Restored?” In asking the question, JM (I was going to use "JM", because I know so many Johns) assumes that the answer is no, or that the question is a rhetorical question with an obvious answer, that is "his answer." According to JM, there is no amount of forgiveness, grace or love that can cover the “Gross sin” (his words, and not scriptural I might add) committed by some Pastors, “There are some sins that irreparably shatter a man's reputation and disqualify him from a ministry of leadership forever.” For JM those “some sins” are never explored, explained or revealed – with the exception of “sexual sin.” Personally, I think other “sins” ruin a persons reputation – lying, gossiping, money hording, making war, fighting, negativity, seeking revenge, my list is bigger then his – but my list is also forgivable. In his argument, JM makes several theological mistakes, the first of which is a compete misunderstanding of the idea and wondrous gift from God of forgiveness.

limited forgiveness:
JM is working under a massive misconnection concerning the gift of forgiveness and sin – for him, and most in his camp, forgiveness is given in degrees dependant upon the level of sin one commits; it is neither free, abounding or abundant and in some cases can never be enough for "true" frogiveness. For most conservative the sin/forgiveness paradox works one of two ways:  

First, It seems that sin/forgiveness work in a “opposite” relationship with each other, “The greater the sin, the lesser the forgiveness.” just for this example i need to “grade” sin on a scale 1-100 (100 bring as JM calls a "Gross sin) and forgiveness is graded on an inverse scale of 100-1 (1 being the level of forgiveness given for a "Gross sin") then the relationship between sin and forgiveness is "opposite" – if you sin at 75, your forgiveness can only be 25 – so you are still a 50 sinner. in addition to the "simple scale" there is no "collective" of forgiveness, only of sin, so you can never "truely" be forgiven.

Second, Forgiveness is limited and cannot cover all sins. No matter the sin, forgiveness is, let's say, only a 50. if you sin over a 50, you can never be fully forgiven. If a person gossips (25), little sin/covered – if a person lies (45), medium sin/still covered – if a person has sex (100), huge ("Gross sin") sin/never enough forgiveness.

Either way, forgiveness is limited (and limites the power of God to work in our lives) and in direct relationship to the sin committed. For JM, forgiveness is based on the cultural morals he accepts or rejects based on American history, or his 21C historical view of Scriptures. He defines both of them on the basis of being a “Conservative Christian[s]” and explains that they have the keys to all “pure” doctrine and “pure” morals. As JM explains it, “Conservative Christians have for most of the previous century focused on the battle for doctrinal purity. And that is good. But we are losing the battle for moral purity.” But the funny this is this, the “purity” of doctrine that they speak of is not very pure, because it is filled with traditions, personal views, historical mishaps and even some desires for church “leaders” to be in control. For example his understanding of forgiveness completely misses the heart of forgiveness found in God through Christ and Scriptures.

In Matthew (6:13-15) Jesus himself tells us that if we do not forgive, we will not be forgiven – so, our forgiveness is conditional – the condition placed on it by Christ is that we must forgive others. This is not an option, it is a must – Christ said it, i believe it, so i live it. But JM sees this idea of forgiveness as a fruitless act that is not “scriptural” or sound. Another aspect of forgiveness that JM forgets about is the one Paul shares with us, over and over again and is echoed in his second letter to the Corinthians (2:5-11) that we are to forgive, love, support, comfort and embrace the fallen – not judge and shun them. In that, a main part of forgiveness that JM seems to reject, or ignore, is that to truly forgive one must also forget. In his letter to the Hebrews (8:12) Paul echoes the words of the Prophet Jeremiah (31:31-34) when he say that once we are forgiven our sins are forgotten, “remembered no more.” Paul also explains that once we are forgiven we can not be punished (Hebrews 10:18) – keep in mind, if you punish a person for a sin, then you have never truly forgiven them – God forgive us, and forgets our sins and does not punish us – why does JM think he is above God in demanding a punishment be extracted? When JM calls us to be “Christ-like” does he forget that we to follow that command – to forgive and forget?

For JM, forgiveness is seen as a hard gift to obtain; it seems to me that JM places forgiveness in the realm of something one needs to earn. In that he views leadership as something higher then forgiveness, “We must recognize that leadership in the church cannot be regarded lightly.” The problem with JM’s direction is that it forces leadership above forgiveness and places “leaders” (in a very modern reality) outside of the forgiveness God offers all people – When Aaron fell, did God remove him from the priesthood? When Moses fell, did God reject him and say he could no longer lead his people? When Peter fell, was he informed that the “ordination committee” was not going to allow him to ever lead a church? When David fell, was he removed by God from his position as King of Israel and told he could never lead his people? When Samson fell, God lifted him up to a great end; God did not tell Samson he could never be great again.

While JM may say that the person is forgiven in God's eyes, they can never be forgiven in the eyes of the church - But I am under the assumption that God is the one in control, not the church and never JM - so, if God says "forgive and forget" who are we to say "no?" If God express love, forgiveness and grace in one way, who are we to change thgat? JM's limited understanding (a very evangelical/conservative/fundamental view of forgiveness) is not scriptural, and is limited at best (it seems that it is based more on the American justice system then on God grace) his view of sin must be just as twisted.

The poor understanding of sin:
In JM’s view, once a “Gross sin” is committed it cannot be forgiven, forgotten and it completely removes anyone from leadership of the church, “But that does not include restoring the mantle of leadership to a man who has disqualified himself and forfeited the right to lead. Doing so is unbiblical and lowers the standard God has set.” But what I have found interesting in his entire article is that for him the “gross sins” are all sexual in nature (evangelicals/conservatives/funamentals seem to have a hard time with sex - everything they see is sexual) – which limits God’s power in our lives to exclude “sexual sin.” His logic, and by the way it is not God’s logic at all, is that if a man falls he is not “pure” anymore. The interesting thing about that is, that is not what God’s word teaches. In John’s first letter he explains that when we are forgiven, our sins are forgiven and forgotten and we are “made pure and righteous before God.” But in JM's mind, we might be able to stand before God pure and righteous but we can never satnd before the church that way.

JM’s assumptions mean if we did no sin, we would be pure – and if that is the case, sin is what we do – so, if we stop doing it we do not sin – so, all we need do is not “sin” and we are pure – so, Christ died for no reason, because all I have to do is not do a “sin act” and all is cool – which is very poor theology, and it is not scriptural at all – sin is not what we do, it is who we are. That is why we must seek forgiveness and walk in grace. All have sinned, all fall short of the glory of God and all need to be forgiving of sin – and we need it all the time, because we sin all the time. I remember once talking with a very conservative/fundamentalist pastor who had the same mindset as JM. I mentioned that even thinking of another women has the same effect as an act of adultery – to which he answered, “That is not true.  God would never be that unfair. I can think about it, I just can’t do it” – funny, Jesus teaches just the opposite in Matthew. Even thinking of it is an equal sin in God’s eyes and if we say we have never even thought of it, we are lying to ourselves, others and God, so forgiveness and forgetting is so very important

The idea that sin is “graded” is not very theologically sound. When JM writes, “What about forgiveness? Shouldn't we be eager to restore our fallen brethren? To fellowship, yes. But not to leadership. It is not an act of love to return a disqualified man to public ministry; it is an act of disobedience” he forgets the relationship between sin, forgiveness, forgetting and grace and he places upon others an unfair view of how sin is seen thought the eyes of God. He places a double standard that is not found in any of the scripture he uses to “make his point” (even though he does misuse Paul a great deal)

Leadership in the church:
JM states the following, “The foremost requirement of a church leader is that he be above reproach (1 Timothy 3:2, 10; Titus 1:7). That is a difficult prerequisite, and not everyone can meet it.” And, I would agree that those are the requirements to “lead” the church – so, let’s look at them:

“Now the overseer must be above reproach, the husband of but one wife, temperate, self-controlled, respectable, hospitable, able to teach, 3not given to drunkenness, not violent but gentle, not quarrelsome, not a lover of money. 4He must manage his own family well and see that his children obey him with proper respect. 5(If anyone does not know how to manage his own family, how can he take care of God's church?) 6He must not be a recent convert, or he may become conceited and fall under the same judgment as the devil. 7He must also have a good reputation with outsiders, so that he will not fall into disgrace and into the devil's trap.”

Nothing in that Scripture says anything about holding a “pastor” to a higher standard then any other person who claims to follow Christ. What it does, is tell most of us viewing the church that all the people leading the church fall way short of the standard – I wonder, when was the last time JM invited a person over his house for dinner? Not a “leader,” but a regular Joe, or a total stranger – a “you and me” kind of guy? Did his kids ever get in trouble or lie to him? Interesting how we pick and choose those things we desire to follow, and make-up things that are not part of it at all –

Many of the more conservative/fundamentalist groups see the line of “husband of one wife” to mean so much – they expand the meaning to include those who have been divorced, and some have even used it to exclude pastors who are single. Yet, they limit the other one so that they can “get by” it all – I know conservative/fundamentalist pastors who are mean spirited, inhospitable, very closed and whose kids run wild, but those are “human flaws” we over look because we have a huge obsession with sex in the conservative/fundamental church.
Remember JM, it is easy to point fingers at those who have fallen, but we are told to use our hands not to point but to lift up – forgive and forget – maybe that is what you need to teach and learn from the walk of those fallen pastors who know the heart of a sinner and can show the love of Christ to the world around.

Remember, as Paul explained to the Galatians in his letter to them (5:3-5),  “Again I declare to every man who lets himself be circumcised that he is obligated to obey the whole law. You who are trying to be justified by law have been alienated from Christ; you have fallen away from grace.  But by faith we eagerly await through the Spirit the righteousness for which we hope.” If you desire to live via the law, you will be judged via the law – I for one seek grace.



superman vs spiderman

"faster then a speeding bullet, more powerful then a locomotive. able to leap tall buildings in a single bound - look, up in the sky, it's a bird, it's a plain - no it's superman - a strange visitor from another planet who came to earth with powers and abilities far beyond those of mortal men..." and for some, you could continue. I remember as a kid sitting in front of the "babysitter" (the tv) mesmerized by the cartoons for spiderman and batman - but superman never impressed me. no matter how hard I tried, I just could not get into superman.
when we were kids, I found playing superman stupid - after all, nothing could kill him or harm in in any way (except kryptonite, but that was in such small supply it had no matter).....every time we played, and someone got to be superman - they would never die, or give in - they were superman.

I liked being spiderman, he was cool - a human who was transformed into something different, but still a human and struggling with those human desires and needs. he had major problems, and major phobias. he was struggling with his powers and his abilities striving to find the person inside - he would have conflict in life between all that was happening in his world - family, friends, school, loves, people, police, newspapers, you name it - his life was more like mine - chaotic and filled with being pulled in many directions.
wester's defines a hero as "one that displays great courage." keeping that in mind, superman can never "display great courage;" and the reason is simple - he can't die! spidie on the other hand could do noting else, even when he did not want to.
if running into a building that is engulfed in flames can not harm him, what courage has he displayed? if standing in front of a hail of bullets can not harm him, what courage has he displayed? knowing, nothing can harm him - how much courage does it take? he is, in all intents and purposes - perfect. he is the perfect "person" - no personality faults, no "personal baggage," no dysfunctional family gatherings, no job pressures, no relationship issues. he does not have to worry about body fat, or spend hours in the gym - and "he don't need no stinkin' ragaine." - he is what most moderns want in a pastor.

the perfect pastor

for a modern generation (superman):
*perfect in appearance. the pastor needs to be a handsome guy, with chiseled features and a wonderful head of hair
*perfect in life - no mistakes at all - must have lead the perfect life - from the outside
*perfect in personality - superman was a great guy, and everyone loves him.
*perfect in deeds - to have lived a virtuous life with no mistakes and no problems.

a friend of mine was pastoring a small church in a small town in upstate new york. the average age of the church was about 65 and the people liked him - he fit all the criteria for a "super pastor." all but one that is. you see, some years back he had a divorce - and it was messy. he had an affair and his wife found out and the ending was not pretty - but it was over 10 years ago. he was young and stupid and allowed his hormones to take hold, not a wise thing to do.
soon after he starting pastoring the church his ex-wife found out, and called the "board" to let them know he had a divorce - his down fall was quick and painful. the response of the board was like this - "while we understand divorce (some of us are divorced), we do not want our pastor to be divorced - we expect better of our pastor."

for a postmodern generation (spiderman):
*looking like a normal person. postmodern pastors are not a pretty lot - we look like the people we serve.
*we have life issues - we all make mistakes, the secret is can we all learn from those mistakes and move on in christ?
*not the best - I know of one postmodern pastor who is very shy - very shy, and dealing with it everyday.
*lived life - people live in pain, and they are looking for people who understand that pain, and know of ways through the pain.

a good example of this can be found in a friend who pastors a postmodern church and deals with depression. when he made it known to the people that he was on meds for depression, the people gathered around him and prayed for him. others who were dealing with the same issue came forward and felt relieved knowing he understood them. people in the community saw that his heart was for Christ, even though he was not perfect.
to see the humanity in a pastor is the greatest gift of all - because we seek to see the humanity in christ. no pastor should claim perfection, or living a perfect life. all we should claim is that we are striving to live a gospel life, and live that life in community. I am not perfect, but what I am is transparent.
I deal with the same issues all males deal with, and any male who claims he does not deal with those issues is not being truthful; to either themselves or to others. paul, in his letter to the corinthians, tells of his faults - and that impresses me greatly. paul could share his heart, tell his faults and then let them see how God is working in paul's life to help him on his way. the best thing a pastor can be is honest - and let the community help.
I remember when the issue of "the death of superman" came out - I got email from friends who were "upset," to say the least. To see their "hero" fall caused great pain; they were crushed. this is what happens when you place a pastor on the same level as a superman - when they fall - people lose faith, because they put that faith in the wrong person - do not place faith in the person of the pastor, but in the person of jesus christ.
for a postmodern generation superman makes a bad pastoral image - let me be a spiderman, and any "x-men" you can think of - imperfect, and driven to make myself better.