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Archive for the ‘Life’ Category

JR Woodward and Dan White, Jr., The Church as Movement: Starting and Sustaining Missional-Incarnational Communities (IVP; 2016)

During lunch a few days ago, one of my Christian colleagues shared his frustration in trying to find a suitable church home for him and his family. He was looking for a community of believers who were serious about discipleship and the pursuit of godly living. As he further shared his burden with us, I (half) jokingly said to him that it looks like he’d have to go and plant a church from scratch. At this point, when it became apparent that this might indeed be a path he may have to take by the grace of God, I suggested that he read some of the missional literature; in particular, I mentioned two books that I had read / am reading.

Earlier, I had posted a brief blurb on Michael Frost’s book, and in this post I will give an overview of The Church as Movement, which I just finished reading yesterday.

move

This theologically-grounded but practical book is divided into four sections (themes), each with two chapters, thus giving rise to 8 missional competencies:

  • Part 1: Distributing
    1. Movement Intelligence
    2. Polycentric Leadership
  • Part 2: Discipling
    1. Being Disciples
    2. Making Disciples
  • Part 3: Designing
    1. Missional Theology
    2. Ecclesial Architecture
  • Part 4: Doing
    1. Community Formation
    2. Incarnational Practices

These four sections are bookended by an Introduction and an Epilogue, and at 240 pages, this book is not a long-winded treatise, but in keeping with its subject matter, the pace is brisk without feeling rushed.

The Foreword by Alan Hirsch begins with an epigraph by business guru Peter Drucker: “People in any organization are always attached to the obsolete— the things that should have worked but did not, the things that once were productive and no longer are.” It is sad that some things are so sacrosanct that even when they become a hindrance to the advancement of the gospel or church life, Christians refuse to let go of them. As Hirsch notes, “most churches operate out of a largely obsolete understanding of the church that was developed in a completely different age and for a completely different set of cultural and social conditions— largely that of European Christendom.” Hirsch and others have proposed an alternative model of church for the new millennium, and Woodward and White have done a church a huge service in presenting this new paradigm in a fresh and appealing manner in their book. Both write as practitioners who have been through the ups and downs of planting missional-incarnational communities, so this is not a case of hopping on the missional bandwagon and spouting off theories: no, what they write is borne from the fires of failure and boots on the ground experiences. It would be apt to let the authors introduce the rationale for yet another “missional” book:

This book is an attempt to help people plant the kind of churches that reflect the viral movement of the early New Testament, fuelled by the values of tight-knit community, life-forming discipleship, locally rooted presence and boundary-crossing mission. This is “church as movement.”

At the heart of the book is a concern to return to the centrality of discipleship within a communal context. Indeed, I sighed with frustration and sadness when they write in the Introduction: “This book is best used with a group of four to twelve people. … It is important to work through this material with others, since it was designed for a group rather than to be digested alone.” Well, heck, I don’t have even three other people I know who could be part of what they call a “discipleship core”. So sad! It means that my learning from the book will be shortchanged and I will not fully benefit from the formational learning aspects (meta-learning, reflective learning, and experiential learning) that require communal participation. Sigh …

The first theme is “Distributing” which I take to be a shift from a hierarchical and centralized focus to pluriform gifts and polycentric leadership — i.e., a distributed and relational approach.  They begin by describing the Church as the “Christian-industrial complex”, at least those churches that are held up as models of success:

In our American imagination success means growing bigger, collecting more resources, consolidating power, creating strong hierarchical structures and growing rapidly.

American church leaders’ imaginations and metrics for success are increasingly shaped by the things they can count. But, as Albert Einstein said, “That which counts is often the most difficult to count.”

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What is human movement in the absence of the body? —Paul Kaiser

For the past few months, I’ve had the privilege to be invited to monthly salon meetings. Tonight, we had an interesting presentation by two dancers, one of whom is disabled. They belong to a dance company that create “opportunities for every body to discover dance and for artists with and without disabilities to access inclusive dance training. In their unique approach to art making, differences are regarded as creative strengths and different ways of moving and perceiving are celebrated for their choreographic possibilities.”

Naomi shared how they seek to draw out the unique movements of each person (each body) and then weave them together to create a beautiful mixed ability dance choreography. All can dance; all can participate. Bodies of all shapes, sizes and abilities moving together in harmony.

the disabled body changes the process of representation … Different bodies require and create new modes of representation. … Disabilities exposes with great force the constraints imposed on bodies by social codes and norms.

Tobin Siebers, Disability Theory

Inevitably, I could not help but think of how in our church gatherings, differences are often not celebrated in practice. Specifically, performances are by professionals and the rest are confined to passive spectatorship for the most part. Our communal gatherings do not reflect the perichoretic dance of the Trinity, and the participatory nature of the gathered body has largely been lost (1 Cor. 12; 14).

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I recently put another birthday behind me. Shortly after that, my wife and I shared a quiet and reflective anniversary dinner. So much has changed since those first magical moments when love captured our hearts.

It’s also been just over a year since my wife convinced me that we needed to make a commitment and join the church we had been attending. With some effort, I have managed to have some interaction with almost everyone, and have even forged somewhat meaningful relationships with a few people. But as for deep, close connections, that reality has not yet been realized—though I hope that one or two of these may ripen and bear the fruit of authentic Christian love.

In the meantime:

I have my books
And my poetry to protect me
I am shielded in my armor
Hiding in my room
Safe within my womb
I touch no one and no one touches me
I am a rock
I am an island

And a rock feels no pain
And an island never cries

— Simon and Garfunkel, “I Am a Rock”

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Aging Biblically

Time flies. And it flies faster each year. So don’t procrastinate.

Like a game of hot potato, you should get rid of your possessions as fast as possible. Invest everything you can in the Kingdom. Your life is going to be over any minute, and you are going to regret holding on to things you weren’t able to keep.

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My wife and I had the opportunity to spend an evening at a salon hosted by a single mom at her home. The presenter was a young man (20 years old) who shared his life as an immigrant from Korea and his quest for identity and belonging. As a child of immigrant parents I can relate to his story and I also appreciated his honesty about trying to hold on to his Christian faith through it all.

We had an interesting and diverse group of people and we enjoyed the conversations over the potluck dinner. In many ways, though this was a non-Christian gathering, I felt it was as if I was in a house church meeting with the Lord’s Supper as a real meal (which it was) and everyone participating in the gathering (which was the norm). Even the children (including my youngest daughter) were part of the gathering: listening and interacting with the adults.

I wish I could experience genuine community in church as well …

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Mediocrity and Ignorance

Modern American Christianity is the only place in our culture where we will tolerate this cognitive dissonance between a man who will say “I’ve been walking 30, 40, 50 years with God and I know nothing …”

 

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I can’t help but see in our public discourse so many of the same destructive impulses that ruled my former church. We celebrate tolerance and diversity more than at any other time in memory, and still we grow more and more divided. We want good things —justice, equality, freedom, dignity, prosperity — but the path we’ve chosen looks so much like the one I walked away from four years ago. We’ve broken the world into us and them, only emerging from our bunkers long enough to lob rhetorical grenades at the other camp. We write off half the country as out-of-touch liberal elites or racist misogynist bullies. No nuance, no complexity, no humanity. Even when someone does call for empathy and understanding for the other side, the conversation nearly always devolves into a debate about who deserves more empathy. And just as I learned to do, we routinely refuse to acknowledge the flaws in our positions or the merits in our opponent’s. Compromise is anathema. We even target people on our own side when they dare to question the party line. This path has brought us cruel, sniping, deepening polarization, and even outbreaks of violence. I remember this path. It will not take us where we want to go.

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