December 14, 2017

Inside/Outside

Photo: the Park Church Co-Op
There's a Lutheran church co-operative in the Greenpoint neighborhood of Brooklyn, NY that is doing some interesting things. How do I know about this as a non-Lutheran person living as far away as Houston, TX?

Music.

Through their community partnerships, the Park Church Co-op hosts concerts for a variety of great bands. Some past concerts include great artists such as Julie Byrne (check out this video of Byrne playing in their space) and Big Thief. From my perspective, this is cool in and of itself. But what I really dig about this church is this statement on their website:
"We build community inside to serve the greater community outside. We open our doors to our neighbors and strive to serve their practical and spiritual needs."
There is often a confusion about the relationship between the work we do inside our buildings and that which we are called to do outside our buildings. This faith community seems to get it; the two are connected. There is not an either/or option. How we gather inside is intended to shape how we serve outside. Health deteriorates when it does not.

If you are a Christian leader, this is a great question to ask yourself: Does the work inside our walls inform our work outside these walls? 

By the way, the Park Church Co-op is doing some fundraising right now. Consider donating a few bucks (or more!) just to show this kind of posture matters in Christian communities.

December 12, 2017

Online Learning?

I've recently had a number of conversations with Christian leaders that are exploring the development of online missional communities. The number of times this has come up over the last month got me thinking a little more about the online presence of faith communities.

Certainly, more and more of us are discovering community online. You form relationships with those you would not have otherwise met. And you can nurture distant relationships those far away that would otherwise fade away. So, it seems obvious that spiritual community would be a next step for some though I have to admit that I have some reluctance about this. The Incarnation signals, to me, that there is something important about being together "in the flesh." Online Christian community has a lot to offer, but I wonder if the end result will always need to be people being with each other in person.

Increasingly, there is another online opportunity for Christian leaders that seems under utilized: online learning.

Christians leaders often find themselves attempting to keep up with the face-paced changes in online social media. Website? Check. Blog? Check. Facebook page? Check. Instagram account? Check? I am not discounting the importance of being found online, it is–for most–your "front door"; visitors will check out your online presence before darkening your door. But I wonder about other possibilities exist beyond hanging your digital shingle out for others to find.

Online learning is thriving. Sites like Udemy, Lynda.com, SkillShare and others are growing. Studies about religious participation have shown that while participation in religious institutions has declined, individual, spiritual identity and activity has not. This seems to indicate that there remains a spiritual curiosity in our culture. And if a general skimming of the news this last year offers any indication, we are spiritually starved!

At EdX.org, I can take a course on "Religion, Peace and Conflict" from Harvard. I can also take a course on "Religion and Hip Hop" from Rice University. Which, by the way, is free! Over a decade ago, Internet fandom celebrated the democratization of online learning. But now there is a whole level of skills and practice sharing happening. And a lot of it is provided for free. How are we engaging this growing source of resources?

I wonder about the deep well of spiritual practice, knowledge and wisdom that lies within our tradition. What about the practical aspects of our faith that you are passionate about? Maybe more than an Instagram account, you should be connecting with people by offering them tangible, practical tools from the deep well of Christian tradition for managing day-to-day life? Could this add value to our communities and engender interest in participating communities–whether online or in person?

Possibly.

If you've tried this, I'd love to know what you're learning.

December 6, 2017

Mission Developers as Mad Scientists

Photo by Trust "Tru" Katsande on Unsplash
Yesterday, we launched two cohorts meeting online to learn about starting missional communities. After the session that met at noon, I began thinking about the process of starting missional communities and the need for those developing such communities to behave a little like ... mad scientists!

Developing a missional community requires curiosity and discernment. We want to curiously seek out and discern what God is up to in the world. This requires that we act a little like scientists–okay, maybe not mad scientists but nonetheless scientists; seeking out and testing ideas.

A scientist is bound to the scientific method; you ask a question, collect information, establish a hypothesis and then conduct experiments to determine whether or not your hypothesis was right. If it doesn’t work, you go back and collect more information and try again. If it does work, you move forward. Similarly, missional communities do not develop without experimentation.

To begin, clarify what your missional hypothesis is; what kind of community do you envision? Where will it be? Who will participate? What are the values and beliefs you feel to be important?

From there, you will need to consider who you need to discuss your missional hypothesis with. Share your interest with your head of congregation. Discuss with leaders in the neighborhood you hope to start in. Invite the participation of those who have gifts and abilities you will need for this effort. You then begin to test your hypothesis with missional experiments that will help you collect data. Prayer walks, interviews, and asset mapping help you check your assumptions. Through these experiments if you discover that things are not working—which will be most obvious by whether or not those in the neighborhood do not participate, than debrief with your leaders and attempt a new experiment.

If your experiment is gaining traction it is still important to consider what future challenges you might face. Will you have expenses you are unprepared for? Is there appropriate space for the people you are gathering? Be clear about what success will mean in each stage. List the outcomes you and the other leaders hope for. What will spiritual, relational and missional health of this group look like?

Here's a diagram I came up with to describe this. Is this helpful? Let me know.
Download a .pdf of this.

December 4, 2017

My Latest Newsletter Went Out

My newsletter just went out again. You missed it this time. But you can subscribe here and get it next time it goes out. It's where I share the stuff I am working on; news about my podcast, what I'm doing at work, music I'm listening to, books I'm reading, etc. All in one place. In your inbox.

I hope you subscribe!

November 29, 2017

Failing

Not long after moving to Houston, we attempted to start a new missional community. It flopped. There a variety of reasons why. The point of knowing these reasons why are not to crush my spirit or convince me I'm not good at this. Rather, it's worth reflecting on what those reasons are so that I can learn from them and try again.

Failure does not have to be defeat on the battlefield of life.

Failure can be lessons in the classroom of life.

Failure is inevitable. The question is what you do with it. Will you learn from it and try again?

I will.

If you're interested in starting missional communities, I have an online workshop starting next week that has only a small number of spots left in the evening workshop. Sign up here.