July 3, 2007

notes from my talk on sunday...

Event Theme: "Live The Call - Conversations About New Models of Church"

Thank you for allowing me the privilege to speak with you today. I am here as a fellow Anabaptist but out of conviction, not heritage. My grandfather raised my father in three different denominational groups as his work took him to different cities. My father was raised in Lutheran, Assembly of God and Brethren churches. Because of his experience, I was raised with a very ecumenical perspective. I was raised in a conservative, very traditional Free Methodist church. Years later, I was hired on at a Southern Baptist Church that followed a seeker-sensitive model of church growth. I was then tasked with developing a "post modern" church services that evolved into a "church within a church". A few years later my wife and I joined three other pastors and their families to establish Matthew's House, a cluster of house churches in San Diego county. Four years ago, my wife and I co-founded the Ecclesia Collective in the heart of the city of San Diego. The Collective has evolved into a messy mix of an urban intentional community, house church and community garden with some other things in the mix as well.

I share this with you so that you know that as we move into a conversation about church models I am aware of and have participated in many "models" of church. I want today to speak very honestly, humbly and soberly about this subject.

About a year ago, I was interviewed by a seminary student, working on a final project. He asked me if I loved the Church. I told him that I couldn't express strongly enough my love for the Church. For years, one of my greatest passions has been serving the Body of Christ. He followed this with another question, he asked, "Do you think the Church will survive?"

"No," I answered, "I do not think the Church will survive."

Why are we today talking about new models of church? Is it because we hear the words of Leslie Newbigin whispering in our ears, "The experience of [our] churches suggests that the synthesis between Christianity and the Enlightenment, which was inherent in much of the missionary thrust of the last century, is not sustainable forever."

Could it be that we are having a conversation about new models of church here today because the elephant in the room that no one wants to talk about is that this isn't working?

It "is not sustainable forever."

For many of us today, we are here because we are tired. We are weary. We need new breath, new life. You may have chosen to come because it at least gave you one Sunday off. Maybe you're tired of taking care of people.

This "is not sustainable forever."

Jurgen Moltmann put it this way: "If Christianity is to become aware of what it is, we must abandon the pastoral church which takes care of people, which is the usual form of the Western church. Instead, we have to call to life a Christian community church. Either we set about this church reform by ourselves, or it will be forced on us by the loss of church members."

But we already know about the loss of church members don't we. We feel our confidence crumble as our churches continue to be treated more and more like a cheap commodity, religious good and services rather than the very Body of Christ. It has become an almost weekly occurrence that I have a conversation with a christian leader friend or acquaintance who shares stories with me of the lack funds, the lack of people, of denominations pinching them for money they don't have because the denomination is eking by as well, of pressure to change in a world that provides no constants, of the inability to attract both young leaders and young lay people.

This week, I am speaking at one of the youth sessions. As I spoke with the coordinators of the youth convention it was emphasized to me that in my presentation I encourage students renewal of identity as a follower of Jesus, with their church and as a Mennonite. Why is this important? It is important because we know that a large portion of those young people that will be spilling into the halls this week will be leaving church indefinitely sometime after they graduate from high school or college.

This "is not sustainable forever."

But what is sustainable? How can we, as Moltman states, abandon unsustainable ways and discover what it means to live the call?

Maybe it is appropriate to ask what Jesus has to say about a sustainable way. The trouble, it may seem, is that Scripture does not seem to talk about sustainability. But in fact, Scripture does speak about stustainable way.

Let's look at Luke 4.16-22:
He went to Nazareth, where he had been brought up, and on the Sabbath day he went into the synagogue, as was his custom. And he stood up to read. The scroll of the prophet Isaiah was handed to him. Unrolling it, he found the place where it is written:
'The Spirit of the Lord is on me, because he has anointed me to preach good news to the poor. He has sent me to proclaim freedom for the prisoners and recovery of sight for the blind, to release the oppressed, to proclaim the year of the Lord's favor.'
Then he rolled up the scroll, gave it back to the attendant and sat down. The eyes of everyone in the synagogue were fastened on him, and he began by saying to them, "Today this scripture is fulfilled in your hearing."

What did Jesus announce on this day in the synagogue? He announced the Good News and he proclaimed that he was the fulfillment of this passage. What we don't see that a Jewish person living in 1st Century Palestine did was that this was also a Jubilee/Sabbath text. When Jesus read this text each person hearing it would recall that this passage he was reading was a Scriptural text referring to God's way of bringing balance, justice and equity to all of Israel. Jesus' words pulled from the imaginations of first century Jewish people, implying concepts they were familiar with, even if they had been exploited. Jewish principles such as Jubilee, Sabbath and Shalom were insinuated in Jesus' words and message. And he was announcing and demonstrating to those that heard and saw that he intended not to treat these principles as good ideas but truly embody them in everything. Jesus was announcing a sustainable kingdom.

When Jesus taught his disciples how to pray he told them to pray, ”Our Father in heaven, holy is your name, your kingdom come, your will be done on earth as it is in heaven…”

Jesus had in mind announcing and commencing the sustainable kingdom of God here on earth just “as it is in heaven.” As matter of principle, Anabaptists have agreed with this. In the Anabaptist Vision, Harold S. Bender ended with,
“The Anabaptist Vision was not a detailed blueprint for the reconstruction of human society, but the Brethren did believe that Jesus intended that the kingdom of God should be set up in the midst of earth, here and now, and this they proposed to do forthwith. We shall not believe, they said, that the Sermon on the Mount or any other vision that He had is only a heavenly vision meant but to keep His followers in tension until the last great day, but we shall practice what He taught, believing that where He walked we can by His grace follow in His steps.”
Follow in His steps…

The theme for our time together is, "Live The Call". What does it mean to live the call?

The Call is quite simple isn’t it? “Come, follow me.” Jesus says to us.

I remember after 9/11 something that frightened me almost as much as the attacks on the world trade center was the fact that in the presidents address to the country the central piece of advice to the people of this country was this, “Keep buying stuff.” Our culture has redefined us as consumers, not humans. My concern today is that we have chosen to follow the market rather than Jesus in many ways. The gospel of capitalism clouds the gospel of the kingdom. And in our churches we are beginning to feel the weight of capitalism just as much as we are in the greater culture around us. We must be a prophetic voice against this. To proclaim redemption for humanity rather than the consumption of humanity.

What does it mean to live the call? Quite simply it is to follow Jesus into participation in the sustainable kingdom that is breaking forth all around us and often times in places we least expect it. Yes, it may happen inside our church doors. But very often it will happen outside of those church doors as well.

The church is not sustainable. The kingdom is eternal, it is sustainable, it will endure. How do we now participate in that in a post-christendom culture?

This seems daunting for many of us. But let me share with you Martin Luther King, Jr.'s words,
“Those of us who live in [this] century are privileged to live in one of the most momentous periods of human history. It is an exciting age filled with hope. It is an age in which a new social order is being born. We stand today between two worlds - the dying old and the emerging new.

Now I am aware of the fact that there are those who would contend that we live in the most ghastly period of human history.... They would argue that we are regressing instead of progressing. But far from representing regression and tragic meaninglessness, the present tensions represent the necessary pains that accompany the birth of anything new.”

Child birth is no picnic. When my wife was pregnant with our daughter, Paige, she had morning sickness 24/7 for six months. And the closer she came to her due date the more her body was racked with back pain, rib cage pain, etc. And then, there is labor. The intensity of the pain grows more and more the closer the bay comes to arrival. And then, in a moment, new creation; new life is right there in your arms.

If we are a people of hope than we choose to endure the pain we walk with it in anticipation of the coming age. Confident that the new creation, the kingdom come is on it's way.

Albert Einstein said, "The kind of thinking that will solve the world's problems will be of a different order to the kind of thinking that created those problems in the first place."

Today we are to discuss new models of church, but maybe we need new thinking about church. Maybe we need die to our false hopes and consider where our true hope rests and find new ways to think through our participation in where our Hope is already in action within our communities.

What new models of church do we have to speak about? I don’t have any recommendations of models. All I can recommend to you is find where the kingdom is breaking forth in your community, your neighborhood and participate in that.

N. Gordon Cosby of Church of the Savior in Washington DC once wrote, "There’s nothing new about becoming a new form of church. The church, the Body of Christ, is always changing. We take our form in the particular local and global environment of our particular period of history. We bring our society, the total global community, to God’s vision of newness, and we ask what would Jesus want his community to look like now, against this global backdrop."

So, I ask you, What does Jesus want his community to look like now, in your neighborhood, in your community, against this global backdrop? My hunch is that Jesus is already at work there doing something right underneath your nose. Maybe it's time we stop asking God to bless what we're doing and we bless what he is doing instead.

Thank you for your time.


Anonymous said...

thanks for posting this...excellent. especially your Einstein quote; one of my favorites of his.


Anonymous said...

I heard you speak in San Jose at the youth convention. A friend said you also spoke at the Urban Leaders something-or-other on Sunday. Thanks for posting your words here...

I appreciate the honesty and insight...I absolutely love what you are doing - as I can see it - with the collective and exploring what it means to be church.

Build shalom!

Jason Evans said...

thanks, michael. come visit us in SD sometime.

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