August 14, 2009

some practical tips on missional

I've had a few beautiful yet often tragic conversations with wonderful folks trying to do grassroots kingdom stuff across our region lately. This is something I haven't been able to do much of recently due to my job hunt and caring for my kids over the summer. When I do get to talk with people that are either just getting to know a missional faith community (newbies) or attempting to start one (starters), I always share a few tips that I keep stored in the back of my head. Mostly, they are lessons learned from making terrible mistakes. Others, are simply observations after having attempted to start these kinds of communities for going on 8 years now. But in the last of these conversations I had this week, my friend Sue told me that I should share some of this online. Because I deeply respect Sue and her husband, Hyun, I'm taking her direction to heart. So, here's a few tips:

For the newbies:
- Don't be a tourist. Coming one time and never coming back never gives you a clear idea of what that community is like. I always tell people, that you've got to come to consecutive meetings for at least a month to actually get a feel for what a community is really like. I don't very much consider judgments, critiques or assessments made by people who come only once (aka tourists) and then think they have a valuable opinion on our community. It's not about a meeting. It's about building a life together. It takes a while to get into that since there is so much going unsaid that happens within the rhythm of a missional community.

- You won't fit. We've been told that being a part of the Church is about affinity. Nope. If I wanted to be a part of a church where I "fit," ... well, I probably wouldn't be in a church... or it would be me, Dan So, Matt Reece over at Urban Abbey, and maybe Matt Casper (but he's an atheist, so he doesn't count–sorry Matt). It's not about fitting. If it weren't for the common faith, values and ideals that we have built together in our community, I'd probably never have met most of the people that I now consider some of my best friends. It's often those that we "fit" the least with that we learn the most from.

For the starters:
- Keep your job/Get a job. Don't plan on this thing ever paying you. Even if your community is the most healthy and vibrant community (which doesn't mean "successful" or "growing" by most Christian publishing terms) it may not be able to support you. That doesn't mean that you shouldn't be transparent with your financial needs, shortcomings, etc. with your community. Be honest with them. Together, the community may come up with a way to help out. At one point, almost half of our faith community was unemployed, so that was, and never has been, an option for us. Nor do we want it to be. Just know that success doesn't mean you get a job out of this. You may have plans to get support from your denomination. If they have money, great. Know that it'll only last for somewhere between 1 to 5 years. (With the exception of a few denominations, most cannot afford to support church planting much longer. And certainly aren't going to get excited about supporting a community that doesn't have significant numerical growth or feed significant amounts of money back into their system.) That said, if you're gifting, abilities and training are really geared towards pastoral leadership, than start putting together a plan for employment. Go work for an established church and let this be your side project. Or get trained as a chaplain, spiritual director, teacher, professor, community organizer ... whatever. For many of us, leaving professional ministry is like cutting off a limb. I've seen too many of us go into deep depression due to the loss of identity and outlet for a gifts and abilities. Find an outlet, hopefully one that pays. You'll need it. If you are employed-or made available to your community via your spouses income or something else, know that you are envied by many of us but not loathed. You're fortunate and we'd love to be in your shoes. Just thank God for it but there's no need to feel guilty about it.

- Plans aren't all that. It's funny to see denominational leaders get so turned on by glossy, full color church planting plans. Don't be intimidated by this. Especially when it is a proposal by someone that doesn't even yet live in the community they are planting in. It takes a minimum of 3 years to even know what your role in a neighborhood is gonna be. In fact, it's been 5 years for us and I feel as though we're now just getting the picture. And it always evolves and changes. So, don't get too stressed out over proposals and plans. Most important thing is being in the neighborhood and learning to listen to those in the community. You'll begin to get a nose for what God is already up to in that community. Go participate in those things and you'll begin to discover the goals, mission, vision and plans God has in store for your faith community.

Well, the kids are running circles around me. Time to go for now. Would love your feedback.

What tips would you add?


Shalom Champions said...

Jason, as always, your post is full of well-earned wisdom. I think your perspective is right on. We are always confronted with the choice of using good marketing strategies and creating a preaching and program point, or engaging in the much harder task of partering with the Spirit of God in creating authentic Christian community. As our culture becomes increasingly postmodern and post-Christendom in orientation the former choice (preaching and program marketing) will get harder and harder, and the latter choice (experiencing the mystery of Christian community) will become more treasured.

Keep up the good work, brother, you are always in my prayers!

Dave Stutzman said...

thanks for the practical and honest advice.

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