To the Center

I started Richard Rohr’s Everything Belongs: The Gift of Contemplative Prayer today. One of the opening pages asks some haunting questions-

How do you make attractive that which is not?
How do you sell emptiness, vulnerability, and nonsuccess?
How do you talk descent when everything is about ascent?
How can you possibly market letting-go in a capitalist culture?
How do you present Jesus to a Promethean mind?
How do you talk about dying to a church trying to appear perfect?

This is not going to work (which might be the first step).

Instead of thinking that everything should be up-and-to-the-right, let’s dream of a journey of inward-and-to-the-center.

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12 Rounds with 1 Book in 1 Year

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I’ve thought of an interesting idea for my reading load in 2014. I am going to read a Christian Formation book 12 times in 1 year.

I’ve already completed Richard Rohr’s Falling Upward: A Spirituality for the Two Halves of Life this year and I think that I’d like to read it 11 more times before 2015.

This type of reading will:

– Allow me to read at a brisk pace, not having to take the time to underline or “dog-ear” pages… because I am going to see that same content 12 times in a short amount of time.

– It will allow me to become familiar with a complete thought/system of formation. Much like the drills that I do in Jiu Jitsu class each week, I will develop 2nd nature familiarity with Rohr’s content.

– Rohr’s thoughts about formation are different than a few other authors that I’ve read. The different octave of the same theme is good for intellectual and soul development.

If you had to read 1 book, 12 times for 1 year, what would it be?

Missional Communities by Reggie McNeal: Day 3

McNeal’s Missional Communities outlines a few different churches who are doing many different things to develop missional faithfulness in their own context. These are great stories, read them on your own time. I particularly like Mike Breen’s 3DM story. I am hoping to check a 3DM conference out soon.

In the end McNeal gives some closing points about Missional Communities:

– Clergy must relinquish control and spread decision-making and resources to lay people in mission.

– Funds must be invested in places where actual mission takes place.

– Theology must be examined and re-directed towards the mission of God, i.e. away from the Christendom model into an incarnational model.

Missional Communities by Reggie McNeal: Day 2

Still reading through Missional Communities by McNeal, further thoughts:

There is a bewilderment about how the church invests. The N. American church spends $100 billion annually with low returns on investment. A missiologist once shared with me that the N. American church spends $1.2 million per baptism.

McNeal defends the reality that a congregational church reaches people and makes them church people instead of making them disciples/missionaries.

McNeal has a good rendering of the gospel, which he also calls “Redemptive Mission” and says, “Everything that sin broke is being addressed and restored through God’s mission. This includes not just the ruptured relationship between God and humanity, but also the broken relationship of humans with themselves, among one another, and with the rest of the creation.” (20) My dissertation material deals with the gospel we rehearse makes us the people we become/dream to be. I am excited about McNeal’s rendering and believe the Missional Church ecclesiology has the potential to challenge the soterian gospel.

Missional church, then, engages the world, because God is already in the world, redeeming it, bit by bit. Engaging the world requires us to be a people who are missional (engage the other, the other who is already is being engaged by God) and about formation (we better offer the hope of transformation in the human heart if we are going to announce that God in Christ is transforming the world). No more division between an “outreach” church and a “discipleship” church. Both are required; both are energized by the King Jesus gospel.

Missional Communities by Reggie McNeal: Day 1

Reading McNeal’s Missional Communities for dissertation research and ministry development. Here are some of my take-aways from the book:

Problem/Opportunity- The North American world craves a church experience that transcends the typical congregation model. McNeal provides a short history of how he thinks the church went from an organic movement to an institution, “Rather than a lifestyle of counter-cultural sacrificial love of neighbor, adherence to ‘the faith’ became centered on assenting to a set of doctrinal beliefs. Christianity became defined as a set of theological propositions rather than a way of life.” (3)

The radical decline of church attendance and the continual craving of spirituality has provided space for re-imagining how one is associated with a church. There is rich discussion, here, about how we begin to quantify a member of a local church. My current church is beginning this discussion. On the one hand, there are people in our local churches who are totally committed, but who are not officially members. On the other hand, many mainline churches have members on their roster who have not been present in years, although they demand to remain on the register.

McNeal engages in what we would call practices of members in churches. The typical practices of a congregation are attendance, giving, and engaging in ministries initiated by the church. McNeal imagines a need to expand congregational practices if we want to engage a 21st century context that is busy enough to attend regularly, yet assertive enough to engage their world without the church’s initiative.

 

Len Sweet’s Titanium Rule

Researching today and want to condense some of Sweet’s Titanium Rule before moving on. No elaboration, just recording:

Iron Rule: Do unto others before they do it to you.

Golden Rule: Do unto others as you would have them do unto you. (The rule puts “you” as primary)

Platinum Rule: Do unto others as others would have you do unto them. (regardless if it is healthy or beneficial, what is already decided by the other)

Titanium Rule: Do unto others as Jesus has done unto us… “What are you willing to ‘lay down’ for others that they might pick up life and health and truth?”

 

Metaphors for Christian Formation

St. Francis of Assisi once said, “True progress quietly and persistently moves along without notice.” I’m discovering this idea to be helpful as I investigate my own journey of Christian formation.

Much of the discussion of orchestrating Christian formation in the local church in N. American seems to be adapted from cultural expectations. Some speak of a discipleship path, a four-phase process that any member can follow to ensure Christian maturity. The authors of Willowcreek’s Move, the solution to REVEAL’s problems, compare Christian growth to graduating from high school, passing through four phases (like four grades) to arrive at the destination. I don’t know about you, I’ve found a lot of high school graduates that don’t act like they’ve emerged into adulthood, but have found a way to pass through the different requirements, by the skin of their teeth.

Another rendering of Christian formation has more of a pessimistic tone. I read a blog post recently that said, in hyperbolic theorizing, “If I take my eyes of the gospel for one minute, I know that I am doomed.” A popular Acts 29 pastor’s version of Gospel-centered discipleship promotes “fight clubs” or small groups that help his congregation/friends be real about their struggles. In my opinion, “fight clubs” promote an acute martyrdom, “we are taking sin seriously, unlike these folks over here… we go to a fight club.” This author shared a case study from a “fight club” in which he confessed that he appeared to be converted by the gospel for the 1000th time. (Really: it didn’t stick before… maybe it is the gospel you are rehearsing) It is interesting how sometimes our talk of transformation appears to say, “It’s all up to God… and it is all up to me.” Which is it? As I mentioned earlier, the undertone of pessimism of whether growth can really happen at all without a ferocious focus on the gospel every minute or fight clubs is disturbing and impossible to maintain. It usually leads to guilt or cranky legalism.

Dallas Willard provides a different approach. He says that Christian formation is “relaxed obedience.” This does not imply one does not apply practices in character formation. Willard is famous for the axiom, “effort (towards Christlikeness) is not earning (as if someone is trying to earn favor from God).” Willard employs numerous practices and rhythms to stimulate Christian formation. Willard notes that growth is rarely recognized in the moment, which is God’s design. If we could measure growth in the moment, we’d be tempted to say it was something we did, like keeping our eyes on the gospel every minute, attending a fight club, or graduating through the discipleship path.

John Ortberg is helpful, here, as well. Ortberg argues that there is a flow that helps create the qualities of a follower of Jesus. This flow is something that one can step in and out of, regardless of their maturity “level.” This flow is the work of the Spirit, whose main objective is to make us fit for God’s new heavens and new earth. The Spirit provides us justification in the present (the hope that we are in Christ and therefore, in the right before God). Because we have justification presently, we should already begin to act like we are in the new kingdom in the present, as well. Christians find themselves in a time-warp, enjoying the bliss of a future kingdom, currently, all the while engaging in training to enjoy it fully in the age to come. Therefore, the flow is a good image to consider while engaging this time-warp.

The flow appears to answer the awkwardness of the graduation option, and is more optimistic about the work of Christ is our lives than the ferocious “not so sure where I stand with God unless I lose my voice during prayer or allow my accountability partner to lose his temper while confronting me about my sin” idea.