Neighborhood Fellowship

“The Word became flesh and blood, and moved into the neighborhood.”

(John 1:14 The Message)

This morning Becky prayed, “We thank you for all of our guests who came and blessed our home last night.”  We were indeed  blessed!!  Twenty-four folks from 8 families came from our cul-de-sac and the houses behind our home.  A great time of neighborhood connection!  Melanie, a vivacious lady of Cambodian heritage, was the first to come and the last to leave.  She has lived on our cul-de-sac for 14 years without knowing any of her neighbors.  We had simply left a flyer about our “Holiday Open House” at her home and she in turn called and began a conversation with Becky.  In one evening she developed friends, hopefully life-long, life-changing relationships.

Kim and Paul came with their two daughters.  We heard about their dating; their marriage; their work; and their connection with Travis and Tammie, our next-door neighbors.  Kim, who works in HR with a local company, remembered a person of the old Meadow Ridge home owners association who used to do large community gatherings.  Many mentioned our need for further connection.

I also noticed Becky’s gift of hospitality—her joy in preparing for the evening and then being with all of those who gathered.

Many years ago linguistic consultant William Smalley of the American Bible Society coined the phrase “living in proximity without neighborliness” to describe many in the Western world.  He said, “In our highly complex society we have built cultural devices for keeping people close by from being neighbors unless for some reason we choose to include them.  These barriers provide a protection for us, keep us from having to associate with people who are not compatible, whose race or education, or social status is different from ours.  We can withdraw within the barriers for security from people and social patterns which conflict with our own” (“Proximity or Neighborliness?” in Readings in Missionary Anthropology, p. 302).

Randy Frazee in The Connecting Church says that the church must redeem impersonal suburban communities by multiplying simple intergenerational, geographical home fellowships for the purpose of both incarnational evangelism and spiritually forming people into the image of God.  This is easier said than done given the cultural scenario so graphically depicted by Smalley.  But the hunger for connection that we experienced illustrates that within each of us is an innate desire to connect heart-to-heart, soul-to-soul.  We are created to live in relationship.

Gailyn Van Rheenen

Mission Alive

An Elevator Speech

Randy Harris and I recently held a Theology Lab at the Boerne church just north of San Antonio.   During this lab I facilitated discussion about the interrelated biblical themes of mission dei (the mission of God), the kingdom of God, and incarnation.   During the discussion of each Theology we also reflected on related Practices and First Steps in developing these practices.

Randy Harris led us in reflecting on the major tenets of the Christian faith beginning with “humanity” and concluding with a theology of “church” and the nature of spiritual formation.  It was a transformative lab of church leaders!

During our final debriefing, one elder asked, “How can we summarize the content of this lab so others in the church can grasp what we have learned?  What is our elevator speech?” Continue reading

Kingdom Communities on Mission with God

Last week I blogged about Tiffany, a prototype of a post-modern person.  Tiffany is broken by sin and intimidated by “church” yet receptive to the Gospel.  I suggested that we use divine imagination to see “things as God sees them, to catch a dream as big as God is!”  This imagination helps us to jump out of “what is” into “what God desires us to be!” (Harris 2004).  It enables us to develop paradigms for church planting and renewal for people like Tiffany—for those living in the postmodern, post-Constantinian, and increasingly post-Christian contexts of Western culture.

This divine imagination within Mission Alive is embedded in seven small words:  “Equipping Kingdom Communities on Mission with God.”  These words form the essence of Mission Alive.

Equipping

Equipping at its core involves “character”—the spiritual nurture of the soul to reflect the qualities of God—his love, his holiness, and his faithfulness.  Ministry to Tiffany is defined by these qualities. She learns to walk with God by being with us, by seeing us “reflect the Lord’s glory” as we are “being transformed into his likeness” (2 Cor. 3:18).

Equipping also involves “skill,” or ministry practice.  How do we build a discipling culture which nurtures Tiffany to spiritual maturity?  How is she equipped within the community for works of ministry (Eph. 4:12)?  How is Tiffany nurtured to commune with God; become a part of a worshipping, transforming community; and sent out to make other disciples?  How does she develop God’s compassion for the poor and the oppressed (Luke 4:18-19)?

The church provides the matrix for both her spiritual formation and equipping for ministry. Continue reading

Is there a church for Tiffany?

Tiffany has led a sinful, broken life.  She is intimidated by “church” but searching for God.  “I’m not good enough to be a Christian,” she thinks.  “How can Christians accept broken me?  Can God love ME?”  The church wants to love and accept her but has forgotten how to speak the Good News of the Kingdom (Mark 1:14-15), minister at the heart of her brokenness, and guide her to become a disciple of Jesus. 

Tiffany typifies many in the postmodern, post-Constantinian, and increasingly post-Christian contexts of North America, where the church has been marginalized and no longer sets the dominant values of culture.  In this environment church attendance in the USA is projected to decline from 16.2 per cent in 2010 to 14.4 per cent in 2020 to 10.5 per cent in 2050 (Olson 2008; Kinnaman and Lyons 2007). 

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From Theology to Practice

In a broad sense there are two types of Christian leaders:  Those who listen primarily to human voices and those who focus their hearts on listening to God.  The first try to navigate competing human preferences, expectations, and desires with the goal of satisfying everyone.  The second acknowledge that only God in his Holy Spirit can form us into his kingdom people.  The first seek answers below—in the world; the second above—in God.  That is the purpose of Mission Alive’s Theology Lab:  to teach Christian leaders to move from theology to practice by hearing the voice of God.  

For us, a theology of mission, like the rudder of a boat, guides the mission of God and provides direction.  My wife is fond of remembering how our children frequently wanted to “drive” when we took them on pedal-boats.  At times they were so intent on pedaling, making the boat move, that the rudder was held in an extreme position, and we went in circles.  Realizing their mistake, but still intent on pedaling, they would move the rudder from one extreme to the other so that we zig-zagged across the lake. When Christians operate without the foundation of a missional theology, their lives and ministries tend to zig-zag from fad to fad, from one theological perspective and related philosophies of ministry to another.  A theology of mission, like the rudder of a boat, provides practical direction for Christian ministry.  Continue reading

WHAT WILL YOU DO? – Part 1 – A Tree is Judged by Its Fruit

The gospel writer Matthew tells a story about a young man who approached Jesus with a simple question, “What good thing must I do to get eternal life?”  Had that young man asked most of us the same question, we might have quickly explained that we believe that we are not saved by works but by faith.  Some of us might have quoted Martin Luther or one of the early leaders of the Protestant Reformation to illustrate how misguided the question was.  Jesus, however, not having the Reformation leaders to guide him, answered simply, “If you want to enter life, obey the commandments.”

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The Gospel – The Cutting Edge

As Christian ministers, we intuitively know that the Good News of the Kingdom of God is the cutting edge of church planting and renewal.  We believe the words of Paul in Rom. 1:16:

“I am not ashamed of the gospel, because it is the power of God that brings salvation to everyone who believes” (NIV).

“It’s news I’m most proud to proclaim, this extraordinary Message of God’s powerful plan to rescue everyone who trusts him” (The Message).

The reality, however, is that most of us are hesitant to speak this message to those in Western culture who think religion is a matter of personal conviction and private interpretation.   Our culture has a tendency to render us to silence!

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Time to write

Wisdom consists of discerning what time it is in life

and entering into it fully (Eccles 3:1-15).

It is time to beginning writing . . . again.  For years I have written textbooks on missions and folk religion and Monthly Missiological Reflections.  But for six years I have taken a sabbatical from missiological writing.  Why?

I made a radical change of life…                                                                                                

..from the classroom to the mission field               

..from international to North American missions.

I felt I had little to say.  I had to learn again in order to speak. I felt insecure, without confidence to speak and thus to write.  It has been a good sabbatical to listen. 

Continue reading