Thursday, November 29, 2007
Grace and Peace,
Tuesday, November 27, 2007
Issue: Global United Methodism
Provocative Question: Can the growing global regions of United Methodism remember the first law of life-guarding—don’t let the drowning person drown you?...
How then do we accomplish a global church with maximum support and minimum interference?
First, some questions about the questions.
The first question would seem to presume that the US United Methodist Church is the "drowning person" that would bring down all who swim too near with any interest in trying to save it. Is the question asking whether the "growing global regions" should seek to distance themselves in a variety of ways from what the US church does? Or perhaps it is responding to what sometimes seems to be heard in the US church-- that if we did the same things here that our global counterparts do there, we'd be growing instead of declining? (That, of course, is somewhat counterintuitive for us missional contextualists!).
The second question is interesting for what it does not say. Who is the "we" in the question? Does the question itself presume a US-centric church that is changing its approach to create a global church that works? Or does it presume a global church that actually has the capacity to make such decisions and reallocations of resources and authority globally?
Now some thoughts about the content of the paragraphs the follow this question.
Dr. Weems writes:
One way to think about it is to ask what American Methodists most needed from other Methodists during years of dramatic growth. The last things needed were another culture’s structure, rules, liturgies, and politics. Of more benefit would be prayer, relationships, resources, and genuine partnerships in reaching others for Christ and healing and transforming the world.
Well, yes, that would be one way to think about it. But it might not be a MISSIONAL way to think about it. Or it might not be a MAXIMALLY missional way to think about it, at any rate.
How are we defining growth, after all? Are we defining it in terms of the number of congregations? Or in terms of the number of people who identified themselves with a particular denominational label? Or in terms of the rate at which we added congregations? Or the rate at which we added people to the rolls of congregations? Which of these might be missional metrics that Mr. Wesley might recognize or approve?
Let me first say this. I think it is clear from history and from the stories of older Methodists in the US who remember an earlier time not just with sentimentality but with some accuracy that Methodists in the US have become decreasingly overtly evangelistic over the years. Being evangelistic is part of being missional-- it is an intentional, verbal outreach to others to announce that they can experience in Jesus Christ what we have experienced, and it invites them into communities both to experience that and to share the results of that with others inside and outside the church. When we were starting a church a day in the late 19th century, we were being very evangelistic, and so very missional in that more limited sense.
But were we being Wesleyan at that point? Mr Wesley was not even trying to start congregations. That was not intentionally on his radar screen at all-- not until he sort of made what he WAS trying to get started INTO congregations by fiat, as it were, in the early 1780s.
What Mr Wesley was trying to start all over the place were missional groups (class meetings) where individuals were holding each other accountable for living into the General Rules (all three of them, including one that required participation in a congregation IN ADDITION TO whatever they were doing in class meetings, bands, and the societies) and then gatherings of these groups (called societies) where both individuals and the groups themselves could be held accountable for their progress.
If we go back to the "church a day" years, when Methodism appeared to be visibly growing the most rapidly in the US, there is something striking about the form of that growth. It was not at all a growth of class meetings or even societies. Those had all but died out among Methodists in the US. It was instead a growth of congregations.
Perhaps one could make the case that at that point in US history, congregations were the basic missional unit, places where people could be held accountable for their missional efforts. The problem with that assertion for Methodism in the US, however, is that congregations were not doing that very much at all. District Superintendents, Conferences and Bishops might hold each other accountable for how many new congregations were being started-- but ordinary Methodists themselves were not experiencing the basic missional structure or activities that characterized Methodism in England OR in early North America.
What was growing in those years, then, was not missional Methodism at all-- but rather institutional propagation. There would be a church building and a congregation with the label Methodist on it and following more or less orders and patterns provided by denominational leaders all across the countryside-- wherever roads and railroads might meet (at least East of the Rockies!). But that congregation would be more Protestant that Methodist, or perhaps more Methodist in theology (Arminian, a focus on prevenient grace), worship practice (singing from a Methodist hymnal and following the fairly basic Methodist ritual), polity and programmatic structure than in hands on missional structure (class meeting, society, and some connection to a congregation for worship, etc).
So the question, from a missional perspective, might be whether we can characterize the years of the fastest growth (church a day) in Methodism institutionally as being at all related to, as Dr Weems suggests, any sort of eschewing of "another culture's structure, rules, liturgies and politics." What's remarkable about these years is rather an almost machine-like uniformity on nearly all of these things, with the Book Concerns/Publishing Houses producing the materials that made such uniformity possible. If one is looking at church planting or even missional group formation from the standpoint of local indigeneity and contexts, from THOSE places (the places RECEIVING all the new Methodist institutions), what they were receiving were in fact ANOTHER CULTURE'S structures, rules, liturgies and politics!
Which leads me to wonder, then, if perhaps Dr Weems is NOT referring to the "church a day" era, which was neither Wesleyan nor, as it turns out, all that indigenous. Maybe he WAS referring to earlier American Methodism, and perhaps before it got stamped into churches and was still primarily in the form of class meetings and societies while their participants participated in congregations elsewhere.
Perhaps that was the intent. After all, in 1784, the very first General Conference over here PRECISELY received structures, rules, liturgies and to some degree internal politics from a priest of the Church of England, another and even an enemy culture. It did abandon much of the liturgical material in 1792, but still not the much of the structure, rules or politics. So if we want to look to a time when those things were not in play, then we have to look before 1784. In those days what was primarily in play were, in fact, "prayer, relationships, resources, and genuine partnerships in reaching others for Christ." That's exactly what Methodism had done in England before and after 1784 (and until its formal split into a separate church in the early 1800s). And it was what Methodism HAD to rely on when it was not yet pressed into being churches itself.
But, clearly, that's not current United Methodism at all. At this point we ARE congregations bound into conferences and stuck with a what remains of a one-size fits all political scheme that doesn't play well in many local contexts and that tends not to reward, and sometimes actively to discourage networking based on prayer, relationships, resource sharing and genuine partnerships in the gospel that may cross congregational and denominational lines.
So what might a missional future for a global UMC look like? Is maximal support and minimal interference either necessary or sufficient?
Maximal support, maybe. But the question would be support for what, and how that support is given and received. Are we talking about support for exporting or expanding congregation centered models? Or are we talking about support, globally shared, for reconstructing something more like original Wesleyan Methodism, which was much more about missional groups and networks of individuals who ALSO related to congregations, but congregations of many labels and types. And what criteria would be used to determine how support is raised and where it goes? Would they be about extending and spreading effective missional models (those that are clearly making a strong spiritual impression and community impact), or about rewarding whoever can plant the largest or the most congregations?
Minimal interference? If by interference we mean something like "bureaucratic leadership" (an oxymoron that is still being tried without getting how oxymoronic that is) or all sorts of red tape or merely institutional accountability (not to malign the importance of that, but it's not enough!), then yes, minimize that, indeed eliminate that wholesale at every turn. But not all interference is created equal. Missional interference-- people who keep the vision and the basic structures of our common life to keep us missional out in front of us and insist we keep moving in that direction, or call us on it where we don't-- that, I think is indispensable. I think we have to ask whether the lack of interference by anyone in "white" US Methodism to recall us decisively to our missional structures in the 19th century has in fact served us well missionally. We need people whose job is to say, as perhaps Dr. Phil would ask, "How well is that working for you?"
Dr. Weems goes on to say:
The money required for a global governance system on the traditional U.S. model could, if rechanneled, mean the difference in life or death to untold numbers of people, missions, congregations, schools, and clergy around the world.
I think that's spot on. The current US model is VERY expensive and AT LEAST RELATIVELY challenged in its effectiveness missionally AND institutionally-- unless by institutional effectiveness one is measuring things like financial spreadsheets and audit reports. (And again, it's a good thing that we do that, too-- but that can't be the final or even the essential measure even of institutional effectiveness). We could do much, much better IF the rechanneling were in fact rechanneling into our Wesleyan missional identity, purpose and impact primarily, and THEN into institutions who are designed from the ground up to support and be adaptive to that identity, purpose and impact in and across the global church and Wesleyan missional structures we may aspire to be.
What are you seeing about these questions through Wesleyan missional lenses?
Peace in Christ,
Monday, November 26, 2007
In good missional and postmodern fashion, I'd like to begin this series by looking at questions rather than proposals or solutions, and so with the 10 Provocative Questions that Lovett Weems posed to the Council of Bishops and that they, in turn, asked those who gathered for the Extended Cabinet to consider at Lake Junaluska in early November of this year.
Here's his question, and really two questions:
Issue: Theological Grounding and Spiritual Vitality
Provocative Question: Can we capture the Wesleyan power of being an evangelical church in a liberal tradition?... Could such a vision that is both deep (in faith and piety) and open (to new needs and possibilities) sustain us over the years ahead?
Dr. Weems didn't try to answer this question at all, and neither will I-- well, not right up front at least! What I'd like to do here is try to understand it and find, perhaps, other ways of framing it from an explicitly missional perspective.
And to do that, I might need to work at some deconstruction. Dr. Weems noted as a basis for asking this question that United Methodists have affirmed a deep theological agreement on the "core issues" of the Christian faith. What are the core issues and core beliefs to which he is referring? The State of the Church report identifies those as beliefs in "God, Jesus Christ and the Holy Spirit," in complete dependence on God, in salvation by God's grace, and scripture as the primary source of Christian teaching. Importantly for our purposes, United Methodists in the US were substantially less convinced of the importance of mission and service to salvation than their counterparts in Africa.
Some further questions, then. Are these shared core beliefs sufficient to identify United Methodists as Jesus-followers? Are these beliefs more beliefs ABOUT than identification of any relationship (other than a sort of unspecified dependence) WITH God, and more specifically with the Trinitarian God revealed in Jesus Christ? Is there anything in these identified shared core beliefs that is particularly missional-- especially given the relative reluctance of people in the US (and especially in the Western Jurisdiction) to connect missional engagement with personal salvation? Indeed, is there much there one can particularly identify with the moniker Wesleyan, evangelical or even liberal?
There appears to be some disconnect with belief ABOUT God, our understanding of personal salvation, and participation WITH God in God's mission. If we in the emerging missional movement understand salvation to be the process and result of participating in God's mission as we follow Jesus in the power of the Holy Spirit, where does this put us in the UMC?
Perhaps it puts us in a place of having to define the other terms Dr. Weems uses-- evangelical and liberal, even as we may be seeking actively to reclaim the third one, Wesleyan.
Dr. Weems did not define these terms in his presentation to the Council of Bishops. What exactly he may have intended is therefore a bit unknown. If he meant these terms in their classical sense, then evangelical may mean having some interest in both a) evangelism and b) personal conversion, or the personal experience of justification that leads to a transformed life (sanctification, to use the classic Christian terminology). Liberal may mean "broad church" (in the sense of not needing to have agreement on theological premises with great specificity), or it may refer to the political sense of individual liberty with respect to belief and action limited only by the need not to cause palpable harm to others, to which one might also add an obligation to work for the palpable good of others.
From a postmodern and a missional perspective, and I would argue from a Wesleyan perspective as well, too much interest in these labels may be seen as counter-productive. Why? Because they seem to be more about ways to summarize or categorize positions or past belief systems than to reflect the action and reflection of existing communities of practice.
So if we reframe the terms evangelical and liberal in terms of communities of practice, where might we end up?
Evangelical MIGHT refer to the PRACTICES of communities of Jesus followers of declaring the good news that God's kingdom is happening all around us in Jesus Christ and by the power of the Holy Spirit and changing everything-- people, their relationships with each other, and their relationships with God. Evangelical from this frame might mean not being bashful about saying that and living in such a way that our actions bear out what we're saying.
Liberal might mean generous... as in Brian McLaren's "Generous Orthodoxy"... and perhaps more for us in the Wesleyan tradition as Mr Wesley's own "Catholic Spirit." (That sermon is well worth reading... and it predates "classical liberalism" by a good half-century or so!). Here's the key paragraph of that sermon, that sort of brings together his thinking along these lines, and actually summarizes how he intended the Methodist small groups to work:
... a man of a catholic spirit is one who, in the manner above-mentioned, gives his hand to all whose hearts are right with his heart: one who knows how to value, and praise God for, all the advantages he enjoys, with regard to the knowledge of the things of God, the true scriptural manner of worshiping him, and, above all, his union with a congregation fearing God and working righteousness: one who, retaining these blessings with the strictest care, keeping them as the apple of his eye, at the same time loves--as friends, as brethren in the Lord, as members of Christ and children of God, as joint partakers now of the present kingdom of God, and fellow heirs of his eternal kingdom--all, of whatever opinion or worship, or congregation, who believe in the Lord Jesus Christ; who love God and man; who, rejoicing to please, and fearing to offend God, are careful to abstain from evil, and zealous of good works. He is the man of a truly catholic spirit, who bears all these continually upon his heart; who having an unspeakable tenderness for their persons, and longing for their welfare, does not cease to commend them to God in prayer, as well as to plead their cause before men; who speaks comfortably to them, and labors, by all his words, to strengthen their hands in God. He assists them to the uttermost of his power in all things, spiritual and temporal. He is ready "to spend and be spent for them;" yea, to lay down his life for their sake.
IF we have such practicing communities in place, such groups in SOME relationship to United Methodist Churches (or even that just include some United Methodists, among others, perhaps ideally!) that embrace this sense of catholicity, then, I would suggest, we have good reason to trust that we can be evangelical (in the sense of trusting and living into and inviting others into the transforming power of the mission and life of God) in a liberal (but not latitudinarian or laissez-faire) environment, AND truly Wesleyan.
But we need the groups to practice this-- not just a set of beliefs that might be compatible with it.
So some further questions for each of us individually, and for our congregations, might be "Where do such groups exist?" "How can I find a place in such a group?" "How are we (congregations and individuals) helping people find places in such groups?" "What is our commitment to going out and starting such groups?" Bottom line, Methodism (or as Mr Wesley would argue, Christianity!) makes no REAL sense without them, any more than faith without works does.
Of course, there's another bottom line.... such groups would not be entirely INSIDE a local congregation, or even controllable by it. Practicing "catholic spirit" or "evangelical liberal Wesleyan missional" groups ARE like the early Methodist class meetings and societies-- composed of people with a variety of congregational affiliations, and some perhaps to more than one, or even none in a formal way, not just one.
Evangelicalism alone (in the classic sense) does tend (historically) to reduce to doctrinal distinctives and disputes, and ultimately to division. Liberalism alone does tend to have too much confidence that whatever we believe doesn't matter much if we're in general agreement. Both tend to live with the illusions of attractionalism-- the former that they will attract others to their version of the truth passionately articulated, the latter that they will attract others to their vision of tolerance. Attraction in either case is based on beliefs, not positive shared missional experience-- unless it is the experience of excluding those who don't believe as you do or trying to change their minds (evangelical) or being refugees or persons on the mend from those who tried to do that to you or who excluded you because you didn't change your mind (liberals).
Mr Wesley showed a better way... a way that, to my way of thinking and acting, is both aligned with the gospel and the way of discipleship to Jesus and can always be recaptured or lost in every generation.
Can we recapture the power of being an evangelical church in a liberal tradition?
Yes. We know what Mr Wesley did. We know that groups that are following the "catholic spirit" or "generous orthodoxy" that Mr Wesley advocated exist now in many forms, and we can both learn from others who are part of them and start such ourselves wherever we are.
And that may not be the only way to embody a commonlife that is "deep in faith and piety and open to new needs and possibilities".... but it is one way we know.
What ways do you know where you are?
Peace in Christ,
Sunday, November 25, 2007
I'm about to embark on a series of entries here that will look at some recent documents that are being considered as foundational to the future of the UMC by several groups of its leaders, most notably the Council of Bishops and the Connectional Table.
Specifically, I will be looking at the 10 Provocative Questions from Lovett Weems, the 4 Focus Areas proposed by the Connectional Table, and the 7 Vision Pathways from the Council of Bishops.
The purpose of the upcoming series is neither to defend nor to critique any of these things, but rather to imagine what each might look like through missional lenses.
I do not claim at ALL to have a monopoly on being able to try to see through such lenses. I just think I can make out a few things using them-- things that might be helpful (or not!) as we try to move from an attractional to a missional future.
I invite any and all here not only to comment on the entries as they roll out over the next weeks and months, but also to start your own.
So be on the lookout-- these will start appearing soon!
Peace in Christ,
Thursday, November 15, 2007
I've just spend an hour with Reggie McNeal without leaving my office in Nashville via ShapeVine-- a new online networking service.
It's done in a live interview format-- and the interviews are archived. And there is a chat client below for folks to ask questions of each other and the guest.
Sally Morgenthaler is scheduled for Monday, November 19 at 9 p.m. EST.
You can check out the others on their Live Webinar Schedule when you get to their homepage--
I highly recommend it!
Peace in Christ,
Tuesday, November 13, 2007
There's a new Christmas gift that I couldn't not purchase. In part, because at least half of it is not for me or anyone I am ever likely to meet.
This is going to sound like some sort of sales pitch.
"Now for a limited time
YOU TOO can get the latest tech gizmo... the XO Laptop
It's wireless, it runs on Linux, it can run on batteries for up to 24 hours,
it can be a laptop OR a tablet format...
and you can't get it anywhere in stores,
or even on eBay.
But wait, there's more...
Right now, if you agree to give one for a child in the developing world
You'll get your own for your child as well... for just $200 beyond the price of the one you give...
The same deal we offer to the developing world
We offer to you... right now
But don't delay.
This special offer ABSOLUTELY ends November 26.
And when it's over,
Well, they didn't put it that way at all, of course.
But I have to say, this thing is cool. The New York Times did a review of the device-- here. Laptop Magazine reviewed it here.
And the One Laptop per Child Foundation is real... and doing real good in the world.
This isn't a sales pitch from me.
Just a witness about a way to support learning in developing countries and maybe get a gift for yourself or a child you know who could use a machine like this for their own learning.
Feels like a good blend of missional and technology to me.
And an opportunity I wanted to let you know about if you hadn't heard of it.
Peace in Christ,
Sunday, November 11, 2007
All three of her posts (so far) are well worth the read. The title of this post here links back to her third post from today (Sunday). She offers the signs of hope and melancholy she sees, and then asks some great questions.
Here are some of them:
Doubt: Can 847 mostly gray haired over 55 types really do what it takes to change when we are all so entrenched in the "system?" Is there a way that we can listen better? How can a church that is so shaped by modernity find its way out of one paradigm and into another? Can it? Those who are willing to lose their lives will find them. The test of any of us at any time: Are we willing to give up who we are for who we may become?
I have some ideas about some of her questions, which I'll put into the comments, below.
But don't just listen to me. Offer your further questions, answers, postulates, and struggles as well.
Peace in Christ,
In part one of this post, which you can read below, I noted that if we're serious about moving our congregations and denominational structures, or even new ministries we're starting, from a sort of default attractional orientation to a missional orientation we have to shift what we measure and reward from attractional metrics (people in pews at worship, dollars collected or dispersed, etc) to missional ones. In the previous post I described in greater detail the missional criterion of spiritual impression. In this one, I want to help us have a conversation about the second missional criterion-- community impact-- and how it might be measured.
Now, I need to say up front, as I did at the presentation, that I got the term "community impact" not from Wesley, but actually from my six year stint working with United Way (three as a volunteer and on the board, three on staff). While I was there, United Way of America was in the process of leading a major transition both nationally and through all the local chapters-- to move us from being sort of a financial clearinghouse for programs that do some kind of good (though often in a band-aid sort of way) to being a significant player in bringing parties together who could actually address the root causes that lead to the need for so many band-aid solutions in the first place.
When I joined the staff of United Way of Madison County (Anderson, Indiana) in 2002, my title was Director of Community Impact. In my time there, the role I played shifted dramatically from being essentially "chaplain to the agencies" to being "community organizer." And we shifted from being friendly supporters of certain agencies to engaging the role of convening people to address fundamental community issues that required a lot of different players from a variety of sectors in the community to get a real change-- including issues of streamlining the ways people can get financial assistance, preparing children for college and careers, and reducing the rate of infant mortality in the African American population of our county (which was the highest in the state for any county with a significant African American population).
I see some pretty strong parallels between the transition from funding programs to working for lasting community change and the transition from attractional to missional congregational life.
a)When we were funding agencies or programs, we were basically trying to grow a campaign so we could distribute more dollars into programs. But we didn't have a good way to say that we knew those programs, in the long run, were making any lasting positive change in the community's life. We didn't have a way to help those programs indicate how they were doing that, either. And we tended to recognize as "volunteer of the year" persons who helped raise the most funds for our work or who had served on committees for a long time.
Similarly, if we're attractional, we may be more concerned about getting more bodies into our church programs-- whether that be worship, or Bible study, or committees in the institutional life of the church, or even "outreach" programs like food pantries or work with immigrants or whatever. And we're probably not doing much if anything to ensure that the people engaged by these programs are growing in any way or changing the community around them because they're part of our programs. And perhaps worst of all, we may hold up as model church members those who spend the greatest amount of time INSIDE the structures of the church-- whoever works hardest for the institution wins the highest accolades, even though this means these people may be in the LEAST helpful place to be in mission in the world.
b) When we shifted over a period of several years from program funding to outcome-based funding, there was strong resistance. Agencies wanted "their" money, and we were now saying "prove what you're doing is making a real improvement in people's lives, and how you know it is, or you get nothing." Two significant agencies dropped us entirely when we made this requirement, and talked badly about us in the community. Several other agencies resisted and made threats to talk badly about us (or actually just plain talked badly about us anyway) because the level of funding their programs were now receiving was markedly less than in the past-- though the reason for that was these agencies demonstrated the effectiveness of their programming far less effectively than others that received more.
None of that deterred us. We continued in the community impact direction. And that United Way is still doing so-- as are the majority of UW chapters across the country. (This isn't an ad for United Way, by the way, just a narrative!). We didn't turn back then, and they're not turning back now.
Similarly, shifting a congregation, a ministry, or a denomination from attractional to missional will create resistance. Some who don't like it will leave and talk badly about you. Others will threaten to leave and also talk badly about you. Some will feel like they're not getting the attention they deserve. Perseverance will gain some enemies, but it will also gain respect and make it possible for you to make real headway that everyone can see.
So, just what does community impact mean as a Wesleyan Missional Metric?
Okay, I'm a history major. I can't answer that question without talking about the background and context first. It's what I do. Skip the next few paragraphs if you're not into that.
First, let's talk about what it meant in early Methodism. The Second General Rule, described in the previous post, called for Methodists to be about doing good in every way they could, and the class meetings provided a means to evaluate whether and how well they were doing that. A lot of individual acts of doing good can lead to significant change and improvement in the community, or at least a reduction of some apparent forms of misery, but they might not get at some of the root causes that allow misery to persist and even multiply over time.
The reality is, though, that Methodists there and here understood that, and also took on a larger project-- to reform a nation and spread scriptural holiness across the land. Reforming the nation meant participating in larger movements (and creating them!) that did address what were perceived to be root causes of human misery. Three in particular are most dramatic-- the early labor movement, the abolition of slavery movement, and the movement for prohibition or restriction of "spirituous liquors" (the modern equivalent for this would be a movement against the production and sale of nasty concoctions that keep the homeless and the poor drunk for cheap-- so called "fortified wines" (also called "bum wines") like Thunderbird, Wild Irish Rose and the like).
Those were movements at a national level-- but Methodists were also on the lookout for ways to change the "policy environment" at every level-- local, state, regional, and national.
So caring about community impact is in our spiritual genes. Community impact is a trait of ours, but it has gone recessive. Trouble is, we've largely "outsourced" our hands-on engagement in this kind of work. The average Methodist is far more likely to be engaged in community impact work by doing a mission project (that is actually run by another organization, even if a Methodist related one) or by sending money for others to do it. We MAY do it on the side. But it's not longer integral to the very nature of what it means to be part of a Methodist missional Christian community.
That's what has to change. Works of Mercy are not just individual, but corporate as well-- impacting not just individuals but the community in which they live. They are works of compassion AND works of justice, works that make our hearts right, AND works that make our communities far "closer to fine."
Back to the question then-- what does community impact mean as a Wesleyan Missional Metric? (Non-historians out there-- this is where you start reading again!).
I put it this way at our conference. There ought to be a visible impact crater around every congregation. The community around the building, and the people around the people of the congregation ought to be different and getting better in measurable ways because you are who you are and where you are.
Now just what those ways will be will depend on who you are, where your congregation locates itself as a gathered community, and the particular relational networks of the people in your congregation. But it is essential that you identify what those changes are expected to be and that you develop some benchmarks (and rewards!) to measure (and hold accountable) your progress toward making those positive changes. In so doing you are holding YOURSELVES accountable for what YOU do-- not telling the world to change because you say so or even because you say God says so!
Remember that we are a kingdom-centered people and that we are called, as Newbigin reminds, to be WITNESSES to God's mission active in the world and not DISPENSERS or RULERS of that mission. That's why we start by looking around for what God is ALREADY doing and what God has placed in our hearts to do to further that.
That means we do NOT start with the PROBLEMS in the community we want to fix, but rather with the PARTNERS in the community who are committed to tasks God is already up to AND calling more of us into.
So here’s a proposal for a process to get from wherever you are now (attractional and doing community impact work, if at all, as a sideline) to where likely our Wesleyan DNA and almost DEFINITELY the
Step 1: Start community impact conversations.
Conversations is plural intentionally. This isn't about having a charge conference meeting to discuss this up front. It's about planting seeds in lots of places in the life of your congregation AND community (i.e., not just people who are part of your congregation or ANY congregation-- but neighbors, coworkers, people at the grocery store or restaurant or convenience store, etc). It's about making community impact viral-- not monolithic.
And these conversations should be appreciative and aspirational.
Appreciative conversations begin with getting at corporate memory of peak experiences. "Who can tell a story about when you were involved, personally or as a congregation, in a movement for change in this community that really worked." Chances are, there are many folks in your congregation and community who have great stories to tell. And when these stories are told, they often release other memories of positive impact in others. Appreciative conversations let memory be your friend, and not your captor!
Aspirational conversations focus on a concrete hope for a better future. They build on the appreciative conversations and say, "Now, given all you know how to do, all you've been part of, and all you see around you today, what are the really big dreams for improving life in this community that the Spirit is calling us and has equipped us to be part of in the next five years? What are the measurable impact craters we sense God is longing and working to see around us in the next five years?"
Have lots of these conversations, some individually, some in groups, and collate and report results over time-- say for three months or so.
Step 2. Convene a community-wide community impact conversation.
This is where you have a celebration of memories and hopes of the congregation AND the community, and where together you discern the two or three places where as a whole church you are going to commit yourselves to doing what it takes to achieve a measurable difference in people's lives-- not just through programs, but through a sustained change in the QUALITY of life for people where you live and where your congregation gathers.
Every child in our community (however you define that-- neighborhoods, town, city, region, whatever) will have at least 5 adults in their lives, in addition to their parents, who will unconditionally care for them and help them succeed.
Every teenager or woman who gets pregnant in our community will obtain early and ongoing prenatal care.
People who need financial assistance in our community will be able to receive what they need within 24 hours so that they can get back to work and have to spend less "agency time"
The frail elderly in our community will have people who care for them and keep them in their homes, rather than institutionalized, as long as possible.
Transportation will not be a barrier for school or work for anyone in our community.
We will make our neighborhood safe to walk at night.
Every child in this community will have access to high quality health care.
After you've picked your two or three community impact priorities together, ask two more questions:
1. Who is ready to do what about this right now?
2. Who else can be partners with us in this work?
Step 3: Convene who's already ready AND build partnerships
Don't quench the Spirit! Get folks who are ready to do something together, and start helping them to plan and do what they want to do.
In the meantime, keep asking "Who else should be at these tables?" You're looking for other organizations and leaders here, institutions and people who have some kind of following in the congregation or community, people and organizations who can mobilize other people or organizations to join as witnesses and workers for the impact you're seeing in the Spirit.
And keep in mind, too, that other people and organizations may already be doing some of this work! So figure out how to play well with others! Maybe what happens is you and your community group join their efforts-- or maybe they join yours-- or maybe you both do more or less your own things, but collaborate where that makes sense.
Step 4: Benchmark and Evaluate
Benchmarking is critical. This means being clear about the BIG STEPS that need to be achieved and generally by what time in order to get to your aspirational outcome in a timely fashion. This isn't micromanaging or assigning-- it's keeping the main thing the main thing, and making sure you'll not just wish it, but actually be working for it over time.
Evaluation is equally critical. Don't get bogged down in every detail, but do keep asking yourselves, at least every three months"Where are we now, how far are we toward where we want to go, what obstacles are we encountering, what mistakes are we making, what can we learn from these, and how will we keep moving forward?"
Keep in mind that evaluation comes in two flavors-- process evaluation and results evaluation. Process evaluation focuses on HOW you are doing what you are doing, and asks if there are better ways to do this. Results evaluation focuses on WHAT CHANGES you can measure because you are doing this work, and asks whether you are achieving the results you expected, and if not, what you can learn and improve. Use both kinds!
Step 5. Keep working! Keep building partnerships! Keep learning from what you're doing!
Step 6. Start more community impact conversations-- and keep the cycle going!
So, what are the metrics? Some of the metrics will be developed for each community impact project you engage in the evaluation stage, above. But if you're looking at sort of "meta-metrics"-- those things that conferences or districts or denominations might use, let me suggest these six steps as a starting place. The most important thing is that this process is actually happening-- and that congregations and missional communities are moving through it and making measurable progress on the outcomes they've defined.
There can and should be recognitions-- internally and across the networks we're part of-- for the progress each congregation or missional community is making. That one is at Step 4 while another is at Step 2 does not mean the first is better than the second-- just at a different place. But the congregation at Step 2 might learn some things about getting through steps 3 and into 4 from the congregation at Step 4. And whatever system is set up for measuring these steps of progress needs ALSO to be set up to reward just such mutual learning.
There's much more that could be said-- but this is for starters.
If you've gotten this far-- share what you think! What works in this? What seems unclear or unhelpful? What might be a better way to think about this? Is community impact important enough as a missional metric that it deserves this kind of attention?
Peace in Christ,
Saturday, November 10, 2007
There's a CONVERGENCE happening in the emerging missional conversation this week-- unintended, I'm sure-- but a convergence nonetheless.
Down Under, Alan Hirsch started a thread on acting our way into a new way of thinking. Nothing startling. Nothing new for most of us, I would think. But a good reminder of what missional is all about (not ONLY thinking, but PRIMARILY action). And a good reminder as well of who we were as Methodists, at least during the height of the movement in England. AND it has a "really helpful chart" (Jim Walker would be proud!).
At the same time, Down South in Lake Junaluska, ALL UM Bishops and their cabinets and extended cabinets (DCMs, Lay Leaders, etc) are meeting for the first time ever, and a significant part of their conversation together is around what the bishops are calling "The United Methodist Way"-- which is a kind of paraphrase of the General Rules. What they're seeing and saying is that Wesleyan studies have essentially gotten us nowhere-- except to make a museum piece of Wesley. What we NEED, and CAN get back to, is the community that PRACTICES this stuff-- that actually works to do no harm, to do all the good to others possible, and to engage spiritual practices, individually and corporately, that sustain and express our connection with God. Susan Cox-Johnson is doing some blogging from there at her place-- http://aunitedmethodistemerging.blogspot.com.
How transforming these conversations or this convergence can be for us, I don't know. But maybe, just maybe, it begins to signal a way forward-- or, in the language of the scriptures we explored at our gathering, perhaps it means the soil is being tilled so that our missional mustard weed seed can begin to find a place to land, grow, and spread.
Pray for all this-- but above all, keep tilling. The seed is there. This convergence is a sign of that.
Peace in Christ,
Friday, November 02, 2007
NEW CONTEMPORARY MUSIC AND WORSHIP LISTSERV
Ruach is the Hebrew word for wind, spirit, or breath. It can literally mean the breath of God. In early Christian use, Ruach was synonymous with the Holy Spirit, and was often personified as a dove and described as a rushing wind.
Ruach is also the name of a new interactive listserv sponsored by The General Board of Discipleship of The United Methodist Church (GBOD). Ruach’s purpose is to foster discussion, debate, research, exchange of information, and networking around issues of contemporary music and worship. Contemporary here is used, not in the sense of contemporary Baby Boomer worship and music, but in the sense of newer, more modern worship and music, including alternative styles, emerging worship, and certainly young people’s music. Ruach is designed for musicians, directors, singers, composers, pastors, worship planners, leaders, publishers, and students. The list is intended for and funded by The United Methodist Church but membership is open to all without charge.
Ruach is fully moderated, meaning all messages will be screened for appropriateness of topic and content. Messages will not be edited, though they may be returned without posting. Ruach members will always practice respect, tolerance, civility, and grace in all list communications.
You will receive a message with confirmation of your subscription and instructions for further participation. Please save the confirmation message should you wish to change your subscription status or unsubscribe at a future date.
To join Ruach, go to http://www.gbod.org/worship/default.asp?act=reader&item_id=45515&loc_id=17,728 and follow the instructions.
To post a message to this list, send an e-mail to: firstname.lastname@example.org. (You must be a member of the list to post a message.)
I wanted to share it...
I am the first to tell you if something is cheesy, and this has a little flavor of cheese to it, but I loved how it forced me to take time and go through it... i fought through the first 2-3 stations (mainly because it would not let me speed past things), but after that it was a huge blessing to me and a beautiful break in my day. It took me about 30 mins to go through it all... (Warning: the music gets tiresome) so please try it out... and God bless you all!
Oh and there are several people blogging @ the Off The Map Live conference going on right now in Seattle, WA. Do a search on it in the blog-o-sphere and enjoy the free conference, heh..
Just wanting to let yall know.
Thursday, November 01, 2007
To get at what "spiritual impression" means, I've come to describe the difference between a laser printer and a letter-set press.
A laser printer creates an image on paper making an "attractive negative image" on the paper of whatever is to be printed so that the toner about to be sprayed on it will stick to that attractive image, and not stick to other places on the paper. A heat process then bonds the toner in the appropriate pattern (where it is supposed to stick) to the surface of the paper.
A letterset press transfers ink that is rolled onto a negative of the image by pressing that negative image (assembled by hand), under high force, onto the paper. The result is that the paper bears a positive of the image in ink, but also actually "impressions" from where the letters and images pressed into it worked their way into, and in even somewhat through, the paper. If you feel carefully on the other side of paper that has been printed in this way, you will feel a negative of the image on the front side. Not just the surface, but the paper itself is thus changed.
If we measure from an attractional model, we'll know what has stuck to the surface. If we measure from a missional model, we'll be looking for signs that lives have really changed.
John Wesley gave the people called Methodists, and any others who cared to listen, two kinds of ways of measuring such spiritual impression. The first was the General Rules. Simply put, the General Rules were "Do no harm. Do good. Go to church to practice the means of grace."
Can you see signs in each other that you are actually "doing no harm?" Or rather, doing less harm than perhaps you used to do? The list he provided here wasn't just about bad "personal habits" (we might say, getting drunk, smoking, swearing, doing drugs, sexual sin) but also included things like "the buying or selling goods that have not paid the duty," "taking things on unlawful interest," "putting on gold and costly apparel," "softness and needless self-indulgence" and, perhaps hardest to hear in our society, "laying up treasure on earth."
Can you see signs in each other that you are doing more and more good to more and more people? Are you clothing more people, feeding more people, being sure that more people in prison are getting regular visits and the sick are getting the health care they need? Are you speaking and teaching truth to others regularly, not just "when you feel like it?" Are you taking care of others in the Christian community (your small group at the very least), so that none of them has any real needs going unmet? Are you willing to take up the cross daily, even if that means you get a bad rap for it falsely?
Are you attending worship regularly? Are you continuing to learn scripture from people who know what they're talking about? Are you seeking guidance from the scriptures yourself? Are you celebrating and receiving Holy Communion as much as possible? Are you praying yourself, and with your family? Are you fasting, or if you cannot fast from food, fasting from something as a means of disciplining your body for prayer?
Now, these rules were just that: rules. But the function of the rules was not militaristic (break one and you're in serious trouble!), but more as ideals and guides (these are what we're all trying diligently to live into).
Which brings us to the second kind of measurement-- not merely signs of DOING these things (or not doing them as much, in the case of the first rule), but also signs of being INWARDLY changed. Wesley talked about this as the transformation of the "tempers" from being "natural tempers" into being "holy tempers." Are you showing not just in what you do, but in HOW you do it, the sanctifying power of God? Are your actions more and more motivated by love? Do you approach even difficult or unpleasant "good deeds" with a greater generosity and joyfulness of spirit? Are you increasingly eager to be watched over by others in love? Are you more ready to speak the truth, hard as it may be, with gentleness and love? Are you showing more compassion to your families, your neighbors, and one another?
How are you using metrics like these, or not, where you are? How might you use or adapt them? Where do these seem helpful, and why? Where might these be unworkable, and how can you work to change that? Are there additional metrics for spiritual impression that you might suggest based on your experience or intuition?
Peace in Christ,