Missional Field Notes

Quotes, Examples, and Ideas from My Missional Frontier

The missional church adopts an apostolic, rather than a hierarchical, mode of leadership. By apostolic we mean a mode of leadership that recognizes the fivefold model detailed by Paul in Ephesians 6. It abandons the triangular hierarchies of the traditional church and embraces a biblical, flat- leadership community that unleashes the gifts of evangelism, apostleship, and prophecy, as well as the currently popular pastoral and teaching gifts.
–Alan Hirsch & Michael Frost (The Shaping of Things to Come)

February 7, 2016

Ben Hardman writes about “Lifting the Discipleship Lid” over at Missional Think Tank. While a great post about discipleship and changes needed as we adapt to the future, I loved his illustration about basketball and the need to change our approach if we’re going to adapt to what the future brings.

We also need to change our daily routines so we can lean into the things that bring real and lasting change. If we want to lift the DISCIPLESHIP LID we need to learn to dribble with our left hand. When I was a 14 years old, I was developing into a decent basketball player, not a star by any means but I was decent. The only challenge for me was I could only dribble with my right hand. So whenever I had the ball, my defender knew what direction I was going to go. I had to spend an entire year dribbling with my left. It was incredibly frustrating, I turned the ball over often and I was not as good of a player for a full year. I had to do what didn’t come natural so I could learn to make it natural. This revolutionary discipline doesn’t come easy for those of us who have been trained to succeed and who know how to lead successfully within the church walls. Yet a few years of leading with a limp will teach us to develop new strengths. The day is coming where all the skills and tactics of leading successful mega churches will no longer work and what will matter is can we make disciples in our everyday life. Over 60% of our population won’t enter the doors of a church no matter how good the teaching, programming and band is. Those numbers are increasing rapidly each year. My belief is that within the next 10 years, churches in America will lose their 501C3’s and non profit status and the money will run low. The scary thing is we are actually training our pastors to lead in a system that will be obsolete in the next 10-20 years. Until we accept the fact that we need to relearn and dribble with our left we will continue to create converts without disciples and build structures that ultimately won’t last in tomorrow’s economy. We must learn to abandon our kingdoms to pursue Gods!

There is talk in the United Methodist Church about the role of the local church. We are connectional, connected to each other, bound by a Book of Discipline. But, some argue, what would it look like if we could make that Book smaller and give some more autonomy to geographical areas of churches (conferences). Bishop Bruce R. Ough of the Dakota-Minnesota Episcopal Area talks about the importance of the local church for the future mission and ministry of the church.


Why? Because local churches, with their multiple, diverse and entrepreneurial avenues of outreach can efficiently go to the people in the streets, the workplaces and our communities to offer the hope, healing and saving grace of Jesus. People worship God in local churches. People profess their faith in local churches. People engage in true Wesleyan holy conferencing in local churches. People are equipped and sent as witnesses through local churches. Local churches call forth and develop leaders. Local churches create new places for new people. Local churches are in ministry with the poor. Local churches bring healing to the world.

But, perhaps even more significantly, local churches are innovators. They can go to the edges of the connection and expand its reach and impact. They can move into the shadows where people are forgotten or forced to hide. They can go into the stress fractures that arise from our divisions and bind up the wounds. They can facilitate people seeing Christ in the “other.” They can give expression to orthodoxy through unorthodox methods. They can address unresolved matters by building relationships. They can spread scriptural holiness into the nooks and crannies, the highways and byways of cultures throughout the world. They can recover the vitality and power of a truly spiritual and practical “connection.” The innovative and adaptive energy of our local churches will likely determine the extent and impact of our Methodist revival movement in the 21st century.

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I spent part of the day yesterday walking around the woods in a neighborhood in Marietta, Georgia with my father and two Civil War buffs. We were looking for old battlefield fortifications in an area where developers are talking of putting in a shopping center and more homes.

It’s a complicated issue. There is a landowner who wants to sell a large tract of land in a subdivision and there is a developer looking to make it commercial land. The neighboring homeowners are opposed to this (as many homeowners are when commercial land is proposed in their–literal–backyard). And there are some serious questions about the blasting down of a mountain (I’d call it a “hill”) and what the increased traffic would do to an already congested area. All big concerns, particularly for residents.

We were tromping around in the woods, trying to only stay on property we were given permission to be on, and were looking for Civil War trenches or other fortification that might, if the development goes through, be lost. That’s an important point in this history-rich area.

To be fair, much of the area around Marietta had Civil War trenches and artifacts. Right down the road is the Kennesaw Mountain National Battlefield Park which preserves this important battleground from the Atlanta Campaign of the Civil War. There was a lot of activity here from June 19, 1864 to July 2, 1864. As we walked around, the Civil War buffs said at one time there were over 200 miles of trenches OUTSIDE of the national park. But as development came as Atlanta spread north, neighborhoods and schools and shopping areas and churches were built and developers often just bulldozed everything on the property, losing history in the process. Now, instead of 200 miles of trenches, you can find 50 yards here and there with most sections much smaller.

As we walked we saw some “known” trenches and the two buffs told tale of which troops were fighting and which Generals were leading. But what really surprised them is when we came upon some Rifle Pits (see picture above), what we would call “fox holes” today. There were four small rock structures down hill from the larger trench system. Four to six infantrymen would head down from the bulk of the army to serve as a sentry post at each of the Rifle Pits. And, when the opposing forces came they would fire their rifles, warning the others above and being the first to engage the attacking enemy. They were often the first ones overtaken by the enemy as well. This was exciting because, unlike the trenches, these rifle pits were just loose arrangements of rocks which, in many cases, have been torn down over the years. And they saw four of them (with a potential fifth one if they could do more looking). They were excited.

So, the question remained, how could this old, exciting stuff be preserved in the face of the seemingly endless march of construction. It’s tough to weigh the value of the past with the value of the present.

This got me thinking about church life as well. We have a seemingly endless march upon the church too. People are trying to save their traditional music as persons listen to Christian Contemporary Music. Churches want to keep their formal buildings as our culture becomes more casual. And, from a missional theology standpoint, churches are being asked to think of their engagement with the surrounding community in far different ways than they had before.

I think there are some good questions here:

  • How much of the old can we can hold onto as we strive to be a church in the future?
  • Will the “old ways” be preserved like a national park or incorporated into how we do things today?
  • As these Civil War buffs lamented the loss of trenches, what will our churches lament losing?

I don’t really have any answers here. I’m just posing some questions. But it has got me thinking.

I think there is some risk in thinking there is a magic formula that will enable us to know every detail about the people who live in our community. We become lured into the belief that if we just change this one thing about the way we function or program, everything will be fixed and we will live in perfect relationship and harmony with our neighbors.

But I wonder instead, if relationships in ministry, especially with those who are not a part of our faith communities, are a lot like caring for orchids. We say hello every week or so. Sometimes we miss a week or two. We ask questions about our local barista’s mother, or we shop locally and make a point of getting to know who lives next door. Maybe we leave our smartphones in the car when we shop or dine, or make the conscious decision to cut back from our Amazon.com purchases. And maybe, we have to see this as a necessary component of our faith, the need to be a part of a local neighborhood economy. But this does not mean that as a faith community we will see instant results or radical changes right away. That is what we can’t be lured into believing. I am however confident that from time to time, we will be absolutely amazed at the beauty that emerges. And this beauty will be well worth the gift.

(via John Burruss)

January 30, 2016

I am in the midst of a sermon series on Culture Shift. And the focus is not so much on the changing culture which surrounds the church — whether we think it’s going to “hell in a handbasket” or we’re on a progressive march to the future — but on the culture shift needed within the church. But one of the changes needed in the church is to recognize that the culture around us IS different and will require us to reach out to it in different ways.

How has culture changed? Well, for starters, we can’t assume that people are going to be lining up at our doors to come to church as soon as we open them. People will relate to church differently than they will in the past.

Says Alan Roxburgh:

I needed a different imagination for what it means to be a church in a community and what it means to lead in such a church. One of the things this growing realization meant was that it would be possible to be a faithful community of God’s people only by reengaging the neighborhoods and communities where we live and learning to ask what was happening among the people of the neighborhood, attending to their stories, and cultivating receptiveness to being surprised by what God might already be up to among all these people who aren’t thinking about church or even God.

We can’t think that God is somehow only present in the walls of the church and is inactive outside of it. We need to realize that our God is a big God and is working in new and surprising ways. And we can only see that if we start looking at our neighbors and asking about their experiences.


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