Post-Evangelical Pilgrimage: Week 2

I’m a bit late with this post since I’ve had such a crazy week at work, but I wanted to get something out here before I attended yet another church which might color my experiences from last week.

Last week I stayed basically within my “evangelical comfort zone” by visiting an Evangelical Covenant church. The result? I really liked it. If I had to create my “ideal church service” for where I am at right now, this would be it. A mix of hymns and contemporary worship, liturgy, scripture reading, and congregational prayer. And an excellent sermon. The only thing missing was communion, which presumably was missing because I was there on an “off” week (I’m going to rectify that by attending an Episcopal church this week).

Since the congregation was about 100 people, I didn’t feel like I stuck out quite as much like a sore thumb as at the church I attended the previous week. The crowd was pretty mixed with regard to age, and predominantly white (since I attend a primarily Asian church and have a mixed Asian-white family I notice these things).

All in all, another excellent experience with a different type of church than I used to.

Post-Evangelical Pilgrimage: Week 1

Over the course of the next couple of months I am embarking on what I am calling my “Post-Evangelical Pilgrimage.” My goal is to step outside the friendly confines of the evangelical tradition in which my faith began in order to gain an appreciation for what is going on in the larger Church, in its various traditions.

Today, I took a bit of a baby step by going with my youngest son (14 months!) to a small (30-50 people) Church of the Nazarene congregation around the corner from my house. It’s a church in the precarious position of trying to bring in younger members while still ministering to the needs of its older members, who make up the majority of the congregation.

I’ve actually been to one other, much larger, much “hipper” Church of the Nazarene church (which has many things to recommend it), and let’s just say – this was almost nothing like it. And it certainly was nothing like my home church, in all of its young-adult, loud worship, self-service communioning glory (take those as both compliment and critique – they are both).

There are many things that I like about my church, but I really enjoyed my time at the Nazarene church today both because of what was missing and what was present.

What was missing? The noise! One of the things I absolutely love about evangelicalism is the passion of its adherents. But that very passion – loud worship, loud prayer, loud loud loud – is also one of my biggest criticisms. I think modern-day evangelicalism, in its desire to be hip, relevant, and not boring, leaves very little space for God on Sunday. We crowd him out with the noise of our exuberance!

In contrast, I was acutely aware of the presence of God in the quiet of the service this morning. No gut busting praise music here – just classic hymns which expressed theological truths of God beyond “we love you, Lord” – sung by the worship team, the pastor himself. No powerpoint presentations. Just the congregation, the minister, and the word of God. Jesus unplugged.

And what was present? The Holy Eucharist. No self-serve elements. No little plastic cups. But the assembled people of God coming forward to receive the body and blood of Christ together.

I really enjoyed my time there this Sunday. The message was excellent – a reminder of God’s ridiculous grace which would forgive a ten thousand talent debt and command us to do likewise with the much smaller debts owed us. The fellowship was warm. And the service helped focus me more reverently on the Lord this Sunday.

Spiritual Practices in Missional Community

One of the most exciting aspects of the post-evangelical journey I have just begun is the opening of my faith to spiritual practices from parts of the Church far removed from my evangelical home base. The fact is, for the first sixteen years of my life as a follower of Jesus, my arsenal of spiritual practices was limited to two:

  1. bible study
  2. prayer

While I certainly still value those two practices, I have become aware of and come to appreciate a number of other practices which have helped me draw nearer to God. In the past year or so I have added the following practices to my tool chest:

  • contemplative prayer
  • praying the daily office
  • taize
  • candles as a means of focusing worship
  • the sign of the cross
  • meditative walks
  • recognizing God’s presense in the mundane
  • liturgy

Each of these spiritual practices has helped me draw nearer to the mystery of Christ and grow in my relationship with the triune God. As a father of three, I only wish I had the discipline to practice them more in the midst of my busy, frequently tired lifestyle.

I believe that a good missional community provides a framework for its members to pursue spiritual practices both individually and in community, drawing from the two thousand year tradition of the Church in all of its flavors – evangelical, mainline Protestant, Catholic, Orthodox, and so on. These spiritual practices provide the foundation for growth in Christ which allows the community to bring the church to the world.

The ‘Missional’ in Missional Community

In my previous post, I mentioned that one of the four goals of missional community was “living a missional lifestyle to befriend, love, and care for a specific group of people.”

Let me unpack that.

When I was in college, the word we used to describe what I now believe is being called “missional” was “incarnational.” In other words, Jesus incarnated – became flesh – and lived with us. He experienced all that humanity had to offer while at the same time remaining fully divine. And then he sent us out to do the same for the world around us (without the divine part).

Unfortunately, somewhere along the line, the church lost track of the concept of the incarnation – the idea that Jesus and his followers should take the kingdom of God with them to a hurting world around them – and instead chose to create an alternative society which left the world. The redemption of the world was replaced by the concept of eternal fire insurance, where a faithful remnant would hold fast and try to pull as many people from the burning world as possible before it was consumed. I believe that, by and large, this is where the American church stands today.

We see the consequences of this choice all around us. Rather than seeking to reach out to people with values different from ours in love, we wage a culture war against them to “protect our children” from them. Rather than spending our resources on behalf of the poor, we build larger buildings and fancier ministries for those who are like us. And rather than taking the church into the neighborhood with the object of recruiting new citizens for the kingdom of God, we poach the already-believers as the overall membership of the church sags.

Let me step back a minute before this starts to sound like a polemic. I believe that the church in America is trying to do the best it can with what it has been given. But I also believe that God is doing something new in our midst – he is crafting new wineskins for each of us so that we can join him in the next phase of his story. It’s never comfortable to take on new wineskins, but the alternative is no wine at all, and who wants that, really?

I believe the “new wine” that Christ has for us today is a re-orientation of our “mission” away from the provision of fire insurance to a dying world. Instead, God is calling us to work along side of him and amongst the people he loves to bring redemption into a hurting world.

God has given each of us a community of people – believers and others at various places on the path – to whom we are to model the incarnational love of God. Remember, Jesus’ call was not MERELY for us to preach the Gospel to all nations, but to make disciples of them as well. Discipleship can begin far before the “moment of decision” and certainly does not end when someone prays the sinner’s prayer.

To be continued…

Missional Community

As God has led me in a new direction – post-evangelical, missional, and emerging – the reality of the disconnect between our lives as Christians in 21st century America and the lives I see modeled by Jesus, the disciples, and the early church has become ever more jarring. This is not to say that I have adopted a view which states that it is impossible to find and follow Christ as a “normal American Christian.” I am certain that God is present in the American church as He is present in His Church around the world.

But I think there’s more. We’re satisfied with the small glimpse of the kingdom of God which we allow ourselves when God wants us to experience much more of the fullness of His kingdom (remaining well aware that there is still more fullness to come when He brings about the new heaven and the new earth down the road).

So it is with this tension in mind that I am beginning to think seriously about what it might look like for myself, my family, and my friends to seek the greater presence of the Kingdom in our lives. And at least at this point, the idea I am toying with is something I am calling “missional community” (apologies to others who may have elaborated on this idea before or in better/different ways).

In my vision of “missional community,” a number of families and a number of singles would move into a neighborhood together with several goals in mind:

  • Living a missional lifestyle to befriend, love, and care for a specific group of people.
  • Pursuing community on a daily basis with others both inside and outside of the community.
  • Living common spiritual practices together to increase the depth of the members’ faith.
  • Giving sacrificially to ensure that other community members can remain in community regardless of difficult economic circumstances and that the needy outside of the community can be blessed.

I’m not quite sure that I would go as far as to call this type of community a “missional order” or a “New Monastic” one, but certainly it draws from that movement.

I’m sure I will have more to say on this topic over time, but this is just a beginning of the thought process for me. In the end, whether it comes into being is mostly a factor of whether it is God or myself who has set these thoughts in motion.

Off the Deep End?

Just re-took the theological worldview quiz. Looks like I’ve definitely gone off the deep end into emergentville this time:

What’s your theological worldview?
created with QuizFarm.com
You scored as Emergent/Postmodern

You are Emergent/Postmodern in your theology. You feel alienated from older forms of church, you don’t think they connect to modern culture very well. No one knows the whole truth about God, and we have much to learn from each other, and so learning takes place in dialogue. Evangelism should take place in relationships rather than through crusades and altar-calls. People are interested in spirituality and want to ask questions, so the church should help them to do this.

Emergent/Postmodern

86%

Neo orthodox

75%

Evangelical Holiness/Wesleyan

75%

Roman Catholic

64%

Modern Liberal

50%

Charismatic/Pentecostal

50%

Classical Liberal

43%

Reformed Evangelical

32%

Fundamentalist

14%

Grace, Revisted.

Emerging Grace: “The missional perspective seems to be that God loves us while we are yet sinners and that our sins are already forgiven before we even repent of them.

I think one of the biggest offenses of the evangelical gospel has been confronting people on the basis of their sin rather than introducing them to the love, grace, and mercy of God.

Do we dare run around in the ridiculous lavishness of His grace and trust others with that abundance of grace? What could happen if we let people be free of judgment, willy-nilly, without the restraint of guilt? Could their mistakes be any worse than the mistakes of legalism?”

I don’t think there’s anything I could add.