Sunday, May 2, 2010

Final Reflections

It has now been three weeks since I attended the 2010 Missional Think Tank. I wanted to share some final summary reflections on this event. How does the missional church look? This is the question the participants at this year’s Missional Think Tank struggled to answer. After reflecting on my experiences, here are my thoughts on how I answer this question:

The missional church is messy, at least on the surface. I heard many stories from participants, both in the formal presentations and in casual conversations, about how missional ministry does not fit neatly into the church’s established paradigms. We cannot gage the success of missional ministry based upon the typical metrics of attendance, building size, number of programs, or budgetary projections. One participant compared the missional church to a compost heap – something that looks like refuse to the untrained eye, but is actually nourishing and generative.

The missional church is beyond our control. Truly missional ministry – that which is God-initiated, Kingdom-oriented work – is beyond our human control. We can’t create it or manage it, though we might like to. It is a work of God, under the direction of the Holy Spirit. We can simply position ourselves to listen to the Spirit’s promptings and move into the work God calls us to do.

The missional church is our calling, whether we are ready for it or not! In dwelling on the words from Luke 10, I was struck by Jesus’ teaching that the harvest was plentiful, but the workers few. Then Jesus commanded the disciples to go out and proclaim that the Kingdom of God had drawn near to all. Is this not Jesus’ command to us today? Even though we may feel unprepared for the challenge, I believe we can boldly answer this call, knowing that Jesus will be with us as we work to reap this great Kingdom harvest.

I hope you have enjoyed reading my blog about my experiences at this year's Think Tank. It was such an honor and privilege to participate in the event. I would like to thank the Leadership Development Unit of New Castle Presbytery for their generous financial support that enabled me to attend this event. I would also like to thank you, my blog followers, for sharing in this journey with me. Please feel free to continue the conversation, as there is still much to discuss, wrestle with, and celebrate. May God richly bless you in your ministry endeavors, as you seek to follow Jesus' command to proclaim the Good News that the Kingdom has indeed drawn near!


Saturday, April 17, 2010

Missional Think Tank: Tuesday

Today is the final day of the Think Tank. My sense is that the participants have found the conference both energizing and exhausting at the same time. It has been energizing to fellowship with one another, hear one another's stories, and challenge one another into deeper missional activity. It has been exhausting processing so many ideas in such a short period of time. There has been so much food for thought, and it will surely take each one of us a great deal of time to distill everything we have been considering into actionable future steps.

Today's sessions were designed to help us in this matter. What do we take with us? How do we keep the conversation going? How do we maintain the connections we have made? What is God calling us to do in response to all we have considered? There are no easy answers to these questions.

We began the day with worship and more dwelling in the Word from Luke 10:1-12. The insights gleaned from this time were many. One participant expressed his focus on the phrase "the harvest is plentiful." It struck him how there is plenty of work to do - plenty of ways every congregation can be involved in God's mission. Many gifts and talents are needed. No one local church has to do it all - be everything to everyone. Likewise, churches need not compete with one another - there is plenty of work to go around. Some churches might be stronger or more gifted in some ways than others, and that is by God's design. By focusing on our congregations' unique strengths, we can do the specific work God has for us to do for the Kingdom. There are many gifts, but the same Spirit!

After our time of dwelling in the Word, we heard reports from three denominational executives from three different ecclesiastical traditions. They each shared their stories of how they saw local congregations engaging in missional ministry. They all emphasized the importance of two main leadership questions: 1. How do we structure our conversations in a way that bring people from the margins into the center of the discussion? 2. How do we direct our attention? The speakers emphasized that spiritual leadership is about having a vision to help others see God in the story of their lives and ministry. Spiritual leadership is seeing so that others may see, so to speak.

A Mennonite executive discussed the importance of churches paying attention to what God was doing in their region. Where does God seem to be at work? Whom is God brining in to the region? Who is leaving? What Kingdom work seems to be happening, both inside and outside the local church? How can churches become a part of it? These are challenging questions!

An Episcopal Bishop reflected on the tension between the missional ideal of the Kingdom of God vs. the actual state of local churches. Our longing for the ideal was a longing for heaven - the Kingdom in its consumated form, which, as we know is both already, but not yet. This longing will never go away fully in this life, however, this should not deter us from seeking to be the best missional communities we can be in our present time.

A Lutheran executive shared his experiences of congregational life on the Kansas prairie - where there is great population decline due to socioeconomic factors beyond people's control and their greatest export is their youth. Rather than being discouraged by the struggles of the churches in his region, this executive was looking to God for a bigger Kingdom vision for this region. He encouraged us to leave this conference with a better sense of God's vision - Where is the missional movement of God happening in our area? How can we create space for it? He warned us not to leave this conference with mere ideas - just more things to do - nor were we to leave feeling discouraged that the work is too hard. He remined us that God is Lord of the Harvest - it is God's harvest, God's work. There is plenty to do, and God will give us both the grace and vision to accomplish the work, if we open our eyes to see it.

We spent our last session in our cohorts, where we again spent time dwelling in the Word. We grappled with the part where Jesus instructs those going out not to greet anyone on the road. This seemed strange to us at first - counterintuitive to what we would normally think Jesus would want people to do. After all, shouldn't we greet everyone who comes across our path? With some more wrestling and group discussion, we came to the conclusion that it was out of a sense of urgency that Jesus commanded his followers not to greet anyone on the road on the way to proclaim the Kingdom. Those going out were to remain focused on the task at hand, and not become distracted by circumstances around them. This led to a discussion of what one cohort member aptly named "disengenous need." We all could relate to the concept of having many needs in a local parish - many more than we could ever possibly meet - and how all needs were not created equal. We all knew of people in our churches and communities who always seemed to be in crisis, yet despite endless attempts to help, continued to have ever more needs. We reflected on how Jesus didn't heal every sick person, or cast out every demon, or preach to every crowd who came looking for him. Jesus was focused on the Kingdom work his Father sent him to do. Jesus set boundaries in his ministry, and it is perfectly acceptible to set boundaries in our ministry. It takes great inner strength, conviction, and wisdom to say "yes" to certain things and "no" to others, yet this practice will keep us focused in our ministry, not becoming distracted by anything and everything that comes along. We must learn how to discern as a community what work God is specifically calling us to do, and give ourselves the freedom to say "no" to the rest. After all, it is God's work - the ultimate results lie with God.

We then spent time sharing prayer requests with one another as a way of continuing our fellowship with each other. We departed with greater insight, strength, and wisdom for our respective ministries. We had processed a lot over the past two days, but now it was time to return to our congregations and continue the work God calls us to do.

I hope to share some final thoughts and insights with you at a later time. I am still processing through much of what I have learned at the conference.

More later. Blessings for now!

Thursday, April 15, 2010

Missional Think Tank: Monday PM

Monday afternoon, we spent the bulk of our time in our cohorts discussing themes from the morning's presentation. We spent time dwelling in the Word on our Luke 10 passage. We reflected on the insights we gleaned from this passage as a group. What stood out to us in our reading of the passage was the fact that it is God's harvest, God's ministry, God's action. We are graciously called to be a part of God's work, but it is not ours to own or control. Missional ministry is, by nature, very unpredictable, and can be discouraging at times when we don't see always see measurable results of our work - at least not right away. It is both comforting and challening to acknowledge the fact that the Kingdom is God's, and therefore the work and the results are ultimately God's. In missional ministry, we must give up our control and our agendas that we may become in sync with what God is doing.

These insights led to a discussion of our theology of God - do we have a big enough theology of God? Do we truly see God as in control of all things, including our local ministires, or do we try to domesticate God, putting God in a box that we can manage? We also spoke of the importance of developing an adequate pneumatology for the church in our age. The Holy Spirit empowers our work, and gives us both the wisdom and power to address the dark spiritual forces in our world. We discussed the significance of the Spirit's power in addressing not just evil forces in individuals such as addiction, but also systemic evil in our societal structures. In order for the church to speak prophetically against the evil in our world, we must rely upon the Holy Spirit for discernment, courage, and power to act. Only then can we truly experience the words of Jesus, "The Kingdom of God has come near to you."

After our cohort session, we met back as a large group, and spent time listening across the various cohorts in a unique, "speed dating" style discussion. The chairs were set up in small groups of rows facing each other, and we were instructed to sit in a color-coded seat that corresponded to our cohort (this ensured that there was an appropriate mix of various cohort members in each group). This seating arrangement placed us opposite someone from a different cohort. We then began listening and discussing what we were sensing God was saying to us in our respective cohorts. We had six minutes to discuss, then the person in the right hand row shifted to the left one seat, and we began another six minute discussion with a new person from a different cohort (it's a little confusing to explain how we did this, so I hope this makes sense). We continued discussions in this fashion for six rounds. By the end, we were able to interact with someone from each of the different cohorts. This exercise proved to be a unique and profitable way to listen to what God was saying to us across the various cohorts. Perhaps this process could be a useful discussion/discernment model for churches?

More later. Blessings for now!

Wednesday, April 14, 2010

Missional Think Tank: Monday morning

Greetings! Monday's session began with worship and dwelling in the word on Luke 10:1-12, a passage in which we continue to spend time throughout the conference. Some of the insights people gleaned from this session of dwelling in the word were very insightful. People were struck by how God is always at work - there is always something going on, and it is our job as God's people to discern what God is up to and become a part of it. Several folks also commented on the significance of Jesus' sending his followers in pairs to proclaim the Kingdom - there is such value in collaboration and mutual support in missional ministry! Several others were impacted by the message itself - the Kingdom of God has drawn near to you. This is the powerful message with which the church is entrusted to proclaim. How are we declaring in our lives and ministry that the Kingdom of God has drawn near to us?

We next viewed an interview with Darrell Guder on the theology of the missional church. Guder believes that we read our world through the lens of scripture - that scripture helps us see the world through Jesus' eyes. As the people of God, we are defined by the Lordship of Jesus Christ, and we must see everyone, every community, as people for whom Jesus died. Reliance upon the Holy Spirit is necessary for our proclamation of the gospel to be effective. This biblical and spiritual formation shapes our missional practice. Guder believes we must continually immerse ourselves in the Word of God, as this shapes us for God's work.

Guder spoke of the role of theological education in missional ministry. He views seminaries as missional communities being shaped for Christ's mission. Guder sees the need for theological thinking to be integrated into the practical minstry work of the local congregation. Although it is important for those pursuing ordained ministry to be adequately formed in missional thinking, Guder believes that the true test of missional theology is in the formation of missional thinking in the laypeople of the congregation. Guder concluded by emphasizing that the church can't make missional ministry happen, rather we must pray for God to bring it about in our communities. We can, however, pray for God to reveal the ways we "get in the way" of this work, and learn ways to work in concert with God's missional purposes, instead of being impediments to it.

In our cohort sessions, we discussed a myriad of ideas, more than I could encapsulate here. The main point we discussed was the difference between peace and tranquility. Jesus said we were to proclaim peace as part of the Kingdom, however, we often settle for mere tranquility (the absence of conflict) as a substitute for true peace. Tranquility can easily devolve into status-quo thinking and acting, whereas true peace confronts our complacency and calls us to deeper levels of commitment. Doing truly missional ministry is often messy, at least at first, and requires us to move beyond mere tranquility to true peace.

One practice I have found valuable at this conference is the dwelling on the word. Perhaps you may want to try the exercise with your congregation. Have someone read Luke 10:1-12 aloud slowly. Then remain in silence for a few moments, letting the word sink in. What words or phrases stick out to you? Dwell on those words and phrases for a few moments. How is God calling you to respond to what you have read? What truth is God trying to reveal? Discuss your findings with the larger group. What overall message is God trying to teach you as a community. Try this practice, and see what God reveals!

There is much more information I have received at this conference than I feel I could adequately do justice to on this blog. I am still processing what I have heard and written in my notes, and will continue to offer more insights throughout the coming days. If you would like a more comprehensive look at the material we covered, including information from other cohorts' discussions, take a look at the Missional Think Tank's official blog at .

More later. Blessings for now!

Sunday, April 11, 2010

Missional Think Tank begins!

The Missional Think Tank kicked off tonight, Sunday, April 11th at around 6 PM at Pittsburgh Theological Seminary. The event is co-sponsored by both the World Mission Initiative and Church Innovations. Participants of this invitation-only event include pastors, theologians, denominational officals, and staff members of the sponsoring organizations. The main question the Think Tank will be addressing is "How does the missional church look?" Basically, this question can be broken down into two other questions, namely "What is a missional church (how would one recognize a church as being missional)?" and "What is a missional church looking at (paying attention to)?" What we pay attention to is what we are moving toward. We in the church often look past what is most important. One speaker at the event pointed out that most churches tend to focus upon the ABCs - Attendance, Budget, and Campus, while not always giving due attention to the surrounding community of which our churches are a part. In exploring the question, "How does the missional church look?", we will be listening to one another, hearing each others' ministry stories, and trying to discern how and where God is at work, that we may join in that work.

After brief opening discussion, we spent some time dwelling on a pasage from Luke 10:1-12 about Jesus sending the 72 out in pairs to announce the coming of God's kingdom. We did a form of "lectio divina"-type meditation on the passage, then shared our insights, first in pairs, then as a whole group. Many were struck by how simple and direct Jesus' instructions were, and how much grace and faith it required on the part of those going out into the villages to rely upon God and their hosts for all their needs. We will return to this passage throughout the Think Tank, to glean more insights.

After this scripture exercise, we heard the stories of three area churches that were attempting to live out their missional callings in practical ways. Although these churches were in different areas and very different cultural contexts, there was a common theme to their experience. Missional ministry, in practice is very messy. Radically following Jesus' call to go out into the community and minister to people where they are requires much grace, faith, patience, and perseverance on the part of congregations. Often congregations are shaped by the process as they are stretched beyond their comfort zones.

After hearing these stories, we broke into our cohorts for further discussion. We were all assigned to cohorts based upon our ministry role - I am part of a cohort of younger pastors. In our first cohort meeting, it was the messiness and chaos of missional ministry that our cohort focused upon in our discussion time. What does it look like to be attentive to the Holy Spirit's work in the midst of chaos? In our churches, we often long for comfort and control, yet the call of Jesus Christ is to radically engage with others and demonstrate the gospel to them in their circumstances, which is often messy and out of our control. It is a difficult place to abide, one participant noted. We often like to see ministry happen in a linear fashion with clear, measurable success evident. One participant noted that missional ministry is more like the rumblings of a coming earthquake - we can sense the movement, but don't always know exactly what will come about, or when or where, for that matter. Our moderator suggested that part of missional leadership was learning to become attentive to the seismic movements of the Holy Spirit beneath the surface to sense where God is at work in our churches and communities. Ultimately, being truly missional is being truly authentic in our relationship with Christ and one another. We may be tempted to package and market the gospel to suit our own needs. However, being truly missional does not allow for this. As one young pastor put it, "we don't package the gospel, it packages us."

More tomorrow. Have a blessed evening.

Wednesday, March 17, 2010


Greetings! This is my blog about my experiences at the Missional Think Tank to be held at Pittsburgh Theological Seminary from April 11th - 13th. I will be sharing my thoughts, impressions, and feelings about the discussion at the event, as well as answering your questions and hearing your input on the discussion. Feel free to follow along with the discussion, and share your thoughts on the event. Thanks for participating with me in this important event!"