Friday, April 27, 2007

What We Know

Each of us has a mission in life . . . we were sent into the world by God, just as Jesus was. Once we start living our lives with that conviction, we will soon know what we were sent to do. –Henri Nouwen

If you’ve kept up with my blog at all, you most likely know that God has been stirring transformation in my heart and my husband’s heart for a long time. The process has been long and confusing and exhilarating and painful and life-giving.

The Lord has had to work hard, stripping us of our insecurities and the things we feel secure in, but shouldn’t. He’s brought failure when we were sure of success; success when we expected nothing but failure. He’s torn down our thoughts about what ministry looks like for us and built us back up with a greater sensitivity to his definition of what ministry looks like for us.

Largely, this has been a terrifying experience. We’ve questioned our sanity, our faith—and, in retrospect, what seems a bit maudlin even to us—our place in the whole scheme of things. But keep in mind, we often felt desperate. We weren’t sure of anything anymore, except, of course, God himself.

Late last year, when the questions were still swirling, but the answers were beginning to take shape, we came up with a document that began like this:

Things we know about us:

We must be missional. We must recognize that North America is a mission field because of its cultural and spiritual diversity and its distance from Christian foundations. We must learn to interpret and engage popular culture. We are compelled to discover fresh ways to communicate the gospel to those outside of our traditional church culture, much like a foreign missionary must learn how to communicate the good news in ways that make sense to those in his mission field. We must go where not-yet-Christians are rather than finding refuge within our church culture and comfort zones.

We must be incarnational. We must enter culture as Christ’s representatives. It’s critical that we are a legitimate part of culture, doing our best to remove all barriers to the gospel other than the gospel itself. Some of these barriers would be the language, habits, practices, and “culture” of Christendom. The message of Christ will present a barrier that cannot be removed.

We must pray. We must ask the Lord to show us where he is already working on the hearts of people. We must ask him to lead us to men and women “of peace.” We must pray that the Lord will send out harvesters into his harvest field (Luke 10:2b). We must ask him to reveal the work he is calling us to do.

We must be constantly transforming, submitting ourselves to the work of the Holy Spirit in us as he fashions us into the image of Christ. This work is founded upon our knowing Christ through the Scriptures, prayer, and personal experience.

We must become church-planters. We must evangelize through multiplication, not addition. Our culture requires saturation church planting in differing contexts and to differing groups. House or “simple” churches may be a cost-efficient and effective strategy, depending upon the local cultural climate.

I will spare you the rest of the four-page document because it gets thick with research and statistics and mumbo-jumbo terminology, eventually devolving (or evolving?) into more questions.

Suffice it to say, as I worded in a recent email some of you may have received, the most profound result of God’s work in us has been in the clarity of His call to church planting. Specifically, we are passionate about reaching people who might never consider walking through the doors of a traditional church.

With the blessing, shepherding, and encouragement of the ministry staff and elders of our congregation, we’re embarking on a journey that appears to be taking us out of fulltime paid ministry and into self-supporting church planting. We see that most likely taking place in the context of establishing house church networks, though we are open to the Lord's leading in this regard.

While we don't know exactly how this will play out, we know that we’ll be phasing out of Bob's staff position at Southwest by the end of the summer. We’re praying for God’s continued guidance and clarity as he directs us into this next stage of ministry, preparing us to engage a segment of culture that may be asking spiritual questions, but can’t yet imagine Christ is the answer.

We have a mission in life . . . like every Christ-follower, we were sent into the world by God, just as Jesus was. We’ve started banking everything on that conviction. We know what we were sent to do.

Monday, April 09, 2007

I wonder . . .

I spent the better part of today in a jury pool for a criminal felony trial. I’d never been called to serve on a jury, and while the process was not exactly exciting, I felt the potential weight of sitting in judgment over someone’s future. The defendant was present in the courtroom during the entire selection process. A real person. A real life.

In the end, I was dismissed. Nineteen possible jurors before me were struck from the jury. The man in line immediately before me, so to speak, was the last of twelve jurors chosen. Mostly, I felt relieved that my week wasn’t to be spent in the courtroom judging someone to be guilty or not guilty. But I also felt a bit disappointed that God’s commission to me as a truth-seeker would not be used in this quest for a fair and just decision.

The alleged victim wasn’t in the courtroom today. But his/her life, his/her future, is--in a sense--just as real and in the balance.

Truth. Justice. Guilt. Judgment.

Today I sat in that courtroom hurting for the victims in this world. And I hurt for the true criminals who are victims of the rulers, the authorities, the powers of this dark world and the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly realms. I grieved that so few know Truth. Life. Freedom.

And I couldn’t help thinking how liberally we dish out judgment every day regarding people or events we really know nothing about. Oftentimes, we’re so far removed from what’s actually happening in people’s lives and in their hearts, that we have no problem assigning guilt. Or leaving them to face the consequences they’ve reaped for themselves. Or turning our backs on the cries of a world soaked in sin and despair. The people simply aren’t real to us.

I wonder how different our days, our passions, our efforts would look if we took the time to consider that every bit of strife and suffering around us is happening to real people. Not to headlines or tidbits on the evening news. Real people. And I wonder what God might do with a community of believers truly devoted to bringing the Christ-life to the world around them.

I wonder what that looks like for me. How my life will have to change. How costly that will be. How meaningful.

I wonder . . .