Monthly Archives: April 2011

You Say You Like The Country

I’m a city boy, the country freaks me out in large doses, but I have plenty of friends that need to escape the city for a while to be refreshed. I’m beginning to understand that more, but I think this poem of New York is very fitting for my love of the city over time in the rugged outdoors.

Claudia Menza – You Say You Like The Country

“You say you like the country,
how the pond snuggles up to your house
and birds hold forth at the picture window
You say the sky is
full of stars, constellations
to light your way…

I prefer a twilight street in rain,
the long, slow swish of cars,
a slick of rainbows in their wake,
voices refracted through silvery sheets
like parents in another room,
eerie yet comforting,
protection as night comes on.

I prefer my apartment at 6:00 a.m.,
a single Mourning Dove cooing in
the primitive arms of the Ailanthus.
Clock radios burst into song,
the giant rolls out of bed,
joggers pace the street,
leopards in spandex,
then the dogs come sniffing,
pulling sleepy companions to
secrets in concrete.

I like an outdoor cafe,
the symmetry of umbrella
drawing sun to their crowns,
The intimacy of lunch
in their generous shade.

I live for a cab driver with
a snappy line,
a walk through Chinatown,
each telephone booth a pagoda for one,
restaurants defended by dragons
(you don’t get dragons in the country anymore),
fish so fresh they’re
jumping in their baskets.
And if I liked mimes (Annoying creatures.
Everybody hates them but nobody wants to say so.)
then a mime in Central Park.

It’s no Currier and Ives but
how many ponds with skaters
can you look at? I’d rather
the Christmas windows at Lord & Taylor,
watching children with
mittens of chestnuts
press to a scene from
Currier and Ives,
faces bright with cold, with curiosity.

You want me to trade this in for
a babbling brook?
Brooks are nice, but brooks are easy to celebrate,
the proverbial good without evil,
no attempts at your core,
nothing that scrapes the bone
like the collective frenzy of
a lunatics’ ball,
a kaleidoscope gone mad…

And if it’s the miracle of nature you want,
which is more the miracle:
that field of daisies behind your house
or that one crocus pushing up through
the sidewalk on Bank Street?

Peace of mind is what I mean,
this quilt of roofs
our lively patchwork,
this urban potpourri,
this hybrid vigor,
no constraint of
white picket fence,
not how much space you have but
how much space you are.”

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What is a Missional Community?

This is the question that the Verge Network has been asking a number of leaders on their website, and this is the question that many churches around the country and world are asking, and this is the question I deal with on a daily basis as someone who oversees Community Groups, which we view as gospel communities on mission.

It’s a vital question for the church, which is typically seen as a Sunday event and maybe a small group bible study or Sunday school. Somewhere along the way, the common understanding of church became a place to go instead of a people who are going. A place to attend, instead of a people with a message to extend. The gospel was never to be kept inside of a church building, but was meant to define all of a Christian’s life and then lived out in a community that seeks to love and care for others.

The origins of the Missional Community idea are found in Acts chapter 2 in the scriptures that show a community responding to the good news of Jesus Christ’s death and resurrection by being devoted to God, devoted to one another, and devoted to including their friends and neighbors in the good news. Church history shows us St. Patrick who lived this out in a community that eventually evangelized all of Ireland this way.

So now the church is asking, what happened? How do we return to being a people that extend the message and mercy of Jesus Christ, the good news of a good Savior to the world around us? How does missions become normal and local instead of being seen as only an overseas endeavor?

In comes Missional Community. The name spells it out, a community of people that live on mission together. But as the Verge Network has proved with their question, every church & leader has their own way of living it out.

Ultimately Missional Community is about principles more than it is about exact practicals. The various definitions and forms that happen all over the country and world all carry the same principles but are practically lived out differently depending on leadership and context.

Those primary principles appear to be:
1. Gospel Identity: Everyone in the world lives defined by a certain identity. For the church & those in missional communities, that identity is found as someone saved by Jesus Christ’s work, not our efforts, and then sent as missionaries into the world. We’re not just blessed by God in Christ, we are also meant to be a blessing to others. We are missionaries because God is a missionary and we get to represent what He is like.
2. Community on Mission: Missional Communities is an acknowledgement that our salvation is not an individual, “me & my God” thing, but we are saved into a family or community that cares for one another and serves others together. When a community receives good news, it shares good news.
3. Gather around Mission: The missional community gathers around a specific evangelistic mission. Whether that’s a specific affinity group that everyone cares for or a geographic area where they live, each community has a specific group of people they want to extend the love of Christ to & serve them with the deeds of Christ. I’ve recently seen a greater emphasis on proximity rather than affinity.
4. Discipleship is the key to sustainability: In the past, churches relied on a singular dynamic leader & in some instances that is still the case, but missional communities focuses on enabling every person to be a missionary & minister (or leader) in serving other people with the gospel of Jesus Christ. Missional communities will only be as missional as their discipleship. Are they creating & enabling more people to be leaders? Are they making it simple & transferable? If not, it won’t last.
5. Multiplication: The goal of a missional community is not to grow large in numbers of people, but to create new expressions of community & compassionate mission. They see as their end, multiplying into many communities and spreading the gracious message of Jesus to as many people as possible.

As I mentioned earlier, various churches and leaders do it differently and summarize it in a variety of ways. Typically focuses on core values as they define their practice.

The Austin Stone has God, Gospel, Mission. Austin City Life, Soma Communities, Kaleo San Diego, & The Crowded House, from England, have formed the GCM Collective to share resources centered around Gospel, Community, & Mission.

3DM, originally from England, has Up, In, Out. Neil Cole says Divine Truth, Nurturing Relationships, Apostolic Mission. JR Woodward lists 5 things. Felicity Dale summarizes it as a multiplying family that shares life together on mission. Christian Community Church in Chicago, which puts on Exponential which is centered around the idea of Missional Communities this year uses the terms Grow, Connect, Expand.

If I understood what Alan Hirsch was saying half the time, I might be able to summarize it similarly, but his accent entrances me. I know he is saying profound and great things, I just have trouble summarizing it. His latest book, Right Here, Right Now, is fantastic and summarizes the movements of a Missional Community as Move Out, Move In, Move Alongside, Move From.

The practicals of all of these leaders in this idea vary, but the principles do not. Practicals range from size, house church or megachurch, content, location, discipleship methods, and on and on, but the principles are the necessary components for each individual church and leader to wrestle with and define in their context. The message and principles must be contextualized rather than merely adopting the practicals.

The non-negotiable is that to be a Christian is be a career missionary alongside a community and Missional Community or whatever you call it has become to most effective means for churches to live out this truth to our world.

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What would you say you do here?

For the past 8 months, I’ve had the blessing to serve as a pastor at Apostles Churchhere in New York City. The most common question I get from friends and family is the Office Space question. What do you even do? There seems to be some confusion as to what a pastor even does, you know, besides spend too much time on twitter.  My official title is the Pastor of Community & Justice, which is pretty awesome, but still leaves people wondering what I do.I am trying to fulfill the calling of a pastor as outlined in scripture for the church. Since John Piper is wiser and an infinitely better biblical scholar, I’ll point you to this article on the role of a pastor and this will just focus on describing how that looks in my role at Apostles.

Community Groups & Justice Ministries
I primarily oversee our Community Groups and Mercy & Justice ministries. That means I read a lot of books about missional community (which I’ll explain in a post tomorrow) and invest in, train, and care for our Community Group leaders and coaches. I prepare monthly trainings and have periodic meetings with each of the leaders. I mainly focus on training & challenging them toward 3 core values: Gospel Enjoyment, Intentional Community, & Prayerful Mission.

We want to see our community groups love the gospel, because you only live for what you love & enjoy so why not love the greatest thing, the gospel of Jesus Christ (Gospel Enjoyment). We want them to sync the rhythms of their lives to sacrificially care for one another and serve their neighborhoods together (Intentional Community). We want them to extend the message and mercy of Jesus Christ together in their local neighborhood (Prayerful Mission).

For Mercy & Justice I work with the great Derek Devine to assist our Community Groups to identify ways to pursue creative compassion with their neighbors through local government, neighborhood associations, local non-profits and Hope For New York affiliates. This happens along church wide initiatives (like fighting sex-trafficking with Love146 or international oppression with the Dalit Freedom Network), but also locally in the Neighborhood Gatherings & Community Groups serving together regularly.

Neighborhood Gatherings
I also train and assist our Neighborhood Gathering Coaches to organize our community groups in the area to participate in social events, prayer efforts, and mercy/justice initiatives. They also plan our monthly community conversations where our Community Groups gather with local residents at a restaurant or bar to address issues facing our city and how our faith guides our response. These are our mid-size communities that aim to support the mission of the local Community Groups & support the eventual launching of new congregations around the city.

Industry Renewal Sessions
In our church, there are a lot of extremely gifted and talented individuals that work in just about every industry imaginable. As we seek to connect our faith with everyday life and our work, we gather people in the same industry to discuss how faith can challenge them to excellence in honoring God with their work, but also how these people can utilize their work for the betterment of their industry and our society.

General Ministry Responsibilities
My weekly time also involves a number of other ministry responsibilities including connecting with people at our church for counseling, prayer, answering various church & theological questions, and working with our deacons on financial or other benevolence needs at the church. This typically involves more email than I knew could ever be read or sent.

All of this is typically done in some collaboration with our staff since we work well together and genuinely enjoy each other. It’s a collection of intelligent and encouraging individuals that form a great team to serve Apostles Church and our city. I also spend weekly time with the other pastors/elders at Apostles to pray for the church, make decisions on church-wide initiatives, and a variety of other things. Occasionally, I will preach on a Sunday or teach at an equipping class here at Apostles, but all of the above is what typically goes on throughout the month in my role.

It’s been a tremendous blessing, a great challenge, and a fun opportunity to serve the Lord while working at Apostles Church. I continue to learn more everyday and doubt that will ever change. I’m constantly thankful for the training I received at the Austin Stone Community Church through their pastors & staff, which they have shaped that training into an amazing opportunity called the Austin Stone Institute that I would highly recommend.

I’m confident I’m missing something and leaving you with more questions than answers, but I’ve discovered there is more than you could ever imagine doing at a church, but ultimately caring for people is valued more and takes priority over tasks. My goal is to model the things I want to see and am calling others to do as well.

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