Feeds:
Posts
Comments

Posts Tagged ‘Harold Percy’

This is the thirteenth and final in a series of posts about the differences between a pastoral and a missional church.  The phrase ‘from pastoral to missional’ came from Harold Percy, who was one of the first people to articulate for me the shift I was experiencing in congregations.

I have come across a few different ways of describing the differences between the two models of church. Somewhere in the past, I picked up a chart in which Harold Percy compares the attitudes and expectations in the two models. These posts will work through that chart of comparisons and give some explanation of what I think the differences imply for the way a mainline congregation operates.

The twelfth difference is described this way:

The pastoral church thinks about how to save the church.
The missional church thinks about how to reach the world.

When the topic of being ‘missional’ comes up in United Church circles, someone usually expresses their discomfort with the term. The word ‘missional’ carries with it baggage. It reminds people of that time in the not-too-distant past when ‘mission’ meant Christians attempting to impose their views and values on other people. Sometimes, people think that ‘missional’ means that they will be expected to knock on doors and ask, “Have you been saved?”

It is difficult for people who have been in the church for many years to wrap their minds around the cultural changes that have happened over the past few decades. In Canada, Christians are no longer in a position to impose anything on anyone. We are no longer the dominant voice in the culture. We are a minority among other minorities in the religious landscape. While it may have seemed appropriate a few years ago to some Christians that we should be reticent about speaking out about Jesus for fear of silencing other voices, that is no longer the case. We get to speak our truth as much as others do. We can name the name that has claimed our love and faith. We can share our story.

Hopefully, one of the things we have learned in the process of being pushed to the margins is a new humility. We cannot save the world. We cannot even save the church, for that matter. That’s Jesus’ work. What we can do is be a witness to the work God has done and is doing in our lives and in the world. We can be a sign of the Spirit’s work in the world, gathering people into community to love and serve God’s purposes for the world. In our life together as a community of faith, we can offer a foretaste of the kind of communities God intends for all people — shaped by love and grace, by forgiveness and reconciliation and by the honouring all people.

If a congregation understands its purpose to be a witness, sign and foretaste of the reign of God (David J. Bosch, Transforming Mission), its priorities and activities will change. It will find ways to structure itself so that less time and energy is spent on internal governance: will it trust a few people to make decisions so that the rest of the congregation can be about the work of living into faith in the world? It will find ways to help its people know the scriptures well enough to be able to recognize and name God’s presence when God is unexpectedly present. It will expend less energy on ‘fundraisers’ and more energy on equipping and supporting people to live out their faith where they live and work and play. It will mean that the pain and hurt and brokenness of the world will find a place in the church’s worship and life. It will also mean that all the people will need to develop deep practices of prayer since participating in God’s work in the world will be so challenging, it will drive them to their knees.

Worship will be less a performance by professionals and more a gathering of the world’s pain and hurt and brokenness into the redeeming, reconciling power of Jesus Christ through the surprising grace of the Holy Spirit. The liturgy — the “work of the people”  — will draw on the active participation of the whole people of Christ.

The ordered ministers of the congregation will spend less energy on providing chaplaincy care to all the members of the congregation and hospice care to a dying organization and more energy on equipping all the people to live into their baptism, i.e.  to take up their ministries both in the church and in the world. And, the congregation will support the ordered ministers in doing so.

The shift from being a pastoral church to being a missional church will not be easy for most congregations. Most won’t even consider making the shift until their level of pain (or desperation) is high enough. It will mean returning to basics — the life, death and resurrection of Jesus that shapes who we are and whose we are and what God calls us to be. It will mean sacrificing much that is dear to us for the sake of God’s mission in a hurting world. It will also mean, though, receiving new energy and purpose and passion from the Holy Spirit who is pushing us out of our comfortable enclaves and summoning us into God’s new future.

Read Full Post »

This is the twelfth in a series of posts about the differences between a pastoral and a missional church.  The phrase ‘from pastoral to missional’ came from Harold Percy, who was one of the first people to articulate for me the shift I was experiencing in congregations.

I have come across a few different ways of describing the differences between the two models of church. Somewhere in the past, I picked up a chart in which Harold Percy compares the attitudes and expectations in the two models. These posts will work through that chart of comparisons and give some explanation of what I think the differences imply for the way a mainline congregation operates.

The eleventh difference is described this way:

When thinking of the community, the pastoral church asks:  “How can we get these people to support the church?” 

When thinking of the community, the missional church asks: “How can the church support these people?”

 

In Missional: Joining God in the Neighbourhood, Alan Roxburgh describes the Church as part of a three-way friendship with the Gospel and the Culture. The three friends grew up together and developed a deep relationship over the years. Then, they gradually drifted apart, losing touch with one another. One day, two of the friends were delighted to receive an email from the other friend, inviting them to spend a weekend at his home. The friends enjoyed catching up with each other. However, as the evening progressed, the friend who had invited the other two began to dominate the conversation. He turned every topic to a discussion about his needs, his questions, his plans. The other two friends left the weekend feeling that they had been used to meet his agenda.

In a few different situations, I have found Roxburgh’s depiction of the Church to reflect what happens as congregations try to find their way into the future. They recognize that they have lost touch with the culture around them. Two, three, four generations of people are missing from the faith community. The congregation wonders what went wrong: Why did their children, who were brought to worship and to programmes at the church all through their childhood, drift away? Why do their grandchildren have little interest in being part of the church’s life?

Many congregations begin to ask those questions when it becomes apparent that, if they don’t find adequate answers, the congregation will not survive. Their need to find new people for their faith community drives them to try to reconnect with the culture around them. They ask, “What do we need to do to get more people to support our church?” They look for tactics that they can adopt in order to make their congregation grow.

The Missional Church conversation is not driven by church-centred questions. The focus is not on “How can we get more people to support our church?” Rather, the focus is on what God’s Holy Spirit is already up to in our neighbourhoods.

I have found that it is very difficult for many people in the church to shift their focus. As I mentioned in a previous post, I have sometimes invited them to search out someone who is not involved in a church and ask them four questions:
What is important to you?
What are you passionate about?
Where do you feel God’s presence?
Where do you feel God’s absence?

My instructions are that they are to ask the questions and listen to the answers. Any questions they ask are to be for clarification only. They are not to try to correct or convince the person of something. They are just to listen to him or her.

Some people have taken up the invitation. They have asked the questions of young people and of the elderly. They have asked family members and acquaintances. The answers have been varied. Some of them have been heart-breaking.

However, whenever I have been part of a church gathering where the reports of the conversations have been given, the conversation inevitably turns to the question, “What can we do so that these people will come to our church?” What programme can be offered? What changes can we make so that these people will want to join us?
Even when I have pointed out to the group that the point of the exercise was to hear what God is up to in people’s lives (and not to find out how to make our churches grow), the group reverts to the church-centred question.

The missional conversation assumes that God is out ahead of us, at work in our neighbourhoods and in people’s lives. We go, listening and looking for the signs that God is already on the premises, already at work, although often in ways that don’t look like what we are used to. Nadia Bolz Weber, in an interview with Faith and Life, I think, says the church sometimes is like someone who says, “There are so few pay phones any more. Isn’t it a shame that people have given up on communicating with each other by phone.”

Roxburgh spends a lot of time reflecting on Luke 10. One of the things he points out is that in that passage it is the disciples who are to receive the hospitality of the people to whom they are sent. So often, we think of ourselves as the ones providing hospitality, as those who are offering something to others. It is a major shift to put ourselves on the receiving end of their hospitality. So the question becomes, “Can we create a space safe enough that they are willing to host us, i.e. to share with us the story of God’s work in their lives?”  And, “Are we training ourselves to become the kind of people who, when they trust us enough to invite us into their spiritual lives, can reflect with them what those nudges from the Holy Spirit mean?”
If it is true that God is already at work in their lives, a point at which we can meet is in giving them language to describe what they are experiencing. Of course, we need to know our own stories well enough to recognize God when God is acting in surprising places and ways in people’s lives. I think of my former theology professor, Steve Hayner, who is dying of pancreatic cancer. Through his writing in his Caring Bridge blog, he is able to help us recognize God’s grace even in his suffering and in his dying. Who would have thought that such a journey would be filled with such blessedness, so much joy in the midst of such great sorrow and suffering? He knows the Story well enough that he is convinced that God’s grace is to be found in suffering. He names it in his own life and so helps us recognize it in our lives as well.

Read Full Post »

This is the eleventh in a series of posts about the differences between a pastoral and a missional church.  The phrase ‘from pastoral to missional’ came from Harold Percy, who was one of the first people to articulate for me the shift I was experiencing in congregations.

I have come across a few different ways of describing the differences between the two models of church. Somewhere in the past, I picked up a chart in which Harold Percy compares the attitudes and expectations in the two models. These posts will work through that chart of comparisons and give some explanation of what I think the differences imply for the way a mainline congregation operates.

The tenth difference is described this way:

When thinking about growth, the pastoral church asks: “How many [United Church] people live within our church boundaries?”
When thinking about growth, the missional church asks: “How many unchurched people live within a 20-minute drive of this church?”

When a church says that it wants to grow, it sometimes thinks that the people with whom it will grow are the people who live within its ‘church boundaries’ who are disaffected with the church and who just need a bit of persuading to give the church another chance.  The notion of ‘church boundaries’ is left over from Christendom, when congregations primarily served people who lived within particular geographical areas around the congregation’s building. A church that wants to grow works out of broader horizons. It recognizes that, these days, most people are very mobile; travelling longer distances to get to their places of work, the recreational venues of their choosing, the places where they shop.  People who may become part of their faith community are generally willing to drive the same distance to their church.

However, it is more complex than that. When a church says that it wants to grow, it often  begins by assuming that it will grow by reaching out to people who are disaffected with the church and who just need a bit of persuading to give the church another chance. Sometimes that is true. Often, however, the disaffected people will take more than a bit of persuading. They may have good reasons for being disaffected that will take a lot of effort by the congregation to heal. More than an invitation is needed. The members of  the congregation will have to demonstrate in its actions and in its way of treating each other that the church is genuinely a place worth getting involved in.

Furthermore, the neighbourhood (or area within ‘church boundaries’ has changed. Within the area (whether defined as ‘church boundaries’ or a ’20-minute commute’), the community is much more diverse than it used to be. There will be some people from other religious traditions. More and more often, though, they will have no religious affiliation — the so-called ‘unchurched’. It is a mistake, however, to think that these people are blank slates, waiting to receive a particular take on spiritual or religious practices. Whatever religious affiliation people may claim on a census, all of them have been the targets of powerful forces seeking to convert them to a particular way of life centred on consuming more and more. A missional church will recognize that this is the most powerful challenge they face as they seek to bless people and to invite them into Christian faith and to persuade them to participate in Christian community.

We live in a culture where many forces are on mission in the sense that they are trying to convert people to their way of living. The most powerful missional force in our culture is consumerism. William Cavanaugh in Being Consumed writes, “Consumer culture is one of the most powerful systems of formation in the contemporary world. Such a powerful system is not morally neutral; it trains us to see the world in certain ways.”

William Willimon describes it this way: “In the middle of a sermon I said, ‘If you bring a child into this church, say a child of four or five, that child will have a difficult time during the service. Church does not come naturally. The child will have to be trained to sing this music, to bend his life toward these stories, to pay attention to that which he quite naturally avoids. If you take that same child into Toys R Us, no training is necessary. Greed comes to us quite naturally. After all, this is America.’

But then I caught myself in mid-sentence, and said, ‘No, that’s not quite fair to Toys R Us. Billions have been spent, and our very best talent expended, in forming that child into the habits of consumption. Barney is not innocent.’ (Resisting the Clutches of Consumerism)

Consumerism not only trains us to see the world in certain ways; it trains us to live in the world in certain ways. It forms our character around discontent and greed. It is a costly religion: it requires more and more devotion while delivering less and less of the satisfaction it promises. We are beginning to see in frightening ways that a way of life driven by consumerism threatens the planet.

A missional church not only broadens its horizons beyond the geographical boundaries of its members. It also recognizes that its work is not simply a matter of bringing people into a church community: it is a matter of helping people confront the addictive forces of consumerism with the gospel of Jesus Christ. Tom Bandy suggests that a critical question to ask is, “What must we change in order to bless these people around us?”

Read Full Post »

This is the tenth in a series of posts about the differences between a pastoral and a missional church.  The phrase ‘from pastoral to missional’ came from Harold Percy, who was one of the first people to articulate for me the shift I was experiencing in congregations.

I have come across a few different ways of describing the differences between the two models of church. Somewhere in the past, I picked up a chart in which Harold Percy compares the attitudes and expectations in the two models. These posts will work through that chart of comparisons and give some explanation of what I think the differences imply for the way a mainline congregation operates.

The ninth difference is described this way:

When thinking about change, members of a pastoral church ask: “How will this affect me?”
When thinking about change, members of a missional church ask: “Will this increase our ability to reach those outside?”

Church people often say that they want their churches to grow. That’s a good thing (things that are alive are growing). Those people often think that the next question they need to ask is, “What do we need to do in order to grow?” That question is not as critical as “Who?” Who are the people with whom they will be growing? Do they know those people? Are they willing to get to know those people?
The days of finding a programme that will fix your church are pretty much over. It’s not about a new programme; it’s about relationships. You’ve got to develop relationships.

And you have to be intentional about developing those relationships. The church in North America used to count on the culture to help us make Christians. The culture is not doing that anymore. Now it is up to us to present people with opportunities to hear what Christian faith is about and we seem to have lost the knowledge of how to do that.

I have been asking congregations to find some youth or young adults or unchurched people and listen to their answers to the questions:

“What is important to you? 

What are you excited about? 

Where do you experience God’s presence? 

Where do you experience God’s absence?”

The most common answer to “Where do you feel God’s presence?” is usually “in nature”. I presume that they mean in experiences of nature that are beautiful: sunsets, mountains, lakes and trees. I wonder, “Would they also find God’s presence when ‘nature’ is a tsunami that destroys whole villages? or when nature turns cells in your body cancerous? or when part of nature is humanity in its most violent and destructive forms?”

I also wonder is “experience of God in nature” enough to sustain you or help you when you experience the soul-shattering pain of your parents’ divorce; or when a loved one gets Alzheimer’s, or when you realize that your addiction to alcohol is destroying your life, or when the online bullies attack you for being gay? Is “God in nature” enough in those situations?

The church used to be able to articulate a gospel that gave hope and redemption and salvation in such circumstances. Somehow many Christians have forgotten that gospel and have reduced its message to “God is in flowers that bloom in the springtime”.

Many of us would say that ‘the gospel is love’ — that God loves each and every one of us to the very depths of our being with an unwavering, life-giving, life-transforming love; that God loves us even in our brokenness and weakness and woundedness; that God does not abandon us when we get lost but searches for us until God finds us. There are children who do not know that God loves them that much. There are people who have never heard about that kind of God and have never met anyone who was trying to incarnate that kind of love for them. As Harold Percy once said, “Imagine being loved that much and not knowing it.” Those children are missing from our congregations. What are we willing to do to make sure that they know that deep love of God?

For many people, love isn’t the critical issue. It is hope. They have no hope for the future. They have no hope that things will change. They do not have a hope that drives them to reach out to help others. The October 30, 3014 edition of The Sarnia Journal reported that “Suicide is identified nationally as the highest cause of death among 15 -34 year olds”, and “many teens feel disconnected but are afraid to ask for help. . . Many teens said they would feel stigmatized if they spoke about depression and suicidal feelings . . . they want more open dialogue with a trusted adult.”

We have a gospel of hope. We worship a God who takes utter chaos and makes a new creation. We follow Jesus who knows his way out of the grave. We are pushed and driven and enticed by the Holy Spirit who breaks down barriers and reconciles the most unlikely people.

There are generations of people that are missing from our congregations. They are people whom God loves and is searching for. They are people who desperately need the Story that gives them hope and courage for making their way in a dangerous world.

After congregations have listened to the answers from youth, young adults and unchurch people, I ask them to consider this critical question:
“What about your church life are you willing to sacrifice so that these people have the opportunity to be introduced to the triune God and the gospel of Jesus Christ?

What are you willing to do so that the next generation knows that there is hope?

Read Full Post »

This is the ninth in a series of posts about the differences between a pastoral and a missional church.  The phrase ‘from pastoral to missional’ came from Harold Percy, who was one of the first people to articulate for me the shift I was experiencing in congregations.

I have come across a few different ways of describing the differences between the two models of church. Somewhere in the past, I picked up a chart in which Harold Percy compares the attitudes and expectations in the two models. These posts will work through that chart of comparisons and give some explanation of what I think the differences imply for the way a mainline congregation operates.

The eighth difference is described this way:

The pastoral church is concerned with the church’s institutional nature, organizations and structure, canons and committees. The missional church is concerned with culture; with understanding how secular people think and what their needs are.

The church never exists merely for itself. The church is a people gathered by God to be sent into the world as a “sign, witness, and foretaste” (David J. Bosch, Transforming Mission)  of the Reign of God. Paul tells the church in Corinth that “in Christ God was reconciling the world to himself, not counting their trespasses against them, and entrusting the message of reconciliation to us. So we are ambassadors for Christ, since God is making his appeal through us” (2 Corinthians 5:19-20).

Churches tend to forget that they exist for the sake of God’s mission in the world for a number of reasons:

  • When the church assumes that the culture in which is functions is basically Christian, it is easy to drift into being merely a religious social club;
  • When a church ‘settles in’ to the way things are, there is a natural tendency to forget its core purpose for existing and to get preoccupied with matters related to managing itself;
  • When the church’s survival is threatened, the temptation is to turn inward, focussing on tactics and programmes to reverse the decline.

In a workshop at the 2012 Worship Symposium of the Calvin Institute of Christian Worship, Mark Labberton spoke of growing up outside the church, largely because of the deep anti-Christian sentiment of his father. Religion, said his father, tends to make things small. It takes something great and glorious and makes it less than what it actually is.

Churches that are made up of people who are mostly all from the same age bracket, the same economic and social classes, the same race and ethnic background are too small. They are too small because God has so much more in store for them. They are too small because the gospel is so much bigger.

A missional church is a church that is rediscovering the largeness of the gospel. It turns outward, attending to the wondrous work that the Holy Spirit is doing in the world. It works within very wide horizons, responding to God’s challenging work of reconciling all things. It finds itself crossing boundaries as it follows Jesus in new and risky adventures among people different from itself.

This turn outward seems difficult for many people in our mainline congregations. Somehow, we have trained them to believe that the church exists mostly to meet their needs. Somehow, we have convinced them that getting what they want is more important than sacrificing their own wants and desires in order to working for what God wants.

In a few different situations, I have invited people in the church to participate in what I thought were relatively easy exercises as a way of getting out into their neighbourhoods. “Walk around the neighbourhood of your church building (or your own neighbourhood), praying, ‘What do you want me to see, God?’” Or, “sit in a local coffee shop and pray the same prayer”. I invite them to do this a number of times and share with others in your congregation what they have seen and heard and observed.Very few people actually take up the invitation. I don’t know why but I expect that figuring out why so many of us resist that turn outward may be the first step we need to take in participating in the ‘new thing’ God is doing in our day.

Read Full Post »

This is the eighth in a series of posts about the differences between a pastoral and a missional church.  The phrase ‘from pastoral to missional’ came from Harold Percy, who was one of the first people to articulate for me the shift I was experiencing in congregations.

I have come across a few different ways of describing the differences between the two models of church. Somewhere in the past, I picked up a chart in which Harold Percy compares the attitudes and expectations in the two models. These posts will work through that chart of comparisons and give some explanation of what I think the differences imply for the way a mainline congregation operates.

The seventh difference is expressed this way:

Leadership style in a pastoral church is primarily managerial, aimed at keeping everything running smoothly.

In a missional church, leadership style is primarily transformational, casting a vision of what can be, and marching off the map to make the vision real.

It was Einstein, I believe, who first said that insanity is ‘doing the same things over and over again and expecting different results’.These days, if the leadership of a congregation assumes that its task is to manage the church well, it will probably find itself not only extremely frustrated, but also feeling like it is operating in the midst of insanity. The culture in which North American churches operate has shifted so radically, that the goal of ‘managing the church well’ no longer produces the desired results.

I am not advocating that congregations be poorly managed; it is just that ‘managing’ is no longer what is needed. In a time of what Alan Roxburgh calls ‘discontinuous change’, the kind of leadership required must be flexible, agile, able to act creatively.

Part of the challenge for those who are in leadership in a congregation is that many of them are in their positions because they value having things well managed. They want meetings that are orderly and that ‘get things done’ in an efficient manner, resulting in clear decisions and ‘action items’ that lead to successful programmes and projects.

Chances are they are not very comfortable with the kind of process that equips the congregation to respond to a culture in transition. That kind of process is messy. It expects that there will be failures. It takes people into risky new territory where they do not have the experience needed to remain ‘in control’.

Years ago, I heard someone say that churches need to create a space for the crazy, risk-taking kinds of leaders that are in their midst. Give them permission to go off and try out some of their crazy ideas. See what ones work. Don’t shut them down when some things fail. Instead, what churches tend to do is to drive them away or impose so many rules and requirements on them that any new life they generate is stifled.

One thing we know from the scriptures, wherever the Holy Spirit is at work bringing new life, things will be out of our control. That doesn’t mean they are out of control. It just means that God is in control — which often looks very different from what we are comfortable with.

Read Full Post »

This is the seventh in a series of posts about the differences between a pastoral and a missional church.  The phrase ‘from pastoral to missional’ came from Harold Percy, who was one of the first people to articulate for me the shift I was experiencing in congregations.

I have come across a few different ways of describing the differences between the two models of church. Somewhere in the past, I picked up a chart in which Harold Percy compares the attitudes and expectations in the two models. These posts will work through that chart of comparisons and give some explanation of what I think the differences imply for the way a mainline congregation operates.

 

The sixth difference is described this way:

The pastoral church seeks to avoid conflict at any cost.
The missional church knows that conflict is the price of progress.

It is not an easy time to be the Church.  Radical shifts in the culture stress congregational life in multiple ways. That stress often gets played out in anxiety about finances, declining attendance at worship, and lower levels of participation in the governance structures and in programmes. It sometimes get played out in disagreements with other members and with the clergy. As congregations experience the stress and anxiety that change brings, conflict is going to happen. 

When it does happen, congregations have different ways of dealing with it. Pastoral churches often respond to conflict from an overriding desire to maintain a ‘cult of harmony’ (Tom BandyFragile Hopep. 28). In such congregations, a lot of energy is spent in avoiding painful realities and difficult discussions. Nobody wants to cause a disturbance by speaking up. Serious disagreements get shut down as quickly as possible. They get driven underground where they fester and turn ugly. When they do erupt, somebody inevitably says, “We are Christians. We are supposed to love one another”, as if loving and disagreeing are incompatible. 

Missional churches need to find faithful and healthy ways to deal with conflict because “the boundary-breaking work of the Holy Spirit . . . creates conflict, consternation and confusion” (Alan RoxburghMissional: Joining God in the Neighbourhood, chapter 8). “The patterns of Christian life that shaped and gave meaning to Christian life in North America for much of the twentieth century . . . are breaking apart . . . opening up to us a radically different way of being God’s people” (chapter 9).

Bandy suggests that congregations address conflict in the church through ‘adult spiritual growth, leadership creativity, and lay empowerment’ (p. 24). Congregations need to learn what words like ‘forgiveness’, ‘grace’, ‘letting go’ look like in the realities of actual relationships. 
Kayla McClurg suggests that adult spiritual growth needs to focus on developing people with humility  and an open mind: “It takes humility to hear each other, let alone work with each other, while seeing things differently . . . We hold in our hearts our sense of what is right, and we also hold those who oppose us” (“The Gift of Disagreement“).

Obviously, facing conflict openly will lead a congregation to deal with its relationships in deep, often painful, but also redemptive ways. Perhaps the first step is to create an environment where we do not run from conflict but face it truthfully, ready to learn important lessons from it, and looking for signs that the Holy Spirit is at work.

 

[Kathleen Smith has written a helpful book, Stilling the Storm, about leading congregations through difficult times of conflict related to changes in worship.
Jean Vanier‘s books The Broken Body and From Brokenness to Community are also helpful reflections.]

 

Read Full Post »

Older Posts »

%d bloggers like this: