Wednesday, November 18, 2009

A Fransican Benediction

Teena shared this with me this morning. It's one of those "Yes/Ouch" things.

May God bless you with discomfort at
easy answers, half-truths, and superficial relationships,
so that you may live deep within your heart.

May God bless you with anger at
injustice, oppression, and exploitation of people,
so that you may work for justice, freedom and peace.

May God bless you with tears to shed
for those who suffer from pain, rejection, starvation and war,
so that you may reach our your hand to comfort them and turn their
pain to joy.

And may God bless you with enough foolishness to believe
that you can make a difference in this world,
so that you can do what others claim cannot be done.

Well Stated

This is a quotation at the beginning of Chapter 13 of Frank Viola's book "Finding Organic Church" (DC Cook 2009). It's by the late John A.T. Robinson, former Anglican bishop. Although, I do not agree with most of his theology (he was a universalist), he did a great job of illuminating the overall preoccupation and distraction of the Institutional Church.
The real trouble is not in fact that the Church is too rich, but that it has become heavily institutionalized, with a crushing investment in maintenance. It has the characteristics of the dinosaur and the battleship. It is saddled with a plant and programme beyond its means, so that it is absorbed in problems of supply and preoccupied with survival. The inertia of the machine is such that the financial allocations, the legalities, the channels of organization, the attitudes of mind, are all set in the direction of continuing the enhancing of the status quo. If one wants to pursue a course which cuts across these channels, then most of one's energies are exhausted before one ever reaches the enemy lines.
Well said. I now know why there was often a churning of my stomach when I was part of weakly (sic) "staff meetings" in a former paradigm and had to step outside for some solar energy and a few snorts of fresh oxygen.

Friday, November 6, 2009

The Future Has Become Present

We have had conversations with many people who resonated to various degrees to what Teena and I envision. There has often been a need to explain or clarify some of what makes our hearts beat. Never have we had such free-flowing conversation until we met Ben and Rebekah Curfman. God has bent our mutual paths so that they are now crossed. We are excited and joyful.

Ben posted this on Facebook and I am putting here for other friends and the reading community may see.
Nine years ago I had a unique experience in my relationship with God. Many people interpret their experience as a “call to full-time Christian service/ministry.” The experience is different for everyone. For me, it was at a Christian summer camp during a worship service. I was thirteen years old at the time. I did not hear the audible voice of God. I was not visited by an angel. I just simply became extremely aware of the pain and confusion in this world and my responsibility to share the hope that I had.

Since that time, it has been an interesting road. Because of my religious background, I felt that I needed to find a position or description of what God had set my heart toward. I pursued this calling through bible studies and heavy church involvement in high school, two years of religious education in a liberal arts college, and another two years of religious education at the school I will soon graduate from. During that time the question had been burning in my mind: “What is it I am supposed to do? How will I define myself?” I am finding more and more that God has defined my ministry of His Gospel precisely how he wanted to – namely by creating me the way He did. I am my own definition.

Knowing this, I began to ask myself, “If there were no limitations on where or what I could do to accomplish the mission placed in my heart, where would I go and what would I do?” Sometimes the right answers are discovered only through the right questions. I soon found that I was not most effective in a traditional church setting both because of growing convictions about traditional church practice and limitations on the scope of ministry I felt let to do. I decided that an atmosphere most conducive to ministry was a coffee shop.

After prayer, I began considering opening a coffee shop in Asheville, North Carolina in order to minister one-on-one with individuals who need personal attention and mentoring in their spiritual lives. After all, coffee and Christianity are two of my greatest passions. My wife and I began praying, along with others, that God would open the right opportunity for this ministry to take place. I specifically began praying for someone to handle the shop from a business perspective, so I could focus on my strengths – coffee and ministry.

A few weeks later I was visiting my parents near Hickory, North Carolina where I grew up. The Lord showed me then that the Hickory area is in desperate spiritual need. I had never realized that such a need existed in my hometown. The next question came: “Lord, would you have us begin the coffee shop ministry here in Hickory?” So we prayed again for a few weeks. The next time I visited my parents we went out to eat. Before sitting at our table, however, I recognized a good friend that I used to attend church with. I had shared our vision for a coffee shop ministry with him a couple of months prior to this meeting. He told me about a place called Java Journey that was opening soon. He said that their vision seemed similar to ours and that I should get in touch with them. So I did.

We contacted Jeff and Teena Stewart, one of the key couples involved in the ministry of Java Journey. I offered my services in the coffee industry and my ministry experience to them as a way of "throwing out the fleece" as Gideon did. “Surely they already had help and wouldn't need someone such as myself,” I thought. Nevertheless, we felt that we needed to at least get in contact in case the Lord was making a way for us. He has.

After some great conversations and a sharing of passions, Rebekah and I have agreed to relocate to the Hickory area and make a serious effort to change the community with the Gospel through Java Journey. We believe that this is what God has been preparing us for. We will be seeking financial and prayer support in order to make this a reality, with the faith that God will provide our every need as He has done in the past. I will be continuing school until the spring of next year when I graduate in addition to helping Jeff and Teena manage Java Journey. We ask for your prayers, gifts, and encouragement as it is an exhilarating and terrifying experience at the same time. We will also be seeking part-time jobs to take care of our living expenses until Java Journey gets off the ground financially.

Tuesday, November 3, 2009

Burning Questions

I found this while doing some web-surfing ("cowabunga"). The page has no dates and broken links. A friend of mine recently drew the same comparison of the use of "organic" with the food industry marketing strategy. "NOT to be confused with..." is all I can say.

The questions asked have been on my mind and in my heart for several years. At first I thought "Purpose-Driven" was the answer, but eventually realized it was merely a racing stripe on a Model T.

I love being stretched and then sharing the pain with others!
The UK is facing an organic revival! Check out (sorry!) and you can get organic everything from the standard organic fruit and vegetables to organic baby food, organic wine and even organic pet food. So maybe it is time for the Church to go organic too, or maybe it was always meant to be an organic community movement of the followers of Jesus Christ anyway? Perhaps during the last two millennia the Church has been spoiled by a multitude of additives and preservatives and now we just can't tell the difference.

Once upon a time God spoke through a prophet saying "I hate, I despise your religious feasts; I cannot stand your assemblies. Even though you bring me burnt offerings, I will not accept them. Though you bring me choice fellowship offerings, I will have no regard for them. Away with the noise of your songs! I will not listen to the music of your harps. But let justice roll on like a river, righteousness like a never failing stream!"

Rethinking "Church"
Do you ever get fed up with the religiousness of communion? When Jesus said "do this whenever you drink it, in remembrance of me" (1 Cor. 11.25) he was not instituting a religious ceremony but rather encouraging us to remember him every time we eat and drink together. As the church goes organic we will do a lot more eating and drinking with friends, neighbours and strangers because that is where real community is built.

Do you ever get fed up with meetings? How often do we hear it quoted from the Bible "do not give up meeting together" as the reason for attending the Sunday meeting every week or to coax you to join a small group or attend the latest series of special meetings? Biblical theology makes it very clear that it is impossible to 'go to church' - when anyone aligns their life with Jesus Christ they are initiated into his community: the church (1 Cor.12.13). As the church goes organic people will stop 'going to church' and start being the church 24 hours a day 7 days a week.

Do you ever get fed up with paying your church tax? Why should we be disempowered by centralised giving mechanisms? As the church goes organic it will empower individuals and households to do such things as: give to those in the community in hardship, save up and buy a set of text books for a local school, support facilitators of the Christian community or put aside money in case of a natural disaster.

Do you ever get fed up with singing the songs? Within the evangelical, charismatic and Pentecostal traditions of the church, which many of us have grown up in and love - worship has been reduced to the singing of hymns and songs. Our language of 'lets worship' gives us away - if we don't mean it, then lets not say it. As the church goes organic it will encounter God in the whole of life as we offer ourselves as living sacrifices to God (Rom.12.1).

Make it happen
Perhaps you, like me, feel like this but you dare not say anything because you know you might get branded as 'unsound'. As the Director General of the BBC, Greg Dyke says 'lets cut the crap and make it happen'! Everything you have called Church call it congregation and everyone you have called a Church leader call them a congregational leader. As an organic community of the followers of Jesus Christ we are all the church and leaders of it in every sector of society. Let's take the name church upon ourselves because we are the church - it does not exist outside of us. As a friend of mine says: 'whoever gets the name church, wins'.

Let's put a stop to our pre-occupation with meetings and lets rediscover organic community. Let's grow a faith that is meaningful for life, for our workplace, for our households and for our neighbourhoods. These are the places where we spend our time. These are the arenas where our faith needs to work rather than confining our faith to a few hours a week in a meeting. Let's encourage our congregational leaders to reinvent themselves to coach and facilitate an organic grassroots movement of the followers of Jesus Christ.

We must expect that like every new church movement in history this groundswell (which I do not want to name) will not be recognised as a valid form of church by the majority. However let's be different from every other new church movement in history and say this is just another way of being and doing church rather than 'the way' and thereby condemning everyone else.

Let's stop taking the additives and preservatives and let rot and die what is meant to rot and die and see something organic begin.

Matt Bird is Director of Joshua Generation a charity developing leaders to transform society, a strategic management consultant, author Christian Book of the Year 2002 'Manifesto for life' and Councillor for the London Borough of Merton.