Origins session 2

After Dave Gibbons spoke it was lunch time. I had driven by a Carls Jr. on the way in and thought of going there for lunch, about a 10 minute drive. But on the way to my car I got a bit confused about how to get back to my car.

The event was at Mariner’s church after all, a pretty big church, with a bit of a stream running through it and all kinds of different buildings, a real campus. Worked out for me. Walked by their bookstore, which I saw had a bit of a coffee shop/grill inside. I went inside. Hardly any line (that was to change in about 3 minutes). Got a bacon cheeseburger and a coke, then went outside to sit all by my lonesome. So introverted of me!

That’s where I caught up on my attempts at live-blogging and realized my attempts at live-blogging just weren’t going to be successful.

I shut my computer and went for a long walk around the campus. Sat on a bench near a fountain. Just enjoyed the sun.

Then went to hear Dan Kimball.

He is in a special category for me, truth be told, even though we’ve never met. Every time I’ve run across his writings in various emerging books or forums I tend to agree with his positions. In the book Listening to the Beliefs of the Emerging Churches there are five emerging church leaders represented. Each, I realized, fits along a theological spectrum. Of these five, I would most closely align with Kimball’s positions, and his attitude.

But that’s not the special category. Dan Kimball endorsed my book, and his doing that was a wonderful encouragement to me and my efforts.

Before the session began I walked up and introduced myself, we chatted a bit–small talk mostly. That’s worth noting because I’m so not the ‘introduce myself’ type of person. I really have issues with the cult of celebrity that happens in the Evangelical world, and have kept away from a lot from conferences because of it. But, you know, he said, “What an encouraging, inspiring, and refreshing book to read! Often we forget the critical importance of acknowledging the role of the Holy Spirit in our lives that this book strongly reminds us of.” And, to me, that brings out a whole lot of gratitude from me. So, I had to say thanks in person.

I sat down, a little bit later he got started. This is what he had to say, or at least what he said that got into my sparse notes, mixed in with my own commentary.

Are our hearts open to people? Do we care for people?

That’s a key question, the question at the heart of mission. Not only pushing us to mission, but pushing us towards a certain expression of mission. There is a whole history of evangelism that doesn’t really care about people and is not open to them. It’s aggressive. It’s programmed. It’s less about others and more of a form of loosely disguised works righteousness. Do we really care about people. Not to make sure they know we’re right. Not to assert dominance or control over them. Do we care for people enough that we will share the reality of a more whole life?

With this includes the reality that we have to break stereotypes, the stereotypes of those outside the faith–who they are, what they are asking, what they seek. Just as, maybe more, vital is to break the stereotypes of Christians. We aren’t like Paul sowing where no others have been. The fields… they’re a mess, filled with flotsam and old cars and rusted refrigerators and all kinds of junk. It’s a burned over society we live in that thinks it knows what Christianity means and who Jesus is. The sad reality is that the loudest voices–those on television, those waving signs, those on the corner with a bullhorn–define the faith.

We have to, Dan Kimball says, reclaim what evangelism means.

Add to this the reality that Christians, when they become Christians, begin a process of separation. Their old culture is not their new culture, and it’s an easy thing to become engrossed in the same and similar. The longer we are Christians, Kimball noted, the lower number of non-Christians we hang out with. And far too often, the hanging out that does happen is artificial or targeted.

Having gone to Christian college, Seminary, lived in the rural mountains, and then back at seminary I’m certainly guilty of this. What’s interesting is that I don’t see it as all that hard to reach out. Be a person, that’s all. Have interests. Gather. This is something that has really hit me the last month or so. I’ve been back from the mountains only since January, back in the city, where there are so many people. I live in a seminary owned apartment complex. And really, I’m in this bubble of education.

I feel it, and want to stretch to get out, not because of evangelism… because I think people are generally fascinating and more so when they’re out of the normal experiences. I feel a need to go beyond the narrow borders for my own benefit, and maybe, just maybe I could add a bit of words or thoughts.

We are called out, called out by God, and then sent into the world. That’s different than the isolation of so much older church forms, where there was evangelism but it was more like a submarine exploring the ocean depths, always returning for more air, or a spaceship sent into the vacuum of space, and unnatural environment, meant for technical duties.

Kimball brought up John 17:15ff.

I am not asking you to take them out of the world, but I ask you to protect them from the evil one. They do not belong to the world, just as I do not belong to the world. Sanctify them in the truth; your word is truth. As you have sent me into the world, so I have sent them into the world. And for their sakes I sanctify myself, so that they also may be sanctified in truth.

We do not belong to the world, we belong to Christ, but we are not taken out of the world, but sent into it. We are sanctified and incarnated, representatives of Christ, bearers of the same Spirit.

Kimball noted 1 Peter 3:15-17

In your hearts sanctify Christ as Lord. Always be ready to make your defense to anyone who demands from you an accounting for the hope that is in you; yet do it with gentleness and reverence. Keep your conscience clear, so that, when you are maligned, those who abuse you for your good conduct in Christ may be put to shame. For it is better to suffer for doing good, if suffering should be God’s will, than to suffer for doing evil.

They ask us about the hope in us. That means we have to be present. We have to live the life of Christ in the places where people live, and work, and exist–where hope rather than fear, where hope rather than anger, where hope rather than aggression can be evident within the situations of life. With gentleness, with reverence, with hope, we share the faith in love. Faith, hope and love. So often evangelism is only about forcing the faith. We hope, live lives of hope, we become participants with the Spirit in the ways the Spirit is already working.

This means we have to recalibrate leadership in our era and we have to recalibrate the typical church use of buildings. Instead of the fort we all retreat to, or the home we never leave, the church becomes a training and support center. Leaders are not the centers of attention, they are the motivators, trainers, encouragers, teachers, prophets–creating context of development and edification that allow for us to be renewed in hope and built up in love for when we live our life with God, in this world, for this world, God will be seen clearly evident in us.

We’re all in transition. That’s the way of Christ to walk through these transitions with hope.

We’re all on mission. Kimball shared how when someone in his church goes through their version of membership class and finish they are treated like most churches treat missionaries on their way to a foreign land. The people are prayed over, commissioned, whether they are going to Uganda or down the block. It’s God’s work in mission, living life where the Spirit is calling.

Worship leads into community, which leads into mission, which leads into deeper theology, which leads into worship, and then into community, and into mission, and so on, and so forth

The key to all is being effective in the place, not imposing artificial methods that are out of the ordinary, but instead being truly present, truly participating in a place, along with the place. Debating if there it is a debate place. Eating if it is an eating place. Listening if it is a listening place. Chatting if it is a conversation place. Being truly there, only with the Spirit who is already there and doing more work than we might ever realize. We can only realize the Spirit’s work if we listen for the Spirit and walk with the Spirit and be truly in the place of our particular part of the mission.

Next up, Alan and Deb Hirsch.

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