How then shall we live

24Apr08

cabbageSo, there’s a bit of a conversation afoot.  The Reverend Marshall started it off with this post, Brother Evans elucidated in response, The Bishop pondered prophetically(?), Co-Conspirator Steve used the “E” word (as in “Empire”, of course), and Marshall expanded his thinking thusly.

Which brings me to my own mental wanderings on the topic.  How then shall we live?  For me this question assumes a few things (which, I submit, that you – dear faithful blog reader – may or may not agree) …

1)  the present way in which we “do ministry” is less and less effective and not sustainable given the increasingly complex, pluralistic, and shifting society in which we live.

2)  the current funding approach for ministry and ministers is beholden to a system that is built on a modernism (industrial, mechanistic, “cog in the wheel”) that is increasingly non-functional or a postmodernism that is highly consumerist (“what have you done for me lately”, “have it your way”).

3)  the expectations placed (internally or externally) on leaders is often unhealthy in the current system (whether that system is accommodated primarily to modern or postmodern sensibilities).

If I am correct in these assumption (and I may not be) then I am caused to wonder if perhaps God is leading some into a new mode of ministry.  A ministry that is born out of a relationship and Relationship rather than a program established in order to produce relationships (human or divine).  Certainly such a ministry would be more sustainable in the long run, because you already have the final product of the ministry – the relationship – when you begin.

Nurturing, fostering, tending that relationship would of course require transformation (no relationship with God involved could do otherwise), but it would not intend for something wholly different to result in the offing.  In other words, a program initiated (either one based on one’s “felt-needs” or a theological maxim) in order to draw one into relationship with fellow humans or with Christ is only successful if a relationship is the result.  But the input into such a program is not “relationship” (or at least not necessarily) it is “method”, this “method” may or may not result in “relationship”.  If it does not have the intended resultant relational outcome then we call it a failure, or we say that God is not “blessing it”, or that we’ve done something wrong, or that “those people” don’t get it and they are wrong.  I don’t know of any ministry that isn’t intending some relational outcome (divine or human).  That “relational outcome” may be defined as – people in the seats, decisions for Christ, baptisms, confirmations, leaders in committee positions, percent in small groups, number of people serving “in ministry”, etc….  The problem with beginning with something other than relationship is that you often end up with only more or less of that with which you started.  So if you begin with the intent to start really great programs (so that people would know Jesus or love others) you may only end up with a lot more programs – and a bunch of people that may or may not actually know Jesus or love others.

What if ministry was defined as beginning and ending with the relationships that already exist in our lives?  Of course, we would begin new relationships – some intentionally so – but they are not a means to an end.  We take on the role of friend as opposed to director, parent or mentor as opposed to expert, brother or sister as opposed to business partner.

Such a ministry would necessitate a different understanding of finances.  Since the intent is not to build a mechanism by which to get Jesus (or get people to Jesus) or a commercial by which to promote Jesus, then we are freed to use our funds for community growth and development.  By which, I mean, of course – “Kingdom come on earth as it is in heaven”.  The growth and development of the community of faith blessing and serving the world is an inherently relational project.  However that community of faith is by its very nature bound by the laws of relationship (i.e. knowing and being know).  The result being that the need for managers and administrators for that community is decreased.  Whether or not it is decreased to the point of zero may be open to debate, but it is at least decreased to a sustainable number.  By “sustainable”, I mean something that the community can support for a long, long period of time.  Note I didn’t say anything about leaders – I’m pretty sure that is a whole different issue all together.  The point I’m attempting, probably unsuccessfully, to make is that money IS important within the life of a community of faith.  It is important how we spend our money, how we serve with our money, how we save our money – in sum, how we steward our money.  And not 10% of our money with which we pay our obligatory membership dues – no, 100% of our money, which really isn’t ours but belongs to Jesus just like the rest of our lives.

So, the money issue is truly a discipleship issue.  And it becomes more than about how we pay (or if we pay) a pastor.  How does the life of our community get financed by the resources (consumer credit is not a resource) of our community?

Lastly, the assumed expectations we have for leaders moves from providers of “spiritual goods and services” (thank you, GOCN) or programmers or constructionists.  As leaders we move into the role of spiritual parentage.  Or, to use another metaphor, we become gardeners in the plot of God (get it, double entendre…).  Maybe we’re sowing, watering, or reaping (thanks, Paul) – God does the growing bit.  Our role moves from one of control to openness and stewardship.  A steward doesn’t hold on to things tightly because she knows it doesn’t ultimately belong to her anyway – she will care for it, tend it, nurture it, and release it when the time is right and the owner calls.  As such, the expectations we place on ourselves and our leaders moves from one of demanding success as a matter of course to a relational accounting of faithfulness.

I’ve surely gone on way too long.  But I am compelled to say that this is not mere idealistic theory bubbling in my brain (at least I hope not).  This has real, lived implications for how Sarah and I are choosing to live.

One of the prevailing themes of this blog has been our discernment process on planting a church.  Sarah and I finally had some time to chat about such things last week (part of the problem – but that’s another conversation, though a related one).  We feel like we’ve gained a bit of clarity on the matter.

The long and short of it is this:

– I continue to believe that God is up to something in Cincinnati and in Pleasant Ridge (our neighborhood) specifically.

– I continue to believe that whenever God is up to something (i.e. the Kingdom is breaking out and in) that God will form a people, a community, a church (1 Peter 2:10).  And I believe that something like that is/will form in Pleasant Ridge.

– What I’m growing to believe (or what is growing within me) is the conviction that starting a thing (a church) is not my job.  It might be somebody’s job somewhere (I’m not making an absolute statement), but for our present context and the mission to which God is calling our family, I’m convinced that we are to tend and attend to the relationships we are cultivating.  I would not at all be surprised if a church forms in the process, but the intent is Kingdom-mission.  In other words, we don’t have a mission to plant a church so that the church can have a mission, rather we are part of God’s Kingdom mission (missio dei) that births communities of mission.  The financial off-shoot of this is that we are not bound by our amount or mode of income.  We don’t have to do fund-raising for this ministry.  We already have what we need.

For me, this last point has been terribly liberating and terribly unsettling (funny how those 2 go together).  It is freeing to step back from the producer mentality and pressure of thinking it is my job to “make something happen”.  But it is unnerving to consider the sacrifice and unknowing-ness that this implies.  What does it imply?  For me it implies not being noticed as “legitimate” in the world’s eyes, being small and seemingly insignificant, being slow and painful (because we’re dealing with real people and real life), and being tossed into uncharted waters.

Ok, enough already!  Comment as you see fit.

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11 Responses to “How then shall we live”

  1. 1 Mike Bishop

    Yes! Yes! Yes! Yes!

    Aaron, I will happily affirm you as “legitimate” in my eyes and join you on your quest. Good, good stuff here.

  2. Aaron,

    Thank you for writing this. Your thinking tracks pretty well with I and a handful of us here in Charlotte, NC, have been thinking and why we have been moving out into a stream of the emerging church that is perhaps best described as “post-congregational.” Are you familiar with this language? It has really helped me get a grasp around this. Maybe it’s not as helpful for you, but I think it could be. Anyway, I’d love to chat more because I think we’re walking on a similar path.

    Shalom,
    Steve K.

  3. 3 ak

    I’m not familiar with “post-congregational” language, googling now….

  4. Aaron,

    I took the time to read all of the conversations that lead to your cogent response. It is no wonder that you have so many who look to you; you are truly focused and guided by The Holy Spirit.
    When reading your thoughts two passages came to mind: John 14:1-2 Do not let your heart be troubled” and Psalm 46:10 “Be still and know that I am God.” Truly the essence of your message and it seems the current conclusion of the Klienfelter house. Though we should do our work and be in The World, but not of The World, The Lord our God will be with us and guide us and give us what we need, but not more than we can bear.

    God Bless,
    Mike P.

  5. 5 paul

    aaron, great stuff here! i have posted elsewhere that the economic issues at hand are merely the tip of the iceberg when it comes to the issues facing the church. the bigger issues are under the surface. we feel them, but most people don’t really perceive what is going on. i think one of the Church’s main jobs in America is going to be interpreting these ground swells through a biblical history filter. and that is bigger than all of us.

    when you think about the incredible changes that have happened in our culture and world in the last 100 years, it’s staggering. a great example is what is happening to “intellectual property” through things like peer to peer sharing, etc. watch http://ilovextra.com/ for an interesting viewpoint on all this. it’s not piracy that is the issue. it’s that information is now available to almost anyone, anywhere. the gatekeepers are being removed. this is also the case for the church. that may sound negative, but i think it spells opportunity. it’s just what we do with it. but the basic truth behind all of this is that we are servants to the King. We follow where He leads, even if that means something or somewhere we didn’t want to go or expect. And I would add to that that people are of the utmost importance and that the greatest power in the universe is love. that sounds corny, but it’s the reason we believe what we do.

  6. 6 Jamie

    Aaron,

    What a concept – building the church apart from the necessity of salaried ministers. Feeling frustrated about my church’s priorities, I have mentioned to several people that our main job is not to provide a salary for our pastor – and am greeted with blank stares. Of course, they will say that this is not what we are doing. The church is following the mission to share and live the Gospel in our community. But in practice, raising money and developing programs to meet a salary seem to take an inordinate amount of time. It is almost as if we must get everything in place and then we can build relationships. Yes, fulfilling responsibilities to those men and women a congregation calls is important – but more important is being ready to heed God’s larger call to live a kingdom life. Unfortunately, this does not always follow human plans, structures, or annual budgets.

    Often I get the sense from others that if we can’t pay and retain a minister, then our church will die – a safe rationalization that allows members to remain comfortable. If we pay someone else to do the work, than we won’t have to. Yet, I want to argue that at times paying a minister (or holding on to any other human structure) while short changing other work the church is called to do can produce another, more insidious death. A death that people both inside and outside the church have been experiencing, but are not open to recognizing.

    In this climate, exploring new ways of doing ministry, as you and others are, is vital. Thanks for helping this conversation to evolve.

  7. This conversation is playing a crucial role in my current decision making processes. I’m 26 and hopelessly invested in some sort of ministry life, but have been wrestling with issues and issues.

    Should I go to seminary up the street at Biblical and study with John Franke and others? Should I take part in this well-funded urban baptist church plant with all of its accompanying strings, limitations, and expectations? Should I continue on with my uninspiring career, putting my family’s financial needs first, and hope that the things I love, that energize me, will get the time they need though they’re marginalized to the realm of hobbies and extra-curricular activities?

    These thoughts from you and the others writing about this over the last few days have really impacted me and how I might answer those questions. Thanks.

  8. 8 ak

    Jason, thanks for the comment. I’d love to hear more about what you decide, your reasoning, and how you decided it. I gather from your blog that you’re married, so I’d love to hear (direct or via you) your wife’s take on the whole matter as well.

    Blessings on your journey! (I’ll email you too, in case you don’t check back here).


  1. 1 starving ecclesial artists unite! «
  2. 2 The Failing Economy of Church « Chad M. Farrand
  3. 3 “A New Mode of Ministry”? More Thoughts on Being Post-Congregational

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