Church Innovations’ Partners Post

January 18, 2010

How Does the European Church Look?

Church Innovations has for 6 years co-sponsored an International Research Consortium that brings together social scientists, theologians, and church leaders.  A few of our partners in that consortium have invited Pat Keifert and me to give a paper at a conference in Århus, Denmark, and also do some consulting and presenting with local church leaders.

 

So off to Scandinavia we go in late January and early February.  Off to lands where mostly there still is a state church.  Off to the home country of so many of our colleagues and friends in the Midwest.

 

My intention is to continue making blog posts and even posting on my Facebook page as often as I can. So watch for those. I am really interested in your opinion, so post some replies, if you would.  I plan to share with you some stories of local congregations, their triumphs and their sorrows and their questions. Wouldn’t it be great to connect in meaningful ways across such distance and seeming difference in settings? 

 

I mean, what’s it like to offer worship services in a 900 year old building?  What happens when thieves break in and, instead of stealing sound equipment for the contemporary worship service, they make off with a 500 year old altar painting?  What is worship attendance like when everyone in the neighborhood of the local church is actually a member in that church since their infant baptism? How does the music compare with ours?  

 

Can’t wait!  Come with me!  I leave in a couple of days.

Peace. Pat

January 15, 2010

How Does the Missional Church Look?

Hang in there with me. I have a question for anyone reading!

 

The 2010 Church Innovations Think Tank, co-sponsored this year by World Mission Initiative and Pittsburgh Seminary, where it will take place, will be entitled “How does the Missional Church look?”

 

Some people who read this blog may not know anything about the missional church movement. It is a large and complex set of small waves which, taken together, become like the movement of water in a giant bay or gulf. That makes it hard to sum up in a short phrase or two. Having made that disclaimer, you might think of the missional church movement as growing awareness and activity that leads local churches and the systems that support them toward mindfully being taken up into the very life and mission of the Triune God.

 

So how does the missional church look?  Three kinds of answers are possible:

1) it looks Ok or not OK; it seems to be doing well or not so well

2) it looks like a busy seaport where all different kinds of vessels are coming in from a trip, being outfitted for another, or being sent off with supplies and support for a big voyage

3) it looks carefully at its neighbors as well as its members for the gifts and relationships it needs to do and be what God has in mind for it to do as part of God’s life

 

This blog is written first for the congregations in the Bremer project, where churches study themselves and their neighborhoods in order to better live into God’s missional calling for them.  The project equips those congregations with a spiritual discernment conversation tool as well, so that they can discern what God might be calling them to be or do in their particular location, a calling that might cause disagreement or multiple possible directions to decide amongst.

 

So Bremer project congregations, or anyone else reading this blog, what do you know that you didn’t know last year about yourselves, your neighborhoods, and God’s call to you? What disagreements have arisen about your life and work, if any? How are you planning for a future looking to God’s life and mission for your direction?  If you can tell us that, we’ll know a few answers to the question “How does a missional church look?”

January 6, 2010

Why all this focus on peace, shalom, abundance?

 

When we used to walk along the gulf in Thessaloniki, my Greek friends would assess the state of the water:  ripple-free was Dead, and churning was Alive. And Alive was good and abundant (shalom).

 

For our Bremer Grant congregation partners, who are each in their own ways encountering their communities and engaging in their challenges (Sudanese immigration, denominational affiliation, being supportive as they raise teenagers, steering a faithful course as they encounter new needs), peace, shalom, and abundance are especially valuable commodities.  This peace of God is not placid, free from waves of disagreement, but energetic from riding through the roiling sea.

 

In the US you can still find persons who have been life-long active members of local congregations.  If those life-long church goers are honest, they will tell you there has never actually been a time in the church without some controversy or another. In the intervals between big social controversies, the local church had its own disagreements over money or staff or direction. And between all of those conflicts, individual persons have had their own times of struggle and pain over life and death and their own faith walk.  It might be said, in fact, that congregations are the only persistent form of large-group voluntary social interaction where, at any given moment, war is about to break out somewhere with someone. 

 

The thing about Christian communities is that they are exactly the places to be during times of struggle. Individuals wrestling with life need to know they are cared for by others who also wrestle. Groups struggling with one another need to know that, as they disagree over particular issues, what holds them together is that they are all called to a place in God’s mission in the world, a mission bigger than any number of sides on any number of questions.  At Church Innovations it is really our privilege to walk with churches as they decide how to keep being trustworthy places where you can wrestle and still do the work God has called you to share, striving side by side. Such striving side by side means that while you may profoundly disagree on some key issues, you agree that your disagreeing matters less than your responding faithfully to God’s call to God’s mission.

December 23, 2009

End of the 40-Day Quest: What do I know now?

Learning #1: I excel at concentrating on obstacles to peace

Learning #2: Laughter and fun can beat Fear Itself, a big obstacle

Learning #3: I need a habit that reminds me of what I am seeking

Learning #4: When you feel as though you can’t find the peace, extend peace to someone else and watch what happens.

Learning #5: When I am interrupted in my awareness of peace, abundance, shalom, I will extend peace to the interrupter or to someone else

 

Well, dear readers, that is pretty much what I learned and what I continue to practice. I’m gifted at noticing the obstacles and interruptions, and those things often seem very large. But spending energy on them distracts me from what is usually present all along, God’s peace, abundance, and shalom.  We are blessed to have it with us, or near at hand, always. So near that, even when we feel beset, adrift, alone, and lacking, we can always extend that peace and abundance and shalom to someone else, perhaps even to the thing that seems to stand in our way at the moment.  When I don’t participate in this extending of the peace, I am crippled in my missional vocation. I am held back from being who I am called to be.

 

For two days (since my last posting) I have endeavored to extend the peace to interrupters. The effect is not always instant, but 8 times out of 8 that I can count, it has made me aware of the peace and where it is resting. And sometimes it is resting on me!  You may not think so, but that is breathtaking.

 

Think of the persons who have taught me on my quest – old classmates, high leaders of church bodies, Weight Watcher buddies, my colleagues, and family members I might not have expected to know much about peace.  As the author of Hebrews says, “We are surrounded by a great cloud of witnesses.”  My confirmation pastor and my grandmothers are watching.  I want them to witness me participating in the peace of God.  I pray the same for all of you.

 

Peace to your house.  Pat

December 21, 2009

End of the 40-Day Quest: Learning #5

Learning #1: I excel at concentrating on obstacles to peace

Learning #2: Laughter and fun can beat Fear Itself, a big obstacle

Learning #3: I need a habit that reminds me of what I am seeking

Learning #4: When you feel as though you can’t find the peace, extend peace to someone else and watch what happens.

 

OK, it’s the season of parties and open houses and meeting and greeting. Also the season of high expectations and certain distractions. Four days until Christmas. Fresh white snow.  Carols everywhere. No sub-arctic temperatures.  In the middle of counting my blessings, I notice a tiny thought approaching. If my mind is like this screen you are now viewing, a small photograph has started to move from the right side of the screen toward the center. 

 

While I count my blessings in gratitude for abundance, this picture moves into the very center of the screen. It is a picture of someone I wish I could see but can’t. Or of something I used to have but now don’t. Or of someone I wish I didn’t have to deal with but do.  This picture is not something I ordered up, but it’s right in the center of my vision.  And the longer it stays there, the more tempted I will be to react to it with regret or resentment or animosity.  

 

Have you experienced this sort of intrusion? How do you deal with it?

 

I have been only modestly successful if I simply return to blessing counting. And going back to counting good things just avoids the picture, working around it.  I don’t need to zap the picture to smithereens. I just need it to not occupy me.  I am going to try offering the peace in some tangible appropriate way to someone anytime that happens for the next week.  Here’s how it will look.

Learning #5: When I am interrupted in my awareness of peace, abundance, shalom, I will take a moment to focus on the interruption and extend peace to it (or to someone else if the interruption is unreachable).

 

I will keep you posted.

Meanwhile, peace and the blessings of Christmas be on your house.  Pat

December 16, 2009

End of the 40-Day Search for Peace, Abundance, Shalom: Major Learning #4

 

Learning #1: I excel at concentrating on obstacles to peace

Learning #2: Laughter and fun can beat Fear Itself, a big obstacle

Learning #3: I need a habit that reminds me of what I am seeking

 

If what is true for me is also true for many others, then we can generalize from my first three learnings: those who seek the peace of God will be distracted by fearsome big obstacles, aided by laughter and the joy of play, and helped to focus by habits that keep them paying attention to the Main Thing.

 

 

Those may be useful learnings for anyone who is reading this blog. I really want to know what you think, so if you have a story to share, please do it! Post a reply here or e-mail me at ptellison@churchinnovations.org

 

 

This next learning may be solely about me, although you may relate to it, too.  Often I find myself in a situation where I need something and so I go looking for it, knowing I have it somewhere not far away but not being able to lay my hands on it.  Sometimes I look for a long, long time.  The longer I look and the more urgently I seem to need it, the more anxious I get.  And when my anxiety rises, the Big Ugly obstacles are right around the corner, waiting for me. It’s exhausting.

 

 

At Church Innovations we spend a great deal of time in Luke 10: 1-12. As Jesus sends the 70 others to towns and places, he tells them to “say ‘Peace to this house’ and if a person of peace is there, your peace will rest upon that person – if not, it will return to you.” We are actually sent into our lives carrying God’s peace, abundance, shalom, with the instruction to extend it to others.  If we meet other persons of peace, we’ll see it rest on them. If not, it comes back to us.  We are in the enviable position of always HAVING the peace within our sight. We never have to be without it. I spend a lot of time looking for the thing I don’t have to be without. 

 

 

Make no mistake. God gives us God’s peace for a reason – we’ll need it. There is anxiety and danger and misery around us. But we actually bear the peace like little tiny lights shining in the darkness.  As the days of December grow shorter and darker and you receive all those wonderful Christmas cards, every time you read one that says, “Peace,” know that that word is not just a holiday sentiment – it is a reminder of the peace God has given to us that we cannot lose, no matter how clumsy or forgetful we are. We can stop paying attention to it, but it is there, waiting for us to notice where it lands. 

 

Learning #4: Maybe we should learn from Luke 10 that, when we’re not sure where the peace is, we should extend it to someone else and then pay attention to what happens.  We will see it if we look!

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

December 10, 2009

End of the 40-Day Search for Peace, Abundance, Shalom: Major Learning #3

 

Learning #1: I excel at concentrating on obstacles to peace

Learning #2: laughter and fun can beat Fear Itself, a big obstacle

 

Seeking peace, abundance, shalom stayed abstract during most of my quest’s waking hours. Peace, abundance, shalom – these are ideas, ideals, even, unconnected with the realities of things like driving a car or planning a training event. Until something made me remember I was on the Peace Quest. Which would then again escape my conscious thoughts until I would be reminded of it in some odd way.

 

I was driving along in heavy merging traffic, waiting my turn to get into the lane I would need to be in a mile or so later. As I finally merged, I remembered South African drivers’ habit of saluting, with a tiny cordial wave, the person who had let them in. So I did that. And the guy waved back. This so delighted me that when another person tried to enter the lane just ahead of me, I let her in and smiled as I did it. She lifted her hand to wave, and I waved back. There was a tiny three-car wave of abundance in that far right lane entering the Lowry Tunnel in Minneapolis.

 

After 40 days of this occasional attention to the quest and then the focus of the quest going back out of view, you would think that I would have put a habit into place to help me keep my focus upon the object of my search. You would think that, wouldn’t you? Someone once called that “keeping The Main Thing the main thing.”  This is Major Learning #3, something which I didn’t do very well during the quest: I need a habit that reminds me of what I am seeking, something I can do many times a day until it’s, well, a habit.

 

Getting such a habit may be my next quest. It might surprise some people to learn that I spend a lot of time being reactive; I am probably far less proactive than people expect. As life gets faster and change intensifies, I believe I could become even more reactive. But seeking and extending the peace is proactive work. To do it well, I will need some spiritual habits that keep me focused but open, habits that allow me to remember and look forward while still staying in the now.

 

December 4, 2009

End of the 40-Day Search for Peace, Abundance, Shalom: Learning #2

When FDR said, “The only thing we have to fear is fear itself,” he was leading a country in a depression, with high stress on every system and a lot of nervous people.  Yeah, much like now.

 

In my last entry, Learning #1, I revealed that I tend to focus on the Big Ugly things that stand between me and the peace that I seek. I think succumbing to a focus on things that keep me from the shalom that God means for everyone is much like falling victim to Fear Itself.  Fear Itself not pretty, and it can hide the beauty of a lot of other things, too.

 

When children are young, they may dread going to the dentist. That dread can poison everything else for weeks until the visit takes place. Our dentist in the days when our daughter was young knew this dread very well, and hired a hygienist who could squirt a thin stream of water from her little rubber hose up to 10 feet across the room directly into someone’s mouth. It was amazing. Shocking, even. It shocked the dread right out of you and made you want to see it again. It was also funny.

 

Learning #2 is that fun and play help me notice peace, abundance, shalom. Shocking, amazing, risk-taking laughter breaks up Fear Itself. It shrinks Big Ugly obstacles to the size of small rocks. I’m also far more interesting when I play than when I don’t play. I may even be more trustworthy. I know I appreciate the risk and trust and fun in others more when we play together.  How much playing have you done recently? Have you laughed – not just because it’s your habit to laugh when you’re nervous – but really laughed?  When I laugh, my breathing, my muscle tension, and my blood pressure change. And in the midst of a laugh, I often notice peace, abundance, shalom.

 

Try these two one-liners, just for a start:

Timing has an awful lot to do with the outcome of a rain dance.

What do you call a fish with no eyes? A fsh                    : ) 

Peace. Pat

 

November 23, 2009

Search for Peace, Abundance, Shalom – Day 35

 

In 20 years’ work with church leaders, I have come to know some folks with high authority and responsibility in their systems.  A handful of these people I have come to know as friends, and we have worked together at something.  As times get more tense and nerves get more jangly, I am trying to stay in closer contact with this handful of folks.  

 

 

Do you know what they are telling me? What they’re experiencing when they go out in the midst of rising tension? Sharp rises in name-calling, along with sharp drops in capacity to hear one another, let alone take one another’s perspective.  Focusing on the most sensational and missing the most subtle, resulting in old trusted friends discovering shocking distrust, which further causes them to neglect the painful truths of confusion and grief which are too deep for words.  

 

 

 

Luther said, “Life is full of misery. Think upon the Prince of Peace.” This sounds like a time of misery to me.  What does the Prince of Peace send us to do as we go out like lambs into the midst of wolves?  What constitutes peace, abundance, shalom at a moment of potential attack? From Luke 10 we know our mission is to go, extend the peace to the house, eat with them, cure the sick who are there, and say, “The Kingdom of God has come near to you.”  Enough revving and racing. I say, “Peace to this house!” If you are a person of peace, I will see it rest on you. Show me that it has!

 

Enough revving and racing.  Let’s have lunch!  Are you sick to death of lack of peace, of name-calling, of failure to hear? Maybe I can cure that.  And I can surely say to you, “The Kingdom of God has come near to you.” Just now! Did you feel it? Please tell me if you did.

Peace. Pat

November 19, 2009

Search for Peace – Day 31 – Learning for a Lifetime

Quite a few of my blog entries during my 40-day quest for peace, abundance, shalom have been about how individuals do their work and extend the peace, even under trying circumstances. Maybe especially under trying circumstances.

 

But at Church Innovations, I am very interested in not just how individuals learn and work and share peace. I am interested in how congregations, whole communities, do that.  Particularly in times of pressure or change, when everyone has to learn new things in order to survive, but when they are probably all wishing the pressure would ease off and they could go back to what they remember as an easier time when they weren’t pushed so much.

 

As you probably know, I am a Weight Watcher member – have been three different times in my life. The first two times I lost weight and then went back to the same old same-old. I had to start all over again, usually from a worse position (read more weight), and I was definitely older and the work was harder. The third time has been different – a great leader, wonderful friends in the group, and myself committed to weekly meetings forever, just like AA or any other group that helps people learn and keep healthy habits.  And guess what? It’s working. My own long-term commitment (and the long-term support of fellow members) is making it work. It’s exactly what we say in Church Innovations’ process of Staff Covenanting – it’s accountability within a system of mercy.

 

If groups of people can learn things, it has to be because they’re committed to doing it and accountable for doing it. And of course there’s also no substitute for fun – you have to find some joy and laughter in it, too.  That’s how my Weight Watcher group can sustain tremendous support for healthful living.  That’s the secret to the Partnership for Missional Church, too. And in clusters that have been together a long while, they have built ongoing systems of covenant so that they continue to meet to support one another and share the joy of God’s call to them.  The long-term struggles, innovations, friendships, and peace-sharing of PMC is wonderful to behold in person.  One would be tempted to say, peeking in the window, “See how they love one another?”       Peace. Pat

 

 

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