In effort to discover how to become Church without walls, we are being attentive to four specific contexts.  Our weekly teaching will include discussions regarding how to live missionally in each of these areas.  Last week we considered what it tangibly looks like to have Compassion for the Forgotten.  Our ministry among the poor and marginalized is theologically grounded in God’s own preferential concern for the poor.  Social justice is not peripheral to faith but core to genuine religion.  God’s prophet Micah put it this way, “And what does the Lord require of you?  To act justly and to love mercy and to walk humbly.”  In the New Testament, James said, “Religion that God our Father accepts as pure and faultless is this: to look after orphans and widows in their distress . . . “

In order to avoid the objectification of those who suffer socio-economically, FV’s efforts will be shaped by the practice of hospitality, shared friendship and community formation.  Our objective is to empower the marginalized to imagine and cultivate new social realities for their situation, rather than impose our own solutions.  We long for the kind of engagement that requires risk and vulnerability, a willingness to learn and be changed, a genuine connection that eliminates drive-by social justice.

Last Sunday’s discussion was a great start and I’m already looking forward this Sunday.  Some were surprised by the degree of detail in the plan – a sense that everything has been decided all ready – not the case!  While the ideas have emerged from prayer, reflection and deliberation over the last year, we are still listening, seeking confirmation, and genuinely open to altering the direction.  We were intentional about using concrete details, not to signal ‘fixed’ commitments but rather as a way to help those who get frustrated with the nebulous and abstract.  Keep the constructive conversation going.

So what did we hear?

@nteeps said – Fear holds us back. The knowledge that “God is in this city” can cast out this fear. 

What I love about this perception is that it is based on the conviction that God is already actively present in the places we go to minister.  We have been excessively influenced by the idea that we take God with us into mission.  Theologically, this idea has some merit.  Inhabited by the Spirit, God goes with the community of faith into mission.  Yet it is equally true that God is already present there, preparing the way and inviting the Church to participate with what he is already doing.  We can relax in mission, knowing that God will meet us in the encounter with those we seek to serve, and will provide us with all we need to faithfully serve as a sign, symbol and preview of the kingdom.

@GerberRob asks – Do we concentrate our resources on a few places or do we empower our people to go and find need and then rally resources?

This question identifies a tension that surfaced several times throughout the morning.  Another way to phrase it might be, “Should the church organize a few initiatives and expect every member to participate, or should it support and encouraged individual members in their personal efforts to serve God?”  As a congregation, I’m hoping we can do both.  Regarding social justice, there are literally hundreds of worthy causes represented throughout our region, areas of deprivation that require God’s renewal and restoration.  The local church should shape and equip every member to serve the marginalized wherever they are encountered.  However, leadership in a local congregation is also responsible discerning the areas in which members can engage collectively.  The need to run off and do our own thing may be a sign of the hyper-individualistic society we live in.  How can we live out the ways of the kingdom communally? And, how can we focus our resources for maximum impact?  For those who feel they can opt out for the exclusive pursuit of individual passions, consider the nature of church fellowship.  What does it mean to be a member of a church?  It’s tough to find a chapter and verse on church membership in the bible.  However, scripture often refers to fellowship, which comes from the Greek word, koinonia.  It communicates the idea of partnership, sharing in or to have in common with.  Belonging to a congregation will ultimately require participating in shared mission.  If this is a congregation I belong to, at some point I should ask, “How can I participate with this community of faith in God’s mission?”

Reflecting on the shape of our mission @GerberRob asked – How much would “Growth” of our core support these initiatives? Yet not mentioned in the Strategic side of the initiatives?

This question identifies another tension in congregational life – should we focus most of our attention on external mission or nurturing the inner life of the congregation?  Both are essential.  If there is a dearth of spiritual vitality in the congregation it will struggle in its missional mandate.  A spiritually vibrant church will be more infectious for the kingdom.  However, the discussions about inward and outward focus generate false polarities.  The Church is both an agent and locus of mission.  In other words, God uses the Church to do his redemptive work in the world but the shared life of a local church is the visible manifestation of God’s mission.  God’s mission is first displayed in the creation of a new people, then further displayed as that community seeks to serve God in the world.  In a sense, it is ALL mission.  Another bias to overcome is the conviction that nourishment, growth and transformation take place in church programs that are aimed at member needs.  While these ministries have their place, there is evidence to suggest that transformation occurs more profoundly in the context of mission.  Peter was changed in his encounter with Cornelius.  The Church in Jerusalem was transformed as it wrestled through the implications of gentile conversion.  Not only can we meet God in our prayer meetings, bible studies and church services but he is also encountered as we leave the comfort and safety of congregational life to participate in his mission in the world . . . and be changed in the process.  Finally, if the average congregation did a ministry audit, it would discover that majority of resources are allocated to nurturing the inner life of the church.  As human beings we are naturally self-absorbed.  Unintentionally, churches invest most of their time and energy on sustaining and perpetuating the life of the congregation.  People want balance, an emphasis on inner vitality and external mission.  But natural tendencies will lead congregations to turn inward.  If balance is desired, most congregations will require greater intentionality in mission.

How are you pursuing spiritual growth?  What opportunities do you have to meet God in mission?  How are you being transformed through the engagement?