Going Viral

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As I am continually asking the question: “What is the Church in our context?” I believe one important distinction is that the Church is a movement (bottom up, dynamic) rather than an institution (top down, static). However, it feels like the vast majority of churches operate as an institution. This, I believe, limits the church’s calling to be missional  as well as transformational.

Bobby Clinton, (Making of a Leader) has studied various movements from religious to secular. He concludes that movements have similar characteristics no matter their type. There are commonalities that exist whether the movements surround an ideology or a ministry.

There are five common commitments made on the part of those involved in a movement. Clinton defines a movement as a “groundswell of people committed to a person or ideals and characterized by the following important commitments.”

1) Commitment to Personal Involvement

2) Commitment to Persuade Others to Join

3) Commitment to the Beliefs and Ideals of the Movement

4) Commitment to Participate In a Non-Bureaucratic, Cell-Group Organization

5) Commitment to Endure Opposition and Misunderstanding

I believe these commitments create the right kind of tension and subversiveness that the church has commissioned to do.

What is Church?

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Recently, a colleague asked me, “what is church in your context?” I was a bit perplexed by his question, however it has led me on a bit of a soul search to answer that question. I have been working in a church for almost two decades. The church is embedded in a neighborhood, and we have continually worked to understand the changing dynamics that happens in a city that is gentrifying rapidly.

Sociologists have, what I believe, accurately assessed that churches offer models of reality and models for reality. I would agree that churches reflect all of the problems of their surrounding society because they share its people and deal with its dominant cultural values. This makes sense as we are forever trying to understand how to disciple people in their natural environment. This is a dilemma in a work based culture.

A sense of community requires how those attend interact with one another, and what does the greater community think about the church. I will argue that the hope of every neighborhood church would be that the local community would feel a loss if the church would move or close.

I believe it is important that those who lead these neighborhood churches are skilled at fostering community with those who align with the mission of the church and with those who may not agree or are indifferent.

In an era when we train pastors in methods of leadership, in how to deliver effective sermons, and so forth, we must not forget how simple conversations that express empathy, supportiveness, courtesy, and compassion affect those who call the church their home, and those who are on the periphery.

 

Exposed

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Vulnerability is our most accurate measurement of courage.” – Brene Brown

Being vulnerable is not a natural posture for any of us. The nature of vulnerability means that one is exposed, naked, unprotected from powers that can hurt and harm. As a city person, I feel so vulnerable when I am out on a hike wondering what beast is going to charge out of the forest and attack. I don’t like that feeling. Perhaps what’s worse is when I become vulnerable to another person, admitting my mistake, or failure. To be in a place of weakness and at the mercy of another is never a place any of us would choose.

And yet, as Brene Brown beautifully points out, vulnerability takes courage. It is in those moments of vulnerability where we learn what we are made of, where we are weak, and maybe a measurement of how much we value relationships. I think it was Freud who said, love makes us vulnerable. To love another requires vulnerability. To honor another requires vulnerability. To confess makes us vulnerable.

It is counter-intuitive to say being vulnerable is powerful. It is more acceptable to say, “keep a stiff upper lip,” or “don’t let anyone see you sweat.” To be vulnerable would appear to be the way of weakness. Not so. The way to love, strength, and peace is to be vulnerable. Perhaps the words of Christ paint a picture of what vulnerability looks like:

“I give you a new commandment, that you love one another. Just as I have loved you, you also should love one another. By this everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another.” – John 13:34-35

Spiritual leader or guru?

Often, I get a bit angsty trying to understand my role in the church. I understand that my office is pastor, but I feel more often like a missionary to the city and neighborhood our church is part of. That being said, there are certain requirements with the office of pastor and one of those is spiritual leader. That does not mean guru, “know it all,” or resident authority on the lives of those who ask me a question about their spiritual life. It does mean taking responsibility and caring for people who identity as part of our church community.

From his Book, Practicing Greatness, Reggie McNeal points out some key disciplines that all spiritual leaders must develop, I have highlighted them here:

  1. The discipline of self-awareness – this protects leaders from being self-absorbed or merely role driven.

“The difficulty with which some spiritual leaders acknowledge their ambition to seek greatness betrays its motivation.” ~ Reggie McNeal (Practicing Greatness)

  1. The discipline of self-management – acknowledges that great leaders are great managers, not just of others, but, primarily of themselves. Failure to manage yourself leaves a leader vulnerable.
  1. The discipline of self-development – never stop growing. Leaders choose to not only grow through strength but also through failure.
  1. The discipline of mission – Leaders give themselves to great causes. They order their lives focused on their mission rather than allowing others to hijack their agendas or distracting them.
  1. The discipline of decision making – Great leaders consistently make good decisions, knowing how, when and what decisions need to be made.
  1. The discipline of belonging – Great leaders practice community but also make a conscious decision to belong to others. They belong despite the risk, b/c they know that to quit risking is to quit loving and that to quit loving is to quit leading in the spiritual arena.
  1. The discipline of aloneness – great leaders not only endure loneliness of leadership but to actually build solitude into their lives. They appreciate the depth of soul making that is possible only in solitude and heart to heart exchanges with their Leader.

These are challenging and incredibly rewarding. I believe all of them are necessary and yet, I certainly have some work to do. If you are leading a faith community make this book part of your library.

Church and Workspace

Theology and culture

We are a few weeks away from opening our work space to the public. This is a unique way to be a church in an urban setting, so…what is the difference between Church and a Collaborative Work Space?

Church: There is a faith community that meets every Sunday in the venue and we serve as the energetic core of the Work Space. This community is committed to living beyond Sunday gatherings, and strives to be fully engaged with the neighborhood as a whole. Suffice it to say, the values of the faith community – urban renewal, intentional community, Influential leadership – deeply influence the values of the Work Space which also centers around relationships and creative community development. It is the faith community that drives the desire to serve the marginalized of our city. It is the faith community that gives of their resources generously so we can afford to maintain our building and continue developing initiatives and partnerships.

The heart of the faith community is to serve Seattle and surrounding neighborhoods.

We will always position ourselves to be in relationships that are crucial to transform the city and neighborhood with the love of Jesus. Thus, we see the Work Space as a tool that will give us this opportunity.

Collaborative Work Space:  We look to celebrate the individuals, and agencies that are working to make the city better. We began to look around and see that there are some outstanding organizations (faith based or not) that we wanted to partner with, because we realize how big the job is to make the city better.

While the faith community holds to Christian beliefs, we do not project these on our neighborhood.

We feel like God gave us this building, in a very strategic neighborhood, and it would be a shame to only use it for ourselves. So we devised a plan to use what resources we have to support and encourage our city and neighborhood – hence our name SEAchange Building.

And we are proud of the diversity of partners we have built relationships with. On top of the two organizations we partner with, we currently have two outside organizations who use our facilities to share workspace and move forward their organizational dreams. We do not require that any of these agencies share our faith. We choose to focus on common goals of community development and life transformation. We welcome individuals who just need a place to work and don’t want to face a long commute or need a place other than a home office.

All Saints Church is meant to be urban missional hub. God has called us to carry out this mission as a church that introduces all who believe, doubt and seek to the reality Jesus Christ. We are called to the difficult task of interacting with the educated, upper middle class urbanites who don’t have obvious need for a church, let alone a relationship with Christ.

Theology and Culture

I define theology as a way to apply the truths of God to the human experience; the way God interacts with our humanity by His divine presence. I define culture as the influence in a society that shapes values, ethics, and paradigms. As a pastor I have observed the disconnect between what a person believes and how they live in society. It has been interesting to read all the “techniques” Christians have employed to make the message “relevant” to their friends and neighbors. 

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