The Slow Revolution, by Amy Real Coultas

Momastery logo
Logo for the blog Momastery

In the midst of thinking about stewardship and church development, I was reminded of a post from the blog Momastery about the temptation to lose sight of one’s mission in favor of easier definitions of ‘success.’  It’s a post about how fiercely following your mission is actually the only way to ensure you ever get close to succeeding in that mission.  It’s a post about trusting in having Enough.

For the unfamiliar: Momastery is a popular progressive-Christian-‘mommy’ blog which began a growth spurt a couple of years ago. (Motherhood + monastery = Momastery. Readers of the blog are dubbed Monkees because they are like monks at the Momastery, but not quite.) Author Glennon Melton knew that the blog’s “success” was not rooted in numbers or fame, but in authentic community.  Success for Momastery was about sharing.  It was about honesty.  It was about freedom.  It was mostly about grace.  It was definitely about salvation.  She also knew that it wasn’t actually about her, although she had created the blog and her words fueled and nourished its life.  She insists that Momastery is a shared mission, and that at the heart of its community is always the person they’ve yet to meet. 

From her post:

Our goal is to go deep here, not wide. We are collecting hearts, not exposure, and certainly not cash.

Our goals are to be careful, to be slow and pay attention and look closely at each other and to re-think and pray and feel and wake-up and care and connect. So we can become braver and live bigger and realer on this Earth.

We are successful because chances are that tonight some tired and lonely mom will click on a friend’s link and get lost in our essays and our comments and our love for each other. And she will ignore her husband for hours and she will cry a little and laugh a lot and she will read on and on and on. And it may take her months to rally the courage to comment, but she will meet us here every day because she has finally found her people! She has finally found a group of women whose only motive is to love and laugh together and who are NOT FOR SALE. And this will help her believe and be peaceful and feel a little less suspicious and more comfortable and safe and brave on this Earth. And so she will be full of joy. DONE. REVOLUTION WON. Without Oprah!

Please listen to me. The revolution is not in the future, the revolution is not on the Today Show. The revolution is in one quiet kitchen at a time. One Monkee at a time. Slow and steady. Tiny as a mustard seed. The Revolution, the kingdom of God, is INSIDE each of us. It is won or lost THERE, in each heart. Not on Prime Time.

She then quotes Luke 17:

Once Jesus was asked by the Pharisees when the kingdom of God was coming, and he answered, ‘The kingdom of God is not coming with things that can be observed; nor will they say, “Look, here it is!” or “There it is!” For, in fact, the kingdom of God is among you.’

How would it change our stewardship and church development programs if we thought about our mission like Glennon and her Monkees think about theirs?  What could we let go of so that honesty, grace, love, community, salvation are lived out, fiercely?  How can we tell the story we know from God in ways that are so compellingly honest that we will be invited to hear others’ stories?

 

Fearless Evangelism, Part V … by Charles LaFond

This is the fifth in a series on evangelism by Charles LaFond.  The links to earlier posts in the series are below.  

V.  Conflict

There will be conflict over the work of evangelism or it is probably not being done.

Luke 9:51
: When the days drew near for Jesus to be taken up, he set his face to go to Jerusalem.


The Gospel passage says: “he set his face to go to Jerusalem.” Some translations say that he “strengthened his face.” – was determined. In the first century, the face was a place of communication and intimacy. The face is also a place of extreme vulnerability. Humans react differently to a baseball heading for their face than they do to a baseball heading for their leg. But also, the face leads the body. Who walks anywhere but towards where their face points? 
In the Vulgate Latin and Ethiopic versions, the translation is “he set his face like a flint to go to Jerusalem.”
 Now, what we know about flint, is that when flint is struck with the right material, it creates sparks which light fires.

This passage comes when Jesus is warning his followers that by going to Jerusalem, at that specific point in time, there would be conflict. The word “conflict” comes from the word “confligare” – to make sparks and fire. All of our English words around conflict involve creating fire (as a priest, “hot under the collar” is my personal favorite!)
.

This gospel is a source of comfort to us as we do work which, if done well and effectively, will create some conflict in all but the most centered congregations.

  • Asking people to work together with accountability by using Come and See Pledge cards
  • Asking people to use precious free time for Come and See trainings
  • Asking people to set appointments with friends and neighbors to visit them for Come and See living room good-news-telling
  • Asking people to risk a “no”
  • Inviting the vulnerability which clergy and laity will feel if people come and see only to then leave and not come back…

…these are all hard things. You will face resistance as leaders. You will probably feel your own resistance. You may be feeling it today. But we always go back to where we began: prayer and centered leadership. If we are deep and constant like that river we were discussing in Part II, then we will have the ballast to manage the rapids of leadership in storms and passages of many river-rocks.

But we must do hard things as leaders or we abdicate our responsibility. Leadership is a privilege and should be removed from those who abdicate the responsibility of their leadership. The question is not IF we lead, but HOW we lead. We must work as hard at reaching out to preach the good news as we work hard at reaching in to care for those whose life situations require tender care. And we will face conflict if we set our face like flint on Jerusalem. There will be sparks.

Next: The Functions of the Come and See Campaign

The Rev. Canon Charles LaFond is the Canon for Congregational Life in the Diocese of New Hampshire.  The Come and See Membership Growth Campaign Manual is online and the 7 minute video summary can be found here.  

This is the fifth in a series on evangelism by Charles LaFond.  Click for earlier installments:  Part 1Part 2; Part 3; Part 4.  Check out Charles’ blog for the full text. And check out the Diocese of New Hampshire’s Evangelism Toolkit, on its website.

Collaborative Ministry by Steve Pankey

Adam Walker Cleaveland is a name I’ve run across several dozen times over the past 8 years or so.  I first “met” Adam through Diana Butler Bass at VTS.  I’ve never spoken to Adam, nor do I imagine he has a clue who I am, but I’ve long admired his work over at pomomusings.com.  On his blog today, Adam shared the story of the newly formed Ashland Youth Collective, “a Progressive, Community Youth Group in Ashland, OR” whose declared mission is: “We are a collective of youth in the Rogue Valley, with welcoming and affirming open doors, seeking a better understanding of God and Jesus while serving others and having fun with open hearts.”

I found Adam’s post to be exciting, not just for youth ministry, but as the Church (capital C) catholic (lowercase c) seeks a way forward in this collective Acts 8 Moment.  Collaborative Ministry, in small towns like Ashland, OR or Foley, AL and even in transitioning neighborhoods like South East DC, seem to make a whole lot of sense in a world of belt tightening.  I’ll let Adam explain:

I think that ecumenical and collaborative youth ministry really is the way forward, especially for smaller churches. When I first arrived here, we’d have youth groups that would range from between 1 and 8 or 9 kids. The other churches had a few youth who attended, but didn’t have active youth ministry programs.

Simply put, we could do more together. We could be better together. In my experience in youth ministry, I think critical mass is key! This isn’t to say that if just a couple kids show up for something, that it wasn’t worth doing. But in order to gain some energy and get kids excited and interested about coming to youth group, I think you must have critical mass. We didn’t have that at the Presbyterian Church. And none of the other churches did. But now, when we’ve joined together, we do. And kids are inviting their friends…something that really wasn’t happening before.

Aside from critical mass, it makes sense in a small town like Ashland, where almost all of these kids go to the same middle school or high school, for these kids to see churches partnering together, and not getting caught up in ‘loyalty’ or ‘allegiance’ to our specific denominations. I think that sends a good message for a group of children and youth for whom denominational loyalty won’t even exist.”  

Read it all here.

I agree with Adam, and would like to expand his thoughts to say that ecumencial and collaborative ministries really are the way forward.  Is anyone out there doing this work?  What is your experience?  How has it worked and where are the hangups?

Fearless Evangelism, Part IV … by Charles LaFond

This is the fourth in a series on evangelism by Charles LaFond.  The links to earlier posts are below.  

IV. Campaign


The word “campaign” comes from the late Middle Ages. It was a military term from the days of villages, village greens and castles. The word comes from the reality that – to organize an effort like a battle– lots of people have to leave the safety of their individual huts and hovels. They gather on a field and while out in the open field, they get organized into lines and columns in order to move forward together, under strong leadership. This is the way towns and villages have worked for hundreds of years – gather, organize, let a leader lead.

The power of lots of people being organized is an ancient and effective reality in getting a job done.  This is hard for Episcopalians and for Americans because of the way we have fetishized doing things alone and doing it “my way,” as the old Frank Sinatra song goes. We consider our churches to be pathologically unique, wincing at anything which works elsewhere.

Some will say about evangelism what they say about prayer – “we are doing it all the time – why organize it?”  Recommended programs from ivory tower executives is not in our ethos. But as the society in which we live becomes further and further distracted and dispersed by over-stimulation, over-work, and exhaustion, we must work harder and in new and effective ways to get the good news out to a culture which craves what our church has to offer.

That we are always engaged in and open to God’s Eros and that we are telling people our story of how Jesus has changed our lives – may be the case. Or we may be engaged in conscious or sub-conscious spiritual maneuvering to get out of doing what we have been commanded to do – to preach the good news. Who am I to judge? But since we gather together and follow a program to do our worship, I am wondering why we can’t gather together and follow a program to do our evangelism. And if the term “evangelism” freaks us out, then we might try using the term “membership growth.”

We do a Come and See Campaign together because it provides support in an activity which is emotionally, psychically and culturally challenging. We do it together for support, for encouragement and for accountability of leadership. It is the same reason we gather to say the creed – being together supports those for whom – from time to time – believing can be hard to do. And if you think it is hard to sign a pledge card saying you will speak to a few people about Jesus and the church in which you find Jesus doing things – then try being the clergy person or warden asking you to use those pledge cards. It can be hard – alone – to stay the course – to do the job – to engage in accomplishing measurable objectives. We all need to do hard work together. That is what Come and See Campaigns and this encouragement are all about.

Next:  Conflict

The Rev. Canon Charles LaFond is the Canon for Congregational Life in the Diocese of New Hampshire.  The Come and See Membership Growth Campaign Manual is online and the 7 minute video summary can be found here.  

This is the third in a series on evangelism by Charles LaFond.  Click for earlier installments:  Part 1Part 2; Part 3.  Check out Charles’ blog for the full text. And check out the Diocese of New Hampshire’s Evangelism Toolkit, on its website.

Learning to Share, by Amy Real Coultas

Win More by Sharing
Win More by Sharing illustration from Zurb.com

When I was in college I took a class called Sociology of Alienation. One of the markers we examined was the loss of shared cultural narratives in American society.  As an illustration, my professor offered the class several literary examples which were based in biblical stories.  Not only could the class not place the references, most of us didn’t even know the references once they were pointed out.  That was 15 years ago.

I am not surprised, then, when I read the results of survey after survey describing the irrelevance of the Church to the present culture, even amongst those interested in spiritual matters and practices.  (Megan Castellan dubbed them “liminals” in her recent post here.)  Everywhere I turn, my colleagues in ministry are trying to figure out how to better tell God’s story to a world that increasingly pays no attention to us.

This week the blog over at Confirm Not Conform adressed two key challenges for telling our story in the current landscape: 1) We forget what it’s like to not know.  Most of the people we are trying to tell the story to are listening from a different place than from where we are telling the story, and we forget to put ourselves in their shoes.  2) We lose sight of the simple truth that Jesus used day-to-day examples to tell his stories.  We forget, Laura Toepfer writes, “that when Jesus was teaching his followers by using stories and parables, they were not yet Bible stories!

There is an underlying assumption at the heart of these challenges, of course: we assume our job is simply to go out and tell the story.  But there’s more to it if we want to share God’s story effectively. Namely, we have to actually share it.  It is not “ours”–we do not own it. It is God’s.  And God is already at work, present in the lives of anyone we meet. “Sharing the story” seems often to mean something closer to “disclosing the story.”  As if we have a story, and they don’t, so we need give it to them.  Game over.  But really sharing the story would mean walking through the narrative together; it would mean acknowledging that it belongs as much to “the other” as to ourselves; it would mean hearing their questions and answers as loudly as our own.

In Acts 8, Philip’s successful sharing of the story happens because he stops to hear the eunuch’s questions. He respects the eunuch’s experience and lets his curiosity uncover the story as they explore it together. Effective sharing of the gospel story and of the life of the Church in 2012 must mean journeying together to better understand, share, and respond to God’s story alongside our neighbor.  We’ll have to live more deeply into “not knowing” and listening for how God shows up in unexpected ways in the day-to-day life of the world. What are the spiritual questions people are asking today?  What is their deep longing as they search for meaning and understanding?  What kinds of wounds does 21st century life inflict?  What are the signs of God’s Spirit that the world expects us to manifest?  What story is God calling the Church to hear in the lives of our neighbors?

The Church’s alienation from the wider culture will deepen unless we can begin to use language our neighbors can recognize.  (This should come pretty naturally to us Anglicans!) We need to become translators, interpreters, guides, partners.  Walking through God’s story with our neighbors, while paying special attention to developing our own practices of discernment and theological reflection, will not only allow those ‘outside’ the Church to hear God’s story but it will break it open in some new way for us as well.  We will all end up somewhere new, swept away in the Spirit like Phillip after the eunuch’s baptism.

Falling into the gap, by Megan Castellan

Every so often, the Pew Forum on Religion and Public Life releases a study, and everyone in the church pores over it with bated breath, like ancient mariners trying to predict weather in the stars.  And so, last week, it was that this year’s study was released, which revealed that the number of people in the United States who are unaffiliated with any organized religion is unprecedentedly high, at just under 20% of the population.
This number is an increase from previous findings, and includes the percentages of atheists and agnostics, but also includes roughly 15% of respondents who believe in God, and have strong spiritual feelings, but don’t feel particularly drawn to organized religion of any stripe.  This group has been tagged the “Nones” by the Pew Forum, but that’s hardly a life-giving  name, so I’m dubbing them Liminals. (If I’m going to discuss them, then I’d like to give them a name that at least makes them sound extant.)  They’re currently residing in an in-between area;  they aren’t atheists, they aren’t agnostics, they are fine with God and spirituality, they just haven’t affiliated anywhere.
Digging deeper into the survey, we find that individually, the tenants of what we’d call religion get high marks: belief in God, frequent prayer, even going to services occasionally.  Most people do these.  But unlike in the past, there is less and less of a compulsion to declare oneself as a member of a religious group, just because you had some nominal relationship to it.
Now, more and more it seems that in order to belong to a group, you need to believe in the group.  The group needs to mean something real to you.  But overwhelmingly, people who qualify as Liminal describe organized religion as power hungry, over-political, too greedy and too concerned with rules (51% US General population vs 67% Liminals).
In other words, they like God fine.  They just don’t associate God with the church.
Which is a fascinating opportunity for us, who have found God to have some sort of relationship with the institutional church.  Clearly, the God we have experienced is not currently being communicated clearly through the institution.  There’s some block.
Yes, a good chunk of this is because we have been shouted down for the past few decades in the public square by angrier and louder voices claiming to be Christian, but at some point, we need to stand up and take responsibility for what gets said and done in the name of the Christ we worship too, at least in our corner of the Church.  Our gospel is not getting through.
So how do we introduce people to the Jesus we know?  What can we do, within the church, to better reveal the God we have known? The problem isn’t convincing folks about God and Jesus; the problem is convincing folks that the church still has a clue who God is.

The Dream … by Bishop Wesley Frensdorff

Written by Bishop Wesley Frensdorff, Former Bishop of Nevada in the Episcopal Church, and a pioneer in the development of the vision of Becoming Ministering Communities in Mission.

Let us dream of a church …

in which all members know surely and simply God’s great love, and each is certain that in the divine heart we are all known by name.

In which Jesus is very Word, our window into the Father’s heart; the sign of God’s hope and his design for all humankind.

In which the Spirit is not a party symbol, but wind and fire in everyone; gracing the church with a kaleidoscope of gifts and constant renewal for all.

A church in which …

worship is lively and fun as well as reverent and holy; and we might be moved to dance and laugh; to be solemn, cry or beat the breast.

People know how to pray and enjoy it – frequently and regularly, privately and corporately, in silence and in word and song.

The Eucharist is the centre of life and servanthood the centre of mission: the servant Lord truly known in the breaking of the bread. With service flowing from worship, and everyone understanding why a worship is called a service.

Let us dream of a church …

in which the sacraments, free from captivity by a professional elite, are available in every congregation regardless of size, culture, location or budget.

In which every congregation is free to call forth from its midst priests and deacons, sure in the knowledge that training and support services are available to back them up.

In which the Word is sacrament too, as dynamically present as bread and wine; members, not dependent on professionals, know what’s what and who’s who in the Bible, and all sheep share in the shepherding.

In which discipline is a means, not to self-justification, but to discipleship and law, is known to be a good servant but a poor master.

A church …

affirming life over death as much as life after death, unafraid of change, able to recognize God’s hand in the revolutions, affirming the beauty of diversity, abhorring the imprisonment of uniformity, as concerned about love in all relationships as it is about chastity, and affirming the personal in all expressions of sexuality;

denying the separation between secular and sacred, world and church, since it is the world Christ came to and died for.

A church …

without the answers, but asking the right questions; holding law and grace, freedom and authority, faith and works together in tension, by the Holy Spirit, pointing to the glorious mystery who is God.

So deeply rooted in gospel and tradition that, like a living tree, it can swing in the wind and continually surprise us with new blossoms.

Let us dream of a church …

with a radically renewed concept and practice of ministry and a primitive understanding of the ordained offices.

Where there is no clerical status and no classes of Christians, but all together know themselves to be part of the laos – the holy people of God.

A ministering community rather than a community gathered around a minister.

Where ordained people, professional or not, employed or not, are present for the sake of ordering and signing the church’s life and mission, not as signs of authority or dependency, nor of spiritual or intellectual superiority, but with Pauline patterns of “ministry supporting church” instead of the common pattern of “church supporting ministry.”

Where bishops are signs and animators of the church’s unity, catholicity and apostolic mission, priests are signs and animators of her Eucharistic life and the sacramental presence of her Great High Priest, and deacons are signs and animators – living reminders – of the church’s servanthood as the body of Christ who came as, and is, the servant slave of all God’s beloved children.

Let us dream of a church …

so salty and so yeasty that it really would be missed if no longer around; where there is wild sowing of seeds and much rejoicing when they take root, but little concern for success, comparative statistics, growth or even survival.

A church so evangelical that its worship, its quality of caring, its eagerness to reach out to those in need cannot be contained.

A church …

in which every congregation is in a process of becoming free – autonomous – self-reliant – interdependent, none has special status: the distinction between parish and mission gone.

But each congregation is in mission and each Christian, gifted for ministry; a crew on a freighter, not passengers on a luxury liner.

Peacemakers and healers abhorring violence in all forms (maybe even football), as concerned with societal healing as with individual healing; with justice as with freedom, prophetically confronting the root causes of social, political and economic ills.

A community: an open, caring, sharing household of faith where all find embrace, acceptance and affirmation.

A community: under judgment, seeking to live with its own proclamation, therefore, truly loving what the Lord commands and desiring His promise.

And finally, let us dream of a people called to recognize all the absurdities in ourselves and in one another, including the absurdity that is LOVE, serious about the call and the mission but not, very much, about ourselves,

who, in the company of our Clown Redeemer can dance and sing and laugh and cry in worship, in ministry and even in conflict.

Fearless Evangelism, Part III … by Charles LaFond

This is the third in a series on evangelism by Charles LaFond.  The links to earlier posts are below.

III. Leadership


Having been formed by the Society of St. John the Evangelist, I enjoy and spend time in John’s Gospel in which this word-theme “come and see” is promoted so prominently as an invitation mandate and model for evangelism. “Come and See” is just a 1st century slogan in John’s Gospel and it is simple technology. Here is how it works as an evangelism campaign:

1. One person acknowledges that following Jesus has changed their life

2. That Jesus-follower approaches a person within their circle of human contact – a friend, family member, co-worker, etc.

3. The Jesus-follower then intentionally risks vulnerability by speaking directly to this chosen person about this “Good News” which is the English for the Greek root-word for evangelism (from eu- “good” (see eu-) + angellein “announce,” from angelos “messenger”) A date is set for a face-to-face conversation.

4. These two people- the Jesus-follower and the chosen acquaintance – speak about how Jesus is good news and about the community (church) in which this is happening or at least being encouraged, after which an invitation to Come and See this church is issued.

So leadership in evangelism (or “membership Growth” if the “e” word un-nerves you) is really just four things.

1. Centered prayer-lives

2. Mindfulness – knowing what must be done

3. Contact with the “spiritual but not religious”

4. Story-telling as invitation

Get 20 people to do this “contact and story-telling” with two or three people each and presto! All of a sudden 40-60 people will have heard the Good News of a church community in which Jesus is working and the story of one life changed. That is how we invite people to our churches. Our goal is NOT to grow our churches nor is our goal to maintain membership numbers. Our goal is simply to tell other people the good news of God’s work in our lives. Membership growth and membership maintenance will happen as people come to see and, quite possibly, decide to stay (if they do).  But their decision to stay, having come and seen, is not the only benefit. Membership growth and strong communities of faith are helpful when church bills need to be paid and volunteers need to put away the chairs, but another primary benefit is that the church members are turning outward to preach the good news…and in that work they themselves are being transformed as they do this work.

The best definition of Evangelism I have ever heard is this: “one beggar telling another beggar where he just found food.” The problem with this is that the humility of knowing one is a beggar is a prerequisite. So often in ministry leadership I find that the most resistant churches to evangelism are the richest and most populated (and often, as a result, prideful) churches. The resistance to evangelism – that is to say, the resistance to inviting others to come and see our churches – may not be so much about the fear of vulnerability, as it may be about the pride of simply not wanting to be lowered to be in the position of asking a question to which we might receive a “no.”And although people under 50 in our culture may seem –and for good reason – not to want to be involved in a church – they are starving beggars for connection and spiritual experience of God’s love and glory. So we have much work to do.

Once the good news is spoken – the invitation to “Come and See” made – then the evangelist hands the work over to the Holy Spirit, who magnifies our work. Our job then becomes simply the prayers we make, begging God to further encourage the person whom we asked to “Come and See.” This work is both God’s and ours. As the old saying goes – pray for the mountain to be moved…and bring your shovel!”

We evangelize because that is our calling and our mandate-not just as a Christian and not just as an Episcopalian and not even as a member of this diocese. We also do this work of membership growth and evengelism because we are part of a world-wide Anglican Church which holds that the first two of the Five Marks of Christ’s Mission for the Church are:
  1. To proclaim the Good News of the Kingdom
  2. To teach, baptize and nurture new believers.

But the question becomes: how to move from vision or mandate to effective function with measurable objectives. That is where Come and See Membership Growth Campaigns come in.

We manage this work as a campaign because this is sometimes emotionally hard work – because of our culture, because of the pervasive individualism in which we now find ourselves, combined with materialism, over-scheduling, over-work, and over-stimulation. When combined, as they all are in our culture, we face a daunting task. When facing a daunting task…have a plan! What follows is that plan.

So we do evangelism as a campaign.

Next:  Campaign

The Rev. Canon Charles LaFond is the Canon for Congregational Life in the Diocese of New Hampshire.  The Come and See Membership Growth Campaign Manual is online and the 7 minute video summary can be found here.  

This is the third in a series on evangelism by Charles LaFond.  Click for earlier installments:  Part 1; Part 2.  Check out Charles’ blog for the full text. And check out the Diocese of New Hampshire’s Evangelism Toolkit, on its website.

Come, thou fount of every blessing, by Victoria Logue

The video above was created during the Diocese of Montana’s High School Summer Camp in 2011. The production values are amazing. The teens do an incredible job with this hymn. The text fits so well with recent discussions at this site as it emphasizes God’s actions, not ours:

Jesus sought me when a stranger,
wandering from the fold of God;
he, to rescue me from danger,
interposed his precious blood…..

Prone to wander, Lord, I feel it,
prone to leave the God I love;
here’s my heart, O take and seal it,
seal it for thy courts above.