Saturday, April 28, 2007

Missional (Small) Groups

I am about to embark on a 30 page writing adventure. In many ways, I have preparing to write this paper for over 15 years. I also see this project as the foundation for further reflections that will truly last a lifetime. The subject of the study is small group ministry. I have been involved with a zillion different small group ministries ever since I became a Christian during my freshman year in high school. I have seen all kinds of approaches and emphases. I can't say that I have seen one perfect model but I have seen God work in and through these ministries to change lives.

This paper is the intersection of my small group ministry experience and my studies in missional theology. I could go into a full description of my understanding of missional theology here but that would make this post longer than any human would care to read (it may already be that long). All that matters right now is, in my view, a missional church is one that does not exist for itself but is called together, equipped and sent out to the world to accomplish God's purposes together.

All of the small group literature that I read in the past semester pointed to small groups following the pattern of their churches, namely, existing for themselves. Small groups are often described as places for community where individuals become fully devoted followers of Jesus Christ. This is true. However, I will borrow a phrase from one of my professors George Hunsinger and say that this description is necessary but not sufficient. Small groups exist for more than community and personal growth.

To be fair, the small group books that I have read do include service or mission as a component of small groups. Over and over, however, I see two extremes with this assertion. On the one extreme, a group exists only to do a specific act of service such as repairing cars for people in the church. These groups lack the Christian practices that contribute to the group's spiritual formation. On the other extreme, a group exists for community and service/mission "spills over" from the group after the group arrives at a certain level of intimacy or growth. These groups rarely move beyond an internal focus and end up splitting up or staying a comfortable level.

I suggest that a group can seek the Lord's face in discovering its specific mission apart from these two extremes. I believe that the Lord calls individuals together in a local church to fulfill a specific mission in that local context. The church community provides relationships that encourage spiritual formation for that mission. In the midst of this, I believe the Lord can work through smaller groups of 8-12 individuals to allow them to discover their specific vocation in the local church and, therefore, in the church overall. Churches often talk about the individual's vocation or sense of calling and the entire church's mission/vision but this can and should occur also at the small group level.

In light of this, I propose that God uses small groups to provide the context for missional formation where the group grows into fully devoted followers of Christ not for themselves but for being used by God to fulfill its specific mission in the world as long as they are called together to serve.

Let's see if I can capture these ideas in a more rigorous manner as I embark on 30 pages of writing!

Wednesday, April 18, 2007

"The" Spirit

I have noticed a pattern in my readings that may already be known to others but I just recognized it. If a person wants to make a claim about the Christian faith apart from the restraints of Scripture or Christ himself, then they oftentimes refer to "The Spirit." An example sounds something like this, "The Spirit leads communities to consider truth differently than viewed previously."

On the other hand, I have observed that these types of claims are minimized when the reference to the Holy Spirit relates directly to its source and giver, namely, Jesus Christ. These references take the form of "His Spirit" or "the Spirit of Christ."

This may or may not happen 100% of the time but next time you hear or read someone refer to "The Spirit" as opposed to "His (Jesus') Spirit" then check to see how that reference functions in the person's claim about God, humanity and the relationships in the world.

In my view, I would rather hear someone talk about "His (Jesus') Spirit" as opposed to "The Spirit" that stands alone and apart from Jesus Christ.

Quiet Haircut?

I went to get a haircut this morning (yes, I have yet to figure out why my frequency of haircuts has increased as my amount of hair coverage has decreased) and I found myself wondering why it was so quiet.

I then realized that something was missing from the room:

The haircut place is moving locations and they already had moved the TVs to the new place. The room was eerily quiet and I pointed out the lack of noise to the person cutting my hair. She shared that she did miss the TVs and then she continued with an analysis of TVs in general. She noted how many TVs she sees throughout the day... at work, at the grocery store, at waiting areas in hospitals, at restaurants, everywhere.

We then talked about how quickly we look at TVs whenever they are present. Our response is almost instinctive. I rarely can keep my eyes off of a TV whenever it is on, especially if sports are on in the background. Earlier this morning, I turned on the TV and I witnessed my two daughters automatically look up at it. They have already mastered the response.

Have you ever been in the presence of a TV and NOT looked at it?

If not, then what does that reveal about the pull of TV in our lives?

Monday, April 09, 2007

The "Perfect" Parable

I am taking a class this semester that I have wanted to take my whole life - a class on the parables of Jesus. I like to tell stories and I have always been attracted to Jesus' parables. For most of my life, I have approached the parables with the assumption that I could figure them out like a puzzle. Oftentimes, there seems to be a "key" to the puzzle. One parable that has always eluded me is the parable of the "shrewed manager" in Luke 16:1-9 (or 13 depending on where you think the parable ends).

I will write more in the future about why I believe this could be considered the "perfect parable" but I will share one reason now. Try to assign roles to the different characters in the parable and you will quickly realize that a person cannot figure out this parable by taking that route. The rich man cannot be God because then you would have to say that God praises a dishonest manager. The manager cannot be Jesus because then you would have to say that Jesus uses dishonest methods to justify the means and, consequently, we should too.

What should we do with this parable? One thing is certain. We cannot sit down and attempt to unlock this parable by assigning roles and then figure out exactly what Jesus wants us to do or figure out more about God through these roles.

What have you "done" with this parable in the past?

If you can't answer this question easily, then that helps make my point that this could be the perfect parable.