Saturday, December 13, 2003

Postmodern Missionaries

I’m intrigued by the idea of being a missionary to a postmodern society.

I say that because I’m seeing a trend that gives me pause. It seems a lot of people assume the “emerging/missional church” is the magic wand, silver bullet, cure-all solution that – if applied – will automatically produce faith communities as they were meant to be. Others seem to think “emerging/missional” = house/simple church. It could ... but enough of us have visited dysfunctional house churches to know they can be just as self-absorbed, self-congratulatory, and self-destructive as any other church structure or de-structure. 

After visiting a local Christian bookstore and noting the rapidly-expanding “emerging/missional” section, I’m concerned that postmodern ministry could become no more than the latest Christian marketing fad. The resulting bandwagon could get crowded, weighed down by those learning the insider lingo, reading the approved books, and yet never engaging culture on more than a surface level. 

And then, in a few years, dropping “emerging/missional” like last weeks potato salad and chasing after the next sure-fire, this-will-fix-everything-and-the-glory-will-return fad. 

I’m more inclined to approach postmodern society as a people group, which we look at from a missionary’s point of view. 

We learn the language and culture of postmodern society – not with non-reflective “postmodern = good, modern = evil” hyperbole – but in recognition that the gospel must be contextualized to whatever cultural setting we find ourselves in. Some of us are postmodern almost instinctively, but I  believe anyone willing to invest time and energy can become conversant with the cultural changes. You’d do it as on the foreign mission field – if postmoderns seem foreign to you, why not do it here? 

We dont capitulate to cultural values. We may look, sound, and “taste” like the culture around us, but we dont adopt their values. We are salt and light.

We invest ourselves in our “tribe.” It’s not a quick-fix nor is it a short-term strategy. We join the tribe and invest our lives in building relationships. Missionaries often lived among the locals for years before seeing any fruit from their labors. Our “fast food drive-thru” expectation of quick results doesn’t apply. That’s the week-old potato salad – toss it.  

We learn new ways to tell our Jesus-story. Larry Norman once challenged us to learn how to share our testimony without using the same words twice. In other words, drop the “canned” testimony script and learn (by doing) how to make connections with real, live people around us. Opportunities to share will come as we “earn the right to be heard.” 

Some are concerned about going “social gospel” (so focused on meeting people’s physical needs that the gospel is neglected). Remember the missionary metaphor? Missionaries often brought medicine, educational reform, agricultural assistance, etc., as part of working with their “people group.” We can do no less with the poor and needy around us. 

Ministry in a postmodern, post-Christian culture requires a missionary’s mindset of learning the culture, joining the tribe, and contextualizing the Gospel. Otherwise, we run the risk of becoming tasteless salt or light hidden under a bowl (Matthew 5:13–16).

May God grant us faith and wisdom to engage our postmodern culture, for the Kingdoms sake.

Wednesday, October 15, 2003

Tidbits from Seminary

Upgrading my Master’s degree to “M.Div Equivalency” – prerequisite for the Doctor of Ministry program I’ve been accepted into – has been a lot of work, but also a welcome change. Marinating in theological academia can be an ivory tower trap, I know, but for short sprints, it’s pretty invigorating.

Speaking of which, here’s something from my Synoptic Gospels class, which is emerging as an early favorite.

“But to what shall I liken this generation? It is like children who sit in the market places and who call to others, saying: ‘We played the flute for you, and you did not dance, we sang a dirge, and you did not mourn.’ For John came neither eating nor drinking, and they said: ‘He has a demon.’ The Son of Man came eating and drinking, and they said: ‘Look, this man is a glutton and a drunkard, a friend of tax collectors and sinners.’ And wisdom is justified by her deeds (Matthew 11:16–19).”

And some observations from our professor:

“One kind of Christianity assumes that the more we abstain, the more godly we are. (Or, conversely, the more godly we become, the more we will abstain from things.) This assumption is in our hearts, and minds, and pulpits, and schools. But it is not in the Book. The Bible warns against such false spirituality in quite a few places. Our God is no friend of excess. But an abstinence kind of godliness is very hard to find in the Sermon on the Mount. And it was very hard to find in Jesus himself. Drop it.”

Fascinating to hear this articulated at my alma mater. First round’s on me.

Thursday, September 25, 2003

Constants of the Religious Continuum

There are three inescapable, immutable constants to the Religious Continuum. No one knows precisely where they originated, but their existence, and unchanging nature, is both irrefutable and unassailable.

The first Constant of the Religious Continuum is that the Jewish people do not recognize Jesus of Nazareth as their prophesied Messiah.

The second Constant is that Protestants do not recognize the Pope as the infallible source of God’s wisdom on earth.

The third is that Mennonites do not recognize each other when purchasing alcoholic beverages at Hooter’s.

You are hereby enlightened. And you’re welcome.

Sunday, August 24, 2003

Generational Angst ... All Over Again

Did you know that they (whoever “they” are) have identified a new “generational grouping” in North American society? No, not a new nickname, stereotype, or label for the emerging generations, but a further re-definition and re-alignment of existing generations!

It’s called Generation Jones, and – wait for it – seems I’m one of them.

This is such a shock to my system. I thought I was Gen X. Now, I have to re-learn my true origins of existence, who I’ve been victimized by and should therefore resent, and what my life goals have been for the past 20 years.

I’m experiencing existential angst.

Y’all forgive me if it takes a wee bit of time to make the shift from my former “X-er” identity to my newly-discovered true self – a “Joneser.”

Or does my identity originate elsewhere – something or Someone beyond reactionary “notice me” marketing demographics invented by media and corporations that want to sell me stuff?

Inquiring minds, including mine, would like to know.

Saturday, August 16, 2003

Road Trips + St. Francis

I just returned from a road trip with my best friend since high school, Patrick “dang straight I’m Irish” Prowse. An epic journey of self-discovery and explored ideals across the scenic Canadian Prairies and ending at the breath-taking majesty of the Rocky Mountains.

Well, not exactly. We drove non-stop from Winnipeg to Calgary, slept for five hours, and then drove non-stop from Calgary to Winnipeg – all to pick up a two-year-old Great Dane the size of an adult velociraptor. With the jaws to match.

The dog’s name is Apollo, which is fitting in a cosmic way. Possible movies Apollo could star in: Terminator 4: Rise of the Canines, Jurrasic Dog, or MegaMutt & the Masters of the Dog Kennel. Saints be praised; Apollo’s potty-trained.

Are you familiar with the expression “pee like a racehorse?” Don’t kid yourself – horses got nothing on Great Danes.

A 30-hour round trip – how do you pass the time? Easy: you listen to your favorite CDs (twice) and shoot the breeze about life, faith, church, non-church, and why classic rock is superior to the drivel on AM radio.

We didn’t solve the universe’s problems, but somewhere around the 26-hour mark, we agreed that today’s church doesn’t need Revivalists or Reformers as much as it needs Repenters.

It’s like a 21st-century rendition of the Prayer of St. Francis – change begins with us.

Tuesday, August 12, 2003

Humble Beginnings

First day on the blog. And the two questions foremost in my mind?

  1. What will I write about, day after day?
  2. Will anyone read this?
Everyone says blogging is so easy a badly-trained monkey could do it.

Right now, I’m feeling evolutionarily challenged ...