Monday, August 11, 2008

Summer Recaps & Reflections from the SouthGate :: Community Experiments

Many are those who can identify needs, gaps and weakness, unfortunately there are significantly less who actually have the wherewithal and courage to begin moving towards change and renovation to see those needs met, gaps filled in, and weakness made strong.

Back in the spring, through a series of conversations, prayer and reflection we as a staff and core leaders identified a need for a greater sense and reality of community. During one of our monthly Core Leaders meetings where this came up, many spontaneously began brain storming how this could happen. The conversation emerged with questions like, "Why do we do what we do on Sundays?" "What if we did 'church' for the adults more like the way we're approaching it for our children?" and so forth.

All of these questions were really asking, What is Church? Do we have to do it the way we've always done it? and, Are there other ways (perhaps better ways) of doing it?

The result of these conversations was a summer of community experiments.

Community is at the core of who God is: Father, Son, & Holy Spirit. We were created in His image to experience and be a part of authentic community. In part, Church is community. We concluded if community is a genuine need, as well as, a very fundamental component to what church is, then it's worth reshaping what our Sunday gatherings look like to create environment(s) more conducive for people to experience and engage in community.

The July Experiment
During our Sunday morning gathering, we engaged in a time of worship, followed by a short message on one of Jesus' parables. We then were encouraged to break up and join in one of three break-out groups, each looking at the parable from a specific perspective: Finance, Family, Future. The goal of these break-outs was one, to help us actually be able to sit across the table from others (rather than all facing forward in the pews) and engage in authentic dialogue and conversation. And, secondly, while in these conversations, to talk about how this parable could be embodied in our daily lives.

The Coolest Idea
One of the coolest ideas and applicable moments was presented week four in the Finance break-out. The parable for the day was Matthew 25/Parable of the Talents. After some talk about the parable, our talents, our money and investing in God's Kingdom, etc. A hypothetical question was proposed: What if someone gave you $100.00 for the sake of investing in God's Kingdom, helping someone, assisting a cause. What would you do? How could it be used? Ideas buzzed, as the room was filled with chatter.

After a few moments, the facilitators announced: "That scenario is no longer hypothetical..." They proceeded to pull out a hand full of one-hundred-dollar bills. There was a $100.00 bill for every person willing to take the challenge, live out the parable in their daily lives. Awesome! Simply Awesome! What a better way to actually experience, understand and begin to incarnate Scripture...

The following is a snapshot at what the break-out groups looked like.

The Feedback
Some loved it... Some hated it... Some love being able to actually talk about what's being said in church, rather than just listening... Others seem to prefer the 3 points and 6 principles that could be extracted from a given passage. Some were challenged to greater authenticity through the venue of honest conversations as they acknowledged their daily lives don't always reflect the essence of the parable, for others talking this was too much of a stretch and impeded on their levels of comfortability. For some, this was church at its best, with community interacting. For others, this is not what Sunday morning church is about.

We have many preconceived ideas about what church is, is not, should be, etc., many of which have no biblical precedence, rather have been the historical constructs over the last couple of centuries.

It would be interesting to see what church would look like with a little deeper biblical exegesis and a more comprehensive understanding of how our current order(s) of service evolved over time throughout church history...

Here's a couple of questions that begin to dig into the matter that were posted a while back on the post Cultural Byproduct or Biblical Prerequisite?
  • What elements of my Christianity are a byproduct of my culture, but not necessarily a biblical prerequisites?
  • What is essential to being someone who "follows Christ"?
  • What constitutes "having church"?
  • Does church have to be on Sunday to be a church?
  • Does there have to be an extended time of worship/music/singing to qualify as a church service?
  • Does the singing that does that worship/music/singing have to take place all at one time, during the beginning of the service?
  • Is the "real" purpose of "worship" to "prepare our hearts for the Word," as it has often been said?
  • Does there have to be a "sermon" for it to be a real service? (Does it have to happen on the back-half)

Thursday, August 07, 2008

Summer Recaps & Reflections from the SouthGate :: Car Show

This summer has been one of the busiest summers I've experienced in quite a while. Though it has been full of a lot of good things, nonetheless it has been FULL. And now, as everyone asks, "Did you have a good summer?" or "How was your summer break?" I find myself thinking, "You mean it's over...?" It's all happened so fast... And by next Tuesday morning, I'll become part-time bus-driver as I transport Micah to Kindergarten. Fall will is now upon us...

With that being said, I wanted to create some space in my life to simply reflect on some of the things that have busied the summer months. Often we can get so wrapped up in the busyness of the moment, that the fullness of that very moment escapes us, or worst yet - never to be perceived in the first place.

As Doug King said, we must "Learn to pause or nothing worthwhile will catch up to you." Much of our lives, like my summer seems to move in FastForward and we desperately need to recover the Art of Living in Slow Motion.

In the Gospels, we rarely find Jesus sitting in the Temple waiting for people to come and listen to what He has to say. Interestingly though, we often wonder why people (who have yet to begin following Christ) aren't coming to church.

In the Gospels, we find Jesus maximizing opportunities at hand. Moments of engagement with people over meals and daily interactions at a well. What does it look like for the Church to engage the culture and world in which it exists? I suppose there are a number of answers to this question, but here's one we've been doing as a church for the past seven. An Import Car Show & Battle of the Bands, known all around michiana as SummerX.

It's an attempt to do what Jesus did in Luke 15, simply get around people and talk.
"By this time a lot of men and women of doubtful reputation were hanging around Jesus, listening intently. 2The Pharisees and religion scholars were not pleased, not at all pleased. They growled, "He takes in sinners and eats meals with them, treating them like old friends." (Luke 15:1-2)
*These few sentences, written by Luke, are packed full of cultural nuances and theological
persuasion, that is just as relevant to us today as it was to the original audience.
For more on this passage see the following posts: One, Two, Three, Four, Five.

SummerX Car Show has become the biggest car show in the area, done with the most excellence and some of the best awards. It's put own predominately by our student ministries department and other volunteers. The goal is to help our students understand various aspects of what it means to live missionally and engage in spiritual conversations. The Mud Monster, pictured here, was my son's favorite, as can be seen as he dangles from the hitch.

The following are some highlights from this summer's SummerX Carshow & Battle of the Bands.

Sunday, August 03, 2008

Don't Focus on the Wrong Thing

There are times for decisions to be made in the heat-of-the-moment. Wisdom and experience are without doubt two sources that empower a leader's capacity to do just that - act in the moment. In fact, leaders need to be able to respond in such moments with pensive insight, this is a true mark of a leader. 

Yet, true wisdom of a leader is demonstrated when they know what are those times to respond with immediate attention and direction and when not to. The challenge is when we are faced with multiple challenges, situation and circumstances throughout our mundane days. If we are not careful, our new-initiatives  will smell more like reactionary actions rather then the resonation of wisdom. Reactionary decisions and policies of implementation often are ignited by a situation at hand and serve, at best (if they do that) to remedy the fruit or symptom of the perceived issue. These type of reactions rarely, if ever, really probe and revolutionize the systemic roots or causes beneath the surface. They are only a mere momentary means of managing the issues.

This is true in the workplace, our families, administrative systems, as well as with the issues of our own hearts. Our natural tendency is to focus on the "wrong thing" and in the process never really see lasting change. Reactionary thinking often fails to see the big picture. 

The following clip aptly illustrates the blinded-ness that reactionary thinking and acting operates in... Simply put, when we function out of a reactionary spirit, we are often nullified of true discernment and run right past the issue that we were trying to "fix" in the first place.