I really got behind in my posts. Since there are at least a few of you who have been following along, I'll give a quick summary of the work we did during the last three days of my time at Fuller. (More importantly, it's a great way for me to personally debrief; thanks for listening in.)
Day 7. On Tuesday we worked quite extensively at understanding and implementing Missional Action Teams in our congregations. This is the culmination of an 18 month process. In my church, North Fresno Church, I have facilitated leadership retreats, conducted research and organized listening groups. Through this process our church leadership has identified several adaptive challenges. Along the way our goal has been to listen for the voice of God through his people. We will now select one of the addaptive challenges, choose a Missional Action Team, and release the team to creatively re-imagine how the challenge might be addressed in our specific context.
In the afternoon we watched a very provocative movie: The End of Suburbia. The film presented a rather grim picture of the rise of suburbia and gave a dire prediction of its demise. There is a growing movement of people that believe oil production has peaked on planet Earth, and that suburbia will not be able to sustain itself as the global demand for oil increases and production decreases. How is this related to missional church studies? Churches and congregants must understand the context in which they live and witness. Geography matters. Is it possible the American dream is nothing more than a dream?
Day 8. On Wednesday we heard stories from Dr. Mark Lau Branson and Dr. Alan Roxburgh about the importance of geography and context for missional ministry. Branson related the story of his home congregation in Oakland, California. He and his family relocated to an older urban neighborhood of neglect and poverty. While there, they worked with a local church in several exciting initiatives:
- They disbanded all of the committees at the church and created “covenant groups.” These groups formed not only to address issues in the church but to bring those issues into the real-life everyday situations of the congregation and the church neighborhood. Example: the worship group continued to plan the worship for Sunday gatherings, but they also began to plan block parties in the neighborhoods of the church and of the congregants. They asked, “How can we celebrate Christ not just in the church, but also in our neighborhoods.
- They partnered with a local elementary school, implemented a literacy program, and watched literacy among second graders jump from 10% to 90% in the school.
- They had a Christmas celebration that started at the home of an artist near the church. While at the home they listened to the artist explain one of her sculptures and talk about recent pain in her life. As they then walked several blocks to the church for a Christmas evening service they sang carols, invited strangers to join them and watched their parade grow. After the service at the church they walked to another home for a spaghetti dinner and continued celebrating late into the night. What started with 20 people ended with 80!
- They created a co-housing project in which four families lived together, shared resources, grew much of their own food, and even generated their on electricity through solar power (quite amazing since this was 1999).
Roxburgh told of life lived together in community as well. Eighty percent of the 400 attenders at the church he pastored were from the neighborhood. They had regular meals together, spent time walking through the streets of the church’s surrounding neighborhood and hung out in local businesses and restaurants. They also started a community house for ministry students who were attending seminary; all the participants practiced community within the context of the local church.
In the afternoon we visited Christian Assembly, a Four-Square megachurch in Pasadena that operates with a set of missional values. I don’t think I have ever heard of a church of 2500 understanding and implementing a missional approach to ministry (I didn’t even know it was possible!) Two things stood out while talking to this church’s leaders:
- Absolutely essential for the life of this congregation is the telling of stories. It was not surprising to hear that this church was born out of the Alcoholics Anonymous model (“Hi, my name is Tim, and I’m an alcoholic”). In church services, small groups and even pastoral staff meetings, the primary agenda is to tell stories of how God is active in the lives of believers; and that includes stories of failure as well. This is an extremely vulnerable and confessional community.
- The pastors are very intentional about releasing ministry to congregants. The leaders understand their role to be that of encourager, equipper and sustainer. They provide a fertile seed-bed for creativity and then empower congregants to use their giftedness in real-life ministry. Example: one woman in the church had a burden for the sex-slave trade in the ports of Los Angeles. She checked this with the pastors and other members in the church and soon found another woman to partner with her. They, in turn, found someone who was not even a member of the church, a non-Christian, but had the same passion. The church equipped them and resourced them to begin a ministry that brought awareness to the issue, advocated for appropriate legislation and reached out to the victims. Amazing initiatives for a megachurch!
Day 9. On Thursday we just tidied up some of the mechanics of the course, reviewed various frameworks for reflecting on church and ministry and clarified questions around the ethnographic research we will be doing. I’m hoping to do my research in the Whispering Woods apartment complex. This complex is virtually across the street from our church and is home to 1500 people of all ethnicities, faiths and economic brackets. Can’t wait to get started….