God’s future is among ordinary people!

I have written elsewhere about my basic conviction that the Spirit of God dwells among  the ordinary people of God.   I have described how, by extension, God’s future is among these people, not with boards and leaders with vision and mission statements.

The imagination for what a local community  of Christians might be doing in their  neighbourhoods is found among the people themselves, not in programs designed for another era or deemed by leaders as essential to the inner life of a church. 

The unthinkable, unimaginable new things the Spirit is gestating in a local church will be called forth in conversations among the people. This is why the role of leadership is that of cultivator rather than program planner, a shaper of dialogues rather than a cheerleader for established programs.

Missional map-makers do not go about looking for people to fill the programs of the church but become detectives of divinity listening in on conversations, attending to what the Spirit might be birthing, ready to be surprised  rather than bent on fitting people into predetermined categories.

Mission-shaped leaders create environments of permission-giving and in which  these ordinary dreams might be birthed.

p. 170, Alan Roxburgh, Missional Map-Making: Skills for Leading in Times of Transition

What did Paul teach ‘everywhere in every church’?

Here’s a thought.

What did Paul teach “everywhere in every church”? Jesus as the Son of David, the atoning death of Jesus on a cross, his resurrection and enthronement as Lord, justification by faith, the gift of the Holy Spirit, the unity of the family of God across racial and social lines, the law of love, future judgment at the feet of Jesus. Paul taught these things with enough consistency that we can safely say he never failed to communicate them to his congregations.

But none of these things is the correct answer. The answer is that Paul teaches “my way of life in Christ Jesus, which agrees with what I teach everywhere in every church.” (1 Cor 4:17).

In 1 Cor 4, Paul describes these “ways in Christ” and contrasts them with the mind-set the Corinthians have inherited from the world around them:

We are fools for the sake of Christ
We are weak
We in disrepute
We are hungry and thirsty,
We are poorly clothed and beaten and homeless, and
We grow weary from the work of our own hands.

When reviled, we bless;
when persecuted, we endure;
when slandered, we speak kindly.

We have become like the rubbish of the world, the dregs of all things, to this very day. (1 Cor 4:10-13)

Earlier in this passage Paul states,

“I think that God has exhibited us apostles as last of all, as though sentenced to death, because we have become a spectacle to the world, to angels and to mortals” (1 Cor 4:9).

Paul insists that, in this, he is simply imitating his Lord (1 Cor 11:1), in line with what Jesus repeatedly taught: “If any want to become my followers, let them deny themselves and take up their cross daily and follow me” (Lk 5:13).

Paul insists that his approach must be duplicated in the lives of Christians – everywhere:

“Indeed, in Christ Jesus I became your father through the gospel. I appeal to you, then, be imitators of me” (1 Cor 4:15-16).

That’s the answer to our question: Paul taught his sacrificial, cross shaped life “everywhere in every church.”

Stop facing front and face each other


Detonate, destroy, and disassemble the pulpit. When all eyes are focused towards the front, they’re not focused on Jesus or His people. How many hours of a Christian’s life is spent looking at the back of another’s head instead of into another eyes? How are you suppose to weep with those who weep if you’re not face to face? “Jesus looked on them with compassion.” You look away!

Tear down the stage and any other platforms that separate the body of Christ. Put the worship bands and choirs in another room where no one can see them and pipe the music in. Better yet create an environment for a flash mob worship event. Why do you need a “show” in order to collectively worship God? Take the big screen down from the right hand side of the church and begin extending the right hand of fellowship.

Change the church’s shape. Get rid of squares and rectangles and sharp corners. Round out its edges. Form circles and spheres so that people can see one another, share with one another, and truly be amongst one another. Colour outside the lines. Establish circular frameworks instead of boxy boundaries. Make “the front of the church” indistinguishable for the rest of it. All parts of the church should be equally accessible.

From Miguel Labrador’s  5 Ways to Topple a Church Regime

"For" and "with"

I often make the point whilst we have responsibility to people (to care, to love, to support, to nurture) we are not responsible for them (especially at the end of the day their decisions).  This essay by Samuel Wells takes this further:

The word that sums up the spirit of Christianity, is “for.” We cook “for,” we buy presents “for,” we offer charity “for,” all to say we lay ourselves down “for.”

But is there a problem here. All these gestures are generous, and kind, and in some cases sacrificial and noble. They are good gestures, warm-hearted, admirable gestures. But somehow they don’t go to the heart of the problem. You give your father the gift, and the chasm still lies between you. You wear yourself out in showing hospitality, but you have never actually had the conversation with your loved ones. You make fine gestures of charity, but the poor are still strangers to you. “For” is a fine word, but it does not dismantle resentment, it does not overcome misunderstanding, it does not deal with alienation, it does not overcome isolation.

What are we to do? After examining how God is "with" us, rather than doing things "for" us, Samuel Wells suggests that we shift mission and service from "for" to "with." What overcomes isolation is being "with" others. And being "with" rather than doing "for" radically alters what Christian mission should look like. This makes "with," in Wells’ opinion, the most important word in the Bible:

We have stumbled upon the most important word in the Bible—the word that describes the heart of God and the nature of God’s purpose and destiny for us. And that word is “with.” That is what God was in the very beginning; that is what God sought to instil in the creation of all things, that is what God was looking for in making the covenant with Israel, that is what God coming among us in Jesus was all about, that is what the sending of the Holy Spirit meant, that is what our destiny in the company of God will look like. It is all in that little word “with.” God’s whole life and action and purpose are shaped to be “with” us.

In a lot of ways, “with” is harder than “for.” You can do “for” without a conversation, without a real relationship, without a genuine shaping of your life to accommodate and incorporate the other…What makes attempts at Christmas charity seem a little hollow is not that they are not genuine and helpful and kind but that what isolated and grieving and impoverished people usually need is not gifts or money but the faithful presence with them of someone who really cares about them as a person. It is the “with” they desperately want, and the “for” on its own (whether it is food, presents, or money) cannot make up for the lack of that “with.”

Spiritual warfare is spiritual warfare

Jeremiah 18.16 (NASV)
To make their land a desolation,
An object of perpetual hissing;
Everyone who passes by it will be astonished
And shake his head.

Not every translation has the word "hissing" in the text. In translations like the NIV the physical act of hissing is replaced with the feeling of scorn. 

Richard Beck says he found the following in the note to Jeremiah 18.16:

Hissing: in some ancient Near Eastern cultures hissing was not only a sign of derision but a magical means of keeping demons away; people hissed in order to ward off danger, like whistling in a cemetery.

In light of this, he says he’s taken up hissing as a part of his practice in resisting the Principalities and Powers. He’s now hissing in meetings, in stores, in political discussions. It’s all a bit distracting to co-workers, friends and family, but "spiritual warfare is spiritual warfare".

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