My philosophy of ministry

The gathering with the folks from Sanctuary was good- very good. Afterwards we went out with the most of them- and Samuel(!) for lunch and begin talking about our respective vision(s) for postmodern ministry and what points of commonality there might be. When we got home, I began writing about our conversation in a follow-up email. I’ve really enjoyed this conversation so far as it has required me to begin to give words in a comprehensive yet succint way to the philosophy of ministry I’ve synthesized from my years in a several postmodern congregations. I share it here, partly because I’ve been encouraged to keep the writing up (thanks Jenell), especially as it relates to following Jesus (thanks Lorinda). By the way, if you happen to be a former professor, pastor, or cell leader of mine and find in my synthesis below echoes of your own thoughts, I hope you’ll be proud of how well you taught me. Here are my thoughts below in red:
…As I write this I know that my passion for ministry has much to do with cell groups or "base Christian communities" as they are sometimes known around the world. I do believe that this movement very much emulates the kind of ministry Jesus practiced.  I don’t see cell groups as a part of a church’s ministry. I don’t see them being effective as one among a number of other programs, etc. Quite simply, I think the community and discipleship cell groups provide are the way that we, as the Church, live out our calling to be the Church.

If cell groups are the Church because they are the primary way that we live our life together as Christians, and as Christians of course we know that we are the Church, then inviting folks into the life we’re having together with Jesus starts to look different- revolutionary even. If God really wills that "none should perish" and seeks that his kingdom should grow, then the "relational evangelism" that takes place through cell groups becomes perhaps the primary way that God’s kingdom gains ground. One group I led I promoted this way:

"Did you see ‘City Slickers?’ Do you remember when Curly was talking about the ‘one thing’ that is most important in life? What’s your ‘one thing?’ Join us on Thursday nights at 7:30 to eat some good food, get to know people, and talk about what really matters." I also used the Buechner quote about ‘listening to your life’ that I repeat so often and then followed it by saying: "We try to do lots of ‘listening’ every Thursday as we get to know one another, eat some good food, and often discuss a topic that someone has suggested. We’re Christians, but hopefully not like any you’ve ever met before. So join us, tell us about your ‘one thing,’ and be a part of the grace that happens as we experience life together."

In the groups I’ve led Jesus was the only agenda, and discipleship happened as Christians and non-Christians shared their life together, face-to-face, in real, honest relationships. In part I think "it" is simply about trusting Jesus. If, after all, Jesus is who he claims to be and I risk real relationship with him, then the transformation he’s working in me will simply be contagious and uncontainable. As Jesus lives his life through me, those with whom I risk the vulnerability of real relationship will see that happening and begin to be changed by it too. Cells are a basic, essentail framework for facilitating that transformation in the least threatening way. As the cell grows and the life of the Church keeps happening throughout the week in the cell, worship gatherings become a genuine celebration of this ongoing life and offer another point of connection. As people are inevitably drawn into this life of Jesus embodied in his Church through the cell, it grows until it gets unwieldy, and multiplication is necessary. If I’ve been a good leader, I’ve been discipling someone all along to lead the next group, and he or she will be ready when the time comes, and the process starts all over. Consequently as the number of cells grow, worship celebarations likewise get unwieldy, and new congregations are planted and new leadership is ready to lead these new congregations because discipleship happens throughout the system as gifts are recognized and opportunities are provided to use them.

(During lunch the "question" of homosexuality came up and I was asked about my "stand" on the issue…) If "context is everything," then I think the context for answering that "question" must be a relational one. I pray that God affords me the opportunity to love folks where they’re at- intentionally, through meaninful relationships. As we share our lives in meaningful, intentional ways then, I again will trust Jesus, and most especially his Spirit, as he fulfills his promise to lead us both into "all truth," but I don’t really see what purpose pronouncements serve except to turn away the very "sick" that I am called to love, serve, and lead to the Healer.

As far as the liberal/conservative debates within the church go, honestly I’ve grown quite tired of them and I’d like to think I’m "post" that too. I think the life Jesus calls us to is one which is at once both above and beyond such concerns, and I just don’t see how they’re at all helpful in loving people and building God’s kingdom. Many of these debates have to do with the Bible, and I think much of the Church has lost sight of what the Bible is for. It’s not a science textbook nor is it the author and perfector of my faith. It’s the story of God’s scandalous love affair with his creation, and especially humanity, since time began, through its ending, and beyond. The Bible points to Jesus as the culmination of God’s revelation of God’s self to the world, and it is through the lens of Jesus as that revelation that I read the Bible and for his sake that I accept its truth.

Finally, I believe with all that I am that rules are for relationship. As parents we don’t tell our children not to play in traffic because we like power and arbitrarily controlling people gives us kicks. We tell them not to do so because we understand how their bodies work- how the world works- and we know that playing in traffic can get them killed. Likewise, because God created us, in his wisdom he knows how we and the larger creation work, and the "rules" we have were given in order to faciliate us having right relationships with God, one another, and the world. These "rules" are applicable to the creation just like they are in regard to morality. Gravity is a rule that I must abide by because it helps me to have a relationship with the earth, to be able to move about on it and live my life. Sexual immorality is bad not because some rule says it is, but because it destroys any hope for right relationship with the "other," not to mention with my own body. So, always, the rule isn’t nearly so important as the right relationship it’s meant to bring about, and that’s what I must always focus on.

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