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Blogging Fast

August 21, 2005

I am by nature a man of action.  When I find something that I want to do, I strategize my steps and spring to action.  I didn’t know this about myself until I was in my mid 20s.  For most of my youth I was an introverted extrovert.  I’m convinced that I was depressed through most of my teen years.  I was incredibly self-conscious and had low self esteem.  I had few friends, spent alot of time daydreaming, and spent alot of my time taking care of my ill mother (who passed away when I was 19).  Slowly, as I got more and more involved in ministry, I began to come out of my shell.  The past couple of years in particular have been a blur.  Many of the milestones from the past year have been documented in this blog.  This blog has been a spiritual discipline–a way for me to gather my thoughts, connect with new people, and document the flow of my life.

But blogging can be a hinderance to action.  There is a lot of talk in the blogosphere.  The little corner of the blogosphere that I’m tapped into talks alot about how church ought to be.  Most of you read my blog because you agree with my vision for the church.  My conversations with many of you, and with other bloggers, has been encouraging and uplifting.  But I feel I need to take a couple weeks off. 

I’ve begun to realize that I enjoy the affirmation too much.  Sometimes, being affirmed for having good ideas can be a substitute for being affirmed for producing good works.  In the blogosphere, the person with the best ideas is often respected, while the quiet saint who labors the fields is unheard.  Ranting online about the marginalized to the agreement of others can almost be a substitute for empowering the marginalized.  Venting online about diversity can be a substitute for real reconciliation.  Pontificating online about reaching the cynic can replace meeting cynics.  Talk is cheap.  But the blogosphere is fueled by talk.  And while the blogosphere has its place and has inspired many people towards bold acts, it can sometimes become a substitute for bold acts.  It’s not as though all I do is sit around and blog all day.  I’m doing alot right now in my life.  Sometimes it is too much.  But in all my discussion of bold ideas, I’ve failed to take the bold steps.  And right now, in this place, at this time, I need to stop talking about bold ideas and start taking bold steps.
I need to take more joy in laboring in the fields, and focus less of my
energy in talking shop.

I’ve been active in the past year, and done some good things.  But I haven’t been BOLD.  Boldness flows out of being Spirit-filled and obedient to the Spirit’s leading.  And until I can really step out in the sort of Spirit-filled obedience that leads to action, I don’t feel like I have anything more I can say. 

In conjunction, I’m going to attempt a sort of personal vow.  At Missio Dei, I’m going to stop talking about what we OUGHT to do, for 2 weeks.  Instead, I want to do more of the things I talk about, and encourage people to join me in those things.  It is a short period of time, but I hope it will give me better perspective. 

So this will be my last blog for a while.  I hope I’ll only be absent from blogging for a couple weeks, but I can’t say for sure.  For the next couple of days, I’ll respond to some of your comments if you leave any.  But after that, things will be silent for a while.

This week’s chores

August 17, 2005

I’ve got alot to do this week for various projects.  I’m teaching a class this spring at Bethel Seminary, but have to get alot of paperwork in first. 

Missio_dei_ad_1Missio Dei is moving our central gatherings to Augsburg college, and I want to run an announcement in some local papers to let folks know.  We’re also going to distribute these announcements at local coffee shops and bars and whatnot.  I don’t like advertising, but one can utilize local papers and put up posters and whatnot without catering to consumer tastes. 

I’m also starting to raise funds for the upcoming conference on Christianity in a Consumer Culture.  I have to send out letters (followed up by a phone call) asking for money.  Donations will help keep the costs down for registration.  I really want it to be financially easy for people to attend. 

So, it would save me a bit of work on fundraising if any of you (or your churches) would like to sponsor the conference.  Sponsors get their name on the website and future promotional posters (our new website should be up before the end of the month).  For every $200 donated, you’ll also get a complimentary registration.  This conference is going to be awesome.  We’ve got some great speakers lined up (Ron Sider, Vincent Miller, Rodney Clapp, Sondra Ely-Wheeler) adn they’ve all agreed to do a breakout session as well.  We’re hoping to fill the other sessions with workshops (if you have something to teach us in this area, please contact me) and some academic papers.  The overall focus of the conference will be to promote change in the way we (as American Christians) relate with consumerism…moving from syncretism to a prophetic challenge. 

I’m also putting some stuff together for the West Bank Leaf & Bean.  I’ve had a couple friends talk to me about investing/partnership.  If you’re interested in being part of a tea/coffee shop that is going to be strongly neighborhood based, and focused on Kingdom goals (we’re not going to be a "Christian" Coffeeshop, but we will be a "Third Place" that benefits Missio Dei) then talk to me.  Even if you don’t have much money, there may be some things you can do to help.

Roger Shutz, founder of Taize, dies at 90

August 17, 2005

The 90 year old founder of Taize was stabbed to death recently at a prayer service.  I know that many people respect Brother Roger and what Taize is about.  Read the full BBC news story here.

Incarnational Practice 6: Limit Through-Traffic

August 13, 2005

Today, I’m going to list a 6th incarnational practice.  These practices are merely illustrative.  Take them for what they are.  I think if everyone did more things like this, the church would be healthier.  However, they aren’t meant to be straight-jackets.  They are supposed to open up new possibilities. 

This final practice is the hardest to do for those who want to cultivate incarnational ministry while still maintaining an "attractional" style as well.  These arent’ two complementary approaches, they are two different foundations for doing church.  Incarnational churches start with the assumption that they must go to where people are at.  Attractional churches may do some incarnational things, but they are ultimately trying to bring people in.  You can not have a church effectively built upon both approaches.

And so, if you want to be incarnational, you have to limit the "attractional" things you do.  It is easier to have more people if you are attractional.  But if you get alot of people who come without being incarnational, your church may loose its incarnational flavor. Furthermore, if you are building relationships with cynical people who have been neglected and abandoned in the past, the worst thing is to get a bunch of people moving in and out of attendance, building relationships with folks, and then breaking it off when they no longer find the church attractive.   And so, you have to decide that you won’t "grow" your church by attracting people from all over to come to your funky service.  You need to decide taht you’re going to "grow" your church incarnationally.

You may do some modest attractional things (like community announcements of events).  But be careful.  Be articulate with your vision.  And continue to labor in the fields.

Incarnational Practice 5: Volunteering (instead of starting new programs)

August 12, 2005

Most urban areas have social service organizations in place. I suggest you volunteer with them instead of starting church programs–at least early on in the life of your church.  In the West Bank, there are over a dozen organizations that will take volunteers.  When we started, we tried to do our own ESL program.  It didn’t work like we wanted.  I’m realizing now that it would have been better to put our energy towards volunteering at existing ESL courses.  When we volunteer, we submit to the service organizations–yielding to their agenda instead of forcing our own.  In that place, we can begin to make relationships with people.  As we meet people and get to know them, we have the opportunity to take that friendship outside of the volunteer organization.  As we find out more of their needs, then we may try to serve them as a church. 

The basic idea is this: utilize existing structures.  Build relationships within the existing systems.  Social services provide a great way for you to meet people (both volunteers and those with needs) without having to put alot of time and energy into planning.  You get the benefit of meeting people by simply volunteering.  And you will grow in your understanding of the people you want to serve.  Plus, you are helping people.  And too many churches don’t do enough of that.

This, of course, doesn’t mean that a church should never start programs.  A church may be obligated to do so because there is a profoundly unmet need.  Or you may be led to do so; these are simply suggestions to help you think through being incarnational, not hard-and-fast rules.

From “strategic consumerism” to “intentional friend-making”

August 12, 2005

I think the term "strategic consumerism" causes some problems for people.  I use this phrase, because I inherited from somewhere else.  The basic idea IS NOT: "hey, you spend alot on coffee and going out to eat and junk anyways, so you might as well do it all in the same place."  The idea IS: "hey, instead of going to your favorite establishments to purchase your favorite things, start going to establishments where you’re likely to meet the people you’d like to meet.  And go there for them, instead of for coffee, or lunch, etc."

So, I’m casting aside the term "strategic consumerism" forever.  It is a cumbersome, problematic phrase that doesn’t convey what I want it to convey.  I will now, forevermore, use the phrase "intentional friend-making."

Yes, I know it sounds lame.  Extremely lame.  But it is helpfully descriptive.  I’m willing to use a different phrase if you have suggestions. 

This is different than "friendship evangelism" because the goal of friendship evangelism is to share your faith with your friends.  I HIGHLY encourage that.  That is a great thing.  But the problem is that if we stop there, we never move beyond our (usually homogenous) circle of friends. 

Here’s the basic idea:

Pay attention to where people congregate and hang out.  It could be a coffee shop, it could be a bar, it could be the park, or the library, or a cruddy diner, or the local YWCA, or community center, etc.  We should try to spend our time more and more where neighborhood people spend their time.  This won’t work very well in suburbs, because people don’t center their lives in "third places" in the suburbs. Though many do in urban and rural places.  We should go to where the people are at, and try to make connections.  Some of us aren’t going to be able to do this very well at all.  Some will do it naturally.  Most will be in the middle.  Those of us who make connections with people in this way will be able to graft them into our network of friends…so in a healthy church, only a handful of people need to be doing this well for the whole church to be making new friends.

50 Most Influential Churches

August 11, 2005

I found a link to the "50 most influential churches in America" on Todd Hobart’s blog.  They didn’t consider churches under 2000.  It is also interesting that they have the picture of each church’s senior pastor with each church.  Both of these facts say an aweful lot about North American Christianity.  HOw is this sort of exercise remotely helpful?

I’ve griped about this sort of thing in the past, so I won’t say any more.  Check it out and tell me what YOU think.

Incarnational Practice 4: Mobilize Discipleship

August 10, 2005

When Jesus trained his disciples, he didn’t take them into the wilderness for 3 years.  He didn’t take them to Jerusalem Seminary for 3 years.  Nope.  He took them with him for 3 years.  The way you do training and discipleship should fit the form of your church.  The University system developed out of a midieval ecclesiology. The current Seminary system is roughly based upon the university system.  And most in-church discipleship training is often loosly based upon seminary training.  We need to re-orient our methods of discipeship to fit an incarnational church. 

I’ve alluded to this recently in other posts–and other blogs that I link to have brought it up as well: we need to get more "monastic" in how we do discipleship.  Monks take vows (they agree with a certain pattern of Christian life), and the entire brotherhood (or sisterhood) centers around these shared vows.  Postulants (newbies) spend a trial time with the community.  If it seems as though they are ready to be continue in this path, they become novices.  A monk is usually a novice for 3-5 years, which is the length of their training. The Mendicant (begging) orders–like the Franciscans–were not cloistered away.  They are very active in service to the world.  But their vows make them distinct.  They engaged the world from a place of distinction.  We need to move from membership to discipleship.  From a gathering of interested people to a mobile order.  Sure, a monasticized church will still gather, but their gathering will be an expression of who they are.  Gatherings will develop out of missional, discipled, incarnational, ministry.

I think we can learn something from this approach.  The Mendicants were very serious about discipleship, but they did it on their feet.  We need to find intense and rich ways of training people on their feet.  It may involve some coursework, but coursework done in a missional way.  But mostly it would involve lots of one-on-one conversations between "novices" and those who have gone before them. 

I’m going to develop a concrete example of this over coming months.  Here are some links you might want to investigate:

New Monasticism

InnerChange

Leadership/Theology/Life Institute

Incarnational Practice 3: Gather in 3rd Places and Homes

August 10, 2005

Being incarnational means that the Gospel should come to people where they are at.  When we build special buildings just for fellowship, and then center ministry and community in that place, we are asking people to come to us.  Sure, you can do incarnational ministry out of a church building.  But I think the edifice complex that afflicts many churches counters their missional calling.  The energy and resources tied up into buildings should be used elsewhere.  And the amount of time spent in church buildings should be spent elsewhere.  Church should be done where life is lived–not the other way around.  The early church gathered in homes and the apostles preached in the markets because that was the centers of society.  What are our centers of life?  Do church in those places, rather than making your own place.

If you are involved with a church that meets in a church building, I’m not suggesting that you leave.  Many churches use their buildings well.  But most don’t.  And if we are going to be faithful in the future, we need to rethink how we gather. 

West Bank Leaf & Bean

August 9, 2005

Many of you know about my plans to start a tea/coffee house on the West Bank of Minneapolis (orignally the idea was a tea house, but I’ve expanded the business concept to include coffee beverages as well).  The basic idea is to open a tea/coffee house on the West Bank to build stronger ties to the West Bank.  I would own the business, but Missio Dei would benefit directly by the presence of the "West Bank Leaf & Bean" because I would be creating a much-needed 3rd Place that will intentionally market to the diverse people of the West Bank. Missio Dei would also utilize the space for meetings and rent office space from the lower level of the building I’m thinking of leasing.  Meanwhile, the West Bank Leaf & Bean would make its upper level (the building I’m looking at has three levels) to local community organizations.  I believe God is leading me in this direction; I think it is the most incarnational thing I can do, and it will directly serve the mission of Missio Dei.  However, I must point out that the West Bank Leaf & Bean won’t be a "Christian Coffeshop" in the conventional sense.  It will simply be owned by a Christian and be available to people from Missio Dei.  It will also be available to other community groups, regardless of their beliefs or background. 

The latest news is that I’ve finished my business plan.  Thursday I’m going to an SBA informational meeting about loans and finances.  I’ve also contacted a potential landlord about leasing their property. 

Here’s the thing: I need partners and/or investors.  I have some small start-up capital, but usually one has to have a 4:1 ratio of loan money to start-up capital.  In other words, if I am going to get a loan of $120,000, I’ll need the startup capital of $30,000.  This is an SBA rule of thumb. Unfortunately, I don’t have that much money. 

I’m now ACTIVELY looking for investors/partners.  If you are even remotely interested or intrigued in helping with this project, please contact me.  I can provide you with a copy of the business plan (after you sign a confidentiality agreement), and we can talk terms.  I am willing to entertain any sort of arrangement. 

Leafandbean12

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