InterVarsity Metro Area

November 30, 2006

I’m back from the InterVarsity Regional Staff Conference. It was pretty good. We focused a lot of our time on leadership development models and growth models. I’m not a big fan of such stuff, but I understand that such stuff is firmly entrenched within most large institutions.

I have a decision to make within the next week. I have to decide whether or not to formally submit my name to be considered for InterVarsity Metro Area (ie, the Twin Cities) Director. We are currently director-less and they are looking for a long term placement who can help bring new life to the area. Currently we have undergrad chapters at Hamline, Macalester, the U of M East Bank, and Normandale–but we only have staff for Macalester (though she also works a bit with Hamline students). I’m being brought on staff to plant a chapter on the West Bank. I am really excited about that, but I also wonder if I would like the additional challenge of recruiting and coaching staff for the rest of the Twin Cities. We have a “head hunter” (who is very talented by the way) looking for an area director from outside the InterVarsity system, but the old area director suggested that I be considered as the new area director and I can’t deny that the idea has some appeal.

Why do I care about all of this? Am I simply looking for career advancement? No. For me the reason why I even remotely consider taking on more responsibility at InterVarsity it my desire to see students enter into a relationship with Jesus Christ and to help them follow him as they embody his presence into the world. There are lots of great campuses in the Twin Cities and I would love to have the ability to recruit and train staff to help them to do incarnational ministry with students as I myself do incarnational ministry with students on the West Bank.

The U of M probably needs several new staff in the next couple of years and it would be good to hire staff to start chapters at Hamline, Augsburg, Normandale, St. Thomas, and St. Kate’s. Macalester College is the only campus that seems adequately staffed currently. The regional director seems open to the possibility. However, my suspicion is that it would take too much time away from the West Bank–which needs to remain my primary focus. Although Missio Dei isn’t my “job” per se, it is a large part of my vocation. Working with InterVarsity supplements and enhances that vocation. If it would only add 10-15 extra hours a week to serve the metro area as an area director, I’d probably do it. But I think it would take a lot more, and it would mean less time on campus and even less time in the West Bank neighborhood in general.

The nice thing about the West Bank (in regards to InterVarsity work) is that there are two campuses on the West Bank: the University of Minnesota and Augsburg College (and St. Kate’s if you count the one building they have on the West Bank). I think there is definitely enough campus work to keep me busy, and I could very well end up leading a team of several staff that work at both campuses.

Another possibility that came up in my conversation with the Regional Director is that there is a chance I could be team leader at the University of Minnesota. This would allow me to focus my ministry on the West Bank (which is non-negotiable) while overseeing other staff at the U of M–helping to recruit new staff and overseeing existing staff. Whether or not I will serve in this capacity is up to the area director–whoever that person ends up being.
Unless God convinces me otherwise, I assume that I won’t be submitting my name next week. I really want to focus my energy on the West Bank–on both residents and students. My prayer is that the new area director will do a splendid job at recruiting new staff and supporting existing staff for the area. One of the criteria is that he or she will appreciate working with me (I’m not joking–it has been recognized by my supervisors that “not just anyone” would appreciate my approach to campus ministry). I hope that whoever my future supervisor is, he or she will be supportive of my odd ideas and have a few odd ideas of their own.

Quick Hello

November 29, 2006

I’m sitting in my room at the Castaway Club near Detroit Lakes, MN–where I grew up. This week has been set aside for the InterVarsity Regional Staff Meeting. It is windy, rainy, and cold outside. The only surprising thing about that is the rainy part. It is almost December–it hardly ever rains this late into the year in this part of the state.

I’ve got a few things I want to blog about, but I need to be home in order to blog about them…so it will have to wait until Thursday.

thanksgiving or angst-giving?

November 20, 2006

This will be my only post for this week. Amy and I are borrowing a friend’s car and driving up to visit family from Wednesday to Saturday. Along the way, we’re visiting our friend Michael, who is in a correctional facility in St. Cloud. In a recent phone conversation, he gave me permission to share some of his poetry with you, and I hope to share one of them next week.

I like the idea of Thanksgiving, but I’ve never been a particularly thankful person. It isn’t as though I take things for granted more than average–it’s more that I am the sort of person who is always straining ahead for what-could-be. I am always more aware of lack than I am of abundance. I’m motivated by what is wrong and my desire to bring justice than I am by what is right and my desire to give thanks.

My hope and prayer is that God will help me cultivate a heart of gratitude. But I believe voicing angst can sometimes be as beneficial as giving thanks (cheesy wordplay intended). David and the prophets were well versed in voicing angst–crying out to God and their people with a heart of discontent, a heart of sadness, a heart of anger and fear and misery. We need to be thankful, but the prophetic cry is angst-ful.

We have lost our ability to adequately tie our negative emotions to worship. A friend from South Korea tells me that worship services in Korea often include a time to lament–where an otherwise reserved group of worshipers gives voice to both personal and national pain. The Psalms are filled with this sort of expression. Yet those who cry out in the church today are more likely to be accused of sinning than they are of worshiping.

On Thursday I’ll offer thanks. But today, I offer angst.

  • I’m angst-ful over my friend Michael who is serving a year in prison. He has been on the streets for most of his life. He is broken and needy and alone in this world and feels like he is worthless. How long must he wrestle with his thoughts and every day have sorrow in his heart?
  • I’m angst-ful over my finances, Lord. I have never been in a place where I see your vision so clearly, yet am so powerless to respond. I don’t know how to pay for this month of living, let alone next month. I and scared and sad and frustrated. How long, O LORD, how long? Turn, O LORD, and deliver me; save me because of your unfailing love.
  • I’m angst-ful over the state of the Church in America. What are we doing? Why do we throw billions of dollars into the wind when the needs around us are so great? The Church is a whore, but she is my mother, Lord. Show her mercy, O Lord, and heal her. How long, O Lord, will you look on?
  • I’m angst-ful over the War. God, help us to be a Church of Peacemakers. How long will your anger smolder against the prayers of your people?
  • I’m angst-ful over the future of the Cedar/Riverside neighborhood, Lord. We are small and weak. Few of us work in the field and the soil is rocky. The future is uncertain. When will I see the works you’ve promised, Lord?
  • I’m angst-ful over the environment, human trafficking, wars and rumors of wars, sexism, racism, famine, individualism, consumerism, religious fundamentalism, democrats, republicans, etc. and my own complicity in what is wrong in the world.

Nevertheless, I am thankful to you, O Lord. You are the giver of justice. By your Son you are making, and will make all things new. I thank you, O God, that you are not idle. You don’t sit by on the cloud of transcendence, but are closer to me than I am to myself. It is in You that I live and move and have my very being. I thank you for the works you have done. I thank you for the works you are doing. But most of all I thank you for what you WILL do. Come Lord Jesus.

lesson 7: …and be willing to set a high standard

November 17, 2006

While we must be open-handed, we must also set a high standard. One of the most common criticisms I get is that I have an insider/outsider way of discipleship. Monasticism assumes that members are to live by a rule of faith. Since Missio Dei draws heavily from the monastic tradition, we have a high standard for members that we don’t have for non-members.

While this may certainly create a sort of “in group”, I think one can get around this by having a “low” standard for fellowship. In other words, have a completely open table, where you invite anyone who will come, and share all good things with one another.

In most churches, you have attenders AND membership AND staff AND pastors. Missio Dei attempts to flatten that by having only one distinction: people who live by the rule and those who don’t. Those who live by the rule serve others and try to teach our way of life, but in no way are we supposed to see ourselves as “better.”

In the beginning, we set the bar too low. We assumed that we should start with a watered-down version of the vision and then slowly lead people towards the ideal. This usually encourages people to camp half-way. I think you have to start with the standard and call people towards it. Jesus’ first sermons in Luke and Matthew were pretty bold. He didn’t ease them into it. He was patient with his disciples, to be sure, but he didn’t start with Sermon-on-the-Mount-lite and then slowly build to Sermon-on-the-Mount-robust. We need to have a Jesus-shaped standard balanced with patience and process.
Pachomius, one of the monastic fathers, failed in his first attempt at monastic life. His followers tried to kill him, since his rule seemed to rigorous. Pachomius tried again with a new group, this time with a MORE rigorous rule. The second time, it stuck.

lesson 6: be open-handed…

November 17, 2006

One of the things we’ve done right is to be an open-handed community. We don’t try hard to “keep” people–if someone is considering being a part of a different community, we want to help them discern through it without assuming that they should stay. We also try to invite folks from other churches to be a part of the things we do. Being territorial is petty and causes stress. Small churches always run the risk of fighting for each member. Don’t. Let people be free to stay or go. Be about the business of helping people discern how they are to be involved instead of putting pressure on them.

We’ve also been intentional in building relationships with organizations. Missio Dei is a part of the Baptist General Conference. We’re also seeking a dual affiliation with the Mennonite Church USA. In addition, we’re partnering with InterVarsity to do campus ministry. To some folks, this seems a bit much. But it keeps us from becoming insular, stagnant, and self-absorbed. It helps us to realize that our business is to cultivate a movement of disciples on the West Bank. What their affiliation is is irrelevant. Denominationalism is almost dead. Instead, we need to see groups as “theological streams.” It is healthy to drink from multiple streams.

Various Thoughts on a Thursday

November 16, 2006

The Twin Cities Emergent Cohort met today…it was a lot of fun. I may be all angsty about Emergent as an organization sometimes, but I enjoy the conversation and the people. We had about a dozen first timers today. I think the move to a lunch meeting and the relocation at Acadia has helped.
Before the meeting I met with Doug Pagitt to talk about adoption. He’s adopted siblings, and Amy and I are planning to do the same. I feel confirmed and encouraged in our decision to adopt siblings from the Hennepin County foster system. I wish every Christian couple would assume that they OUGHT to adopt, instead of seeing it as what you do when you can’t have biological children.
Tonight I’m sharing at the U of M East Bank IV chapter. It is their outreach night, where they invite friends to listen to someone share their journey. Tonight I’m that someone.

I brought some good friends to the airport yesterday, and I must say that I’m enjoying the use of their car. I’m definitely happy about being a car-less couple, but it is nifty traveling at will–for this week I am no longer a slave to the transit system. I can honestly say, however, that I’m surprised by how little I miss the use of a car. It is fun to have use of one, but Amy and I are hoping to never go back.

We are renting a car next week, though. We’re driving up to visit family for the holiday. Along the way, we’re going to visit our friend Michael who is serving time at a correctional facility.

my wife IS in ministry

November 16, 2006

amy.jpgI’m proud of Amy (my wife). This year, after much prayer and discernment (individually and communally), the decision was made that she would leave her job of 9 years as a full time ESL/ELL teacher with Saint Paul Public Schools in order to find work (either volunteer or part time) working with residents on the West Bank. She was able to find two part time jobs (about 10 hrs/wk each) teaching English in Riverside Plaza to East African immigrants.

Before she found work on the West Bank, folks would ask Amy if she was quitting her job in St. Paul in order to do ministry. Amy would explain that she quit in order work/volunteer on the West Bank (a very incarnational decision if you ask me), Most folks don’t think of that as ministry. They think I’m the one who does ministry and that she does something other than ministry. Fie upon such thoughts!

I remain firmly convinced that if Missio Dei had 10 solidly committed people who lived in community, practiced regular hospitality, with each person giving some of their time volunteering in the neighborhood, the witness would be more impressive than 500 marginally involved people attending a weekly gathering. Disagree if you want.

To close, I want to show you some funny pictures Amy showed me yesterday. She’s teaching a unit on body parts and health and she found these–which are actual visual aids to be used in teaching English:


lesson 5: get a job, fundraise, or do church for free or cheap

November 15, 2006

I often meet with folks who want to do church in an unconventional way. Often times these folks have really intriguing ideas. It always progresses the same way: we talk about ecclesiology, we talk about where they want to do church, we commiserate on how difficult it is to find people who really “get” it…and then usually right towards the end of the conversation the issue of money comes up.

Almost all church planters I know want to get paid for planting their church, even the incredibly unconventional ones. They hope to get denominational funding even though, many would admit, they’ll never be self-sufficient. Such a hope is often a foolish one.

Don’t misunderstand me. I’m all for being unconventional. I also think that the most important sorts of ministry that needs to get done in this world can’t pay for itself (the poor aren’t the best tithers in the world). But denominations are interested in survival and not too keen of giving money away ad infinitum.

That’s usually why I encourage people to either A) let the love of ministry be its own reward (ie, get a regular job and do ministry as a volunteer) and/or B) suck it up and raise support. I can only think of one person who has taken my advice seriously on this point.

One of three things usually happens at this point: 1) the church planter compromises in order to make the vision more attractive to denominational folks, 2) the church planter goes away like the rich young ruler, sad and confounded, or 3) the church planter decides to tempt fate and embark on the painful journey of church planting with few resources.

My own story is this: I planted Missio Dei as a compromiser. I got funding–for a while. 6 months into the thing, I started feeling like a compromiser, so we began to focus in on the vision more aggressively. People left, we dwindled. At the end of a year or so, Missio Dei was hurting, and Amy and I were in debt. At that point, I started to fund raise a bit more and, through a number of nifty occurrences, I started to come on staff with InterVarsity. Working with InterVarsity is in a way like being bi-vocational, except I have to raise funds. I got a small stipend from Missio Dei for a while, but now I’m basically destitute until I can get my InterVarsity funds raised.

And so, I offer my experience as one who made some wrong choices, but was willing to go through the painfully awkward task of transitioning our church into the sort of community that doesn’t need much money to function. Sure, we’d love to have lots of money to serve the West Bank–we could put it to good use. But we’re now at a place where I wish we’d been from the beginning–a group of people who want to commit to being disciples in a particular place–nothing more, nothing less.

cohort meeting this thursday: the emerging church as reform movement

November 14, 2006

The Twin Cities Emergent Cohort will meet on Thursday, November 16th at 12 noon at the Acadia Cafe.

For this month’s meeting, we will discuss what it is that the “emerging” church hopes to reform and how we can lead people to see the need for these reforms. The emerging church is, some would argue, a reform movement within the church. In the past 10 years, communities have been popping up that want to challenge church-as-usual and re-envision what it means to be and do church. What are some of the ways that the emerging church wants to challenge the status-quo? How can we help folks see the need for this challenge?

If you are near Minneapolis, please come. Invite others. Live the dream. ;)

lesson 4: be a resourceful dancer

November 14, 2006

The “shape” of a community is determined by the synergistic “dance” between the Spirit and the people within community. Often we think of the church as static, rather than dynamic. A static organization conforms to flow charts and blueprints and all manner of premeditated strategies. If the church is a static organization, you can plug people into the flow chart. But if the church is fundamentally dynamic, you need to be able to think on your feet. You need to have the flexibility of a dancer. And you need the resourcefulness to improvise dance steps, since church is a dance without predetermined moves.

I’ve known folks that shut down when things don’t go according to plan. We also are conditioned, as church planters, to see any deviation from the plan as a bad thing. But I think God is tired of our plans and wants to mix things up. And the sorts of folks he wants to use aren’t the CEO types who can get the plan implemented, but the resourceful dancer who is listening to the rhythm of the Spirit.

Missio Dei started as a plan. Now I have really no idea where we’re headed, but I hear the rhythm.

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