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Monday, May 19, 2008

frost defines missional at pgf, pt. 2

At Wednesday night Bible studies this month, we have been watching the video of Michael Frost speaking at the Presbyterian Global Fellowship (PGF) conference in 2007 in Houston. He is from Australia and was tasked with defining what it means to be “missional.” This is a word that is very in vogue these days, and Frost directly challenges using it as any kind of “add-on” program. Rather, he insists, it is a revolutionary, vibrant, and fundamental shift in how Christians see things. In this particular presentation, Frost describes three shifts: 1) seeing God differently; 2) seeing the Church differently; and 3) seeing the world differently. Last Wednesday night, we watched the second segment, on seeing God differently.

What follows are some of the key statements (in my opinion) and some of the questions we discussed around those statements.

The Church is the participatio Christi - the gathering of the redeemed ones sent to participate in the work of Jesus in this world.

e had a good discussion around Frost's discussion of Church as those who participate in the work of Christ in the world. In fact, I had been using some of this language in the past year to challenge the congregation to "get up and get out." Remembering my concern about Frost's seeming disregard for God's holiness, I would want to make the same disclaimer about his definition of Church. Yes, we need to hear and be challenged to see ourselves as participants in God's work in the world. But, we are also the "holy ones" - those set apart. Perhaps the right balance is found in the wording of Ephesians: we are set apart for good works in Christ.

The original meaning of ecclesia was the "wise fathers" at the city gate who gathered to add value (wisdom, guidance, judgment, etc...) to the village of which they are a part.

Frost spent a significant portion of the twelve-minute segment on the church describing the original context of the Greek word ecclesia. D.A. Carson would, no doubt, warn us against the root fallacy which over-prioritizes the etymology of a word in determining present meaning. Nonetheless, Frost issues adequate disclaimers and goes on to share a fascinating look at the ancient practice of elders sitting at the city gate. His main point was that the wise fathers of a village didn't "retire," but placed themselves (and were given place!) to give back to their community in a vital way. We in the study could not help be experience sadness over the diminished role and value given to older adults in American culture, and often reflected in the church.

The Church shares this original meaning of ecclesia because the followers of Jesus are to be a gift to the community of which they are a part - giving geauty, honesty, help, and health - like SALT and LIGHT.

We then moved to Frost's logical next question - how does that community-nurturing practice of ecclesia in ancient times inform our understanding of the community of the Church? Noting that the New Testament adds new dimension to that ancient practice, Frost pointed us towards the need to impact those outside our walls. It is so easy to focus church programs on ourselves, but God invites us out into the hurting world around us. I would again note the absence of the holy/set apart nature of ecclesia in the church context, but Frost does an effective job of stretching us in a direction we are not used to going. Overall, it has the effect of skiing when one is not in the habit - you wake up sore, having used muscles you never knew existed.

If the "fathers at the gate" were stolen away, it would be disastrous. What if your church suddenly disappeared from your neighborhood. Would it make any difference?

This hypothetical "what if" was chilling to us, not because of the horrible thought that the church might suddenly disappear, but because of the realization that no one outside the walls of the church might notice at all! Perhaps I exaggerate, though. After the first lull of shocked silence, the study group actually came up with a number of ways we would be missed: our ballfield for the neighborhood baseball league; our facilities as meeting space; our neighborhood plays; and a biggie - our preschool! Plus, I never would have guessed how much our neighbors would miss our trees - but a number called or even stopped by to comment.
Frost shared that one of the questions fueling his vision for his own church is that of being a church that would be missed greatly.

Choice of friends: most of your friends are Christian and go to church... we have been "leeched out of our neighborhoods."

It was also convicting to grapple with this statement. Maybe it is more pointed for me as a pastor, but I do sometimes feel like all my friends are church-going Christians. I need to find some places to go and be where I am not surrounded by believers. I imagine I am not alone in this and that Frost is right - many Christians do have limited exposure to non-Christians, perhaps even as a well-cultivated and intentional choice! I don't think one has to look very far in scripture to see that is what Jesus would not do!

What is Christ doing in our city and neighborhood? How is wisdom, grace, beauty, mercy, peace, and love emerging in your neighborhood? Our job is to go fan it into flame... to "feed the wheat." "Go, go, go, where Jesus is!"

This is exactly where I am urging us to go as a "searchlight church." I sometimes feel like I'm beating that metaphor into the ground and that people are tired of it... but the Wednesday night group got pretty energized by this point in the discussion. [Sometimes, it helps to hear the same message from another person with different metaphors - and the cool Aussie accent doesn't hurt either!]

Only one or two have really caught the vision for "going where Jesus is" - but I am really excited about the one or two. I feel like the church ministry staff has the vision, but it needs to be embraced by the congregation. And, while slow, I do see this happening. That's really exciting! [Now, the timing of this is interesting, with giving at an all-time low... how shall I reconcile the surging interest in God's mission and the ebbing tide of financial support... and does one really need money to participate in Christ? (the obvious answer seems to be, "of course not" - but the accountants might beg to differ]

Frost tells the story of transformation an old Baptist church into an art gallery (among other things).

I found myself wanting a little more detail about the transformation his congregation brought to the old, traditional Baptist church building. Was it just an art gallery and coffeeshop? Was there regular worship there? But again... I don't see Frost laying out blueprints; rather, he just might get those stuck in the mud free by rocking the carriage enough.

We were running out of time on Wednesday night, but we had some fun beginning to think about transforming Good Shepherd. My favorite of the night - what if some of us volunteered to bag groceries one day a week at the grocery store on the corner - as a way to meet and engage our neighbors. That was in the same sentence as, "I'm ready for me and my children to join the church." Woo!

NEXT WEEK: seeing the world differently

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