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Welcome! The primary purpose of this blog is to explore and encourage around what it means to be winsome and sent into the world for God's glory. If you are new here, the definition of "lighthouse-searchlight" or our missional journey is a good place to start. Come peruse the blog and add me to your RSS feed!

Thursday, March 31, 2011

searchlight (missional) presbytery?

Original Post: November 11, 2010

Recently I have been pondering the role and function of the presbytery related to the local congregation.  Let me start by saying that I highly value the presbytery, which is part of the polity and structure of the Presbyterian church.  I think the presbytery can provide oversight, accountability, connectionalism, and community; and these are things I value.

Recently I was also struck by a potential analogy to the "searchlight church" theme of this blog.  Analogies are not perfect, particularly because they are not comprehensive in describing things, but I think this comparison might point us in a helpful direction.

the presbytery is to the local congregation
the local congregation is to its neighborhood

Ponder that.  I almost wrote "should be" but then realized the presbytery struggles at precisely the same point the local congregation struggles: gathering resources for internal ministry rather than focusing resources on external mission.

"Now wait, wait!" you say.  Presbyteries are all about mission.  They do collectively what individual congregations cannot.  Yes, when they are working well, that is sometimes true.  But often the message and experience of presbytery is:
  • send us your money to support our programs and missions
  • send us your people to fill our committees
  • give us your days to conduct the business of presbytery
There's nothing specifically wrong with any of those things, but I see such a close analogue to the local congregation strategies that have served us since the 1950s.
  • come and visit us!
  • we've built it so that they will come
  • give to the church
  • bring your friends and neighbors
What if the presbytery could harness some of the vision of a missional church? ... or in my choice of terms, become a "searchlight presbytery?"

So, just as we've tried to re-frame local church in terms of going where our neighbors are and asking what God is doing and how we can be a part, what if the presbytery started re-framing its role in terms of going where the congregations were and asking what God was doing there and how presbytery could equip, facilitate, encourage, empower, and be a part.

What would it look like (and what would my answer be?!) if my presbytery called and asked me what God was doing in and through my local congregation and how presbytery could encourage, equip, facilitate, or otherwise be a part of what is happening?

I wonder.

Update: March/April 2011

It turns out that I didn't have to wonder... I was asked to serve as the vice-chair of council for 2011 and the chair (Kate Murphy) and I brought these very questions to our council.  Follow the link to see what is happening: http://robertaustell.blogspot.com/2011/04/searchlight-missional-presbytery.html


Related Posts (03/31/11)

Related post on missional re-think in the Presbytery of Cincinnatti: http://gamc.pcusa.org/yearbook/march-28/

The Middle Governing Bodies Commission is seeking input on the role of GA, synods, and presbyteries around questions related to the topic of this post.  Respond to one of their surveys here:

#mgbcomm survey...
for WHOLE CHURCH: http://www.pcusa.org/MGBChurchWideSurvey
for SESSIONS: http://www.pcusa.org/MGBSessionSurvey
for LEADERS: http://www.pcusa.org/MGBLeaderSurvey

Friday, March 25, 2011

can the ten plagues of exodus teach me anything?

A Top-Ten List from the Plagues
Here is a summary list of themes and take-aways from our study of the miraculous signs in Exodus 7-11.  They don't match up one-to-one with the ten plagues; rather, they are broad themes found in each of the signs.

#10 DRAMA: Miraculous Signs
#9 HOLINESS: A Holy People (whether they know it or not)
#8 AUTHORITY: The Absolute Authority of Yahweh
#7 IDOLATRY: Pharaoh’s control issues and the showdown
#6 MERCY: Even in the Midst of Judgment
#5 FAITHFULNESS: God Keeping Covenant and Achieving His Purpose
#4 NAMES: Especially God’s Name
#3 WITNESS: among the Nations
#2 WEAKNESS: God Uses the Weak to Accomplish His Purpose
#1 GOSPEL: a Demonstration of the Gospel

From the 03/20/11 sermon here - see link for full manuscript, audio, music, bulletin cover by one of our church children, and a skit used in conjunction with the sermon. 

Tuesday, March 15, 2011

michael frost on 'greatness'

We were challenged and stretched by studying and interacting with a Michael Frost video a few years ago (part 1, part 2, part 3).  I just ran across this short clip by Frost which nails what we are trying to do and be in the Old Providence/Swan's Run neighborhoods of South Charlotte.

Michael Frost on "Who is the greatest?" from Parish Collective on Vimeo.

Thursday, March 10, 2011

a different kind of ash wednesday service

... for us, at least.

WE thought we'd try something different this year.  I'm not talking about content-wise; we still focused on sin, our own mortality, and repentance.  We still had the imposition of ashes.  But here was the particular dynamic we had in view...

One of the exciting fruit of our searchlight vision (in general) and "Wednesday Night Experiment" (specifically) is a blessed pandemonium on Wednesday nights.  Our pattern has been to draw all of the Wednesday night crowd in for the Ash Wednesday service.  But now, rather than the group of 40-over-40 from several years ago (see "Blessed Pandemonium"), we had 100 or so folks, with 30 under 12, various reading/ADD/learning style challenges at the child to adult level, and an exciting number of "I've never been to church before" folks in attendance.

And we were going to work through a liturgy about sin, death, and repentance using the wide-ranging and weighty words of Psalm 44.

We recognized that so much of our worship is word-oriented (and Word oriented!), musical, and visual - and all delightfully so.  But maybe something different tonight?  Psalm 44 has a number of references to "hands" - and the series from Lent I (this Sunday) through Easter is called "I Will Stretch Out My Hand" in reference to God's statement in Exodus 7:2 to that effect.  So, we decided to have a more kinesthetic learning-style service (yes, I remembered that word from developmental psyche back in college!!).

We used Psalm 44 as the structure for the whole service, and we used our hands (literally!) to understand and work through each part of it.  Here are the basics, and I will link to the order of worship below.  When I realized we'd be using our hands throughout, we did away with the bulletin and projected all the scripture and music on the screen.

Psalm 44:1-8   We opened with a Call to Worship and time of thanks and praise these verses, which celebrates God's faithfulness in times past.  We saw a visual of a strong hand.

We sang "The Potter's Hand" which talks about God's molding, guiding hands (like a potter).  :)

Psalm 44:9-14    We talked about anger and blaming God for our circumstances and read these verses together while tightly clenching our hands into fists and holding that through these "God, look what you have done to us" verses.  I then spoke briefly about them, connecting them back to the anguish and frustration in Exodus 6 (last Sunday's text), then we let go with our hands.... (after 2-3 min of tight clenching, that's an interesting feeling!)

Psalm 44:17-19    The Psalm moves into more of a pleading tone, saying, "but we have not forgotten you (Lord)."  We clasped our hands into a child-like prayer gesture and prayed these verses together.  I then spoke briefly, asking whether Israel (and we) might have forgotten God, despite these words.

Psalm 44:20-22   We continued with "extended hands" (as if grasping for something), focusing on the words about "extending our hands to a strange god" - and I spoke briefly on sin and idolatries we sometimes reach for instead of God. 

And with that move from anger to pleading to self-examination (which reminds me of the stages of grief!) led us into a prayer of confession.  I had been looking for a time in which we could join hands.  This didn't seem the obvious time, but we did and I reminded the congregation that though sin isolates, we are never alone - indeed, scripture reminds us that "all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God" - and so we prayed a prayer of confession together - eyes open reading screen - and holding hands.  Very interesting...

Psalm 44:23-24    These verses literally ask some questions of God - "Why do you sleep?  Why do you hide your face?" - so we raised one hand like a child would at school if asking a question, and we read these verses together.  I spoke briefly about how multiple times in Exodus 3-6 (the text we have been using in worship the past month) God's word to the people was, "I see you; I hear you; I remember you and the covenant; I will deliver you." 

Psalm 44:25    I noted that this verse is the next to last in the Psalm and is where we end up without God intervening to save.  "Our soul has sunk down into the dust; our body cleaves to the earth."  And at that point we had the imposition of ashes.

Psalm 44:26    Then the Psalm ends with a plea for help and hope: "Rise up, be our help, and redeem us..."  We read that, sang another song ("Give Us Clean Hands") - yes, another hand song.  :)

The benediction was from Romans 8:35-39, which quotes Psalm 44, which we had just read: "For your sake we are being put to death... sheep to the slaughter," but which surrounds that with one of the most hope-filled declarations of the Gospel in scripture: "Nothing will separate us from the love of God in Christ..."  I asked the congregation to hold out their hands in a receiving gesture as I spoke these words of blessing over them.
Did it "work?"  Well, we focused on God's Word and the Spirit was present; this wasn't about a gimmick.  But, I do think it was an effective way to enter into that Word.  The chaperones for the kids we tutor and for the group home guys caught up with me after taking their folks home and said the conversation on the way home was significant.  I asked my own 8, 10, and 12 year old what they thought - and they are usually pretty honest if they are bored - and they all really seemed to like and understand it.  The gestures (clenched fist, etc...) seemed to help explain/experience some verses that probably would have been hard to process in a normal sermon-type delivery.

So, that's what happened.  We won't be shaking fists every Sunday, but this definitely was something new and something to return to in different ways.

Here are the notes I was working from and what was projected on the screen (with lots of "handy" artwork by Kathy Larson).  I can even send the PowerPoint slides if anyone is interested (just e-mail me at robert@gspc.net).

Wednesday, March 02, 2011

don't waste your time

This is a re-post of an older article from 2007... I thought it worth elevating to draw us back to the primacy of worship.  ~rma

In Mark 14, when the woman anointed Jesus with what translates into maybe $30,000 worth of perfume in today's dollars, the disciples laid into her about what a waste that was. She could have given the money to the poor! $30,000... talk about a waste! And Jesus told them to shut up and leave her be, for she had done a "beautiful thing" (NIV). It was an act of worship.

A missional church is predicated on
being a worshiping church.

Why do I assert that so diligently, seemingly against the current "missional" movement?

Worship? What about the poor? What about those who haven't heard the Good News? What about our mission and God's mission to the world? Aren't all those things really important?

Yes, they are. That's why Jesus put them together. What is the greatest commandment?
The greatest commandment is to love the Lord your God with all your heart, soul, mind, and strength; and to love your neighbor as yourself. (cf. Mark 12:30-31)
There it is - Jesus didn't omit it - we are to love our neighbor. We are to feed the poor. We are to build houses for Habitat and support missionaries to those who haven't heard. We are to love our enemies and join in God's mission the world. But here's the point: those things don't matter if we don't love God with all we are and all we have.

You will be hard-pressed to find anyone who is more gung-ho about God's mission, whether that be ministries of mercy or sharing the Good News. But if I haven't made this clear, then hear it clearly now, as taught in this passage:

All the love in the world is wasted without first
loving the God who is the author and creator
of that world and of love itself.

Want to talk about waste? There's a statement to chew on.

What Jesus taught is that loving God with all we have and all we are cannot but result in love of neighbor. Jesus taught that a lot! But the opposite is not true. Love of neighbor does not automatically result in loving or even knowing God.

And this woman, probably Mary, sister of Lazarus and Martha (cf. John 12), got it right.

That's why wherever the Gospel (the Good News) is proclaimed, what she did will be remembered. It is because what she did was worship God with all she was and all she had, with heart, soul, mind, and strength. And where the Gospel goes and people respond, they too will come to know what it means to worship and serve the Lord.

The prophet Isaiah said, "Seek the Lord while He may be found." (55:6) This blessed woman demonstrated both the wisdom and the beauty of doing just that.

Full Sermon HERE

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