Tag Archives: ministry leadership

Maintaining Balance

Have you ever felt your life was out of balance?  Have you ever had a season when you were simply to busy to rest and reflect upon your life but later came to realize that by resting and reflecting, your life actually got easier and made more sense?  I have just recently come through a season like this.

This past week Jamie, who leads our Fairfield Court missional community, shared that when our communities gather and the conversation is more spiritual in nature, there is a real energy in the room verses conversations that more focused on the tangible stuff our groups engage in like GED tutoring or planning a clothing give away.  I have also seen the exact opposite happen in groups that spend all their time on spiritually focused things, like bible studies.  Often these groups come alive when occasionally people start to discuss how they can tangibly live out the scriptures in the world.  I think the key is balance.

I just went back to a post that I wrote August 1, 2009, titled “Empowering a Movement” based on a book about Church of the Savior.

This particular quote from the book caught my attention:

“We have found it incredibly hard to hold to the concept of the inward and outward journeys. We early discovered that not many persons want them both. Weighted heavily on one side or the other, most of us struggle intensely to keep these two dimensions in any kind of creative tension in our individual and our corporate lives.”

I think we need to be intentional in balancing these two elements of the journey in our own lives and modeling that balance in our missional communities.  I think Jamie’s observation that when the conversation is rooted in the things of the spirit, the passion and energy is present is because perhaps we have been more heavily focused on the outer journey in our groups.  If we want to get to the core of some of the issues faced by those in our communities, like hopelessness and apathy,  we have to find ways of helping people along in their inner journey.

I would love to hear from all of you regarding practices you have developed that have helped you in your inner journey.

The outer journey is obviously the easy side of the equation for me.  I am a “doer” and I have to work hard at making time and space to simply “be”.  For me, practicing stillness or contemplative prayer in nature has been the most powerful practice for me related to the inner journey.  My time spent on my ridge alone in the middle of nowhere just sitting and soaking in the presence of God does more for my spirit than anything else I have found.  I gain such clarity and discernment from this practice in addition to inner peace and healing.  I experience the same healing presence when I am alone in my kayak.  Sometimes I paddle to spiritual music which can be healing but sometimes God sings to me through the birds of the air.  Today was one of those days…blue sky and God’s love in the subtle breeze across the water.

I took a class in seminary called Celtic Spirituality which met at Camp Hanover.  We would gather in a cabin, then we were to spend the next hour seeking God in the wilderness, then came back to class and shared where we met God.  It was a powerful class!  I learned more about spirituality in that one class than I did in all my theology books.

That has been my pathway to a healthy inner journey. When I neglect this practice, I become unhealthy and the outer journey is simply no fun. I encourage you all to share your own path.  I think it may help us to discern how we can help others find their way while we learn more about one another and how God has shaped each of us.

I ask that we embark in this sharing with a gracious spirit, a spirit that respects each contributors journey as valid and equally true as any other person’s journey.  My prayer is that while we may not all have the same practices, we all can respect the practices of others and the fruit that each practice yields.

So, where do you encounter God most powerfully?  How do you find inner peace and healing?

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Filed under Leadership, Urban Ministry

Releasing Creativity

Does the church encourage creativity and innovation? Are we helping people discover their talents and gifts and encouraging their creativity?   These are the questions asked by Dan Kimball in his recent blog post titled “May the church (and seminaries) be part of helping change how we teach and educate”.

Dan was inspired to write this post after watching this interview with Sir Ken Robinson who says our education system works like a factory in a post titled “Why Teaching is not like making motor cars” appearing on the CNN Opinion page. Robinson states that our current system of education is based on models of mass production and conformity that actually prevent kids from finding their passions and succeeding.   In other words we educate the creativity out of people.

This past week, I took my daughters to what I had been told was a “Creative Arts program” for inner city youth being hosted by a local church.  I was expecting art, drama, dance, and music but instead we realized too late that it was simply a Sunday school lesson with a craft at the end.  There was absolutely no creativity involved.  The “teacher” shared the lesson, asked a few questions, broke us into discussion groups with more lessons to read and questions to answer.  In the last three minutes of the “lesson” we did a quick well defined craft with little creativity involved.

My spirit grieved as we left at the end of the class.  What these urban youth so desperately need is to be heard, to be known, to discover their unique talents and gifts. Instead we simply dispensed information and took no interest in who they are or what they have to offer the world.

I watched the young urban youth all around me.  One youngster fell asleep next to me, another spent her time braiding my daughters hair, another played with my cell phone.  They all tuned out the teacher as I myself kept looking at my watch waiting for the end.  It is not that the teacher was unprepared, or unkind.  I could tell she really wanted to connect with the kids but the way she had been taught was how she was teaching these young people.  This is exactly what Robinson notes in his talk on TED titled “Ken Robinson says schools kill creativity” Robinson shares a number of wonderful stories that demonstrate the value of creativity.  Both video’s are well worth your time.

One of my favorite quotes from Robinson is this “If you are not prepared to be wrong you will never come up with anything original.”  Robinson stresses that our emphasis on getting it right is educating people out of their creative capacities.   Sadly I see this in my own children who are hesitant to try if they do not know the “right” answer and I myself still have a fear of being “wrong”.

In working with urban individuals, the lack of imagination and creativity among adults has been startling to me.  So many of our friends have difficulty imagining their world being different than it is today.  I hear so many reason’s why things can’t be done and so little creative problem solving skills.  The system is so focused on conformity and control that we are handicapping people and preventing them from being co-creators with God.

However, I have seen the power that creativity has to heal people and breed hope.  Just ask my friend Yolanda who defeated her drug addition and credits liturgical dance for helping to save her life.  This week we talked about gifts in our East End missional community and I heard the pride in Richard’s voice as he shared his artwork.  He shared how as a boy he had loved to draw but had not drawn in years.  Now he was regaining hope as he started to draw again.  I know from personal experience the power that writing has to helping us heal from difficult circumstances.  Yet, our society places far more importance on math and science than on writing, dance and art.

I encourage any of you who teach or are involved in Christian education to watch both these videos and share your thoughts on this subject.  I was blessed to be a part of a very creative youth ministry when I lived in Texas and I know the tremendous joy it brought both me and the young people who participated in it.  I truly believe as the educational systems in our area are cutting back on the arts, the church should be expanding in that area.  I believe if we want to reach this next generation, it will be through the creative and performing arts.

If there is an institution that should get the importance of creativity it is the church.  Shouldn’t we reflect the essence of our Creator God?

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Filed under Urban Ministry

Riding in the Passenger Seat

My daughter needs just 10 nighttime hours of supervised driving to get her driver’s license.  So we planned an evening trip from Richmond to Northern Virginia to visit family this past Friday.  All day Friday I was at a board retreat, sharing with the board my desire to move out of operations and into more of an oversight or director role.  There was much discussion over what that would look like and some honest concern over whether I would be able to step aside and let the staff, Joe Torrence and Susan Carminucci, take the lead.

As I climbed into the car  and allowed my daughter to assume the driver’s seat, I realized that this is exactly the season I am in with Embrace Richmond.  I have tremendous confidence that my daughter will one day be a superb driver but if I simply gave her the keys and instructed her to take the car to Northern Virginia without me there beside her; I would not only endanger my daughter, but could cause harm to others.  Likewise, I have tremendous confidence in Joe and Susan’s abilities to lead Embrace Richmond, but for a season, I need to be in the passenger seat helping them avoid the pot holes and learning the roadways.

Letting go is never easy.  My first debate with my daughter was over who got to choose the music.  I had been in a board meeting for six hours and really wanted something smoothing and relaxing and feared what my daughter would select but I conceded to her request.  She selected “The Shins” a group I had never heard of.  To my surprise, I actually liked The Shins.  Likewise, Joe and Susan will have their own style and will rhythm and I am looking forward to learning a few new tunes.

The second challenge we faced was how to get to Northern Virginia.  An experienced driver would of course take I95; but the thought of my daughter who had never driven on a major freeway and never driven long distances at night driving on I95 terrified the both of us.  Thankfully, I sought wise counsel and learned that Route 1 was a good alternative.  It would take longer to get to our destination but it would afford me much needed instructional time with Caitlin.  Most of Caitlin’s driving experience had been on country roads and suburban roadways.  Route 1, while new to both of us, required the same skills she had already mastered.  We were building on what Caitlin already knew, simply adding new territory and a new twist…darkness.

Joe has proven his abilities in a number of areas; he is great at motivating people and skilled at executing programs that help fulfill the overall vision and mission of Embrace.  Susan has a strong background in business and finance and excellent administrative skills.  However, this new role is going to require both Joe and Susan to venture into new territory.  For Joe the challenge will be managing a large number of AmeriCorps members and for Susan the challenge will be insuring compliance with the complex requirements of our AmeriCorps grant.  Both have had prior experience that we will build on but both will have a steep learning curve in the next few months so we are going to take it slow.

As we drove along Route 1, my daughter got excited as she saw new towns and interesting buildings.  At our Board Retreat, our consultants shared with us some wonderful new management techniques and I watched as Joe became excited about his ability to venture into this role of manager.  Likewise, Susan brought joy to me as she got excited about a process flowchart that I had done for one of our programs…she actually likes flowcharts!   Like my daughter, Joe and Susan, recognize that they will have to learn new skills but their passion for the work of Embrace is the motivation they need to do the hard work of refining their skill sets to meet these new challenges.

Finding Route 1 proved to be a bit more difficult than expected.  We missed our exit and had to take back roads to get back on course.  Thankfully I knew that part of town and was able to direct Caitlin when we got off course, at least during that part of the Journey.  When we got closer to our destination, I no longer knew the way and when we again got lost, we had to pull over and consult a map together.  I am thankful to have this season to share with Joe and Susan the back roads that I have learned over the years but I also realize that where we are going is new to all of us and we will have to consult the map together as we enter new territory.

The most difficult part of our trip occurred when Route 1 ended and we had no choice but to get on I95 for 6.8 miles until we could turn off on Hwy 17 toward my sister’s house.  I knew Caitlin was not ready for the fast pace of I95 at night and we had to change seats for a short distance.

At first she thought she could handle I95, but once she saw the massive number of cars and break lights she said “Mom, I am really glad you are driving.”  One thing I know about Joe and Susan is that they are humble enough and wise enough to know that there are some roadways that are beyond their current skill level.  True maturity is recognizing your limitations and relinquishing control or seeking wise council when you know you are outside your area of expertise.  A year from now, my daughter will be able to drive on I95 with no fears, but for right now, an experience like that could make her fearful of highway driving.  Likewise, before I know it, Joe and Susan will not need me in the car at all but I am thankful for the wisdom they have to know that for a season they need a companion that in difficult times will help them steer.

I was dreading my trip to Northern Virginia but we arrived safely and I actually found there were moments that I enjoyed the passenger seat more than the driver’s seat; I got to look out across the lake and marvel at the beauty, I was able to turn around and watch the sunset, I was able to enjoy the passing scenery and point out interesting new sights to Caitlin but most of all I got the joy of watching my daughter gain confidence in her own ability to drive.  By the end of the trip she asked, “I did pretty good didn’t I?” and I was able to honestly say “You did a great job!”

I am looking forward to my new role of driving coach with Joe and Susan and I promise not to be a backseat driver!

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Filed under Personal Reflection

Empowering a Movement – A search for missional structures

slssLogoServant Leaders, Servant Structures

Elizabeth O’Connor

http://wp.theoblogical.org/?page_id=3782

Insights from Chapter 1

I have been seeking to discern how to build organizational structures that foster creativity and unleash the missional imagination of people seeking to follow Christ in tangible ways in our community.  Church of the Savior is one of only a handful of Christian ministries I have found that has achieved this objective masterfully.  In Chapter One of Servant Leaders, Servant Structures, available in full at http://wp.theoblogical.org/?page_id=3782, Elizabeth O’Connor provides us with insights into the history, successes and struggles in the formation of Church of The Savior and the many missional expressions of the church which have emerged out of this gathering of faithful Christ followers.

Below are a few insights I found interesting.

O’Connor shares that “In time [founder Gordon Cosby] was to believe even more deeply in ordinary persons who, in turn, were to believe more deeply in themselves. This is probably why the community that has come into being under his leadership gives so little attention to credentials.”

Paradoxically, this community which takes so little notice of degrees gives inordinate attention to education. In every eleven-week semester… classes dealing with some aspect of the inward-outward journey are offered. They vary in content and focus, and range all the way from “discovery of self” to journalizing and contemplation. Most of the classes are conducted in the manner of a seminar with each student presenting findings from the application of the week’s assignment in the living out of his or her life.

Gordon Cosby was to say that this concept [annual recommitment to the disciplines of the church], perhaps more than any other, was the one destined to be the most helpful in retaining integrity of membership.

As we grew in our understanding of silence, we gave more emphasis to the contemplative life. When we become too busy, Dayspring is always there as a reminder that there is no true creativity apart from contemplation.

If the church was to find servant structures, the small groups had to be formed around focused and defined missions with each mission also committed to an inward journey of prayer, worship and study.

Gordon Cosby still feels that the churches, in their quest for structures that nurture life in people, must know that they are venturing into new territory, and that the resources for their exploration rest in the tremendous untapped potential of their own people. The difficulty is that we so often lack confidence in ourselves and in our companions and search for the answers in some other place.

In his preaching and in his conversation he was reminding his own little band that the call of God was a call to create a new kind of community that would be distinguished by its humanness. It would be so human that those in it would do whatever was needed so that everyone in the world might be free. He was reissuing the call to which we had first made response. Later he was to tell the moderators of newly formed mission groups, “A time comes in the life of every group when it loses sight of its goals and must choose them again. Your job will be to sound again the call, to be the bearer of the vision-articulating it in your own life and helping others to see it.”

We formed classes in Christian Vocation. In these classes we were taking a deeper and longer look at the whole matter of call as having to do with the transcendent-the being grasped by that which is greater than we. We began with the basic assumption of the New Testament that there was no way to be the church except by the call of Christ, and that there were a number of dimensions to this call.  The class dealt primarily with the fourth dimension. If the church is a sent people, where was Christ sending each of us?  The call was to move out-to discover where we were to lay down our lives-to take up the stance of the suffering servant, and make witness to the power of Jesus Christ’s work in us.

Actually call was to come to most of us through the ordinary events of life, which were to be extraordinary events because we brought to them a new quality of asking and listening.

Our sermons, classes, and conferences were all concerned with helping others to hear call and discern gifts. We found ourselves so often asking, “What would you like to do?” is a question we still ask indiscriminately-of the very young and the very old, of poor and rich, oppressed and oppressors, and then we listen very carefully and take with utmost seriousness what a person says.

We worked out a procedure requiring every mission to be confirmed by the Church Council. This never meant to us that everyone had to be enthusiastic about every call. Oftentimes we have had to be willing to let another move even when we have large reservations.  Our learning to do this with a certain degree of ease, probably more than any other factor, accounts for the proliferation of mission groups in the community of The Church of The Savior.

We have found it incredibly hard to hold to the concept of the inward and outward journeys. We early discovered that not many persons want them both. Weighted heavily on one side or the other, most of us struggle intensely to keep these two dimensions in any kind of creative tension in our individual and our corporate lives.

[When Cosby was] asked, “What do you think the future of the church is?” He replied, “I have never had a helpful answer to that question. Have no idea. I do not know what the judgments of God are or what will be the breakthroughs of God’s power.” Then he stopped for a long pause and added, “I do not need the church to have a visible or successful future in order for me to feel safe as a person. I’m glad to leave it to God’s sovereignty. It is his church-not mine.”

To fight for integrity of membership within existing structures is certainly extraordinarily difficult, but there is hardly any path that frees one from that struggle. In all of us something powerful is at work which seeks to remake the new concepts into the old. “Community” can quickly be changed into “conformity,” and “call” into “duty.”

The inward-outward structure of the mission groups defines the church as a servant people called into existence to be the community for others.

What we did at that important juncture in our life was to face the importance of structurally implementing a description of “Who we are.”[as defined by their disciplines]

The Council as the governing body of the church was reorganized as a “Mission Council,” comprised of two representatives from each confirmed mission group, who served in rotating order for a period of a year. Representatives reported to their groups what transpired in Council meetings. Any decisions made were binding on the whole membership. When the Council determined that an issue was of such nature as to require confirmation by the total membership, a general congregational meeting was called.

Our mission group structures are tougher and more durable because they have had to cope with the financial dimension. A group responsible for its own finance is not likely to close shop for the summer or to show laxity in ways that it might if someone else were footing the bill. Furthermore, when the money is ours we relate to the whole sphere of economics in a way that would not otherwise happen. This became increasingly evident as our missions in the inner city placed us in the midst of the poor. We returned to our homes at night feeling less easy with our own life styles.

In our small church community the mission groups began to multiply. They were structures that Gordon Cosby had helped to form and that were, in turn, forming him. Although his life was given to working with all the small groups, he was a member of only one, subject to its covenant, under the authority of those whose gifts had been confirmed, his heart and mind enlarged and stretched by commitment to the few. He believed too passionately that strong leadership existed within all the groups. He was, however, and still is available to any group as guide and counselor. Sometimes he is called in at points of crisis to be a reconciler. More often he counsels a group in the early stages of its formation when members are defining their strategy,

The mission structure gave us a people to companion us in our individual freedom movement. Everyone struggles to break away from the oppressive inner structures that make us all prisoners of one kind or another. We need a people to journey with us out of our own Egypt into the broad land that is promised to all who believe in Him.

Summary of Insights that I think may be helpful in empowering a missional movement in Richmond

  1. Commitment to integrity of membership by insisting on a high level of commitment to defined disciplines which shaped corporate identity
  2. Strong commitment lay leadership and belief in ordinary people
  3. Strong emphasis on education around both the inward [contemplative] and outward [missional] journey
  4. Missional groups as the organizing structure [Mission Council] and mission as organizing principle; unwavering commitment to the church as sent people existing for others

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Filed under Leadership, missional church

The Plans, The Hope, The Future

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One of my all time favorite passages of scripture is Jeremiah 29:11; “For I know the plans I have for you, declares the Lord, plans to prosper you not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future.”

This past week I resigned my position as the Director of CARITAS Works.  I have been in the process of transitioning out for the past two months and with the addition of Karen O’Brien I was finally ready and able to hand the furniture bank off fully to CARITAS.  It was exciting and sad all at the same time.  I was actually a little shocked at the sadness because I have been working toward this goal for more than two years.  I think the sadness was more about feeling a little lost than about actually wanting to keep the furniture bank.  It only took me about a day to morn the loss and to begin to see the future God has been preparing.

For the past few months I have been spending a lot of time in prayer and solitude seeking to discern what’s next for me and Embrace and in the past few weeks, the haze of confusion that has so clouded my mind has started to lift.  I think the key word for me in this season is “integrate”.  In the past five years I have birthed three ministries; Quest which was a small group ministry for women that I started when I first moved to Richmond, Shine which was a missional small group ministry for youth that I did with my daughter, and Embrace which was focused on the needs of the homeless population.  When the furniture bank component of Embrace grew so large, I had to let go of Quest and Shine.  However, I have longed for the day when I could bring all three together.  I think that day has come. 

I have had a large number of people over the years lament the fact that there are no opportunities for families to go on mission together in the local context in a relational way.  I have also become increasingly aware of the lack of community and belonging both in the suburban and urban context.  What if I combined the community building aspects of Quest, with the youth focus of Shine and the missional heart of Embrace into one?  What if instead of separating women, men and youth into separate groups and then dividing those groups up into mission, bible studies and fellowship groups, we instead put it all together?  What would it look like to be the family of God on mission together as families?

I heard a new word this week; it was the word “twinning”.  I learned that the Catholic churches in the area are “twinning” with congregations in Haiti.  The one congregation that I was visiting with was going to start an organic garden at their church and help a congregation in Haiti do the same thing.  I liked this idea of two communities from different areas doing the same thing but in different context.  The struggles in Richmond will be different than the struggles in Haiti but they are both on the same mission “to grow an organic garden” in order to feed those in need in their community and they can each share their journey and will likely help one another learn as they go.

The mission of Embrace has always been to help prevent and end homelessness by mobilizing people of faith.  What I have come to see in the last few months is that if we do not invest in urban young people, the cycle of poverty and homelessness will continue and if we do not invest in suburban young people the destructive patterns of materialism and consumption will continue to erode our sense of community and belonging. 

So what if we tried some “twinning” around empowering youth?  What if we started a missional community in suburbs that had the mission of empowering young people to be a blessing to their community (which was the Shine mission) and we twinned that group with a missional community in the urban setting that had the same mission of empowering youth and blessing the community.  The mission is the same but the challenges will be different.  In the urban setting people tend to have more time and in the suburban setting people tend to have more resources.  Many of our urban youth have developed a strong faith which has helped them persevere through great challenges and our suburban youth have often benefited from education and enrichment programs that have fostered their creativity and talents.  I believe bringing these two together would be a blessing to both. 

I am still praying about exactly what this might look like but some amazing things happened this week.  A lovely lady I have known for years offered her home school network facility, which is near Chesterfield Town Center, to us as a gathering place.  It is a great space with a large group meeting area and four good size classrooms.  This would provide us with a place to gather, plan and meet before mission events.

I also met a lovely woman who is doing amazing work with inner city girls in Hillside Court.  We have hired two summer interns who will both be focusing on empowering youth, both suburban and urban, throughout the summer.  In addition, the past few weeks we have been doing home visits in the east end with our clients.  In those visits we have met some wonderful people many of whom want to be a part of blessing their community. 

I heard at the conference I went to last month a description of the church that I really liked.  They described the church as “The family of God on mission together.”  I am thankful that so many of you are already on mission with us.  It has been such a joy to meet so many people who are passionate about what God is doing in our city.  I am thankful the season of letting go is over.  I hope you will travel with us through this season of integration.  If you have any ideas or questions please either leave your post here or contact me via email at wendy@embracerichmond.org

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What’s Next: Plant a Church or Empower a Movement?

8caqajb4ocalwnoawcapnyswjcah3r7sqca7wdwzocatg5lzocasw01q4caq8a4cocaym6ps4ca7o2xcfcaklwculca7fjgqrca34n7eacazta7orcang1at7cac6qdx5cav8ql1dca9vljx1ca3audlb1I am entering into one of the most exciting seasons of my life.  God has allowed me to see and do so much over the past six years but I feel certain that it has all been preparation for what is yet to come.

In September, Embrace Richmond transferred the Furniture Bank element of our organization to CARITAS and CARITAS hired me as the director of the program.  For the past eight months, I have worn two hats; Executive Director of Embrace Richmond (www.embracerichmond.org) and Director of CARITAS Works (www.caritasworks.org).  In that time the furniture bank program has grown significantly and so have the programs operated by Embrace Richmond.  I realized last month that I could do both jobs half way or put all my energy into one direction.  After much prayer I felt led to slowly move out of the CARITAS Works role and focus solely on Embrace Richmond.  I am now down to 12 hours a week working on CARITAS related programs and I have taken considerable time off in the past month to ask “What’s next?” for Embrace Richmond.   This transition would not be possible without the addition of Karen O’Brien to our staff and the support of Karen Stanley the Executive Director of CARITAS both of whom have been incredibly supportive of me over the years.

In December 2003, I was faced with a similar decision as I wrestled with my call to vocational ministry.  At that time I began writing “The Journey” which was originally sent out to a few close friends who committed to pray for me.  As that list grew, I put the emails on a website and they are now available through “The Journey” page of this blog.  Basically, The Journey writings helped me to discern what was next for me.  As God revealed new pieces of the puzzle; I wrote about it as a way of publicly recognizing where I saw God at work and as a way of remembering.  These pieces were the building blocks for what eventually became Quest Women’s Ministry and Shine Groups for Girls which eventually led to the creation of Embrace Richmond. As Embrace Richmond moves into a new season; I feel called to do the same thing; look for God at work, figure out how it relates to my call and Embrace Richmond’s mission and share those insights with others.  Those of you who know me personally know that I am full of ideas and as an extrovert; I feel the need to communicate as a way of fleshing out all these thoughts.  However, I do not want to frighten anyone…I know Embrace cannot respond to every need or fulfill every dream or idea that pops into my head.   So relax and just dream with me a little.

For those of you who are joining me on facebook; I will be posting the entries on my facebook page as I write them.   If you are not yet my friend yet, please “friend me” and join me on this adventure.

This past week I attended the Emergent Conference which is the largest church planting conference in the country.  I went thinking I was going to help my friends Lewis and Doug who are both church planters but something happened at this conference…my mind was expanded.  I think my idea of “church” was way too small.  As I sat in the conference listening to some of the most innovative Christian leaders in the world; I began to get excited about what God was doing.  God has started a movement across this country; a missional movement much like the one identified by Eric Swanson in his book Ten Paradigm Shifts Toward Community Transformation which I wrote about in The Journey emails back in 2004.  (You can download this paper for free from www.leadnet.org) This idea is what gave birth to Embrace Richmond and is still the vision that I long to see manifest in Richmond.

I still do not feel church planting is my call…but fueling a missional movement; that gets me excited!

What is a missional movement?  I will attempt to share what I think it is in my next post .  In the meantime you can catch a glimps of it in Eric Swanson’s paper or through The Journey entries.   Please pray for me and for the Embrace family as we move into the fullness of what God has for us.

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Unity in Diversity: The Church Emerging

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There is something wonderfully exciting happening across the globe.  This past weekend I attended the Emerging Church Conference hosted by the Center for Action and Contemplation.  While the conference did not answer all my questions about the Emerging Church, I realized why I still have so many questions.  As one speaker suggested, it would be better to describe what is happening as “the church emerging” since this conversation is simply trying to articulate what is happening around the globe.  It is something that is happening as we speak, not something that can be well defined and described.

Let me set the stage.  The conference as organized by a Catholic group that stresses the contemplative life and a life devoted to social justice.  The speakers included Evangelicals, Episcopalians and Catholics.  The conference sold out with nearly 1,000 in attendance and was webcast around the world.  There was every age, every denomination, and every state along with friends from around the world.  This is the picture of the church Emerging.  It is a church beyond denominational affiliation.  I personally attended the conference with a seventy year old Roman Catholic friend who has contributed significantly to my spirituality over the years.    As Shane Claiborne (one of my favorite authors) said, “The goal is to harmonize not homogenize.”  There was such beauty in our diversity and the entire conference celebrated the beauty that each tradition has contributed to Christianity.  The tree in the photo was the backdrop on the stage throughout the conference and it beautifully illustrates our kinship. 

 I think this image is particularly powerful for me because of the journey that has shaped me.  I grew up un-churched, came to faith in Christ in an ELCA Lutheran Church at the age of 26, served on the staff of a non-denominational Evangelical church for many years, went to a Baptist Seminary, am a member of a Methodist church and have received much of my spiritual direction and formation from Catholic Saints both living and deceased.  I am the product of this new way of experiencing the faith and I see the beauty in every tradition. 

What I learned from the conference is that the Christian churches can be divided into roughly four quadrants; Evangelical, liturgical, social action, and Charismatic/Pentecostal.  All of these ways of doing church have value and each contributes to our faith formation, but God is far bigger than our human constructs.  No faith or combination of faith traditions can fully grasp the mystery of God.  God is far bigger than our dogmas and doctrines.  This conversation is not seeking to build a new “denomination” but is simply recognizing that our old denominational boxes have been expanded because we have come to see that all Christian traditions have value.  We heard from an Evangelical who has rediscovered the richness of the monastic tradition and has started an intentional community built on this understanding.  I met an Episcopal priest who does bible studies in bars in her city because she recognizes the hunger people have for a deeper understanding of God.  I met a Roman Catholic woman who sounded more like an evangelical in her call to connect young people to the gospel through on-line communities.  What I saw in all these participants is the same spirit that gave birth to Embrace; a willingness to carry the message beyond the walls of the church into the lives of people outside the walls. 

Before this conference I was not sure how Embrace could be a part of this conversation.  However, I found that one of the four foundational practices being championed through this conversation is social justice and in particular “care of the poor”.  I have no desire to “start” an emerging church.  However, I do feel called to help the church in Richmond “emerge” from behind the walls and simply live the gospel by living as Christ did; among the poor and oppressed in our world and to do so by uniting the entire body around that mission.

The one thing that was echoed in every one of our sessions was the need to return to Jesus as the center of our faith; to stop worshipping dotrinal formulas, the church, or even the bible.  The goal is not to grow “the church” but advance the Kingdom and the Kingdom is now, on this earth, as we seek to bring heaven to our deeply broken humanity.  We do this as we seek to follow God’s will through prayer and contemplation, as we share the teachings of Christ,  as we build true authentic communities where all are welcome and loved, and as we fight for justice in the world.  Those four foundational practices with the person of Jesus Christ found in the four gospels as our guide is the foundation of the Emerging Church conversation as it was explained to me.

There are many voices making contributions to this conversation and as would be expected, others are adding to and taking away from this understanding but from what I saw this week, the vast majority of people engaged in this conversation are simply seeking to live in a way that is consistent with their understanding of the Christ we find in the gospels.   For many, this looks much like the Acts 2 church with a return to small gatherings of followers as a means of living out the faith in community.   My prayer is that I too will be free to live in this simple way and will find fellow Christians who truly seek to live the incarnation in radical and simple ways.  I am not sure where this desire will lead me personally but professionally I was encouraged and affirmed by the sisters and brothers I met on this journey.  I felt at home for the first time in a long time.  It was a beautiful experience to realize that all over this world the church is emerging!

“My prayer is not for them alone. I pray also for those who will believe in me through their message, that all of them may be one, Father, just as you are in me and I am in you. May they also be in us so that the world may believe that you have sent me. I have given them the glory that you gave me, that they may be one as we are one”  John 17:20-22

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