Wednesday, August 26, 2009

July 09 Meeting

"Part of the joy of church is worshipping with people you love."

- Melissa

Twelve of us, including several newcomers, gathered on July 14th at Laura’s Cuban Restaurant to continue our conversation about emerging, missional and organic church and what it means to us. The diversity of Christian traditions represented at the table was interesting to note. We came from Episcopal, Adventist, Methodist, Presbyterian, Catholic, Baptist, Pentecostal and Salvationist backgrounds to name a few. Since our first Meetup was a year ago, we started to discuss how the conversations have impacted the way we live our lives. First, Melissa told her story of how she came to know about emerging Christianity and how she came to our table.

Melissa’s family included many pastors and missionaries. She spent much of her childhood with her family in the mission field and working for churches in places like Haiti and Dominican Republic before moving to Tennessee and finally South Florida. When she was finally settled in school her family declined to move once again to Africa since that would have meant boarding school for her and her siblings. They came to Broward County after the church in Tennessee closed their missions training program leaving her father jobless. This disappointment influenced her feelings about denominational, organized churches and how they can sometimes actually damage the lives of the families that are part of them.

Once in Broward County, Melissa’s father continued pastoral work in the denomination and did telemarketing on the side. During this time, she was exposed to and took part in many opportunities for service to those in need. This included outreach to children in the impoverished Overtown section of Miami every Saturday. Despite its challenges, these experiences taught her that serving others is simply part of what it means to be a Christ-follower.

Melissa eventually became a leader in her church youth group and became involved in Intervarsity. Shortly after High School graduation, Melissa’s sister moved to Mongolia to do missions and many of her friends moved away. During this time, God was able to demonstrate for her the importance of Christian community, which includes service to others. Also during this time, she met Robin M., who would become her husband, at a Bible Study in her house.

Eventually, Melissa began to visit other churches including a house church in her home and went to other churches with friends. She described these visits as tortuous, and the churches as either dull or over the top with emotionalism. She finally settled on the house church at her parent’s. Here she found real discussions about things that mattered. Melissa worked in homeless services at the time and the house church started gathering at one of the shelters. Her father stopped doing pastoral work at the large church they had been attending. Although the congregation was large, there was little participation in service or community and few new people were joining. He, and a few others, led this church gathering in the shelter for a time. So, for Melissa, gathering at the shelter for church meant that faith and her work that she loved with the homeless interacted in a missional way.

One day, Melissa’s husband Robin M. shared with her that he was thinking that he should go to school and become a pastor. Her reaction was, “of course you should,” and they moved to Canada where Robin attended seminary and interned at a local church. Here, Melissa and Robin met people who really cared about them. This care was not only about asking how they were doing but caring in practical ways, like baby-sitting. The focus now was on small church planting. During this time Melissa and Robin made connections with people who changed their lives, encouraging them to grow and to care about others around them. They learned that part of the joy of church is worshipping with people you love.

Once back at home in Broward County, Melissa and Robin started visiting “regular” church for a time. Then they began a small church gathering in their home and they have been privileged to participate with others in community. Returning to work with the homeless they are again able to see the missional interaction of faith with serving and helping and getting to know others. Melissa said that she doesn’t necessarily read all the books on emerging church, but simply looks to see what works or doesn’t work in practice. One thing she enjoys about our gatherings is the combination of fellowship and food. Anthony brought up that sharing meals has been, and should always be, a big part of “church.”

Next, we discussed some of the reasons behind the move towards emerging, missional and organic church. Michelle said that church is not about going to a building but that the she sees the Holy Spirit drawing more people towards relationship with Jesus and meeting the needs of others. Talking about small church gatherings compared to mega-churches, Kennedy said that he was able to find real community when he was at Willow Creek, a congregation of 18,000. He felt the key was the intentional way the people there went about relating to others, including newcomers. Beth said that she has seen few large churches like this. Michelle felt that fear of intimacy contributes to the anonymity found in many churches. For Kathy, worship and service to others is a key to what church is.

Finally, Anthony mentioned that one thing that is too often missing from church teaching and practice is attention to the importance of loving oneself. After all, we are taught to “love your neighbor, as yourself.” And without a healthy regard for self, it is difficult to share a healthy love with others. Steve W. said that Scot McKnight views “atonement” as having four directions: love for God, love for others, healing within oneself (along the lines of what Anthony was saying) and love for God’s world. We talked about God’s unconditional, sacrificial love for us, since we were created in His image, and the negative side of self-love which can be the problem of pride. Kennedy has heard the balance expressed this way - Jewish tradition relates the story of a rabbi who sought to understand his place in the universe. To keep a balance between too much pride and too much self-loathing, he had two notes, one for each of his two pants pockets. One note read: “For me the world was created.” The other note read: “I am nothing more than dust and ashes.” The task of the rabbi is our task: to integrate these two messages and keep them in appropriate balance.

We decided to meet again in a month to continue our conversation and share another meal together.


Steve W.

Saturday, August 15, 2009

June 09 Meeting

“People I am in community with are people that I can share things with that I’m most ashamed of and still be loved and accepted ... they are ‘refrigerator friends’ who can walk in and go to your refrigerator and take your last beer.” - Kennedy

Eleven of us met on June 2nd at Laura’s Cuban Restaurant in Hollywood to continue our discussion about postmodernism, community and emerging church and what it all means to us.

First, Kennedy shared his story about his spiritual journey and how it led him to the emerging church conversation and to our table. Kennedy is from Chattanooga, TN, the son of a Presbyterian minister. Having grown up as a pastor's kid and seeing some of the more problematic issues of church, he never wanted to go into ministry. At the same time, he had a passion for the church and a need for Christian community. In college Kennedy was part of the party scene. But he felt God used that time to break down his defenses in order to relate better with people. And he became known as kind of the unofficial “chaplain” of the party crowd he hung out with. One thing he noticed during this time was that everyone he met was on some kind of spiritual quest.

Kennedy decided to attend seminary. The experience stretched him, but also left him burned out. He eventually took a job in NYC in public relations working for celebs and dance clubs. He also worked in a church in upper Manhattan, where it was trendy and politically correct. The church also happened to be near the offices of people who campaigned for peaceful change in Central America. With them he was able to re-engage in church as mission locally recalling that “A light that shines the farthest, shines the brightest at home.”

Thereafter, Kennedy wanted to travel and visited multi-ethnic and multi-cultural churches during a mini-sabbatical. While in Pittsburgh and Philadelphia he experienced almost a second conversion as he gathered with vibrant church fellowships where members cheered as people walked down the aisle towards the alter towards transformed lives. This, he felt was the ultimate cause and God ignited a fervor in him to see more lives transformed by the God of love. During his travels, he would often hang out with the regular folks, doing what regular folks do (not always what church-going folks might approve of). During these times, conversations would turn to spiritual matters and the people that Kennedy hung out with were shocked to find out that the “church” had anything relevant to say about faith. During the sabbatical he explored the Taize Community and visited Willow Creek Community Church. During this time he also became engaged to marry, and then “dis-engaged.” And during this time he learned to desperately depend on God.

In DC, Kennedy became involved with a multi-cultural Baptist church. Here, he also met and conversed with Brian McLaren, author of A New Kind of Christian and who was pastoring at Cedar Ridge Community Church in MD at the time. They discussed the post-modern, emergent movement and how it can impact a very modern denomination like Presbyterianism. Kennedy went back to Long Island and made and saw major shifts in his church, focusing mainly on people re-connecting. Three years ago he came to Hollywood, FL where he pastors at First Presbyterian Church. His vision is for a congregation that is more organic, centered mostly in people’s homes, and one that reaches out to folks in Starbucks and bars more than one centered in a church building. He found out we have an emerging church Meetup close by and decided to check us out last year.

Matthew asked what Kennedy sees as the road map to move beyond the walls of traditional church. Kennedy feels that the key is to help ignite a passion in “church people” for the people who are not there, where diversity is valued and nothing is unexpendable. Steve F. shared how frustrated he is with a lot of “visions.” He wants to touch something supernatural when people get together. Kennedy agreed and clarified that “vision” arises out of community, not focus groups. We briefly discussed how these conversations typically involve movements such as “house churches” and “de-centralized leadership” which are more common models outside of the West. Steve F. gave some push back by imagining how irrelevant various “movements” can seem to Jesus.

Steve W. read a blog post from Scot McKnight, Kingdom Gospel 5, which concludes, “The Gospel is about church formation before it is about personal formation.” Michelle felt it has to really be the other way around, that you can’t have church transformation without personal transformation. Kennedy added that, that best happens when personal transformation happens in community. “You just can’t say a few words, a ‘sinner’s prayer,’ and typically expect transformation to happen right away.” Matthew felt that the post describes a road along which personal transformation happens, with community at the end. In the process, a new, alternative kingdom is created, where healing and justice replaces the broken society we too often encounter around us. Steve W. was reminded of John Wesley’s quote, “There is no holiness but social holiness.” Robin M. said though that is not about a “social movement” but about how we relate to one another.

Steve W. read some excerpts from Robin M.’s seminary paper, Postmodernism, Community and the Emerging Church, Part 2 – ‘Restoring Community.’” Michelle asked, what is real community? To Robin M. it is about real relationships over time, starting with family. It is not a shared activity as is commonly thought of but is relationship based, and these relationships are not without problems that have to be worked through. Kennedy thinks of it this way, “People I am in community with are people that I can share things with that I’m most ashamed of and still be loved and accepted. These are people you can call at 2:00 in the morning. They are ‘refrigerator friends’ who can walk in and go to your refrigerator and take your last beer.” We agreed that we’re in community with our friends when we are committed to each other through both the fun times and the rough patches. Community can be messy. Robin M. said it this way, “A lot of people have not been loved through their issues and been shown God’s unconditional love by others. This is what it means when it’s said that the Christian life is caught more than taught.” Kathy added that this has to involve both people in a relationship being vulnerable with each other. Kennedy said he is very vulnerable with people in his church. And that he doesn’t have many clergy friends because they seem to feel they have to wear a mask. One of his closest friends is a Rabbi who is a recovering alcoholic. Finally, we were reminded of an observation by Mother Teresa who has seen so many in the “Third World” who have nothing in terms of material possessions, but who were beaming because they have each other.

We prayed for each other’s needs that some of us shared and agreed to meet again in a month to continue the conversation.