Wednesday, July 11, 2007

Theological Musings

I'm planning on hosting the Eastern University Student Chaplains for an over-night retreat in January 2008 (yes, there are times when I plan this far ahead). Last year's retreat was structured around the Making Space devotional study I wrote for our congregation, this year I'll be leading Central through a series of events contemplating what a Church could look like if it's structure emerged from it's mission. So I thought, "Gee, what would a mission-structured life look like?" After some musings with my friend, Frank, at a local Panera (no, not that one Byron) - this is what came out. Enjoy.

A Mission-Structured Life

The purpose of this retreat is to enable participants to re-evaluate (and renew) their life-style in the context of being missionally structured. Often times in our daily lives events seem to bounce us along in a particular direction, whether we wish to go along or not. In the torrent activities which are meant to bring freedom, structure, and joy to our existence end up being the debris which pummel us into hopeless submission. We become lost in a maze of impossible expectations, feeling as though we should somehow be doing more. Or, perhaps, that life should be about more. Yet this “more” always seems just out of reach because we are continually being tossed about by the waves of events that seem to be beyond our control – and following promises of safe harbors that in reality only add to our burden1. In this torrent we remain as napes, never really able to mature in the faith and hope and love of Christ our Savior.

Life, it seems, needs to be re-imaged from the destructive flood of tasks and distractions. We need a way to imagine our lives as more than keeping our heads above water – a way to structure who we are, and what we do, in a way that brings the freedom we need to become the people we are called to be in Christ. The proposal of this retreat is that the way to experience this freedom is to deliberately structure our life around the mission which we have been given.

Imaging The Mission

If we are called to structure our life around mission the question first needs to be asked, “What mission are we talking about?” The only mission given to Christians in the New Testament is what is commonly called “The Great Commission2.” In this commission, Christians are called to be a “disciple-making” community. While “disciple-making” often conjures up images of screaming corner-prophets or intense knowledge accumulation, the image for disciple-making used in this retreat is less intimidating3 – we like to think of the Mission of the Church as a stream.

The mission of the Church is much like a stream that wanders through the country-side, enriching what it touches and calling people to take pleasure in it’s movement. Christians are called to be moved by the stream, and to call others to join the steam as well. The current of this stream comes from the working out of our salvation with fear and trembling4 – the ethic behind this “working out” springs from Jesus’ summary of the Law, “‘Love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your soul, and with all your mind.’ This is the first and greatest commandment. The second is like it: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’ All the law and the prophets depend on these two commandments5.” Thus the mission of the Church, and a life structured by that mission, springs from faith (that the stream is life-giving rather than life destroying), hope (that the current is taking pilgrims somewhere good), and love (the desire to bless the One who created the stream, as well as both those in it’s current and on the banks)6.

Simply entering the stream, however, doesn’t mean that we are a healthy part of it’s ecosystem. Just as people in a physical stream can act as a polluting and destroying influence, so too can people who are floating in the Church’s stream of mission be a toxic presence. The goal of being in the stream isn’t simply to be taken along by it’s current to a better place – but rather to become part of the stream’s live-giving presence.

Learning To Be The Mission

Just as people need to learn how to swim, so to do new disciples need to learn to move in the new reality of the missional stream. This learning comes from conversations and relationships which are developed as we move through the stream. It is as fellow travelers model the ethic of Loving God and Loving neighbor (as themselves) that new disciples find the freedom to move with the group down the steam. Just as no two individuals physically swim in exactly the same way, people who are moving in the mission stream use different “strokes.” Individuals in a group move differently, according to their particular calling or giftedness, for there are many parts to the Church, but only one body7. In a similar way, groups of travelers may take on different forms and movements which vary from one another as they are moved by (and move in) the current of the stream of mission.

The key to this shared journey, in which disciples’ individual callings compliment the whole, is trust. While typical descriptions of discipleship focus on the passing on of knowledge (which, in itself, is not a bad task), the image of the stream forces us to re-think that nature of disciple-making. It’s not simply about learning how to swim (knowledge), but also about learning that our fellow traveler are worth swimming with. Disciple groups which have knowledge, but do not trust each other, quickly fall into fighting and discord about trivial matters (and, when the matters are not trivial, often with trivial motives)8. Knowledge without trust is a dead end. Knowledge molded by trust, and worked out in love, however images God in a way that highlights the mission – pointing to a reality beyond the fear of judgment, which is the fear that keeps trust from developing in the first place9.

Ramp Building

Besides being conversation with people in the mission stream, disciples are also in continual conversation with those who are not part of the stream. In this way, individuals and groups may become aware of (hopefully) unintentional harm they are doing to the stream’s ecosystem, as well as find the best places to call people to join the stream themselves. Disciples are called to construct these entry points, or ramps, through their works of love, charity, and caring10. In this way, Jesus is not only served by his disciples, but is also imaged through his disciples. Without the deliberate creation of ramps into the mission stream, traveling groups (and individuals) turn the journey into a voyage of privilege for a few, rather than the image of calling grace that it’s meant to be11.

Entering The Mission Stream

The mission call to make disciples, as well as call to develop entry ramps for people who respond to the call of the mission, requires that there be in place a way to truly enter the mission stream. Indeed, the Church has affirmed over the course of it’s existence just such a ceremony – the sacrament of baptism.

Jesus commanded the disciples, “...make disciples, baptizing them in the name of the Father, of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit12.” Baptism is the entry-way into the life of Jesus Christ (that is, life in the mission stream). Though this immersion into the waters of the stream, disciples become joined into the death and resurrection of Jesus himself13. The existence that once resisted the call to join the mission is killed, yielding a new life through which the likeness of the Lord is seen14. Thus, baptism isn’t so much a momentary event, as it is a new reality that is continuously experienced and presented to the world.

1Ephesians 4:14

2Matthew 28:16 – 20

3That is, if you can swim

4Philippians 2:12

5Matthew 22:37b – 40

61 Corinthians 13

71 Corinthians 12:12 – 25

81 Corinthians 1:4 – 16

91 John 4:9 – 21

10Matthew 25: 31 – 46

11Romans 4:13 – 25

12Matthew 28:19b

13Romans 6:1 – 11

141 Peter 4: 1 – 11

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